iSTEP Tanzania

You mean, Swahili time or English time?

Posted on: July 17, 2009

So, this week I’ve been working on scheduling a bunch of different visits to observe the work our community partners do on a typical day, and several meetings to demo initial prototypes of the technology to them. Observations were very helpful to us in understanding the extent of the problems they face day-to-day. Interviews help us gain some insight, but seeing things first hand gave us a better perspective. Also, the two demos we’ve given so far went very well and our partners seem excited about the work.

Anyway, back to the subject of this blog entry…

So, while attempting to schedule one of these visits, I encountered a pretty interesting cultural miscommunication. One of the teachers whose class we wanted to sit in on sent me a text message (SMS) saying her class was at 2:40. Of course, I took this to mean 2:40pm. Since this was only one of many visits I was scheduling, it did not occur to me until the day of our visit that that time could not be correct since schools are only in session until 2:00pm everyday. By the time I realized this it was already 8:30am or so, and shortly after my realization the teacher called me to ask if I was going to be there that day. When I asked her to clarify the time she said “Oh, I am in the class right now!” Turns out that when she said 2:40, she meant class was at 8:40am – i.e. six hours past the time she told me. This was really puzzling to me, but apparently there is a separate “Swahili” time and “English” time. While I and most of the world functions on “English” time, in some Swahili speaking nations they consider 1:00am to be one hour after the sun rises, which would correspond to what most people consider 7:00am, and 1:00pm to be one hour after the sun sets, which would correspond to what most people consider 7:00pm ( So, the time they provide you might be six hours off, as was the case with the teacher I communicated with. Now that I know this, I try to clarify whether they mean “Swahili time” or “English time” time when I try to schedule meetings so that I won’t be six hours late or early!


3 Responses to "You mean, Swahili time or English time?"

Haha I’m from TZ and I didn’t know we had swahili time until I moved to the U.S and realized the reading of clocks was different. The easiest way you could do is if given swahili time example 3. To convert to english time you could do the six hour thing but you could also look at the clock the number opposite to 3 which would be 9. swahili time 8 number opposite will be 2. That’s how I usually do it 🙂

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July 2009
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