A New View of Time

In our culture, time is of the essence. We don’t only want the things that we want. We want them now. I have become acutely aware of this since working in the service industry as a barista. Customers want what they want, when they want it. If they come in a solid 45 minutes after we have closed, they appear indignant that we would dare close our establishment on any basis other than their personal time table. I have grown curious as to what fuels this need to have everything, and have it quickly. In my weight loss journey, part of what nearly guaranteed my demise was my own time limit for myself. When I first set up my weight loss plan on my phone’s app, it told me a date that I would reach my goal. I was fixated on that date. Any time frame longer than that surely meant failure and I could not accept failure. No sir, no way, no how. I was going to get there. And I did! Never mind the fact that I almost completely destroyed my body in the process. I wanted to be thin and I wanted it now.

Two years ago, I had the privilege of studying abroad in Senegal. It was life-changing, beautiful, challenging, and essentially every other imaginable adjective. One thing that was a huge culture shock to me was the Senegalese concept of time. In Senegal, time is fluid and flexible. This was best demonstrated to me through the practice of the Senegalese afternoon tea ceremony called attaya, which is usually carried out at least once a day.

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The process of making attaya begins as many things do in Senegal, with a trip to the store. Senegalese families do not usually keep many ingredients around the house. They typically buy them on an as-needed basis. This is another substantial difference from the American culture of Costco pallets of Coca Cola, but I won’t go there today. When I lived there, myself or one of my sisters would fetch tea leaves, mint, and sugar to make our attaya.

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Once home, all of the necessities for making attaya would be gathered: the gas burner, the tea pot, two shot glasses, and all of the ingredients we had purchased.

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The tea, mint, and sugar are heated in a very precise manner with water on the gas burner. After some time, the first round of tea is poured. This is done by pouring the hot tea between the two shot glasses several times, creating as much foam as possible through the introduction of air. If you are a newbie like I was, you need to do this over some sort of pan to catch all of the tea that you spill in the process. You will also burn your fingers. Get used to it.

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The attaya is then passed around to anybody who happens to be in the room. Our upstairs neighbors would sometimes even bring us cups of attaya in the afternoon. It is a very communal experience. After the first round is complete, the process is repeated twice more, with slightly different instructions each time. All in all, there are three rounds of attaya. The entire tea-drinking process can last up to three hours. Three hours. To drink tea. But the time spent doesn’t matter. Attaya is not about drinking as much tea in as little time as possible. It is about savoring the experience, letting the sweet, hummingbird nectar taste roll over your tongue. It is about joking with one another, teaching each other new techniques, and relaxing in the company of loved ones.

I saw the attitude of attaya present in many areas of Senegalese culture. If you walked into a shop and the shopkeeper was praying, you respectfully waited for them to finish before attempting interaction. If you walked into a shop and the owner was making attaya, you did not interrupt their tea time. You would likely be invited to join, in fact. If your friend was late for a meeting you had arranged, you let it roll off of your back because you knew that she or he was not trying to slight you, and that they must have been doing something meaningful. The attitude of attaya is one that I missed greatly upon my return to the United States, and it is one that I hope to incorporate back into my life. Why are we rushing around? Why do we need what we want when we want it? All of this time that we are saving is only being filled with more stuff. We don’t need stuff. We need relationships. We need each other. We need attaya.

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