Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sunday in the ´hood (part 2)

Previously, on Leigh´s blog...

Buoyed by neighborhood pride and surrounded by all things edible, I invited a friend over for dinner.

I hadn´t seen this particular friend in a while, so I kind of went all out. I spent the afternoon chopping, frying, boiling and seasoning. I set up my stereo speakers in the dining room and rolled my gas heater in to warm the area up. I cleaned.

My friend was scheduled to arrive between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m. At some point during this interval, I dropped my cell phone in the toilet for the second time in as many months. Seconds later, there was a knock at my front door. As I scuttled toward the foyer with my keys, the pounding grew more insistent.

While I turned the key in the lock, I arrived at the conclusion that my friend, who always calls instead of knocking, must have called me while my cell phone was on its diving adventure.

Leigh: Hi, sorry. Did you call? I dropped my phone in the toilet.

Leigh´s friend: No. I couldn´t call because someone just stole my cell phone.

Great, yet another person taking a swipe at my neighborhood.

Leigh: Quit messing around.

Leigh´s friend: I´m not. A group of like 15 kids just pulled a knife on me and stole all my stuff.

I didn´t believe him until he opened his backpack, which was completely empty except for the carton of peach juice he had brought for dinner. All that was left in his pockets were his keys.

I was floored. My friend had been robbed by an adolescent mob just steps from my house before 8:00 p.m. While walking, just as I had instructed him, along the most well-lit streets in the area. Could it be that all those people who had spoken negatively about my neighborhood had been right?

I´m still not convinced. Of course, no neighborhood is perfect, and mine suffers from certain difficulties that aren´t as present in wealthier areas. But people get robbed all over this city, even in its most exclusive corners. The difference is that when it happens there, people assume it´s because thieves from other areas have astutely zeroed in on the places where the most profit is to be made. When it happens here, though, it´s because the neighborhood is bad. Period. Regardless of how kind its residents are or how awesome its street market is. I prefer to focus on the latter characteristics.

Still, the fact remains that this group of kids chose to carry out their activities in my neighborhood (we came to the conclusion that they may very well not be from around here, since if you rob one of your neighbors, you run the risk of him/her and his/her entire family knowing where to track you down**). And they chose to target my friend. It sickened me to envision someone pulling a knife on him and enraged me to think about how much time he´s going to have to spend standing in line to get new ID cards and a new student transportation pass. It also enfuriated me to think that the same guys who robbed him probably intended to do the same to my neighbors, who, in general, are people who work their asses off for what little they have.

So it was that I made my second call to the Chilean police. Unlike the first, this was not a 133 (911) call, but rather a ring to the nearest police station. Like the first call, however, this one led to consequences that deserve their own blog post. So stay tuned...

**Case in point: A coworker once was held up at gunpoint by a group of would-be thieves who apologized profusely and ran away when she told them she lived in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sunday in the ´hood (part 1)

A lot of people raise their eyebrows when I tell them where I live. Not because Santiago doesn´t boast a slew of areas with sketchier reputations; it does. Some of the people taken aback by my address even come from them. I think their reaction is simply due to the fact that people don´t expect gringas/os to live in working class neighborhoods like mine, regardless if that´s where our levels of income place us.

Whenever I´m confronted with a cocked eyebrow, I jump to my barrio´s defense by telling the truth: Aside from catcalls, I´ve never been the target of any kind of aggression there. What´s more, there are people who have gone out of their way to be kind to me. If there´s time, I tack on a bit about the neighborhood´s underappreciated historical value.

Not to worry. This isn´t the part where I pontificate about how much more "authentic" my Chilean experience is than that of foreigners who choose to live in wealthier areas. Providencia and Las Condes are in Chile too, after all. However, I do believe that living where I do has brought me in touch, at least in part, with a reality that is both literally and figuratively miles away from the more exclusive corners of this city. Part of this reality: bitchin´ street markets.

Sunday afternoon, I staggered through the door of my house weighed down by bags whose contents included lentils, nail polish, tomatoes, garlic, a purple dish towel and a pot of honey. I had been eyeing some potted plants as well, but bringing them home to join the growing family on my patio would have involved sprouting a few extra arms. One possible solution would have been to purchase the barbecue grill someone had been selling on the curb, stuff everything inside and roll it all home, but I hadn´t been thinking very creatively at the time. Plus, I´m pretty sure we already have a grill.

While strolling between the dozens of stalls while dodging (and envying) gaggles of cotton candy-brandishing children, I felt a surge of neighborhood pride. It seemed as if the whole barrio had turned out to make the week´s purchases, joke with the vendors or just enjoy a Sunday stroll. Say what you will about my neighborhood; you can´t find festive street markets like this everywhere, especially not in areas where people generally have enough money to pay exhorbitant supermarket produce prices.

I was so delighted by the wealth of edible objects that surrounded me that I decided to invite a friend over for dinner. And this, dear reader, is where things get interesting. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Mea culpa

Aparte de saludarl@s, I'm writing to apologize for the following:

1) Having written little of substance these past few weeks. And for having been terribly remiss when it comes to commenting on your blogs and responding to the comments you leave me. I'm sorry. I fully intend to right my ways. In my defense, all I can say is that working full time (and believe me, Chilean full time is longer than U.S. full time) while writing two term papers has left me with very little time for much else. After I turn the last of them in next week, though, I'll be free to finish up the numerous half-written entries I have queued up.

2) Enabling comment moderation. This is not my way of silencing everyone who disagrees with me. I did it to have more control over how much personal information about me appears on the internet. As some of you know, my desire to do so stems half from an actual creepy experience and half from good old-fashioned paranoia. So, don't worry: As long as you keep it respectful and don't mention my home address or place of employment, I won't censor you.