Time is a concept that varies from culture to culture. This article describes differences in time perception of patients in Belize compared to those in the United States. A medical mission team's approach to care with regard to time perception is also provided.
For 11 students from the University of Virginia's College at Wise, and one student from Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, spring break was a timeless journey: a medical mission trip to Belize. Timeless refers to eternal or everlasting. For these students, this journey was timeless because it will have an everlasting impact on their lives. Some of the students experienced many firsts on this trip: an airplane ride, travel outside the United States, caring for patients from another country, speaking through an interpreter and caring for a non-English speaking patient. In addition, these students may never experience the same sense of connectedness and collaboration when providing nursing care as they did while caring for the people of Belize.
In addition to the students, the medical team for the 1-week mission trip to Belize included Dr. Joseph Smiddy, Tauna Gulley, Dr. Tommy Holtzclaw, Pastor Layton Bentley, Frank Waldo, and Jim and Eva Gott. The team was housed at the Uriah Compound in Roaring Creek. The goal of the trip was to conduct medical clinics in two rural villages: Lagoon Road Baptist Church in St. Margaret's Village and Good Samaritan Clinic at Uriah Compound.
Belize, formerly British Honduras, is located in Central America. The country is bordered by the Caribbean to the east and southeast, Guatemala to the west and Mexico to the north. Inhabitants of Belize are ethnically diverse and include Maya, Spanish, Kriol, Garinagu, and Mennonite. The official languages of Belize are English, Spanish, and Kriol.
The original inhabitants of Belize were Mayans. The Mayan civilization emerged around 300 AD and spread across the country of Belize. The ancient Mayans had a unique perspective related to time. This perspective has been termed eternal or timeless because the Mayans felt that the past, present, and future existed at all times, with the past and future continuously meeting in the present (Brown, 2009). This unique perspective related to time is still evident among the people of Belize.
A SENSE OF TIME: CULTURAL COMPARISONS
When caring for people from different cultures, it is important to understand time perception from the patients' perspective. How do they use their time? What time constraints do they have? Are they past-, present-, or future-oriented? Answers to these questions are important because they guide recommendations for treatment, plans for follow-up, and long-term maintenance of health problems.
In Belize, patients oft en walk for miles to see a medical provider. In some instances, mothers carried their children for long distances to receive medical care. Tired and dusty, they arrived with plenty of smiles and thanks for the team. What mattered to them was that they or their child needed to see a medical provider, not how long it took to get there. We also noticed that very few people in Belize wore or carried a watch. No one was looking for the nearest clock hanging on the wall. Many did not express time in a numerical way. For example, when asked what time her son would be home, a lady in the village made a homemade version of a sundial or clock in the dirt. She drew a circle in the ground, stuck a stick in the middle of the circle, looked at the sun, looked at the stick, and pointed to the corresponding spot on the circle. That was the time when her son should be home. To most Americans, this method of time determination would seem unreliable since we live by a precise schedule.
Time is best described as an ever-present yet ever-changing constant as the human race moves backward into the past, grows with the present, and leaps forward into the ultimate indefinite of time, the future. …