At a crosswalk today in the searing heat of afternoon, I found myself standing with my hands on my hips, sunk into my hips and an expression on my face of disbelief that the light had the audacity to make me stop for a moment. The second the cars moved away from the line and passed, I darted out into the street and walked briskly to the other side, ignoring the beeping motorcycle trying to make a right over my shoulder.
As I reached the other side, I wondered what had come over me. I don't stand like that...I don't cross like that. But then, Santiago is a city that makes sure you are aware of its millions of inhabitants at all times. The collective peer pressure is immense. Even more so when one sticks out like an ostrich in a chicken coop.
So now I have a Santiago strut.
I love many things about Chile already (food, wine, art, eating schedule, and even language), but one thing that really bothers me is how much attention my blonde hair sets me up for from the men. I went out to the college district for a beer with friends last night and walking through the crowds was like running the gauntlet. 20 comments in 20 feet, mostly along the lines of "Hello, woman..." (yes, in English) and "Deliciosa." Even though I'm dressed down and a Chilen woman in a miniskirt and tube top is right next to me.
I dealt with this BS before in Italy, but the machismo in Santiago is on a whole other level. Funniest part is that in the crowds were hard core punk rockers, business men, college students, and older men who all used the same tired lines to try to catch my attention. In Italy the attention felt complimentary in some ways. This feels more predatory. As long as I'm with friends, I'm fine. And it feels safe here nonetheless.
When traveling, I often keep to myself. This trip I've been the most social ever, meeting friends in the hostel and having some truly great conversations. We are all in limbo in a way, transitory beings who come and go almost without being noticed or missed.
But then occasionally one meets a person with whom they connect on so many levels, a kindred spirit out on the road. They become a close friend within days or hours, a confidant and someone who doesn't make judgments. You both know time is limited and that this is only a meeting by chance, but for a short time it feels like you've been friends forever.
And one of you has to leave. Or both. Either way the jaunt of friendship comes to a screeching halt and you say your goodbyes. It's a big world, and you might never cross paths again. But then, the world is getting smaller all the time with Facebook and email and Skype. Like-minded people will likely remain like-minded and seek out the same type of path. That's what brought you to meet in the first place, right?
If there is one lesson that the universe has been trying to beat into my head over the last few weeks, it's that everything happens for a reason. Things that have no business happening happen all the time, things that should be statistically near-impossible. Why I meet one person and not another is always a mystery.
And occasionally a shooting star that only I get to see shows up and streaks across my life. And I get to be satisfied that there are people like me out there in the world, and that we occasionally find one another.