Wednesday, December 23, 2015

the job hunt

For some time since I made the decision to stay in Chile, I have been struggling to regain my equilibrium and find my next path. In this year of monumental change, the adjustment to married life has been smoother than I expected and I'm getting a smidge better at understanding the conversations around me. The adjustment to my limited employability, on the other hand, has been incredibly hard to wrap my head around. 

When I packed my bags and ventured off the beaten path, I was fairly certain that I was on a one year sabbatical and would be returning to the Pacific Northwest to start anew. Albeit, a new job in a new city ~ but one in my native language. People uproot and move all the time; I wasn't so worried about the re-entry and prospect of finding something that used my skills.

Obviously, change came my way in a manner that I didn't expect. I have been so fortunate to have taken part in amazing projects with foundations and people during my journey; long term volunteering in Stgo with colectivo sustento and a therapy center have helped me gain a bit of stability and routine. However, at some point, I knew that I needed to seek employment once again. I have learned that it's an entirely different ballgame here in Chile ~ the so-called chicken and egg situation if you're a foreigner. I need a contract to apply for a visa, yet the majority of companies don't want to contract an employee without a visa. Adding to the fact that I still have the expressive language skills of a young child doesn't help my situation. Herein lies my frustration and stress for the past months.

I've always been confident in my skills and abilities ~ not arrogant ~ but confident in knowing that I can do my job and do it well. As such, my self esteem and confidence have plummeted during this adjustment period. Although my skills are transferable, without the language component, I am incredibly limited in my options. I have spent countless hours scouring job sites and tailoring my resume ~ both in Chile and for remote possibilities in the US ~ with little success. I have never felt so dejected and rejected...emails go unanswered or come back with the canned response of "We had many qualified candidates and have decided to go with someone else." After a while, it becomes depressing and maddening. I'd like to branch out of education and delve into the non-profit sector, but I feel pigeonholed and trapped by my experience. Some days, the bleak outlook and stress are incredibly overwhelming and I wonder to myself if I made the right decision.

What do I really want to do? Find a piece of land with a small cabaña, construct and plant gardens to surround it like a miniature fortress and teach kids about food security and healthy choices. That's my pipe dream...maybe someday in the distant future. For now, I need to concentrate on what's up ahead.
I'm hoping for an uptick as 2015 ends and 2016 begins. Viejito Pascuero (Santa) came a few days early and in the form of the mail carrier. A large envelope held a coveted paper inside...notification that my visa application is in process and that I now have permission to work until the visa is (hopefully) approved. I'm not sure if this signed, stamped and prized paper is considered the chicken or egg...but I know that I'm now moving in a forward direction. 

Step by step.

Paso a paso.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

the dark cloud / el nube oscuro

Wandering the grounds of the old hacienda, one wouldn't immediately guess that the sprawling rural property currently housed a juvenile detention center. An ancient greenhouse was speckled with the greenery of newly sprouting chard, lettuce and cilantro. A small herd of sheep roamed freely and chomped on the grass. An old black caballo meandered to and fro, often stopping along the fence line to munch on tall weeds. A cheeky young mutt darted in and out of the garden space, always with muddy paws and sense of wild abandon. 

In this juxtaposed location situated outside of Santiago, I spent many mornings from January to April. In planting and cultivating the burgeoning garden, the objective was to forge relationships and trust with a group of sullen boys who wanted to be anywhere but there. After weeks of the routine, a few bought into what we had proposed. And while they never truly let down their shields, at times I saw glimmers of another side. Faces without masks.

One particular moment of one particular day stands out in my memory. On this morning, our boys partnered with a group of local preschoolers to plant a garden bed. The interactions were different, softer; the smartass attitudes disappeared momentarily. A soft spoken boy who had participated here and there took the day's activity seriously. It was a case where the student became the teacher. He crouched down next to his pupil and with a sense of tenderness that I never would have expected, taught the little one how to plant a seed. Someone caught the moment on camera; it's an image not only burned in my memory, but luckily on a hard drive as well. They were two young lives ~ miles apart in so many aspects ~ together for a fleeting bit of time. 

