Colombian Time is the same as Eastern Standard Time, and yet it is completely different. Sure, it’s 10:35am here and in New York, but the way time is viewed here couldn’t be any different. One of my host family members will tell me that they are heading somewhere and ask me if I want to go with. I will say “Ahora”(now?), and they will respond “Ahorita.” I learned in previous Spanish language learning that this diminutive form of “ahora” means “right now.” So the first time this happened and they said that, I sprung into action to pull together my purse, change my shoes, and put on a quick layer of deodorant. And then I noticed that no one else was doing these things. They were still watching TV, sitting on the porch, heading to the shower. So I sat and waited. For 30 minutes. Here, “ahorita” really means “soonish.”
Similarly, I will ask when we plan to leave for different places and events. Normally I just hear “later” or “this afternoon.” The one time I was told a time was when the other girls in my town and I were headed to the pool with one of our host sister’s. We were told we were going to leave at 2:30. Then I got a text from my friend who lives with her and said, “Oh, she said we’re going at 2:00.” I received that message at 1:50, so scrambled again to change my clothes and pack a pool bag. When I crossed the street 9 minutes later to meet up, I learned that there had been another change of mind – back to 2:30. While I haven’t yet heard (or more likely noticed) this phrase being used, it’s apparently common to have a conversation like, “Nos vemos a las 6:00.” (See you at 6:00.) “Si Dios quiere!” (If God wants!) On the cultural time spectrum, time is definitely something that happens to you in Colombia, not something that you control and manage.
Another great example of Colombian time came from one of the Volunteer Leaders. She played on a rugby team. Their practices were said to begin at 4:00. The first day, she got there at 4, and everyone finally showed up at 6:00. The next week, she went at 6 and they were wrapping up, and she was told that she needed to be on time. She never figured out how everyone knew what “on time” was, when it changed from week-to-week, but she just asked a teammate to call her whenever he left the house so that she could leave then too.
While I am not sure I will ever quite understand these things (how do people know when to be ready? Like ever?!), I do currently appreciate slowing down a bit. Enjoying a seat on a porch for five minutes before leaving. Stopping to say hello and give kisses to all the neighbors. We’ll see how long my enjoyment lasts.