Cambodia On Time
I bought a watch. I haven’t worn a watch in years thanks to my trusty iPhone. But an iPhone isn’t something you want to wave around over here in Cambodia as it’s bound to get snatched right out of your hand by someone zooming by on a moto. True story.
Anyway, so my watch—it’s a swatch and reminds me of being in middle school.
But what I’ve really been thinking about isn’t telling time, it’s living time. How we live time. How time lives us. What time feels like and how we experience it passing.
I’m working on wrapping my head around the Cambodian nuances to the concept of time. Because it isn’t just an experiential difference, aka “being on time,” but more of a philosophical one: a capabilit-ical one (my new favorite made-up word).
In my job, I spend a lot of time formulating questions. And many of these questions revolve around time. And I’ve had to re-think them. And then re-think them again.
“What are you planning for your farm and your family?” became “What do you want to change on your farm in the next 5 years?”
And then: “What are you going to do tomorrow?” Wait for answer. “What are you going to do on Saturday?” Wait for answer. “What are you going to do next week?” Wait for answer. “Will you change anything on your farm for the next rainy season?” Wait for answer. “Is your neighbor a good farmer?” Wait for answer. “Can you make your farm to be like his farm?” Wait for answer. “How can you be a farmer like your neighbor?” Piece together all the answers to all these questions from all the neighbors and maybe find a story about aspiration and choices.
Cambodians don’t “plan.” And that’s not just a conceptual Maslow’s hierarchy type of situation. The current language of poverty would tell us that “it’s not that they ‘don’t’ plan, it’s that they ‘can’t’ plan.” But I sense a different kind of approach to time here. I have this nagging suspicion that the developed world’s framework for understanding the cognitive capabilities of a mind in poverty doesn’t really apply here in Cambodia.
Yes, there is a part of the story that is relevant—rural farmers who make enough to survive will sometimes only make enough to survive. They will get up and go to sleep with the sun. As farmers have always done and as farmers always will do (until iFarmers replace them, of course). But there are other parts, about the value of time itself, that transform the narrative as well.
I don’t know how to say it other than “things just take time” in Cambodia. And even then, my language limits me to using the word “take.” These things, that I NEED DONE NOW, are taking time from me. Instead of these things being time passing in and of themselves.
Time. It doesn’t “run out.” I don’t have to fill every second of it. Things don’t take it. It passes.
As someone who has always struggled with patience, I’m appreciating learning how to be time passing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Emilie has spent the last ten years traveling the world with Thinkers & Makers to help social impact organizations design solutions to the challenges they face. A classically trained anthropologist with degrees from Yale University and The London School of Economics, she collaborates with people dedicated to cultural change, no matter where they are in the world. From product design for Cambodian farmers with the innovation lab at iDE, to jump-starting the WildEarth WoodFired Mobile Pizza Bakery in Minneapolis, supporting Fair State Brewing Cooperative (the first and only co-op brewery in Minnesota), co-creating a new philanthropy with Eat for Equity, and digging into trends for Generation Flux, her work is always rooted in anthropology, strategy and the common Good.
Emilie is also an avid photographer, a guest lecturer at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota and an active philanthropist- serving on the board of directors for the Quetico Superior Foundation and as the past board chairman for YMCA Camp Warren.