Dear Chile: A Xmas Message

Dear Chile,
 
Today I was asked how I am, living in Santiago. Am I happy?
So I considered some of the negatives I’ve encountered here: the delincuents, the self-constructed houses that offer no warmth during winter, the rushhour commute on the metro, the pain caused by harsh drugs, the huge difference between public/private education, the lack of trust …
 
But then I thought about all the good things I’ve seen. Like the overwhelming sense of community in my neighborhood during Dieciocho. The support from people I didn’t know when my son was hospitalized. The beautifully painted houses, lovingly watered patches of grass and well-tended gardens – even on apartment balconies. The long lunches with family who accepted me instantly and embrace me as one of their own even though my opinions are sometimes a bit odd for them. The incredible art everywhere, from graffitti to buskers on the metro. All the teachers I have met going the extra mile for their students and offering them a light during dark times (Liceo Almirante Riveros!). The feria where you can find everything you need and where wrapping up the eggs is artistry. The tune the truck delivering gas makes as it goes up and down the roads …
 
And that’s just Santiago. I came to Chile for love but it’s not love with a man that keeps me here – it’s love with a land. Out of all the countries I have lived and travelled in, this one is more my home than any other – including my own. So thank you Chile – Chilenos and extranjeros – this whole community for propping me up when I needed it and for always supporting my blog. Have a merry Christmas/feliz navidad!
 
Kind regards,
Helen
 
 
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Responsible Companies Keeping It Local

“The second reason for the failure of industrial agriculture is its wastefulness. In natural or biological systems, waste does not occur … the living arc within the cycle remains within the cycle … there is really no such thing, then, as natural production; in nature, there is only reproduction”

– Wendell Berry (1978)

For a beautiful country, Chile is swimming in waste.  I’m sorry to start off on such a negative note, particularly when there is no debating the incredible natural beauty of this diverse land. Howver, there is no denying that off-road adventures become an adventure in binbag avoiding, sleepy hamlets are spoilt by roadside garbage, and Santiago is up to its eyeballs in dog poop, litter and disgarded beer bottles. This waste extends beyond the obvious. Much of Santiago was constructed by the locals themselves (a process known as autoconstruccion) including the fragile drainage systems.  An inch of rain is likely to create a lake while the heat of summer stirs up an odour of soggy carpets and doghair.  Yards are filled to the brim with broken toys and furniture left out to rot and rust beneath the elements, while the youth grow up oblivious to the concept of recyling. A trip to the market equals a mountain of small yellow bags while a simple trip to supermarket or local almacen means you will probably return with double the weight of purchases just in plastic. Everything is in cartons. Declining a plastic bag equals disbelief and even outrage – “you must have a bag or your food will get dirty!” The world of industrial food production has its claws well and truly in the daily lives of modern Chile.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though.  Wonderful initiatives such as Algramo are making their mark, particularly when they offer the basics in a way that is accesible to all. Algramo started off as a small idea that has now grown into local stores across Santiago  – in Recoleta too – and removes the third party from the buying process. People fill up exactly how much they can afford into reusuable containers, which means that they do not have to cover packaging costs and are buying direct from producers.

Meanwhile, organic and sustainable food suppliers are growing in popularity.  Agricola Tinajacura is a family-run project that offers free-range animals without chemicals, additives or hormones, including meat and wool. They have recently expanded to include (happy) chickens and deliver in Santiago. I love projects like this because it goes back to what farming originally was, and should have remained. A look at their Facebook page doesn’t show a farm working as a factory offering up natural resources as endless units of production.  Instead, Tinajacura shows us smiling men and women getting their hands dirty and gives us working pictures of the farm. We can see the whole process, from egg to outside chicken coup, from shearing to transportation – images that are organic and raw.

Another venture worth getting excited about is being undertaken by fellow kiwi expat, Matt Saywell. Loncotoro Farm is located on the outskirts of Puerto Varas on the banks of Lake Llanquihue, an area famed for its natural beauty. Their vision is about as far away from that of industrial agriculture as you can get: it reads “inspire, connect, embrace, preserve and share.”  Matt and his backers are motivated to keep the essence of northern Patagonia intact, planting and maintaining reserves whilst working the land in a sustainable manner. They are working alongside rather than removing nature, and the dedication shown by Matt is incredibly motivating.  Follow their blog on Facebook to keep up with their adventures, particularly to see what it is like working in an area that interacts and competes with the two big name giants active in Chile, Fonterra and Nestle.  The initiative is looking for investors and plots of land (in paradise, I might add) are selling now.

