Malawi Time

Malawi time: A measure of time that extends anywhere from one hour to one year after the specified or agreed upon time.

I’d learnt on my last visit to Malawi to never make plans. Have a rough idea of what I’d like to see or achieve, but never set a time or date as it is likely to change several times before anything actually happens. This can be a very hard concept to deal with when you come from the western world and everything runs to schedule; a bus running two minutes late is irritating or having to wait 45 minutes to see a doctor is a major pain in the backside.

In Malawi time has very little meaning. Things will get done eventually and there is no point in stressing about it in the mean time. To alleviate the stress of schedules and plans the best strategy is to not plan at all. If there are no expectations that you will get a lift to the market at 2 pm on Thursday, but you don’t make it there until 1o am on Friday, then it won’t bother you. Regardless of the fact that you’ve run out of food, you will still get to the market at some point and in the interim you get creative about making food out of whatever random bits and pieces you have left (or can mix with food from the children’s kitchen – nsima and beans).

Meetings get shuffled from one day to the next as more important matters arise. While I was in Malawi I had meeting reshuffled to fit in visiting relatives from the groom’s family as the grand daughter of the man I had the meeting with was getting married in a week and it is Malawian custom for this visit to take place. Interviews were postponed for emergency trips to the Boma (market) as a bill had to be paid and photo sessions of particular projects/children/classrooms were done the next day because the people required for the photo simply couldn’t be found at the time.

At the end of 10 days though I had every photo I needed, all but one interview was conducted (and it could be done by email), and I had information overload from all the meetings and visits I’d been a part of. Malawi time works… if you don’t fight it. Things happen as they are supposed to and no sooner or later.

While driving out of Lilongwe to a project in the villages, Grieve (the Malawian project co-ordinator) commented on my ramblings about Malawi time:

“Isn’t that a statement about life though. We don’t plan to be born or to die. So why plan everything in between.”

I have to agree. Things happen because you make them happen, not because they are planned according to a specific time or date.


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