It was a beautiful picture, one that holds much more significance to me today.

This week, I learned of the death of this young man. At the hands of his brother. In yet another accidental shooting. He was seventeen. In that strange span of time when one straddles the gap between childhood and adulthood. Sure, he'd made mistakes; that's why he ended up in the program for infractores de ley. Does that mean his life had no meaning? That he couldn't turn things around in a positive way? That his life should end like this? Absolutely not. 

The news left me numb. I had a fitful night of strange and disturbing dreams. He's not the first of my students to die, but he's the first to be taken in a violent manner. It makes me sad, but it also makes me angry. Globally, gun violence and the blatant disregard for human life are prevalent. It's repugnant. I won't go into a long rant on how I feel every time I read an article in the Chicago Tribune about another child killed or of how many shootings occurred over the weekend. Believe me, the rant is there. It bothers me. A lot. One moment, one thoughtless moment can change or end a life. The repercussions are immense; families are devastated and destroyed. After a brief stint in the media, the story and the life of the lost fade away. But the problem is still there, biding its time, waiting to claim another.

When does it stop? 

Where does it stop? 

How does it stop?

Monday, November 23, 2015

the route

I've become a bona fide bike commuter. I resort to riding the Metro on days when it's rainy or scheduling conflicts prevent it, but without reservation, I prefer to pedal my way through rush hour traffic. I may not know the names of the streets that I pass each morning, but the faces along the route have become as familiar as the landmarks themselves.

As I cross Avenida Ricardo Lyon and begin my journey eastward, my first encounter is almost always a teenage boy in saggy pants who has his eyes glued to his phone as his shepherd mutt lollygags, sniffs liberally and takes care of morning business. 

Two blocks further along, I hear the whir of a small motor behind me just before an old man on an electric bike zips past. Well, zip may not be the perfect word to describe his speed,  but it's quicker than my own pace. I never see where he comes from, nor do I see where he turns off, but we share the block between Avenida Holanda y Avenida Luis Thayer Ojeda for a short while.

The corner of Tobalaba y Carlos Antunez is always a clusterfuck. In reality, it should be a simple four way intersection, but something about the diagonal directionality makes it a nightmare. Add to the disaster folks who make a right hand turn without looking, a high curb to jump, a narrow bridge crossing at the river and pedestrians who are absorbed in the screens they clutch in their hands. I'm always hyper vigilant as I make my way across these five lanes of traffic in which 98% of the drivers have less than zero regard for cyclists. 

Once I successfully cross the Frogger-like obstacle of Tobalaba, I pick up some speed. I pass the new condo building with the huge numbers 3131 perched out front. There's something satisfying in the double number and it catches my eye every time I pass. 

On the approach the first stoplight along this stretch, I have my daily encounter with a scruffy crew of three schnauzer dachshund mixes that accompany their human siblings on the walk to school. I try to suppress it, but I can't help but giggle at the short legged, wiry haired trio that look like little old men. 

Foot traffic picks up in intensity in the next few blocks. A young dad walks with his three uniform clad girls, spanning the sidewalk. He's always polite and moves to the side so I needn't veer off the pavement and into the grass; he is one of very few to offer this gesture. The girls, on the other hand, don't have a clue and muddle along as they struggle with their wheeled backpacks and armloads of projects.

Vespucio is the next major intersection to cross and the navigation here is simple in comparison to Tobalaba. However, I do contend with the added challenges of a narrow sidewalk, parkway fences and a bus stop. If the bus reaches the parada before me, I'm trapped by the throng of passengers that disembark and shuffle along at a snails pace. My little bell dings to announce my presence, but with little success and I'm most often trapped until the crowd thins out.

As I cross Vespucio, I race the bus from one bus stop to the next. When I'm lucky and have the gods of the traffic lights in my favor, I cruise past the next bus stop before the bus arrives, the passengers disembark and we play the game of snail shuffle once again. I have a 60-40 chance of coming out as the victor in our daily gambit. 

