Flat Visitor

Flat Visitor

Do you know Flat Stanley? Stanley is the protagonist in this delightful book about a boy who is accidentally flattened (and unharmed), and then he’s able to mail himself all over the world. Teachers have been using Stanley to help teach geography and world citizenship for years. Students often make a paper version of themselves to be mailed somewhere and returned with information and pictures of their flat self’s adventures. I first encountered Stanley living in San Francisco and my flat nieces and nephews started arriving to be photographed in front of the Golden Gate Bridge and sea lions at Pier 39.

Last week, Flat Edda from Boise, ID, came to visit us in Talagante, Chile. Unlike San Francisco, Talagante does not have a lot of distinguishing landmarks, architecture, or animal life. It’s kind of a farm town. So I really had to think about what is interesting in Talagante, something that makes it different from Edda’s hometown. Then it occurred to me, something that we almost take for granted now, having lived here for six months.

We headed to the feria (street market).

The feria happens three times per week on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. Typically our kids do not love to attend the feria for a variety of reasons.

First, there are a few vendors with cheap plastic toys and knock-off Disney coloring books, and we never buy them those things.

Second, the streets are almost exclusively filled with adults, especially at the weekday markets. Since our kids are still small, they are often unseen and get bumped into a little bit because people are looking at items for sale at the stands, not looking down where they walk.

Third, it can turn into a good bit of walking for their little legs, so Krissy or I inevitably carry Caleb for a decent chunk of the time.

This time when the kids and I went to the feria they had a welcome distraction. They were to be Flat Edda’s tour guides. They helped me choose most of our photo locations.

Caleb finds something he’d like to take home from the feria.

The result was a good learning experience for my kids. They took more notice of the sights and sounds around them. Maybe they realized that this is a pretty unique part of our experience living in Chile.

And since Flat Edda was such a great guest, we took her to the park, too.

Peace at the End

Happy new year! We had a wonderful Christmas and New Year celebration with visiting family. It’s funny, but we agree that this feels more like “home” now that we’ve hosted visitors from the US.

I have been going to a day center for older adults in Talagante weekly for the past few months. Run by Hogar de Cristo, the center serves a few dozen seniors who come on a regular schedule — some come every weekday, while others come only a few days per week. I’ve been doing gentle seated exercises with them (using a fantastic resource called Sit and Be Fit) as well as guided meditation and relaxation exercises. Just a few small things to aid physical and mental well being.

Let me put it simply: I love these abuelitos.

I was sad today when Isabel, one of the program staff, told me that one of the abuelitos had died a few days ago. He was part of a group of guys (really nice guys) who hung out back in the garden and didn’t really come inside for activities. Isabel said that the Hogar de Cristo staff were the ones who actually took him to the hospital, but once he was there his family descended and stayed by his side until the end. She said that his ex-wife even came to see him, and he asked her for forgiveness. I did not know him well at all. But hearing that he was surrounded by family and truly at peace made me glad for him.

St. Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death. I think he was with Don Orlando earlier this week. May he rest in peace.

A different kind of night out on the town

A different kind of night out on the town

Let me start by saying, I can’t believe I did this nearly two weeks ago. And I can’t believe we haven’t posted anything since mid-October. Two Tuesdays ago, I went on a homeless outreach project with our local chapter of Hogar de Cristo. Every Tuesday and Thursday night, they go on one of their two routes near our community to visit with and bring some food and other supplies to people living without permanent shelter. They head out around 6:00 pm and are back at about 11:00. They take simple fare: tea, soup, hard boiled eggs, and bread, Obviously, bringing some sustenance once a week does not end their problems. By driving the same route and encountering more-or-less the same people each week, Hogar de Cristo can informally keep track of the men. As the coordinator for the project described to me, most of the men they meet won’t seek medical help, and most don’t have anyone looking out for them and keeping track of where they are. So by being consistent in their outreach and connection, they can help them beyond the bit of food and other supplies they bring.

These gentleman are very good friends. They thrilled at the idea of having a group picture taken, and were even more excited when I told them I'd get copies and bring them back. They welcomed me to know them, and for that, I am very grateful.

These gentleman are very good friends. They thrilled at the idea of having a group picture taken, and were even more excited when I told them I’d get copies and bring them back. They welcomed me to know them, and for that, I am very grateful.

