My First Encounter With Chilean People

by Jack Feka

I remember that my first encounter with a Chilean was aboard a bus in Cuzco, Peru destined for La Paz, Bolivia.

He was seated across the aisle from me and we had just learned that the driver was nowhere to be found. We wound up waiting for nearly 2 hours while the transport company sought another diver, but in less than hour my new acquaintance had invited me to visit and stay at his home in Santiago.

Since I'd already visited most Latin American countries from Mexico south to Peru, I had developed an expectation that the people would be friendly, but this man's gestures far surpassed anything that I'd yet encountered.

I was further surprised by the fact that this man was in Peru looking for work because he'd been unable to find work in his profession as an engineer back in Chile and yet, in spite of his difficulty, he was inviting me to his home when he wasn't even sure that he'd be there. In fact, within the first hour he had written me a letter to give to his wife that would confirm his invitation should I arrive there and he hadn't returned.

We parted ways after our arrival in La Paz but I ran into him two or three times in the next couple of days and in spite of his unfamiliarity with the city, he offered to help me find my way around and see the sites I wanted to see because he was much more adept at the language than I was. He was just TOO FRIENDLY for me to be comfortable with. I was afraid that he was trying to set me up for some kind of scam, but I just couldn't figure out what. I also learned that the man was a Mormon which further confused me about him because, in my experience, Mormons could usually be trusted.

Finally I left La Paz without incident with his letter in a safe place thinking that I would never use it.

About a month later, after I had been in Santiago for a couple of weeks, I found myself on a Sunday afternoon with nothing to do and I came across his letter. I felt it might be interesting to at least see if I could find his house and set out in search of it. I asked a few people in the street and, after a series of bus trips and transfers found the street shown on the envelope. It was a fairly new subdivision as evidenced by the lack of landscaping and finishing details that would have been evident in a longer established neighborhood.

The house numbers were not all in place but by extrapolating from those that were, I finally found a tidy looking brick house, almost identical to the rest of the houses on the street, except for the variations in curtains in the windows and the occasional shrub or plant in the tiny front yards. This house, like all the others, was closed off by a black wrought iron fence and it seemed to show signs of someone being home. Somewhat nervous about what I might discover I approached the door and knocked, pulling out the letter to present to whoever might answer as my ability with Spanish was still pretty rudimentary.

To my surprise, my "friend" opened the door and enthusiastically asked me to come in. He had his wife prepare a snack and invited me to have tea and we talked for a couple of hours before I finally left.

Although I didn't realize it even at the time I visited his house, this man was an excellent example of the friendliness and openness which I've found very common in Chileans not only in their own country but almost wherever you meet them. I've never seen him again, don't remember his name and I've lost his address, although if by chance he does hear of this story and remembers me, I would love to hear from him.

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