My husband and I met Chris 2 weeks ago when we were standing on a busy street corner in Santiago, trying not to look lost. Chris introduced himself and said he recognized our "lost signals". (Of course when he and his wife first came to Santiago 30 years ago I don't think they were studying a map on the cell phone.) Chris gave us directions and we continued chatting for many minutes. He was curious to hear what brought us to Chile and we were interested to hear how he and his wife ended up in an apartment around the corner.
We Met Again
Two days later, Don and I met Chris and his wife at a café in the lively Plaza de Armas. Chris and Jennifer have been coming to this café for years and they were eager to point out all the characters they have grown to love. The street cleaner came over to chat at least 3 times. A young boy came to our table selling plastic wallets. They called him by name and remembered when he was much smaller. They were unable to spot the usual prostitute who works the area, but there were plenty of other regulars to point out and gossip about.
If they could have talked him into it, our waiter would have joined us for a drink. Chris and Jennifer know no strangers and their warmth goes beyond the café. They are god parents to a young boy who is being raised by a single mother who works as a maid.
Excitement in the Square
When a protest march suddenly filled the festive plaza, we were lucky to have Chris and Jennifer there to assure us this would be peaceful. We watched the Mapuche Indians march by, pounding drums and chanting against the building of a dam that threatens their land.
The Special Forces looked intimidating in their helmets and padding and bullet proof shields, but Chris eased the worry by reminding us of their nicknames, Ninja Turtles. The street cleaner stopped by the table to assure us things were under control. That was good to hear, because a year ago Chris and Jennifer had been sitting at the same café when they were blasted with water hoses during a protest march.
Meeting Strangers through Strangers
After visiting for a couple hours, Don and I were ready to head back on the subway. Our new friends said they would show us a short cut to the station. We headed down a walkway that we never would have chosen ourselves. The area echoed with a few foot steps and murmuring voices. It felt late and eerie to me, but Jennifer waved and spoke to a cluster of older men. "The Club" she called them. "They often gather in this walkway and act as if they have important business."
A Happy Group!
Next thing I knew, Jennifer and I were chatting with this lively group of gentlemen. The one with the hat was proud to speak a few words of English to me. The man with the bird on his shoulder explained, in Spanish, "This bird just landed on my shoulder one day. And he never left."
After a little chatter we said good bye and joined Don and Chris up ahead, who had just found our subway station closed. Chris flagged down a taxi and we said good-bye after exchanging cards. I wouldn't be surprised if we meet up with them again someday.
Thanks Chris and Jennifer. You reminded us that you don't have to be on a trip to open yourself up to new people and experiences. You live in Santiago but you seem to treat each day like curious travelers, wondering who you will meet and what will come your way. It's also nice to know you don't have to be 20 years old to have that "backpacker in Europe" mentality!
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers