Mummy Diaries: When It Doesn´t Work

Tomorrow is Mothers Day! On my street there is a party amosphere in the air and next door Jose’s family have prepared a lavish display of bouquets and ubiquetous roses to sell to our unprepared neighbours.   I have no doubt that the usual empanadas and ceviche delights will make an appearance later, or that they will sell like hot cakes.

In Santiago, any cause for celebration (and sales) are clutched at with fervour. Easter is the same, so was Dia del Nino, a holiday followed with gusto and which I’d never even heard about before coming here.

I don’t like the forced and commercial aspects of manufactured days such as Mothers Day, but I do like the idea of taking a moment to thank and honour loved ones.  Particularly mothers who, thanks to ridiculous societal expectations, often feel like they do 1001 things without much notice. Men have an equal role in the household of course, but it’s safe to say that their a difference between the male and female modus operandi.

Luis avoids birthdays, dreads Christmas and shuns all other “special days”. He really doesn’t have to – saying thank you does not have to come with expensive gifts or a diminished bank balance. Although this day is dedicated to all the hardworking mamas out there (YOU!), I’m about to break protocol and say gracias to the daddy in our household. It is thanks to Luis’ business-savvy ideas and hard slogs at night in the taxi that I have been fortunate enough to work part-time over the past year and be at home with Emilio after my studies concluded.  This is the same hardworking individual who has been robbed at knifepoint and threatened in front of the barrel of a gun over the years – driving a taxi is not a picnic. Thanks to Luis we own two houses and I have been able to discover areas of Chile that are rarely seen by expats, let alone tourists.

The last three months have been a time of unbearable tension in our home, and not really through any fault of ours, either. In a nutshell, we bought a car to rent out as a taxi (as we have done three other times before), of which we needed to buy the rights seperately. Thanks to Santiago’s congestion and pollution problem, there is now a limit to how many taxis can be officially on the road so it is now no longer possible to buy new taxi permission. The normal practice now is to thus buy the papers secondhand.  Luis took out a bank loan to do this, of CLP$9 million. This seems like a lot, but once rented out the taxi basically pays for itself and creates quite a good income (or it did before Uber!). Luis found rights that matched our model of car , met with the owner and went with her to the notaria in San Miguel.  Once there, the notary checked all the documents, said all was hunky dory and cleared Luis to pay the woman. Luis did so. But one month later the notary had gone silent and nothing had been processed. Luis was livid and concerned as that meant that nothing had been transferred into his name and so therefore the car was sitting in the yard … and still a car. The bank loan still needed to be paid.  A lawyer advised us to speak to the head notary himself and demand compensation for our loss of business but, while the man admitted the mistake, he laughed at the thought of handing out money. Another months laters and Luis was positively shitting himself, especially as the police called to say that actually the ID and some of the documents were as fake as Kim Kardashians face  and that he was actually number 5 on the list of taxistas previously scammed.  Thanks to the ridiculous delay in transferring titles, all camera footage at the notary and the bank had been deleted and the notary worker who had authorised the documents had up and vanished.  All the while this was happening the bank was hounding us to make repayments on the loan that we now couldn’t possibly afford …

Luis has since been in and out of the police, hassling them and making statements. An investigation has been launched and the police are finally taking it seriously, particularly due to the grave implications the notary’s involvement infers.  Around the same time two of our cars needed to have extensive repairs done after being crashed by careless drivers, while all our other bills mounted. It’s been a time of unprecedented stress, especially as it came at the same time as 1) my recovery from last year’s attack 2) the quiet time for my work and 3) the awful sickness that my finally falling pregnant heralded (think vomiting blood every ten minutes). To add further difficulty, Luis had just started university as well.

We have fought and cried and despaired and hated the sight of each other and had long absences … but still we survive. We have been together only five years but in that time we have lived through two long distance relationships, travelled together, lived apart, lived together, and also suffered together when our son became gravely ill.  We are together still because we genuinely enjoy each others company and balance the other’s faults out. There’s no-one else I want to be with and I am so thankful that he is the father of my children. I honestly respect and love him, and it breaks my heart to see him struggle.

We are not going to stay in Chile, in fact once we are able we will head out on a new adventure. But through it all and no matter what I will stand by Luis during successes and mistakes, through happiness and hardships. No importa that tomorrow is the Dia de la Mama, I would not be a mother without Luis and I am thankful for every moment that we have.

