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Unmastering Time

Published: April 6, 2022

This is the second in a series of blogposts from Evva Fenja Parsons, the current Dietrich Fellow. Read about her earlier adventures here.

Yellow and blue prints laid out to dry
Some of my prints
A rainbow arcs over a red-and-orange building in the mountains, surrounded by cacti
Rainbow over the dance studio

Time is on a thrilling joyride of accelerations and decelerations. In moving across space, traveling to different continents and establishing my short-lived rhythms in each place, I rush and ease through time variably and inconsistently. I always feel this on long flights when my mind cannot keep up with the changes to my surroundings as I hurtle through clouds. (It’s the feeling that makes reading dystopian novels particularly absorbing while flying.) I find trains the fastest pace I can travel while mentally keeping time with my motion and cars or buses a pleasant opportunity for wandering thoughts. Time’s exciting and exhausting variability accompanied me on a 14-hour flight across the Atlantic to Bogotá, Colombia and on a five-hour car ride to ArteSumapaz, in the Cundinamarca department near Bogotá, where I have spent the past month volunteering in the kitchen and garden and printmaking in the art studio.

The author displays her tejo bullseye on a board covered with pitted clay.
My proud tejo bullseye

My recent time dilations have included many brilliant moments. On a Saturday in February, I went to Mirador La Chapa, a lookout point over the Magdalena Valley, replete with a hike, merengue dancing, and a tejo court. I proved a natural tejo talent, throwing my metal disc about 25 feet at a clay-covered board to try to hit the pink explosives attached to a metal target or land the disc in the middle of the dynamite-encircled ring. I exploded one dynamite target and got one bullseye, to all the excited applause awarded a lucky beginner. From the lookout, with the help of the books I have been reading about Colombia and a torrent of questions, I could follow the flow of water from the direction of the páramo – a rare and water-rich ecosystem above the tree line and below the snow line – toward the Caribbean Sea as it moved through the landscape in front of me. Across the valley, we could see a building that we had mistaken for a chicken farm, and in talking to the owner of the restaurant where we had lunch, we learned that it is a rehabilitation facility for former guerrillas.

A view over the side of a mountain to the sunlight-streaked valley below
Mirador La Chapa

The landscape and its markers of violence and reconstruction continually prompt questions of history and politics for me. Colombia sits along three mountain ranges, two coasts, the Llanos (eastern tropical grasslands), and the Amazonian rainforest. Those regions were crisscrossed by political and drug cartel violence for more than 50 years, with the Liberal and Conservative parties, multiple guerrilla groups, paramilitaries, and drug cartels working in shifting and complicated conflicts and alliances. Leading up to the parliamentary and presidential elections this spring, many conversations touch on candidates and coalitions, often teetering between horror and hope in reinvigorating the 2016 peace process in a polarized and politically disillusioned public. The complexity and scale of the violence defy simple solutions and present an entangled political landscape to me, especially having not previously studied Colombian history.

The exhibit Huellas de desaparición (traces of disappearance) at MAMU, the Miguel Urrutia Art Museum in Bogotá, presented a collaboration between The Colombian Truth Commission and the investigative agency Forensic Architecture that begins the “collective process of clarification activated through the participation of victims and civil society.” One of the case studies in the exhibit analyzed the dispossession and memory of the earth in Urabá. The researchers reconstructed the transformation of 100km2 of towns and small farms to banana plantations and the sea, tracing the violence against the land that was intertwined with the dispossession and massacres.  Through satellite analysis, aerial photography, and images and stories collected in situated testimonies, researchers detailed the changed landscape as “an actor in the conflict and not just a passive object in dispute. In dispossession, the land is a political and social actor that influences the distribution of violence. What we call ‘memory of the land’ provides evidence of these practices of dispossession and the history of the armed conflict” (Comisión de la Verdad). In the past month, I have learned that some histories are physically obvious, like when the large, bland structure of a guerrilla rehabilitation center rests in a valley, and some are obfuscated by careful calculation or time.

Green mountains under partly cloudy skies
The view from ArteSumapaz

Hearing, reading, seeing relics of, and considering the painful history of violence in Colombia—aided and furthered by U.S. drug policy—require time to sit with the narratives and questions. I am no longer in school, rewarded for efficiently completing hundreds of pages of reading and producing my analyses, yet I struggle to reject that mindset of hurriedness, of not-enough-time. Some days I struggle to focus on anything as when I start printmaking I feel I should be reading, when I’m weeding I wish I were meeting with my language partner, and when I am reading I feel I should be in conversation. It is more difficult for me to live this ambiguous lifestyle of choosing where and when I allot my attention than it was to complete difficult assignments. As I feel that discomfort, I try to remind myself that the construction of time as a painfully limited resource creates a hamster wheel lifestyle that I have found limits creativity, reduces value to production, and presupposes that one’s goal in experiencing or learning can only be mastery. With each experience in another language and another country, I relearn the humility of knowing a human cannot master a language or history or branch of knowledge. In practicing the humility of being a visitor, of deconstructing my arrogances and self-importance, I am learning to exist in the ambiguity of living and revel in the irregularities of time.

About the Author

Evva Fenja Parsons graduated from Colorado College in 2020 with majors in political science and German and spent the following year living in an intentional community on a Camphill farm with folks with disabilities. Fenja spent her first timid week at Waldsee when she was nine and has returned each year since. Concordia Language Villages' values encouraged her to study abroad before and during college and the Concordia Language Villages community continues to mentor and accompany her during this fellowship. 

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