SWF, English/Spanish bilingual seeking friends for laughter, serious talks, impromptu trips to the coast, the central valley and silly-item shopping (getting lost optional), academic pursuits, patience, rollerblading, bicycling and long walks a plus. I particularly enjoy long conversations about expat life, language, families, photography and the occasional dishing on acquaintances not present. Overnights optional.
It’s that time again, folks. The great gringa diaspora continues.
I have faced this difficult transition several times already, and plainly put, it’s what happens when you have expat friends, and when you let your guard down and generar lazos (make connections with) people even though even the worst of crystal ball readers would know that it is most likely that they will one day leave.
When I tell my Chilean friends that I can’t do something “por que tengo una despedida” (because I’ve got a farewell party) they say “de soltera?” (farewell to singledom-is your friend getting married?). And I say no, “del país” (from the country). And they say, “pero vuelve, cierto“? (But they’ll be back, right?)
This idea that the main thing you say goodbye to is your bachelor days and that if you leave, you’re sure to come back are pretty telling. People in Chile love it when folks get hitched, and also really enjoy the party that goes with it. It’s also because the great proportion of Chileans that leave on their own free will have plans to one day come back.
When I had my first stint of physical therapy here in Chile after the great shoulder range of motion reduction accident of 2004, I got to talking to Marcela, my physical therapist. With my fairly limited Spanish, we’d trade anecdotes, and I learned from her, as she had a new baby, both the words for crawl and babble (gatear and balbucear, respectively). And she learned from me that I had moved to Chile and had no family here. And instead of writing it down in a small lined notebook, as I did with my new information, she looked at me, shook her head from side to side so as to make it not so, and said, “me muero, te juro que me muero” (I would die, I swear I would die).
I think this is how alot of people feel about Chile. This is where you belong. It’s where the food tastes homey and everything feels compact and correct. You don’t have your heart spread over a continent, or between continents. For the most part, your family is public transportation or car or bike or walk accessible. The butter melts on the fresh-from-the-oven marraqueta, and your mother makes the best pebre, and if you stir the nescafe and the sugar together with a small amount of water in the bottom of the cup in just the right, scrapey way before adding the rest of the water, the coffee comes out better.
People come back to Chile, they say. And many times, they do. At a friend’s recent despedida at my house, another friend of hers who is here studying, said that she’d go back to the states, to finish up her degree and then… And then I said, if you follow the pattern of many a gringo, you’ll come back here to live for a while. And we all laughed.
For a while. In general, the gringos come for a while. And this coming weekend, two of “my” gringas are leaving. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel pretty sad about it. A Chilena friend of mine said to me, “but you’ll see them again, you travel” (and one of them is moving close to my mother’s new house). And I said, I’m sure I’ll see them again, but to me, they belong here.
Except they don’t. They belong in Arizona and North Carolina, absorbing information, writing papers, studying and hanging out in their first language, relearning a culture that may have changed in the past oh, four or eight years since they last lived there. They will go to family weddings and hold nieces and pet old dogs and do a million things that it’s just time for them to do.
I started off this post with a jokey classified ad saying I was looking for new friends. But that’s only partially true. I have a great bunch of people here, Chilean and not, who will get lost with me and rollerblade and bike with me, and go great distances to see things that ultimately aren’t even really that interesting, and listen to my fallas gramaticales (grammar mistakes) and only correct me sometimes. And I hope they’ll understand that it’s not that I love them any less, but that I’m really going to miss these two friends, who I’ve seen through, and have seen me through (even unknowingly) some pretty important stuff.
Bon Voyage, chicas. Que les vaya bien. Y que vuelvan, aunque sea para puro visitar. Lo mas probable es que esté acá (Hope everything turns out great. Please come back, even just for a visit. I’ll probably still be here).