Time Will Tell
Barely visible at first, Mount Kenya rises out of the dark in an ever changing display of colors.
“Saa ngapi” = what time is it?”
“Saa moja asubuhi” = “one in the morning,” the smiling reply comes promptly. – Excuse me???
…but the sun is now rising steadily over the peaks of Mount Kenya so there surely must have been a misunderstanding – or is there?
Saa Moja (Asubuhi) = Hour One of Morning
Sunrise on the Equator – the beginning of a brand new day filled with adventures yet to be experienced.
On the Equator, the sun rises and sets with twelve hour intervals. All year round, 6am and 6pm you can almost set your watch by it – 12 hours of daylight, 12 hours of dark. (You knew that from school of course)… All year round folks, no late summer nights or winter gloom.
Come to think about it, it does make a lot of sense to call the hour when the sun is finally fully visible even over the highest peaks of Kilimanjaro, when the day here truly begins, the first hour in the morning.
After lunch of course the “asubuhi” becomes “jioni” = afternoon
Thru the day you keep counting until you get to 12 (jioni), which is the last hour of daylight.
By seven pm of course the sun has already set, it is dark on the equator, and so this becomes the first hour of night:
Saa Moja (Usiku) = Hour One of Night
What then of midnight, you wonder? This is where you revert to reading your watch upside down so to speak. 12 becomes 6 and since it is dark:
Saa Sita (Usiku) = Hour Six of Night (The Bewitching Hour!)
So now you get the hang of it, just read the opposite on your watch, observe if it is light or dark, and bingo, you can tell the time the way East Africans do.
Of course you have to be able to count to 12, in Kiswahili that is, about time you learnt that anyway:
|5||= tanu||asubuhi = morning|
|6||= sita||jioni = afternoon|
|7||= saba||usiku = night|
Now, having learnt all that and double checked the opposites on your watch, what guarantee is there that you’ll make that date with your new African friend on time?
Well here’s your excuse: blame “African time,” which, in these parts is accepted humorous license to give or take an hour. Or better yet:, if you are a linguist you could impress by quoting a Swahili proverb:
“Kila jambo na wakati wake” = there is an opportune time for everything.