brevity makes sweetness...
I have now lived in Medellin 47 days and have about 60 left on this trip. In many areas I am satisfied on progress. The condo renovation should be complete today and it has turned out better than I expected. It has also taken twice as long and disrupted my living. Yesterday the door bell rang at 8 am, today it was 7:30 am and caught me completely off-guard. I met with the architect yesterday with an interpreter to ensure he had the final checklist and that I was pleased. We went through all final details and he took pictures of each. I am very satisfied with the relationship and his work. The final costs will come in around $45,000 which is $15,000 more than I signed up for but includes all new appliances, TV, and custom furniture.
I am pleased with my progress in navigating this culture, this city and my neighborhood. I can easily do what is needed, get what I want and I could see myself living here full time. Costs are approximately what I expected for daily life - under $55/day includes utilities, food, alcohol, going out occasionally, fresh fruits and vegetables galore, daily cappuccino, HOA, and taxes. However, my condo is paid and I do not have nor need a car. My costs are electively higher with a private Spanish tudor and someone helping me stay on top of cleaning. Even then, both these are low cost. I am please with my location with stores steps away, malls within 1 mile and a fresh market just over 1 mile.
Frankly, everything I need is readily available, the weather is great, the people are kind and gentle and my place is more than comfortable. Yes, the noise is different - I have never lived in a large city. I have grown accustom to car alarms, dogs, street vendors, cheers from soccer fans, church music and fireworks. While I am vigilant, I have not felt uncomfortable or unsafe. I would recommend Medellin and Laureles to anyone. I asked the woman who who is helping me clean to teach me to cook one of my favorite local dishes - sancocho. I loved watching how she worked and learned many things about her process - one key was her timing on different ingredients, always pre-heating water to add and cleaning everything as she went including washing all dishes using a paste detergent. I learned a ton.
My properties here are much better and I am on top of costs and how the management functions. I believe they were the right choice and will sustain all living costs. I believe I will need to stay on top of them and cannot look the other way - it is a business. The costs to get to this point were much hight than anticipated. Fees, taxes, transfers, commissions, legal fees and one condo being empty for 6 months took its toll. Those unexpected costs could have taken people to their knees. Hopefully, I am trough the hardest parts and better understand. I believe in the values going forward but you have to sell to realize that so, at this point, that growth doesn't matter.
I am pleased with my physical health and being able to stay active and exercise has been a big part of my daily life. I want to go to the next level and increase the amount and quality and add yoga/meditation as a part of my day. I eat better than I every have because of what is available to me and combined with exercise, I am in damn good condition. Mentally, this has been difficult. Considering the law of too many "news" (changing too many things at once), the isolation, the loneliness and the inability to communicate with the locals, I have my hands full. Some day are better than others. I have yet to have too many bad days in a row but I also understand the weight that the absence of relationships is having on my mental health. I am far from happy with any of my few current relationships. I need to fix this.
While my Spanish tudor has been very positive about my progress, I am not at all satisfied. It seems I am stuck in knowing words and simple phrases but I get lost quickly. He marvels at my ability to repeat words and mimic his tone, tempo and accent. However, 20 minutes after he is gone, I struggle to pronounce some words. I need a better strategy that is sustainable. This has to become one of my primary focuses.
Overall, I am happy but not yet satisfied. I have key things I need to fix and have an aggressive plan for the next 60 days. I need to stay focused, busy and productive for my own health and well-being. Still, I am doing better than expected, Medellin won a league championship while I watched, I feel pretty good and have a challenging road in front of me.
I consider myself somewhat of an odd duck. I have never been a great follower but choose to make my own path in life. That said, I try not to stick out or get the spotlight put on me. Here in Medellin, I try to fly under the radar - I wear jeans not shorts, I have a simple black backpack to carry my groceries, camera, etc. However, I see people look at me because my skin color and looks are different than here.
I am planning this morning how I want to spend my Father's Day. On the work side, a load of dark and whites will put me in great shape for the week ahead. All my drying will be done on the clothes line on my balconies. I will wash dishes, clean the fridge out, make my bed and sweep floors. I hired a maid last week and she spent 6 hours here cleaning the construction dust off everything. She charges $6/hour and is very thorough. I watched her wipe under counters and flip the bar stools over to clean the entire underside. She cleaned things I had not thought of cleaning. However, here with the windows always open, the amount of dust that collect needs almost daily attention.
I will do things I enjoy as well. A big portion of my afternoon will watching the US Open on Father's Day but this year I will do it alone and in Spanish. Everything is changed! I will take a long, morning walk. I am still averaging about 6 miles a day but today will be more. I will make a bloody mary and enjoy it on the large balcony and think about all the great Father's Days I have experienced and how much I miss being around family and friends. I will pray for my parents and my family. I will mediate. I plan to make fresh guacamole and add mango to it and have a margarita this afternoon (hey I am retired and every day is Saturday). I will grill (Parrilla - one of my favorite Spanish words!) something that I buy fresh today at the market. I will read for an hour or so and look up a new book recommended to me. Early this morning, with tears in my eyes, I wrote a long letter to my Dad and told him how thankful I was for him and how much I miss him. There will not be an opportunity to talk to him which will be the first time in 50+ years. It will be a completely different day but I will try to make it a good one.