Now halfway to my destination, I have an open stretch for about half a mile. I pass an empty school, a tennis club and round a short curve before I meet my next familiar faces. Across from a construction site are two middle aged women selling sopaipillas out of the back of a late model mini van. There's always a small gathering of hard hat clad construction workers downing a fistful of fried dough before they begin their shift. 

On the corner just past the building that is slowly taking shape in concrete and rebar, I pass one of my regulars. She's an older woman, sometimes alone, sometimes with two additional viejitas. As I ride by, I catch her unpleasant mix of heavy perfume and stale cigarette smoke; I haven't heard her voice, but I imagine it to have the throaty, gravelly quality that is a byproduct of years of heavy smoking.

I continue on. At this point, I have a clear view of the foothills in the distance. As winter changed to spring and spring is rapidly moving toward summer, the snow has disappeared. Some days the mountains are shrouded in clouds or haze, other days like today, they are crystal clear. It's a constantly changing landscape and coming from flatland, it's a view that I appreciate each and every day.

I drag my eyes away from the mountains and back to the street. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a flash of teal. A young woman on a bike with a wicker basket and panniers has appeared. Her helmet matches her bike and she has impeccable posture. The manner in which she rides reminds me of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, sans Toto. Some days she's a bit ahead of me, some days I am in the lead. It's funny how our schedules co-exist; I know nothing about this bike commuter, but if I don't encounter her along my route, I know I am running a bit on the late side.

This section is heavily populated by dogs, but unlike my experiences with wandering dogs in Peru and Thailand, most of these canines are behind fences. Always watchful, the squeak of my chain alerts them to my presence. If I'm on the right side of the street, I contend with  gigantic white shepherd that resembles a wolf; he gives a low growl and paces the fence slowly. Just beyond is a chubby cocker spaniel that sits on the sidewalk outside a fence looking intently inward. Every day, same routine. I don't know who or what he's looking for, but he only breaks his concentration to give me a sidelong glance as I swerve around him. If I happen to ride on the left side of the street, I encounter two enormous sheepdogs. They bark and turn in excited circles, but quickly lose interest and resume their positions guarding the driveway. The last encounter is a broad shouldered bulldog that moves too slowly to make it to the fence line before I am out of his sight. He offers a snort, but seems content to watch from afar.

I have learned to time my ride to avoid the morning bell of a large school on Martin de Zamora. If my timing is right, the street is fairly empty. If I have ridden quickly or hit all of the green lights, I find myself smack dab in a mix of parents, students, dogs, strollers, cars parked haphazardly on the parkway and a smattering of folks who open their car doors without looking. While I can weave and dodge around the first few to avoid incidents, the latter really irks me and I'm not above saying I've let fly a few angry words in a blend of Spanish and English when I've been nearly struck by a door. 

Beyond the school zone, it's clear sailing for the final mile. I ride past the huge house that is under renovation; I relish the opportunity to gape when the gate is open and offers a rare glimpse of what's hidden inside. I pass a vivero  that is bursting at the edges with seasonal herbs, flowers and bushes. It makes me smile to see one lone pine tree, reminiscent of Charlie Brown's Christmas, decorated with brightly colored balls. Continuing, I avoid the morning subway commuters by taking a sharp turn at the Metro station, jumping the curb and riding along a loose brick path that shutters and grumbles as I pass. 

In the final stretch, I pass the old German shepherd that sleeps next to a kiosk and the pregnant woman who slowly walks down the street with her toddler in tow. I also encounter faces to which I can attach names: Tia Sandra, Tia Lorena, Gabriel's mom, the tia-abuela of Wieland. I offer a wave, a nod or a quick hola as I pass. Jockeying around the cars parked in front of the therapy center, I dismount, pull off my helmet, lock my bike to a tree and head inside to begin the routine of a new day.

**Edit....ironically, just a couple of days after I posted this, I was "tapped" by a car on my daily commute. No damage to the bike and just a gnarly scrape on my hand. While the guy was profusely apologizing (as he should have was his fault), his 4 year old daughter was in the backseat shouting out, "Hola! Hola señorita. Hola!" 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

the road to Farellones / el camino a Farellones

Me gusta subir. tanto.

