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Fire in Valparaiso

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Valparaiso, the city I lived in the last year was burning last month. News of this fire was overshadowed by the crisis in Crimea in any bigger news outlet, so i had to resort to trying to read Chilenean newspapers on the web and bugging my friends who still live there. Seeing pictures of the destruction makes my heart ache.

It is estimated that around 3000 houses were destroyed, leaving 10.000 people without a home, shortly before the Chilean winter. Most affected were (as usual) the poor of the city. Chile does not have an extensive social security system as it is a strong follower of neo-liberalism. Valparaiso especially is lacking affordable housing, leaving a lot of the poorer population to illegally built houses in the ravines between the hills.

These houses do not only lack access to clean water and electricity (though often electricity is intercepted from the power lines) but are mostly built out of wood. They are not only fire traps, but also in danger of landslides due to the steep terrain.

The cause of the fire is thought to be a bird flying into a power line in the wood area above the city, but the fire spread rapidly through the ravines aided by strong winds.

Immediately after the fire public discussions turned to the ravines and the danger the illegal dwellings pose. The tragedy is blamed on the authorities letting "anyone" people built "anywhere" they want to. The fact that many of these people, who are now living in shelters or tents while the ravines are being cleaned up had been waiting for housing or housing vouchers for years is ignored.

As a municipal senator of the city put it: "We cannot just evict people, we need to find alternatives for them to live in."

Whether the fire is going to lead to a social change in a city where the students took to the streets last year for month to try and stop privatisation of education is questionable.


Fortunately people in Valpo do not wait for the government. As I have described before there is a strong sense of community in the city, best described by my friend who still was in Valpo at the time of the fire:

Thank you for checking in on us! We are all perfectly fine -- but the sad truth is that Valparaiso is not fine at all. This has been a devastating fire, and at times the city feels like a post-apocalyptic movie or something. It still goes as of today though it has reached the upper most part (mostly brushland).

It is a terribly SAD scene but at the same time, totally beautiful and inspiring the way the portenos have come together. I can't describe it. In the midst of so much heartbreaking sadness, there is such unity and selflessness. It's very heartwarming, and necessary in times like these to elevate the soul a bit by sights like this.

We went yesterday to donate a lot of things (some of your leftover stuff too, hehe) to the efforts. There are 'albergues' all over, for the thousands of displaced people to live as the disaster is contained, assessed, etc. We gave food, clothing, hygiene items, etc. Today Sam and I went to help out in another part of Valpo, by carrying things to shelters, donating cleaning products, etc. Most of the shelters have SO much stuff and are well installed for so little time having passed. Again, the organization and help available is just so impressive. There are even places receiving displaced pets and street animals. Equally as heartbreaking and lovely.

I know Valpo will recuperate. But it is so tremendously sad to think of the sheer quantity of people affected by this, that are now homeless....children, pregnant women, the poorest families, elderly people that have maybe never left the hills in years....

Shannons blog post about the fire and the aftermath

Dressing for Iceland

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Back in Iceland I had to change my dress habits. No, not to become more fashionable, I'm still the person who walked around wearing a pink woolen hat for all last year.
When I got here I dressed like in Valpo, undershirt, pullovers and on top a light jacket. When I got into a house I would take off the jacket, more for show than anything else, as the inside was pretty much as cold as the outside. Very soon I noticed that this way of dressing here in Iceland means a lot of undressing or sweating as soon as one gets inside.

I'm back in central heating country. Additionally people in Iceland like their houses to be 25+°C, so now I'm wearing a T-shirt and a big jacket on top.

It is incredible awesome to be able to walk around in the cold, look at the pretty Christmas lights and get home, take of the jacket and not feel the need to crawl into bed, just to be warm.

And I know that being happy about central heating is incredibly lame, but then I don't feel the need to prove how hardcore I am anymore.

I already did the living on a boat in the middle of winter without electricity, running water or heating thing.

Dogs revisited

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I moved. Finally. But now, every time I go to my usual café I have to pass a street, which seems to have an antagonising effect on dogs. Which is not a good situation for someone with a (though decreased) fear of dogs.
The usual state of the SA dog is lying sleeping in the sun, but on this street there are ALWAYS crazily barking dogs. And it is a very narrow street with houses baring down from both sides. Fortunately the dogs are usually so occupied barking at each other, that they have not ganged up on me...yet.
I could obviously walk on a different street, but I guess, as Barbara used to say, I'm strengthening my personality.

Additionally: I still have not seen a female dogs, some bitches, but no female dog
Posted on - Categories: Valpo

Sparkling wine interruption

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I wanted to write a blog post about the 5% rule, government stability and the craziness happening in the USA after a theory I spun yesterday with the help of Margaritas.
I went to my favourite café here in Valpo, Vive Café, I like them because they have Belgium Waffles with cream and strawberries, which is one of my favourite food and they have an amazing view.
While here the nice owner, who is from Belgium, has lived in Aachen treated me to a glass of sparkling wine, which means I'm now slightly tipsy and therefor any chance of a serious blogpost has been rendered improbable.
Posted on - Categories: Valpo

All I wanted was pasta and a beer!

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Yesterday I went out to buy some Parmesan for my pasta, the obligatory cookies and a beer. Then I noticed that I was 150 pesos short in the shop. This was a hard choice, cheese, chocolate or beer what to give up. I decided I can do without the beer, but the shop owner, after witnessing the silent epic emotional struggle leading up to that decision decided to let me have the beer anyway.
My emotional turmoils were not over for this evening however. Coming home hungry I turned on the stove, the gas flame flickered pathetically for two minutes and died. We were out of gas. I informed Marie and we tried to alert the building manager, who was not home. Due to previous frustrating encounters with my landlord (his sister) I had planned to avoid meeting him until I moved out.
I went to get a kebab and when I came back Marie had talked to the manager, who had agreed to call for gas. In the middle of my beer sans pasta I got the inevitable call from the landlady refusing to pay for gas, as we were using it up too quickly in her opinion.
I passed the phone to Marie, who was talking to the building manager in the kitchen. After some guessing on what could have happened with the gas I was surprised to have him back us up. He agreed that there we were not to blame on the mysterious vanishing on the gas and this morning a new gas tank had appeared.
I guess our landlady is going to complain for the next few months about having to pay for it, but this is not going to be my problem anymore.
I'm just glad for Marie that her brother agrees that she is being ridiculous.
Posted on - Categories: Valpo

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