Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Red Sox and Gauchos

As Coyhaique geared up for its 78th Anniversary Celebration, Red Sox Nation in Patagonia got ready to watch the Sox face the Tribe in the ALCS. Or so I hoped, but it turns out that Fox Sports in Chile was more interested in broadcasting soccer. In any event, Coyhaiquenos hit the town all weekend in their gaucho best, with parties and parades in the plaza and colossal maté drinking gatherings called matéados.

Friday my students show up at school in their best uniforms and we march all the way down the hill to the plaza to join the big parade. They are hassled to tuck in their shirts and instructed to maintain a precise arm´s length of distance between themselves and the person in front of them. We arrive at the plaza and wait almost an hour in the hot sun, many students ditching out of formation to obtain balloons. When it is finally our turn to make the loop around the plaza, I am left in charge of about 5 balloons, which I juggle with my video camera like a harried soccer mom.

Later that night Rob, Pete and I gather around the kitchen table at my new place drinking maté out of a grapefruit and attempting to explain the rules of baseball to my roommates Alberto and Rodrigo. We have to settle for Arizona against Colorado on ESPN, but it is baseball nonetheless. Alberto is horrified by the organ music playing in the background. We explain that it is tradition, but he can't understand how anything so annoying and ugly could become tradition.

Saturday night I find myself alone in my Sox hat watching the tediously boring play-by-play on mlb.com and doing what Sox fans do best... grimacing in horror as my team falls apart in the tenth inning. While I hear strains of chamamé playing in the distance, I find an odd comfort in the disappointing loss, as if I'm not that far away from home after all. I may not be singing "Sweet Caroline" during the seventh inning stretch, but as long as I maintain blind faith in the big bats of Manny Ramirez and David Oritz, I am somehow united with my fellow Massholes.

So late Saturday night, mourning the loss, I raise my maté to Boston and the River Charles, to Patagonia and to the windburned gauchos with their boinas and scarves and black boots across the countryside. I also raise a toast to my favorite Massholes, my Mom and Dad. Happy Anniversary! And to Mom: Happy Birthday! I'd like to think that I am present in some way to celebrate with you guys, and that perhaps the world is not as big as it seems.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

"Silence is an argument carried out by other means."

Saturday night I find myself packed into a community function hall with families, toddlers, hippies, professionals, intellectuals, and various Coyhaique citizens to observe the 40th anniversary of the death of Ché Guevara. We are each handed a copy of the famous farewell letter Ché wrote to Fidel Castro upon leaving Cuba, which is read carefully by a maté sipping Patagonian accompanied by acoustic guitar. It is hard not to feel emotional as we watch slides of the famous pan-American icon in the various stages of his life. Ché is a true hero to many of us.

Who isn´t seduced by Ché: his image, his words, his story, his life. I often find myself thinking about the journey that rattled the young medical student so deeply that he chose the path of revolution and never looked back. It is a well-loved story, the story about the development of a man who according to Sartre "...was the most complete human being of our age." What Ché found in the mines, cities, hospitals, and faces of South America is not unlike the many injustices and tragedies that we face today. Ché had the remarkable courage to acknowledge these truths. He accepted the responsibility of his awareness and the challenge to fight the impossible.
For this reason he is a hero of mine.

A little boy is running up and down the aisle shouting "Pirates!" as a banner with Che´s likeness is unfurled at the end of the ceremony. I shuffle with the crowd out into the Coyhaique night, six months deep in my own journey. Am I transforming? I think about every day that I have walked the halls of Escuela Victor Domingo Silva, every moon I have watched rise over the mountains, every lake, river and road I have crossed, and every tear of frustration shed. Will I too become a complete human being?

"If you tremble indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine."
-Ernesto Ché Guevara 1928-1967