Sorry Mom, no Seatbelts

Today I rode in the back of the TECHOmobile. I remember the first day of my trip I was picked up by my cousin, her boyfriend and his sister to go to a mall. I got into the back seat of the little stick shift car and instinctively reached for the seatbelt to ensure my safety for the drive. I was immediately laughed at and not understanding Spanish as well as I do now, I asked my cousin what was so funny. She informed me that people don’t wear seatbelts when they sit in the backseat of a car. Now, even though I may be laughed at sometimes, I typically try to wear my seatbelt regardless of where I’m sitting in the car but the TECHOmobile took this cultural custom literally and didn’t even have seatbelts in the backseat. My partner Felipe, the architect on the project, Negro and I drove far west this afternoon to a town called Curacavi that sits outside Santiago among the hills of the coastal mountain range.

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On our long drive we passed a city called Renca, where my partner informed me was a place that Michelle Obama gave a speech at the Condor Summit Bicentennial School exclaiming, “Renca rocks!”

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Part of her speech was to tell a story of her upbringing in order to make a comparison to their experience in Renca: “And more than anything, that was my parent’s greatest gift to us. They taught us that if we dreamed big enough, and if we worked hard enough, anything was possible. And in my country, we call that the American Dream. And I think that’s also true right here in Chile. It’s the belief that whether you live in a little apartment in Chicago, or right here in Renca, none of us has to be limited by our circumstances.”

It’s a nice thought. But something about the last month of my work has shown me that this idea might not always be the case. I like to believe it to be true and I hope that everyone one day has the ability not to be limited by their circumstances, but when the circumstances are at there bare minimum and no one is willing to help change these circumstances, they are inevitably extremely limiting. Unfortunately at this point in the world today, I think some people are forced to remain limited by their circumstances.

When we entered the city of Curacavi, we pulled into a little alley where hidden behind a small market there was another store with a sign outside that read “dulces.” The good thing about accompanying people who visit  about once a week is you find all the secret places to buy the best things in town. I learned that Curacavi is known for its dulces, ‘sweets’ and its Chicha, a Chilean drink that is typically drank on Chilean’s independence day in September (I learned this coincidentally on America’s independence day, Happy 4th!).  We stopped at this little store to buy alfajores, a typical treat in Chile which are two cookies filled with a manjar center, to bring to our meeting and my partners were right, these were the best alfajores I had tried yet, leaving a powdered sugar residue all over the table and our faces.

We met with a few of the town leaders in the house of the president and discussed what some of the families were missing in terms of documentation and what the exact floor plans looked like for the expected housing that they would receive. These types of meeting are held once a week in each campamento with the leaders of the community. I had never been to this community before but when we arrived around 6pm unfortunately it was too dark to take any pictures. I’ve run into that problem many times this trip with poor weather conditions and late night meetings leaving me at times very disappointed, but at the same time it sometimes feels like a blessing in disguise. When it is too dark to take pictures I am not tempted to disturb the peace and the experience I have of the communities I visit by focusing on trying to capture a perfect photo that represents poverty. In the few opportunities I’ve had to take pictures I am often haunted by this thought. When I decide to take a picture of somebody’s house or even more so, when I am taking a picture of the people who live in the communities I visit, I can’t help but think of the unintentional consequences of attempting to visually capture their lives and it feels rather unsettling.

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