Simply Colombia

Partly sunny and mid-eighties. In late January? I’ll take it!

I know I said, “The ‘people’ is what I love the most about Colombia”, and I still stand by that. But this climate in Armenia, Quindio is nothing to sneeze at! No pun intended, (ok, maybe just a little). There is so much to love about Colombia that I feel I need to take a moment and share. It has been a little while since we last spoke, and a lot has happened during that time, the funny thing is is that not much of it has to do with ministry. I guess in a way it does if you figure in the fact that part of doing mission work is taking time to learn the language AND the culture.

Immediately after returning from the Amazon in late September, I moved into my new apartment. That has been a game changer for me. Not that I didn’t love living with the Lopez family, I truly did, very much so. But, living on my own in South America has given me a fresh zeal for this culture. So much that I now find myself more and more, calling this place home. Oh sure, I still love the U.S., it was great going back to Texas over the Christmas holiday, seeing my family and friends whom I miss dearly. Not to mention being at my dad’s 90th birthday party, so thankful now that I didn’t miss it. Being back in Texas caused me more than just a slight amount of heart conflict, between the two places I call home and that I love. I do have to say though, that I believe I am where I belong, at least for now, until God tells me otherwise.

Although I was in Texas for Christmas, I was in Colombia for my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. Guess what? They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Colombia. I missed out on all that great holiday food and togetherness. I didn’t miss out on the football though. That is one luxury I allowed myself this year, to purchase NFL Game Day to keep up with my beloved Cowboys. Yeah, yeah, I know, they didn’t quite make it through the playoffs, so what else is new. I still love ’em. In fact, I took advantage of the “big game” on Thursday to invite some of my good friends and (Colombian) family over to experience some fútbol americano! I used the opportunity to also teach them a little about Thanksgiving. What it’s all about and how we celebrate it back in Texas. I told them about all the traditional foods that we serve and why it’s my favorite holiday, (God, food and football). I did however make sure we had a bit of a feast ourselves. Yes, that’s right… I ordered pizza with all the fixens!

Hey, don’t judge,  turkeys are hard to come by here in Colombia. Before we dug into our “Thanksgiving feast”, I had them all participate in the great North American tradition of each one telling what they are thankful for. It was really a special time of sharing with them. I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

Simplicity. I really love that about Colombia, most everything here happens at a slower pace. Which is evident in the time-keeping of the people here. Or the lack thereof, I should say. They make their plans, but nobody shows up on time. Nothing starts on time, plans can change on a dime, and they often do. Oh, I’m not complaining, it’s not hard to get used to and it really takes the pressure off. I think that’s just part of the South American culture in general.

Simplicity in living. Many people here do not have a lot, and they’re ok with that. Many do not have a water heater in their home, and they’re ok with that. They have never had one so they don’t miss it. I didn’t have one for long while and you just get used to the cold showers, it’s not that bad. Some do not have washing machines in their homes, I don’t either. I  have yet to see a laundromat in Colombia, so I found that you can rent a machine. For a whole day or a half a day. Yep, you call them up and a young man will bring out a small machine ON THE BACK OF HIS MOTORCYCLE. It has two heavy-duty straps mounted to the front so he can put it on like a backpack and deliver it into your house, or up the stairs to the third floor, in my case. He will hook up the hoses and make sure it turns on. All this for the equivalent of about three U.S. dollars. I was amazed. Like many, my apartment is without an oven, it’s no problem. You just have to find new ways of doing things, be innovative, and I like that.  But one thing they do have is lots of love for their family. You will find many elderly people living at home with their children and grandchildren. You will also find many of the children living at home through college years and beyond, maybe up until marriage.

Simplicity in travel. I’m almost reluctant to say that. At first glance, the traffic in the city looks frightening, chaotic, dangerous. With the sheer number of cars and even more motorcycles, it looks pretty intimidating. You would think there were no traffic rules, and you would almost be right. Well, rules that the police actually enforce, anyway. Although it looks chaotic, in reality, when everyone is on the same “chaotic” page, it seems to work, and work well. The simplicity in the travel is in the fact that you don’t even need a car. You can walk just about anywhere you need to go, and many people do. It does help keep you in shape. But, when you do need transport, the public transportation system is a pretty good way to go. City buses are readily available and so are taxis. And large comfy buses for travel between cities. All this walking lends to an interesting atmosphere. You see people walking down the streets carrying all sorts of items, large and small. Many times I don’t even know what they are. I often joke about the crazy things I see people toting. One time I walked past a man holding onto a car door while he traversed down the sidewalk. As I went by I asked him why he was carrying that car door. He plainly told me, “In case it gets hot, I can roll down the window.” Ok, an old joke, I know. I couldn’t resist. Now that I’m living here on my own, I have found that I have become one of those who carry odd objects down the street. Besides the usual groceries and household items, I realized I have become “one of those”, the day Alex and I carried the bed for my new apartment from his house a couple blocks away.  We crossed a busy intersection, and then down another block to my place. Yes, I am almost Colombian now!

