Nothing in the DR begins on time

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Cornell University students spend eight weeks each summer in Santo Domingo, living with families on Calle General Sucre, at left, taking a class with Dominican peers and doing qualitative research on public health-related topics.

by Paige Wagar

I came to the Dominican Republic expecting humidity, the heat of a city
in summer, mosquitos, and to be honest, a lot of beans and rice. I had constructed
an image of my experience-to-be using the information fed to me gathered through the experiences of others.

In January, I had traveled to Honduras. I reread my musings from the first few days and one began as follows: Nothing in this country begins on time! No one is responsive or prompt! I laughed as my eyes continued to read my rant regarding the lack of efficiency or promptness.

Just six months ago I was in a similar context, had faced similar frustrations, had learned the reasonings of the laid-back Latin culture, and with one semester in a setting driven by the constraint of time I had forgotten. I hadn’t expected a struggle with time. People here sit. They chat. They banter. They walk. And as simple as a statement this may seem, this is one of the bigger contributors to the culture shock I have faced.

On Tuesday and Thursday we have class from 4 to 6 pm. This means, class begins at 4:20 and ends at 6:15. Zumba starts each morning at 8 am, which means, whenever the teacher and majority of students arrive.

I wear a watch. Others wear theirs for style, an accent to their outfit. But mine is a timepiece – tuned every few days to ensure its accuracy. My host brother, Benjamin, asked me why I had a clock on my arm.

The question caught me off guard.
A norm, is it not? To be on time.

My mother says I would make a good lawyer. According to her, I am assertive in my interpretations of the world and have strong beliefs that I abide to without constraint. She says I hold myself to a high standard of conduct and expect the same from those around me. This mentality serves well in an institution operating under the popular paradigm of education, where knowledge is passed from teacher to student and your day is driven by the clock.

My life at Cornell is scheduled to the minute: class from 8:40 am to 9:55 am, meeting at 10:00 am, class at 11:00 am to 12:20 pm, work at 12:30 pm – I’m stopping there because I can feel my pulse quickening as I type. Aha! Here lies my lesson.

I’ve heard the critique that time is a construct, created to inspire industry and to keep the people on task. But I have my own reasons. My mind likens promptness with respect. This connection lies at the root of my discomfort with the lack of adherence to a schedule. I proudly accept the label type-A for the attributes I associate with this identity: prompt, driven, motivated, efficient, reliable.

It’s funny, really. You’d think a girl raised in a southern California beach town renowned for its surf and beer would have an easier time letting it go and responding to the rhythm of the day. It hasn’t been easy, but as the days pass and the summer progresses, I can feel myself becoming more accustomed to Dominican time.

Paige Wagar is a student of Development Sociology at Cornell University.
She is studying in India in spring 2017.

 

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