Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bring a Good Book!

Say what you will about the United States, but I can tell you this: what happened to me yesterday in Chile would never, ever, in a million years, have been tolerated in any American business worth the salt in the ground upon which they build on.

The more ironic thing was, it didn’t really piss me off. I could have gotten up and walked off at any point, called it a day, but in the name of research, i.e. this blog, I stayed, and stayed, until another roadblock came up.

I carry a book with me wherever I go in this country. Whether it is going out to meet a friend for a cup of coffee or going to an important business meeting, I can’t remember a time the words “let’s meet” from a Chilean hasn’t sent me running for my book. For you see, the power of the book is such that any tardiness becomes tolerable, to the point that sometimes when the person I am waiting for shows up, I get irritated. Five more minutes, I think to myself, you’re already 20 minutes late, and what would another 5 have hurt you so I could finish this chapter!

The really funny thing is that this organization has the professional appearance of an American non profit. Tidy offices and people scurrying in a hurry to do this project or that. Meetings have, been amusing. It usually results with me traveling an hour each way to have a 20 minute discussion, or the classic and most common occurrence, we have meetings to set up meetings. But this was the grand meeting I was assured, this is where we would be hitting the road, surveying these communities of squatters, void of electricity and running water. This was the hidden poverty that had eluded me for so long, that I was starting to doubt existed in Chile.

And for a while, I started to believe them. They even rearranged the meeting, moving it up from 10 AM to 9:30 AM, gently urging me that by 10 AM it would be too late to do all we needed to do, casi imposible (almost impossible).

Still, knowing Chileans, I showed up a casual 10 minutes late, and walking through the door at 9:40 AM, I wanted to pat myself on the back for learning to be tardy. This is Chilean culture streaming through my veins damn it!

At 9:40 AM, I was ushered to the waiting room and told as soon as one more member of the team got there, we would be leaving. At 10 AM, I sighed, grinned, and then opened up my book and read.

It was a damn good book, and before I knew it 10:40 AM passed into 11:40 AM. Every now and then, the director rushed into the room and told me “a little longer” or “any minute now” words I have learned are really code in the American language for “it could be hours” or “it may never happen.”

I probably should have gotten up and left, but in the name of cross cultural research that begged the question “how much longer can they possibly keep me waiting!?!” I stayed.

Unfortunately, at 12 PM, I had finished leafing through the remaining 150 pages I had in my book. I read some informational magazines around me, but quickly I was bored, and with my backup plan exhausted, my research came to an end. As I stood up to leave, the director came in and again assured me we were just waiting for one more man to get to the office. “A few minutes more” he pleaded with me. I looked at my watch; we were 30 minutes away from when the meeting was supposed to have ended that day! I laughed as politely as I could, and said I had to get moving along, I had a commitment more pressing: visiting the kids at the orphanage, and, unable to resist a subtle moment for irony, I explained, “I don’t think I have the heart to make them wait hours for me.”

Coming home from the orphanage that day, the busses took longer than usual, and the Chileans, found it difficult to form a line to wait. After four busses and the course of more than an hour had passed and time and time again middle aged businessmen and women had ruthlessly cut with pushes and shoves past this elderly man and me patiently waiting to board a bus, I reached the limit of what we might call my Chilean tolerance: I close lined a woman. Well, it’s not like I knocked her down, but as she tried to run by me, I stuck a firm arm out, catching her in the neck. I pointed to the bus as people were still getting down from it, and told her with a chilly voice to wait and get in line.

Riding home on another overcrowded bus full of pushing and shoving, I could have focused on the unnecessary hours I spent waiting, for the meeting, for the bus, but instead, my thoughts went something alone the lines of this:

1. Great book, glad I got to finish.
2. I got gifted at the Hogar, as usual, with whatever they had. Paola gave me a flower, kind of closed up, but really pretty. It bloomed into this...

May we all be so lucky in our day to day lives.

1 comment:

Castro said...

Brotherman, I'm getting ready to leave to the 2nd annual Senior Banquet which only makes me think of the first. So reflections on the past. I also just got my first facebook friend requests for my would be new housemates in Honduras. So I'm thinking of the future. And I just sat down and enjoyed a movie with Rey, Steve, and Efrem, Blades of Glory. Brotherman is Will Ferrell's favorite term for Jon Heder. I hope I'm still unjaded in my program and can afford to laugh off days like that. I love You Brotherman, keep on seeing the beauty.