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November 18, 2012

1

SWAHILI TIME

by Erin Wilkinson Hartung

Extra, extra read all about it. Just off the press, the latest newspaper Swahili time.

Newspaper stand – extra, extra read all about it. Just off the press, the latest newspaper from Zanzibar.

During my first week of classes, I booked a couple of small business client appointments at 2:00 p.m. only to be told this was too early. I scratched my head and rescheduled for 4:00 p.m. On both occasions I was stood up. I was told Swahili time was different.

I figured this meant that being on time was about allowing for a more flexible schedule because I was in a hot weather climate (and in the afternoon a slower pace is needed to protect against the heat) or there was more of a cultural focus on relationships (developing relationships requires time to establish trust and experiences to bond). Both are probably true but in Swahili culture there is a different way to view time.

Swahili time starts at sunrise and ends at sunset in a 12-hour block and then is repeated at night. Tanzania is close to the equator and the sun rises and sets around 6:00 about the same time every day. Saa moja asubuhi means “hour one morning” or rather 7:00 a.m. I learned to be very clear when booking village appointments, and to ask, if this meant on Swahili time. So my understanding of 4:00 p.m. translates to 10:00 a.m. Swahili time and 6:00 p.m. is Swahili noon. Many coastal villages still follow the Swahili sunrise to sunset schedule.

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Mar 10 2013

    Very interesting! It certainly separates the “tourists” from those who ask the right questions. And we get confused we day light savings time!

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    Reply

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