I met men who were very clearly drunk, high, sick, and in need of love and attention. The last observation occurred to me because they really wanted to talk to me. Admittedly, the combination of drugs or alcohol, missing teeth, and having a “country” accent made conversation challenging. I smiled and nodded, I agreed, and occasionally asked them to repeat things, even though I only understood about 50% of what they were saying. One fellow had the very helpful habit of ending his thoughts with the question, “Si o no?/Yes or no?” to seek my position on his ideas. Let’s just say I was very agreeable, a lot of, “Si, por supuesto, claro!/Yes, of course, clearly!” They needed to talk, and more importantly, they needed to be heard. Everyone we met was in a group. They had partners in their life on the street right there by their side. I’d guess, though, those partners knew all their stories. I was a new guy, a new pair of ears (albeit attuned to English more than Spanish, ears nonetheless).

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Bringing soup, hard-boiled eggs, tea, and bread to the “chiquillos” in Melipilla. With my guide Jonatan, a father of two, who drives this route every Tuesday to check up on these guys, bring them some nourishment, and some connection.

On the drive home, I admitted to my travel partners that I had a hard time catching a lot of what was said. They assured me that it was a challenge for them sometimes, too, based on the drugs, alcohol, missing teeth, etc. But they assured me that the most important thing is listening, and the second most important thing is trying to remember what you heard. When you go back to see those guys the next week, being able to pick up the conversation where it left off or ask them about a story you’d already heard means the world to them. Which got me thinking; that’s what means the world to anyone. You remembered me. You listened to me. You came back to see me again. So although their needs for food, shelter, and medical attention are different from mine, their need for connection is exactly the same as yours and mine, I’d guess.

I hope it’s obvious that I don’t claim to be an expert on homelessness. I certainly don’t believe a few hours on this trip on a Tuesday night will make all the difference in the lives of these men. I thought it was an important experience to share, though, because we’re all human. We all struggle and we all need connection. And I look forward to connecting with these guys again.

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There and Back Again *

* I have been informed that this title has already been taken.

We’ve been in Chile a little while. Got a place to live. Kids have started school. I even managed to find a proctor and took my first MPH exam outside the U.S. earlier today.

Now that we’re settled, what’s the logical next thing to do? Leave the country.

One of my friends from the U.S. was planning a trip to Argentina, and we figured it would be great fun to drive across the Andes and meet him in Mendoza. So we started planning our getaway. Hotel reservation? Check. Winery tours and vineyard lunches set up? Absolutely. Duh. Obligatory Mercosur additional car insurance? Yeeeeesss. Payment of reciprocity fees to cross the border into Argentina? What do you take me for, a rookie? Document that says the car we bought does, in fact, belong to us?

Oh.

We realized four days before departure that we still didn’t have the car title. Long story, but the notary who did the transfer didn’t exactly finish the job with the Registro Civil, so technically, as far as the Chilean government is concerned, that car still belongs to someone else. And once we brought it to her attention, it takes about two weeks to fix.

Cars waiting to cross the border back into Chile from Argentina, Paso Los Libertadores

Chilean side of the border crossing

I actually called the central office of the Chilean customs agency and even the border crossing itself to see if there wasn’t some way we could drive across with the paper that said we bought it and the ownership is “in tramites” (being taken care of) … pretty bold, if I say so myself, but no dice. There was no way they were going to let us drive our own car out of this country. (If you’re interested in the requirements to drive a car across the border, go to the web site of the customs service, Aduanas. This page is in Spanish.)

We found this out on Thursday around noon. We had been planning to depart on Friday around 5:00 a.m. Ryan made the excellent point that he never thought he’d see a process that made buying a car in the U.S. look easy. Well. There you go.

We can laugh about it now, but it was a rather stressful and frustrating experience. But of course, it’s also a pretty trivial problem to have. We couldn’t go on this vacation and drink fancy wine because the car we bought (in the country we chose to live in) wasn’t through the bureaucracy yet. With everything that’s going on in our world today, I felt a bit ashamed when I put it into perspective. We went and got coffee after our trip to the government office on Thursday and decided it wasn’t that big of a deal. Maybe we needed to make a little room for the Holy Spirit to work here.

