Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lasting effects of a false alarm...

I thought I was OK, but as time goes on I realize it might have affected me more than I expected...

At the end of February, Chile experienced an 8.8 Earthquake. I spent the entire 3 or so minutes of the earthquake being bounced about in my bed, unable and unwanting to actually get out of bed. And while I spent the rest of the night in a trembling, uneasy state (partially because of lack of electricity/communication and expected chaos), overall I was not too freaked out and I still found all the aftershocks just as amusing as I always found the temblors. (My original earthquake post about my experience).

I had never really expected an earthquake to happen, and the reality of it wasn't as bad, in my situation, as it could've been. My old wooden house shook around but stayed up; the dishes rattled but only the glasses broke; my bookshelf disassembled itself but never collapsed.

But a week later, during the presidential inauguration, I was in registro Civil when I felt at least two pretty big aftershocks (7.0), big enough to be considered somewhat significant earthquakes themselves. The hanging signs which provide organization to the otherwise confusing building of government services were swaying back and forth, and people sitting in silence were moved to talk with the person sitting next to them. Soon after, as I was finally called to the front of the line, the police entered the building and rushed behind the counter. I was the first advised there could be a tsunami on its way and I should literally run to higher ground. I was the first in the building to get up, so it was easy to get to the door. I entered the chaotic mass of people in the business distrit and we tried to climb up a passage stairway from ground level near the ocean to a higher spot up the hill. "Climb" is a simplified way of describing what was actually a frantic scramble: People were pushing, shoving, crying, falling, and also helping one another. Its really impossible for me to even describe the emotions felt by myself or anyone around me, being at sea level when you suspect a wave might suddenly take out everything around you and kill the majority of people in its way. How soon would it come? Would those behind us trample us down? If I got up high enough, would I see those below me get washed away? Is there time to help others make it up? Is there even time enough to be civil? I handled it pretty calmly compared to many, but it was beyond a doubt the most stressful moment of my life to date. I realized out of all the news I'd read about tsunamis over the years, the geology class I sat through, the movies I'd watched... I've never actually imagined what being in that situation would be like. (Read my full recount I posted the afternoon of the evacuation, with pictures.)

Of course, as we all know by now, a tsunami never came that day.

In Chile for a while talked a lot about the recent catastrophic events, asking "Where were you when it happened?" to everyone until the commotion died down again. And since then, I haven't really thought or worried much about another catastrophe at all.

But unfortunately that doesn't mean that I don't dream about it. There have been multiple nights in the past few months where I have woken up, panting and trembling, barely aware that through all my efforts to get out of reach of another tsunami, my body was safe in bed. There have been dreams where I am desperate to climb up a mountain, where I leave meals uneaten at a beachside restaurant, when tropical vacations in Hawaii turn bad, and where kayak trips turn catastrophic. But there have also been numerous realistic nightmares, reliving and reinventing escapes through the hills of Valparaiso. Some are more realistic in which I frantically try to call my boyfriend on my cellphone despite tied up lines, rushing past known shops and acquaintances, and also less realistic escapes, for instance the recurring dream where I discover the Cerro Concepcion dragon pit amid my rush to safety. The most common type of tsunami dream is actually the one where I struggle to find the balance between my safety and my obsession with getting a good photograph, which usually culminates with a stressful fumble over getting the giant wave in focus as I realize I might not be as out-of-reach as I thought.

I sure don't get much sleep those nights, but when day comes, I don't keep water-wings in my purse nor my eyes glued to the sea as I pass by the oceanside many times a day. What I do wonder, however, is how much the stress and emotions of that day actually affected me. I'd be inclined to admit its more than I thought.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Growth is inevitable

but sometimes they bring their kitten habbits right with them.

More familiarization with healthcare

Tuesday afternoon I knew it wasn't going to end well when I reread the same line of a story out loud a few times in a row before a student jumped in and corrected me. My cheeks were burning up and I was lacking ability to concentrate. I knew I'd get in a good nap that night and hopefully a real illness wouldn't develop at all.

A coworker spent a few minutes lecturing me that, just as she had warned me, warming my cold fingers in front of a plastic space heating fan would make me sick. Damn, warm air? I figure its a miracle I don't drop dead everytime I blowdry my hair.

I barely made it home before the real heavy sickness set in. I've spent the past two and a half days incredibly sick to my stomach and dipping in and out of a 103.5 fever.

Being this sick is debilitating. Laying in bed so long makes my bones ache, rolling over churns my stomach, standing up makes me woozy, walking gives a headache. And that's just moaning about the little stuff... imagine me trying to sort out my healthcare! (When you're so sick you can't go to work, you still have to get up out of bed and get to the doctor so he gives you an excuse note, and by default, make a sidestop to your healthcare provider's office along the way).

