I went into panic mode. How could I have been so careless? I should have known better! I was already in overdrive as I dashed out of the house and jumped into my car. With a groan, I realized that I needed to stop for gas. That was going to take a good 120 seconds that I already did not have to spare. But it was either that, or suffer the embarrassment of possibly running out of fuel altogether halfway through my journey.
In 30 seconds time, I was on the pump of the gas station at the top of my street. Lucky me! A pump was free! I popped open my tank as the attendant came to take my order. A quick glance at the dashboard showed 4:47 pm. That was two minutes too late already, but I knew I could make it up. All I had to do was make sure I was downtown by 4:55 pm. And that was only a five minute drive. But, as the island would have it, it was not in the cards for things to work out so perfectly for me today.
Today of all days, the attendant decides that he needs to slowly clean my front windscreen AND the back. As if that were not enough, he then proceeds to leave my vehicle with the pump still in the tank and the money uncollected. Suffice it to say, it was 4:58 pm when I finally made it downtown. I crossed my fingers, my toes, my eyes, and just about every body part that could be crossed, but the damage had already been done. As a result, a journey that should have taken me 20 minutes (10 if I break the speed limit), turned into more than an hour trek – all because I left home 5 minutes late. I sighed as I looked at the traffic piled up in front of me and began to think about all the other things in which a mere 5 minutes makes a world of difference in the islands.
Jamaicans are often accused of not knowing time, but I would like to disagree. Jamaicans are very much aware of time: it just depends on which side of the clock you’re on.
Do any of these timing “mysteries” sound familiar? Allow me to explain…
1. The same bank teller who refuses to open his/her wicket before the clock in the lobby or their watch (whichever one has the later time) hits 8:30 am, is the exact same teller who will most assuredly close said wicket at 2:25 pm, ensuring that when the official closing time of 2:30 pm arrives, he/she will most definitely not have any customers in front of him/her.
2. Although typical business hours end at 5 pm, you will inevitably find that it makes no sense to call any office after 4:30 pm needing anything, as everyone has already slipped into “going home mode”. By those fatal 300 seconds to the hour, I guarantee you will find the office empty and the bus stops and car parks full.
3. Five minutes in the islands is closer to half an hour, especially when you’re in a rush. WARNING: NEVER do anything in a rush or at the last minute in the islands. You are setting yourself up for MAJOR frustration.
4. We Jamaicans adhere to the five minute “grace period” at the beginning of the work day, meaning you’re always allowed to be a few minutes late. Please note, however, that the reverse does not apply; this same “grace period” does not extend to lunch breaks or going home: we must leave five minutes earlier in order to ensure that on the hour, we are actually at lunch or on our way home.
5. It will also behoove you to begin planning your day’s activities around noticeable trends. For example, I never EVER go to a government office first thing in the morning. Why waste two hours of your morning – when persons are still in “wake up mode” – to do what will take fifteen minutes when you slip in at the last minute at 3:58 pm (the offices close to the public at 4 pm) and you’re on your way out by 4:10 pm? The only reason to go in the morning is if you’re looking for a legitimate reason to be late for something else.
6. You should also note that sixty minutes needs to be added to the start time of any event. A start time for an event in Jamaica is simply a formality and a way of giving you a ballpark estimate. This holds true for parties, weddings, and funerals. You see, we are quite considerate and give you a time that we know will give you enough room for preparation and travel time. We know that there are any number of predicaments into which you may fall (overslept, traffic, wardrobe malfunction, got caught up on the phone or Facebook) which will cause you to be tardy, and so we make allowances for that on your behalf. Example: A few weeks ago, I had tickets to a jazz concert. My best friend and I went out for dinner first. Stickler for regular time that I am, I experienced temporary amnesia as I forgot for a moment that I was living in Jamaica. We made a dash for it in order to be “on time” only to find that sound checks were still being done. Of course, we sat there for over an hour before the function finally got underway. Silly me.
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Once you hit a rock – any rock, really – island time kicks in. Watches and clocks mean very little here, as things get done only when they absolutely need to get done and don’t need to be rushed in any way. On a rock, there’s always time to stop and smell the sea breeze, no matter how late you are.
And so it takes me back to my present predicament of crawling in traffic for the next two hours. I should have taken my own advice and just stayed home and waited these same two hours in comfort for this traffic to run off…