IN PRAISE OF FEAR
This is going to be a really short and inarticulate post, as I’m caught between looking for apartments, doing my teaching orientation, and dealing with a second-degree burn.
I arrived safe and sound to Chile – with a few blunders – and immediately went to Quilpue to visit a friend and her boyfriend. We went to a wine tasting and saw the sunset over the ocean in Valpo. Then, I decided to take a few days to enjoy on the beach in Viña before starting my new job.
Turns out that wasn’t the best decision because I got a truly impressive sunburn on my legs and feet that resulted in a nasty blister the size of a grapefruit.
Besides that, it was great.
Then, I traveled back to Santiago for orientation. It’s been fairly difficult due to my burns. It’s really hard for me to walk, so it’s difficult for me to explore the city or even get to my campus. But I’ve tried to maintain the best attitude possible. The on-site coordinator here in Santiago was kind enough to accompany me to the hospital, where a nurse from el sur de Chile did things with a knife for an hour to my feet as we talked about his experiences living in Santiago.
At the Registro Civil, where I had to register my visa, someone made an error on my card and I had to go back to correct it, which entailed a long bureaucratic process across town. I was feeling overwhelmed and upset, when I hopped into a taxi to save my swollen feet.
The driver was calmly peeling a mango with one hand and smoking with the other. Bien chileno, se dice aca. The second I opened the taxi door he handed me a mango slice and said, “Toma, mijita.” And then I realized how lucky I am to be here. That’s that good shit – taxi drivers sharing fruit with you and secondhand smoke that makes your eyes water. That’s where the meat of life is, I think. In the small moments like that.
He and I spent the rest of the drive talking Latin American politics, music, and literature. He gave me safety advice, como soy “una hijita sola en la ciudad grande.” He asked about my bandaged feet, as everyone does, and he implored me to take good care of myself, wear sunscreen, and guard my belongings well on the metro. By the time I got out of the taxi, I had gathered his entire life story and he knew mine.
Asi es vivir a lo chileno.
Despite this realization – that unexpected connections are the best part of traveling – I have come to terms with the fact that I am afraid. I’m afraid of the basic things like getting lost and getting robbed, but also subtler issues like how others perceive me (white neocolonialist asshole, blonde bimbo, exotic foreigner) and making the most of my time in Latin America.
Here is the conclusion I have reached: Fear is also some good shit.
That’s the shit that pushes you out of your comfort zone and into the (in)famous zone of learning and growth.
I’m not as afraid of getting lost now that I’ve gotten lost and survived. I’m not as worried about navigating public transportation here since I took the metro, the micro and a talagante to my campus. All while hobbling on my swollen grapefruit feet.
I’m not talking about a crippling fear here, but rather the type of fear that pushes me to try new things and embrace ambiguity.
Thinking about my time spent in a cubicle at a flooring company in Texas makes me so grateful that I’m in a position now to challenge myself and to grow.
There is nothing to be gained from stagnation, I’ve learned.
It’s scary to live in another country in another culture speaking another language in which you stick out like a sore thumb. It’s scary to start a job with no experience in that field whatsoever. It’s not fun to hobble around Santiago with my peg legs and to come back to a hostel where I live out of a backpack.
But it’s also so incredibly rewarding, in large part due to the challenge.
For example: I don’t know how or if I’m going to shower tonight because I can’t get of my gauze wet.
Another example: It took me 4 hours to get my Chilean cell phone yesterday since I forgot that in Latin America everything opens after 10 am at least and then the represenante wasn’t there because someone had a birthday, so I trekked across town again. And finally the dude couldn’t read the programming since it was in English and I did some (awful) on-the-spot translation. But it was an experience.
Last example: On the talagante bus thing to my campus, the bus driver invited me to sit up front and we talked for half an hour about racism and classism in Latin America. He let me know when we got to my stop and said the habitual, “Chao, mi niña, cuidese, que estes bien,” Bye, my child, take care, be well.
Then a very kind Chilean woman took my hand and guided me across a busy highway, through a “shortcut” to my campus. She then hugged and kissed me and called me “mi amor” before heading to work herself.
Today I had my meeting with my mentor and coordinator on site. I LOVED them and the other teacher I met. I honestly couldn’t be happier with them. In typical Chilean style, we had a brief meeting, then a smoke break for them which meant just talking on my part, then almuerzo (lunch) together. Then they insisted on driving me to the metro.
Ximena and Andrea were so enthusiastic and welcoming that it made me feel really comfortable even though I’m new to teaching. Ximena studied English linguistics and literature and Andrea has a teaching degree in English, so they know their stuff. Andrea loves food and cooks constantly. Ximena is a self-described “nerd” and is a Viking chief online.
I love love love the Chilean style of relationships – sharing food, taking your time to talk with someone, and helping each other out.
Also worth noting – The view from my campus is a pirate ship in a parking lot in front of some mountains. No one knows where the pirate ship came from or what it’s doing there, which I love. I will keep you all updated on the pirate ship mystery as the saga develops.