Lately things have heated up. We’ve had a few fires which has resulted in fire sirens blaring down the road at 6am – one time going to help the neighbour directly in front of us. Then Banco Estado (by metro Einstein) was robbed at gunpoint by six guys who then stole a woman’s car for their getaway vehicle. There were two plainclothes police there at the time (they are everywhere but you never know it) who were able to call backup right away. Luis had been in the bank just moments before and watched the whole thing unfold. Scary stuff.
Last night Luisa was in the street yelling obscenities. All the dogs were barking and the kids were crying. I’m pretty sure she was angry with her daughter Ashley, the mother of Antony. A year ago a similar scene played out when Luisa found out about Ashley’s pregnancy. They fought in the street for all the neighbours to hear, with Luisa screaming that she was “a slut … bringing shame on the family for sleeping with so many men.” The pregnancy was not welcome news and Ashley was kicked out of the family home.
It does sound harsh but I hate judging a book by its cover – surely there must be more to the story?
These days sex is everywhere but not too long ago Chile was pretty conservative. It has never had the wild and free reputation like that of Brazil or Colombia, and the roots of religion went deep. Honour and family are words that seem to go hand in hand here (see A Mother’s Wisdom) and, when you don’t have much, keeping the family name intact becomes paramount.
Luisa also lives with more than twenty people in tiny, cramped conditions and in a house that constantly needs fixing. One of the things I discovered from Ojos Abiertos is that many children share the same room as their parents. Many of them grow up with a very adult view of sexuality because they witness the act of sex very young. While this isn’t true of everyone, its big enough of a problem that the school specifically requested a sexual education talk for parents to combat exactly this. Most of the people living there do not have what you would call typical jobs either – some of the men rely on labouring jobs they source by word of mouth, and they sell drugs. The women seem to be constantly pregnant. They are families brought together by extension, sharing what they have and live off minimum wage. They rarely leave the house, let alone Recoleta. Every pregnancy means another mouth to feed and more space to go without. In this case, Ashley was not in a relationship with the father, and without the security of a marriage the future must have looked precarious. The father of Antony is not a nice man and meets every stereotypical requirement that you would expect: baggy pants, baseball cap, fake Adidas stripes, flash shoes, tendency to say “o’e!” I know that they all tried to rent a room a few blocks down but it has ended in disaster, so Ashley and her son are back with Luisa. For now. The whole thing is so sad.
This isn’t a situation that is black and white. For all those people who say “why don’t they just get a job?” I ask you to think for a minute. These are people who come from difficult backgrounds – often with trauma – who cannot read or write well (if at all) and have little education. The only world they have ever seen is the world that they are living. I also ask where are the jobs for them? They don’t have references or experience, and I honestly wonder who would hire someone who may need a lot of help. It’s depressing especially when, for the most part, they are nice people, with children who have talents and abilities that just need a little nurtering and someone to show them new possiblities. This is why I greatly respect Jose: to have come from such difficulties and rise above them as an honest and hardworking example is beyond inspiring. You only know your strength when you are called to use it, after all.
I feel strongly about this subject, hence my blogs for education. It all starts with opening the eyes of the children. I don’t want them to turn to mind-numbing and mind-altering substances just to cope with life. In front of our house there is a small shrine to a young 20-something man whose throat was slit by his neighbour over a minor dispute one night they were using illicit substances. This story breaks my heart in so many ways: the fact that they were young, the fact that the murderer only spent a short time in jail, the fact that they are both someone’s children. The line between sanity and insanity is minute, and easily broken by drugs, anger and unhappiness. I don’t want this story to keep repeating.
During said action always be prepared for the door to open.
Just when you think they are asleep … “mama?”
Sex becomes quickies
During said endeavour expect your mind to be otherwise occupied: will we wake him up? Is there meat out for tomorrow? Did I organize a babysitter?
The floor is now a suitable resting place for food. Just walked through banana? Oh fudge it – have a cup of tea. They will eat it anyway.
Leaving a crying toddler with a babysitter? They will forget you in 5 minutes. Sorry!
