What I learned about waiting from Africans

comments 3
Contentedness / Cross Cultural / Tanzania / Time / Traveling

Waiting is a skill that you learn through practice.   Perhaps there are some people who are naturally good at it, naturally patient, but most aren’t. There is probably no group of people on the planet less likely to be good at waiting than Americans.  We are programmed early on to fill every possible moment with stimulation, and reduce to a bare minimum anything we can term “waste of time.” Produce, create, entertain, achieve, at the very least blather on about nothing to someone.  Pure unadulterated waiting is to be avoided at all costs; we hate it.

Not Africans. Waiting is a way of life.  They do not resist.  They do not flail and shout, tap their foot, check their phone or watch. (Yes, many Africans have phones, mostly unsmart ones.) They do not turn to another person to complain about this waste of their precious time. They just sit or stand, impassive, resigned, accepting. You see it in the smallest of children, who require no entertainment. On any given day you see hundreds of adults standing, waiting on a bus, waiting in a line, waiting for something, or frequently waiting for nothing.

African children may wait with such impassivity because they are ill or malnourished, or because they are hopeless. Many adults are unaccustomed to a schedule of activity and productivity, they also may be weary and not well fed themselves.

All this I see and understand.  But there is a peaceful acceptance of the inevitability of waiting that I envy.  There is a lack of insistence that my priorities be accommodated immediately. When people find out something has to be postponed, or the electricity has gone out and there’s nothing to do right now, it seems perfectly okay.  I’ll just wait.

I want to learn to wait upon the Lord. This is a waiting that is peaceful, expectant, hopeful, without striving and without continuing to try to solve the Rubik’s cube in my brain. It is patient, without checking the clock to say, “Oh Lord, how long??” And it is inevitable because I am really not in control though my lists and calendar may try to convince me to the contrary.

“Wait with hope for the LORD. Be strong, and let your heart be courageous. Yes, wait with hope for the LORD.”Psalm 27:14

The Author

Imperfect follower of Jesus, wife to the greatest guy in the world, Mom to five wonderful grown children, and happy Nana to their ten littles. Having grown up in the Deep South, I retain a love for all things Southern. I became an amateur cultural anthropologist during a significant time living in SE Asia and still get to travel the world on mission and for fun with my sweetheart. I love asking questions, cooking for my family, helping women breastfeed, walking in the woods, eating biscuits, and having deep conversations about things that matter. On my wishlist are reading more, playing the piano, painting watercolor scenes, figuring out my awesome camera, and writing to soothe my soul.


  1. Carolyn says

    Thank you. Lessons learned and passed on as you pay attention to your surroundings. An encouragement to me to pay attention, especially as I wait. This reminds me of the contentment you wrote about as you watched your cat. Good words.

    Liked by 1 person

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