Since I’ve been here in Chile this time, I’ve been invited to three birthday parties, plus hosting my own. Mine began at gringo time, 7:30.
So when I got the invitation to a party that began at 10:00pm, I knew that I would have to decline.
Even after living here for more than five years, I’ve never become accustomed to the late night parties and dinners. These days, I’m looking for my bed at 10:00pm. Ready to read until I fall asleep, the last thing I want to do is head out to a party.
My Chilean “daughter” Fran’s party will be early this year, more like an “once” than a party, and at the other party I attended, the birthday girl was a gringa. Hers started at 7:00pm, even earlier than mine. Never mind that most people didn’t show up until 8:00 or 9:00.
The party was held at a restaurant. As I was leaving, there was a big commotion in the street. I thought about taking another route, but then I realized that it was music.
A large group was marching down the street, including a band, chinchineros, dancing ladies, and people in costumes, taking donations. A man in a skeleton mask approached me and we danced on the sidewalk before he asked for a donation.
“What’s the occasion?” I asked.
What I understood him to say is, “A classmate of ours has leukemia. We’re raising money for her medicine.”
It was loud on the street and sometimes I still don’t understand everyone’s Spanish, but I’m certain about everything he said except “leukemia.” It could have been a different disease.
It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that these young people cared enough about their classmate to organize the fund-raiser for her.
It reminded me of when I teaching here in 2013. That magical year of working with 15 and 16-year olds, I had a similar experience at school.
Last week at school, I was approached right off the bat by two of my students from 3B. One of them was holding a cake pan in one hand. About two-thirds of the cake was already gone. In her other hand, she held a serrated-edged knife.
She offered me a piece of cake for 500 pesos, about 75¢. Then, she explained that they were selling slices of cake to collect money for a classmate who had had emergency surgery. Her family could not pay the hospital bill, so the kids were selling cake to try to help her.
They had also organized an impromptu garage sale. They had tables lined up in the school patio and were selling second-hand clothing. I bought a fuzzy scarf and a pair of black stretchy pants that I thought I could use for exercising.
It was both heart-warming and heart-breaking that these kids so desperately wanted to help their classmate that they were trying in the only ways they knew how to do it.
I may not make it to a party at 10 o’clock, but there are some Chilean customs that I resonate with.
Presumably, the university kids felt the same about their classmate as “my” kids had, and I’m going to make another presumption–that Chilean healthcare is in as big a tangle as US healthcare.