TV the ENEMY … until you have a child! Or a second one.
Boys love anything with wheels. It’s in their genes.
That beautiful nursery you admire? It NEVER looks like that. Trust me.
Everything you don’t want your kid to eat, they will eat.
Brushing teeth and brushing hair – is it really worth the battle? I feel like I’m at the Wall every bedtime (GoT reference!)
Those wonderful perky boobs you have always taken for granted will disappear after breastfeeding. Make the most of their symmetrical shape while you can!
You will never feel shame showing your body in public again once you’ve popped out a baby and then spent a few months popping out your boob.
When baby is asleep its party time! That means a bar of chocolate and an hour of reading mummy blogs/How I Met Your Mother
You know they say you always have one ear listening for baby at night? Yeah nah, once they start sleeping through you will stop that pretty quickly … SLEEP how I love you!
Pooz is always interesting. Hello Quinoa!
“Kaka” “poopoo” “peepee” “weewee” during potty-training you will be unable to utter a single other word.
When your child begins solids you will develop an overwhelming interest in nutrition. Until they become a toddler, at which point you are just happy they eat at all. Even biscuits – oh the horror!
Your bed will become the ultimate playground for your wee churab. That expensive toy you just bought? It will be collecting dust after 5 minutes, or broken.
Playdates will bring out the mamabear. Who will hit your angel child? Wait – he hit your baby? Emilio, Emilio – EMILIO COME BACK HERE NOW!
You will suddenly lose control of your child when all other mums are watching. It will play out a little bit like “Say sorry to the baby Emilio. EMILIO STOP PLAYING WITH THE CAT POOP NOW! Emiliooooooo!!!!!!”
Do not put THAT in your mouth!
Never leave your child unattended with pens, crayons or paints unless you are in want of a new mural.
Alone time with the husband? You’re never really alone. You will spend the whole time talking about the baby.
Babysitters will never match up to your parenting skills. Nor the knowledge of other mums. Or even the husband, for that matter.
People who offer you advice and do NOT have children will receive an eyebrow raise and a look of disdain. Sorry, did you push a baby out your vag? No? Then shuddup.
In Chile, you will live at the doctors. Or (in our case) hospital ER.
Your child is never quite enough. They are always too: regalon, mamon, big, small, light, heavy, not eating enough greens, not enough junk, breastfeeding, NOT breastfeeding, not sleeping enough, sleeping too much, not talking, talking too much … the list is endless.
They will never look at the camera when you want them too.
They will never have enough woollen layers. Even in summer.
Christmas. You will either be so excited and put the tree up early only to find they aren’t the slightest bit interested, or they like it too much and pull it down *sigh*
Summer in Santiago means only two things: overcrowded swimming pools and SUNBLOCK. Ahahaha good luck with that!
The Dipolomatic Association’s new cookbook “From Our Table to Yours” with recipes from 41 countries. Proceeds go to various charities. Contact Sonia
The Chile Experience – a website with discounts and a Facebook page offering a huge network of support for the English-speaking community in Chile, run by the amazing Penny Ortega. Contact Penny to become involved in the Experience as a corporate partner.
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.
Honestly? I freaked at paying almost 10,000 per adult to take Emilio to see some wildlife at Selva Viva … but thank goodness I did! It’s actually well worth the price, considering that the costs required to heat the place up (jungles are humid) would not be small. When you enter you watch a brief video and remove your layers (because you will sweat), and then you head out into the selva. There’s a canopy of trees, birds flying overhead, and turtles plodding over the path. Within moments the guide is explaining everything you never knew about snakes while draping a colossal python across your shoulders. This is why the place is worth the coin: you can hold and touch everything instead of having to fork out extra. So you can let a rainbow lorikeet scamper up your shoulders, stroke a toucan, hold a hermit crab and even enjoy the delightful clinging of a blue and gold macaw as it settles down on your head (!). The place is big and you can learn alot about the world’s jungles and conservation, especially for young ones with mind’s like sponges. I highly recommend a trip particularly for those who have children at that age where they constantly ask “why?” but we took at Emilio at 1.5 and he loved it (particularly the crabs but definately not the snake!)
