Flags in a School in the Valle de Elqui
Today is September 18, which in Chile marks the anniversary of the establishment of the first independent governing body in the country; in other words, Chilean Independence Day. Cars, houses, schools, streets, and even people are covered the colors blue, white, and red, representing Chile’s flag. Families across the country will be celebrating with an asado (barbecue), empanadas, and lots of red wine. Chileans everywhere will dance the cueca, Chile’s national dance, visit pampillas or fondas, basically big markets selling food, clothing, and everything Chilean, and enjoy time with friends and family.
This year, the celebration is especially welcome. This past Wednesday, just before 8PM, an 8.3-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Illapel, reverberating through the central region. I was at an outdoor birthday barbecue with Chilean friends, and we quickly walked out to the orchard, away from the buildings. Although by now I am used to temblores (tremors), this one was different because it was much more powerful and it didn’t end for what felt like two minutes. It was definitely scary, but, thankfully, since we live in the mountains, there was actually little effect on us. I was only a minute walk away from my home, so I checked on my host family, spoke to all of the volunteers, and sent out updates that we were all fine. The construction of my house was solid, and only a few non-breakable items were shaken loose off their higher perches around my apartment.
I headed back to the party for a few hours, drinking wine to steady my nerves, as the aftershocks kept rolling in. Even though they are normal, they are still unnerving, especially the strongest ones. Around midnight, one of the volunteers arrived to my house with her parents, visiting from the US; they had been in nearby La Serena, in the tsunami zone, on the 11th floor of an apartment building, and had to evacuate quickly. It was nice to be together after a major earthquake, and I did my best to help them relax after their very real scare.
That night, it was hard to sleep due to all the réplicas, or aftershocks, but they decreased in intensity over the course of the day. Power came back, allowing us to charge our phones and reach out to friends and family around the world who were concerned about us.
While the impact of this major earthquake is still being assessed, it has caused a reassessment of plans for Fiestas Patrias. Many local schools had to reschedule their celebration; Coquimbo decided to cancel the artistic performances in their major Pampilla due to damage and safety concerns in the seaside city; and overall people just feel a bit uneasy. But Chileans are resilient, and they are going to celebrate their country with shows of solidarity and moments spent with loved ones.
And thankfully, they are going to include me in these celebrations! Felices fiestas patrias, Chile! Chi Chi Chi Le Le Le! Viva Chile!