Cartagena has taught me that patience is cultural. What drives me crazy as an American doesn’t seem to make Cartageneros blink. What makes them restless is completely normal to me. As I patiently wait in line, the locals are pushing and yelling unless there is an armed guard. If there is a red light or a very short traffic jam, drivers and passengers are beeping their horns and insulting anyone within earshot. At a corner store, if I don’t speak up and push a grandmother out the way to pay, she will do it to me. When it comes to food, traffic and money, it’s survival of the fittest. Waiting is for the weak.
As lines make Cartageneros crazy, waiting in any and every other way drives me up the wall, across the ceiling, and back down the other wall. However, I never show it. I would never have any Colombian friends if I did. One day, I waited for 2.5 hours in front of supermarket waiting for each member of the group to show up. No one seemed to mind. Waiting for friends and family is not considered waiting; it´s normal, polite. Yet, waiting for the traffic light to change is excruciating.
In my classroom, I always fly an American flag to give me some comfort that my classroom is my realm, kingdom, homeland, or maybe even my universe. It also acts as a reminder to my students that we play by American rules: no cell phones, lame excuses, or arriving late. Nevertheless, I find myself seething inside as I sit in my classroom waiting for my students to trickle in for my 7AM class. My on-time students have no problem waiting for their classmates, knowing we need at least half of the group to start. We usually really get going around 8AM.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I learned that patience brought the fruits of my labor and it consisted of about 90% waiting and 10 % acting. Waiting was part of my job. I also found how the locals were so patient with their friends, family, and irresponsible governments fascinating. However, as a professor at a private university, the local students are not part of my grand socio-economic development scheme. Now, I just want that the stars and stripes of Old Glory to be respected in the classroom.