I've definitely lost something in the translation, but it should read like this in English: I like to climb. Coming down...not so much. We've only ridden the road toward Farellones twice, but it has quickly become my favorite location to bike near Santiago. It's not a route for the faint of heart or the weekend warrior: it's a steep and winding route to the ski resorts that makes me motion sick in the car, a route well marked by animitas (roadside memorials) at the numerous curves.

But on a bike...

It's glorious. The panoramic vistas of the Andes are stunning; I need to keep my eyes and concentration on the road in front of me, but I can't help craning my neck to see the greenery that surrounds me and the snow capped peaks that jut upward in the distance. Spring flowers smudge the scenery with sprays of yellow and purple, nature's seasonal version of graffiti. Long stemmed flowers sway in the gentle breeze. It's mesmerizing to watch the colors and soft motion, but I turn my attention back to the asphalt at my tires. The road is narrow, the edges are steep and I have no desire to veer off the paved track.

It's breathtaking. Literally. My lungs fluctuate between a state of happiness and a state of slight discomfort. The air is clean and fresh. The pollen laden trees that line the streets of Santiago and irritate my respiratory system on a daily basis are absent at an elevation of 4500ft. I breathe easily. For a moment. Then the elevation and the incline kick in and my happiness changes slightly. I breathe heavier. I'm not gulping or gasping, but I hear my own labored breathing and that of the bikers that pass me. When the inclines plateau briefly between curves, I revel in the respite and greedily fill my lungs. It's a pattern that continues as we ascend.

It's rhythmic. The curves. The inclines. The plateaus. The faint whine of my chain as it spins in synchronicity with my feet and pedals. The rhythm of my breathing. The song that runs through my head. Over and over. The yellow line that marks the middle of the road. The numbered signs that signal each curve that I pass. Each component joins together to create a pattern that I lose myself in. 

It's an adrenalin rush. The ascent is slow and steady, but the descent is fast. Guillermo tells me, "No fear," but there's a small twinge of trepidation at the nape of my neck. My middle fingers hover over my brakes, positioned to slow me when I feel I could lose the balance of control. Evidence of rock slides litters the roadway; rocks and stones I didn't notice on the climb, I now avoid while riding at high speed. The wind rushes at my face, assaulting my ears with a deafening whoosh that blocks all sounds from behind, leaving me to rely on my vision alone. I scan the pavement, the near distance, the far distance and occasionally over my shoulder. My senses are hyper alert; I can feel the tension in my shoulders and wrists. It ends much too quickly and I'm soon on the road leading out of the foothills; the descent takes less than a quarter of the time it took to climb.

It's an accomplishment. It may not have been a century or a high mileage ride. It may not have been a personal best in terms of time. But I felt good, really good. In fact, I was probably 100% better prepared than the first time we tackled the route last fall. I stayed upright. I ate no gravel. I tasted no asphalt. The only battle marks I carry from today are a sunburned nose and a chain grease tattoo on my calf. 

The time has come to refuel...loads of protein, a beer, a shower and a nap.

Monday, April 27, 2015

the greenhouse

Though the clouds hang low, the newly snow capped mountains are visible in the distance. Rain that fell overnight brings vibrance to the palate of greens in the surrounding farms, fields and orchards. After a summer of hot, dry heat, I welcome the damp chill in the air, but the boys are less than thrilled about the prospect of working in the garden in this weather. We move into the greenhouse, where there is always work to be done.

The invernadero has quickly become my favorite planting space at the former hacienda in Calera de Tango. A property that has been reincarnated numerous times, it is now home to juvenile offenders. The greenhouse is one of the many outbuildings that dot the agricultural land; the brick and wooden structure has great bones and is certainly brimming with history and character. To others, it may outwardly appear to be a crumbling edifice, but to me, it is a place filled with possibilities and potential. It is not lost on me that this could be an accurate description of the young men that we are working with on this project.

