My first born has returned from a visit to the country she left when she was a growing secret inside of me. When I left her at the airport On Christmas Eve, I worried like most mothers would. It was her first international trip. She couldn’t be bothered to learn Spanish including key phrases I made her write over and over in her journal like “I’m in trouble please call my father,” much less Chilean colloquialisms. She didn’t read Chilean travel books or Chilean history. My partner made her read an essay about returning to Chile by an exile who left during the Pinochet dictatorship and my heart sank, I felt like a failure when the question she left with after reading was “Who is Pinochet?”. I felt less worried about the logistics when she messaged me via Facebook from the plane, impressed with the little details of international travel many take for granted, like real airplane meals, separated into neat little sections and wrapped in plastic, free headphones, a pillow, blanket, and an eye mask. My partner scoffed a little when I shared this detail with him. Like he saw her as not worldly enough. “Jibara” my mom and sister would say. I thought it was sweet. It made me remember my first international flight and my own fascination with these same little details. When I woke up at 4 a.m. Pacific Standard Time and saw that her plane landed and that she made it through immigration quickly. I confessed to someone I work with that I worried about her being let into the country. I worried that since she is only 17 they would question why she was traveling by herself. I worried they wouldn’t believe that she was there to see her father whom she hadn’t seen since she was a toddler. I was worried they wouldn’t believe she was meeting an entire side of her family she has only known through occasional internet photos and carefully dictated anecdotes.
Then I worried about her feelings. What is it like to spend every day with a man who is your father but who hasn’t been present throughout your life? What is it like to travel through a country that is part of your DNA but you have had no connection to except in Violetta Parra songs sung to you as lullabies? What is like to travel into the campo where your arrival will be greeted by the killing of a sheep in your honor and where you have to navigate your head, heart and tongue around Spanish, English, and Mapundungun? Soon the pictures came. Snapshots of her sitting in a dimly lit room in Chanquin around a table. She is sitting there with her grandfather, her great uncle and two great aunts. They are all the same shade of reddish brown, the color of earth, Mapu. Mapuche, people of the earth. They are drinking tea and there is dried meat on the table. In other pictures her father helps her with her life vest for a rapid rafting trip down a river in the Patagonia. Her grandfather looks on. There are more touristy shots, her on the beach in Viña del Mar, riding the funicular in Valparaiso, the Santiago Metro Map, her walking in a forest in Puerto Aysen. Aysen is her middle name and she is there, on that earth, Mapu.
As the weeks went on I was irritated by messages from her father who noticed things I have lived with for the last 17 years, like how she needs to be reminded to shower. Welcome to parenthood I thought wondering what I was expected to do from thousands of miles away.
“Take a shower” I texted. I could feel her roll her eyes at me and at her father.
When my partner, his son, Poroto and I picked her up at the airport yesterday she was tired but seemed happy. Would you go back? I asked. She said she wasn’t sure. I’m sure it was/is alot to process. I asked questions gently. How was your grandmother with you? What were your cousins like? Did you learn any Mapundungun? All she could remember was the word for crazy. I wonder if that is because it’s how she felt, a little crazed by it all. I know I would. But she was happy to share. She emptied wool bags gifted to her by her great aunts. They were filled with tiny paper tickets from the micros in Viña and Valparaiso, seashells from Chanquin, and a brochure from la Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s home in Valpo, and jewelry her grandparents gave her. Earlier this evening she shared more pictures of her rafting, horseback riding, kayaking, flying over the 11th region of Chile in a tiny plane, and more mundanely, petting her father’s cat, Orejas. In all the pictures she is clearly happy, smiling, laughing. That is how I want her always.