Be in Love with Yr Chilean Life
by Mark Chmiel
Mary Shannon studied with me last year when she was a freshman at SLU. This year she has been in Chile in a program Katie Schlechter and Cheryl Sullivan experienced a while back. Mary just sent me the following journal reflection and I am glad to share it with you.
“I’ll be honest, though. I don’t think I’ll ever really be 100% comfortable here,” said me, after 2 months in Chile. Funny how things change…
Simply arriving in Arica and stepping foot on Chilean soil and eating a sandwich with fresh palta allowed me to sigh a sigh of relief. I was back in Chile. My Chile. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized my sigh of relief was more than a sigh of relief.
Every day, I exit the metro, normally around sunset. I step outside to see the Andes, my Andes, at peak viewing hours. I wait at the corner for the light to change. When it does, I cross Bilbao and I jaywalk a bit to avoid the crowds of schoolchildren on the other side and to orient myself closer to home. And, you know, because I can. I jaywalk because I live here and this is my neighborhood and because I am no longer a foreigner confined to the path of the crosswalk.
Every day, I pass the bus station, San Gabriel’s school, and the white house with the shutters on the corner of Pensamientos. I pass the parking lot where the old man whose name I don’t know works as an attendant. Every day I smile and offer a nod of acknowledgement. I pass the used car lot where the old German Shepherd whose name I don’t know works as a guard dog. I smile. I nod. I finally pass the First Security office building and I have arrived home. My home.
I used to fumble with my keys. Which one opens the gate? The back door? Now these keys are my own, simply an extension of my right hand. The second key opens the first gate and the first key opens the second gate. The fourth key opens the back door and you have to insert it in the lock upside down.
Returning from Peru and repeating these actions, my routine, for the first time, something came over me: an overwhelming feeling of familiarity, of comfort, of security. Thinking of this allows me to sigh not only a sigh of relief but also a sigh of contentedness.
I have a renewed sense of love for the city of Santiago. Maybe it stems from the sense of urgency I feel over having only 6 weeks left to love the city. Or maybe it stems from the beautifully mild fall weather this past week has brought. Whatever its source, this renewed love and renewed wonder will act as a catalyst, a motivation, to do all the seeing and doing that I’d like to see and do.
6 weeks. I remember arriving in Chile and questioning if I had the willpower to make it 6 months. I gave myself dates to look forward to. “On March 14, you’ll be 1/3 done.” “On your birthday, you’ll be halfway.” “Come May, you’ll be 2/3 done. You can do this!” I provided myself with more tangible ways to measure my time. “You can measure your Sundays in PostSecrets.” “Every new pair of contacts that you use marks another 2 weeks.” Only 6 Sundays of PostSecrets remain. Only 3 pairs of contacts, 3 pairs of fresh eyes. And then I will be home.
I think my biggest fear is that I won’t be ready to go home. That my plane will land at O’Hare and hundreds of “should haves” will flood the landing strip and I’ll feel like I’m drowning. It’s the abruptness of it all. One minute I’ll be with my Chilean family. The next minute, I’ll be in the sky. The next minute, I’ll be in Chicago. The minute in the sky will be the most bizarre. In the air, between two worlds.