18 July 2011

Chile's Version of Cardiac Massage

"¿De que te cansas, Coleen? ¿Que puedes tener que te cansa?"  

Why am I so tired, Chilean host mother? Oh, I don't know...maybe it is that I worked a forty-hour week trying to control thirty high schoolers who don't speak English (and protect and support a pregnant fifteen year old) while speaking in my fourth language, after teaching my ass off in a high-risk public school for the last five months? Oh yes, and the fact that I went to sleep at 6:30 this morning and only slept until you woke me up by beating on my door at 10, admonishing me for missing breakfast. 

Luckily, I only have to put up with this for one more week. Otherwise I might just pour my very proper tea out onto this table and tell you where you can put your bowl of Manjar.

Chile and I have had a hell of a ride. Now that I am in the transition stage from Tía Coleen to Kick-Ass-Traveling-4000-Miles-Overland-Coleen and as my my final obligations to the EOD program are wrapping up, I find myself spending a great portion of my time thinking about what has changed about me since I moved to this continent. 

It's strange, because in some ways I don't feel changed. In my most self-pitying moments, I tell myself that it was all for nought and that it changed neither me nor my students nor the world that I came here. Obviously, this is a product of the lethal combination of a little too much time spent on the uncomfortable plywood floor of my room alone and a chronic lack of sunlight. When I step back a bit and actually name the changes, it becomes clear that my self-pity has no relationship with reality. 

I have an image in my head of Chile (who I somehow picture as a big-boned Salweskar woman) reaching into my chest up to her wrists and opening my ribcage, to massage and form and enliven my heart. Like cardiac massage that surgeons perform, but with blood everywhere in big arterial spurts. To any observer including me it appears that she has been trying to kill me, with stress and frustration and futility and ankle-biting poodles. 

But she was actually trying to save me. 

Chile woke me up and made me realize that I have a lot of work to do on myself before my life can have stability and I can truly be happy. She laid my own issues and those of the world bare, forcing me to deal with pain, sadness, lonliness, anger, and my own personal tormentors from the past. She forced me to give up a lot about my own way of viewing the world and to try to get by on fumes (and a ton of white bread) even when I was exhausted. She made me feel so tiny and powerless in thhe face of mountains and the problems of her society, but yet huge and powerful as the most noticeable gringa this side of Puerto Montt and able to do something to help those students. 

I think the change snuck up on me, and that it happened so quickly that I didn't even realize it. Somewhere between the crazy 16-hour flight to Santiago and the trip to the post office this morning, a new Coleen took the place of the old one. 

I even look different. 


  1. we can see it in the writing; a fascinating thing to look back over the last 5 months of blogs and see the change in tone, content, and voice. It's a beautiful transformation, like a cocoon opening to reveal the beautiful butterfly within. See you soon, butterfly!!

  2. Ha! the challenge word for posting that last comment was "mental!" Love it!!

  3. I keep trying to write a comment, hopefully this time it will work. I can't wait to sit on the porch out back and hear your stories and laugh with you. Love you so.