Thursday, March 20, 2014

Choque Cultural

 Here I am. A coffee shop in beautiful Santa Barbara. Beautiful people move around me, typing on their computers, flipping through newspapers, and chatting with friends. Conversations are happening, but this time, I understand them. All of them. People talking about work, and what Sarah did last weekend, and how cold the water has been lately. While I found myself longing for familiarity and understanding in Chile, I find myself wishing I couldn't decode the language around me now. I realize that through the language gap, my imagination was activated to fill in the missing pieces, and I always made up stories for what I couldn't truly understand. People were talking about things of much more importance in Chile; always foreign and exciting. Yet here, I realize that maybe conversations are nothing more than building connections with people, and the substance is not necessarily as important as the who, what and when the conversation occurs.

I miss the language that I could not fully tap into. I hated the limitation bound to my conversations, but as I fill silence now with jokes and fleeting observations, I appreciate the selective necessity of spanish conversations. I could only say what was important at the time, and laughter relied on the willingness of strangers to give me the benefit of the doubt that what I said or heard was funny.

Of course, being home is wonderful, familiar and comfortable. Santa Barbara has blessed me with warm weather and a family to come home to. I am grateful to be here. As I walk through this way of life which I have always known, I am hit again and again with the ways in which it differs from the life I just lived. I have food in my refrigerator, and spices in the cabinet. The people acknowledge me as an equal, not higher or lower. English is the main language in stores and on street signs. If you catch someone's eye, a "hello" is exchanged, no longer "hola."

I made that mistake yesterday. The person on the receiving end of "Hola" was a middle-class white man, and was caught off guard by the simple word that had been so normal for me two days prior. I am still adjusting. I didn't realize how easily and thoroughly we can adapt to new environments. The Chucao's song (above) was a daily occurence in the Patagonian region, while new and exciting finds such as this beautiful Flying Deer Beetle were abundant in our new environment for learning. I was taught to remain curious. I had to be curious in a foreign environment. But the act of curiosity seems to often be lost in our daily lives here. Why not walk through the world open to finding hidden treasures in the patterns of clouds, crawling on tree trunks, or in the ways that we walk? I learned to be constantly aware of my environment, and myself in my environment. The focus of the class was on the natural world and I made a point of extending it to the people as well.

Playing soccer with the farmers was one of my favorite memories. Among the fjords, people could play, with no need of communication other than "Abierto," "Barra," and "gol!!" This reminded me of the power of physical presence. The world of words can be a cumbersome and tiring endeavor, while all humans intrinsically know how to play. Running at full speed down a grassy lawn, defending goals and being a live obstacle ignited adrenaline and laughter. The people enjoyed our company, even though our soccer skills weren't quite up to par.
I found it easier to interact with strangers there than strangers here. There seemed to be a willingness to mingle with the unknown on both parties. We are collectors of things, feelings, ideas that come from the world around us, and perhaps are more willing to incorporate the experiences that will expand us and challenge us. However, I hope to maintain a way of life that allows me to continually introduce myself and interact with new people wherever I am. Everyone has a story and a way of life to share, and I am always honored to be a brief character within it.
Beauty reveals itself sometimes discreetly and sometimes obviously like in the tobagones to the left. The colors of the water pierce hearts colder than the temperature of the water. Something I thought about often was how we know how we affect other humans by the ways in which they can express it so we can understand, yet nature can't express her needs. She is forced to silently accept the changes and stresses that we impose on her. Perhaps she is speaking a language that has been forgotten. I hope to learn her language so that I can communicate to her with action that helps her continue to sustain me and those I love.
Something our class did to try to help was to remove Gorse, a horribly invasive species. The most efficient and least painful way to do this was to tie chains around the trunk and haul them out with a tractor. It was vigorous work, and left us tired by the ends of the days. It was also rewarding, but only for as long as we were in Parque Pumalin. As we drove away, we passed hills cloaked in Gorse fields, and my stomach dropped at the impossibility of removing all of the plants. The more we move around the globe, the more things we change. Some are more problematic than others, yet everything has an impact. Now, the question for me, is how to make the least lasting negative impact. sigh... environmental studies...

But then, there were moments like this. My tired eyes clogged with sleep would roll out of bed, unzip the zipper, and catch the sun creating paintings that would be gone as quickly as they were created never to be seen again. Life seems to be made of moments like these. Beautiful happenings that only occur once in a lifetime. There is an art to letting in and go of these moments gracefully, accepting them as they are, cherishing the sights, smells and sounds, and storing the memories delicately alongside the others in our beings. Many of these spoken of moments play over and over in my mind, triggered by the senses, leaving remnant feelings in my physical body that remind me of where I have been and what I have done. While part of me longs to recreate them, another part smiles knowing they will never be recreated, and that is the magic. Our life is made of moments, and while a camera helps to save them, the memories are always the most potent.

I allowed myself to be absorbed by this environment. I adapted to its natural rhythms, and learned the names of the trees and flowers. Above is the Canelo Tree, or Drimys winterii, with miraculously vibrant green leaves with white undersides. This is the first tree I learned, and I found comfort in knowing why it was there, what it needed, and the services it provided for us. It became a friend, who I was excited to see sometimes short, sometimes tall, always fully present. This intimate relationship is what I love about nature. It is there, always exactly as it is, waiting for us to listen in a new way.

Now, as I wrap up my final post about Chile, I want to thank you for spending time to learn about my experience. Sharing experiences is a way to validate ourselves in this world full of them. I am honored to have met all of the people and places that I did along my journey, and I wish the best for them on the rest of theirs. As for you, please feel free to send me questions or comments or invitations to drink coffee and talk in person. I would love to hear the stories you have to tell, I hope you enjoyed mine.

Con mucho amor,

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