HELEN HUGHES – Santiago, Chile – 2021

Let’s see. Here in Chile,….

My grandkids, and other relatives of their generation, were supposed to go back to school on the 1st Monday or Wed. of March. The idea was half the class in the classroom and the others from home, rotating classmates on opposite days, in and out.  Most schools have stopped the in-classroom plan since they opened, due to positive tests of some who assisted those first couple days. The question is whether kids in municipal schools will be able to continue in their classrooms. Many of them, especially in rural areas, do not have mobile phones, computers, tablets or Internet connections to follow online classes. So they, or their parents, must make the trek to schools and back to pick up schoolwork and deliver homework. Some of these areas are in lockdown due to the peak in cases since the return from summer vacations (Dec.-Feb.). The teachers union said schools should not be opened yet, and it looks like they were right.

I get my 2nd dose of the vaccine tomorrow. Here, the order of who gets the their dose(s) is according to age, starting with the most elderly. But, if you cannot go on the designated day, you can also get the vaccination later. No appointments are needed, you just show up in any place converted into a distribution site. I got the Chinese vaccine, Sinovac. Chile arranged volunteers to test it last year, and the supply has been coming steadily, unlike Pfizer – which should send another 200,000 doses in a couple days in its second shipment. Sinovac has sent Chile about 10 million doses so far.

Health workers were first in line to get their shots – even before the elderly – and other “essential workers” or those with pre-existing infirmities have priority simultaneously with age groups. Members of the military and the police were pretty high up on the “essential workers” list, in this country that has not fought a war in well over 100 years. People who work in growing, harvesting and distributing our food, however, are not even on the list. Not yet anyway. Go figure…

So far, I only have one friend who has died of the virus as far as I know: my former boss, the director of the Catholic Church’s human rights magazine during the dictatorship here. He was over 70 and had Alzheimer’s, a heart condition, and was in an assisted-living home. He died about a year ago, one of the first victims of the pandemic here I believe. While I have many relatives who have had it, cases of lesser or greater seriousness, including my son (mild), they have all survived. Maybe it is because, although we are by no means rich (there are a few families who are hyper-, super-, extra-rich in Chile), we are economically more comfortable, better educated and probably healthier than many here.  Whole sectors of Chilean society have to go out daily to earn something to pay for their dinner, often selling produce, old clothes, or recycling other people’s junk in street markets. Or to beg coins or handouts door to door.

March 9th is sort of an anniversary for me. It is about the date I began staying in last year, shortly before the obligatory 24/7 lockdown that seemed to go on forever. Right now, my area is in lockdown only on weekends. But we never were allowed more than a few weeks of freedom of movement since March 9, 2020. Frankly, I’m fed up with it. But there is practically no where to go here anyway.