Most of the world doesn’t understand “9-5”

I recently saw an article floating around my facebook newsfeed disparaging America for refrigerating eggs. People were like, “What the hell, America?! You are so stupid!” And I was like, if we have resorted to criticizing America for refrigerating eggs, that is actually proof of how great America is. “Oh, no civil war? No mass starvation? People aren’t fleeing the country by the millions? Ok, well I guess everything is going pretty—REFRIGERATED EGGS!! OH MY GOD! ALERT THE PRESSES!”

Just imagine: a country so incredible its affluence permits people to spend hours arguing in weblog comment feeds about the proper temperatures for eggs. Few places on this globe allow for such luxury.

What about turkey eggs?

It’s now after fall break at my village school, and our recently settled schedule has been messed up again. An outbreak of hep A has obliged our director to ban unnecessary movement throughout the school and keep classes in students’ own homerooms. I suspect at least a few of the absentees are cases of great acting rather than a crippling month long illness. “I can’t go to school, mom. I’ve got that thing, I think, that people are talking about, you know, the one where people get to—I mean—have to stay home from school…”

In one particularly bad day of student attendance last spring, I talked my counterpart into taking a little visit together to the “troubled” students’ houses to talk with the parents. While several of them were supportive and said they would do a better job encouraging, what one mother said caught me off-guard. I asked if school was important and she said yes, but that her son was needed to do the farm work so the family could have food.

I know not everyone in America has it altogether easier, and most people work very hard. But if I had to put a number on the average work schedule here, 5am-9pm would be a little more accurate. People work really, really hard, and especially the women since the lack of running water and consistent electricity tends to hit the domestic chores the hardest.

It’s not always the same kind of work we’re used to in the states, assisted by all our time-savers. But people are doing what they need to do in the moment to secure a future. That means when the coal truck comes to town, you stop what you’re doing, go home, negotiate a price, and then spend the next couple hours shoveling it into your shed. Staying warm is kind of a priority in Kyrgyzstan. Yet this disrupts my neat little 9-5 schedule I have all written out for myself, like I thought I was still in the states or something.

We get up, we brush our teeth, we hit the office, take an hour off for lunch, put in a few more hours and then go home to an evening full of whatever we want to do. We press a button and the dishes are magically polished. We flip a switch and are kissed by warm air. Our biggest complaints are re-matching socks from the dryer or that minute rice actually takes five. Now I scrub my clothes with a bar of soap and that’s after hauling the water from a pump down the street. I never realized what a precious gift I was being handed – that precious gift called time.

Time gives us so many opportunities. We can get a second job, help our kids with their homework, volunteer at a food bank, or even surf the web for articles on eggs. Let’s just not forget what grace a 9-5 affords.

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