Chile Diary – 5

Continuing with my Chile Diary, here’s the account of the big one that brought so many experiences into my life. I learned a lot about myself as I was learning about the Chileans and their resilience; the way they take things in their stride… and get on with life.

Monday, 15th March 2010

I didn’t get to write over the weekend. My back and knees weren’t doing so well, so I was not up to it. On Saturday, we went out for lunch at the food court in Marina Arauca. After sampling a few Chilean preparations, I decided I’d had enough. The roast pork was fine, teamed with the browned onions. Nothing else was so amazing as to get a mention; average, fair, and that goes for the desserts too.

street cafes in Vina 1

Valpo street in Vina

I’ve been rambling on or meandering I should say. I still have to tell you about the big earthquake and the different places I’ve stayed at till now. Well, this isn’t an official record so I’ll proceed according to the thoughts and fancy that capture me. Let’s start with the abodes that have provided me shelter till date. But to get the importance of the roles these places have played, I will have to recount the big terremoto.

The Big One In Feb.

It was a Friday, and a week since I had arrived in Chile. Ranjit and Manu had dinner with me and left for a party at their friend’s place. I was uneasy and couldn’t sleep, so I sat like a zombie in front of the TV, staring at the screen but registering nothing!

One thought kept running through my head – what if there is an earthquake?

Whenever there is something I’m nervous about or can’t handle, I “cast my cares” on the Lord. I told him I was scared to be alone during an earthquake and if one should happen then the kids should be back.

At 3.00 a.m, both returned. At about 3.34 a.m, the big quake rumbled in rattling the house like a giant shaking a matchbox. We had only made it out of our beds and to the front door by then.

Ranjit opened the door and held on to the doorknob with his right hand so we wouldn’t be locked in should the door get stuck while he steadied himself under a beam in the doorway leading to the living cum dining room.

I held on to him and the wall, and Manu clung onto both of us. The quake increased in intensity, and I looked around terrified at the way the walls and the floor were jumping and shaking like a person in an epileptic fit. It went on for 90 seconds; a short period in terms of measurable time but for me, it seemed to go on interminably.

As soon as we felt a slack, Manu and I ran for our passports while Tintin continued to hold the door open. It was a wise thing to do as many doors got jammed and the residents were locked-in as the tremors picked up and continued coming in at intervals of 1-2 minutes. These unfortunate ones walked out only when the concierge and his help broke open the locks. I believe one resident suffered a mild heart attack because of the scary locked-in situation.

I say we were frightened and, certainly, we were, but I speak for myself when I say that on hindsight, I cannot say that the predominant feeling was one of fear. I was so focused on reaching God with my plea for help, I was not consciously afraid. I also recall praising God when I heard Ranjit calling out to Him by name; he doesn’t acknowledge Him openly.

I also know I was quite in my senses because I made a note about where I had kept my passport when I rearranged my closet the day before. This made it easy for me to grab it from where I had hidden it, wasting no time, the moment the quake calmed down for a couple of minutes. Usually, when I keep something in a safe place, it’s so “safe,” I forget where it is! So I realized, though I was terrified, my mind was calm and clear.

Before the next tremor rolled in, we made a dash down the staircase. That’s when I felt the fear. My osteoarthritic knees were trembling. But fear acted like adrenaline and lent wings to my feet. My back and my knees held up.

Although Manu and I were not properly clad for the cold outside, we were better off than Ranjit who hadn’t even put on his slippers; he was barefoot, and he was in his boxers and a T-shirt. It was dark outside, and people were running helter-skelter. Ranjit shepherded us to Manchester, a pub, close to our place.

Here we met Reggie and his pals who made us as comfortable as was possible under the circumstances. The pub was in shambles, but they could give us water to drink and even a cup of tea for me. We huddled in chairs in the garden. They kept reassuring us that the worst was over even as the ground beneath our feet heaved in sort of rolling waves that made me feel dizzy.

I was shivering with the cold and fear and smiled wanly without a mite of conviction. But, I was doubly grateful for a relatively clean bathroom though; I had to be careful walking over shattered glass to get in.

Realizing we needed a few essentials as well as clothes, to protect us against the cold, Ranjit braved it up to the apartment. He got dressed in warm clothes and also brought a few essentials like his laptop, money, wallet, my handbag, and some pillows and jackets, shawls for us. He also drove the car down and parked it outside the pub. We moved into the relatively warmer car. That’s when the pillows came in handy!

I lay down on the back seat. The pillows; under my head and behind my back, provided comfort and helped ease the pain. I said a prayer of gratitude.

The next thing on our minds was our families. With no phone connection or means to contact them and let them know we’re safe, they’d panic as soon as they heard the news. And panicked they were! Anyway, we managed to inform them a little later.

Reggie left to see to his parents and a few of his pals kept vigil while he was away. One of them came to the car and assured us of protection and that we should not be worried or scared about that. That’s when I got to know about the dark side of the situation. Vandalism and looting were real threats. I was relieved to be under their wing until daybreak. It was very kind and thoughtful of them. So we spent the rest of the night in the car parked at the entrance to the pub while the men kept watch.

The morning found us searching for something to eat. No place was open except a small bakery nearby. However, by the time we reached there, there wasn’t much to buy. The next challenge was getting drinking water. The only kind available was ‘agua con gas’ (water with soda), and we were looking for ‘agua sin gas’ (water without soda). Finally, we found a place that had a few bottles of plain drinking water.

Late in the afternoon, when hunger pangs hit, we bought empanadas from Mama Rosa’s Takeaway. She had opened shop and was doing brisk business doling out fresh empanadas; wrapped in newspaper and piping hot straight out of the frying pan. 

All this while we were ‘living’ in the car. 

By evening, I had to go to the bathroom. The pub was closed and I was loath to climb up and down six flights of stairs to go to the bathroom in our apartment. Besides, the doorway leading into my bedroom was damaged and slanted at one end. If the door had been shut, it would have jammed.

Fortunately, neither was I in the room nor was the door closed when it happened. But, I wasn’t inclined to get in there. That’s when Ranjit rang up an Indian colleague, and we found our way to Sumeet’s house.

