On the Perception of Time

Sometimes, I like to think about my Pappap’s morning routine. I used to sit downstairs with my grandma and we would listen as he rode his exercise bike, showered, combed his thick hair. It was a process. Then he would come downstairs, and we would decide what to do with the day. Some days, I would follow him back up to his studio and watch him make art. He was a very talented painter. He liked to remember his days as a Navy carpenter by painting portraits of the sea, building model boats, and collecting nautical things.

I used to sit on the window seat and watch as he methodically mapped out a new painting or assembled the pieces of his boat. He had a large wooden drafting table covered in pens and brushes and paper. It was magical to watch the process. He took his time with everything, whether it was with a painting or with me. When I remember my Pappap, I think about his pace through life. Slow and steady. Not because of any sort of physical limitation, but because he understood the value of time, and he knew when it meant to appreciate each moment.

In my travels, I’ve learned the different values that people place on time. In my own life, I appreciate good use of time. I appreciate being on time. I appreciate taking time for others.

Dating someone of a different nationality has sometimes proven difficult in regards to timing. He is not a stereotypical European who is late to everything. But he is like my Pappap in that he has a slow pace, and he appreciates the leisure of time. More so, we define time differently. To me, morning ends at noon, afternoon ends at 5pm, evening ends around 8 and night is anything after. To him, afternoon is from 2-8pm, evening is until 11. You can see how these might lead to miscommunications. It’s not like we show up at places at different times. But if I expect a call at night, I might have to wait until midnight.

Here in Rwanda, time is such a noticeable thing for me. African Time is a very similar concept to European Time or Latin American Time. Being on time is not a precedent. The experience of time is more important than the use of it.

However, what stands out to me here is the recognition of time, the emphasis on time passed, and the importance of understanding time.

The genocide was only 100 days. In less than 4 months, almost a million were slaughtered. It was a methodical genocide. The Hutus started in the villages and then progressed towards Kigali. There was a rhythm, a purpose, and a plan for the genocide.

Because of this, each village, town, and district that was the site of a massacre has specific records of the exact date on which people died. It seems much more real when presented this way. For example, in the Holocaust, we know that 6 million Jews were killed, and almost 12 million total died. We can find out how many were specifically killed at Auschwitz over the span of six years, and we can also probably find out from camp records how many were gassed on a particular day.

Here in Rwanda, there were 100 days. On April 7th, 5,000 people were killed at the Catholic church in Ntarama. On April 15th, 10,800 people were slaughtered at the Catholic church in Nyamata.

My Pappap died on December 20, 2003. I was in the 8th grade and it was the day before Christmas break. My parents woke me up to tell me, but I already knew. We had removed his life support and it was only a matter of time. That morning, at school, we assembled for the lighting of the final candle on the Advent wreath. The whole school held hands and my principle asked them to pray for my family. I looked across the cafeteria and saw my brother, standing with the rest of the 6th graders. I found my sister’s curls amongst the rest of the kindergarteners.

I remember the flame on the top of the purple candle. Purple, purple, pink purple. That’s the order in which they are lit. I remember looking at my shoes and wishing the moment would be done and the prayer would be sent away to someone listening. I remember thinking about my sister’s tiny hands. We both have crooked pinkies. I wished I could be holding hers.

Time is a funny thing. I remember those ten seconds more than the entire funeral, and our family Christmas celebration four days later where we all sat in a circle and received a final present from Pappap.

So, then, how does time lead to healing? It’s been ten years and each December 20th, I relive those ten seconds. I don’t miss my Pappap anymore. It’s just a fact of life that he is no longer living. But I think of him often during my life, and am aware of certain times that he would have liked to appreciate.

On each April 7th or April 15th or May 31, or July 3rd, someone here in Rwanda lost a loved one, lost a neighbor, lost their own life to a genocide. This summer was the 19th anniversary of the genocide. Are nineteen Aprils enough to lessen the pain of one?

The national strategy for genocide recovery is to commemorate the 100 days each year. It is important for Rwandans to remember, to continually mourn, and to learn from the lessons of the Dark Days. Rwanda has done well in their efforts to memorialize the genocide and commit it to memory. So the final question is how a nation with such a predetermined collective memory can make new memories strong enough to balance the weight that the past bears down, each and every day.

Perhaps in one hundred Aprils, or forty December 20ths from now, someone will have an answer.


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