It is cool here - low 60s and cloudy. The low clouds in the mountains are at eye level for me. The fresh mountain air feels great and the activity level is quiet on Sunday morning. From the balcony I hear the sound of a uniformed man raking leaves together on the street below - it is 6 am Sunday! In the mornings, the yellow crested parrots are extremely loud. In minutes the sounds of the Catholic Church below will begin with music and singing. That church is a busy place and the sermons and music often fill my condo.
It will be a strange day. My choice of being here in Colombia has impacted so many things. I am learning every day and the experience is beyond belief but there is a large hole in being away from family and friends that pulls on my daily. Happy Father's Day to all dads out there but in particular to my dad. God keep him safe because we all need our dad.
Mornings have always been important to me. The vast majority of the time, it is like hitting the reset button. It is a brand new day and it is mine. This morning I woke with a clear head, no major lingering issues and an urge to document progress. For the first time in 35 days, I took a walk with my Canon 5D Mark III. My purpose was to get pictures of daily life here in Medellin. It isn't as easy as you would think. Large cameras stick out here and the Pisa people get nervous when you point a lens at them. I once witnessed a young lady dive behind a counter when I turned my camera toward her vegetable stand at a market.
So at 5:30 am, I left the building and tried to look for things I see every day that paint the story here accurately. I like to BS as much as anyone (maybe more) but I also want to know the bad with the good. I don't want to be caught off guard. My pictures include the innocence and the daily life in an inner area of the city of Medellin called Laureles. It is a Colombian neighborhood where many of the upper level business people live. The feel of this barrio is so much different than Poblado. Each has very positive points but this is where I want to live.
The poor are here on the streets daily. I am approached several times a day for coins but, in most cases, I don't understand what they are asking and they are not overly aggressive. Early in the mornings, you see the make shift homes of the homeless - a plastic bag or cardboard being their shelter. The advantage this area has it the consistent great weather.This morning it was 63 degrees. This afternoon it will touch 80 with low humidity typically found at a mile above sea level. Another advantage here is safety versus a city in the U.S. the same size (Chicago) - guns are not allowed. Very few people own guns and the only ones I have ever seen are on security guards protecting banks. However, I don't want to be fooled into letting my guard down, there is a high percentage of poor here and with that comes crime. I am aware of my surroundings.
This is a clean city for it's size. The people work hard to keep garbage and leaves you see in a tropical climate in check. At the very core, these people are about cleanliness and order. Their buildings are well landscaped and trimmed. I have never seen a mower here - only large trimmers they use to mow the small patches of grass. Overall, the sidewalks are kept free of debris. I often see people not only sweeping the sidewalks and streets in front of their house but going so far as moping the sidewalks. Trash is picked up daily. The common orange trash buckets hanging from telephone poles are emptied daily by city workers.
There is a United States influence here but it is generally kept in check. There are McDs and Burger King as well as Subway. However, it is far more common to see local chain restaurants like Frisby, El Corral, and Rapidogs. There is much pride in being Colombian and even more being Pisa. I received a big laugh from my girls at the next door cafe when I said in Spanish yesterday after my lesson "Yo soy un hombre Pisa" ( I am a Pisa man!).
On a personal level, thus far I have walked nearly 200 miles in and around Laureles. There are not many streets I have not been on multiple times. People recognize me even though I try to keep a low profile. I shop for groceries nearly every day. I eat better, focus on fresh vegetables and fruits and minimize meat to much smaller portions. I feel good. Yesterday for the first time since leaving Florida, I went outside to the pool. My apartment had 10 workers in it and the noise was getting me. I took one of the two lounge chairs and took off my shirt and laid back and enjoyed the sun. It was low 80s but I never broke a sweat. The sun was warm but not intense as SWFL. In 70 minutes outside, I had gotten a noticeable amount of sun. It is not common here to sun bathe.
Many thoughts and emotions wash over me daily. Here, in my current world, my social interaction is limited to WhatsApp phone calls for the USA (2 a day generally) and 25 words at the grocery store or with the security guards. I emphasis words not sentences. I have shallow conversations with my English teacher, Daniel, but the vast majority of my daily time is in silence. My daily challenge is to stay positive, engaged in something productive and feeling good about myself. My daily plan, to cook one large meal, has worked well. It not only give me focus at the end of the day and provides the right nutrition, it provides left overs for the next day.
My finding the market that is exactly 1 mile away, is fantastic. Last Saturday, I bought a boatload of fruits and vegetables, that lasted me all week, for $22 including a freshly baked loaf of bread on my route home. The quality and variety of vegetables and fruits is amazing. I have yet to find kale or spinach. Both had become staples in the past year so I am adjusting. Today, I have soaked black beans for black bean soup. Canned whole beans are not readily available yet there is an entire isle of dry beans in every size, shape and color. I guess I need to learn to prepare and cook dry beans.
My physical health has been good. I weighed in at 177.0 pounds yesterday which is 15.2 pounds lighter than when I left the USA just over 30 days ago. I attribute that to reduced alcohol, carbs and sugars as well as increased physical activity. Generally I am walking 6 miles a day (no car!) and working out. I feel better yet I think new jeans may be in my future because a belt is absolutely needed if I am walking any distance.