This was a small one-bedroom apartment, but it was in a stronger building. While all construction in Chile has to comply with quake-resistant building rules, some buildings are perceived as stronger and better than others. For me, however, it was good as the apartment was on the second level and I wouldn’t have many flights of stairs to run down if another quake hit us.

It was already packed with other Indian employees. This was another lesson in gratefulness. The crowd and the non-functioning WC was no longer a put off for me. I was grateful for the bathroom, running water in the taps and a bed to rest my aching back. We spent the night there and left Sunday morning.

We returned to our building, but I didn’t go up to the apartment. I knew I couldn’t climb up the stairs to the 6th level and down again whenever the tremors rolled in. So, I commandeered one of the sofas in the lounge and lay down. To be honest, I shocked myself. I would never do such a thing in a public place of my own free will! But I was beyond such things as decorum and etiquette. No one objected, and the concierge even supported my action. In times like these, people understand and are compassionate. 

Lounging on a sofa was okay. The problem was that I wasn’t prepared to go up to the apartment at all. While I could sleep on the couch, I needed to bathe and change my clothes and do all the routine stuff which I couldn’t do ‘living’ on a couch in the lounge!

Ranjit couldn’t convince me because the tremors kept rattling us at short intervals, and not such small ones either. They were in the range of 5+ and 6+ and quite intense. This became a dilemma for me and for my son. Both of us were tired, exasperated and frustrated.

“Why can’t we get a house on the ground floor?” I lay on the couch praying fervently!

At the back of my mind was the story my mother had told me of how her father, a medical doctor, had died in an earthquake in Quetta. It was a long time ago but she had said that he had fallen into a crack as the earth opened up beneath his feet. There was so much going on in my mind and too much for me to deal with physically and emotionally.

Later, when things had settled, I walked out to get some fresh air. I saw cracks in some sidewalks. And some were pushed to form little mounds… uneven sidewalks. A few roads had shallow cracks running across. A few highrise buildings were damaged severely but not so bad as to cause the loss of life. I saw some old casas which fared worse. But, in Viña there was no loss of life. 

 

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Chile Diary- 4

This day was as scary as the day of the big terremoto in Feb., even though it was lower on the Richter scale. It was bad because it came with warnings of a possible tsunami. What was worse… I was alone in the guesthouse and the kids were at their office in another town. It was not very far about twenty-five or thirty-minute drive away. But given the circumstances, the drive back took longer.

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Beautiful Viña del Mar

The Chile Diary… chapter 4, March 11-12

 

Terremoto y Tsunami

Two earthquakes in quick succession; first a 7.2 followed by a slightly smaller one measuring 6.9, sent me scurrying out of the guesthouse. With me were the other residents from the apartments above us. We stood gathered on the stairs not knowing whether to walk out of the swaying building or wait it out. The decision was taken out of our hands! 

Within minutes, the public address system blared out a tsunami alert! EVACUATE.

I didn’t know what to do. People began running, and all in one direction. I didn’t know why because I didn’t understand the announcements. I began walking down the sidewalk. It was a painful and slow walk. I was strapped with my back support. The collar supporting my neck was firmly in place as was the knee support around my right knee. The ’emergency bag’ which was rather heavy with; a change of clothes, passport and other documents, plus all my meds weighed me down. This emergency bag was always packed and ready and stood by the front door ever since the big one struck.

A young mother with her baby clutched tightly to her bosom spoke to me in rapid Spanish. I shook my head and said, “No español.”

She pointed in the direction of the sea, then to the people, and waved her hand indicating that I should run in the same direction. I only had time to ask, “Tsunami?” before she got into her car. She nodded and I began to walk as fast as I could without hurting my knees and back.

There was pandemonium in the streets. People were making a dash for it on foot and in cars. The roads and pavements were overflowing with panic-stricken folk.

My cell phone rang. It was Tintin, my son. His voice brought some relief. I told him what was happening and that I was clueless about where to go. So he told me to look for his friend Reggie at the pub. I brightened up a bit.

I made my way, huffing and puffing, to the pub – disappointment awaited. The pub was locked and deserted. By now my throat was parched and I was almost gasping for breath. I called back to inform my son.

“Stand there Mama, I’m on my way.”

“I’m not standing here,” I said. “The roads are swarming with people and cars on the move. Noone’s standing. I’m not going to either.”

Although I said that so firmly and decisively, I was not so sure where to move… where was this sea of people headed?

“Please, Mama, stay put in one spot. How will I find you if you move around?”

I could understand the panic my son felt by my decision and decided to stay put. But, once again, the decision was taken out of my hands. A carabinero on a bike called out to me to keep walking. That’s when I noticed the bike-borne policemen on the roads getting people to move and not stand. All in one direction! Highground; further away from the coastline.

I started walking down the street in the direction the whole world seemed to be going.

“I’m walking down 8 Norte,” is all I could say before we lost contact. I tried to call back but there was no network coverage. Now I was really alone. I could feel the tears welling up; not of fear, neither of self-pity, but of sheer frustration and helplessness.

I began to catch hold of people to inquire if any spoke English. Their negative replies only made it worse. I began to talk myself out of the mental state I was in. I repeated portions of Psalms 91, especially the parts that speak about God protecting us from “sudden disasters at noon,” and reminded myself that He “is my fortress, my place of safety” and He would “send His angels to protect me.”

It was reassuring, but the tears were already perched on the edge and I couldn’t blink them back. I kept up my slow, painful trudge. I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I turned to find a young girl, perhaps twenty-one or so. She handed me a small bright yellow card. I took it without bothering to read it. I was keen to know if she knew English.

“Very leetle,” she smiled and I was so relieved that the tears which hung precariously on the edge tumbled down.

“Tranquila, tranquila,” she said softly, over and over again, as she gently stroked my arm. I didn’t have to be a genius to understand what she was saying. It sounded like ‘tranquil’ and the look on her face and her actions made it quite obvious.

“Yes,” I replied drying my eyes.

“Yehwah is there,” she assured me in her faltering English and her hand pointed to the heavens above.

