Friday, July 27, 2012

MARCHAS or what's up with all these Chileans on the streets?

As an innocent citizen, life has become significantly more complicated in Santiago in the last year. All of a sudden, the Alameda (Santiago's main street) is blocked, the Metro might not stop at certain stations any more (tear gas alarm) and every once in a while a random stone might fly RIGHT past you. Welcome to Chile's wonderful world of the marchas (= protests, demonstrations). I have been to many many marchas, because I had to write about them, because I was curious, because I somehow got sucked in by the crowd or simply because I felt the need to let my anger out at some cop (P.S. I do NOT recommend the latter!). At these protests I have met hippies, grandparents and their grandchildren, rockers, teenagers, couples, teachers, communists, environmentalists, housewives, bankers, dancers, homeless people and even Nazis. I have had great conversations, I have danced, sung (only way you can get me to sing in public is if I can join a chorus of 15.000), got hit by rocks and water cannons, I saw how cops beat down old people and young children and how hooded protesters beat up the cops – so I have had my fair share of marchas. Since there might be one or two persons out there who do not enjoy the thrill of the protests as much as I do, I decided to put together a little encyclopedia so next time it smells like tear gas, you know what's up.

Region in Patagonia. All Patagonia is controlled by president Piñera's (→ below) government. All? Only one small region of indomitable Patagonians still holds out against the invaders. Until Piñera gets so pissed that he sends a whole battalion of pacos (→ below) down south. Not the best idea he had. By February 2012 all of Chile is out on the street forcing president Piñera finally has to backpedal.

Camila Vallejo
Pretty chick you might have seen on TV once or 10.000 times. Not a singer, nor the new IN-actrice but a student leader who became the voice and face of the student protests 2011, fighting for a better and affordable education at Chilean Universities. Now she's not around so much any more but hey, would you if Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez were your two new BFF?

Camilo Ballesteros
Say who? Exactly!1

Literal translation: The hooded. Some punks that show up at almost every marcha competing over who throws the first stone at the cops. Conspiracy theorists say, they are payed by the government to villainize the protesters. Note: going to a marcha, you might consider leaving your hoodie at home, it might get you arrested.

Get together to dis somebody or something.

Giorgio Jackson
Camila Vallejo's side kick.

If you get an unexpected shower, it probably came from a guanaco, Chilean for water cannon (and no, I have no idea how you say that in Spanish!)

Hidroaysén (Patagonia sin represas)
Hydroelectric project in Patagonia (the veeeeery south of Chile). Started the marchas in May 2011. It was the environmentalists who went out on the street first, protesting against the Hidroaysén project. The government says about HA: Chile needs more electricity; protesters say about HA: it destroys the most beautiful landscape in the country.

Ley Hinzpeter
Chile's secretary of interior, kinda the boss of the cops – so you can imagine how much the protesters just LOVE him. For his part, he wasn't quite cool with all these protests so he came up with a bill (Ley Hinzpeter) trying to put anybody in prison who “disturbs the public order” (whatever that means...). Result: Now even more people are out on the streets protesting against the Hinzpeter Law.

If you hear somebody shout that, RUN! Yeah, the cops in Chile are pretty chilled in general but not around 100.000 protesters who have declared them their Nº 1 enemy.

Sebastián Piñera
The president, or Chile's George W. Bush.

Good education in Chile is expensive, only the very rich can afford it. Scholarships are scarce, student loans put families in debt for decades and the teachers just suck. (Just quoting there). The PC version: education sucks.

With the begin of the marchas, Chile entered a new phase of social mobilizations. After many years of duck and run – internalized from the time of the military regime of Augusto Pionchet, 1973-1990 – 2011 became the starting point for various social protests, for example environmentalists, workers, women's rights activists and LGBT groups.

1Though objectively not true, so I'll give him a footnote. Along with Camila Vallejo member of the Communist Party, ran for mayor in Santiago's Estación Central hood.   

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chilean Shamelessness or Why Using Public Transportation in Santiago Is Never Boring

As a German, there are two topics you NEVER EVER discuss in public:
1. your salary and
2. your private problems.
 At least with the latter, Chileans on the other hand, don't seem to have any issues at all. It is amazing what they discuss on the metro, on the street or in a café - mostly over the cell phone. Not only do they openly lay out even the samllest detail of their private lives, they do so on full blast. Now, I am not quite sure if I am particularly shameless and indiscreet and maybe no other Chilean eavesdrops on these conversations but even if I WANTED to be polite and give them some privacy, it is just impossible to NOT listen what is yelled into a cell phone two steps away from you. I have gathered quite some insight into the Chilean private soul by now. Chileans discuss how and when they cheated on their partner, how they got fired and what their doctor had to say about their hemorrhoids (this is not even an exaggeration, I have heard it all!!). There is one particular incident however that stood out for me.