My mental health is okay. Losing touch with my family has dragged me down more than anything. It bothers me every minute. I attribute that to the shock of me leaving, the associated anger, hurt, pain and feeling that I abandoned them. Now, they are each lost in their own daily lives and have most likely not considered how much I need them at this point in my life. When repeated communication goes with no response, I am beginning to give up. I fight feelings of loneliness and isolation. In a good way, it has truly emphasized to me that I am alone to figure myself out. In a bad sense, it has mentally taken me to my knees and I pray daily the damage done is not irreparable. Nothing has impacted me more than everyone we knew turning their back on me with with the exception of three people. Everyone turning to Kim and supporting her has sent me a very clear message.
My plans to return to the USA are set for the end or summer/beginning of fall. At that point, a different chapter will begin to develop and I am not sure what it will bring. Meanwhile, I have nearly 100 days to determine how I will get better, fix me and learn to love myself more. This experience will change who I am forever.
It is June 4, 2016. I am on a journey to find out who I am really am. In a relatively large circle of friends and a ton of acquaintances, I have three people left who are supporting me. All others have either turned their backs on me or people I have not let into the fray. I fully understand that people go on with their lives and day-today activities become their priority and, when it is all boiled down, my struggles and my life is not critically important to too many people. If I was asked (and I was) before I began this journey whether I could come to terms with doing this alone with little or no support, I responded, that "I have a small network of people who I have given everything I could to and have influenced who they are today. They won't turn their backs on me." I was dead wrong. I am in a place where I could so easily disappear and no one would know for weeks if not months. I am coming to terms with the fact that they may not even care.
Everyone wants to make a difference with their life. I am at peace with the fact that I have had a positive influence on many people. My Dad once said, "if I die today, I am happy with what I have done and at peace with myself." I understand that statement better today than I every have. I have given my children the ability to stand on their own and create their own lives. I have taught them the difference between being average and excelling. I have instilled in them the fire to succeed. I heavily influenced my wife of 36 years and we grew from "kids" into parents and mentors. I taught, trained, and influenced many people's careers and find a great deal of comfort in being a mentor for so many associates. I have touched so many lives - some were fast hits and some developed further. It did not matter, good or bad, I typically left a mark.
Today I am developing a new life with new rules and completely difference set of circumstances. I turn around and quickly understand, there is no one behind me. No one to blame. No one to catch me. No one encouraging me. No one suggesting I am not seeing things correctly. I have never had that before in my life. Today, I do and I move forward knowing I am responsible and accountable for me and my life going forward. I have often times said, I don't need anyone else to succeed. I will find my own way and find a level of success in any circumstance. Some suggested I say this to convince myself. I disagree. I have proven over and over, I find a way to make the best of things and I will again.
I am learning that, right now, today, not many people know me. Even people very close to me do not know what I am thinking, feeling or my struggles. Perhaps they do not care. Maybe I have not let them in. No matter, what I project outside is only the beginning of the fire burning inside. I have so much I want to do, experience, taste and accomplish. I will succeed with or without anyone.
Sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan; or, at least, not according to our plan.
I’m interested in a practice that stems from the Buddhist and Hindu tradition, called “non-attachment”. It means that rather than clinging to certain outcomes (visions of what could be) or certain people (or what we imagine they could be), we should remain grateful for, but unattached to, what currently is.
We diligently work to avoid anything negative. We’re quick to buy solutions to our problems, from stains on our laundry to blemishes on our souls. And we long to preserve the mountain top moments, squeezing out every last drop of the happiness emotion. And instead of living, we end up spending every moment trying to control the narrative of our lives.
The idea of letting go of “the plan”? It’s an incredible idea, if still one that seems nearly impossible to me.
Not try to control every single outcome of my life? Not cling tightly to the relationships that I hold most dear? Not attempt to design every aspect of my existence, so that I can ensure my utmost happiness and well-being while securing my legacy?
Let go of our plans, and lean into His.
When things don’t turn out the way we plan, it’s time to start looking for another set of plans.
I like to think that God has a pretty great sense of humor. I don’t think He likes to mess with us just for kicks and giggles, but I do think that He tries to get our attention in a bunch of unexpected, fun ways. And sometimes, I think we’re so busy hanging onto our plans that we don’t see His.
The hallmark of the perfect moment is that it is unplanned. It is unexpected, and it shows up to remind you to quit planning and start savoring.
January offers us a fresh, clean start. It’s tempting to load our planners up with goals and ideas and lists of things we want to do and adventures we want to have. But there’s an art to leaving things unplanned.
So as you set new year’s resolutions or goals or intentions, no matter who you are, I’d like to encourage you: hold your plans loosely. Be on the lookout for a God curveball, and if one comes, hold on for the ride.
You just might stumble into the perfect moment.
“Between the wish and the thing the world lies waiting.”
The waiting part is hard and difficult. Being in the middle of your story can feel exhausting. It can leave you breathless, hopeless (just watch me try and do a real push-up), and discouraged.
I wonder what you are lying in wait for? I wonder how long it has been? Are you on the brink of giving up? Is this New Year simply a reminder of all the things you don’t have yet, all the things that haven’t happened?