“No, Jesus is here,” I emphasized the “here” with my pointer and managed a smile. Sub-consciously, I had corrected here. Once a teacher always a teacher was the vague thought at the back of my mind.

“Okay. Now I going.”

“Where? Please stay,” I was almost begging.

“I have…go to… umm… my room friend,” I nodded to convey that I understood and thanked her.

I carried on walking down 8 Norte and she turned off right. I was feeling a bit calmer now. But, the tears didn’t stop and my throat was still parched. My mouth was dry and I was choking and try as I might there was no saliva to wet it. This set off coughing spells. My heart was pounding.

All of a sudden, I realized I had come to the end of the road, and it was a long road indeed. I could either turn right or left. I decided to stick with 8 Norte so I crossed the main road it joined and stood at the traffic light on the divider of the two main roads. I was tired and wanted to sit, but there was nowhere I could rest my aching back and legs. So I continued to stand and watch the tsunami of cars and people flow past me. The noise on the roads was loud and irritating.

I was wondering what it was about the honking horns that bothered me. It happens a lot and all the time in India; the noise pollution on the roads! Then it struck me; one doesn’t hear car horns on Viña’s roads. An occasional honk of an impatient driver would make people turn and stare at the driver disapprovingly. Today was an exception. Just then, I turned and lo and behold, there was the young Christian walking toward my traffic light!

“Hola,” she beamed.

“Hola,” I responded, surprised to see her return to find me. But thankfulness, more than courtesy, kept me from asking. She joined me and a few others who were standing there as well.

“You know… where you stay?”

“Yes.”

“I stay with you.” 

“Okay,” I said not very sure what she meant. But, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and took it to mean that she’d stand with me. Since she continued to stand with me and also gather the latest information about the situation, I was pleased that I was right. She laboriously translated the important parts for me. The alert had not been called off but the emergency situation had passed. That was something to be happy about.

“Come, I go with you,” and she caught my hand and took me across the road and we walked back the way we had come. I was walking even slower now.

She realized I was exhausted and would stop at every traffic light for a while to give me time to rest. Later, I understood how wise it had been for us to keep stopping at the traffic lights. It was the best way to get seen by the people looking for you.

Suddenly, it dawned on me that I didn’t even know her name and asked her.

“Magdalena.”

“Joy,” I answered and we shook hands and in true Chilean fashion, she hugged me and kissed me on my cheek while I kissed the air around hers!

“I’m sorry, I’m being such a pain,” I said enunciating every word as slowly as I thought would be easy for her to understand. “I have a back and knee problem,” I continued and pointed to my lumbar support around my waist.

“I know. I see it. I am… a… a physiotherapist.”

OMGosh! I stared at her surprised. “Your angel?” my incredulous mind queried. I shushed it.

We had moved on to another traffic light and she struck up a conversation with a youth who had walked up and was waiting to cross the road. She wanted to know if he knew English. Fortunately, he did and better than hers.

She asked him to tell me that I shouldn’t worry as she would take me to my residence. I wondered why she kept telling me that. It made me uncomfortable. But I thanked her once again and added that I knew my way home. I was also uncomfortable that the boy, who she had shown she didn’t know, didn’t seem like a stranger she’d just met. So I told him that I could make my way back home now and didn’t need them to walk me home.

Before she could say anything, Reggie, my son’s pub owner friend who was driving someone to a safe place, spotted me and called out. He told me to wait and he’d be back for me in a few minutes. Magdalena didn’t seem too pleased with this. She shouted out something to him in Spanish and he retorted brusquely. And once again, Reggie told me to wait where I was. She asked me if I knew the man and how well I knew him. After she learned who he was and that he was a-okay, she dropped the topic. I was relieved.

We exchanged email Ids, phone numbers, and she wanted my home address. Once more it unsettled me, however, reluctantly I gave her my ‘home’ address; the guesthouse add. and we parted when Reggie returned.

This was a strange encounter! A total stranger picks me out of a milling crowd and gives me the moral support I need. Stranger still was the fact that she stopped handing out the little yellow ‘Jesus’ cards after she found me. Whoever she was, whatever her intentions, she provided me with the support I needed at a very difficult time. And no harm was done. I was grateful then and I remain grateful to date. Besides, when I didn’t require her assistance anymore, a friend appeared to help. Strange are the ways of God!

I didn’t see her again and neither of us called up or emailed each other. If she visited the guesthouse, she’d have known it wasn’t my home! Reggie told my son that he was glad he found me when he did. It seems that during times like these, a lot of petty thieves are on the prowl. That boy we chanced upon midway who without my permission joined us, didn’t augur well, according to him.

We waited at a prominent place where my son found us a short while later. He was with a colleague, Gabriel, who suggested I stay at his home till the evening. For a split second, I thought I should turn down the invitation as I didn’t know how I’d communicate with the family. They were going back to the office. But, I’m glad I went to his home.

The home was warm and hospitable. Besides, it was full of people so I wasn’t jumpy. The evening saw me leaving rather reluctantly because I was loath to stay the night alone at the guesthouse. But as things turned out, Tintin and Manu stayed with me. Though I did jump out of my bed in the middle of the night or perhaps the wee hours of the morning when my bed was rattled, I did get some necessary sleep.

My body was aching in the morning. The previous day, I was in shock and didn’t realize the wear and tear my body had taken. But today is another story… it hurts.

I’m spending the day at Gabriel’s house in Miraflores. It’s a reprieve from the scary ‘home alone’ situation. I must tell you all about my day stays in the Segura’s casa in Miraflores; the lovely family and pets. But tea beckons and I must go. Ciao.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uprooted! Before the Shift to Chile

“And the danger is that in this move toward new horizons and far directions, that I may lose what I have now, and not find anything except loneliness.” 
― Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

These pages were written before I moved to Chile. I should have posted it before the other Chile posts, but that’s how it is… mixed up!

Gurgaon. 2012-Jan 2013

Every time we shifted home, from one region to another I’d lament at the ‘uprooting’ because that was how I felt at the time. We’d hardly settle into a new home, and I’d just start to say a warm “hello” to my neighbors ( it did take me a long time to say ‘hello’!!) and get to pick up a smattering of the local lingo when Bam! it was packing time again. Well, beliefs do come apart at some time or the other….and so did this one. 

