Passing the Time

People often ask me what I do all day here in Santiago. To be honest, I spend a lot of time thinking about what needs to be done to make myself feel better: better about work, better about relationships of all kinds, better about the world. This involves doing mindless things which relax me, like chatting with people from back home and being social with folks here. It also involves trying to be productive. Reading. Working through ideas. Writing. I have an office at a university here, but the solitude sort of drives me bananas. Especially since the blasted computer won't let me download the plug-ins or programs necessary to listen to music and for some reason no one can give me a wi-fi password (weird). Then I just feel real Scarface-like, “I sit alone in my four-cornered room staring at screens.” So I started this new plan two days ago to go to a local library for around 2 hours, beginning at 9am, and then go to my yoga class. Yesterday morning as I was writing I felt a hand on my back and was startled, thinking “who in THE hell is touching me up in here?!” It was a woman who I'd seen the day before, a sista, about my complexion, with similar natural hair, slimmer and slightly older than me, dressed neatly, like a grad student I would see in one of Columbia's libraries. I didn't do much to connect with her at the end of the long row of seats when I initially saw her because I've found that folks of African-descent, so few in number compared to other places in Latin America, do a lot of ignoring here, at least to me. Now I'm one of those Blacks who sort of looks away for fear of an awkward interaction. Boo. So when I saw it was her speaking to me yesterday I was surprised. She said that the guard asked if we were sisters. She pointed to where he was waiting for me to acknowledge him. He smiled and waved like he was proud of himself. “I've united the coloreds!” She was from Bahia, Brazil. We spoke in Spanish at first, her Portuguese accent slightly penetrating every word, but when I told her I was coming from New York we started speaking in English. She was fluent, which said a lot about her class. She asked what I was doing in Santiago. I told her. Then she told me what brought her here. She and her Chilean husband of ten years had been living in Malaysia and he's kidnapped their two daughters and brought them to his parents here. He's back in Malaysia now. She said she's fighting battles on both fronts, with a hearing there on Thursday and one here Wednesday (today), but refuses to leave Chile without her girls so she's going to have to miss the one in Malaysia. When I asked their ages she said 6 and 4 “but 5 and 3 when I last saw them.” It's been four months. I was shocked and as an empath had to work hard to keep the tears from welling up. “How is this even possible?” I asked her. Apparently this dude is über rich and powerful here and that changes the game entirely. She was stoic but I could see and feel her fear and sadness. But she was also clearly comforted and pleased by talking to someone who could finally relate to her. We spoke briefly and somewhat excitedly about our experiences as sistas (she rubs the skin on her forearm). The way everyone responds to us on the street here, as if we were from another planet and not just another país. How most in Chile assume I'm Brasilian first, Colombian second, ignoring that those from the US are not all super Euro-looking. The way everyone in Malaysia just says she's African, never accepting that she is an afrodescendiente from Brazil. How when she was in Kenya no one could believe she wasn't Eritrean. Gotta love Diaspora talks. But soon the young lady beside me had had enough of our yammering and asked us to go outside. I wrote my Chilean cell phone number on the back of my card and gave it to“my sister”, telling her to reach out to me whenever, especially if she wanted to do something to take her mind off things. I then went back to thinking and doing what I do. I stopped by her when I got up to head for yoga. We kissed on the cheek and I saw that she was watching a movie on her computer. I realized that's what she'd been doing to pass the time, waiting for relief I suppose.