Monday, November 7, 2011

November 7th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

It is infinite, and yet I can never get enough of it. It has kept the same speed since Adam and Eve, and yet it seems to be going past faster than ever. I use it to calculate my own speed, and my own progress, and I sell it, but never touch it, move it nor ingest it, and still it is gone - it stretches immeasurably behind me, and immeasurably in front of me, and yet I seem unable to master it.

Time. Time is an asset that we all have, it is just there, whether you want it or not, endless in its nature. Once it is gone, it is past us and we cannot change it or alter any of it, we all have the same amount in each day and thus we have to master the use of it as we pass this planet’s surface, guardians of our grandchildren’s assets.

I look around me and realise that in West Africa, time appears to be passing more quickly – mainly due to the constant (well almost) day length, and the environmental factors. If you compare what gets done in a day in Europe in the summer, it is generally more than is achieved here, by far. There is more ‘day length’ and I am sure that is a part – practically and psychologically – in the effect. I will often say ‘there are not enough days in the hour’; a corruption of the ‘not enough hours in a day’ to express my personal frustrations at not achieving all that I seek to in a twenty-four hour West African time period.

It is not just the passage of the time, as many people express the same common ‘surprise’ at learning that we are ‘more tired’ living in West Africa than elsewhere. Most of the people I know like to be in bed before nine in the evening – yet in the temperate climes they would add another two hours to their ‘time for bed’. It is very clear that the environment has a tiring effect on our bodies – far more than in the temperate zones, and that leads to a reduction in our ability to achieve our objectives… unless we modify our approach to the use of our time in the achievement of our goals.

Of course, the ‘incredible slowness’ of ‘administrative activity’ is crippling to the time conscious. Recently I spent over ninety minutes in a bank ‘of international connection’ in Accra waiting for a bankers draft – it is simply the pace at which it happens. I have (noisily) walked out of many banks in Ghana – exasperated at the waste of my limited time – it seems that they fail to understand that we have to actually EARN the money to put in the bank! If you stand in an average bank in Accra on a busy day you will witness a crime, punishable by law (if only we could make it stick) – that of ‘causing financial loss to the state’. Imagine the hundreds of people who visit a bank in a day, and add up the ‘time spent waiting due to lack of efficiency’. If it is just twenty minutes per person and two hundred and fifty people per day visit the bank, that makes over eighty two hours ‘of wasted time’ in a day or over twenty one thousand hours in a year… that is two thousand six hundred and eighty ‘eight hour days’ or a total of five hundred and thirty six working weeks – about ten person-years of working…. PER Branch…. The must be hundreds of branches across the nation contributing to this ‘productivity’ leakage – and with it, the loss of productivity to the enterprises, and hence loss of tax revenues – or, as we started ‘loss of finance to the state’.

In aviation we have to take time very seriously. Pilots are limited in the time they are allowed to fly in a week and in a year. Aircraft are serviced on ‘hours’. Times for departures and trip times are the ‘measurement of success’ in the industry. Fuel burn per hour is key to a safe calculation of the trip requirements – and it goes on ‘time to climb’, time to waypoint, time-over-distance (a fascinating navigational tool), etc.

My surprise (or was it really) this week was when a ‘Director’ of a state institution was ‘unable’ to make a meeting before his leave. I was unperturbed, for a week or two out on the particular project would be OK. Then I heard the most incredible announcement ‘He has taken thirty working days’. Which, if you consider this time of years ‘other holidays’ means that his presence in his office will be negligible – if any – prior to the new year.

My immediate reaction to the ‘poor messenger’, at whom I opened fire, was ‘So, if he can take that long off of work, he is not needed.’ The reply of ‘Oh, it does not matter, the technicians are still working, so it won’t change anything.’, simply added to my conviction that ‘he was unnecessary’. I come across many ‘managers’ who do not seem to use their time wisely – the ominous presence of a television often a tell-tale sign of ‘judicious time-wasting’. It is one thing to listen to the news on the radio at the top of the hour, but it is another to watch the latest Nigerian movie during ‘supposedly productivity hours’. Just imagine if you found a doctor watching a movie instead of concentrating on the surgery in hand!

Over the past seventeen plus years in Ghana I have seen some really hard working individuals make it to the ‘big man’s chair’. Sadly, some of them see that as ‘early retirement on full pay’. The other, fortunately, are seen to redouble their efforts and are often not found in their office, but rather on the field, or in the factory – chasing the jobs and inspiring the next generation towards achievement and outstanding use of the limited time we have on the planet.

Today’s edition is on a ‘holiday’ – another one. Ghana has a lot of ‘holiday days’, and I really do not hold with the concept at all. We are a developing nation – we need to work hard, dedicated to our tasks, not taking extended leave periods or enduring the disruption of yet another ‘national holiday’ and the knock on effects on traffic, productivity and growth.

Even the hawkers in Accra have a better understanding of these things than most. In 1995 one of them, when I asked why he was ‘working’ on a national holiday, responded ‘stomach no holiday’. That simple fact should focus all of us onto the need to use time wisely, effectively and to remember that ‘no one can ever change the past, but we can all change the future’ provided we all make good use of the time at hand, all of the time!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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