My morning walks are considerably different than ever before. Typically, I walk for over 2 miles and now it is on different streets in the center of a large city in South America. I live in a Colombian neighborhood. The streets in the early morning are filled with people walking their dogs, going to the market, and carrying on with opening their business or cleaning their walk, walkway or porch. I navigate cracked pavement and unyielding cars. I walk relatively fast but I am constantly looking, observing, trying to see into people's lives without intruding. I want to learn, understand and experience.
Yesterday, I stayed on the street where my condo is located and wanted to see where it took me. It was over two miles and crossed several busy avenues and ended at College Jesus Maria, one of Medellin's 30 universities. In that 2 miles I saw the neighborhoods change, hundreds of small shops, parks, elementary schools and many people. I have changed my habits of greeting everyone I pass and now only greet people who make eye contact. I have noticed being alone, the vast majority of people do not make eye contact. I stick out here. Even though my dress is normal for Medellin, people recognize me as a foreigner. In general, I am taller and, even tanned, my skin tone is different. I do what I can to smile and be pleasant everywhere I go.
I turned back toward the condo taking a different route - Calle 45b to be exact. It is a different road - the two-way street is divided by a greenway with a large stream running the length of it. Greenways here are tropical. There are numerous large trees, plants, wildlife and a host of homeless people. Medellin is a very clean city particularly for its size but these greenways have a tendency to collect more than their fair share of trash.
The walk way is comfortable and there is much to see - a woman walks by in normal clothing but I notice her red velvet 8" heels and it catches me off guard. I pass an stretch where there are 50 buses lined up and each one is being washed by their driver. Ladders are used to get hard to reach places, hoods are open and buckets, soap and water is plentiful. There is much interaction between the drivers and it is clearly a social gathering. I hear a teacher talking to a large classroom from behind a wall and see the faces of many people going about their daily lives.
I come on a large store announcing itself as a "Super Exitos". I walk the store to see what is so "super" but it is much like all the others I visit and even smaller than some. On exit, I notice many people walking from the side of the building so I walk 100 feet to see what I can see and it opens into a large market that is filled with meat, flowers, vegetables and vendors selling their wares. It is large with a three story roof and full of smells. On entry to Plaza de Mercado La América, I glance to my right a see two whole hogs being butchered. Life in Latin America! I am so use to the smells of meat packing so I continue down every isle. In the back, things are very tight and profiteers and customers mix. Many are seated eating breakfast much of which I do not recognize.
I see dried herbs, fruits and vegetables many of which I have no idea what they are. After completing the entire circuit, I go back to buy flowers and work through communication to get my roja and blanco flowers with added greens. The woman is very helpful and my cost is $3.20. I head to the nicer vegetable stand and get 2 avocados, a head of broccoli, a head of cauliflower, a cucumber and three large carrots. My price is $3.00. I walk back the 1.5 miles and figure out a more efficient direct way for my next visit. Markets make me happy.
Mornings are, by far, my most productive times of the day. I grew up in a house where the days began early and I held on to that habit tightly. Early morning to me means 3 to 4 am. I have always gotten more done by noon that almost anyone I know. My energy level is high during that period, it fades in the afternoon and by evening, I have little left in the tank.
My morning walks use to be around the 50 acres - through the orchard to look at the apple trees and look closely at how they were doing. I would walk down the mowed path and feel spider webs break on my arms. I would see the back of the house in the shadows and the 2 acres of native little blue stem I had plants. Sprinkled in I would look for butterfly weed, asters, spider wart and a multitude of others. I crossed the bridge, checked the stream level and typically spooked some animal as I came across into the broad opening of mowed grass. Deer, ducks, geese, turkeys and rabbits were typically there. Occasionally, something unusual - a mink, a weasel, a porcupine or a fox were startled.
I would walk through the large garden area where there were 100 raspberry bushes, 100 asparagus, every herb, tomatoes, peppers, beans, lettuce, leeks, zucchini, cucumbers, pumpkins, tomatillos, onions - the 15 raised beds held everything you can grow in the midwest as we were blessed with black, loamy soil. The garden was in a low spot so frost was a large concern and the first safe date seemed to be after Memorial day for the less hardy vegetables. I looked for progress and damage and made mental notes of work that needed to be completed. I walked up the hill to the woods and took the 1/2 miles walked through the mature timber of Oka, Ash, Walnut, Shaggy Bark Hickory and Linden. I watch nature run in all directs and smelled the fresh air and feel the cool energy of the woods. I looked for changes, wildflowers and looked closely for signs of wildlife - a pilated woodpecker nest, a turkey roosting, a deer rub, tracks of various animals. I listen for warning calls from birds and the rustle of leaves as they sought cover from me.
I came down the hill through an open area which was home to hundreds of mature red and black oaks as well as my personal favorite, Bur Oak. I see the roof of the villa and the shimmer of the pond as I approach one of my favorite places on the face of the earth. I walk into the opening where the pond fills the valley and walks the cool air cause a fog to drift over the water. Wood ducks scatter. A doe with her fawns stand at alert before bolting for cover. I walk to the water's edge and follow ow it all around the edge looking for frogs, amphibian eggs, a bass nest, and numerous small fish dart to deeper water.The pond is so full of life. I walk up to the vineyard and pick a few of my favorite rows to wander down to see what is happening - more mental notes, more work to be done. I follow the path down in from of the 100 year old Bur Oak that is the signature tree of this property - it massive open arms to the sky - as in most large oaks in Iowa, its survival was based on the fence row location. This one was a good one and I loved its size and strength.