One morning riding the metro to work, I was squeezed right between a couple, probably in their 40s. Of course, me tangled in between their legs and arms did not stop them from heavily making out. Until her cell phone rang. She ignored it. It rings again. She ignores it again. It rings a third time. She finally picks up. Only to tell - "that aweonado son of a bitch to fucking leave her alone!!!!" This little intermezzo interrupted the love scene and for ignorant bystanders like myself the whole situation was explained. Turns out, the mystery caller was the woman's ex-husband who could not accept the divorce and kept calling her multiple times a day. She divorced him because he was abusive and she could not take it any longer so she finally took her children and ran away, to live with her new boyfriend. However, the boyfriend seemed to get more and more annoyed at this situation. "This has to stop! What does that weon want from you? Why are you even answering him? Why does he have your phone number? Are you still sleeping with him??? Gimme that phone!!!!" With this he grabs her phone (to this day I am not quite sure how in a sardine-can-like metro car they managed to even move an inch !), throws it on the floor and smashes it with his foot. "There you go. Now he's not gonna call you any more!" The scene ends with heavy kissing.
Well, what can I say - who needs soap operas if you can watch it all live?!

Attention, Chilenos Walking

I have really tried NOT to write this blog, I really have. But after more than two years on Chilean sidewalks I had to face the facts: It has nothing to do with adaptation, not even with tolerance, acceptance or patience. I simply will never learn it nor get used to it. So as first-world-arrogant-cultural-snobbish this might sound, I just HAVE to say it: Chileans do not know how to walk. And I know I am not the only gringa/o out there who has problems to survive in the Chilean pedestrian jungle. Realizing that neither I am going to get used to it, nor Chileans are going to change for me, I decided to just let it out. Maybe my parents taught me or maybe we had some general walking training classes in kindergarten, I don’t remember specifically, but somewhere along the way, I feel most Europeans and North Americans have learned the same basic rules of how to move on a public street. Before I came to Chile, I thought these rules were universal but as I kept bumping into pedestrians, I started paying more attention the the very unique Chilean way of walking. By now I have made out these five main types of walkers: The slow-walker Perhaps I grew up in a mad and fast running world but as hard as I try to be patient and considering and enjoy this less hectic life style, the Chilean way of slow walking just DRIVES ME CRAZY! Admittedly, it is nice to enjoy life, pay attention to details and not to always be in a rush – but seriously – at 8 am I just want to get GOING and not slouchingly “enjoy” the mass movement on Plaza Italia. No thanks! Why not just walk past them slow-walkers? Please move on to Chilean walker type Nº 2. The slalom-walker If our slow-walker happens to be also a slalom-walker (90% chance this applies) there is no chance you can pass them. You make a step to the left, they slalom-slide to the left. You run back to the right, they slalom-slide back to the right. I get a feeling the slow-slalom walker is actually not malicious but acts out of instinct (I don’t even want to THINK about what kind of instinct that might imply) … either way, it’s obnoxious (yes, obnoxious!). The group-walkers These come either as love birds or best amiguis and seem to be glued inseparably to each other. Every move they take, they take it together. Of course, love is wonderful and friendships need to be cherished but there is a time and place for everything and the main street during rush hour is neither the place nor the time! The stopper A common phenomenon on the streets of Santiago, you walk calmly, minding your own business and before you know it: boom – you just ran into a stopper. The stopper seems to live in his or her own world, never noticing that they are actually not in their living room but on a busy street. So they stop. Suddenly. Always. Without. Warning. They stop because their cell phone rang. They stop because they have to write a text message. They stop because they have to check out the shop windows. They stop because they have to make a u-turn. They stop because they have to tie their shoes. They stop because they … pleeeeeassse stoppers, just stop it!!! The ingleses This specific species of pedestrian has either worked&traveled in Australia or spent too much time watching the royal weddings of the Windsors (though I have never met anybody from Australia, New Zealand, Britain etc. who had a similar walking restriction). Whatever the motivation, the ingleses are obsessed with walking on the left side. If it is a street, an escalator or a hallway, they just never seem to have understood that you walk on the right side and pass on the left side. Or, if you want it the British way, at least get your sides straight! I am sure, there are a lot more “types” out there so feel free to complete my list. Overall though, I have to say, despite my little “issues” on Chilean side walks, I have gotten into only one serious fist fight over walking rules and I hope this *¡’0¡’¿?ç* is still in pain!!