Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Daylight saving and its logic

Last weekend we were deprived of an hour's sleep thanks to the early onset of daylight saving time here in Chile. Much as I like the idea of a short winter and a long summer, even I feel as though the logic has been somewhat lacking in bringing forward a summer schedule when one is still in the thick of an albeit at times mild winter. Not only is it too early on in the season to enjoy and make the most of long light evenings, but the absurdity of getting up, having breakfast and leaving the house while darkness is still total must be obvious to the most blinkered bureaucrat. Yesterday morning DD1 was unsurprisingly reluctant to be roused at what seemed like the middle of the night (in reality 7am) while only last week she could at least behold sunrise over the Andes while struggling into her clothes. Arriving at school still in the darkness 45 minutes later, it felt as if she and I were attending some nocturnal event rather than just carrying out the mundane school run. As it happened I had volunteered to read a story to the class that morning though it was far from ideal timing from my point of view as the children were yawning as they fought off their sleep deficit. And I would like to know how much daylight saving is actually being met when lamp-posts and other street lighting were on full blast to illuminate commuters' paths and were clearly consuming megawatts of electricity. Not to mention the fact that it is also colder an hour earlier than usual at that time in the morning...
Today was a slight improvement as DH had the pleasure of the early shift. However even DD2 was difficult to wake at her usual appointed time due to the ongoing lack of light outside... It all seems so unnecessary, especially when it was actually a pleasure to wake up with natural light flooding in through one's windows. But that's life, especially in Chile.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The white stuff

Yesterday the unthinkable happened. It snowed in Santiago, something everyone had assured me would never happen. Oh no, it never snows in Santiago the locals say, somewhat proudly though at the same time sadly, as if they were missing out on some rare and pure form of magic. I for one was glad, totally relishing what until now had seemed like easily the mildest winter I have ever witnessed. Coolish mornings and evenings with often spring-like moments in between...yes, I think I can handle that kind of winter. The occasional grey day, a few showers of rain every now and then, more like autumn than full-blown winter...

Not so yesterday. First of all it was cold and raining during the nursery run, first lightly, then more heavily, so much so that even DD2 tired of carrying an umbrella from here to her nursery (20 minutes increasingly puddle-surrounded walk at her pace). On the way back I couldn't believe how the rain was pelting down ever harder. Not just cats and dogs but cats, stray dogs and more... Halfway through my Spanish lesson my teacher was so enthused (or distracted) that she couldn't help but interrupt, draw herself closer to the window and wonder at the rare sight of huge, white fluffy snowflakes falling towards the ground. I too was awestruck by the scene though perhaps less so than the locals who had suspended talk of anything else and were indeed enjoying the novelty. The news showed images of young and old scraping up meagre clumps of icy snow to throw snowballs and make rather sorrowfully thin snowmen... Meanwhile at school and nursery snow was being drawn and snowflakes artfully sculpted and cut out to adorn our windows. No need really, this morning one could have been forgiven for glancing up and thinking one was in a ski resort for the fresh, glistening snow surrounding one on the omnipresent cordillera. As long as you forget it's August of course...

Friday, 12 August 2011

Civil unrest and its responses

It has not been a great week.
A week ago today DH returned home from work to confess he had been crying. It hadn't been his reluctant, undergraduate students who are in the midst of what has become the longest student strike in Chilean history, nor his belligerent colleagues who seem intent on internal wrangling for power rather than standing together in a difficult time, to reduce him to tears. No, it had been the teargas released by the so-called forces of order, otherwise known as the CarabiƱeros, onto the streets and underground of Santiago which had got him in the end. This had been in response to a wholly peaceful march on the part of university and secondary school students protesting against the lack of a free and fair education system here. Yet the government, in their short-sightedness, had not granted permission to the protesters to march, thus stepped in using whichever means of heavy-handed crowd-control they had at their disposal. This being Chile, water cannons and teargas are part of the natural landscape, the use of which hardly raises an eyebrow on either side of the political spectrum. Bizarre to those of us who come from different shores, as was the arrest and rather rough manhandling of almost 900 peaceful protesters out of a total of 5000, many of whom were secondary schoolchildren.
Dear oh dear, we thought, such things would be unimaginable back in the civilised world whence we came. Thank goodness we have that escape route, who knows when we might need it... though of course we were quick to reassure family and friends that things were not as bad as they seemed.
Still slightly disturbed by what we perceived as the infringements on basic human rights, we carried on our business, going into a cold, grey and rather bleak wintry weekend for Santiago, after which for the first time since arriving here we were actually pleased when Monday arrived to resume our normal routine and activities as opposed to being cooped up indoors with little to do.
The events of the past few days in London and other major cities in Britain have provoked much comment, column inches, television coverage and widespread shock. I for one was dumbstruck, appalled, terrified and depressed to hear, read about and watch scenes which I never thought I would see in 2011. But I, like so many others, was wrong... Obviously parallels have been drawn with the unrest in Santiago though there are stark and glaring contrasts too. Here young people have been protesting about their lack of something we Westerners not only have but also take for granted: a free and equal education system. Or at least we had one once... Also, here in Chile as I mentioned the use of force to control and dispel crowds is something most people have grown up with and certainly don't question. The Chileans must think our levels of freedom in the UK are foolish privilege given what the world has recently witnessed. And last but not least, the dichotomy between the haves and the have nots, though more apparently visible and polarised in Chile, is all too present back in the developed world too, yet better hidden.
Amid the gloom however (and it has been grim) there have been a couple of uplifting moments to restore one's faith in humankind. One of these has been the coming together of residents in London's ripped apart communities armed with brooms to clean up and rebuild their high streets. Another came last Thursday evening, after the disastrous march which resulted in around a fifth of its demonstrators behind bars. Slowly at first, then more quickly and more loudly, it sounded as if bells were ringing out in the streets below. It was the "cacerolazo" or pot-bangers, people of every age group and, in theory, political persuasion, banging on upturned saucepans and frying pans with spoons and ladles to show and sound their solidarity with the students. A very Latinamerican moment.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Somewhere over the rainbow

Our trip to Europe over and at the moment none of us wants even to think about boarding a plane, train or automobile for a while. Not that it wasn't wonderful but too much travelling in too short a time. This was because we managed to catch up with both sets of grandparents and extended families in two different European countries all in the space of twelve days. Almost like a Royal tour if it hadn't been for easyJet and the Gatwick Express... and two missing suitcases on the way back due to a very tight connection in Paris. It was of course lovely to see everyone, sample some of the delights of the twenty-first century and have a holiday by the sea even though the weather wasn't as glorious as it can be in Italy but we were treated to the breathtaking spectacle of a rainbow over a choppy Adriatic which was some compensation.
To my surprise it wasn't as hard to leave the Old World for the New as it had been only six months ago. I can't say that I missed Santiago but perhaps I feel less hostile towards it than I did before. The phone-hacking scandal coupled with the recent attacks in Norway, elements which could have been lifted from a novel by Stieg Larsson, certainly help to make one feel more inclined to enjoy living in a remote part of South America. The girls have been delighted to return to their school and nursery respectively and I too was keen to get back to what has now become our home. For now...