I grew up in Queens New York, so for a long time I considered myself an expert on Latin American culture. My best friend is from Colombia, and I was addicted to “Mama’s Empanadas.” What else did I really need?
SANTIAGO — Expecting the adjustment to be much easier than the other girls from my program, when I arrived in Chile I found that this place was nothing like Jackson Heights. I wished I had my tiny Yorkie, so I could look down and talk to her as if she was Toto from the Wizard of Oz.
I would say, “Cleo, we are not in New York City anymore.”
In my third week I am finding that, just because things are not the same, does not mean that things are not good. And with that realization I am trying to soak up as much as Santiago as I possibly can.
Although I have intentions to see as much of Chile as possible, every museum I go to seems to be closed when I arrive, and I seem to wake up too late for every possible hike. Against the odds I somehow managed to make it to Cementerio General.
There I was on a Sunday afternoon, roaming through the tombstones. It wasn’t sad. It was comforting. Although the graves looked old, they were decorated with fresh flowers and new art. No one was mourning their loved ones. They were celebrating life.
I could not help but think of my host mom when I was there, who lost her husband in a plane crash. When she told me the story I hugged her in sympathy, but she smiled and replied, “That’s life.”
My host mom still wears her husband’s pyjamas to bed, and even my room is full of his pictures. I am sad for her, although she is not sad for herself. She celebrates the love she has for the one she lost, like the visitors of Cementerio General.
I lost my grandpa the week I left for Chile. I try not to think about it usually, because I don’t want to feel sad. However, I am realizing his 90 years just may be a nice thought on a sunny afternoon.