Personal Space Invaders and the Everlasting Waiting Game

So as my friends would attest to I like my personal space. I hug and give high fives and shake hands but I don’t just do it with everyone. I greatly believe in personal space bubbles and like mine maybe just slightly larger than the average person. My personal space bubble has disappeared here and not of my own choosing. While waiting in line at the store it is not uncommon to have the person behind you close enough that you can actually feel them touching you. While on the bus or khumbi there is no such thing as personal space. People stand over you, on you, lean on you, and even place their children in your lap. It makes sense on transport. Khumbis are usually made for 15-18 people, that’s how many passenger seats are available, but carry between 15-25 people depending on how many people are willing to stand and how much stuff people are carrying.

I think this invasion of my personal space has been the biggest challenge for me thus far. Language and culture are struggles that I can anticipate and work through but the lack of personal space I experience in public is something that will take longer to adjust to. I also think it’s becoming something I am realizing more now because I am riding on public transport by myself. During training a bus was rented for us that only picked up PCTs. I knew everyone on the bus. We still had to invade each other’s space because the bus had maybe 30 seats and we had 42 people between PCTs and our bothishela (teachers). The difference was I knew all of the people on that bus. If someone was invading my space I knew who they were and knew their name, it didn’t feel as awkward. On public transport I have most likely never met this person before and I don’t know their name or anything about them. I am adjusting to this personal space invasion and learning my limits of what I can handle. I guess the jist of the story is don’t be surprised if at the end of two years you find me standing really close to you in line for something or sitting right next to you on a nearly empty bus. I may have just adjusted so well that lack of personal space becomes the norm.

The other challenge I have here is how much waiting happens. I am somebody that likes to keep moving and have a plan. I like to know what’s next and have a timetable of each day laid out. I am usually 10 minutes early for an appointment or on-time which being on-time even feels late. Here I don’t really have the ability to control the times I can do things in. I have to wait for a khumbi or bus to pass that isn’t full in order for me to get to town. I live between two towns, kind of in the middle of nowhere so there is no scheduled time for transport. In some places there is a schedule for the buses but not always. Khumbis typically only leave a main town when they are full. Once in town I wait in line for the ATM, post office, grocery store, and other shops. Waiting one hour for food at a restaurant is not uncommon. I then get to wait for a khumbi or bus in order to come back home. I could have to wait only 10 minutes or maybe one hour. It depends on when the khumbi or bus arrives and how long it takes to fill up with passengers.

Waiting happens here for everything and anything. During training we were regularly told about “Swazi time.” I don’t think I quite understood the meaning during training because our schedule was so jam packed that we didn’t have a lot of downtime and we had to make up for any wait time by shortening breaks or going later into the evening. Now that I am out at my permanent site I get Swazi time now. Swazi time is when morning assembly at school is scheduled to start at 7:30 everyday but has never started before 7:45am. The funny thing is that no one seems to mind. Things running late or starting after they were scheduled isn’t a problem here. This is extremely difficult for me. I have taken to bringing my kindle with me everywhere I go in order to fill the wait time. I need something to do. Swazi time also comes out in a different way related to transportation. If I were running behind time in the States and missed the bus, I would say just that, that “I missed the bus.” Here Swazis say “the bus left me.” Now that would make sense if you were waiting at the stop when the bus went by and it didn’t pick you up but this is said when the person is still at home getting ready to walk to the bus when it passes. I have not adjusted to Swazi time yet. I still get frustrated that things don’t start as scheduled or with the amount of downtime that seems to exist here but I am only three months in. I am hoping that my frustration in this area will lessen as time goes on. So maybe don’t be surprised if I make dinner plans with you in two years when I am back in the States and show up an hour late with no explanation other than that I am still working on Swazi time. 


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