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Our Miles & Smiles venture has helped enormously as we have been able to do something with the car, so I would like to take this moment to personally thank each and every customer who has booked with us, recommended us or shared our information, particularly the community of English Speaking Mum’s who have so far been our biggest client group.  We have also been overwhelmed by the generosity shown by friends, Facebook acquaintances and certain family members who have reached out during this tumultous time. Another GRACIAS goes to all those English Speaking Mums (them again!) who have helped me on the job hunt, either by taking a chance on me, referring me or continuously booking my services in childcare. Much appreciated everyone!! I’d also like to point out that we are still so very, very fortunate compared to many in Santiago and, although Ojos Abiertos has not been active so far this year, any opportunities that you can think of that we can get involved with to give back please don’t be silent and we will do our bit to do our bit, even if that’s rallying the troops or blogging about a cause.

Luna’s Story

The woman came at the same time every week. She was old, with hair that was still long and black despite her age, and a big smile that she gave to everyone despite the fact she was deaf in one ear. The dog saw none of this, however. It recognized her by the shuffling footsteps, the faint whiff of peppermint and the fact that she carried a bag of bones that alerted all the neighbourhood dogs. It’s tail would wag excitedly, spinning around and around, waiting for her turn as the lady dutifully passed.

It had had a childhood that other dogs only dream about: a family that cuddled her, fed her and threw her lots of balls to catch. She’d grown up in the lap of luxury that only Labradors will know, adored for her soft fur, her big brown eyes and floppy ears. Things began to change when her face filled out and grew more elongated – in other words, when she grew up. The cuddles became less and less frequent until one day they just didn’t touch her at all, and over time her bark (which was thunderous) became an annoyance that they didn’t want, but knew they needed in the depths of Huechuraba. By the time the cancer struck they had become accustomed to one another but she was an expense that they just couldn’t afford.  When the time came for them to move they chose to leave the dog behind. They left her in the yard of the house and never saw her again.

She was found by the new renters some two weeks later, who were shocked at the state of her. A bag of bones with shaky legs, she had barked herself hoarse and could not walk, her body riddled by protruding tumours. Her eyes were wide and bloodshot but, despite her hardships, when she saw the new family she found the energy to shake her tail. They passed her on to their grown son who needed a guard dog for his property and who wanted to help her the moment he saw her. He nursed her back to health, took her to the vet, played with her, and soon she forgot all about how it was humans that had originally left her to die of starvation.

They lived now in Recoleta, with the man’s growing family who call her Luna. Every time someone came to take out a car from the yard Luna would trot outside and watch. She couldn’t run or walk much further away because of the cancer, but she was a happy, gentle dog who loved to watch the world from her resting place. She knew all the dogs in the neighbourhood – she’d had quite the reputation a few years ago when the smell of her drove mutts wild, and they’d queued at her gate desperate for a second with her. She knew all the in’s and out’s of the street and the residents were patient with her. She’d watch the endless stream of unknown’s as they’d rap at the window of the house opposite, with their caps pulled down and their nonchalant stances, before exchanging paper for something small and white that Luna couldn’t understand the importance of.

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She was also there the night the boy was murdered, stabbed in the back by a friend who was angry at something monumental, and who was now memorialized by a grand white marker emblazoned with “Colo Colo.” She stood guard during the night while the corner swelled with lost souls who had nowhere they wanted to go to except inside their bags of white powder. She looked and she barked, and she raced excitedly with the other dogs to discover new smells that would explode in their brains every weekend as the people took to the streets with their empanadas and completos.

Most of all, Luna liked to watch the children. She liked the little toddler from next door with the beautiful, gentle eyes that would come and stare at her, and the girl who would wait for her parents while they worked in the shop. She always wanted to play with Luna but the parents didn’t like her to, disturbed by her unusual appearance and sharp teeth. Every day Luna would play with the boy with creamy skin, who didn’t care what she looked like, and who called her “Nunu.” Always there was laughter around her – noise and laughter – and she loved every second of it, despite her creaking joints.

Luna noticed the day the old woman didn’t come with the bones. The dogs on the street wondered too, and went to sleep with tummies gurgling as they’d grown accustomed to the stranger’s treat. They had no idea that the woman’s weekly highlight was her nightly stroll around the neighbourhood with the bag of bones.  In fact, the dogs had no idea at all about her life, or that she too had known the pangs of hunger. She died in the hospital holding the hand of her husband who cried while remembering the difficulties of their life together, and afterwards it was the sound of her family wailing at the heavens that caused Luna and her friends to bark all night long. Luna didn’t know any of this, of course, and so she waits each Friday, on the other side of the gate that separates her from her less-lucky friends, looking for the stranger that cared for her, but never knew her.

This post is dedicated to the real Luna, who Luis rescued from starvation six years ago and who is now a beloved member of our family.

There are lot’s of dogs that are just as gentle as Luna that are looking for a home in Santiago.  If you are considering a companion, why not send Suzie Beaven an email at: adoptaperro.santiago@gmail.com   You can find out about the wonderful work of Adopta Perro Santiago here.

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.

