The past few days in my new home in central Chile have been extremely emotional. Forest fires have dominated the hills and outskirts of Valparaíso, destroying thousands of homes. The damage is unbelievable, but the rebuilding that has already begun is incredible.
I have never witnessed anything like this tragedy before. To be in the middle of so much devastation and loss is an experience that is truly heartbreaking. With this suffering is a most admirable sense of community, of Chileans helping one another repair the damage and start anew.
Along with hundreds of my fellow students, both local and international, I have been volunteering throughout the city since the fires have become controlled. Yesterday I went up to Cerro La Cruz, one of the hills most affected by the flames, and met with a family standing in what was left of their home: ash. What was once a beautiful two-story house is now just a rectangle of burnt memories and broken glass. Yet, as I approached this family, they were smiling. I stepped through what used to be the front door, and the father of the family made a joke by asking me to wipe my feet before entering. He said he’d just cleaned the floors and didn’t want me to get them dirty. he laughed and I started to cry. He put his arm around me and told me not to be sad, that they are going to rebuild. In my broken Spanish jumbled with tears I asked how in such a sad time did he manage to be in good spirits. He gave my shoulders a squeeze and explained that he has already grieved, and now is the time to look forward. With the support of so many friends and family and fellow Chileans, he understands he is not alone, and together this country will remain strong, fuerza.
The irony of this situation breaks my heart even more. Here I am, a young Gringa temporarily in this city, hoping to be of any help to at least one person. Before I even start getting any work done, this most admirable man whose family has been here for generations, who just lost everything he ever had, is comforting me.
Chile is an amazing country, full of the most inspiring people who powerfully exemplify the meaning of fuerza, especially after the fire. I am learning so much from the strength, hope, and love they show one another after this tragic time. Viva Chile!