El Morro Arica, Chile
Arica appears in the desert, nestled between two valleys, El Morro at it’s southern border, Peru at it’s northern, the Pacific ocean to the West, an unlikely oasis in the Atacama. It’s both sand swept and fecund; a hour’s drive to explore the natural wonders this town has to offer.
I got off the plane, ready to begin teaching. I was greeted by the welcoming faces of my students and head teacher, not prepared for the onslaught of new voices . I wasn’t sure what to expect but this certainly was not it. It was overwhelming and wondrous at the same time. I had a smile plastered to my face as the kids were introduced and camera’s flash blinded me.
My head teacher, Y, shuffled my students and my luggage to her car as the sun beat down on us and began the drive to our school, Gabriela Mistral Escuela, named after the famed Chilean Noble Laureate. She drove fast, with the wind blowing in her hair and sand blowing in my eyes, talking at length about her family,
Within knowing me for 10 minutes, I found out that her daughter was a drug addict and Y was raising her two daughters, ages 5 and 3. As time would go on, Y would offer up more information about her life; her relationships with her family, her dissatisfaction with her job, her thoughts about the future. I would look on with empathy, shaking my head and nodding in agreement, laughing when necessary. But it was the times when she would mention things about her daughter, things I have no experience with, that I found myself at a loss for words. Rendered almost speechless, not able to offer up anything more than an “I’m sorry” or “That’s terrible and I hope she gets help.”
It is moments like these in when my high emotional intelligence could serve me better. I tend to know when people are upset and I understand situations in which they could be angry. But actively lending a shoulder to cry on or offering words of comfort is something I am not the best at. I am slowly getting better and it is admittedly easier for me to express these sentiments on paper rather than in person. For me, confronting another’s vulnerabilities, discomforts or anger face to face feels like traveling down a roller coaster unsure of when or where it will stop, but praying for the operator to intervene. I feel similarly when admitting my own wrongdoing and being totally honest with other people. This is why I’ve tried to limit these interactions as best as I can. Yet as my college years slowly become a distant memory, as I build relationships with more people, as I spend more time here in Chile, I am growing as a person. I have those conversations that most people had during their freshman year of college, the conversations I avoided at 18. I find myself more willing to be honest, to challenge myself, to question the status quo, to be better, and I am shaping myself into the person I want to be.