September 11 in Santiago

It’s the 11th of September and I am driving down Avenida Recoleta into La Pincoya.  I pass what looks like a fun event in the local Plaza; there are children playing, kites flying, food on sale. I excitedly ask Luis if we can stop because it looks interesting.

“Every year!” Luis exclaims roughly and drives right on by.

“Luis why can’t we go?!” I ask, annoyed.

“Helen don’t you see what that is? It’s a communist rememberance event. They do it every year – when will they get over it? None of those people were even alive in 1973!”

Quite a strong statement, I know. I am in Huechuraba, one of Santiago’s oldest barrios that has always been home to a strong left-wing movement.  This is a place that turns unrecognizeable at night, when all traffic is blocked on the main throughfare, Av. Recoleta, due to protests.

In 1973 Chile suffered its own September 11 tragedy – a coup d’etat – that saw a violent militarial uprising led by Augosto Pinochet against the socialist president, Salvador Allende. This event killed thousands but scarred millions, and Chileans have never quite been the same since.

What I never realised was that the coup hadn’t come as a surprise.  Derek Paterson is a New Zealand writer who was imprisoned during the coup and wrote about his experience in his new book, Second Time Lucky.  I recommend giving this one a read because he paints a remarkeable picture of Chile during the 70’s.

“It’s a lovely day.” I remark to Luis, “It was probably a lovely day in 1973 too.  I can’t even imagine my normal life being broken in that way – a normal date that is now forever different.”

However, in saying that, Huechuraba seems to be moving as normal. People are laughing in the street, flying kites in the sky, working, commuting, eating lunch … does anything really happen once the sun sets?

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Driving around Huechuraba Antigua on Sep.11

This time 2 years ago,  I went to a party in Recoleta and walked home. The streets were looming and black thanks to the power being cut, and the only sound was the whirring of helicopters overhead. There was no-one around and every footstep sounded like thunder amongst the gloom. I remember clutching Luis’ arm with my keys at the ready, shaking even more when he told me what to do if someone should attack us.The Diagonal – a prominent street that slices through residential pockets – was ablaze with mountains of fire that we tiptoed past. A new sound joined our footsteps, this time there was the crunch of glass and in the distance we could hear laughing.

Needless to say, we made it home safely. In 2014 we lit the candles as we waited for the obligatory power cut, and watched movies while listening distant hum outside. Now here we are, in 2015, on our way to Luis’ father’s house in Huechuraba.

I spoke to Ana Fuenzalida and asked her what the date meant for her:

“It means nothing to me really. I was only a baby in the south of Chile when the coup happened.  Today its just a night when the flaites take control and burn tyres and break glass. I won’t be scared; the same happens every year.”

I asked Boris Bastian what exactly would happen:

“The people on Av. Recoleta will prepare their homes against possible attacks. Late at night, around 10pm or later, flaites will begin causing trouble on the road, setting things alight, ripping out plants to burn, throwing things and breaking windows.  The police will come and they will attempt to regain some control but there is not enough police. Sometimes they come straight down the Avenida with tear gas and water cannons, sometimes they try to be clever and come in from the back or side. There will be thousands of people out, some of them with genuine intentions but mostly young people out to do what they can. There are no rules.”

Throughout the day I speak to many people.  Luis points out the marks and holes on the road along Av. Recoleta where previous fires have melted the tarmac. But in general the day seems like any other –  am I missing something?

We return home to Recoleta around 8pm to find our street bursting with party atmosphere. Jose is selling his usual empanadas, there is music playing and everyone seems to be having a good time. Inside I prepare the candles, get Emilio tucked up in bed and wait … but nothing happens. The night passes uneventfully. I hear nothing. The next morning Luis’ father turns up for Emilio.

“It was very strange,” he tells us, “nobody did anything in front of our house like they normally do. Everything was very quiet.”

When I later ask more people from Huechuraba, they tell me that not much happened on Av. Recoleta either.  On Facebook, the expat groups are buzzing with pepole sharing their experiences, with tales of “dogs barking more than usual” and “no-one was people smiling or laughing” during the day.  I am not sure if dogs really were barking more or if maybe they wrote that because they expected it, but in all honesty the day passed as normal here with much less activity during the night than previous years.  How did it go where you are?

* There is an excellent ethnography by the anthropologist Clara Han, who actually attended the chaos in La Pincoya a few years ago. She writes of how one year the police simply did not show up, and how no-one then knew what to do. It’s interesting how Sep. 11 has evolved in Santiago, less as a date of rememberence and memorial or protest, but as a date when all rules in existence are to be broken.  You can download her work here.

The Good and The Ugly

The day is dark.

The sun has shone but it was a cold, muddy kind of sunlight today, almost as if it is feeling the pangs of a hangover from too much chicha, which I’m sure most of Chile will sympathize with. Outside my window there is a lone tree that I like to stare at whenever I feel like i want to escape the city, because it is fairly easy to ignore the various black power lines that run around it. That is what I am doing now, watching that tree sway in the breeze like it is my lifeline to a much simpler world.