Granja Aventura, La Reina (colectivos run from the metro into the park, car parking is at extra cost).
We went to this farm on the same day that a fellow English-Speaking Mum shared her dreadful experience there. Basically her husband had his leg broken by an escaping horse, and not only were the park ill-equipped during such an event, they actually offered little compassion and assistence! Regardless, we still took Emilio as a present for his 2nd birthday because when you live in one of Santiago’s busier suburbs you start to crave nature like nicotine. So off we trotted and I have to say that we all really enjoyed ourselves. There are some fantastic playgrounds carved out of trees with things like tree huts and flying foxes, but all are aimed at much bigger children. We brought a picnic which we ate in one of the picnic areas admist the smell of animal poop, but it was actually really pleasant. There were lots of animals there and lots of staff cleaning out cages and preparing new spaces. In all, I didn’t have an issue with the price and thought it was a great place to visit for a few hours, especially having a child who has only ever seen a real cow several times. BUT I would advise caution around the animals (most of the areas are unattended) and around the playgrounds, which are very ambitious.
My World, La Reina
We took Emilio here as it is a place constantly mentioned on FB by other mums, and because an indoor playarea sounds like a great place to visit during the winter months to burn up some energy (so that Mummy and Daddy can rest better). I do not recommend visiting at the end of a birthday party because … holy smokes! Emilio had fun but it was difficult for him trying to play amongst such a mix of big and small kids. The toys were mostly broken and dirty considering it was so costly to enter, but the thought was good. All in all worthwhile if you live in the area but not worth a special trip.
Parque Bicentenario, Vitacura
I love this park! It’s immaculately maintained and in summr they put out deckchairs so that you can lounge beneath umbrellas in the scorching sun. You can feed giant carp, black swans, flamingoes and ducks at the lake, an area which attracts a whole host of other birdlife that I can’t name. There’s water fountains, a cafe, a giant chess set, a horticultural centre, climbing frames and playgrounds. The restaurant, Mestizo, is one of Santiago’s best in my opinion. It’s in a great setting, service is good, you can let your kids play in the grass (if you sit outside) and the food is delicious. It is a little pricey but well worth it – I recommend choosing the octopus starter and the chocolate volcano for dessert!
Aerodromo de Planes, Vitacura
Ok so I know that you have to be a member to visit, but every year this Glider’s Club opens its doors for free to the public. We went this year and it was AWESOME – especially if you have a child that loves things that move. There was a show by robot planes, alongside flying helicopters/planes/gliders. There was a playground, food trucks, music and also grounded helicopters that you could enter and play around in. Highly worth a visit for Family Fun Day (what we call it in our house!) plus its NOT loud so you don’t need to stress about earmuffs etc.
See my blog here. Also details our visit to Museo Artequin
Museo de los Carabineros
This is an excellent museum located off of Bilbao, right next door to the Police training school. I had never heard of it before and was pleasantly surprised because it is filled to the brim with engaging displays. Basically, this museum traces the history of organized crimewatching in Santiago, all the way to the start of Spanish colonization. Alot of effort has been put into making this place interesting and relevant and, while it is definately not for young children, small effort has been made to keep them entertained with games and interactive displays.
Universidad de Santiago Planetarium
Visit the website for more information about current showings.
Spectacular days that call for the removal of jackets and winter boots should not be spent inside. After the strangest winter, Santiago has heated up with blue sky, a warm breeze and volantines (kites) in every direction. We spent the afternoon enjoying one of Santiago’s premier parks, the Parque de la Infancia (nearest metro is Cementerios). This is paradise has been created specifically for children although it is so immaculately cared for it makes a worthwhile visit for the grownups too. For more ideas on what to do in Recoleta, have a look here.
The moment when my son stopped breathing was also the moment when I left my body.
I had pictured this happening a thousand times before. When he was a newborn and so helpless in my arms, I’d race to check on him every time he slept, paranoid about ill-fitted sheets and mattress gasses. As he grew, every cough weighed on my mind like a heavy stone, pressing to the corners every other thought. I suddenly saw danger everywhere; I had changed. I was no longer Helen but Mummy, and I was a lioness, ready at all times to protect my cub.