Meeting a truck going around one of the switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes Mountains

Going up the Chilean side of the border

So, in that mindset, my dear husband insisted that I buy a bus ticket and go by myself. I got on the Andesmar salon cama the next morning at 9:30 and settled back for a relaxing trip across the mountains. The bus ride itself was great. It’s the three hours I spent at the Argentine crossing that wasn’t so awesome. I think maybe it was a blessing in disguise that the whole family wasn’t able to go – that would have been a nightmare with the kids. We rolled into the Mendoza bus station around 6:00 p.m.

There were two ladies sitting in front of me with their little boys, who both looked about two years old. Of the five and a half hours we were actually moving on the bus, the boys were awake maybe one and a half hours. HOW DO PEOPLE MAKE THEIR KIDS DO THAT? Seriously, any tips welcome.

The scenery on the drive was astounding. Mountains are probably my favorite of all the earth’s physical features, and the Andes do not disappoint. The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the border can be a little harrowing – I deliberately chose a seat in the downstairs portion of the two-level bus to minimize motion sickness – but the driver didn’t take it too fast so I didn’t mind too much.

Glass of late harvest wine from Bodega Lagarde, Mendoza AR

Wine pairing at Bodega Lagarde outdoor lunch

Mendoza itself is a delight. I immediately felt the cultural shift – things are closed in the afternoons, evenings begin very late, and there is a wonderful café culture. Things are also a lot cheaper than in Chile (a nice bonus). The city is full of huge trees, plazas, and parks and has a good balance of busy commercial streets and quiet residential areas (the latter are dotted with a notable number of apart-hotels and hostels).

Places I went that I would recommend: Bodega Lagarde, The Vines of Mendoza tasting room, El Palenque, Brillat Savarin bakery and chocolate shop, and pretty much anyplace selling you an alfajor.

Places I didn’t get to this time: Gimenez Riili winery, Andeluna winery, Atamisque winery, Vines Spa and Resort, 1884 restaurant, and the dozens of cute shops I passed but didn’t have time to enter.

It was a nice break. It was fantastic to see Jason and to meet his friend Rosie. And coming back to Chile felt like coming home.

Glowing sunset with shadows of trees

Sunset at our house

The decision

(not to be confused with this decision)

I’m flying to the United States from Santiago, Chile, for the fifth time in my life. Each of those flights was preceded by a stay in the country that varied from 10 days on the short end, to 11 months, when I came to live and volunteer at Hogar San Jose, a home for children, essentially an orphanage. Besides the length of time traveling, each trip had its own uniqueness associated with it: people I came to know, places I visited, some experience that altered my life in a very big way (that actually happened at least twice!).  For the first time on all of these trips I’m accompanied by Krissy. And this trip will lead to the longest Chile trip of my life.

Krissy, Lucy, Caleb and I are moving to Chile in September. (I tried not to bury the lead too deeply!) Krissy and I just spent nine (long, missing our kids) days in Chile and Argentina during Christmas vacation.  We were going through the final stages of our discernment about whether or not we wanted to relocate our family to one of those two countries. I use the term discernment because we have been thinking about, talking about, imagining, questioning and soliciting input from others since last February. Some of you have been (an integral) part of that process. Others are aware that we have been considering the move. And others may be hearing of this move for the first time. Regardless of how long you’ve been aware of this process, there’s something you need to consider right now.

When are you coming to visit?

One of our goals for living abroad is to practice “radical hospitality.” If there was a bumper sticker for radical hospitality, it might read, “If you can get yourself here, we’ll take care of (basically) everything else!” I should add that our kids will attend school there. Krissy and I will do as much volunteer work as we possibly can, either planting our flag with a single organization or supporting different works within the community. So if you come, be prepared that we might put you to some volunteer work with us. I’ll save some of those details for a later update.

Along with volunteer work, there are lots more details that I look forward to sharing with you as our family moves through this life change, but I’m not going to write it all in one blog post. This is my first time really blogging about anything, but I imagine that veteran bloggers might tell me to save some things for later. Any of you that have ever had a conversation with me will attest that is not my strong suit. We’ll see if I can grow into it as I chronicle our adventures!