If you are interested in the food industry in Chile, then you may like to have a look at my two earlier blogs.  The Milk Chain which is about the milk industry in Chile and Food and Identity in Santiago – both are  anthropological essays writn for Massey University in New Zealand.  While you are it take a look at the links I posted above and share below any other sustainable companies that deserve a mention. Finally, try get your hands on the work of Wendell Berry, an American scholar whose best essays can be found in the incredible “The Gift of Good Land.

(Photos courtesy of Agricola Tinajacura)

Quintay

Lonely Planet recommends Quintay as one of Chile’s Best Sights, a place to let your eyes drink “their fill, [then] retreat to dine on seafood stew to the sound of crashing waves.”  We spent a few days there last summer and it was all those words you’d choose to describe a perfect place: quaint, rustic, charming, lovely. The village itself is nothing fancy, just a dusty street with what the locals need to live their lives, but once you descend the gravity-defying road down to the harbour it’s like dropping into Europe. The sea is bluer-than-blue, with waves crashing upon a sandy beach overlooked by soaring gulls and beside small restaurants peppered with plants and flowers. This is the place to spend a quiet afternoon dipping your toes into the icy water before visiting the Ballenera de Quintay, an interesting museum and a monument to Chile’s whaling past.

Lunch is a bit hit and miss during the peak periods when hordes of visitors descend thanks to the glowing reviews left by guidebooks (thank you, Lonely Planet!) but even with the crowds this rocky outcrop is pleasant. You can also walk to the Natural Pool (La Piscina Natural), which is a bit of a trek but worth it if you want a safe place to plonk your toddler.

Given it’s proximity to Santiago, Quintay also makes the perfect spot to visit for a mini-break. I highly recommend contacting Rebecca Stevenson, a British expat who owns a stunning groundfloor apartment in the area. It’s located inside the Santa Augusta complex that also boasts a playground, golfcourse, restaurant and swimming pools while also being smack-bang in front of a beach that comes complete with a cave some Chileans will remember from TV. Given that Rebecca’s apartment is furnished to perfection and set amongst immaculately maintained gardens, this is a no-brainer option for the summer holidays coming up. The place sleeps 6 and has a fully equipped kitchen as well as a BBQ. It’s a great option for those of you wanting a family break or a romantic getaway. Contact her asap by booking over the internet – it’s well worth the price and it’s in a great location to further explore one of Chile’s most dramatic and varied coastlines.

Note: this post has not been sponsored

Nation of the Overweight?

It was a bit of a squeeze the other night on the metro – as it is always is on the red line – when a family hopped on. Mama was rotund, Papa was large, oldest daughter was fat (and about 12 and dressed like a stripper), middle daughter was very large and there was a boy of about four who was extremely obese. You could argue that maybe their size was a genetic thing, but when I watched them all sit down and stuff their faces with McDonald’s I think we can safely say that perhaps their diet just isn’t flash hot. The boy than had an extreme tantrum for some lollies, which his mother embarrasingly gave to him. I sympathised with her in this moment – the whole train was watching and the easiest way to make him be quiet was to give in to his demands. I felt very sad because I could see the parents loved their children, with the father guarding them all protectively. They got off when I did to change to the yellow line, and they took the lift instead of the escalator.

I know people eat for different reasons. Nearly all of us have beccome accustomed to feeling too full, and we eat more than we need to – when we don’t need to. Our eating habits have changed so drastically over the last hundred years that its almost unrecognizeable (must read: The Gift of Good Land by Wendell Berry). Chile today is one of the most at-risk countries in Latin America, with the national Ministry of Health stating that 22.4 percent of children overweight and 22 percent of adults obese. Dr. Juan Carlos Prieto, from the Clinical Hospital at University of Chile, blames the ridiculous amount of bread that Chileans have become accustomed to eating – some six to eight servings a day – and one of the highest rates in the world.

Bread certainly is a staple item here. Everyone I know consumes it for both breakfast and dinner, usually with eggs, avocado or tomato. It’s delivered fresh to our local corner stores twice a day and it’s preservative-free so if you don’t eat it when you buy it goes all crusty and stringy.

In my opinion the cause of the dietary shift is the stratopheric rise of the supermarket. I trace the changing diet of Chile here an academic essay for Massey University, in which I detail how these hypermarkets have replaced shopping in local markets, or ferias, for the majority. I can see the appeal of supermarkets – your not forced to cook around seasonal ingredients, you can buy ready-made foods, you can buy cheaper in bulk, you can buy everything you need in one go … When you don’t have much money (or time) the supermarket is an excellent place to stock up on what you need to feel full, especially when buying pasta is sometimes alot cheaper than buying fresh vegetables.  Note: the bread is not preservative free!