After weeks of digging out the weeds and stubborn grass that thrive in the compost rich soil, we finally seem to have the upper hand. A handful of maravillas (sunflowers) that were inadvertently planted stand tall along the highest wall of the greenhouse. As they stretch toward the roof, it will be an experiment to see if they will flower; they were planted late in the season and typically don't take kindly to transplantation. Arugula and lettuce that were planted back in February have burst through the soil and are a beautiful green contrast to the dark brown. Clustered close together in their present state, they will be strong enough to be transplanted and spaced in rows in the coming days. Green onions planted a week ago have poked through the surface; some thin blades of green are still topped by their black seed casing. Though tiny at an inch, they stand proudly in rows, like miniature soldiers in the war on food deserts. Rows of neon green cilantro beckon me to run my hand over the leaves that release the tantalizingly spicy aroma. It's an odd choice for breakfast, but I can't resist plucking a leaf to munch on. 

The boys drift in and out of the greenhouse to weed, dig or transplant, but their time with me is brief, their attention spans short. While this is a place where I could putter for hours, they have their own agendas and much different interests. It is a place that requires patience and an appreciation of delayed gratification. I revel in the solitude, the simplicity and the incremental progress. Genaro shares his knowledge of each plant: how it grows, the differences in watering needs, when and how it can be transplanted. Gestures and demonstrations fill in the gaps when my language abilities aren't quite on par. His agricultural knowledge is endless and I am an eager student. I jot down notes and create drawings and maps in hopes that I will keep it all straight. 

I gather up my tools and place them in the corner. I wipe my dirt caked hands on my pants and pick at the soil that is under my fingernails. I put my markers and notes in my backpack. Though there is much to be done, our workshop has come to an end and it must wait for another day. As I walk through the door frame, I glance back over my shoulder and silently bid adieu to the plants that we have nurtured and in turn will nourish us.

despues la guerra contra chepica (after the war on root-laden grass)

maravilla (sunflower), lechuga (lettuce), acelga (chard), cilantro

tools of the trade

the garden within

They read like a cast of characters: Gino the star, Jose Luis, Tio Henry, Tom Sawyer, the violinist, the chef. These were main players, but others drifted in and out of the scene on a weekly basis. The backdrop was a patch of sun baked soil in one corner of the walled-in yard of a detention center. In January, the space was covered with grass and littered with trash. Three months later, it was occupied by garden beds that thrived with lettuce, herbs and tomatoes. As I squinted into the glaring mid afternoon sun, scenes of our time together played out in my memory.

"No como verduras." 

I don't eat vegetables. That was the response given by more than one of the boys during our initial workshop. We asked them to share their favorite food; vegetables were definitely not in the top ten. They sat with their arms crossed, wrinkled their noses at the freshly picked basil, and declined the tomatoes that had been harvested hours earlier. They weren't a tough crowd, but they certainly didn't have much interest in what we were proposing. Apathetic was an appropriate descriptor.

Groundbreaking day had a disappointing turnout. Gabriel and I were joined by Gino to start removing the grass and weeds that covered the hot dry space that would in coming weeks become a garden. Several other guys wandered over to watch what we were doing, but none picked the available shovels that were propped against the wall. The work was slow going. In the following sessions, Gino was joined by Jose Luis and thus our core group was formed. The two took to the stubborn roots with fervor, clearing the grass and creating beds and trenches. They planted seeds and watered the seedlings. Our numbers started to steadily increase, at first out of curiosity, then out of genuine interest. The others who came to watch occasionally lent a hand, but most often huddled in the shade and joined in the conversation. A notable change started to occur, not only in the garden space, but in the interactions.

That was the goal.

While the newly sprouted seeds were the physical and tangible products of our work, gardening was simply the vehicle to create an atmosphere of trust, an environment ripe for dialogue and a space for reflection. It was a place for sharing anecdotes of the past and for giving and receiving advice about the future. It was an opportunity to take off the mask, to lose the tough guy attitude and to have honest conversations. It was a formula that worked. While my conversations and interaction with the boys were different than Gabriel's, based on language and life experience, the novelty of my gringa-ness slowly wore off and I was accepted and respected as a member of the team.