I walked the mowed paths back to the house to begin my day refreshed and feeling great but knowing how much work there was yet to do. It was my escape, my heaven my place to find peace in this wild world.
Ever since August 28, 2015, it seems I have been in transition. I left my home in Iowa where I had lived for 15 years and poured my soul and body into making that piece of the world my home. It was a raw canvas that we painted for 15 years adding color and depth to each corner. In six weeks, everything we owned was sold or moved. Taking one last walk around that land and looking, remembering, and being thankful for what we experienced there, was a moving experience. Since that day, I have yet to call a place home and feel it in my heart.
There was the rented home in Robins where everything we had left of real value was piled in one stall of a three stall garage. Then the decision was made to move to our condo in Florida which was our vacation place. We filled a crossover vehicle with everything we could and moved it to an half-furnished condo that was set up for being comfortable two weeks at a time but was not meant to be our permanent residence. We spent tens of thousands changing it from someone else's dream to ours.
I have lived in cul de sacs in residential neighborhoods. I have lived in communities and small acreages as well as large acreages. More recently, I have set up shop in condos. Each has positives and negatives. However, making a place your home is so much different than laying your head down in the same place. It depends on your personality and passions. In a neighborhood, the huge advantage is you are closer to a group of people yet not too close. In a condo, you relax together, sometimes cook together and park next to each other. You have a hard time not being a part of each other's lives. In the country, people rely on each other but then again, it is only from a distance. On our large acreage, I could literally go for weeks without interacting with someone. It was a different world and I find value in each.
Today I am living day-to-day in a condo I own in South America. It is being completely renovated to my specifications. It has yet to fully sink in that I am not in some's dream or on another vacation. It is in the middle of a very large city - 4 million people. I have changed the core of everything I know and loved. I loved the quiet of the country. I loved long walks with my dogs to see the morning unfold and see what nature did over night. I loved my garden, the freshly mowed orchard and the wonderful life around the pond. I loved seeing the wild flowers go through the spectrum of colors and so many different animals - from porcupines to great horned owls - survive and thrive and raise their young in my backyard.
Now, I live in a place where milk is sold on non-refrigerated shelves in bags. I walk long isles of cleaning products of every type to find 3 bags of laundry and dishwasher pods to make my decisions easier. I fight to distinguish ketchup from pasta sauce. The air is fresh and the days are the same every day - mornings in the 60s and days in the 80s. The sounds of the city are a part of life - car alarms, dogs barking, vendors announcing their wares as they push wooden carts down the streets. The choir from the near by church fills the condo. I hear elementary school children shouting for joy at recess. Cars honk, motor cycles speed down the streets. Even in this neighborhood which is removed from the hard paced city life, the sounds of parrots mix with the sounds of daily urban life. It is all foreign to me. My life has been altered to its foundation and I work to make sense of it all.
This isn't home. I am not sure when and where my next home will be. I am comfortable. I am safe. I live a life people would say is hard to believe and others hard to understand. The trick is owning it and making it your life and your passion but everything has changed - I am alone, I am retired, I am in a foreign country. I need to find myself, my rhythm, and weave the fabric of my life and passions into something discernible. Something I can call my own in a place I can call home.
It has been 18 days since I left U.S. soil. I am at peace with myself and have done better than expected in some areas yet behind in others. When the vast majority of your time is dictated by you rather than some outside pressure, you learn more about yourself. When you turn around for support and there is no one standing behind you, it alters your thinking. I am doing this alone by choice. I made this decision, now it is time to man-up and see what I can make out of a less than perfect situation.
There are many things I expected. I expected to struggle with the language here in Medellin and I have. At my age and lack of focus on making Spanish a priority, I am now paying the penalty. This is not a country where the economy is reliant on the United States. This is a country where exports are high but they have a level of making it on their own without depending on others for survival much less success. They really don't care what other countries think. They have their own agenda. I like their approach and while far from perfect, I can relate at my current place in my life.
I expected the renovation of this condo to interrupt my life. It has. For many days workers show up any time after 8 am and leave around 6 pm. The come for a few hours or all day. They saw, hammer-drill, pound, cut and in general make it tough to think let alone talk with anyone. So they have over shadowed my daily life. It is funny. I will do my daily list and push the renovation forward is a part of it. Even though I am not very involved, it is my focus - get this done and behind me.
I expected things to be very different here and it is. I am impressed by how this city works and all that is available at a low cost. However, so many things, embedded in the culture and their way of doing things is different than in the U.S. This is a "service country". You can pay someone to do just about anything and the cost of labor is extremely low. I realized this very early when many of the condos I loved at had service quarters. This one had a very small bedroom off the laundry, a private bathroom and a service person lived in. I have since changed that area to be part of the kitchen and pantry but the it is very common to have someone cooking, cleaning and being a nanny. For three dollars, you can have a currier deliver, wait in line, pick-up anything in this city. The list of things people will do never ends - shop, cook, build, fix, clean. Anything you want.