I have spent alot of time introducing readers to the people that I know in Recoleta. All of them are overweight. I’ve also talked time and again about the issue of education. The connection is obvious: 35.5% of low-income earners are overweight compared to 18.5% in Chile’s highest income bracket, with obesity twice as high for those with little education (Chile National Population Health Survey 2004).

In 2010, President Sebastián Piñera began a national programme to target the weight epidemic by increasing physical education in schools and a programme to refer obese children to nutritionists. However, given my own experience with a nutritionist in a reputable public hospital here, this is obviously not enough. Education is the root of the issue – people are just not being exposed to new information in the lower-income brackets, and they then do not have the means or tools to implement any changes.

Safety in the Big City

  1. NEVER use your cellphone on the bus
  2. Always be aware of who is behind you during busy times on public transport
  3. When you ascend the bus, try to be the last one so that no-one is behind you. Would-be thieves use this time in the crowd when you are preparing your BIP card to grab and run
  4. In crowded places always keep your bag in front
  5. If you are drunk don’t walk alone
  6. When you use a cash machine (redbanc), check that the keypad and the slot where you insert your card is completely secure. Thieves often place fake numbers and card readers on machine to take your information but these are usually not very secure given that they are placed on in a hurry.
  7. Avoid people seeing your pin
  8. One common ruse is to open the car door on one side at the same time as it is being locked so that someone can go in once you have walked away
  9. If you are walking alone and there is a person that you think has bad intentions coming quickly behind you, change direction to see if they follow. If they do, don’t waste time just run. Scream to get attention from people around you and say “ayuda” or “socorro.”
  10. If you are in a dangerous situation, don’t fight just hand over what they want.
  11. When in the taxi (or when driving) keep the doors locked
  12. If you are concerned about taking a taxi, memorize the plate number before you get in
  13. Before a trip in the taxi, you can estimate times and costs using the app taximetro.cl
  14. In the taxi watch out for fake bills and note swaps. State when you pass the money how much you are passing “Here is 10,000 …”.
  15. If you think the taxi meter is rising too quickly, get out. To avoid big problems, pay it and write the plate number down, and then formally report the driver to the Ministerio de Transportes.
  16. If you are in a stalemate situation with the taxi driver, threaten to call the police (or actually call the police)
  17. To avoid a portonazo, some ideas could be to install a GPS in the car, to install an electric gate or to get someone to open the door. If you see someone suspicious around, don’t get out.
  18. Don’t leave things in jacket pockets and tie bags to the table when you eat out
  19. Warning signals: random people by your house, shifty movements from being nervous
  20. During a phone scam, just hang up and do not engage in conversation because they use your words to determine if someone is home, if you have a daughter etc
  21. Start observing your surroundings so that you can come to see what is normal and what is not. Open. your. eyes!

This list was intended for those who are new to city life, or who would like to be extra-cautious in the city. By no means is Santiago more dangerous than anywhere else, and these tips can apply to any city, anywhere.  This post was prompted by recent news events that could have been avoided.  Any tips will be added to the post.

For more information regarding what to look for and tricks of the trade see the following blog posts:

Wheels on the Bus about the city-wide bus service from the drivers perspective

Yo Me Pare el Taxi/    Taxista in SantiagoTales from the taxi

We Are All Chile

Today I asked one of my English students what the biggest issue in Chile today is.

This discussion had started after my mention of the book Viva South America in which journalist Oliver Balch presents an in-depth look at pressing topics from across South America’s countries. We decided on areas for New Zealand (employment), Australia (refugees), Britain (immigration) and the United States (healthcare) but the question was what would take the top spot for Chile? The book chose women’s rights, which I wouldn’t debate given that femicide, spousal abuse and abortion rights are currrent areas of concern.  This is a land where the machista attitude still rules the nest in many homes, particularly in poorer neighborhoods or away from the cities. But to be fair, today’s Santiaguinos appear modern in every sense of the word and I don’t think this is Chile’s most pressing issue. I offered up drugs as a possibility, and we agreed that this certainly seemed to be eating the country from the inside out, influences the crime rate. But my student firmly put forth that everything – from attitudes towards women to drug use – can be attributed in some way to education, and she is right.

