Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Abyss and a Happily Ever After

There is a giant hole in the sidewalk that I walk along every day on my way to the metro station. It is a man-sized municipal booby trap. When someone falls into it they will drop about four feet. The first time I saw the hole was two weeks ago when Shawn and I were walking around in Viña. I didn't even notice it until he pointed it out, his eyes fresh from North America, and since then it's been a daily source of baffling entertainment to watch the public works drama unfold on the surface of the hole. I think it's super fun to look at holes in the ground. To each her own.

Two days after we first saw it, Shawn and I were walking on the same stretch of sidewalk again and there was a respectable four-legged wooden barrier set up around the hole with "AVISO DE PELIGRO" tape all over it. Good. That makes sense. It is totally dangerous for old people, drunk people, children, people with good posture who don't shuffle along looking at the ground like I do, etc. to step into a hole the size of their entire body. In the week after they put up the barrier, however, it was progressively reduced to splinters. One day it was missing a leg and hanging lopsided over the hole like a sad lobster with rubber-banded claws in the tank at the supermarket, trying to clamber on top of another lobster's head to freedom, totally ignorant of the futility of its efforts in the face of imminent demise. Kind of like that. The next day someone had absconded with the AVISO DE PELIGRO tape. I don't blame them. Caution tape is like streamers but even more fun because it's free! The next day it was missing two legs and lying on its back, halfway in the hole, the remaining two legs sticking up in the air. And today it was completely gone and there is once again nothing covering the hole. On the up side, there is way more trash in the bottom now, which could make it more or less dangerous depending on the ratio of beer bottles to candy wrappers.

It's weird because Viña is an orderly, clean, safe city, and I usually forget that I live in a developing country by the standards of those in the developed world. It's a pretty heinous distinction. I take hot showers, I eat at restaurants, I can find almost anything I want at the store, I have to go through a wall of bureaucracy to do anything official, and if I'm smart I don't fall into gaping caverns in the sidewalk. This is how "developed" is defined, right? There are plenty of things in Chile that still don't make sense to me, like the hole, but in between the daily frustrations I have with annoying differences, I get to reward myself with equally different indulgences and experience different comforts. Like, for instance, I think bread toasted in a tostador on the stove is nine times more delicious and home-feeling than toast from a toaster. And when I'm bummed I go sit on the rocks by the sea wall, stare out at the Pacific Ocean, and get really philosophical about how I should be more like the waves. And I love the comfortable, uncomplicated closeness of my host family. My life is different here, but I'm the same, so the struggle is to figure out how to be more at home with myself wherever I am. And then sell the secret for billions and live like a king.