Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sabado Tarde

It almost feels like spring in Coyhaique, although a chill lurks in the air as the sun begins to wane, and I already know that sunny days signal brutally cold nights. I sit in a stone and dirt amphitheater above the Esculea de Guias Patagonia, nursing the maladita caña, drinking a coke because there weren´t any ice cream bars at the bodega, and lamenting the nasty film that it leaves on my teeth. The mountains, now such a familiar and comforting presence, are back lit by the sun and sit behind a screen of smoke. The Saturday afternoon ambient soundtrack consists of a hammer pounding somewhere nearby, the bounce of a basketball, and the ever present chorus of barking dogs, with the new addition of chirping birds and the occasional accent of a child´s laughter and rumble of old truck.

It is just too familiar, this lazy Saturday afternoon in Coyhaique. Could it be that Saturday afternoon feels the same everywhere? Or could it be that Coyhaique just feels familiar? A helicopter punctuates the soundtrack in a very Dark Side of the Moon-esque moment, although it really just reminds me of the glider port in Franconia, New Hampshire.

I sit in the sun with my trusty Red Sox cap shielding me from the ozone hole and I think about my sister, moving into a new apartment and undoubtedly stressing about all the details. I think about my parents, perhaps drinking Syrah and Pinot Grigio in the adirondack chairs on the lawn or grilling up some fish for dinner. I think about my shiny green truck, waiting for me obediently and most likely parked next to the tool shed. I imagine the soundtrack of Sherry Lane: wind chimes, the cars passing by on County Road, and the occasional train whistle heard through the woods. I envision the angle of the late afternoon sun on the herb garden, with Kinley perhaps basking in the last light on the deck.

I dream about those glorious Cape Cod summers of shorts and sunburns, baseball games and fireworks, and melted ice cream stuck to your forearm. And I know that someday I will also dream about these glorious Patagonian winters of woodsmoke and red wine, chamamé and smoky candlelit bars, and the salvation of a heated taxi on a cold night. And today, on this sunny Saturday afternoon in Coyhaique, I swear that I can smell somebody nearby firing up a grill. I wonder if there might be a chill lurking in the air as the sun begins to wane on Sherry Lane.

**A note: To those of you concerned about the recent earthquake in Peru, I am considerably south (about 2,000 miles or so) and did not feel a thing. However, the earthquake is all over the news down here and has served to remind me of the strong resentment between Chile and Peru. "Why should we help them," many Chileans ask, "when they just want to take our land and infiltrate our country with poor immigrants..."
Sound familiar?

Friday, August 3, 2007

Llegadas y Despedidas

After three idle weeks in Coyhaique, I feel quite energized by my return to school. The kids even seem happy to be back, and ready to learn. They diligently copy new vocabulary into their notebooks as I watch with suspicion. Surely this motivation will dwindle in the coming months. Many of my students are noticeably thinner, presumably from the lack of government subsidized meals over vacation. When I ask if anyone traveled, they all stare at me blankly. “I went to the campo,” Mariana offers. “Pura pega! (pure work),” complains Saul. Later in the class, Saul lifts his desk off the floor and points its legs outward pretending they are machine guns. “Chicka, chick...boom!” he shouts, shooting down his classmates. Some of them are ready to learn, anyway.

Señora Hilda, the director of our school, has completed her contract and thus must leave Coyhaique. I am a little perplexed as to why this is happening in the middle of the school year, but I don´t question it. The school stages an elaborate goodbye ceremony, complete with speeches, dancing, and singing. It is a teary affair, and as Hilda exits the building, the students all rise to their feet singing. I am amazed to see how many students are crying as they file out of the gymnasium.Their eyes speak of abandonment. I had no idea they were so attached to her. I´m starting to realize why people say Americans are cold.

Almost every goodbye is offset by an arrival, and Maria Teresa and Ernesto finally arrive home today after three weeks of traveling. I surprise myself- I think I actually missed them! Maybe I am not so cold. In any event, it is nice to observe the ritual of coming home after a long journey. They tell stories and show pictures about the places they went, but you can tell by the content look in their eyes that their own home is “just right.” I think about my own comings and goings, and how sometimes the best part of leaving is being welcomed back. Other times, like Hilda, we leave without coming back, but we hope that we will be missed.

Sometimes I feel that life is just a long string of hellos and goodbyes, or arrivals and farewells, as we each navigate our own winding roads. But what matters is the substance between those hellos and goodbyes. Do we stop long enough to belong somewhere? To mean something to somebody? To leave a footprint? And when we move on, will we journey stronger? And when we´ve found home, will we know it?