Small things added up to create the bigger picture. The guys started to anticipate (and dare I say, look forward to) our sessions. Each day, Gino waited behind the heavy metal door for our arrival. Jose Luis tapped an invisible watch on his wrist and with a grin, chided me for being less than punctual on one occasion. They made sickly sweet juice to quench our thirst in the blazing heat of the afternoon. Flandes brought freshly baked bread and pizza that he made in a cooking workshop. Yarko brought his violin and serenaded the burgeoning seedlings with an aptly chosen Beatles song. I found my self singing along...yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now it looks as though they're here to stay, oh I believe in yesterday. They invited us to watch the theater performance of Tom Sawyer they had been working on since January; we were invited to meet their families during the coveted hours of the weekly visit. They were visibly worried about Gabriel on the day he couldn't make it to the session; more than one came to me with the questions ¿Qué pasó a Profe? ¿Está bien? Each anecdote, like each boy, had its own story, yet they were all interconnected.

Weeks went by. Delicate yellow blossoms changed into tiny cherry tomatoes. Butter lettuce grew and was transplanted into a larger growing space. A lone green pepper struggled to grow bigger than a thumb. Chives were trimmed and eaten, only to grow back in the following weeks. Prized strawberries slowly changed from white to red, carefully watched for the right moment to be harvested. As the plants grew, the interest in the garden grew. The boys drifted over to check on the progress, they asked questions, they gave tours, they built a fence with a discarded tennis court net. They slowly took ownership of and responsibility for their space. They exhibited a sense of pride.  

Change was in the air.

On a sunny autumn afternoon, the same group of boys who three months earlier had denounced the idea of eating vegetables, huddled around a plastic bin filled with lettuce, chard, chives and lemon. It was freshly harvested, the fruits of their labor. Gone were the wrinkled noses. Gone were the arms sullenly folded across their chests. In their place were smiles, laughter, a sense of camaraderie and a feeling of accomplishment. It was a moment I had hoped for, but wasn't certain that would arrive.

Although the curtain has closed on the project, we have given the boys the tools to continue the work both in the garden and in their own process of thought and reflection. We set a goal and accomplished what we set out to do: the seeds have been planted, they simply need to be tended and nurtured in order to grow.

Sembrando Futuro...Sowing the Future

Gabriel shows how to transplant lettuce

Labeling veggies and herbs 

celebrating three months of progress

Friday, April 24, 2015

the pied piper

When I was in Peru back in 2013, I wrote an entry about how I lost my love for dogs. As a lifelong dog lover, it was odd for me feel disdain and even a sense of fear when I encountered canines. The change in heart came in part due to the fact that I was bullied on a daily basis by a pack of surly looking curs as I walked to the orphanage where I was volunteering. I was wary of the street dogs that seemed to be everywhere I turned. In Thailand, I had the same reaction to the wandering street dogs, but had a soft spot when it came to Lucky and Summer, the two dogs living on the TCDF property. I'm happy to say that dogs have finally and fully wiggled their way back into my heart here in Santiago. Since I know it's not practical to have a dog of my own at this point and time, I make sure to crouch down to scratch the ears of those who come my way, offer up those heart melting puppy dog eyes or wag their tail with an expectant raise of the eyebrows. 

The streets of Santiago central are home to hundreds of homeless dogs: they sleep in parks, in doorways, at bus stops, in the entrance to the metro. To me, it appears that they spend the majority of their day sleeping and they seem oblivious to the hot sun, the loud noises of traffic and the thousands of human feet that step mere inches from their bodies. Those that are awake walk unnoticed amidst their human counterparts; they cross major intersections with the green light, wrestle in the green spaces along the river, and wait patiently and hopefully for a handout. Most don't appear to be aggressive, just a bit weary and down on their luck; they're mangy, dirty and often hobbling on three legs (my guess is that they don't always check both ways before crossing the streets). In most cases, I've stopped giving such a wide berth and find myself offering a moment of attention; I think it's a mutually satisfying moment for both participants in the exchange.

