Friday, September 18, 2009

Time is Elastic

I noticed that I was walking faster than everyone around me in the middle of the afternoon. I stand out, marching my New York City strut. It is not that Quitenos are idle. The construction workers are busy and moving and building at an incredible rate. The roads are crammed with cars and pedestrians through much of the day. But people do move at a more leisurely pace, and they do not hurry up. I must remind myself to slow down, to appreciate the rhythm of life here, because it is certainly different than what I am accustomed to, and I cannot make anything happen on my schedule, even though I do not have much of a schedule.

I like the mornings best, when the sun rises and warms us up, when the school buses collect the children, and most everyone is still in bed. None of the stores or cafes or restaurants around our apartment are open when we are waiting for the bus in the street. Offices open late too, and work starts at 9 or later, even for the construction workers. Isabel and her family do not start moving until closer to 10 AM, and are not quite conscious until an hour or so later.

Spanish school is an exception. It starts at 8:30 and continues until 12:30, so that the afternoon students can get their four hours in by 5. The Mariscal is closed up and clean and quiet and unassuming in the morning. The detritus from the revels of the night before has disappeared, and the neighbourhood looks deceptively laid back and calm.

After my four hour adventure with verb conjugation and forced conversation, my time is tight. I usually meet Eric for lunch but am obliged to make it short so to return to the apartment and organize Maya's ballet and violin paraphernalia, and either meet her at Rio Coca, or pick her up, as I did today, wanting not to be late for the FOSJE rehearsal. I try to calculate the time it will take me to get to her school, but it is virtually impossible to predict the traffic and other obstacles. I am 30% late, 30% early and 30% on time. Being on time does not seem to make much of a difference here. I may rush to get to an appointment, but it matters not if I am 'en punto' or not. Most of the time, events begin late, but I cannot count on that because I am wrong a significant amount of the time. Sometimes the Echovia comes every few minutes and because the Echovia lane avoids much of the traffic, it is especially efficient. But today, I arrived at the bus station and waited while the shelter filled to capacity. Buses came in the opposite direction, one after the other, while the mass of humans waited. Finally three buses arrived one after the other. I could not fit in to the first and did not wait for the third. Instead I made my way into the 'scrum' holding tightly to my purse and feeling for my phone in my pocket. Bodies were wedged against each other, and the bus driver forgot that he was not riding a rollercoaster, so people were falling into each other, holding on for dear life, standing taller to catch more air, trying to breathe, trying not to be swept away. My twelve minute trip took 45 minutes.

There is great variability in taxi times; traffic, the driver's mood or interest or knowledge or cooperation are all unpredictable. What is predictable is that nothing appears to start when planned, that there does not appear to be any consequence to tardiness, wherever I go there is 'wiggle time' and everyone adjusts. So that everything works out whatever my schedule or everyone else's is.

I am trying to be comfortable with this elasticity of time. I am not opposed to it, I am not offended by it, and perhaps I like it, I just have to get used to different expectations, the irregular regularity, the regular irregularity, being confused, not having to rush, being able to stroll at a measured pace, and watch the world happen around me.

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