Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Chilean family in Portland

Walking to the river today, I saw a man, a few years younger than me, shepherding two kids, a boy of about ten and a slightly younger girl, along MLK Boulevard.  The three were smartly but casually dressed, with backpacks strapped on their backs.  The man was keeping an eye on the kids as they crossed the busy boulevard, and at the same time glancing around, as if he were lost.

As I walked past them, he spoke to me.  "Excuse me, sir?  OMSI?"

The way he pronounced OMSI, ohm-see, clued me in.  These were Spanish-speakers from another country.  So, I answered:

"Sí.  Al rincon y a la izquierda.  ¿Donde vienen?"

The boy stepped forward, surprised and delighted.  "¡Usted habla español!"

It turns out that the family is from Chile.  The man is studying at OHSU and he brought his family with him.  They'll be staying here for a year.  The man speaks some English, but the kids speak none.

Chilean girl in Santiago
My heart went out to the kids.  Leaving home to live in a faraway country where relatively few speak your language would be difficult.  Especially for kids that age.  I imagined they'd be lonely and scared.  I asked them "¿Les gusta el país?"

"" the boy answered, brightly.

I told them that I'd been to Chile back in 2004 and that I'd flown into Santiago and traveled south as far as Castro.  They seemed very happy to be speaking with someone about their home in their own language.

Jose Estay and his family
Our paths parted.  They stepped away with renewed vigor now that they were sure of their way, and I fell to reminiscing about my trip to Chile -- the only trip I've made south of the Equator.  (So far, anyway.)

The people of Chile were kind and warm.

My host in Santiago, Jose Estay, was a fount of information.  He spoke perfect English and we had rewarding conversations about Pinochet and Chile's future.  Jose gave me invaluable tips about places to visit in Chile, and he helped me arrange my travel southward.

There was also the gentle doña in Valdivia who took me into her home for 3 days.  She spoke no English, and I'd learned by that time, that my Mexican-Spanish ear wasn't going to serve me well in Chile. but we still managed to communicate enough for me to learn the story of her son who was off at University and how proud she was of him.

It was a lonely time in life for me, when I made that trip.  But it was made less so by the people I met in that faraway land.

Fishmonger in Valdivia
As I continued to the river, I was warmed with a happy sense of having welcomed a family of Chilenos to my home city.  I was able to return a small part of the kindness that had been extended to me eight years ago.

One of life's little victories.  Paying into that karma account.  Gotta love it.

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