When I had been in Chile barely a month in May, 2004, the students were out in full force, protesting the lack of availability of student bus passes, which meant that the bus drivers were not allowing them on the bus for a reduced fare, leaving students no choice but either paying the full fare (3X as much), or bargaining for a reduced fare with no boleta (receipt), and therefore no standing to complain should the bus get in an accident.
I was riding my bike south, across the Alameda (main street), past the Moneda presidential palace (though the president actually lives elsewhere), when I saw the masses of uniformed kids. I even saw the guanacos, the water cannons named for their spitting cameloid relatives. And as I passed through a mist of water, I hoped I wouldn't get wet, because wouldn't that be unpleas---
BLINDINGPAIN, then blindness. I was riding my bike, with my eyes closed, hoping not to crash into anyone, not to hit anything, but most of all, not to asphyxiate. The water in the guanaco, mixed with tear gas hit me full force in the face. I was blind, burning, swollen. I didn't know at the time that you're supposed to suck lemons should you get teargassed. I washed my face with water.
It was a full 36 hours before my eyes stopped streaming tears, the skin around them was free of swelling, and before I stopped feeling like I'd swallowed 80-grit sandpaper.
Fast forward to this week. We've been rife with (education-based) protests again in recent days, and with my mother visiting, it's an exercise in creative pathmaking to keep her out of them. I'm an "early responder" to teargas, always sneezing before anyone around me feels it. So last night on our way to dinner at the lovely and cachurreo-filled (packratty) Boulevard Lavaud in Barrio Yunguay when I started sneezing, I knew we were in for something fun.
A little burny, a little itchy, a little streamy. We pressed scarves to our faces and ran inside the restaurant, where we met our third dining companion. I felt major success because we'd not gotten a true faceful, and my mom got to feel like a warrior for "having been teargassed." But mostly I was glad I hadn't left my windows open, because even on the sixth floor, teargas can waft up and wreck an otherwise agreeable evening in my livingroom (or anywhere).
And the food? Papillote de mariscos for mom (seafood in a "phyllo" packet), papillote de congrio con mango y salsa de coco y curry (conger eel in mango, coconut and curry in a "phyllo" packet) for me and the ever-winning pastel de jaiba (crabby whatsis) for our dining companion. The hands-down winner was the crab bisque/pudding. It always is. Why do we ever get anything else? Maybe the teargas clouds our judgement.