{3.8.14} How I flew 10 hours to come home

Just a minute ago Maria Alicia, my host mom, looked over at me and said “it feels like you’ve always been here”. I had been thinking the same, actually since 48 hours in. I almost can’t believe that I haven’t always sat on the couch like I am now wearing my traditional chilean rainbow pants that I got in the artisan market today, happily stuffed with sopaipillas (traditional rainy day fried bread that sometimes has squash and is often accompanied by gobs of jam), listening to Illapu. It’s weird, because here I am obviously a foreigner, tall with a USAccent and different clothing and a wide-eyed touristy look in my eyes. People are always asking where I am from, which is starting to get old and also make me realize why POC in the US get so fed up. Because I feel in so many ways like I’m from here. I will never be a chilean, don’t get me wrong, but arriving in Santiago and Chillan I felt like some long-lost cousin finally returning to the country after 20 years in exile, in the US only to arduously learn Spanish and yearn after ponchos and music with zampoña. For those who know not the details of my early life, I will explain. Parents, do correct me if I am equivocada. This is the story I have pieced together for myself as it bleeds into the present. 
Asado of the ’90s with Inés, Chechi, my mom, me, Oscar and Carolina


A picture my dad sent to Chile
As a wee baby of 2.5 months, me and my parents embarked on a year-long adventure in South America. My dad was to do research. My mom was to take care of me and pick up other jobs. After a brief stint in Santiago with the Alvesteguis, then friends of a friend who have kids the same age on older than me, we moved to Chillan. In Chillan, rare foreigners and completely new to Chile, my parents built not only a life for us but an entire community around themselves. The daughter of the neighbors, Chechi, babysat me. Other neighborhood kids fought for the hours she was in school. Somehow, in the hands of my ever-willing-to-chat mother, my dad who will patiently eat barbecues to no end, my babyhood extroversion and the magic in Chile’s air, a smattering of neighbors became a community. There were asados (barbecues on steroids), parties, and everyone was friendly and helpful. When I screamed for an hour to accompany the setting sun every night, all the neighborhood women came out to try their tricks of the trade on la Rosita. When the year was up and the research done, many tears accompanied our departure. My parents continued to send periodic updates and pictures of me and Bjorn as we grew for many years. 
The longer I am away from home, the more respect I have for my parents. Coming to Chillan and seeing the love spilling out of people’s eyes when they talk about “la Kat y el Soren” has increased that respect. I think that the welcome I received in Chillan was in part a gesture of gratitude to them, a time to relive the good times they shared. 
Saying goodbye to Veronica (right) and her kids in Chillán
(Amelie, Gaspar and Davy)


My first Thursday in Chile, I bumbled my way to one of Santiago’s bus terminals and hopped on one headed for Chillan. Veronica was there to greet me 5 hours later. She’d been at the bus terminal for about an hour waiting, and it seemed that she wanted to spend approximately the same amount of time hugging me upon my arrival. Veronica helped my mom around the house (because Chilean appliances at the time required native expertise) and also took care of me. A microbus, a colectivo (both forms of privately-owned cheap public transportation) and a short walk later, we were at her house. There, her three kids awaited us with onces (elevenses for hobbits, tea for the English) all prepared. There were balloons everywhere saying “welcome home daughter Savannah”. That night, Veronica and her eldest son Gaspar retold stories of Tio Soren and Tia Kat around the dining room table. On the wall was a picture of my family. In the morning, Veronica insisted that I take a picture of her with the pan my mom left her and showed me the centrifuge (for drying laundry) my mom had tussled with (imagine trying to balance a pair of my dad’s wet jeans in an undersized stew pot).
My old house!
The next day, we went to visit my old house and the neighbors. Inés and daughter Carolina were there at first and fussed over me a bit, bringing out the stack (and when I say stack, I do not mean just a couple of photos) of baby pictures of me that my dad had brought or sent over the years. Oscar, man of the house, came out out with his walker, too, to investigate the ruckus. He didn’t know who I was at first, until I stood up and his wife said “Who else did you have to look up to?” and then his eyes got wide. “Soren!” And he gave me the scratchiest and hang-on-est hug of my life. And when I finally managed to extricate myself, I saw the uncommon amount of wetness in his eyes. Soon Chechi arrived in a tumble and a ruckus with three kids and a husband in tow. After the hustle and bustle of jackets and boots (the kids were off for an afternoon in the snow) we headed outside for a group picture and the neighbors came over and everyone talked at once and tried to figure out which parent I took after more and asked me how I learned spanish and how my parents were and I saw more baby pictures of myself and heard more stories. Like when I learned how to walk, I figured out how to unlatch the gate so I could toddle the half bloc to our friends’ house to visit like any good chilean neighbor. And my first birthday party when Chechi, who by that time was my best friend as well as babysitter, bought me my first dress. And so many block party asados. And how after 7 years Chechi stopped counting how long it had been since we’d left. Veronica never stopped counting. 
Reunion picture with Chechi and her family,
her parents and her sister
I am not sure I have ever felt so loved/appreciated/the center of stuff ever. It’s a little bit unnerving. I almost don’t believe that there is this part of me, baby me, that lived in Chile and basically has a whole ‘nother family. The Imposter Syndrome in me can’t believe I deserve it. But here I am, and when I am here, I am so happy.
I am not sure, either, whether I completely believe how much I love it here. Sometimes when I am walking through the streets of Valparaíso on the way to my aerial dance class or radical latin american political philosophy, a smile creeps its way onto my face and I do a little hopskipjump because the sun is shining and the palm trees are waving in the ocean breeze sweeping off the infinite Pacific and I am here. Maybe it’s the fact that I spend so much time outside in the sunshine walking around that I am developing a semi-chronic pain in my right foot because I just can’t stay away and rest. I explored the sand dunes today two towns over with a friend and we spent a solid 10 minutes standing in complete and utter awe of the Pacific crashing against the rocks on the shore. Last night on the boat that took us all around the harbor where Valparaiso is the port I swear I pointed out pelicans 20 times to the girl sitting next to me because pelicans are so exiting. Maybe it’s because I’m focusing more here on people and less on work work work. I have no sense of guilt about hanging out with a friend for an entire afternoon instead of catching up on emails. Someone from my Saint Paul class invited me to go walk on the beach, and I took him up on it, which I would pretty much never do at Wellesley because there’s always homework or club stuff or a practice to plan. Onces with Maria Alicia and Juan can last from half an hour to two, depending on what sort of conversation we’re having. Maybe it’s the fact that, instead of forcing myself to do so many things, I’m giving myself time to enjoy my cup of tea in the morning while looking out over the Valparaíso sunrise and risk being late to something. Maybe it’s because I am 100% free to come and go as I please, instead of being constrained by danger or schedules like in El Salvador. And I can do things alone and serve myself food. 
So yeah, basically Chile hugs me and then I hug Chile back a little over the top crazy like. 
With that, I hug you all good night (in an utterly different timespace, but the sentiment is still there). 



P.S. For more pictures, check out the Google+ photo album. It’s got a much more up-to-date overview of my activities here. 

One Comment Add yours

  1. Soren Hauge says:

    And I have a lot of respect for the way you're embracing your friends and opportunities in Chile.


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