Before I moved to Colombia, I lived several “mini lives” in Medellín. I came and lived here for a few months. I escaped the very worst portion of the Chicago winters.
There was a phenomenon I experienced every time I came here, which taught me a lot about how I think about time. It always happened right around the three week mark.
Getting used to a slower pace of life The pace of life in Medellín is different from the pace of life in Chicago. It’s slower. People talk slower, people walk slower. That thing where you stand on the right side of the escalator so people can pass on the left -- yeah, people don’t really do that here. They stand wherever they like. It’s usually not a problem. It’s rare that anyone climbs up the escalator while it’s moving, anyway.
Whenever I came on a trip to Medellín, the same thing happened: The first week, the slower pace of life was refreshing. The second week, as I was trying to get into a routine, it started to get annoying. The third week, some incident would occur, and I would -- I’m not proud to say -- lose my shit.
A comedy of errors The last time I went through this transition, it was a concert malfunction. I showed up to the theater to see a concert, and the gates were locked. A chulito wrapper rolled by in the wind, like a tumbleweed. Nobody was around, except a stray cat.
Is it the wrong day? I confirmed on the website: The concert is today, at this time, at this place. So where is everybody?
As I walked around the building, looking for another entrance, I saw a security guard. He told me the concert was cancelled. Something broken on the ceiling of the theater.
This was especially aggravating because of everything I had gone through to get these tickets. My foreign credit card didn’t work on the ticket website, so I had to go to a physical ticket kiosk. But then the girl working the kiosk said the system was down. So I came back the next day, and the system was also down. No, it wasn’t “still” down -- it was just down “again.” So I waited in a nearby chair in the mall for forty-five minutes. Then I finally got my tickets.
And now the concert is cancelled. I go to the ticket booth at the theater to get my money back. But they tell me I can’t do that here -- I have to go to a special kiosk, across town. Oh, and I can’t do it today -- they won’t be ready to process my refund until tomorrow.
I take the afternoon off to go get my refund. After standing in line for half an hour, they tell me they can’t process my refund on my foreign credit card. I have to fill out a form, which they’ll mail to the home office in Bogotá. I should get my refund within ten days.
I’m always wary that I’m an immigrant living in another country -- that sometimes the way they do things in that country makes no sense to me. I never want to come off as the “impatient gringo.” But at this point, I become the impatient gringo. I demand my money back, and recount the whole experience to the clerk. In my perturbed state, my Spanish is even more embarrassingly broken.
I give in, fill out the form, and leave the ticket kiosk -- without my money. And I’ve been through this enough times to know what’s coming.
Out on the sidewalk, in an instant, as if a switch were flipped in my brain, I go from steaming with anger, to calm as a clam. Months worth of pent-up tension melts away from the muscles in my neck and back. I feel relaxed -- almost high.
Flipping the “temporal switch” I call this moment the “temporal switch.” I’ve talked to other expats about this phenomenon, and they report something similar. That when you first come to Medellín, it takes awhile to get into the rhythm of life here. But once you’re in that rhythm, you’re more relaxed, more laid back. You’re even happier.
You might wonder what my concert catastrophe has to do with th