Words aren't always necessary to communicate; dogs have the amazing ability to read body language and interpret the tone of voice. I find myself to be drawn to the pups I encounter and have become somewhat of a pied piper of sorts. Some I encounter in passing, while others make a longer lasting impression. Let me introduce you to some of my favorites...

Clare...she's a well coiffed bischon frise that I first met around New Years. She later spent a weekend with us while her two legged family went away without her; I was excited to have a dog in the house again, but I'm not sure that Guillermo felt the same. She's tiny and fluffy and incredibly dainty, but packs a potent and ear piercing bark. She's a purse dog that feels right at home curled up on the chest of anyone who will have her. I couldn't resist her soft, silky fur and scrunched up little face. Despite her purse dog status, I fell for her...hook, line and sinker. 

The gang at San Bernardo...the juvenile detention center on the outskirts of Santiago has a multitude of dogs...some live within the locked walls while others roam freely about. Just like the boys in Casa 4 became a part of my life during the garden project, so did the dogs that call it home. Mema, the German Shepard puppy, who will soon lose her goofy puppiness...Estevan, the Rottie mix with the missing teeth and foul breath who was oblivious to (or just blatantly disregarded) the fencing around the garden and managed to enter just long enough to pee on the burgeoning lettuce crop...Toby, the overweight boxer/pitt mix who barked territorially the first few times I entered, then greeted me with a wagging tail...Viejita, (the old gal) who waddled up for a quick ear scratch before retiring to the administration office each and every time. Others live on the outside, but made an impression. Oso (Bear), a giant Rottie/Shepard mix of some sort without a tail...I don't know her true name, but she looked like a bear and lumbered like a bear, hence I gave her an appropriate nickname. Wifi, the pit puppy who did little more than sleep, but would open his eyes and cock his head when I called his name in passing. Gigante, the enormous dog of unidentifiable breed that positioned himself in front of the guardhouse. The center once had a program that paired injured or abandoned dogs with the juvenile offenders as they prepped the pups for adoption in the community. Unfortunately, funding has since dried up and the program phased out, but the dogs have stayed on and become permanent fixtures at the center.

Although the detention center at Calera de Tango has much more space than San Bernardo, the dog population is much smaller. Upon arrival, I offer a sharp whistle and am typically greeted by a couple of ginger haired dogs that must have some shared lineage. Poroto is my absolute favorite. His white paws are almost always caked with mud and he stinks of whatever he has most recently rolled in, but his cheeky grin and wagging tail usurp those characteristics. He follows me like...well, a puppy. In all honesty, he's not the brightest little guy (he barks at the horses and gets waaaay to close to the back legs, he tramples through the newly planted garden beds and he annoys the boys), but he's irresistible. His compadre was slower to warm up, but now comes running at my familiar whistle. Viejita (another old gal) has a slight underbite that makes her look sinister, but she's just a gentle old soul. 

That isn't to say that all the Chilean dogs I have encountered are on the good guy list. There's one pack that I won't miss. Twice a week I walked a half kilometer dusty road that led to a juvenile detention center. Seventy five percent of the time, the road was empty and easy to traverse. On the remaining twenty five percent, there was a pack of motley canines that guarded the camino. They positioned themselves in such a manner that they created a four legged barricade to walk through. It was almost like the old schoolyard game of Red Rover, Red Rover...but I certainly didn't want to get "sent over" to break through their wall. I carried rocks in my balled up fists, willed myself not to make eye contact and powered through. Sometimes they mustered a bit of bravado and followed me for a few heart quickening steps, but most often they went back to their self imposed guard duty when I passed through.

Other than the guardia, these are the dogs that have converted me back to being a dog lover. In most cases, their characteristics could be labeled as the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Their wagging tails make me smile. Their antics make me laugh. Their stories grab my heart. 

Poroto...his name translates to appropriate for my garden helper 

Clare was deemed Queen of the Pillows