When my younger son and his wife decided to shift base to foreign lands, I was thrilled. It made me feel as proud as a mother hen……all puffed up and clucking away to glory. After all, they were in good jobs, living well, happy and what more could one want, I’d think to myself contentedly. Then the elder one and his wife also shifted base. I clucked louder. But not for long. I would have to move too, I was told. 

“I’m not,” I said.

“But you have to,” all trilled in a chorus.

“I’m okay on my ownsome,” I dug my heels in.

“You don’t keep too well. What if something happens… there’s no one there. Besides, it’s not safe for old people, especially old women to live all alone.” They were playing the safety angle. I saw their point but decided to side-track.

“What do you mean by old? I’m still a long way off from the official ‘senior citizen’ tag,” I sounded terribly offended.

It gave me a break. They were quiet. I knew they’d be back with fresh arguments and a different angle. In the meantime, I was beginning to feel the clammy claws of dread clutching my innards. It all came together and in full force…my kids’ reaction and my bowels’ too! I used the times on the throne(which were many) to think a way out. This time they had me in a bind. I buckled….with weakness literally and figuratively. 

I can’t help feeling proud of their ingenuity. They know my weakness and have played their cards well and with sensitivity. I couldn’t feel offended. If I did I’d hurt them. I would have termed it emotional blackmail and pooh-poohed the whole thing, but they were clever. Didn’t give me that option. Worded the mail with skill. So that’s how I am learning today what being uprooted really means.

I leave behind a little bit of who I was in each house we’ve left empty. Scattering pieces of me in towns all over the place. A trail of crumbs dotting the map from everywhere we’ve left to everywhere we go. And they don’t make any pictures when I connect dots. They are random like the stars littering the sky at night.” 
― Brian James

Moving to a foreign land sounds exciting. And it does stir my imagination and my wandering thoughts. But reasoning pulls the reins and steers them in the right direction. I am moving to a new country not to start a new career nor am I moving on a transfer and adding some stars to my CV. So, there are no career opportunities glimmering on the horizon to blind me.

While I’m curious about new cultures, and this will be an entirely different one, it piques my interest. But, I am aware that I’ll have some challenges too; unique ones!

I’m no stranger to relocating. We’ve made many moves since I was a kid; all Defence Forces families keep getting posted out. Then as a married woman, we made some moves as hubby got transferred. But relocating between states is different. You move lock, stock, and barrel, leaving nothing behind. And although a move within the country is almost like moving to a different country; different language, culture, traditions, food, climate, scenery, terrain; it is still the same country! There is always some common skein that binds and blending in with the culture isn’t as difficult.

An international move, however, has no parallel with a local move even if it’s a long-distance one; from the North to the South. Blending in with a community and culture abroad isn’t all that easy.

I understand this and anticipate the challenges. And also know that to learn a new language, at my age, is going to be an uphill task. Learning and understanding their culture will not be hard, I am interested to know more first-hand.

It’s the food that worries me. I’m a fussy eater. Besides, many foods don’t suit my system and are not on my restricted diet. I’ve got an assurance that I need not worry on this account. So that’s a small relief.

I’m a brand loyalist! What if I didn’t find little things I might need; things I can’t think of now? And what about simple toiletries, cosmetics, lotions, clothes; brands I’m used to? Will I get the medicines and vitamins I’m on? How will I replenish my stock of meds when they run out?

The most challenging thing is restrictions on meds.

Thoughts, fears, anxiety… and a needle-pricking pain took over.

I watched my home being dismantled twig by twig. The only words I heard were….sell, give away, discard, burn…. all the old memories in albums, the treasured letters in my hand-painted files, my journals! I kept the albums and loose photographs to give someone for safe-keeping until I could take them back. The letters and journals, I tore up or burned.

I watched as a tsunami of sorts took options and choices away from my feeble grasp, as it swept away years of building, bit by bit, in one big swell. I was being uprooted! Would I take root elsewhere in a foreign soil, I pondered. Will the main root be pulled out without damage? Will it take root again? 

I left the thoughts unanswered for I did not know. The positive answer is yes it will. The cynical one is yes but how…Just taking root doesn’t signify that the heart has taken root as well. 

I have things to see to. All isn’t wrapped up yet. Let the root decide how it will survive… I will just go with the flow. 

“Keep my hand firmly in yours,” I say to my friend up there. It helps as it has always done. I smile. He has His plans and they’re definitely better than the best. In the meantime, my children await my arrival eagerly with open arms!

“She took a step and didn’t want to take any more, but she did.”
― Markus Zusak

PS: My heart took root and how! I loved Vina del Mar and now away from the majestic shores of the Pacific, I yearn for her! I’m tired of being uprooted… it takes too much out of me.

 

 

 

Chile Diary -3

“Leave home, leave the country, leave the familiar. Only then can routine experience — buying bread, eating vegetables, even saying ‘hello’ — become new all over again.” –Anthony Doerr

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Beautiful Viña del Mar

 

It’s doesn’t feel strange at all as I read through these entries written five years ago. I recall things as I read and some that I’d forgotten resurface vivid and clear as if it were only yesterday. Here we go to an apartment in Viña.

Departmentos, Decor, and Dolor

Apartments in Viña del Mar are generally small. That’s all right. I mean, accommodation must be available to everyone and according to their pockets. And Chile isn’t a country that comes under the category – rich. Like India, they have a big divide between the rich and the poor with the latter making up most of the population.

What I find truly unnecessary in small apartments here are; the big over-stuffed sofas and beds, bulky dining table, crockery cabinet and often useless furniture placed or pushed into every nook and cranny. It eats into floor space making it difficult to move around the room.

It almost seems that the owners are psyching themselves into believing the house is big. This is only in the old apartments. The newer ones are done up with practical decor.

The Company Guesthouse on 3 Poniente, between 8 and 9 Norte, where I am at present must be just 750 sq ft. but it houses furniture for a place twice its size. I can’t move quickly for fear of banging into something and hurting myself. And just to make it doubly sure the furnishings have dwarfed the house, they’ve put up nine oils on three walls (the fourth wall, thankfully, is one big glass window!). Three canvases measure 16″ by 20″ approx. and one is about 30″ by 24″ approx.