There are some unexpected things I am learning. How intense the sun is here. I am closer to both the equator and the sun due to location and altitude. Medellin sit in the Andes Mountains one mile above sea level. There is less atmosphere protecting you. In the sun, it is hot but humidity is low. I underestimate the impact of the sun - the condo has very large windows facing East and West. I was warned the sun will fade the wood and furniture quickly. So on all my large beautiful windows, I installed blinds. I am not learning to live with them.
Another unexpected thing was the amount of dust and dirt the collect in the condo. I could not believe that my feet were always black. I am a guy who takes off shoes upon entry. I am barefoot 98% of the time in the condo. At first I wrote it off to construction. However, I am not learning it is typical and a daily thing - they sell mops and the cleaning isles at grocery stores are a prominent part of this culture. I am not beginning to understand why. I have taken to wearing socks ALL the time so I don't have black feet and bring the dirt to bed. It is hard to believe a retired guy living alone would think about hiring a maid but washing the floors alone is a huge task and it should be done daily. They have a system here - there are no swifters or new methods. There is the go to everywhere - a soft bristles broom, a dust pan, a cotton rope mop and a bucket of water. It is all you need.
Overall, things are better than I expected. I have embraced learning Spanish and feel I am making slow steady progress. I am committed to an hour a day of Spanish through various sources - Duolingo on-line, Rosseta Stone on-line, a Spanish teacher 3 hours a week and studying my copious notes. I will get there but need to be patient with myself. The people accept that you are learning and seem, in general, willing to help. I have the essentials in place to live comfortably. I focus on cooking one big meal at the end of the day. I have done pretty well settling in. I have not done a great job of consistent exercise. I need to have more of an early and late routine to get things done and ease my mind. I need to but focus on the things that are important to me - relationships particularly with my family, reading daily, photography, writing, and art. I need to continue to get better.
Today, I enter my 13th day of life separated from what was a comfortable, "normal" life in the U.S. Immersed in a new world and trying to find my rhythm has been a challenge. I do feel I am making solid progress but I have yet to work on me. I have hidden behind so many things throughout my life. Careers, houses, possessions and being on the go all of the time. My personalized license plates were "toxess" as in "to excess" and "cafinate". Both represented my high octane existence. Today, I stand stripped of the vast majority of my former life. Still, I reside in a luxury condo in a penthouse of an amazing city. Today, in my new world, few people know that and even fewer people care.
I love to be observant and see things around me most people miss. I look for the flowers, the birds, people's faces, and an array of small things that help me better understand the world I live in. I watched an elderly lady lower a small basket from her perch three stories high to a street vendor to exchange money for fresh fruits. I observed a young boy walking on a sidewalk pick up an empty beer bottle and place it in the garbage without being told and not caring who was looking. A man in his 70s, held a cigarrette in his lips while her spent an hour pounding sheets of old galvanized steel into smaller, transportable piles to turn in for scrap. A shop owner brought the old man a coffee at no cost. I have watched people laugh while I struggle to communicate and operate and it hits me hard. Conversely, I have has far more people try to help me - the cab drivers, the Claro cell phone manager, the welcome lady at Claro Corporate, the security guards at the condo, the construction workers at my apartment. The people of Medellin have kind hearts and they are, in general, a gentle people. I have watched beggars and people give them coins. I watch individuals perform at the red light of a busy intersection for over eight hours to make a living. I continue to interact and, as my language skills improve, I will grow in my ability to make people smile. It is a smile that cuts through all language barriers.
So I begin to focus on who I am and what I want in my life. I believe I have a white canvas with every color of oil paint as an option. I have limitations of time left in my life, finances, location and language. However, there are not many possibilities, within reason, that are outside my reach. I am standing at the cross roads and considering, which road do I want to take and where will it lead me. I begin another day and expect to begin a deep search inside of my soul to create a man who likes what he sees in the mirror. That has not always been the case and I am driven to get better.
Daily life has changed considerably for me. I am 75 days into retirement and living in a different country. In the mornings, I make a daily plan, have my two cups of cappuccino, get a 2 mile walk through different areas of this barrio, exercise, write, read the NY Times and Huffpost, and spend an hour learning Spanish. It is significantly different than the corporate world of waking up and not knowing which city your were in, shifting through 150 emails per day, always on a pace for travel, meetings, preparation, debriefing, customer follow-up, prospect tracking and board room financials. It is new, fresh and a challenge to keep priorities in front of you and keep a positive, clear head.
I cannot remember a time in my life where my general pace was slow. After two and half months, I still have many balls in the air but today it is something to be thankful for rather than distain. I am still in the midst of a total renovation with 10 workers here yesterday for 9 hours. I have appointments with attorneys for completion of residency, I have changing of property ownership, Spanish classes, stocking a new apartment with the basic essentials necessary to be comfortable, financials from retirement and 2015 /2016 taxes. I chase information on rental properties, organize photos, read, clean and study Spanish. Today, I have many things going on. It is important, that for my personality, I continue to learn, challenge myself and have goals in front of me long term.
There are many unknowns. I am not sure how long I will be here or where I will live in the US. I am not sure when I will be back once I leave. Still, I must remain focused on what needs to get done. Once I get my permanent residency, I will apply for a Colombian Passport to give me more flexibility for travel and protection from continuous changing laws for travel in the US. I have established Colombian banks, have a permanent address and need to set up auto payments and withdrawals to run these properties without my full attention. It seems easy but far more difficult here than expected. I changed the pin on my debit card for Bancolombia and I had to be finger printed. This is, literally, a different world.
