I’d like to get real for just a second. I want to turn my metaphorical cap backwards, swivel a metaphorical chair around, and sit down on it, facing you, with my metaphorical arms crossed over the metaphorical back of the aforementioned metaphorical chair.
Now I have your attention. But don’t be afraid. My confident and hip attitude shouldn’t intimidate you. What should intimidate you are the following four words:
Santiago. Has. A smog. Problem.
Four. Not sure “A” qualifies.
But the point is that Santiago’s smog levels are alarmingly high. According to my research, based off of a post I saw on Facebook and something a guy I was standing close to said, the city has declared a “state of emergency” as a result of its “high levels of smog” (Facebook, 2015).
As a result, traffic has been restricted, and motorists are prohibited from driving their cars one day per week (Proximate bystander, 2015).
The government has allocated certain days when people whose car license numbers end in a certain digit aren’t allowed to drive (ibid).
To be honest, I haven’t personally suffered from the smog very much. At least, not that I know of. Maybe I’m addicted to cigarettes now, and that constant hunger I’ve been experiencing is just my body craving a smoke. But otherwise, life goes on as normal, despite the fact that I can’t see the mountains from my balcony anymore, and wiping a white tissue over any surface will cause it to turn black. It’s made me aware of all the things I put into my mouth on a daily basis that are probably covered in a microscopic layer of soot: my toothbrush, cutlery from the drying rack, toy cars, fruit from the fruit basket. It’s pretty gross to think about.
What we really need is a good bout of rain to just cleanse the city a little bit. I’ve been told that usually at this time of year Santiago experiences a lot of rain. But so far we’ve had nada. I often stand on my balcony, hands on my hips, a motherly smile on my face, as I shake my head and say, “I’m looking at you, Global Warming.” Then I chuckle to myself and mumble “We’re all going to die.”
In addition to the pollution problem, Santiago has all the mod cons of a bustling city. Picture the scene, accompanied by a cacophony of frenetic free-style brassy jazz (or, alternatively, You’re the Voice by Dennis East):
Motorists at traffic lights leaning on their horns, heads sticking out their car windows, hurling abuse. Construction workers in yellow hats and reflective jackets working around steaming manhole covers. A man catching his foot on a piece of broken pavement; he stumbles a few meters and then goes down, pulling another pedestrian with him. People in suits crossing busy intersections as they talk on their cellular telephones. A man running to a meeting, stumbling, falling, his face grimacing in pain. Has be broken his clavicle? Homeless people pulling their filthy blankets closer around themselves at they struggle to find sleep on their rotting mattresses. An older woman in high heels, mis-stepping, pummeling headfirst into a parked car. People pushing to get onto crowded subway trains, personal space a distant memory.
People keep falling over in Santiago. I’ve witnessed it twice, and I’ve heard several eyewitness accounts of other, literal, faux pas. For some reason, the people of Santiago are always in a hurry, and as a consequence they are often rushed off their feet. It’s an indication of the power of this city: that it forces people to move faster than their feet can carry them. Santiago is a beast, and you need to keep moving to avoid getting eaten by it.
It’s quite normal for people to work long days. Days beginning at 08.00 and ending at 19.00. As for me, I’m working harder than ever to avoid getting eaten by the beast. We’re in the middle of the year now, and people are determined to learn English. Finishing late has become the norm. Three days of the week I finish at 21.30. On Tuesdays I end at 20.00, and on Fridays, thankfully, I finish at 15.00. I work throughout the day, grabbing food between classes. The benefit of this is that I can eat unhealthily and just blame it on a busy work schedule.
“Well, I don’t have time for a sit-down meal. Guess I’ll just eat four or five Snickers Bars from this street vendor here.”
The truth is that right now I am busier than I have ever been, and I’m working harder than I ever have before. But I like the challenge. I like the idea that one day I’ll look back incredulously and say “Did I really have to do nine hours of teaching in one day?”
Plus, I’m making money. For the first time since I’ve been here, I’m earning enough money to splash out a little bit. I can go to a restaurant without batting an eyelid. I can go out to the movies without having to check my funds first. I can break my roommate’s nice things with reckless abandon. “Don’t worry,” I say as I hurl his glass vase across the room, smashing it into powder, “I’ll just replace it!”
The downside, though, is that since all my time is being given over to work, I have little time for much else. I don’t exercise as much as I used to, and I try to fit in a Spanish class when I can. On weekends I like to do as little as possible in order to recover from the busy week.
But, as I understand it, this busy season won’t last. I’ll stick it out for a few months, and once the work dies down a little bit I’ll have the money to make the most of my freedom. Until then, I’m going to keep my head down and keep working. I just hope the world doesn’t end before I’ve had my fun.