The other five are 14″ by 16″, and all have heavy frames, most of them black. So blame the furniture and the decor if the house seems small. This is the living cum dining room that should be about 10′ by 20′ approx. It also has a big refrigerator standing against one wall. Claustrophobic!

Well, one has to adjust and adapt according to the need of the hour and that’s what the past few weeks in Vina have been about… adjusting and adapting. It hasn’t been easy for me because it is accompanied by fear.

There are too many things of an extreme nature to deal with and all at the same time.

It’s a foreign country; alien culture, a different time zone and different climate. No knowledge of the language, different flavors in food… lack of creature comforts I’m accustomed to. Cut-downs on self-indulgence at a salon; facials, manicures, pedicures, hair color etc. No home tongue TV shows, news channels. No telephonic communications with friends and relatives in India (too expensive!). No internet/wifi if you’re not staying in your apartment (I haven’t been staying there for a while).

No hot water at times (no one to get the scary geyser going), so I have cold showers and that’s not good for my osteoarthritis. No stress relieving conversations with friends. No economic independence and no mobility. Too much of solitude and the helplessness of knowing I have no options to change the situation… I have none of the things I was used to – my books for meditation, my TV devotional programs, my English dictionary and most of all my maid Lolita, my doctor… my freedom!

The psychological challenges are a part of all these tangibles and intangibles. But, apart from the physical pain I go through, the toughest has been dealing with this ‘on the edge’ nervous situation. My whole body tenses when a tremor shakes the place, and this has been a continuous pattern day and night since the BIG one on Saturday, 27th February 2013.

When will it end? I’m so tired of living in fear.

Fear of another massive earthquake.

Fear triggered by the knowledge of my own physical limitations of movement and mobility.

Fear of injuring myself and not being able to get the medical attention I need.

Fear of adding more expenses to the kids’ budget.

Fear of becoming more dependent than I already am.

Fear of losing my passport.

Fear of being isolated on alien soil.

Fear of not ever being able to live without fear again.

But the spirit pushes against its own simmering doubts and fears. I look to God to give me courage and strength; to hold my hand and lead me for I trust him.

It may seem that life has become one big black thundercloud, hovering over us, threatening to burst. But, in truth, there have been so many things I have been thanking God for every day. So many little things I’m grateful for, especially the facilities of daily use that we take for granted.

I’m thankful for running water in the taps in the Guesthouse (our apartment’s water supply has been cut off for some days so that damaged pipes can be repaired). For hot water whenever I can get it. For gas which is available to us here in this temporary accommodation (we still haven’t got gas supply at our apartment, as of 10th March 2010). For fresh, hot home food on our table and, of course, a cup of hot ginger tea with milk in the morning and hot green tea in the evening. For drinking water, shelter, warm beds. For provisions and finance to procure our basic needs. For a laptop to record all my rambling thoughts. For health and medicines and even this over-stuffed house!

Yes, I’m grateful for this house on the second level. I’m grateful for my wonderful children. For compatriots who allowed us to stay at their home. For company bosses who lent us their casa and the company guesthouse. For a pub owner who gave us shelter, protection, and warm hospitality even as he dealt with his losses. I’m eternally grateful for so much of thoughtfulness that we encountered in many things big and small.

I’m also thankful that relief has been a good ‘hopping friend’; coming in to grant us spells to recuperate bit by bit. Helping us to gather courage and hold on to hope. God has been good. God has been gracious.

Yes, I am grateful. 

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Chile Diary – 2

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” –Mark Twain

Continuing from where I left off. More from my old journal.

Santiago to Viña del Mar

Sunday dawned bright and beautiful; this country is scenic. We started out for Viña del Mar on an extremely enjoyable drive. Good roads, winding through the foothills of the Andes. We passed through wine country stopping for a break at one of the vineyards called House of Morande, in Casablanca.

It had a restaurant and facilities and one could buy wine too; Restaurante Y Tienda. There were columns of white rose bushes growing between the rows of grapevines. It looked beautiful as the roses were in full bloom. We had a light meal comprising appetizers; tostadas with exotic toppings of salmon, palta (avocado) and something else… followed by crabmeat empanadas and beef steak which we washed down with a Late Harvest wine.

As we hit Viña del Mar, the wide blue expanse of the Pacific which opened before my eyes as we entered Viña was awesome. As we drove to our ‘depto’ (apartment), I took in the sights along with the distinct smell of the sea carried by an almost constant, cool sea breeze. The apartment is lovely too. It’s supposed to be big by Chilean standards, but I tend to compare and contrast with my Indian yardstick. So, it falls short when stacked up against our apartment in India.

However, though not very big, it is very comfortable. Has matching furnishings in all the rooms, no over-stuffed or bulky beds and sofas. Great kitchen with all the equipment and gadgets one would need. There are big windows in both bedrooms, living-room, and the kitchen that provide a good view. En-suite bathrooms just make it splendid. The bathtub is a bit tricky for me, with my physical limitations, so a shower is a carefully executed task.

The living room opens out onto a balcony. This is my favorite spot in the mornings. I carry my cup of tea with me and gaze at the sea, listen to the gulls as they swoop around the rooftops alighting on some for a while before they make a screechy take-off again.

The breeze has a nip in it that early and is invigorating. The streets below are empty. People here don’t go for early morning walks as they do in India. Life stirs a bit later. On weekdays, one can see people scurrying off to work after 6.30 a.m, but the walkers, joggers, and cyclists come out after 10.00 a.m. I was amazed to see so many of them even at 11.00 a.m when the sun was a bit hot for me too! I had heard these people love the sun but ‘to see is to believe’!

I’ve been here for nineteen days but I haven’t done much of the touristy things like walking around the city, buying local stuff or going for a ride around town in a horse carriage. I haven’t even visited the beach and checked out handicrafts at the ferias (fairs).

Food: Farmer’s Markets, Restaurants

But I have eaten at a few restaurants even tried something I didn’t want to eat in India; sushi and gyoza; both of which are delicious. The gyozas reminded me of fried momos but they were served differently. I also ate a slice of the locally made pizza called Conquistador… well, it did conquer me… yummy!

