Tuesday, May 19, 2009


People aren´t afraid of me very often. I have a relatively tranquil disposition and a more-than-relatively short body. My weapons arsenal is limited to pepper spray and my vendettas to the administrators of Santiago´s Galpón Victor Jara concert hall (more on that another time).

This week, however, this harmless little gringa got scary. Not by growing several inches or spontaneously developing a penchant for violence. Apparently, all one needs to do to strike fear into the hearts of Chileans is come back from a trip to the United States.

I first knew Chile was suspicious of me when a flight attendant handed me a batch of Chilean customs and immigration forms that included, for the first time, a health questionnaire. As a "traveler arriving from an infected area," I was asked whether I'd experienced sore throat, vomiting, muscle pain or a variety of other symptoms within the past 10 days. Luckily, I was able to check an honest "none of the above" and banish fears of being dragged away by men in hazmat suits.

Upon arriving in Chile, the passengers on my flight filed one by one in front of a thermal camera. Apparently fever free, I continued to immigration, where an official in a surgical mask stamped my passport.

I remained a deadly threat after leaving the airport as well. Upon hearing that I had just returned from a visit home, people take a step back only half-jokingly.

With so many people afraid of me, I've started to become afraid of myself. I feel an inexplicable inner certainty that swine flu is not the way I go. However, that doesn't mean I can't unknowingly infect slews of people who may not be as lucky, right? I've started standing a bit further back when I talk to people and have become paranoid about what I touch. For example, after blowing my nose while teaching yesterday, I spent the rest of the class avoiding touching anything with the hand that had held the tissue.

Now that there have been a handful of swine flu cases confirmed in Chile, I'm afraid of other people too. Yesterday I wore mittens, both because it was cold in the morning and because I didn't want to touch the handrails in the Metro. When someone sneezed at the bus stop, I moved away quickly, forfeiting a coveted spot in the shade. I hold my breath whenever someone coughs or sniffles and immediately grow wary of the puffy-eyed.

Am I being ridiculous? It's been known to happen.

I've heard people theorize that swine flu is part of a worldwide conspiracy to make us afraid of one another while distracting us from real problems that no surgical mask can fend off. If this is true, then congratulations, shadow government. I raise my glass to you with a mittened hand.

(I took this photo at a Labor Day march I'll blog about at some point.)


Comella said...

Interesant blog.

Mamacita Chilena said...

I am the complete opposite of you. I'm so not scared of Swine Flu that S. thinks I'm crazy. I mean, I don't want to die, but the chances of me getting hit by a micro are much great so I'm just not worrying about it :)

Sara said...

That's great! I mean, not that you felt like a pariah, but I feel like I'm sort of missing out on the action by not traveling.

Where you in Minnesota? I've been missing it lately, expecially since it's summer there.

Maeskizzle said...

Welcome back! hehehe. funny post. Let's get together just as soon as this flu thing passes over, hehehe.

When I saw the news today, that there are 16 cases of the flu in Chile and they've closed down several schools and whatnot, I rationalized that if I did get it, I probably wouldn't die. hahahaha.

It's been a good life however. Just in case.

Shannon said...

I am extremely paranoid! Ro and I are leaving to MN in like 2 weeks and I am trying to stay healthy! I don't want to not be able to go because of something stupid!!
Did you wear a face mask when you traveled? I still can't decide if Ro and I should or not.

Leigh said...

Comella - Thanks for stopping by!

Kyle - I'm sure the micro thing is true. It would be interesting (or terrifying) to see the stats on micro-related casualties.

Sara - I was indeed in MN. It was lovely!

Heather - We could even get together before the swine flu peters out. Just show me a notarized health certificate and stand in front of my thermal camera.

Shannon - I didn't wear a mask, but I saw some people who did.

n0comment said...

really cool foto!!!!

Did you know that every year 36,000 people die from the normal flue in the US?

I am also not buying in to the hype even if it mutates to the killer virus.

Perhaps it would be a good thing to be infected now..? This could make you immune if the virus gets worse ;)