Introduced Species

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

1
Deep in the Red Zone
2
Journey to the Unknown
3
Required Reading
4
The Call of the Tropics
5
Detour to the Unexpected
6
Explaining the World to Children
7
My Wise Old Owl
8
Things are Looking Up
9
Just an Acorn?
10
Peace Corps Connect June 2015 Berkeley

Deep in the Red Zone

The multiple warnings will not stop me. I’m determined to go. “It’s a red zone for Peace Corps. We’re not allowed there for security reasons,” I’m told. I figure that I’m no longer under the jurisdiction of Peace Corps. Besides, I have a contact there. Weeks ago I wrote to the Office of Citizen Participation in the Barranquilla City Hall, explaining I worked as Peace Corps Volunteer fifty years ago in barrio Las Américas and that I wanted to contact the president of the barrio’s Junta of Community Action. I received no response. The morning after my arrival I head to the sixth floor of the bustling City Hall. I explain at the front desk what I want. I’m directed to a man nearby. “Jorge Romero is the one to talk to.” Yes, he had received my email. “You didn’t answer me.” “Elections are this Sunday and it’s been a . . .

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Journey to the Unknown

On board Avianca flight #98, I’m headed to Bogotá and then Barranquilla. The map on the screen on the seat back in front of me indicates we are over the desert of northern Chile – in spectacular flower. I’m in a state of disbelief. Returning to Barranquilla after 48 years. When I was 23 or 24. I feel I’m returning to my past. Diaphanous clouds of memories drift in my head, of other flights, landscapes and faces of people I knew then: barrio friends, boyfriends. It will all be changed now. Google maps and Streets reveal my old barrio, once a shanty town- invasion barrio, now looks more solid. Some streets are paved! Will they have running water now? Indoor toilets? Will I locate my friends Petra, Fidelia, Dominga’s daughter or my godson Jose? And I have changed, now a white-haired grandmother. Will they recognize me? This is a journey . . .

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Required Reading

I recently read David McCullough’s biography of John Adams. Having lived outside of the United States for over four decades, my knowledge of U.S. history had become embarrassingly rusty. I’ve wanted for some time to remedy that situation. The book read like a novel, grabbing my interest from the first page. I was fascinated. John Adams became for me a real person, loveable with his strengths, weaknesses and foibles. His insistence on living a simple life and his love of rural America held special appeal for me. His stubborn belief in his opinions and grasp of critical political situations proved in the long run the wisdom of many important decisions. As third president of the United States, knowing the horrors of war, for years he held out for peace, finally achieving it, with belligerent French and English governments amidst the calls of war by his detractors. When many colonists were . . .

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The Call of the Tropics

I’ve done it. Reserved a flight for Barranquilla, Colombia in three weeks time. It’s been a long-time wish of mine to return to the barrios in Barranquilla where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Fifty years have passed, yet the imprint left by those experiences and those people continues strong. A formal invitation in Spanish arrived by email announcing a ceremony commemorating a total of twenty-five years of Peace Corps service in Colombia. Not twenty-five consecutive years as for many years as it was considered unsafe to send volunteers there. I’ve been filled with apprehension while taking this decision. Browsing Internet I learn the new reality of the city and the barrios of Las Américas and Santuario. They have changed drastically. Some roads are now paved and shacks have become solidly-built, though still humble, homes. These began as invasion barrios, shanty towns with no plan or organization. I once . . .

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Detour to the Unexpected

A strange sight greeted us as we stepped out of the downtown metro station – no traffic on the Alameda, the city’s main artery, no roaring cars, buses, trucks, taxis and motorcycles. Nothing. Nada. At the end of the block, in front of the Moneda, the presidential palace, a series of barricades were detouring cars. I’d come with two sisters-in-law to attend a free noonday Sunday concert downtown. At the theater, we found all the doors closed, people wandering about with puzzled faces. We learned that the concert was cancelled because this was the route of a protest march to the general cemetery to commemorate “los desaparecidos”, the disappeared, victims of the military coup which occurred 42 years ago on a September 11th.  We considered our options and then called a friend who lives downtown. She invited us for coffee. It was my first visit to her apartment, located in . . .

