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Dark Days in Palena

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Yes — this week has seen some glowing teaching moments and laughter with friends — but let me tell you, on the whole it has been dark.  Let’s just say I could rename this blog: “Latitude 43: The Year I Became an LLBean Model.”  I’ve taken to blasting a cheery song on my laptop to take the sting out of the moment I get out of bed and dress, given that when you are naked and can see your breath, some distraction is warranted.  Today I didn’t take my parka off from 1:00 to 5:00 PM, as I came home to an icy house and had an unusually epic battle getting the fire going.  I could add “making fire” and “complaining about the weather” as tags, but then again, that would cover just about every post.

And then, two big things happened this week.  On Sunday my dad decided to get a small chest pain checked out after spinning class, and wound up staying in the hospital for days after blockage to an artery was discovered.  They put in a stent, and we all agree: it could be much worse, we are so lucky to have this kind of health care, job security, and so on, but still.  This is my dad, and this is his heart.  David Russell is my definition of stability.  Dad is love like a rock — it just doesn’t budge.  Or as Alice and I like to say, “Straight up love.”  So needless to say, the shock, the fear, the teary Google phone calls, and the surreal feeling of being so far away, made the beginning of this week a challenge.  It is still maddening, given his stellar health (fitness, cholesterol, blood pressure), but heart problems are all over his family, and there are some things we just don’t control.  But still.  Yet his is home now, I’ve enjoyed our post-8 PM chatty phone calls (impossible when he’s working!), and all the doctors are very optimistic, including re: the upcoming trip to Chile.

And then on Wednesday morning, as one of the middle school teachers was dropping off a test to be photocopied, she announced that her daughter had died the previous night.  She was twenty years old, studying to be a teacher, and had recently been in Palena as part of her practicum.  The girl’s younger brother is a junior here in Palena, a beloved and phenomenal student, and most dedicated participant in my English elective.  As someone said to me yesterday, “You are living a little bit of everything in Chile.”  The school is chaos, and classes were cancelled yesterday and today in the afternoon.  We made tissue paper flowers, since the ones we had ordered from Puerto Montt wouldn’t come until the plane, also carrying the corpse, arrived later in the day.  I was with the thirty or more cars lining the bridge into Palena, all gathered to greet the caravan of family that had gone to receive the body.  That night, the teachers all waited together outside the church, and we went again today, and will also go to the funeral mass tomorrow.

As always, my strategy in foreign cultural situations is to do what everyone else does.  I pitched in to buy flowers, I sat in the church for an hour and a half today, I stood when everyone else stood.  I (like many of the teachers around me) did not recite the Hail Mary, though I know it by heart in Spanish from the Catholic school I volunteered at in Mexico.  I was soothed by the voice of one of the seasoned teachers I admire leading the rosary, and moved by all the people I have come to know — students, parents, neighbors, store-owners, the post-woman — peering into the open casket and weeping.  High school students on an hourly rotation “stood guard”, standing stoically in a trio around the casket of a former classmate, and sister of their good friend.  Many also worked on decorations and flower arrangements for the church.  The thought occurred to me that these kids rose to the occasion more than I had expected — they got organized and made things happen not because of a grade or because it would make their friends laugh, but because it was the right thing to do.  It feels wrong to say, but a part of me thought, if only they could be this responsible beyond crisis situations.  But of course, I am proud of them and also strangely closer to the teachers I’ve cut ribbons and hitched rides with in the past few days.

If there was ever a moment for warm carbs, tonight was the night.  I went with one of my recent discoveries, fried rice.  I sautéed up some garlic and onions and ginger, threw in cooked brown rice, shredded carrots, tomatoes, and a dash of soy sauce.  Then here’s the discovery: you can just pour in beaten eggs, and if you’re patient enough (which you are if you’re over a wood stove in Patagonia), you stir and stir until it cooks just perfectly.  I made a lot since I’m in a phase of wanting savory things for breakfast.  The thought of oatmeal just puts me further under the covers, but I’m hoping this will help get me out of bed tomorrow.  And my beloved microwave will heat it up before my also beloved fire gets going — because that can take hours.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. jane woodman permalink
    Friday, June 17, 2011 11:42 am

    Meg your blog is beautiful, tender, funny… I’m so with you on all of it. You aren’t supposed to need a parka INDOORS in June, Daddy isn’t supposed to have a health issue and 20 year olds aren’t supposed to die. And yet…? SOmetimes the best we can do is be with all of it as gracefully and gratefully as possible, and then back in our own little worlds head to the kitchen and cook up some comfort food. Looks Great BTW!

    • Wednesday, June 22, 2011 12:50 pm

      Sally, I cooked on a gas stove at a friend’s house this weekend and it was so strange! What is this, “preheat”? My oven is always ready– or so I hope! And thank you for your email, yes, I just responded. So much going on.

      Thank you for your love as always!

  2. sally johnson permalink
    Wednesday, June 22, 2011 8:37 am

    Good morning on a grey summer morning here, one day after “offical” start to summer, as you pull on fleece and see your breath in the air as you crawl out of bed. what a strange concept! FRIED rice! so yummy and absolutely stir in those eggs. the bigger question is: will you remember how to cook on any other kind of “stove?” 🙂
    Hope you got my email about your Dad and the young woman who died. Strange co-incidence of unfair and unexpected events. Thankfully, your Dad is “all right”, but it sure was good to see him and your Mom last weekend and give them a long hug.

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