Friday, October 06, 2006

An email from Jehan in Santiago, Chile

[Jehan is ex-Marly. He is spending the year doing some course or another at a University in Santiago.]

How do, fine rapscallions? No, I haven't lost my mind. But, to some degree I
have lost my English. I'm so accustomed to speaking Spanish that I feel
really awkward attempting to express myself in my native tongue. It's like
visiting someone who was once your best friend but it all came to an end
five years ago when you killed his dog. Wow. I'd never encountered an
awkward silence in an e-mail before.

In an attempt at keeping true to the spirit of these emails and avoiding
useless details that only I could ever find interesting, I shall talk about
the socio-economic situation in Chile. Don't worry, it'll be fun and
informative. Like that naked news channel.

Chile has, according to my flatmate, the third highest rate of disparity in
the distribution of wealth; those who are rich are so rich they don't know
what to do with their money and the poor are so poor that they can
completely avoid this problem. The rich are concentrated around the
foothills of the Alps in a region called "Las Condes" which is filled with
upper class apartments and huge houses that make the Eastern Suburbs look
like a dump.

As you move out of this area the houses begin to change. Especially the
south of Santiago, where the houses start to look like wooden shantys that
have little to offer aside from a heap of potential sponsorchilds. 70% of
all the crime that occurs in Chile occurs in this area. Being a testing
ground for free-market economics we have a small group of people earning
heaps and a large amount of people living on the minimum wage, which is
about $270 a month. Chile isn't as cheap as Thailand and if you want to feed
five children without sacrificing one to feed the others it could be pretty

In this sense, riding in a bus from the poorest neighbourhood to the richest
is like moving through different worlds. The people are physically
different. In the poorer areas, they're are much more more indigenous
features while the higher ground seems to be filled with Europeans. The
south of the city and the periphery seems like the garbage dump of the
modernised rich areas. Living in the centre (with more of a working class
feel) I don't feel like a spoilt westerner nor risk getting assaulted every
time I leave the house.

Education is the only way to achieve a degree of security and be able to
avoid scraping by on minimum wage or possibly less, but it is incredibly
expensive. My university is the most expensive and the cheapest courses cost
double the minimum wage. For someone on the minimum wage they'd have to
clone themselves twice to be able to feed themselves (barely) and then pay
the fees. Better make sure it's not an arts degree.

Watching the news is like an action movie. Recently, with the 11th of
September (famous here for the date that Pinochet forcibly came to power in
1973) there were a heap of protests. Some crazy friends of mine went but I
preferred to keep my distance. The police come in and arrest anyone they
see, use watercannons at their own will and people (when it gets bad) start
throwing rocks and some even hurl molotov cocktails. Last month a molotov
cocktail was thrown through a windown in a historic monument in the centre
(La Moneda).

For those who've bothered to read all this, I hope you've found it
informative. Never in my life have I seen such inequality in one city, and,
even after over two months, I still find out more about how people scrape by

There's heaps more to say but that'd mean heaps more to read. Before this
email becomes like the final installment of the "Lord of the Rings" I'll
leave it there.

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