But when Emilio’s eyes glazed over and widened until the eyelids could open no further, my reaction was not how I would have expected. As his lips turned purple and his mouth spewed forth foam, I was helpless on the sidelines as Luis shrieked “What do we do?! He’s not breathing, he’s not breathing!!” His tiny body, just one year and a half old, writhed and shook on the floor as Luis began pumping his chest. I remember Luis screaming at me to find someone – anyone – but his voice was so faint in my ears next to the dull ringing that had begun. Suddenly, I was looking down at the room from somewhere else, watching Luis give CPR to Emilio, but he was not the Emilio that I knew.
Luis screamed at me to go and I ran from the house, barefoot and in my pajamas. First I ran to the store below us. I will never forget the look of disbelief and fear on the face of the woman that works there. We both ran into the street. The first car I saw was Manuel’s, and he was eating a sandwich. “Manuel! My son is not breathing! We need a hospital now!” I shrieked and he threw his sandwich from the window. The next moment Luis was there, also barefoot and also in his pyjamas, and we got in the back. Manuel raced at the speed of sound to Roberto del Rio public hospital, in Recoleta, tooting the whole time so that he parted the cars on Avenida Recoleta like a Chilean Moses. Emilio was alternating between states of breathing and not-breathing, his eyes opening and then disappearing from his swollen face. The moment we arrived we raced through the doors without noticing the guards or other people. Doctors and nurses dropped their cases and came running, and Emilio was immediately hooked up to the IV.
“Why would you come here like that?” One of the nurses asked me when Emilio was stable.
“What do you mean?” I replied, confused.
“What happened that you could not get dressed and put shoes on?” She asked again, her eyebrow raised pointedly to the sky, like a bow shooting an arrow straight at my heart.
I couldn’t find the words at first. All I could think was how much I wanted to wipe her face clean of that smug look.
“My son was not breathing, had turned blue and was having a seizure. There was no time to put our shoes on.”
She just looked at me. “But why couldn’t you put your shoes on?”
The next hour passed in a blur as we waited, spoke to doctors and waited some more. No-one was very friendly and especially not the nurses. Emilio had chronic diarrhoea that one time covered all of my clothes and the floor, so Luis left to go home, and bring us back supplies and (of course) our shoes.
I was holding Emilio when it happened again. Like the calm before the storm, I knew something was about to happen because I remember turning to Luis with panic and saying “Something’s going to happen!” A minute later his head arched back and he began shaking and arching uncontrollably in my arms. I gave him to Luis who put him down on the bed and I ran from the room to find help. I saw a doctor in the corridor ahead and I screamed to him for help and he came running. This time, the room flooded with doctors, and Luis and I were pushed to the side. It was like a scene from a movie.
We were asked to leave the room so that they could do a lumbar puncture into his back to test for meningitis. Even though there were people and children crying all around us, all we could hear on the other side of the door were the inhuman sounds that Emilio made.
Almost straight after, we went with Emilio to the other side of the hospital for a CT scan. There was a delay because Emilio took a very long time to fall asleep with the aneasthetic. I remember the doctor – who was with us thoughout Emilio’s ER stay – thought this was highly amusing.
Luis went in with Emilio while I waited outside. At this point, the morning’s events finally caught up with me, and I turned around into the wall and just sobbed. I stood there, barely able to breathe under the weight of the fear and exhaustion I felt, until I felt a hand on my shoulder. A middle-aged woman stood there with a tissue. “Tranquila,” She told me, “everything will be all right.” Her friendly face was like a beacon of hope for me in that moment of despair.
Emilio did not have meningitis but he did need to be hospitalized to be tested further. We were then transferred to the children’s ward. This was a long corridor with rooms off of it to the left, each one containing four beds/cots. Every wall was lined with windows into the other rooms, and there was one television and one basin. Beside each bed was a single plastic chair. The toilet was on the first floor (we were on the fourth) at the end of a very long hallway. It had no toilet paper or soap. The doctors we saw spoke English (to a degree), were young and very personable. They read me our rights and the rules of the hospital and asked me to sign on the dotted line. I did so. They then asked Luis to leave because only one person could be inside the ward at a time.
