During one of my earliest journeys into the world I travelled the length of Egypt by sleeper train, and returned on a Nile felucca. It was the 1980s, but might well have been the 1880s. Picture a scene in which fez-capped porters balance suitcases on their heads whilst donkeys are loaded with great trunks of supplies for the trip, palms swaying in the breeze to the tune emanating from the surrounding whir of human activity.
I learnt much on that trip, but one of my favourite lessons was translated for me by my African guide on a day when a double booked hotel room was the least of the things that had gone wrong. After discussing the reason for our long wait with the hotel manager, the guide returned and quietly sat down next to me, took a long draw on his fat cigar, and, understanding my western need for an explanation, said:
“My son let me teach you something about Egyptian time. It goes like this:
“If I agree to meet my friend at the coffee house near the market square at noon, and he is not there, it does not mean he is not coming, it means he has been delayed.”
“If by one o’clock, he is not in his usual seat opposite me, it is because he is on his way.
“At two o’clock, I may be sipping coffee alone, but my friend is close.”
“And if he has still not arrived by three o’clock, then it means he will surely be here soon.”
A different time, a different concept of time.
And so it is here in Cambodia, working for a wonderful NGO with a great sense of compassion, care and hope for the future. Like so many, I arrive full of ideas and energy, driven by a desire to make what difference I can in a relatively small amount of time, over-bearing all with a hastily formulated agenda.
Well close enough. I’m comparatively sensitive to the fact that many have come before me and performed great work, and will still be on the ground every day, long after I have gone.
Working in the office, helping to design and roll-out a communication strategy that is simple enough to be implemented by Buddhist Monks in my absence, yet modern enough to propel the organisation forward, I witness NGO groupies come and go. Sometimes two in a day, other times none for a week, their eyes are wide, ears closed, dialogue intense – anxious, road-weary souls who’s hearts are in the right place but who’s bodies will soon be in Bangledesh, Laos or Burma, seeking their next outpost on a path to self fulfilment.
So the last month has been a great lesson in finding the flow and going with it, patience, and just chipping away at the rock, bulldozer well and truly in the shed.