I'm in Chile for work.
Santiago has morphed beyond any possible recognition for me. The only thing left I am familiar with are the names of the streets.
Rule #1 of the nomad is, or should be, never go back, never look back. It is strange and can be surprisingly painful.
I've seen old friends. There is a lot more left to recognize there. It is peculiar how we age, look so much the same, behave so much the same, and yet... live such different lives.
I visited a small town a few hours away from Temuco, south of Santiago. Not many strangers come here, a bit further away you could find freshly cut trees used to stop the government forces from moving around. The indigenous people striking for their land, their heritage, their survival. Some of the people I was meant to meet with did not make it
“they are making tomas” (taking the farms in the land they claim as part of their heritage), it’s not like they could take a break to and come see me.
Did a quick visit to a penitentiary center for youth. There was a striking contrast between the (always polite) military police in charge of security, and the mostly-social-workers in charge of developing and looking after the place.
“she’s out” the door guard tells the coordinator who is trying to get us permission to go in with the inmates, while pointing to a photocopied file in his hand
“good, she was too young, she shouldn’t have been here to begin with” he responds quick and matter-of-fact
“how old?” I ask looking at the bad photograph being held out to me
silence fills my heart
“what was she in for?” I follow up almost dreading the question as the words come out of my mouth
“she had an abortion” (still illegal in Chile)
my hear skips a beat. My lungs take a rest, and the full thrust of this religious conservative society I once belonged to hits me in the gut. I draw a blank. My brain draws a blank. I want to put my daughter away in a little match box (like the one AMREF sends to ensure “safe” deliveries in rural Africa) and protect her from this world that seems too cruel, too unready to be trusted with my angels.
More champagne and trips down memory lane. One by one they enquire about me, but soon forget and fall back into their own patterns. I watch them quietly while a small voice reminds me:
“that could have been you. That could have been yours”
I searched for my home, my school, my street. I feel like I have Alzheimer, looking at something I should recognize, but cannot.
The meetings continue in the background, and in the forefront.
It’s been 22 years. I left this country with a dictator. I come back to see how the fighting continues. It is now the minorities, the Mapuches, the Aymaras, the Rapa Nui, the pueblo Atacameño, the Colla and the Quechua fighting for their right to exist. A revolution silenced with terrorism laws from the old regime. The invisible are fighting to be seen, while I’m just struggling to remember.
It’s been quite the rollercoaster for me here.