What do I see when I look at Chile? I see a nation on the verge of something amazing. But the people are divided. Everywhere else I have been race, caste and color have been the dividing cause between people but never have I been to a place where people are torn apart by class. If you have been reading my blog then you will know I talk about class alot – it was the subject of years of anthropological study based on Santiago and I freely admit that I look at most things from that angle – however few can deny that classism is not a problem in Chile today. How is this linked to education, you ask? It’s linked because the education system in Santiago purports this viscious cycle of discrimination. The state school system is falling apart at the seams, and as mums frequently point out to me, even some of the better private schools here are lacking in facilities and aid for the teachers (some even have 40 children per class too!). The top school – Nido de Aguiles – requires a entrance submission fee of $12000 and monthly extortionist payments to pay for the kind of services that were completely free in New Zealand.  The school day is long from 8am -4pm and teachers walk around in a state of serious stress.  And what are the students learning? Do they learn about the real people around them – perhaps on their lunch break while they play together? Nope because as they grow and leave school they attend a university that is filled with people from similar backgrounds. That is if they make it to university, given that the PSU exams are so ridiculously hard that without a support system around them many teenagers end up giving up, dropping out, failing or never living up to their potential.

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Apt painting from La Moneda

I think the biggest mistake is to think that the school system is the only place where learning ocurrs, and that there is only one type of learning. We can learn to memorize historical treatizes from a hundred years ago, poetry from 500 years ago or solve math equations formed with dozens of squiggles, but at the end of the day do these things really matter? If we don’t know our neighbours or live in fear of being robbed by the nana or continue to justify a system where the poorest people live off a few hundred thousand pesos a month and cannot afford basic living conditions, then I can’t say that we are all that intelligent. This isn’t a “Chile bash” by any means – this conversation could be directed towards most countries in the world – but just because here it’s about Chile does not mean it should be shrugged off as the moans of another expat.  I came to Chile because I fell in love with a Chilean. His family is now my family, and his home is now my home. I would do anything to make sure that the people around me are happy and healthy, so when those two basic human requirements are not met because of education system flaws, then I feel the same need to change it. I’ll never be Chilean, I’ll never know the correct moment to use weon but that doesn’t matter. I am human and there are people around me who need help. A woman once told me that reading my blog opened her “eyes to what the real problem is in Santiago, and what everyone really needs to do.” The first is to overhaul the education system so that everyone gets a fair shot and the second is to stop the discrimination. Shakira sings “waka waka … we are all Africa.” Well, we are all Chile. Remove the pretend boundaries.

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Reach Out. Barrio Concha y Toro

Angels with Dirty Faces

I read this line in a reading from one of my English classes and I thought how apt it was for my blog. While I have had an overwhelming positive reaction to my posts, I have had a few people who have been negative and have been unable to grasp the point of my words. I have never insinuated that Santiago was perfect, or that all taxistas are honest and all bus drivers unintelligent but I certainly have tried to illuminate the diamonds in the rough and the “angels with dirty faces”.

What can I say? I get as pissed off as everyone else about tiptoeing around bad customer service or dealing with the machista attitude.  I hate that the best cheese goes to Spain and that there’s no real milk readily available (find out why here).  Above all, I hate that I want to support the strikes that occur regularly in Santiago but find that it’s nearly impossible to have any sympathy for them because life becomes utter chaos.

12191704_10153662995005097_1271567381719411643_nBut what else can I say? That in the ugliest of places you can find gems that glitter like diamonds. They may not be but sometimes they are something far better. I see that in the frazzled security guard at the Registro Civil who did his best to help us today. I see that in the young carabinero who moved me to the front of the Cedula queue today when he wasn’t obligated to. I see that in Luis who sometimes drives me nuts for never doing the dishes,  and in Emilio who has developed an affinity for sticking his finger up his nose whenever we have company. I see that in our dog Luna, who once lived on the street and is riddled with cancererous growths but who is sweeter than Babe and Lassie combined. I see that in my suegro who manages to disagree with everything I say but still manages to make Emilio happier than a ray of sunshine. I see it in Jose’s empanadas that are cooked in a dirty oven but taste delicious.

I also find in the most random of places, most evident in the following pictures I never expected to find where I did.  So I guess what I am trying to say is this: if you walk around with your eyes wide shut, you may never see the beauty right in front of your eyes.

