New Time, or Old Time? The Wackiest Daylight Savings Time Ever

Last Sunday I slept in. By accident.

Accustomed to a world in which cell phones automatically change to accommodate daylight savings time, I slept blissfully through the 2 am Morocco Daylight Savings Time switch, in which time advanced an hour – but my cell phone alarm clock did not.

But mashi mushkil (no problem), right? I was a little late to the Dar Chebab (youth center) that morning, but so was everyone else probably – Moroccan sense of time is different than the regimented one Americans cultivate. At least, so every guide book and culture guide has told me.

The week before, I had discussed starting English classes with some high school boys in my village. “Thursday at 5:30 is good,” they told me. “Most of us will be done with our classes and we will come then.”

Great! Thursday at 5:30! I have a day! A time! A place (the Dar Chebab)! Interested students! Mashi mushkil!

Then, on that fateful Sunday of Daylight Savings Time, I talked over my plan with some high school girls.

“The boys I talked to said Thursday at 5:30 would be good. Does that sound good to you?”

The girls conferred. One of them said, “Yes, but that was old time. This is new time. So now it would be 6:30.” The others all nodded.

I was a little nonplused. Was the high school not observing Daylight Savings Time? No, of course it was, the girls assured me. Everyone was using “new time” now.

“Well, then it would still be 5:30. That makes no difference. There’s just more sun in the sky.”

“No, no silly!” they corrected me, laughing. “You spoke with them last week. They said 5:30. But NOW it is 6:30! New time, not old time!”

I decided it was easiest to give in. “Okay, I’ll do classes at 6:30 then.” In my head, I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to show up for my class at 5:30, just in case any students were confused by the word-of-mouth memo.

“Meryem, when you say 6:30, do you mean new time, or old time?”

Oy.

Then I went home. Dinner was, to be expected, very late; instead of the usual 9:45, it was at 10:45 (in new time, of course).

However, I noticed that the clock on the wall still read 9:45, which: of course! Whenever Daylight Savings Time happens in the states, it can take me weeks to get around to changing all the clocks. I totally understand.

As dinner was winding down, I stifled a yawn and idly commented, “Oh I’m so tired! It’s so late!”

Everyone in the room looked at me blankly. “Well, it’s late!” I pointed at the clock. Everyone looked. “I mean, that clock isn’t right. In new time, it’s an hour later.”

“Oh, new time? We don’t bother with that,” my host mother said. “We stay with old time.”

OY.

So that’s why all this confusion! To be fair, Daylight Savings Time has only been around in Morocco since 2008, so I can easily see why many people would simply poo-poo the practice. Everything I’ve tried to plan this week has involved a confusing “new time, or old time?” conversation, until I inevitably lose track of what time it is, and what time it should be. As one PCV friend commented, it seems like the only thing that changes during Daylight Savings Time is the hour hand – everything else simply happens an hour later! 

But here’s the real kicker about Daylight Savings Time here: Morocco actually drops Daylight Savings Time for the month of Ramadan, reverts back to standard time, and then picks it back up again until it’s over at the end of September.

Here’s what I want to know. That first week of Ramadan, when we will surely have more “new time, or old time?” conversations, will “new time” be the newly-reeinstated-no-longer-DST-time, which is what is at this moment in April considered “old time,” or will standard time be consistently referred to as “old time,” in which case we will be leaving “new time” and going back to “old time”?

I already have a headache.

What has really struck me, though, is the vastly different comprehension of time that Moroccans have. Sure, every guide book says “Moroccans have a different sense of time,” but usually they mean it in this glib, slightly-offensive way that covers up what they’re really trying to say, which is, “Americans, be warned, Moroccans will be late for everything, just chill.” But what I was encountering here wasn’t that. It was a sense of time dramatically less bounded by clocktime than mine was.

I affix time to a clockface. If something is at 6 pm, then it is at 6 pm, no matter how much sun is in the sky or what the weather is. But the Moroccans in my village do not define time by a clockface; they define it by what they see, what they feel, how many things they’ve accomplished since they’ve woken up, or how much time since they had their last meal. So when those boys told me 5:30, they meant not 5:30 but a certain time in the day indicated by 5:30 – a time that would best be represented by 6:30 a week later.

It makes me think of something I remember vividly from reading Madeline L’Engle books, where she talks about two kinds of time: kairos, and chronos. Chronos is “ordinary, wrist-watch, alarm-clock time,” while kairos is “real time, pure numbers with no measurement.”

I guess I am a chronos person living in a kairos world! Talk about a wrinkle in time. Har har.

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