Friday, January 22, 2016

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 (I’ve lost count how many), I refer to our well-used Turistel guide. With its multiple maps dividing this long, sliver of a country into sections, I can see where I am and relate that location to the scenes out my window. Which volcano is that soaring on our left? Which city are we nearing? And this river? If we take this turn-off, what might we discover?
            I’m of the “in-between generation,” in-between cell phone apps and road maps. I know about navigational apps but it doesn’t immediately occur to me to use them. By habit, I reach for the map or watch for a road sign. I suggested earlier to the two male navigators that we read the road signs, but their eyes were fixed on their cell phones. At this particular junction, however, there was no sign.
 I’m also willing to stop and ask, although often the local people haven’t any idea either. You can tell immediately from their hesitations and puzzled looks. Maybe they prefer back roads instead of the highway. Or they provide convoluted directions. “Go two blocks past the Montserrat market; turn right at the Shell station. Past the station, you’ll see a green fruit roadside stand at the curve in the road. Go up until you reach Caupolicán Street. Turn (gesturing left) and continue on ‘til you reach the overpass. Go under the overpass. There you’ll see the highway.”
“Geographical landmarks almost never fail,” I informed my two navigators, as we now headed east. “See,” I said. “There’s the cordillera that I pointed out earlier (barely holding back ‘I told you so’).” 
We all know that the highway parallels the towering Andes. You can’t stay lost for long in Chile, unless it’s a cloudy day.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

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 ugly tumor-like protrusions and mixing a spray solution to be used weekly. The Internet expert warns that I may never totally eliminate the mites as they are spread by hummingbirds and bees. Imagine a garden without those visitors.
My persevering care last year paid off with Speedy Gonzalez, our sick tortoise. Syringe feeding for months, taking blood tests and x-rays were onerous and time consuming with no guarantee of success. I’m pleased to report that he’s back to his old tortoise self this season, pacing the back yard with occasional sneaks into the house, munching grass greedily and gorging on fallen apricots.
Our hopes and endeavors may or may not bear fruit. That’s the challenge that enriches us – not knowing the outcome. Persistence in the face of uncertainty.
Russian writer Anna Akhmatova regarded living as a “habit.” This idea had me thinking– for about 60 seconds.  Yes, habit does occupy a certain part of my days. But what about the conscious decisions I make throughout the day? Decisions that require effort like treating an ailing tortoise or planning a birthday getaway for my husband.  If life consisted only of habit, how boring our days would be. What of our efforts? Achievements? Failures? Why get up in the morning if no elements of serendipity or surprise are possible or even probable?

A brief event today reminded me to always expect the unexpected, for a state of constant expectation is the antithesis of habit. I went to my Pilates class, my usual morning routine three days a week. Afterwards, the supermarket was on my schedule. But Yolanda, a Pilates colleague and neighbor, invited me to her house where she massaged my arthritic wrists and thumbs with her miraculous oils. Bliss! She covered my wrists with her hands, transmitting her warmth, and then followed up with a soothing massage. I told her how wonderful it was to feel her loving care. She sent me home with a bottle of cannabis oil – on loan. Maybe I’ll recover my lost green thumb.

Friday, January 1, 2016


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 therapy. Sunday all the family would be celebrating her 87th birthday. They’d even hired a mariachi band. “This may be her last birthday,” he said.
Since my return, I’ve learned more about the man who is my godson. He is not proficient at the computer. Though his handwritten letters were always neat and grammatically correct, his typed emails are short and garbled, yet reflecting an openly affectionate person.  I realize that he is a dedicated family man who works long hours and has little time to write or learn computer skills. I’ve had to modify my expectations for frequent, newsy communication.
I want to ease his load. I wrote to say I’d help with the education of the two boys. Kevin graduates from high school and must decide on a future course of study, which will involve major expenses.

My whirlwind visit to Barrio Las Americas left me dissatisfied. Barrio faces and scenes hold me in their grasp. I want to stay involved with that community. I have Agripina and Eugenia in mind and am exploring the possibility of a micro-loan project founded by returned Peace Corps volunteers to support small barrio business endeavors.

How can I not help?                                                                                                                                                                                               Santiago, December, 2015