Introduced Species

The tales of a Colombia RPCV who lives the life of an “introduced species” in Chile.

1
Wanted: Twenty Thousand Words
2
My Russian Mosaic
3
Acceptance
4
A Bookworm’s Dilemma
5
Going to the Movies
6
Me, Myself and Memory
7
On the Road
8
Lost: One Green Thumb
9
Afterthoughts
10
Searching for Jose

Wanted: Twenty Thousand Words

  “How many words does your manuscript have?” asks the editor. “About forty thousand,” I answer. “Well, you’re short twenty thousand words,” she says. I slump in my chair. We’re talking about a manuscript I submitted for my second book. Twenty thousand more words? And not just any words. No fluff. No verbal garbage. No verbiage. But words that add something. I spend a few days in a writer’s funk. Ideas do not come running towards me like a friendly dog with its tongue hanging out. I must not look for them. Pretend I’m not interested. Then when I’m taking out the garbage, an idea raises its hand. Today I think: why start from zero? Go to my previous blogs. Maybe there are some that can be expanded or further developed. So I read through this year’s blogs and make a list. I feel better already. Having a list is . . .

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My Russian Mosaic

A metronome ticks and stops. Music plays. The metronome ticks and stops. Music plays. The transmission of Leningrad Radio keeping alive the hopes of the city’s inhabitants. It is 1944. The German army siege continues to its strangle-hold over the city during the past 900 days. One million people are dead due to cold and starvation. I stand in the windowless museum commemorating the heroic defenders of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). That recreation of the radio’s transmission takes me back in time, more real than the battered army helmets, rifles and photos on display. Valentín, our 40-year-old guide, tells how the siege affected his family. His grandmother died of starvation. His grandfather’s brother disappeared. The rest of the family was eventually evacuated through the one route open to the interior. In impeccable Spanish he tells us, “No one is alive today who hasn’t lost someone in the siege.”   Back . . .

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Acceptance

In my memoir “Marrying Santiago” (2015) I wonder where my two sons would choose to put down roots. I ask: “Would I lose them someday to the place I left behind?” My parents’ only child, I left my California home forty-five years ago to marry and live in Chile. The great distance that separated us was the source of tremendous sorrow for them. While my oldest son married and settled in Chile, the younger one has been living and working in New York for four years. I miss him terribly. Living in this hyper-connected era does ease the pain somewhat – we chat online, talk by Whatsapp and Skype and send photos taken instants before. Today a Chilean friend who passed through New York brings me a present from my son. An enchanting little book entitled Owls: Our Most Charming Bird by Matt Sewell. A rich text accompanies the delightful drawings. . . .

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A Bookworm’s Dilemma

  I never thought I’d be saying this but I have to admit it now – Kindle is a great invention.  A plethora of books in English are accessible with the tap of a finger to this eager reader living in a non-English-speaking country. Of course, I’d prefer the real thing — the book in my hands, my fingers turning the pages, underlining brilliant thoughts or beautifully expressed ideas. Then, when I finish the book, if I decide it’s a “keeper,” I’ll squeeze it onto a bulging bookshelf, or else pass it on to another eager English reader. Besides its accessibility, Kindle has the marvelous option that with another tap, the definition of an unwieldy word pops up. I’m reading more than ever: fiction and nonfiction, exploring authors new to me, recommended books, Pulitzer Prize winners, well-known authors I hadn’t read. I read not only for pleasure, but to learn more . . .

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Going to the Movies

I’ve asked my three granddaughters to reserve a day for me this week, their last week of summer vacation. “We can do whatever you want.” They decide on a movie and an ice cream afterwards. “What movie?” “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” Oh. We go to the multicine at the mall and stand in the line to buy tickets and another snail-slow line to buy Combo #3 – a giant bag of popcorn, drinks and candy. The movie has already started. We grope our way to our numbered seats and settle down to distribute the goodies. I try to ignore the fact that my sandals stick to the floor. I love looking at the girls’ entranced faces while they watch the movie. It’s a happy, funny film with singing and dancing. I even manage to stay awake. When it ends, Colomba says. “That was so short.” We file out with smiles . . .