I love it here. there have been 7 straight beautiful days - low 60s overnight and 80s during the day, broken clouds and deep blue skies. I can control temperatures in the condo by opening and closing windows and doors. Only rain affects my days and my walks. The people have been respectful and helpful. I am looking forward to increased engagement of people as I am able to communicate better. Once this condo is complete, it will be so much more comfortable. The views are amazing every day. It seems I am living a dream but I need to continue to hit my marks for what I want to get accomplished. I am getting better but can't stop now. I have miles to go before I sleep ...
I watched morning break in the Aburra Valley of the Andes Mountains. Here, due to the proximity to the equator, the days are close to 12 hours year round. I am from the Midwest US and our annual pattern was long days in the summer with night fall near 9 pm. Here, the day goes dark around 7 pm. However, in Iowa, the winters are cold and dark. Here, the weather pattern seldom changes. Prior to summer solstice, your day in Iowa would gain 2 minutes of visible daylight where here it is close to 15 seconds. As my daughter once told me, if you are looking for everything to be the same, don't leave what you are accustom.
Today marks the seventh day since leaving the US. So much has changed in those seven days. I have gone through my daily life alone for an entire week which may be the first time in my life. I am very blessed to be where I am. I sit on top of one of the tallest buildings in a Colombian neighborhood called Laureles (pronounced la oo, reles). It is a flat, tree-lined barrio that is truly Colombian and not Poblado which is heavily tourist influenced and more US-like than this area. Again, with the help of my daughter, the choice for this condo away from the tourists, suits more of what I want than any other area in the city of Medellin.
I have learned and experienced so much this week. Upon touching down, I have been immersed in a Latin Culture that I knew very little. My Spanish is extremely weak and that continues to be one of my primary goals to be able to live, operate and communicate in Spanish. Today, all I can do it get around and my Spanish is limited to words, not sentences. I have taken two Spanish lessons and have a different attitude. Prior to this past week, I came here relying on others to handle the majority of communications. Now, it sits squarely on my shoulders.
Right now, the sun peaks over the mountains. I am sitting on an outside balcony with temperatures near 70. It looks to be another beautiful day with scatter clouds and blue skies. In the past 7 days I have been a daily visitor to different stores. There are six small grocery stores within 6 blocks of this condo. They are small and what they carry is limited. These stores vary greatly - one is high-end and another is "Aldi-like". I have been to each one trying to get the basic essentials needed to live comfortably. It is amazing the little things you take for granted at home that are more difficult to find here.
This is not a 3rd world city. It is a cosmopolitan city that has a rhythm of it's own. It has a unique mix of Latin America and Europe all put into a Vitamimix and hit the blend button. I feel the pulse of the city. The people are warm and inviting. The city sounds range from the choir singing in the church below to car alarms and dogs barking. It is a city not the country where I last lived. My morning walks are so wonderful as many of the residence are out sweeping their porches and sides walks, cleaning the stair rails, and washing the concrete in front of their condos. These people are obsessed with clean. This week I saw a gang of seven uniformed city workers sweeping leaves from the streets. I saw a man brushing and cleaning the brass toe step on a set of public stairs leading to a small mall. It is so common to see people cleaning everywhere you turn.
I feel comfortable with the progress I made this week but far from satisfied. I needed a week to let the dust settle but now it is time to have an workable a plan. I have much to accomplish. From finances, to the language, to organization of photos and having a daily routine - to be satisfied, I need to accomplish. The one thing dragging on me is relationships. So many people in my life have pulled back from me because I made a choice. I have three supporters right now that I believe want the best for me. I have a responsibility to not give up or give in on so many others but having people turn their back on me has cut to the depths of my soul. I will survive and thrive but I remain human and what I believed in has been changed by reactions to a decision I made to change my life. I will continue on.
For the past 11 years, I have used writing on this blog as a type of release and a passion. I have written about everything from my travel to my joys and even some of my troubles. I have always been open and honest when I write and the majority of my writing is driven by my heart and emotion.
I have always written for my family and me. The purpose was to document the times of my life so IF my children or relatives were ever interested, they could see inside my world and my thoughts. That was the purpose of this blog.
Recently, my life has changed in a big way. My life has always run on high octane fuel and my experiences come fast and furious. The last three months have been the same. But the most recent changes have been life changing. It was private and while I made the mistake of putting my feelings into this blog, no one has a right to use my information to gossip or impact me or any of my family. When writing, you always need to consider the audience. I failed to consider because this is beyond my belief.
I consider people who read this able to look into my life without taking it and using it to fill an office with gossip or to approach anyone in my family to ask what is going on. I assumed merit but underestimated the hidden agendas of an individual. No one has a right to use my thoughts to develop a story and repeat it incorrectly. I was stunned to silence when in speaking to my father about a very difficult decision that only four people knew, he had already heard "rumors" of what was going on. You have no right to impact my life or my family cloaked in a "trying to help" fake approach. My suggestion is you find something else to do than try to nose your way into things that are none of your business.