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Where you can find delicious Arabic food in Patronato
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Where you can find wonders in la Vega Chica
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Where political statements are made through art
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Where you can eat like a king in the market (mote con huesillo anyone?)
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Where you can eat cheap, delicious Thai food in Franklin
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Where you can encounter festivals in Huechuraba
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Where you never know what you might find
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Worm farm down a Recoleta street? Tick.
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History down town? check
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Where you can eat delicious empanadas (thanks Jose!)
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Where cementeries are for family fun
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Best park in Santiago is in Recoleta!
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Where you can enjoy BBQ during the national holiday celebrations
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Where anyone can be your friend if you take the time
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Where the trees where clothes
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Breaking social boundaries and playing in unlikely places
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Remembering through graffitti
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Where you can find unlikely treasures
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Tirso Molina is one of those treasures
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And the artists too
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Where even the most dangerous of places have spectacular views.

Chile Lindo

It’s easy to forget there’s a Chile outside of Santiago. This is a city where there are monstrous edificios springing up in every street, where strikes happen almost weekly and where these days you can find almost anything. Hard as it is to believe, there is a world outside of Santiago.

And that world is Chile lindo! Have I been living in a hole the last few years? Chile is absolutely gorgeous just half an hour outside its capital. Last week we travelled to Melipilla, an old, sprawling city that climbs up the hills Coquimbo-style and that would be charming if it weren’t for the hourly traffic jams. Here we visited some truly dismal properties but at least they had fabulous views (they were in the poblacion up said hill). Unlike Batuco, Melipilla seemed to have a “quieter” pace so we liked it a lot more. I think we have decided once and for all that Lampa and Batuco – within our price range – is just not going to work.

We drove through fields of different greens interspersed with shocking displays of yellow – weeds I assume but what beautiful weeds! In New Zealand we have gorse that slices your skin open; in Chile they have weeds so bright and cheerful they blind you. What I love about Chile is that this is a country that grows, from a capital that has prospered beyond belief to a countryside that is overflowing with eggs, strawberries, fresh milk and bread. The roadsides are lined with flowers, fences are laced with creeping vines and people lunch under patios with falling grapes. Oh, and they live beside vineyards. What a life!

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Lago Rapel is just two hours from Santiago and is a popular domestic holiday spot. It’s not really a lake at all but a dammed river, and a drive around is always close to the luscious river. We found a lovely property but it needed alot of work. Would you believe that the woman currently renting it pays only 30,000 pesos a month! And she lives in PARADISE I tell you! I’m starting to think that we’ve been taken for a ride in Santiago, with its extortionate prices, smoggy air and social issues. A friend of mine actually runs a farm with “happy” free-range animals and sells their products – you can find out more here.

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The creme de la creme was Huique, about 20mins south of Lago Rapel  This was a small town where all our familial dreams came true. It’s a small place, bigger than a pueblo but definately not a city, with one main street and lots of houses. What impressed us (besides the scenic rivers around it) was its wealth of history: this was the home of one Chile’s richest families, the Eyzaguirre’s, who had a sprawling hacienda that today still stands. There’s a large public park, a museum and a lovely, well-maintained church. Seriously, visit this place – its only half an hour from Pichelemu.

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I always knew Chile was lovely but I think what surprised me was how much beauty there was so close to Santiago. I think we often forget what we have right on our doorstep and go off searching for paradise in one of Chile’s extremes, without realising the good time we can have at a fraction of the distance (and cost). The 6th region is famed for its wineries, and every town seemed to have a different Concha y Toro vineyard. Although my blog is primarily concerned with my life here in Santiago – for I am now Santiaguina – I hope that soon I can use some of my entries to share more stories from the rest of Chilito lindo.

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Our new house – JUST KIDDING!

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13 Signs You´Know You Date a Chilean Man

  1. You will never have to open a door for yourself again
  2. A “date” means a trip to see the family
  3. You find yourself refilling his plate/glass when you lunch with the suegra
  4. Your guy friend numbers drop dramatically
  5. Talking about sex with others becomes a big no-no!
  6. Marriage becomes a hot topic of conversation
  7. Friends will regale you with stories of “cheating Chileans”
  8. When you meet he probably still lived with his parents
  9. … so you will most likely visit a “motel”
  10. You may find yourself doing the majority of the cooking
  11. Childcare may be seen as the woman’s domain
  12. You won’t be able to dance in your own space anymore – your space is now his!
  13. You will have company when introduced to other men

BUT for every one of these that may come across as a negative, they can easily be flipped around to be a positive! I have been with Luis for four years. We have travelled, lived together and gone through a long-distance relationship, fought and cried, laughed and danced, he has seen me give birth and we are raising a child together. At the end of the day, if you love someone you make it work, and cultural differences mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. You accept the good with the bad when you enter into a relationship with someone – and we have far more highs than lows.  Luis could be from Mars and it wouldn’t make one inch of difference to me!

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In Argentina and looking well-rested!