Seven days and seven nights were passed there. The first night was agonizing because I could not figure out how to sleep on the chair without a) falling off and b) breaking my neck. The other parents rolled down the side of the cot and lay their heads on the mattress beside their baby, but Emilio was far too unstable to have a side down. I had taken a small suitcase (carry- on size) filled with spare clothes for Emilio and it was on the floor beside the chair. I opened it and sat in it on top of the clothes, and was asleep instantly. Moments later a kick to the leg woke me up to a hissing woman who told me it was the chair or leave. I did not fall back to sleep.
By the time Luis arrived the next morning I was almost delirious. I was desperate to talk to him however, to hear some support and tell him how Emilio had been. I also wanted to tell him that the 20minute window when all parents had to leave their child (morning and night) had actually been 1 hour and a half. All the parents had to wait outside the children’s ward during this time, as it was a time when all the doctors did their morning rounds. We all stood like sardines against the open door, craning our necks for the sounds of our crying children. I heard Emilio hysterically screaming, and the doctor came running to me in shock. Emilio had gone crazy when he had seen me leave, and was now flailing about in his cot, banging his head into the bars viciously hard and pulling his IV out. His eyes were circles of fear. Seeing him like this was enough to break my heart for a second time.
Luis and I managed two words before angrily being told to get out. Our absence caused Emilio to lose the plot again. We didn’t talk, and I went home. I hadn’t wanted to, but I was desperately tired and I wanted to speak to my parents. We had no hot water at that time so I talked to them while I boiled water for a bath on the stove and returned to smoking cigarettes, and then slept in a stupor for several hours.
At the hospital, Luis told me he had absolutely no idea what was going on. Emilio had had numerous tests done but no doctor had spoken to him. This worried me because Emilio did not seem to be improving in any way – in fact he looked ten times worse than when we had come in! He couldn’t stand, he shook, he could barely open his eyes, and all he did was make this horrible noise. He didn’t want cuddles either and just writhed when I held him, but he didn’t want to sleep either. He was desperate for something. I had been forbidden to breastfeed him because of his earlier vomiting, but I could see he wanted something. He had been staring at something fixedly for a while when he began banging his head on the cot. I picked him up and immediately he began to struggle against me. He is trying to walk, I thought, but where to? I put his feet on the floor and supported him and in amazement he went straight to my bottle of water and tried to pick it up. With that I knew there was something he was not getting from his IV, so I went out to the nurses, who immediately told me to go away. Ignoring them, I walked the ward until I found a doctor and strongly requested he see my son. He did so, and agreed to increase Emilio’s IV dose of water. Literally a minute after doing so he was asleep. It was the first moment of silence in a long time.
Night time was a struggle for everyone. It was impossible to sleep when the lights were barely dimmed, when the radio blasted all night, and when assistants and nurses came in constantly singing and whistling. In our room there was a newborn baby who must have been born premature. The mother, a young girl, visited every day but at night the baby was always alone. It screamed almost the entire night, every night and no-one came to look after it. Across from me, there was a mother of four, who had a daughter a few months older than Emilio. She had a number of health issues, and the mother held and breastfed her constantly, to the point where I could only be in awe of her mothering. She later said that her milk had dried up long ago but it was the only thing that could calm her daughter down when she was hospitalized.
Most of the week we didn’t know what was going on because no-one came to see us or answer our questions. I grew to resent the nurses who were very rude, but more so the technical assistants, who lorded about. Very few of the workers had patience with my Spanish ability and often they would talk and make jokes about me while standing right in front of me. After days of non-stop Spanish and emotional stress, I felt as though I was slowly losing my grip of the language. I started to not care. One time I asked an assistant to repeat a question, and she shouted at me, “Why are you here if you don’t speak Spanish? You have no right to be here!” I cried.