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Me, Myself and Memory

A former Peace Corps colleague sent me the photo of a group of us on the beach in Cartagena, Colombia. There’s no doubt that the young, thin woman stretched out on the sand is me. But I have no recollection of that day trip to Cartagena fifty years ago. It’s as if I lost that day of my life. So many moments, days, people and events have vanished in the convoluted folds of my cerebral cortex. My grown son mentioned that I took him to the doctor several times as a child for his back ailments. I feel miserable because I don’t remember. I thought it was his brother that had the back problems. I’ve always believed that our memories are selective, recalling significant people and events in one’s life. Yet, this was my own son whose medical history I’d forgotten. When I say, “I don’t remember,” my sons must . . .

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On the Road

Instead of turning left, we should have turned right. We were on an unfamiliar country road attempting to return to the main highway, Route 5. My son was driving, left hand on the steering wheel and right hand holding up his iPhone connected to Google Maps. My husband, from the back seat, gave directions based on his navigation app, Waze. They couldn’t decide: right or left. My Inner Compass App (ICA) whispered “right,” but I held my tongue, not wanting to contribute to the confusion. Seconds later, they decided that to the right it was. I’d extracted from the car’s glove compartment a tattered roadmap of the entire 4300 kilometer length of Chile. The tiny scale was of no help in navigating small rural roads. Besides, the map was dated 1986. Does anyone use maps anymore? I love maps. Each time we travel this highway to southern Chile and Patagonia . . .

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Lost: One Green Thumb

Tiny, green, leaf-munching worms. Disfiguring gall mites on my fuchsias. Browning rose leaves. Weed invasion on my lawn. Am I losing my touch? Or can I blame these garden afflictions on El Niño? He takes the blame for anything out of the ordinary, including welcome events like an abundance of butterflies this spring. Our ever-present air pollution is another convenient scapegoat. I must share some of the blame for garden failures and go through the checklist. Over watering? Over-or under-fertilizing? Too much sunlight? Too much shade? The plant doesn’t like its pot? I resort to garden books and Internet for answers and non-toxic pesticides. Today I discovered that gall mites are the culprits for my fuchsia woes. There it was. A photo on internet. “That’s it!” I cried. Two plant experts had been unable to diagnose the problem. Now I must persevere and accept the challenge – cutting off the . . .

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Afterthoughts

Barranquilla is now a dream- memory. I replay the scenes in my mind so as not to forget. Yet, unlike the past five decades, I now have phone numbers and email addresses to maintain alive those renewed friendships. I emailed Jose as soon as I arrived back in Chile. After two weeks of no response, I wrote his son, Kevin, “I’m worried….no news.” Jose wrote a brief email the next day. His mother, Herminda, had suffered a stroke and was hospitalized. “Madrina,” he said, “We miss you. It seems we’ve known you for a long time. I was so sad when you left…couldn’t find the words…..” His feelings reflected mine, I wrote. I sent photos, more emails, but received no more responses. Impatient, I called him. Hearing his voice with its distinctive coastal accent made him a real, flesh and blood person again. His mother was now home and receiving . . .

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Searching for Jose

His address on a letter written nineteen years ago is all I have to go by. Dominga’s grandson, he is the godson I knew only as an infant, though he wrote me periodically for many years. I give the taxi driver the address in Barrio El Carmen, explaining my story. “I don’t know if my godson still lives there.” We locate the street and the house number. Several workers mill about in front of the house, which is being remodeled and is clearly unoccupied. The driver says, “Ask the neighbors.” “Do you know what happened to the Castillo Rocha family who used to live here?” Heads shake. “No, no one by that name. Ask that woman across the street. She’s been here a long time.” “No, sorry.” Back in the taxi, I tell the driver, “I have his parents’ address. Can you take me there? It’s in Barrio La Sierra.” . . .

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