Lessons and questions

It’s September. It’s about 80 and sunny today. Independence Day will be here in 17 days. This is an exciting month.

It’s September. I’m a week away from TWO whole months in this country. But I’ll blog about that later.

It’s September. And I’m still figuring things out.

Lesson: you will never stop missing your family. Ever. You just won’t. The sooner you can accept that, the easier things will be. Will you still get sad? Yes. Will some nights still be really hard? Yes. But knowing that that’s all okay is comforting somehow.

Lesson: I like it when new friends/family tease me. My host sister was poking fun at me last Sunday when we were talking about boys. I wasn’t offended one bit. I loved it, actually, because it means that she feels comfortable enough that she can do that and not worry about hurting my feelings. I need more of that. But how do you ask for that? “Please. Bust my chops.”

Also, I’ve got so much personal space/time to myself I don’t know what to do with it.

Question: how do the glamorous women in 5-inch platform Louboutins not break their ankles getting shoved into the subway during la hora punta?

Question: do you ever stop hitting the language wall? I’ve been doing really well. But the other night I had to ask my host parents to repeat everything twice at dinner. And I’d just been reading in Spanish without problems for over an hour! What happened?

Lesson: when you go visit a country, you need to learn as much as you can about their history and culture. Even the bad parts.

This week we took a field trip to Villa Grimaldi. Villa Grimaldi was a family estate converted into a detention and torture center under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Today it has an alternative name, Parque por la Paz, and stands as a memorial for all of those who were victims of the Pinochet regime. We were privileged enough to be led through the park by a former prisoner, who was able to include his personal experience in addition to the hard facts of the park’s past.

If you want to learn more about torture and political detention under Pinochet, you can Google it or go to your library and find tons of information. Know this: it’s disturbing. It wasn’t unique for its time. The United States was involved, as it was in many other Latin American dictatorships during the later part of the Cold War era. Chile lived the Cold War within its own borders. Villa Grimaldi and other centers like it demonstrate the intensity of that war.

Villa Grimaldi Memorial Plaque

Memorial plaque at the entrance. “Nunca más” means “Never again.”

Villa Grimaldi Model

This is scale model of Villa Grimaldi under the dictatorship. Most of the buildings were destroyed by the regime before Pinochet left power and are memorialized today.

The gate through which trucks carrying prisoners would enter.

This artwork represents what little prisoners could see out of their Scotch tape blindfolds: cobblestones and floor tiles.

Between the pool and the back wall were the torture and interrogation rooms.

Representation of isolation cells. A cell of this size would hold four people sitting bound and blindfolded on the floor.

Memorial wall of the names of those known to have died in Villa Grimaldi. Some stones remain blank, in case new information arises.

Memorial to “the parking lot.” If all other forms of torture (which were many and extreme) failed, the most important prisoners would be brought out here and have their legs run over by a truck, in an effort to extract information.

Question: how does something like this happen? How does it continue to happen, in different ways and in different countries?

Lesson: you can make something beautiful out of something terrible. Humanity can rise up from anything.

After this, we visited el Cementerio General of Santiago. It’s the largest and one of the oldest cemeteries in Chile, first established to bury Chile’s founding fathers after they won independence in 1818. The thing that struck me most about the cemetery was that it is essentially a replication of the geographical and architectural class divide in Santiago for the dead. The part of the cemetery closest to the chapel and main entrance is where Chile’s elite bury their loved ones, in mausoleums the size of cabins. Next comes the upper-middle class section, with smaller but well-constructed mausoleums. Beyond that section comes the lower-middle class “neighborhood,” where they have multilevel structures that look like small apartment buildings, but with tombs instead of windows. They actually look like the apartment buildings in which many working class santiaguinos live. Not even kidding. The last section of the cemetery belongs to the poor, who bury their loved ones in the ground. This section, however, seemed the happiest, due to the abundance of fresh flowers, mobiles, wind chimes, flags, and other objects lovingly placed at the gravestones. In general, though, all of the tombs were extremely well-kept. Maybe they have different ideas about the dead here, but I saw very few resting places which lacked fresh flowers or were dirty. The cemetery seemed much more well-visited than a typical cemetery in the US.

Next week, our field trip is a vineyard. My tuition dollars are being so well-spent, don’t you think? And more wine pictures!

Since it is now September (but seriously. When did that happen?!), the weather is getting gorgeous, and basically the whole month is dedicated to la fiestas patria, and I’m planning my travels for the semester, a lot more will be going on to write about. Stay tuned!

With love,

Gaby

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