Emblem tranpoзиция by Lillian Julber

Have you ever visited Chile? If you love landscapes, you should! Nowhere else in the world can so many different terrains y climas be found in one country: ice y snow alongside rainy green countryside down south – arid dry deserts up north – not to mention the mountain ranges, which boast some of the highest peaks to be found – sightseeing in this narrow, long strip of a country is espléndido!  

I lived there for seven años and still visit it for about fifteen days once a año. But this is not a travel guide, or the diario of a journey; what I want to make you feel is something every chileno feels from el momento they start attending la escuela, and sometimes even earlier. And I do not mean either love for their country – or for their flag – or their national anthem; not even love for “la Rojita,“ their All-Chilean soccer team, which is a passion for most men y women. I mean something else: unstable earth.

If you are a foreigner, you will acquire this feeling very quickly, maybe even more quickly than los locales, because it is new to you. You are unfamiliar with living in a place with the highest seismic activity on the whole planet Earth.

My first experiencia with this took place on a Sunday in April, at 6:00 a.m., in 2007. I had arrived in Santiago de Chile on March 27, summoned by a language school, in order to teach English to different company managers and supervise the younger EFL teachers who came from English speaking countries. I was staying at a hotel/ hostal next door to the embajada argentina and faced riots two days later, when los chilenos protested the killing of a couple of students during the dictadura militar. There was tear gas on the streets y the subway stations; two “penguins,“ high school students with uniforms, gave me a slice of limón to bite, so I could stop tearing up.

After a couple of weeks, I rented a small furnished apartamento in a nice woman‘s back yard, in a neighborhood elegante y tranquilo, had started regular every-day work, and was enjoying one of my first relaxing weekends, since I had spent the previous ones looking for an apartamento to rent.

It was 6:00 a.m. – I was asleep – and suddenly my bed was practically hopping on the floor, but at that moment I did not actually realize what it was, rolled over on my mattress and went back to sleep.  When I finally got up, at about 9:00 a.m., it dawned on me that I had experienced the first little earthquake of my vida.

While I was having breakfast, I turned on the news and learned that el epicentro of the whole thing had been down south, that it had been announced by many very light tremors for a whole fortnight, and that a journalist who had been crossing by boat to an isolated island – together with a rescue crew planning to evacuate las personas living there – and his daughter, whom he had invited on the interesting journey, had been thrown from the boat’s deck. He had been rescued, but his daughter could never be found.

When I went out for a walk, I was reassured that it had not troubled me too much, and all the ancient trees along the streets seemed to continue standing as they had stood for half a century, going through quite a few weak y strong earthquakes; and as there were not many aftershocks in the days that followed, I simply forgot about the whole thing.

A few años went by, I had already moved to an unfurnished ground-floor apartamento in a neighborhood más elegante, and had searched for second-hand furniture y antigüedades in order to decorate it, when – in the evening between Friday, February 26 and Saturday, February 27, 2010 – when I had just finished watching a film on my computador – had turned off the TV where a syrupy romantic singer was doing his thing on the stage of the Festival de Viña del Mar – was about to turn off my laptop at around 2:30 a.m. – the electricity suddenly went off and the glass on my floor-to-ceiling windows started to shake.

I thought, “Well, an earthquake,“ and then all hell broke loose, the floor bent more than 45º, and the whole building started to move y shriek, while there was a deep snorting sound which came from the ground; I said aloud to myself “It has been a good 66 years, Lillian,“ curled up on my rug, to use what they call the  “triángulo de seguridad“ – an area protected by two big pieces of furniture, so that if a beam or something as heavy as that falls, you can be protected and wait for the whole thing to finish.

It lasted more than three minutos, which at that momento seemed like three hours. The janitor nocturno was already banging on my door for me to leave – doors sometimes get stuck during earthquakes, something I did not know at the time – but just looking at the 30 feet between where I was and the door made me afraid.

Then, it stopped; I grabbed all my documentos y my cellphone and went out, and I found everyone who lived in the building already gathered in el vestíbulo or the garden, wearing all kinds of attire such as pijamas, shorts, etc. – most of them had been fast asleep – and it was then that I realized I was just wearing my nightgown.  

There was, however, una señora who was fully dressed, even had a warm raincoat on, and was carrying a duffle bag; when I asked her how she had found the time to get dressed and gather everything, she told me that ever since the 1985 earthquake, she had slept with this raincoat hung on a hook next to her apartment’s front door and the bag packed with all her medicamentos y necesidades básicas. Since 1985! This was 2010!

The 2010 earthquake was the second strongest in history, 8.8 en la escala de Richter, only behind the 9.5 one in 1960, also in Chile. Los teléfonos celulares did not work, electricity, water y gas had to be disconnected just in case, even though the blackout lasted for several days; the airport did not operate and when it did start up again, the waiting room was a tent for several months. Many people died in both of these earthquakes and also in the 1985 one, but I survived unscathed, although my apartamento required lots of repairs.

Nevertheless, for more than two weeks I slept fully dressed, warned the janitor that I was not going to lock my door, and placed a water bottle between my front door and the frame so that the door stayed ajar.

There were hundreds of aftershocks following it, light y strong, for months, and you never knew whether there would be another one as strong as the first.

And this is the way los chilenos live, never knowing whether there will be an earthquake, or if they live near the ocean, whether there will be an earthquake not only en Chile, but somewhere in the Pacific, something that may cause a Tsunami and kill thousands of people. Designated evacuation areas are everywhere – in buildings, factories, streets – and drills are performed all the time. This is life en Chile.

What will tomorrow bring? A chileno never knows.