By now you’ve surely heard the expression, “Colombian Time.” It’s an expression often used when someone is ‘late’ for something, since being late for something is a vague concept at best in Colombia. Time itself is actually something of a vague concept here! There are only three times that matter in Colombia: la mañana, la tarde y a la noche.
“Colombian Time” seems to affect years as well. I came to Colombia intending to spend six months at most, researching and writing a book with the indigenous peoples of la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. I have just finished my third year here! I can’t believe it. It must have something to do with “Colombian Time.”
I came to Colombia at the invitation of the Elders of the indigenous peoples of la Sierra – an invitation to spend time with them, to learn from them, and to write a book that would share their urgent spiritual and environmental message with the world. And that, in a nutshell, is what this past year has been about for me. It’s been quite a year! A lot has happened but it has gone by so quickly. Colombian Time.
I have now completed the book and begun pre-production on a feature film adaptation. Journey to the Heart of the World has evolved into a fantasy adventure novel, and now a movie, aimed at a young adult audience, since they are the ones who need to hear the spiritual and environmental message.
The Elders’ message is a simple one: our Earth Mother – la madre tierra – is in trouble, and she will surely die unless you and I rediscover our one-ness with our Earth Mother, unless we stop destroying and start healing. ‘Climate change’ is very real to these people. They see it every day with their own keen eyes.
The year started, as it always does in northern Colombia, with the ‘dry season.’ This year it was a clear illustration of the climate change that is affecting la Sierra and the world. The dry season began early and ended much later than usual. By the time the first rains arrived in mid-April, I was carrying buck- ets of water from the river to my house, and the lush landscape of la Sierra was mostly brown.
As I continued to research and write my novel, there was progress on a movie adaptation as well. My producers came to Colombia and we visited the beautiful Arhuaco village of Nabusimake. We received the blessings of the Elders and we experienced life in the pastoral valley of thatched huts with no electricity or any other ‘modern’ convenience. Life in the slow lane. Colombian Time.
In May, I visited Gunmaku, the indigenous village that is home to four Arhuaco teenagers who attend the public school where I live, in Minca. Their village is a newer one located near Aracataca. The indigenous population in Colombia is actually growing, with new traditional villages being constructed by a younger indigenous population that continues to reject our destructive material culture.
The new village was built in the traditional manner but with government help. The thatched huts are made from a new type of environmental-friendly adobe bricks, and there are solar-powered street lights at the end of each of the neat rows of houses – the only concession to modernity.
The Colombian presidential elec- tion was held while I was visiting. Local voters cast their ballots at the ‘John F. Kennedy Community Center’ located near the indigenous village! My teenage Arhuaco friends were hoping for a Zuluaga victory since they take their education very seriously and they felt that Zulaga was the pro-education candidate.
I participated in the organic coffee-production process – everything from picking and hulling the beans to cleaning and drying them to roasting the beans over a wood fire – all done by hand! As we traversed the mountain village from the coffee plants to the areas where the coffee was cleaned and dried and roasted, I also had the opportunity to ride their horses – bareback!
It was a wonderful magical time, fully immersed in nature and indigenous life, life the way it was meant to be lived – on Colombian Time.
I completed the novel at the end of July, and the focus since then has been on getting it ready for publication and moving forward with the film production.
But mostly my time has been spent immersed in the natural beauty of la Sierra Nevada, truly experiencing my oneness with la madre tierra.
I have no idea what the future holds for me. At least another year in Colombia, staying ‘on location’ until the film is completed. And after that, who knows. Maybe the rest of my life living in rural Colombia, enjoying the beauty of nature – and Colombian Time.
About the author: John Lundin is an environmental activist and writer living in Minca, in la Sierra Nevada above Santa Marta. He is the author of The New Mandala – Eastern Wisdom for Western Living, written with the Dalai Lama, and Journey to the Heart of the World, his new novel and feature film adaptation.