I was too sick to make it far from home, and I didn't have the energy to look for the healthcare folder which might have some information on centers or doctors covered under my plan so I searched the internet forever. Then I called and asked. Despite the billions mentioned when I signed my plan, the lady on the phone had two suggestions, of those I understood one. I called that clinica and they suggested I come in next week! (Yes, thank you, that'd be really convenient...if I survive the wait!), so I walked tortoise-paced to the closest doctor I knew of planning to pay out of pocket. They told me to come back the next day and that they're supported by my plan anyway, so I went and got a bono slip proving I'd made my copayment (along with a Doc list for next time) and shuffled home. Well, I tried to take a collectivo, but after being robbed of my spot many times in a row (because, you know, being at the front of the line doesn't always guarantee you much in Chile), I gave up and climbed. It was a struggle.

Today, after pushing snooze for two hours, I finally got up and made it to the doctor...where I waited another 2 hours to be seen. I did get to see a questionable Mega daytime show on the topic "Is it ok to make fun of people for their defects and nationality?" Defects and nationality paired together there sound ridiculous enough to me, though its actually a decent topic. Fever or not, daytime TV gives me a headache regardless and I preferred to stare at the hole in my shoe rather than the show's content. My boyfriend loooves one of the groups they question, though, Atletas de la Risa.

Speaking of nationality, doctors also get stuck not seeing beyond the foreignness and mine kept talking about adverse affects to my travel immunizations. I suppose its a good thing to rule out, but its also nice to consider I caught something entirely unrelated to my foreignness.... considering I haven't had immunizations in at least a few years.

Lesson I've learned: bureaucracy makes sickness twice as terrible.

P.s. Thrice as terrible, fyi, is cable television providing long periods of time where the most interesting programming I can find is SNAKES ON A PLANE. Seriously?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Domino bad luck

10pm last night I was walking alone on Avenida Alemania. Nobody was around.

Well, nobody was around until suddenly I got the hunch that somebody was RIGHT behind me. While continuing to walk, I turned around quickly. Despite having known in my gut that there was a man only half a pace behind me, finding him there immensely surprised me. I only looked at him for a fourth of a second, enough to verify there was someone in my personal space, yet hardly enough to identify any traits more specific than "male."

Anyway, seeing him there startled me so much that I instantly looked away, apparently setting my eyes on a huge white husky dog in the street. I must have looked so frightened or angry or something, perhaps a natural reaction of getting ready to defend myself against whatever this man had in mind, that when I looked at the dog, he jumped up in fright, bolted right at me and bit me in the back of the leg!!!

The man had backed off as the dog came at me, and both man and dog kinda ran off quietly in opposite directions. I was left alone again, completely shocked and nervous about the pain I felt from the bite. Not because it hurt so bad I couldn't walk, but because I was nervous there was blood all over my pants, which I quite like, and I'd have to make a decision about going through with the rabies shots or not (this is, after all, my 4th encounter of this sort with dogs in Chile).

No blood. It hurt like hell, yet oddly I just have small blue bruises where each one of the dog's teeth dug into my leg- the skin wasn't even broken!

* For the record, despite the large, relatievly uncontrolled stray dog population, there hasn't been a case of a human getting rabies from a dog in Chile in almost 40 years. Medical professionals in the US have told me its still worth the precaution if you are attacked by a dog that might have rabies, but that really they considered it just that, nothing more than a precaution. Anybody seen Quarantine?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cerro Alegre Shoved Aground

This morning I left my house and immediately noticed the wind. The realization that I've never really noticed wind while walking near my house hit me suddenly. Its strange how much time can go by before you notice something so simple. Even though it was very gently misting, I felt nostalgic for Minnesota fall. The wind, and Valparaiso in general, doesn't really have a strong oceany smell to differentiate the air from my memories of Minnesota.

It was raining, sprinkling or pouring on and off during the day, with large gusts of wind hitting up against the windows. The sky went back and forth from grey to pink, finally letting in a bit of sun and a giant rainbow in the late afternoon.

I sat at my desk in the office all day, cozy and dry. But the electricity must have flickered on and off around 10 or 15 times, something I'm used to because of the lighting back home (well, with lightning it usually just goes off and stays that way). I must admit I felt a little uneasy that the weather was getting so bad that I'd get trapped away from home, because coworkers were reporting that the roads were so terrible, flooded with trees and downed stoplights, that traveling would take double or triple the time.

Luckily I got a ride with someone half way, and spent the rest of my way staring out at the uneasy ocean. I have never seen such big waves along the normally calm Viña del Mar and Valparaiso shores! The waves reached the top of the pier sometimes. But in Valparaiso I stopped watching out the window, because the whole shoreline is cut off from view. Then suddenly, when we hit a stoplight, I felt mist from the water. Everybody looked over together to see a huge cargo boat that appeared to be almost on the shore, hopping up onto the metro line. A huge wave suddenly came over the top of the boat, and I accidentally let out a "GUAU" (jk, hahah "WOW!), thinking the water might almost come down on us, and a number of passengers looked at me. I took the bus to the bellavista stop where I used a huge walking bridge to climb up and get a view...

and a scurried picture, trying to catch those huge waves!