Based on this single person, I need to make a decision to discontinue writing this blog. It is difficult for me to allow someone who doesn't matter to me impact my life in a negative way.
In over 50 years of life, this could be one of my toughest days. In retrospect, I have been very blessed. Looking back, my challenges are small in comparison to people who face loss of loved ones, insurmountable odds in daily life and life threatening illnesses. My challenges are most often self-directed or in choices I make. Today is one of those.
Within hours I will sign papers that will alter my life's course. The past days weeks and months have moved toward this day. I knew it was coming but the finality and all it means continues to crush down. It is a choice of mine unlike the sentence it is for others around me. The negative impact and the distance this choice has created was underestimated. So I sit alone immersed in my thoughts and emotions. This has been the most difficult 100 days of my life and I continue to face the winds of change, fear, rejection and silence. I see and hear the impact of my decision both around me and in me. Today is the day.
Next week I will go through the process of packing up what little I will take away from my current world. I will bring with me a few items that comfort me or link me to great memories. I will take an armful of pictures and not allow myself to forget the great past I have experienced. I will go through the motions knowing it will be extremely hard to walk away for the last time. I will leave the comfort I know and enter a new reality. I will drive, park, board a jet to another country where my language is mostly useless and go to my new home. I will fight through emotion, logistics, loneliness to find my core, my beliefs, rekindle a sense of worth and a path to my future. I have traveled for over 30 years for business mostly alone. However, this trip, this destination, this time, I am alone in a much different way. I will be strong but there will be so many moments that all the mistakes and damage I have done in my life will come back - it will be bigger, hit me deeper. I will find myself buried in all the things in my life I have hidden behind. I will be stripped of my identity and the things I stood for but I also hid behind. This is my choice. This is my challenge. This is my life.
Peering through the window of my life, fogged with the humidity created by hundreds of people in the room I have met, it is impossible to see clearly. The uncertainty of the future is represented by various light sources throughout the room. Some areas are easier to make out than others, shadows are cast and there are indiscernible faces and many unlit spaces. I am often amazed at the number of relationships I have enjoyed over the years that are now distant memories. Friends from school, parents of our children's friends, co-workers, extended family and fellow travelers. All were important in that moment. Each left a mark of an experience and, hopefully, took with them more than they gave. If for nothing else in life, the ability to leave someone better than you found them is my goal.
Today is different. Not different in that my path will be crossed by so many different personalities and faces who I will never see again. Not different in that I will continue to try to touch people in a small, positive way. I will make the cashier laugh. I will compliment the waiter on their service. Each person I pass on the street, I will make eye contact and say hello. My ability to make someone smile or to think will be the same. I will continue to respect that each person I see today is fighting a different battle. I now realize that more today than ever.
Today will be different because I will walk a different path. A path that is unfamiliar to me. I will choose to walk where there are more questions than answers. I will walk away from comfortable, easy and known. I will test my core and find out who I am. I will not hide behind my past successes and step into the bright light to better see who I really am and begin to focus on the art of being myself.
Very few people will ever really know the people who are the fabric of their daily lives. It makes me wonder how many people actually take the time and invest the effort to know someone. How many take the initiative or care enough to peel back the layers from the tough outer skin to find the softer, inner core of passion, drive, fears buried inside everyone we know? How many people do you allow in to ask more than surface questions? The people who care enough to peer into my life and look close enough, will see a difference. They will see the scars and the smile lines of years of living. Possibly they will make up their own story of how each mark got there.
My contention is that far too often we go through life making small talk and avoiding tough questions. We spend even more time dodging questions that make us uncomfortable. We have far too many shallow relationships even with the people who are meaningful mean to us. Then, thrust into difficult situations, you often find out who someone is at the core - what they dream, what they fear and what stirs around inside them - and it surprises you. Today and going forward in my life, I am committed to nurturing more than shallow relationships and having small talk. In place of knowing many people a little, I will work to know a few people deeply. I will answer questions more openly and honestly. I will seek to understand first before I try to explain my life, my side, my thoughts. I will work to learn the art of being myself, not being too tough on my mistakes and trying on other people's views rather than to change them to my thinking and my perspective. It will not be easy for me. But today is different.
Today, my perspective on my life has changed. After a few months of deliberation, the date of my retirement was set for March 1, 2016. After 47 years of working, I will officially begin a new chapter of my life. My thoughts are mixed with emotion, fear, anticipation as well as filled with the excitement of being able to create a new life. I am full of thankfulness for what I have experienced and the place I currently stand in life.
I have 26 days of workweek left. However, my work has always bled over into my weekends and vacations. It is a part of what I do. While my work has allowed me to experience so much it has also taken so much away. In the past 4 years, the stress level and travel have increased and impacted my family, my life and my soul. I have been so lucky but I also recognize to those who much is given, much is expected.
I looked out early this morning at a setting full moon and felt the symbolism. My challenge now is to create a new life. I want to experience, feel, touch people and give back. I had a perfect moment yesterday that moved me. My wife and daughter were sitting with my Mother and Father when an older woman came up and said hello to my parents and handed my mother a birthday card. She was very sweet and talked to each person there, introduced herself and talked briefly with my Mom. After she left, my father said she is devoted to visiting people and talking with them. She was very sharp and mobile. I asked how old she was and the answer was 85. Giving back.