I was allowed to breastfeed again once Emilio stopped vomiting. The nutritionist then swiftly arrived and told me it was unhealthy to do so at his age. Luis and I had now taken to arguing during the five minutes we had together every day, and he started questioning all of our parenting decisions. He told me I had been feeding Emilio wrong all this time, and that he needed to be having more sugar. “What the f*** are you talking about?!” I screeched, unable to believe my ears. Turns out the nutritionist had told him that Emilio should be drinking fruit juices instead of water, and that every meal needed to have a sweet treat afterwards.
The expat community really reached out to me during Emilio’s hospitalization, and I cannot even begin to express my gratitude. I had no internet in hospital so every time I came home and waited for the bath water to boil, I would read messages that people – some I didn’t even know – would send. The people down Zapata rallied around us too, and Luis’ father and stepmother provided a further pillar of support. After a week of endless exams and tests, misinformation about Emilio’s condition (“he has “X” and needs to stay here for another week”), rude staff and 2am treks to the toilet, we finally got some answers. Emilio was having febrile convulsions without fever being present, an extremely rare occurrence but not impossible. Or so they thought. They really didn’t have any idea. But they said he was much better and all the tests were coming back fine so we could leave … after all the forms had been completed and we had paid.
“Great! You stay here and I will go and clean the house, and get it ready for Emilio’s return” I told Luis and raced home, with a skip in my step.Our house was a pigsty but I dutifully cleaned it and waited. It was dark by the time these “forms” were completed. There are no words for the look of joy when Emilio returned but the journey was not yet over. As well as having a week’s worth of drugs still in his system and still barely eating, he had also developed an extreme fear of pretty much everything. He refused to sleep in his room, refused to be away from my side, shrieked in terror whenever he saw another person besides me and Luis, and barely smiled for weeks afterwards. He was like a shell. It took months before he recovered emotionally.
Roberto del Rio is one of the best public hospitals in Santiago. It has faster access to resources than the local private hospital. It also costs tuppence in comparison to the cost of going private. I cannot fault any of the doctors, really, who dealt with a high influx of patients very well. The doctors in Emergency were kind and responsive. When the case turned serious, tests were organized without delay. The staff that worked in the canteen were pleasant enough, and the food decent. There were small acts of kindness by several nurses and assistants that I will always remember. Everything else was a shambles. I do not know if the staff were overworked (to be fair, most of the time the nurses just sat around talking) but what I do know is that many times I felt unfriendliness and even animosity from them. Being forced away from my son for indeterminable periods twice a day while doctors poked and prodded seemed unbearably cruel for someone so young that couldn’t understand what was going on. I am thankful that Emilio was looked after and I am thankful that these services exist for people who do not have the funds to afford better, but I am also angry. I am angry that most of the people were too accustomed to not asking questions that they suffered in silence. I am angry that the young girl who left her baby at night did so thinking he was being looked after, but he wasn’t. I am angry that Emilio was forced to hurt himself, day after day, while alone in his cot and no-one tried to help him. I am angry that I was not respected because I am foreign. I am angry on behalf of all the mothers and fathers who cried outside the ward waiting to go back in, or who crept outside to sleep on the floor. I don’t know what the answer is, all I know is that we deserve more. A smile, after all, costs nothing.
The Andes mountains loom like unforgiving sentinels over Santiago, their icy tops glistening with fresh sunlight. Beneath them, I see pole after pole of Chilean flags flying high, their blue, red and white colours flapping listlessly in the biting winter breeze. They stand perched above the haphazard houses that line Emiliano Zapata, my street in Recoleta, for no reason other than that Chileans love their nation.The homes here have no uniform standard, so you may just as easily find a bungalow painted pink as you would a three-storey beast of modernity, or a property that has grown substantially from its humble beginnings as occupied land. This is a place where the middle-class rub their shoulders with everyone. The streets come alive on Dieciocho (18th September national holiday) when neighbors enjoy the cueca together or during a televised football game during summer when couches and TV’s are brought onto the street. The elderly sit on their front steps for their daily cahuin (gossip) and visits to the local corner store involve long waits while the store owner checks up on the latest happenings in the neighborhood.