I mentioned earlier about the apparent lack of traffic law enforcement. That leads me to another simplistic value that I love about Colombia. The simplicity of common sense. What do I mean by that? Well, let me just say that I witness so many things here that would never fly back home with the litigious society that we have become in the United States. Such as? Such as not so small charcoal grills placed outside of small restaurants right on the sidewalk where many people pass by and anyone, who does not realize that a charcoal grill that is cooking food will be hot, can touch it and get burned. I see a lawsuit there. Also, I have climbed steps leading up to a private residence that were awkwardly steep and with no handrail to protect me if I made a misstep. Hmmm, I guess it’s my responsibility to know if I should climb them or not, knowing my own capabilities. Go figure. I recently visited a beautiful hot springs tourist location. The water there was wonderfully hot and relaxing. One waterfall at the end of one of the pools was supplying extremely hot water into the pool. It must have been at least 140 degrees. It was open for anyone who wanted to swim into it, to do so. But when you got close you could feel the increase of heat in the pool and knew the water coming from the fall could scald you. I wonder why hundreds of tourists weren’t scalded resulting in hundreds of lawsuits and the imminent closing of the establishment. I guess Colombians have a keen sense of personal responsibility that we lack in the good ole U.S. of A. Maybe it’s just knowing that you have to fend for yourself because you know the government is not going to be there helping you with your victim mentality. Lastly, during the Christmas holiday season, while strolling through a local mall, enjoying the festive lights hanging from the ceiling high above my head, I was noticing how almost all of them were hanging down low enough that I could easily reach up and grab them. I wondered what strange force kept the tall adolescent or teenager from grabbing them and trying to swing from them or just rip them down for plain “entertainment” value. Common sense?

Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now. I just wanted to point out how refreshing it is being in a place where people are expected to use common sense.

Since I brought up Christmas lights, let me take just a minute to tell you how I enjoy Christmas time in Colombia. although I spent Christmas in Texas this year, I was here until December 15th. I also experienced Christmas here two years ago. It’s not that the Christmas lights in Colombia are greater than anywhere else I’ve seen, or that there is so many more of them here than elsewhere. Or that they are even better in any way. I guess it’s just that I didn’t expect it. Such a pleasant surprise. One place in particular in Armenia where they do it up right is in the Parque de la Vida. I witnessed the lights for the first time this year. I love that park at any time of the year but it is especially nice during Christmas.

Finally, I will wrap up with the natural beauty of Colombia, simply gorgeous! Armenia sits right at the base of the Andes mountain range. While walking the streets, I often look up, and I’ll see the mountains rising up from the rooftops like glorious guardians watching over the city, and I am reminded in a moment of the immense beauty of God’s creation.img_1103 I recently went on a four-hour bike ride with two young men, whom, through their selfless eagerness to work with me as translators, have become very good friends of mine. We traveled a dirt road from Armenia to Boquia, (a quaint little farming community and tourist stop, nestled in the mountains, and where I did my first mission work in 2014), and back again. Traveling amid the lush foliage, through a mountain tunnel and alongside rolling hills bordered by the “guardians”, gave me an up close and personal experience of Colombia that will not soon be forgotten.img_1118

From the simple beauty of the South American style structures to the astounding beauty of the landscape, there is so much to enjoy in Colombia it’s hard to put into words. Therefore, I thought I would add this short video.

It was put together by my daughter and son-in-law when they gave me a surprise visit for my birthday last year. I think they did a good job of capturing some of that beauty.

If you take anything away from this blog today, I hope it will be, that you find some time to enjoy the simple things in your life, and thank God for them!
img_1120
To God be the glory!

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Author: Randy Bates

Thanks for stopping by!

4 thoughts on “Simply Colombia”

  1. Randy, thank you for sharing. Definitely made me stop and think it is the simple things in life that really mean the most to us. Glad you are settling in your home away from home. Keep enjoying life.

    Liked by 1 person

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