My gormandizing experience at a Tex-Mex restaurant was fabulous. I don’t remember the name of the place but the shrimp with piña and leche de coco was awesome. The grilled fish, of the day, was to die for, and the pollo (chicken) with tortillas was mouthwatering too.

I was amused at a pub that boasted of chicken curry and rice as a specialty of the UK! The fare wasn’t bad but certainly not a curry as we know it. So their claim for their particular preparation was justified! 🙂

I was tickled to find samosas are not only available in the markets here but are also sold by the same name. I even ate some at Manchester, the pub with the English version of chicken curry. It was a veggie samosa stuffed with the usual potato filling. But it was served with a sour-sweet mango dip that was a sedate cousin of the Indian sweet mango chutney, and that’s not the dip that is used with samosas! They tasted good but were too oily to the touch as well as on the palate. They were frozen ones fried and served as required, unlike the original Indian ones that are made fresh.

There’s a Chilean equivalent of the samosa or gujiya; it’s called empanada. This is an authentic Chilean dish and not a take-off from the samosa. It comes in different shapes and sizes and queso (cheese) is always in it no matter what the stuffing is. 

The vegetarian one, I saw Manu eat, had cheese and mushrooms. The non-vegetarian ones have anything from seafood to red meats and white meat. They are more akin to the keema (ground meat) gujiyas I make at Christmas only bigger.

Like samosas or gujiyas (which have a sweet stuffing with dry fruits etc), empanadas are also made by rolling out Maida (all purpose flour) dough into thin roundels. These are stuffed with anything you like. Then the edge is sealed, and they bake or deep-fry the empanadas. Chileans love their empanadas as much as we do our samosas! They even have restaurants devoted to empanadas!

In seafood, I like fish, shrimp, prawns, and crab; all of which we get in India, but my one lament had, very often, been that they weren’t as fresh as I’d like them to be. I’ve only had such fresh seafood at home when the boys went fishing or when, in Cochin (Kochi), fisherwomen carried the catch of the day to our doorstep, early in the morning.  Often times, the fish in the basket would still be alive. However, here, I once again enjoyed that same freshness of the catch of the day!

The fruit is good; fresh and organic if you buy it from the farmer’s market. They have some of the best wines too. However, not being a connoisseur of wines, I take the word of others for it. This I can say, though, I liked the few I tasted and settled for an occasional glass of Late Harvest at a special lunch or dinner. 

I’ve found a couple of bakeries that are great. Their cakes, pastries etc., are very palatable. The rest are too heavy on the butter/ cream frosting, sugar and leave you feeling sick. Their variety of bread is amazing. These people love bread! My favorite, in all this sea of choice, is the humble marraqueta!

We buy the vegetables we are familiar with and some with which we aren’t. I have ventured to buy a packet of some sort of beans that looked interesting and different from any I’ve eaten; a nice shade of green, bigger than any beans I’ve ever seen. They weren’t sold in their pods but shelled. As I write, they’re still safe in the packet they came in. 🙂 I’ll record the feedback once I get them into a pan, over the fire, and down my gullet.

While I must not have done anything a regular tourist does, I have moved around quite a bit; living out of a suitcase and polythene packets. 

I’ve shifted to four different dwellings in nineteen days! I experienced living in a casa, an independent house in a posh area, stayed for half a day and a night in a 1-star hotel room with a 3-star tariff, a night in a tiny apartment with nine other people; six of whom I didn’t know! The fourth place is where I am sitting and writing at present.

Company Guesthouse

It’s an apartment, but unlike our apartment block, it isn’t in a high-rise building. It has just four levels and I’m on the second level. Level over here is what we call floors in India.

It’s an old building with old fixtures and facilities. It has no view as the windows open out to high-rise buildings that surround it. So there’s sunlight only in the master bedroom, and that too from 7.00 p.m onwards. But I don’t occupy that lovely room so for me, the sun shines nowhere.

The gas stove is old but a lot like the ones we still have in India, only here it isn’t a self-igniting one and there is no gas lighter. We have to use matches to ignite it. It’s been ages since I used a matchstick to light anything. So it was fun and funny at the same time! But nothing as odd (and scary) as the water heater.

Scary Geyser

There’s an old geyser on the wall in the kitchen which has to be lighted, manually, to supply hot running water. Why scary? Here’s why I am terrified I’ll blow myself and the building to kingdom come! It has a switch which has to be turned on. This opens the flow of gas and a lighted matchstick is then thrust into an opening at the bottom of this geyser and Voila, a blue flame erupts. That’s if you’re quick enough to put the lighted match in at the right time. I worry about not being quick enough and the gas will seep out, setting the place aflame. This heats the water for the taps in the kitchen and the bathrooms.

I am still wary of this foreign gadget and don’t have the nerve to tackle it. Thankfully, the “nana” (domestic help) came in yesterday and lit it. Now it burns like the Olympic flame or the Amar Jyoti till someone turns it off.

Before you get all the wrong impressions about my gypsy status, let me mention a massive earthquake measuring 8.8 at the epicenter in Concepcion. This shook us up. We’re fortunate to be sheltered and safe. But I will elaborate on that tomorrow.

  

Glossary

Amar Jyoti………the flame that burns constantly.

Chile Diary – 1

There’s something about Viña del Mar! She gets to you so bad; you can’t forget her even when you leave her, perhaps never to return again. And it’s been over a year since I left but not a day goes by when I don’t think about my life in Viña and miss it so much. Viña was warm and welcoming and embraced you regardless of your ethnicity; color, creed or customs. So, I went back to another blog I had started years back because I had written a bit about this new country I was in and my life in this lovely seaside city called Viña del Mar!

This is the first of a few more chapters. I had thought of chronicling my experiences here to include in family coffee table books with photos which is my dream project. But, unfortunately, life gets in the way… or rather I get in my way and that dream is still in its nascent stage. I’ve gathered material, written a lot, I just need to get the chapters in order. That’s what I’m trying to do here on this blog. Get things together in one place; in one tale.

