Today we went up into the hills. It was about an hour drive but felt a bit longer being crammed in the back of a car with three large men. I can’t decide what was worse, that or the even longer trek back on the bus during rush hour. Sandwiched between these two not so beautiful rides was a walk around a beautiful community up in the hills. The majority of the poor in Santiago live on the outskirts of the city because that is where they were able to settle making for some pretty amazing views, but lots of stairs to climb.
The area that we visited today consisted of several communities that TECHO works with. My partner and I met with another woman from the US, Sarah, who is writing her thesis for her masters in urban planning and is intending to use this community as her case study. We spoke with several families asking if they would be willing to help Sarah out by answering a few questions about things like accessibility to public necessitates such as schools, hospitals and the police. Each woman we spoke to was more than happy to help her. They offered to meet with her whenever they could and some even offered tea and cookies. It always warms my heart that these complete strangers are so kind, offering anything they have. I’ve noticed that here in Chile, every person I meet is incredibly hospitable, offering a place to stay, food to eat, something to drink, anything to make you feel comfortable and at home. It is a quality that I envy and hope to take back with me to the states. I’m used to an environment where things are “mine” or “yours” and sharing is only something you do with family and very close friends. I have been asked several times this week if I like Chile, following my short answer, “yes” always come the question of: Why? What do you like about it? My immediate response is: The people. I’ve never felt so completely welcomed, appreciated and taken care of by people who don’t even know me. I think we are missing that culture and approach to life in the US. For example, when I arrive to the central office every day it is essential that I greet everyone on my team with a kiss on the cheek. Alternatively, if I was working at an office in the states the first thing I would do is walk straight to my cubicle, sit down and get down to business answering emails. The extra five minutes it takes to say hello, how are you doing to the people you work with opens up a space and time for friendliness and compassion. I’m not saying that this doesn’t exist in the US; I just think there is something to learn from the values of community togetherness that I see here in Chile and especially in the camps that TECHO works with.