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And the Times, They Are A-Changin'

To hear Nobel Peace Prize recipient Rigoberta Menchu´ Tum tell it, the world is on the verge of a "New Time" where harmony and a re-connection with Nature will win over the violent death and destruction of our world.

While we wait for this "New Time" we live in "No Time", which is fraught with the pain and suffering, death and destruction that we now see, said Menchu´. People feel alienated and depressed. Natural disasters like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods prevail. War, depletion of the world's natural resources, the loss of values, and passions directed towards violence, especially against women, seem endless. Children are born with low energy and youth close themselves off from taking responsibility for or having understanding of the world.

"We need to become aware of these problems and try to recover the values we lost," said Menchu´, who hails from Guatemala, a country slightly smaller than Tennessee and the heartland of the ancient Mayan culture of which she is a descendent.

"We need to feel the problems of others as our own and not just those of other people," she said recently through an interpreter during her recent visit to the annual Great Lakes PeaceJam program in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The admittedly shy peasant girl who lost members of her family to the ravages of civil war—and wrote about her experiences in a 1987 autobiography, I, Rigoberta Menchuu´: An Indian Woman in Guatemala—is the first indigenous person to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. But that honor, too, was in alignment with the ancient Mayan calendar, said Menchu´. During that same year the "No Time" era began and is expected to last until 2012-2014 when a new 5,125-year cycle begins. She said this "New Time" will be evident to the world in 2026.

"The cosmos line it up, but we have to work on it to make it happen," said Menchu´, 48. "Not all of us will be alive, but our children will be."

She distinguished between the natural clock, which comes from Nature, and the artificial clock, which comes from science and technology and focuses on money and material possessions.

"We have forgotten the natural clock and we don't believe in it," said Menchu´. "We only remember it when we are affected directly by it," like when we have cancer, other physical diseases—or when we have "relationship diseases" like racism and discrimination. Only a new "human conscience" can cure these diseases that affect us mentally, spiritually and psychologically, she said.

Menchu´ knows all too well the effects of "relationship diseases." The Guatemalan civil war that ended in 1996 left more than 100,000 people dead and a million refugees. Soil erosion, water pollution and deforestation in the Peten rainforest continue to ruin the land where 12.2 million people live, half of them below the poverty line. Organized crime, comprised mostly of illegal drug trafficking, runs rampant.

But change can happen, said Menchu´, when people get involved with various community initiatives. They can start by feeling pride in their families, refusing to be victims and by working with others to pave the way for the "New Time."

"I got into the struggle," she said referring to her advocacy of nonviolence during the war. "I didn't stay away from the hard times." What inspires and sustains her now are the people she meets and the ways their projects and enthusiasm contribute to the re-making of the world—like those who have worked over the past 10 years in order to solidify the peace in Guatemala, a place where the marks of genocide are still present in the thousands of remains of unidentified people.

"Until I accept the responsibility to change myself I'm not going to change others," said Menchu´. "I must change what I can do." She added that if everyone did this, the world could be brought to a new "collective consciousness", which she deems to be "the only solution" to our problems.

A big part of this consciousness is working under "the human clock" without regard for the plants and animals that make up the quality of life on earth. The Mayans taught that time goes beyond humanity and bids people to live in solidarity with others with sensitivity to their needs.

"The human species isn't by itself," said Menchu´. "In fact, if we were left alone on earth, we couldn't exist. Can you imagine how many animals complain of our exploitation to them?"

Menchu´ illustrated how her indigenous religion with its connection to Nature balances both the material and spiritual fortunes.

"If you have a lot of money," she said, "be careful, it will eventually be used up. If you have only spiritual fortunes, be careful, you can die of hunger."

What people today lack most, however, is their spiritual fortune, she said. They forget to thank God for life, food and their blessings.

Menchu´ says that the outcome of the "No Time" will be the connection between the male and female energies. All will work toward a common project.

"We lack light in our lives and live in darkness," said Menchu´. "What do you do with darkness? You go to the light. But we have to find the light in our own selves first and from that to get our internal strength and ideas out. Light is also found in others and for that reason we must listen to others to discover where that light is leading."

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Olga Bonfiglio

Olga Bonfiglio is a professor at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and author of Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War in Iraq. She has written for several national magazines on the subjects of social justice and religion. Her website is Contact her at

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