Patient virtue

By: Julie Cotton

My three-week holiday in the remote islands north of Vanuatu has changed me. Firstly, perhaps you could be forgiven for thinking that with five children I have the patience of a saint? Not true. The people of the islands have patience down to a fine art, and I am determined to have a piece of it in my life. Their simple motto is “wait small time”, which when translated means “wait for hours and then some”. Waiting is such an integral part of their life that they have managed to redefine it to mean “working”, and the word “quickly” seems to have been removed from their vocabulary. Now if I was to sit under a tree for most of the day in New Zealand it would be considered “blobbing”, but in these islands it is simply a part of their daily life structure and, yes, it can be absolutely infuriating. But it has taught me to try to stop hurrying my life away and try to cruise just a little bit more.

Take, for example, meal times. There was none of this, “Mum, I’m hungry can you whip me up a pasta or a sandwich?” Ha ha ha, nope! It was actually a matter of “wait small time”, while we collect some firewood, light a fire and let it burn down in the hole, peel enough kumara for the whole village, go pick some wild spinach, grind the coconuts to get the coconut milk, go catch some fish or crab, have a relax, and in a few hours’ time, when you’re really hungry, you can fill your belly full of food.

If waiting for food didn’t slow my pace down, then waiting for the fishing boat transport to other islands was on another level. It often went something like this ... organise a pick-up at 9am, but get a phone call at 9.30am to “wait small time” while your boat driver proceeded to have a chat to some friends in the village, run out of fuel along the way, wait for another boat to come along with fuel, catch some fish, call into a market stall and, finally, get to his paying customers – who by this time are hungry again, fast asleep and mosquito-bitten under the coconut trees. Now this, my lovelies, was all pretty fast-paced behaviour compared to waiting for your friends, who have decided to have a session on the local grog (kava). The “go slow” pretty much gets tattooed on your forehead once the kava bowl comes out. A combination of “wait small time” and “kava time” would see six hours morph itself into 12 hours and your entire day play out in front of you at the pace of a geriatric sloth. But I was a good girlie, hid my frustration and went with the mega go slow.

Now although this life experience has made me want to seek a change of pace, I am also violently aware that if this phrase “wait small time” was to somehow infiltrate New Zealand culture, you could pretty much guarantee that the country would grind to a halt. So in order for me to keep a balanced life and keep my foot out of an early coffin, I have made a list of my manic, hurried behaviour that I want to try and curb. Here it is: Attempt to walk no more than 50 metres in front of family while out shopping; yell “hurry up” no more than four times in the morning while kids are getting ready for school; accept the fact that I can’t have a shower when the washing machine is filling up; cease trying to shove something in the oven during bus stop runs (it always burns); and that wishful contemplation of the mop tied to the back of the broom needs to remain a fantasy! Life’s good, guys, take time to enjoy it and smell the roses. Just don’t “wait small time” all the time.

Julie Cotton


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