Here’s the 1st chapter. I arrived in Chile in February 2010, but I started writing about my Chile Diaries on the 13th of April. So the entry has two dates!

13th April, 2010

19th February, Friday 2010 onwards…… 

I heaved a sigh of relief as the announcement on the PA system confirmed the end of a long journey. The LAN Airlines plane was going to land at A Merino Benitez Terminal Intl. I was in Santiago, Chile. I looked out the window at the sparkling lights; it was better than a naulakha haar; it was a whole naulakha saree. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and ‘click’, the image was captured in my mind forever. And yes the relief too! But relief isn’t a long-term friend here in Chile. It prefers to hop in and hop out. My first encounter with it was waiting to happen.

As I switched on my cell phone and selected my service provider, I was greeted with a definite message that I wasn’t registered with the only one name that popped up on my screen. I swore, oh yes I did, at Airtel India as ardently as I had blessed them till Sao Paulo, Brazil. I couldn’t communicate with Tintin and Manu, and the rest of India. “Okay, don’t panic,” I whispered to myself. Get through the formalities and then start the dumb-charades.

I was registered for wheel-chair assistance, thank god for that, so I was usually the last person in and the last person out. This was a small price to pay considering the great deal of help all that assistance was. Not too late I was in the chair and being wheeled through immigration. It was as quickly seen to as it had been with all formalities at all the airports, from IGI Delhi to Chatrapati Shivaji Mumbai, and O.R. Tambo Intl Johannesburg to Guarulhos Intl Sao Paulo. 

At Santiago, there’d be a small delay as my declaration of carrying ‘condimentos’ required a quick look at the relatively small packet of masalas I had packed. I say small because, given our Indian penchant for carrying our food and spices wherever we go, it’s needless to elaborate on the shapes, sizes and contents of a Desi’s spice-bags. So the surprised look on the face of the man inspecting the goods was justified. I thought he was a bit suspicious as he looked at me with a crooked smile. Just when I thought he was unnecessarily going to waste time opening up the other bag too, he decided that I was too pathetic a sight and waved me along.

I must have been a very sad sight to behold in all that beauty; especially considering I put on a hang-dog expression and sank into the wheel-chair, to beg sympathy if not empathy from the hardest of hearts. Don’t get me wrong, the chair was necessary…the expression wasn’t.

So here I was, cleared by immigration and ready to be picked up. I was wondering whether it was time to start waving my hands and contorting my face and concocting a language very much like English except for the vowel ‘o’ appended to each word. I decided to put off the act for a while and check if familiar faces were at the door. To pump up the positive energy I even conjured up images of two happy Indians smiling broadly and rushing to me with their arms spread wide to embrace me. 

“Senorita”… 

“No… No,” I reiterated, “it’s mama in Spanish too!” I was speaking aloud to my conjured figures!

“No Espanol?” an unfamiliar voice fell on my ears and very non-Indian face materialized before my eyes. It was the attendant and we had been in front of the exit door for a couple of minutes I think. 

“No Espanol, only English,” 

“Ahh,” he stretches the word dramatically. 

“No Eenglich, only Espanol,” he smiled pointing to himself. 

So how do you know how to use “only?” I didn’t enunciate that but conveyed it through my vacant stare. 

He rattled off something, punctuated with looks at the door. I understood that he wanted to know if any of the name cards that were being waved in front of me by travel agents, had my name on it. The agents themselves were keen to know that. God knows how exasperating it must be for them too.

I glanced at the names, none resembled mine so I craned my neck to look around the bearers of the placards and behind them, but no familiar face came into the periphery of my view. I shook my head and launched into my game of dumb-charades. It wasn’t so difficult to convey I needed to phone. He grabbed the chair and rolled me down to the public phone. He stretched out his hand for the coins. I nodded my head, took out a few dollars and showed him I needed to get change. He understood the situation quickly and was getting bugged. But I was his charge and he couldn’t abandon me.

So he rolled me back to where we had entered the exit lounge. There was a small counter selling knick-knacks. Things travelers would need. He explained to the sales-girl that we needed the small change in pesos to make a phone call. She told him that I’d have to buy something first. I went for water, as I realized I was thirsty. We got the change and whizzed back to the phone booth. I had become quite a familiar figure in the lounge already. Two tries and he got the number. The kids were just entering the airport. They had driven down from Vina del Mar, after work. They told me to park myself outside the exit door.

A bit of sign language and the attendant got it. He seemed relieved. I hated to tell him his duty wasn’t over yet. So I let him take all the extra change that was left from the phone money. As he pocketed it quickly, I noticed the change of expression on his face. He didn’t think I was such a big nuisance after all. But relief is nobody’s bosom pal. And he was without it in seconds.

While we waited, his body spoke. Body language is wonderful, it tells you what the person won’t. His body language conveyed that he was quite fed-up of me. He didn’t have anything against me, but why out of all the attendants did he have to get stuck with me? And how come no one was there to take the invalid off his hands? Why should I come to Chile if I needed a wheel-chair and that too with no knowledge of Spanish? Yes, his body was doing a lot of talking. It kept me amused. 

“¿Cuánto tiempo más” he finally spoke directly to me.

I didn’t understand the words but made a guess it had to be about time. I lifted my right hand and showed him my five spayed fingers and said “minutes,” hoping his knowledge of English had one more word along with ‘only.’ He shrugged his shoulders, raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips. The body had taken over. This was better. I imitated him ditto, in an effort to show him that I understood how he felt.

Then a voice, familiar voice, called out “mama” and Manu came running with a broad smile and hugged me. The vision was half true…there was only one Indian! My attendant beamed, I felt sorry for him again. He didn’t know how the appearance of one Indian was going to bomb his happiness. His relief died a premature death. See I told you it isn’t a long-term friend in Chile.

Manu asked him to stay till Tintin brought the car to the entrance and I could get up from the chair and into the car. He looked so miserable, I took out a dollar and quietly slipped it into his hand. It worked like a temporary pain-killer.