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Explaining the World to Children

Our three granddaughters, 10 yr.old twins and a 6 yr.old, draped on the sofa in our TV room, were absorbed in an animal program about orangutans. When it ended, we channel grazed. Anything else of interest? Across the screen spread the word “Apocalypse”. “No, not that” said their father. Grandfather quickly switched channels. “What was that? We want to see it.” “No, it’s about a war.” Changing channels, we unwittingly passed by“Apocalypse” again and a scene of bodies scattered about a field. “Change it,” said their dad. “But we want to see Apocalypse. What’s war?” asked one. “Do people stay living in their houses when there’s a war?” “Has there ever been a war here in Chile or the States?” “No”, I answered. “People do stay in their houses (I omitted saying unless they’re being bombed). Soldiers go off to fight in other countries.” I remember some time ago while . . .

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My Wise Old Owl

These grey winter days I’ve been reading up a storm on Kindle. I prefer the feel of a book in my hands, but, living in Chile, English books are not readily available. Usually, on my yearly visits to California, I return with a supply of books but this last visit was different. My husband and I hauled back fifty copies of my memoir in backpacks and cloth shopping bags. No space for my personal reading choices. The problem with a Kindle book is that I need to underline inspiring thoughts and beautiful words. Some books are very special to me. I call them “keepers.” Last night I downloaded a book that I know will be a Keeper: “The Wave in the Mind” by Ursula Le Guin. Some months ago I proclaimed her my blogger muse. I came across her name again on the Brainpickings website, a rich resource for introductions . . .

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Things are Looking Up

A welcome reprieve has been granted to the city’s discontent, gloom and smog. The Chilean national soccer team beat their arch rivals, the Argentinians, last weekend to win the America Cup. Fireworks, cheers, horn honking, euphoria filled the night air. For once, the underdogs from this sliver of a country at the bottom of the world won the prized trophy. Now this weekend RAIN is forecast, in fact, a BIG STORM. The TV weathermen have announced it for days, giving lengthy, detailed descriptions, aided by maps, of the progress of the storm coming off the Pacific. I study the clouds. So far, just minor sprinkles have moistened our world and a light mantle of snow rests on the Andes. But heavy rain is due and I look out the window for its arrival, my ears perked for the wonderful patter on the roof. Such build-up and excitement for a climatic . . .

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Just an Acorn?

These days it’s not difficult to fall into a Henny Penny mindset. Conversations dwell on the negative state of the country, or, for that matter, of the whole world – variations on Henny Penny’s “The sky is falling!” when an acorn dropped on her head. Sadly, an acorn is not the cause of the building worry and negativity. A pall of discontent looms over this city in which we live as well as other regions of the country. Daily news reports of arson on farms and robberies at gun point in homes, on the street, in gas stations have propelled us into a state of insecurity. A Chilean version of the lawless days of the Wild West? Citizens complain, writing letters to the newspaper editors for greater protection and a stricter justice system (referred to as “the revolving door”, in the clink one day and out the next). Last night . . .

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Peace Corps Connect June 2015 Berkeley

Over coffee last October in Berkeley, Marian Haley Beil revealed that the 2015 Peace Corps Connect Conference was to be held in….Berkeley. I couldn’t believe my luck – my beloved alma mater and a thirty minute drive from my hometown across the Bay, the destiny of my annual California visits. Confident that my memoir would be ready by the June date, I asked Marian if I could participate in the Peace Corps Writers Worldwide events she’d be planning. And so it was. I convinced my old Peace Corps friend, Barbara to go, so that, at least, we’d know each other. It was exciting to see those five hundred smiling faces and bobbing heads (the majority grey, like me) at the opening session in Wheeler Hall, where over fifty years ago, I studiously took notes for sociology and physics classes. We looked for familiar faces and names on name tags, many . . .

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