My caseros know what I like and what I don’t like. They hand me bananas, chirimoya to try – sin compromiso. Directo del campo. They call me reina, hermosa, rubia: queen, beautiful, blonde. Generally this specific variety of gendered nicknames grates on my nerves, but not from my caseros. They hold out halved mangoes glistening in the overbearing sun, an offering. Pruebe, profe.
The caseros get jealous – just like lovers – when I buy from someone else. If I choose to buy my broccoli from another offering a better price, I must prepare myself for my casero’s inevitable rebuff the next time I stop at his stand. Me engañó, they will say. You cheated on me. To which I will play my part by looking ashamed, but shrugging my shoulders. An ice queen.
I walk back home with a carrito full of broccoli, peppers, apples, pears, cilantro, bananas, guayaba, chirimoya, and palta. Whatever doesn’t fit into the carrito I carry in a bag on my shoulder.
There’s traffic getting to school – protestas against AFP. NO MAS AFP they shout, while I bury myself in underground mycorrhizal networks and fungi-tree communication, the newest addition to my morning podcast circuit. I arrive at school about 10 minutes late due to the traffic, pero paso piola.
My students are rambunctious, ready for the weekend. One student wants to know why eggplants are called eggplants, even though they certainly aren’t part-egg, part-plant. I silently curse my apparently lacking etymological knowledge and resort to Google.
As we’re grappling with the intricacies of the past perfect, the projector screen starts to wobble. Then, the floor begins moving under our feet. Ah, a temblor, I think. A tremor. These mini-earthquake-like murmurs are frequent in Chile and almost never progress into full-fledged earthquakes. I tell everyone to settle down, that class will continue as usual. I wave at my coworker across the hall.
Tenemos que evacuarnos. A la casa, entonces. No más clase hoy. The students prod me to dismiss class early, but to no avail.
I think they’re working the “Gringa teacher doesn’t have any experience with earthquakes so maybe she’ll get scared and let us go early” angle, until I notice other teachers walking down the stairs with their students in tow. Turns out, it was a fairly sizable one, about a 6.3 on the Richter scale.
So I accidentally teach class during an veritable earthquake.
My students confer upon me the title of “badass,” which I graciously accept.
During lunch, I work on a story about a young immigrant to the U.S., but immediately hate it and throw it away.
My last class of the day is more relaxed, with only four students showing up, more likely because it’s Friday than because of the recent earthquake. A student who doesn’t usually participate at all is wearing a shirt that says Surf Something or Another, so I ask him if he surfs. He says yes. We talk about how he loves surfing and how I tried once in Pichilemu, but could barely stand up on the board. He seems to like this story. He laughs. I planned a creative activity in which students go on “the perfect date” in partners to practice phrases of agreement. Surf Dude actively participates and asks questions, much to my surprise. He struggles a bit at first, but eventually gets the gist. Most classes, I can’t get him to look up from his phone. This time, he doesn’t even glance at it once.
At the end of class, as he’s making his way toward the door and I’m erasing the board, I tell him, “Bien hecho hoy. Super.” I smile and he smiles back.
Honestly, I have no idea if he got anything out of the class or even if he’s going to pass English, but our brief exchange feels meaningful.
[Reflecting, I hope I can have more of these moments in the future. I hope to provoke similar exchanges in the university setting with literature and/or anthropology. These types of interactions are fulfilling and remind me that it’s all a learning process.]
On the way home, I stop to grab an impromptu guanabana juice on the street. This one in particular is subpar, but I like it because it came from the same guy I see every day. Not Jamba Juice, not Starbucks. A guy with a blender. A guy who frowns at me when I ask for a lid as if I had just committed a cardinal sin. No name tag, no apron, just a scowl.
At home, I make a giant salad and head to yoga. After, I try to write, but wind up reading about B12 deficiency and soil erosion.
The next day, I take a bus to Isla Negra, one of Pablo Neruda’s three houses in Chile. Incidentally, it’s the last one I haven’t seen yet.
It is predictably beautiful, right on the beach, with fat, green shrubbery pushing out pink flowers like flares. Somewhat less predictably, it is neither an island nor black, contrary to the place’s name.
I imagine sleeping in the white bed overlooking the ocean and writing in Neruda’s signature green ink in his nook fashioned after his childhood home in the South of Chile.
An audio guide informs me that one of the Nobel Laureate’s wooden statues is considered to bring life-long bad luck to anyone who looks at it too long,- the same one I have been staring at for the last ten minutes.
I buy chocolate-covered walnuts from a señora stationed outside Neruda’s house. She is wearing the quintessential blue apron and her eyes twinkle as she talks about her grandchildren. She was born and raised in Isla Negra and has never been to Santiago. “My name is Elisinia,” she says, showing off her English skills. When we finally part ways, she says, “Que Dios le bendiga.” The habitual blessing hangs in the air between us like a net. “A usted, también,” I call after her.
On the beach, Allison and I talk about our childhoods.
“Isn’t it weird how I can remember exactly how those red popsicles taste all these years later?”
“How do they taste?”
A long pause.
We laugh. Ultimately, we even find a loophole in the perennial stalemate between Reese’s fans and Team Oreo – those long tubes of pure sugar called Pixie Stix that surely trump all other candies. We praise ourselves for making diplomatic headway.
Waxing philosophical, we wonder what the most important thing in life is. Allison thinks interpersonal connections are at the meat of the issue. I broaden the idea to include connections of all kinds, including connecting with nature, with animals, and with oneself, and I’m satisfied.
That’s what it boils down to, we decide. We don’t even exist independently – we are the result of the combination of two sets of chromosomes. We are conjoined creatures, adept at interlocking and knitting together in different formations.
I like to think that is what I was doing with Surf Dude in my class, with the friendly señora selling chocolates. I like to think that’s what we’re doing here, on this beach in Chile, spinning our own webs beyond the intimacy of our family and friends back home, extending the net further and further. I carry them all, as they do with me. We polish each other like sea glass.