Some minutes later a car drew up and Tintin’s big frame alighted. The happiness was almost communal in its proportions. Attendant happy, wheel-chair occupant happy, daughter-in-law happy, son happy and standing a couple of yards away two policemen were also happy; temporarily as it turned out, by God’s grace. But more on that later.

I couldn’t walk straight as my back hurt and my knees weren’t doing too well either. Finally, I was settled in the front seat, the attendant had a decent tip in pesos added to final relief, and we were set to start. The two happy cops waved us down. 

“S***,” exclaims my son. “Challan katenge!”

“Kyun, galat park kiya kya?” I ask.

“Nahin, bas waise hi.”

“They’re the same here too?!” I exclaim.

By then the burly one was at the door. He began speaking in Spanish. Tintin answered in Spanish. Then the cop took off in Spanish at a speed that could be challaned. Tintin didn’t get it at all. He asked the man if he spoke English. “No,” came the quick retort. So using whatever little he knew of the local lingo, Tintin explained that he worked here. They asked him for identification and license, which he provided.

The burly cop took it to the not-so-burly cop and he checked it out pronto. “Clear” was the report. The collective sigh of relief was audible. Later, I learned that the cops here were incorruptible, not what one can say about our force back home. The truth was not only bitter but sad too. 

Now we were on our way to our hotel, Holiday Inn Express.

My theory about relief was gaining confirmation quite fast. We took a few wrong turns too many. If it hadn’t been so late in the night I could have counted it as a sight-seeing tour. But it wasn’t that bad. I was happy to be off the plane and with people I knew and better still who understood my tongue. Finally, we reached our destination! The room was very comfortable; big and with all the amenities in place and functioning. I was so glad to be able to stretch out on a bed. We would be here till Sunday afternoon so I could rest a bit and then move on to Viña del Mar.

 

Glossary

Naulakha haar……………a necklace sparkling with diamonds

Naulakha saree………….a diamond-studded saree (Indian dress)

Challan………………………..traffic ticket/fine

Challan katenge………….They’ll slap a fine

Kyun, galat park kiya kya?”……………Why, did you park in the wrong place?

Nahin, bas waise hi“…………………No, just like that ( for no apparent reason)

…………………………………………………………………….

Forgotten pages; revived memories

An almost abandoned blog on another site. Yes, that’s where I landed up today. I say “almost” because I remember I have this blog which I visit, once in a blue moon, to read through my thoughts and experiences over the past years.

 

Life; my life, has taken an undulating, circuitous route in the past two decades and it’s interesting to go back to these pages and read some of my feelings at a point in time in my life. Or laugh at some amusing anecdotes. Sniffle as a memory evokes emotions and longings for a moment of joy, the togetherness not found in the present.

 

And today, I clicked on a draft which turned out to be a draft about a draft… uncompleted posts that found no closure. Perhaps the pain was too hard to bear. Maybe, I was too tired to write about it beyond letting out some of it; enough to get back up and get along with my life.

 

So, without bothering to complete it, I’m giving it closure by posting it here. It is complete as it is and needs nothing more added.

 

The initial post, I wrote in 2013 before I set out to a land and culture totally unknown. It was the first time I was moving without the material belongings that had made a house a home for us. Some things were invaluable for me in their sentimental worth. I was leaving them behind, in safe-keeping with someone, but it tore me inside; I might never retrieve them again!
Five years down the road, that fear is a reality. I don’t know where these precious memories, stored in albums and loose photographs are!

 

So reading that unfinished article convinced me that I had to put it up and out where it was meant to be… and in doing so let it go. I have to let it go so I can think about it without the gnawing pain and regret. Just a memory; no regret, no anger, no bitterness, no wrenching pain. Just the joy of having had such a great experience. I’ve lived, loved, learned, grown and enjoyed the journey. Let that be all that remains in my life. So here goes… 

 

I have no plausible reasons why I have written nothing here for so long. There are reasons, but they sound so lame, almost like a shirker’s justifications for not doing what she has to do! I wasn’t disciplined and gave in to momentary lows and highs that kept me yo-yoing from Cloud 9 into an abyss, leaving me exhausted.
Today, I firmly decided to visit…which is what I’m doing here…and since I was here I thought I’d run through the post list. I found many drafts half-written, or not written at all with just a header indicating what I had wanted to write about but never got down to doing it. I’ve cleared out most of them but decided to keep this. It records my feelings of the moment, at a time of a big change in my life. A change I had opened myself to decisively, but not very confidently. My mind was set, but my heart fluttered   

The countdown is on. I have barely two days in this house. On the 28th, I hand it over to its owner. Is all my work done? Is everything packed or suitably disposed of? Well, till yesterday morning I thought it was a glum situation. There were a few things that had no takers. But this afternoon saw quite a few things going out. So, to answer the question, almost all are either packed or suitably disposed of.
Memories
When we move to another place within the country, it’s all about Packers & Movers getting the job done. It’s all about cartons and trucks. We take every bit of household stuff we want to cart, from a tiny pin to a car. And if you own the house but have not given it out on rent, you just leave things behind.


I am not moving to any place within the country nor do I own a house here. So it has been tedious, and in some cases, a painful task of disposing of my not so meager belongings. I am one of those sentimental fools who attach memories, fond ones mostly, to a thing. And therein lies its value. A book, an old stuffed toy, a chair, a curio….actually I must rephrase that; it’s not about ‘a’ thing; it’s about ‘all’ that’s there. So when memories abound with all and sundry, kitchen knives and cutlery too, what can this ‘sentimental fool’ do without her photographs!


My entire life is wrapped up in these albums. As I leaf through each one it rolls out like a biopic. The yesteryears in black and white which move into a color frame. A picture speaks a thousand words they say, mine unfold like a movie, vivid memories flash in succession as a whole. But I cannot carry the albums and photographs with me. There are too many and they weigh too much. So they are placed in a carton carefully and left behind for safekeeping. 

It gives me relief to put this down here. Why didn’t I do this on the blog I had started it on? I really don’t know. Perhaps, it’s like my life… a new place, a new perspective. A stronger mind and spirit. New lessons learned and applied. 

Maybe, I haven’t let go completely, yet! But here, I will move on and leave behind the pain and retain the lesson; the wisdom… will I? I intend to.

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