What Time You Got? July 17, 2012

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.–Lao Tzu

There are four busses that pick up and drop off students for summer program at Xavier High School.  That means there are exactly three more busses than there are main roads on the island of Weno.  So bear with me while I present a little logic problem:

  1. A small high school in a third world island nation has four busses donated by a guilt-ridden Japanese government.
  2. At any given time, two busses are broken down, leaving two to transport students.
  3. Bus A has to make 14 stops along the only road on the island.
  4. Bus B has to make five stops.
  5. All of the stops made by Bus A occur within the first three miles from the school.
  6. Bus B makes its first stop three and a half miles from the school.
  7. Which bus should be the first one to leave the high school to return students home in the afternoon?

If you guessed Bus B, you are….WRONG!!!!  You failed to take into account that said busses are on a third world island nation, and, unless you live in a third world island nation, your logic and theirs operate on completely different planes.

Last Friday the summer program coordinator, rode one of the busses (Bus B) into town after school.  He found himself in his own private purgatory.  A purgatory with an aisle flanked by seats designed for two children apiece yet each is holding three.  A purgatory populated with young adolescent Pacific Islanders and driven by a middle aged Pacific Islander man. A purgatory navigating a rutted out road which more resembles a one lane mine field than any thoroughfare.  A purgatory made longer because the bus he was on had to stop fruitlessly behind the bus in front of it while it made 14 stops within the first three miles of the school.

At the end of the journey, the program coordinator said to the driver of his transport that he should leave before the other bus since that bus needs to make so many stops before this bus makes its first.  “…but today, when the busses were pulling out to leave, they were back in that same order.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know why they do this.  It’s obviously wrong.”

Is it foolishness?   Is it a lack of logical reasoning skills?  Is it contempt for the young coordinator? The answer is no, no, and no–none of the above.

In discussing this with a local resident, the answer was clear.  “What difference does it make?”  Well, it’s more efficient, and he can drop off his passengers sooner.  “Why?  He should hurry up and do what?”  The kids are happy socializing with their friends.  The driver’s going to get them all home.  If the driver finished earlier or later does it really matter all that much?  Welcome to “Island Time”, baby.

Until now, I always thought of this as a quaint notion invented by tourists to express how laid back the island lifestyle is.  But of course those same tourists lose their minds when a waiter is slow with their mai tais. But this idea of island time goes much deeper.  It’s encoded in generations of DNA  strands dating back to time immemorial. My friend explained it to me this way.  If you live on an island, where do you have to go?  What are the demands on your time? It’s not like anything that needs to happen after finishing one task won’t still be waiting– whenever you finish the first.  We’re on an island, for God’s sake. Nothing’s going anyplace.  Nobody’s going anyplace.  Whoever I’m supposed to meet at three o’clock will still be here at 3:30, 4:00, 5:00 or tomorrow for that matter.

Now, throw this into the mix–We’re not just in any island nation; we’re in Micronesia.  In this culture, it’s not important that I get there first; it’s important that we all get there together.  That’s lightyears away from the traditional American/Western mindset.  My friend explained further. “In general, Micronesians, especially the Chuukese, don’t like to stand out.  If you threw a bushel basket of Chuukese crabs int a pot of boiling water, and one started climbing out, the others would pull him back in. With few exceptions, we don’t usually celebrate personal success.”  So why rush to win a prize? Isn’t better if we all come through something together. Perhaps this is why, people here don’t live day to day; they live event to event.

The best example of this mindset in action comes from Palau.  Micronesia is broken into three countries: The Marsall Islands, Palau, and The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).  All three were once U.S. trust territories who through a series of constitutional conventions earned independence in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  The newly formed countries entered into a Compact of Free Association with the United States.  The compact created military bonds between the countries and the U.S.  It solidified economic ties, guaranteed aid money,  and set up the U.S. dollar the official currency.  Palau, however, did not enter into the compact right away.  You see Palau’s constitution declared that it would be a nuclear free territory.  That meant no nuclear weapons, no nuclear power, and no ships or submarines with nuclear arms or reactors on them can pass through her waters.  The U.S. did not like this clause in the constitution, and wanted it out before ratifying the compact.  Now the compact was definitely in Palau’s economic interest and America’s military interest.  But it took a three-fourths vote in Palau to change the constitution.  The U.S. Senate was getting impatient to finalize and solidify ties with Palau when a delegation of Palauan women appeared before a senate subcommittee.  The senators spoke sharply to the delegation demanding to know when exactly the no nuke stipulation would be removed from the constitution.  A woman from the delegation stood up before the committee and answered.  “What the rush?”

The Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and Palau was ratified in 1994, 13 years after Palau adopted its constitution.  The U.S. is not allowed to use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons in Palau territory.
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