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Gringa’s first earthquake

About two weeks ago, I experienced my first real earthquake here in Chile and, I have to say, it was much more terrifying than I had anticipated. For some reason, I had never really understood the panic about earthquakes. I mean, as long as no buildings collapse, it’s just a little vibration, right? Wrong. As it turns out, I am not a huge fan of them. There’s something deeply unsettling about the fact that the earth, which we often conceptualize to be the most physically stable thing in our lives, can suddenly begin to move underfoot.
I was walking back to my house with a friend when it happened. It probably only lasted for about 20 seconds in total but it felt like longer as we watched the cement buildings around us shake. Strangely enough, my first reaction was equal parts fear and excitement, as if all of that raw energy traveling through the earth’s tectonic plates had continued on through the soles of my feet and up my spine, terrifying yet strangely intoxicating. There was no visible damage where we were standing, so my friend and I shrugged it off and went on our way. I became more unsettled, however, when people started coming out of their houses onto the street and asking us if we were alright. Everyone was wide-eyed and tight lipped and their anxiety made my own heart begin to race.
The streets of my neighborhood suddenly felt eerily unfamiliar. The air cracked with a kind of strange anticipation, as if houses and residents alike were holding their breath to see what might happen next. The only sounds to be heard were the chorus of car alarms going off from the tremors and the dial tones of my neighbors’ phones as they called their loved ones across town. One man told us that we should save our water in case it got shut off and recommended that we go straight home. As the aftershocks started and the tsunami evacuation alarm sounded, the initial ignorant excitement of my first earthquake faded and I decided that he was probably right.
I arrived at my house to find my whole family standing outside with one of our neighbors. When my Chilean mom saw me, she hugged me breathlessly and said that she had been worried. Apparently, she had been driving when the earthquake hit and she seemed to be more shook up (pun intended) about it than I was. We went inside and turned on the news to find out that the earthquake was determined to be a 6.9 on the Richter scale, originating in Quilpué – a town about thirty minutes from Valparaiso. The tsunami evacuation had already been called off and, unfortunately, classes were not cancelled for the following day. And, with that, life went back to normal.
That Saturday, all of the IFSA kids went on a group excursion to Santiago, the capital city of Chile, to learn about the country’s recent immigration patterns and their effect on cultural development. Santiago is about an hour and a half away from Valparaiso by bus, towards the interior of Chile. We left at around 9:30 in the morning and didn’t get back until nearly 11:30 at night. We spent the day attending presentations about immigrants from all over the world. We used the spirit of multiculturalism as an excuse to gorge ourselves on Palestinian food for lunch and Peruvian for dinner. I have always been a firm believer in the fact that food is an integral part of every culture and, therefore, can teach a person a lot about other countries and the way of life there. Many aspects of culture are reflected in its cuisine. Most obvious is that it reveals the plant and animal life native to the region, but more than that, it shows the struggles and desires and customs of the culture. For example, there are many Peruvian dishes that are made in large quantities and meant to be shared, which is illustrative of the Peruvian custom to use meals as a way of bringing people together and the importance of the family dynamic. Food is not just how we, as humans, survive; it’s how we live. We use food to celebrate and to mourn. It tells the stories of the wide range of ways of life that exist in the world, each one uniquely important.
Which begs the question, what does the food in the U.S. say about us?


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One Response to “Gringa’s first earthquake”

  1. Kermit Ellison Says:

    Thanks again for writing your blog in such a way as to help me feel I am right there experiencing everything with you. I am also glad I’m reading about your earthquake experience this far removed from the actual event. Ground shaking beneath your feet, tsunami sirens going off, and people in the streets with anxious looks on their faces…WOW! Also the question you posed about what US food says about our culture…very interesting indeed. Will need to think on that a bit more. Hope the final weeks of your trip continue t to be fun and eventful.

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