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It’s hard to live in a foreign land and not get the blues from time to time. I don’t miss New Zealand but sometimes I am overcome by such feelings of melancholy that the only thing that shakes me out of the dumps is a human-sized chocolate bar, a nap and back to back episodes of How I Met Your Mother.

In times like this, Chile only has to exist and I get riled up. Going to get my carnet (ID card) saw me transform into some kind of fiery beast, especially after we queued for an age to get a number only to be rejected as we weren’t ready with passport photocopies.

“jhojlodfijioasdofno!!” I snarled at the inconvenience and the woman responded by saying:

“The instructions are on the sign!” She then turned, lifted up a fallen-down, wrong way up sign and then placed it back on the floor, still facing the wrong way.  I’m pretty sure horns erupted from my skull at that moment.

There are so many times Chile gets me worked up. Like when I spent 6000 pesos for a curry and was given .. six prawns with a drizzle of sauce and a lettuce leaf. Or the time my Dad spent forever in the line waiting to check in for a flight to the UK, only to get the counter and find they had sold his seat to someone else and it was HIS FAULT (story coming soon!).  Or the time my Mum posted me a really old camera using DHL, and when it arrived they wanted almost $300 in handling fees (it wasn’t even tax and duties that put the price up!). Or the time Emilio was hospitalized and the tecnical assistant made me cry for not speaking enough Spanish, therefore meaning I “had no right to be with him.”  Finding a job here is also enough to make me scream. I am now pretty much unemployed and up to my eyes in debt – but I’m foreign so must be rich right (don’t you hate that?!)

As a mother, there are certain other aspects that drive me up the wall and around most of the garden too. Here is an example. Dieciocho, an important day for many Chileans, took us to Luis’ dad’s house for a family BBQ. Emilio cried the whole time and when he was finally happy playing with a ball, the adults took it off him and began to play some kind of ball wrestling that Emilio tried desperately to join. When he began inconsoleable grizzling with a fever, my suggestion that it was time for me to take him home was met with uncomfortable silence.

“But why can’t he stay here? He’s fine!” They all said while Emilio screamed and tried to run away. But I stood my ground and took him home anyway, which was a good thing because he got worse and worse throughout the night and ended up back in Roberto del Rio hospital. This has got to be my biggest pet peeve about having a son with a Chilean: they parent differently to how I am accustomed to. In my experience, the evening is not a time for children to be settling down for bed, instead it’s like a normal time of day. Luis’ parents often turn up randomly at 7pm and want to take him out, and if I say but he sleeps at 8 they just look at Luis. If I say bring him back at 8pm they say “ok 8pm … mas o menos” and return at 11pm. When Emilio is out and starts to cry because he’s tired, people tell me he’s very mamon and needs less sleep.

They also allow Emilio to do anything he wants. If he throws a stone at a person, they laugh. If he hits, they don’t say anything.  Emilio is a very strong-willed boy who also does not like to be touched, and whenever he gets hurt and comes to me, they crowd around and try to pull him away, and then get shocked when he starts screaming. “Manioso … regalon … mamite … agresivo … violento” I am given a rich list of unsatisfactory charactersitics each time which makes me retreat from them like a scared turtle.  Emilio is two and doesn’t talk, and so he resorts to other more extreme ways to communicate.  He also regresses every time someone tries to force him to do something to the time he was in hospital, which appears to have left a permanent scar on him (he started a particular squeal there that he uses whenever he is really scared).

I know they love him and 99% of the time I remember this. 99% of the time I appreciate all the good they have done and are doing, and I am so thankful they are in Emilio’s life. But on days like today – when I’m sick and tired and miserable – that tiny 1% finds its way out.  That goes for Chile too.  I adore this country and it is the only place in the world I have ever travelled to and felt completely and utterly at home. My skin cleared up, my hair shone and I lost weight after just 3 weeks in Santiago, of all places.  I felt at peace amongst Santiago’s ordered chaos.  I don’t want to leave but I don’t have to like everything (and same goes for anywhere including NZ). It bothers me when Chileans get riled up about a complaint about their country, because they usually a) deny its a problem and b) Chile is obviously perfect. Nowhere is perfect (I agree though that there are plenty of gringos who like to moan about everything!)  I hope whoever is reading this blog knows how much I love this country. What other place in the world gets together under the flag so proudly and so happily as Chile during las Fiestas Patrias? This is truly a marvellous place.  As always, let me know your experiences!

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Delicious food over Las Fiestas Patrias
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Emilio is in some of his too-big Huaso outfit
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Empanadas de pino are synonimous with Dieciocho