Taking a Leap and Changing One’s Life: A Postcard from Colombia

March 23, 2022
A closed gate on a dirt path, surrounded by greenery
Photo by Yahia Lababidi

There comes a time in one’s life when—to reflect, heal, and growone must retreat from the world. Middle age, naturally, is a stage of turning inward, and our global pandemic afforded us all an opportunity of enforced mass meditation, whether we felt that we needed it or not.

With the increasingly popular possibility of working remotely offered by Covid, more people began to reevaluate their work/life balance and consider how they wanted to live and where. Leaving behind the noise of the city, as well as the busyness of modern life, became both a plausible and attractive option. Born in Egypt and based in the United States for the last decade and a half, I, too, was musing on what to do with the second act of my life (as I approached the not insignificant milestone of turning half a century old).

Since I met my wife in college, three bewildering decades ago, she has been dreaming of living on a farm in Colombia (where her father is from). More recently, we began paving the way to make this dream real. But there is a mystery and magic to timing. For a complex of reasons, we now found ourselves ready to take the plunge and try living on a farm for part of the year in Medellín.

We had run out of excuses; it was time to take the plunge.

As a freelance writer, I can work anywhere there is an internet connection, and she, too, was working virtually (as a financial analyst). There were no kids or commitments tying us down, and we had run out of excuses; it was time to take the plunge. I had visited Colombia a dozen times or so in around as many years, and my Spanish was, finally, conversational (it helps having studied French for six years and loving languages in general). In the past year or so, we began cultivating a small farm, and this was to be our first time living there for a couple of months as an experiment and, possibly, starting a small business or two.

Leaving Medellín and driving to the countryside, we are greeted by the stunning sight of giant green mountains, capped with clouds. I see these mountains almost like wild animals that the ingenious locals manage to domesticate and put a saddle atop—or, more plainly, pave roads on—so that we could ride their backs.

Since the last time I was in Colombia, six months ago, our little farmhouse has come a long way: with a functional roof that could handle the heavy tropical rain, working bathrooms, and a little outdoor kitchenette. As we settled down to enjoy the scenic view and pure mountain air, we saw an eagle land nearby, snacking on a snake.

It’s a wild, wild world here in Colombia. Frogs are the size of small chickens, while butterflies are as large as an outstretched palm.

It’s a wild, wild world here in Colombia. Frogs are the size of small chickens, while butterflies are as large as an outstretched palm. . . . Small wonder that magical realism was born on this ambitious soil! Exotic fruit trees abound, and flowers—such as birds of paradise or heliconia—aspire to be trees, in stature and sturdiness. As an Egyptian with a fondness for the austere beauty of the desert, it felt like I’d died and gone to Heaven.

There is a spirituality to farm life once one gets past the minor nuisances and deprivations (read mosquitos and occasional water cuts). Nearly two weeks of living in the countryside of Colombia, and this city boy is beginning to ease into it—to breathe better, in unison with living things and the land. I get up around 7:00am and, instead of thinking it’s too early, quietly slip into my boots and head out to water our garden. This is an hour of enchantment. The sun has already just cleared the mountains, and the misty water leaving the hose looks like golden rain, which the soil drinks, gratefully.

The soul, too, is rewarded by the beautiful blossoming and blooming of the many fruit trees—mangoes, lemons, mandarins, sapota, and star fruit—all radiant in the abundant light that we, too, require to grow and, eventually, transform.

Rather than rushing to return to my makeshift desk and sedentary life, I linger a little longer to weed. I note how the weeds (lovely as they may be) are choking new plants we’ve added to our garden, as well as the noble royal palms, which have shot up from humble seeds we collected (from under a bridge in Florida, six months ago).

How amazing the life force is—in all its forms!

After this trancelike and rewarding session watering the plants and trees, breathing in the pure mountain air, and admiring the great white birds gliding overhead—like clean linen, folding and unfolding in the clear blue skies—I head back to my work station.

Here’s a little ode I wrote in honor of my new lifestyle and the natural poetry—mysticism, even—of living closer to nature:

Living on a Farm

Strange, I’m beginning
to view a little dirt
under my fingernails
as a badge of honor . . .

Soil is good for the soul.

Now, I can sit with my coffee and indulge in further birdwatching and reflection before turning on my computer. All of this I recognize as a form of prayer and thanksgiving.

Yahia Lababidi (@YahiaLababidi) is the author of twelve books of poetry and prose. Lababidi’s most recent works are Palestine Wail (2024) a love letter to Gaza; Quarantine Notes (2023) a collection of his meditative aphorisms; and Learning to Pray (2021) spiritual reflections. He regularly posts short literary videos on his YouTube channel.