It seems this boat was the main victim of today's storm.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

South America and non-personal impressions

I believe pretty much everywhere I have been, close relationships have the potential to be very similar in nature. I think even if, at first glance, the people or culture seems to be upside-down and inside-out from our own, we would find those closest to you essentially the same at heart. Relationships between casual friends, coworkers, and acqaintances have more potential to differ depending on culture. But I think interactions between people that don't yet know each other, and the progress between first meeting someone to bringing it to another level is something that contributes to one of the first impressions we get of a country and culture. This is the impression we get as a tourist or a newcomer- the impression we get before having friends or a boyfriend (and his immensly extended family) to show us around and lead us towards meeting the right people.

Essentially, when I'm traveling, the answers to questions along the lines of the following help me form a basic opinion of society in a non-personal sense:
  • How do people interact with each other on the streets, does there seem to be common courtesy?
  • How willing are people to engage in conversation or small talk, is doing errands around town purely robotic or will you likely exhange smiles or comments with the people you interact with?
  • Are interactions with people you meet or deal with while getting around generally positive, negative or neutral?
Ok, so its not like I travel around with a little survey and checklist, evaluating places by these exact questions, but they give an idea you can probably understand or relate to about the type of interaction we observe and participate in before we really have any good reason or ties to make a more profound one. Perhaps this impression is one of society overall that will stay with us, or perhaps more time and connections will modify the way we see the culture. Overall, I found almost all South American countries I have been to (almost all of them) to fare quite well on overall non-personal impressions.

Actually, the only one I've been to that didn't at all was Bolivia. Every Bolivian I know is extremely nice, and I even have extended relatives that have been living in Bolivia for a long time and report back a great image, but traveling there and experiencing society without any personal ties was a different story. And, though I did get the impression people somewhat stuck to themselves in public, the negative energy did not seem to be so much overall, but rather towards foreigners. I know, as an American, I shouldn't expect much otherwise. We haven't exactly been the most favorable influence to their economy. But my roommates were English and Greek and expressed similar vibes. I also experienced a lot of name calling, at me, with profanity.  One anecdote that humorously exemplified my time in Bolivia (spread out over 4 cities), was when I asked a man for directions to a museum and he said "see that building?" While I turned my head to look where he was pointing, he ran away.

(edit:  friends traveling around the same time reported similar feelings, however those having visited more recently had much more neutral or positive interactions.  And again, to restate: everybody I know personally from Bolivia is awesome... so I do strongly believe my experience was time-sensitive, and possibly illustrative of the difference between being an anonymous outsider vs. having a personal connection). 

For Chile, my take on society in a non-personal sense has stayed fairly true to my initial impression. I've written about various aspects of Chile in a non-personal sense over the years on this blog. Without considering any personal connections or familiar faces, interactions tend to be rather neutral, possibly skewed negative, with limited possibility for conversation or small talk. In public, everyone is usually concerned mostly for themselves and this can even come at the expense of others.

However, (thankfully!), my take on society in a personal sense is immensely different, and much more positive. To me, Chile in a personal sense is much more friendly and caring, people are not selfish in the slightest, and courtesy is the expectation. While there are still barriers to break down in terms of making close friendships, people you have connections to will generally open up and treat you in a very positive way.

Anyway, the reason I was thinking about first impressions of a society actually has its roots, again, in the World Cup. Strange how soccer meddles its way into just about everything these days, no? As I've documented over the past few weeks, I was first rooting for Chile and the US (Either way, I win!) Then, I was in it for Brazil. I have a lot of ties with Brazilian people and activities here, and having them win would be quite fun for me. In the end, Brazil got kicked out of the tournament right before a big "Brazilian night" event, which naturally, was still immensely enjoyed for the party it was.

But one of yesterday's games was Paraguay vs. Spain. I knew since Paraguay started going forward in the tournament that they'd be one of the teams I'd like to go on. It wasn't much to do with the whole "underdog" thing, but rather that I have an extremely positive opinion of Paraguay. When I traveled to Paraguay I didn't have many expectations. It is a country often overlooked, without too many internationally famous sights or attractions. However, when I got there, I was extremely pleased. People on the streets would stop and chat in a way that wasn't creepy, when I entered a store the employees were eager to help and share stories, and everyone was full of smiles. I remember one time a man in a plaza invited us to have dinner with his family, a restaurant employee explained every single traditional food on the menu without the slightest annoyance, and a large percentage of mall customers went outside to laugh and play in the hail together. My time in Paraguay didn't have any particularly notable experiences, but all of the little things just traveling around added up to make a great impression. So Paraguay going to the World Cup?

Hell yeah, I was for that.

Plus, they were the only team left in the tournament that I have actually been to see play live. But, unfortunately, they lost. And now I am unsure who to root for. I know its not Germany, despite significant ancestry, for no real reason other than I haven't been there and don't feel much connection to the team. I have set foot in the other 3 countries, but only spent considerable time in Spain. However, I think to some level I want Uruguay to win. I'm not sure why. Perhaps its still my heart rooting for the South American continent.

edit: thats right SA, you can get me to root for your teams but not to buy into your 5 continent convention