I have lived in Recoleta for two years, down Zapata and also in El Salto, an area close to the hills with tiny brightly colored houses . When I first arrived I saw only the potholes in the roads that caused the traffic to constantly stop and start, and the broken pavements that made walking with a pushchair more like a lesson in off-roading. I saw the street dogs -the real Don’s of the barrio – dictating the passage of both cars and pedestrians by either refusing to move or by chasing and biting holes in the tyres of cars they did not like. I saw the flaites on the corners with their baseball caps and Nike knock-offs, lolling about purposelessly until their after-dark misdemeanors began. In short, I felt dirty and more than a little scared here, particularly because then I could not understand a single word anyone was saying …
But there is more to Recoleta than just the modification of a Spanish that is already difficult to understand.There is also much more than the street dogs and the rather enthusiastic bureaucracy of the Recoleta municipalidad. Recoleta is a place with a long history, from being an early settlement of indigenous (Mapuche and Inca) to the growing district of La Chimba under Spanish rule, through to today where it thrives as a residential area that is dominated by migrants. Patronato, where you will find the La Vega market and an assortment of imported-from-China clothes shops, is said to be home to the largest population of Palestinian’s outside of Palestine, along with people from many other nations. It abounds in stores selling foodstuffs from Korea, takeaway kebab restaurants, and even high end dining experiences (such as Vietnam Discovery).
Recoleta is also home to the national cementary, both of which make wonderful ways to while away a few hours (and a good place to buy cheap flowers!). There is a top-quality park (lovingly maintained by workers who have done an excellent job) known as the Parque de la Infanciathat will delight children of all ages thanks to its water fountains, train ride, tree huts and ginormous slides.
Even the local council, despite it’s difficulties, is going the extra mile by developing its Escuela Abiertaprogramme to offer more opportunities to the Recoleta youth. They constantly organize events in the local estadio, such as the recent Indigenous Festival, and they have also implemented a small recycling centre and worm farm.
Bellavista is also (mostly, as half is technically Providencia) in Recoleta, an area famed for it’s nightlife and restaurants. My favorite eating spot here is “Como Agua Para Chocolate” which is a restaurant so dripping with romance it has a flower-filled fountain.
However, my number one place to eat is not in Bellavista, or in Patronato’s Tirso Molina. It is, in fact, close to my home and so tiny that sometimes you knock your chair against the next table’s. It’s staffed by the same people everyday who live above and it really feels as though you are eating in their dining room (because technically you are!). “Santa Rosa de Lima“ is a Peruvian restaurant that offers an all-day week-day colacion for 2.200 pesos that includes breads, starter, main and side dish. The food is Peruvian and delicious, but the desserts – especially the suspiro Limeno – are truly heavenly. This is not a five-star experience, but in my opinion sometimes the best food spots do not have menu’s containing trout and foie gras or lots and lots of numbers at the bottom of the bill.
I do not see the poor side of Recoleta now. This is not to say that I am blind, because it exists here as it does everywhere else. I know that my neighbors struggle and that many sell drugs. I know that many people here work long hours and gain little monetary rewards. I also know that some cause problems and that my window that faces the street sometimes witnesses knife fights and even gun shots. But I also know that people often throw meat over our gates for our dog – just because they care – and that my tattooed neighbor has cleaned himself up completely for his new daughter, who is Emilio’s age and lovely. Every house here has a personality and many are well-tended to – even though there is no grass I watch my neighbor get up every morning in the freezing cold and fastidiously sweep the area in front of her house. This is also the place that bred my partner Luis and that, despite everything, helped him to grow into the incredible man he is today. And it is for these reasons that I refuse to condemn the people here – many of whom are victims of circumstance – or eagerly wait to move away. There are many things I do not like but there are many that I love, and it only takes a moment to find something wonderful (just sometimes takes a little searching for, that’s all). I am proud to call Recoleta my home and it truly is – my blood is English, my memories kiwi but at heart I am Recoletana.
See my pictures on Instagram: @helen_luise #queridarecoleta