by Janna Elwell, Greenheart Travel volunteer in Chile
Maja, Silvia and I all had departures within a week or so of one another, which meant that every moment of that final week was occupied by a task we needed to finish, a friend we had to make one last visit to, photo-swapping, or gift hunting for the tias who had become so much like family for us. The final days had crept upon us without us even realizing it and we suddenly felt the immense pressure to experience everything that we hadn’t gotten to. After Naty and I returned from the coast, the three of us volunteers went back to our regular teaching schedule during the mornings and afternoons, however the evenings always held some sort of occasion. We held a number of onces (light dinner parties) at our house, inviting over various groups of friends to share one last night together. This went on for the first couple days of the week, each night blending into a sequence of close friends gathered in our humble home, sharing memories of our time there and making promises to keep in touch. The less time that we had the more people we thought of that we needed to visit; there were countless people outside the hogar who had opened their arms to us in one way or another, and we couldn’t have left without thanking them for their generous and welcoming hearts. The couple who sold eggs at the railroad tracks, who sent us home with fresh eggs each time they saw us walking down the street; Ana Maria at the panderia, who continually invited us into her kitchen for some tea when we walked past her bread shop and who sent us home each time with a warm loaf of freshly baked Chilean doblaritas; Juan and Carla at the produce stand on the corner, Ariel, Sebastian….the list went on and on, and so we walked from one end of the city to the other during every spare minute of our days doing what we could to express our gratitude to these extraordinary people.
On Wednesday the administration and daytime staff held a despedida, or farewell, for all three of us. They formally thanked us for all we had done for everyone in the hogar and presented us with a variety of gifts and a plaque with pictures of our students on it. I felt the first threats of tears here, but I still had until Friday before I actually left so I hadn’t begun to panic quite yet. The following night, a group of the dear sweet tias with whom we had grown close to all came together and threw us their own surprise despedida. After they had put their kids down for bed they moved out furniture and carried tables from a couple of the houses to put together, filling the entire room. They brought out dish after dish of homemade Chilean food, all served with their custom carne asado and countless bottles of Coke and wine. Eight of the 10 tias, along with the Father of the hogar all crowded around the gigantic table with us, eating and laughing alongside us. After enjoying the exquisite meal we all gathered together to take photo after photo, in an effort to preserve the memories that we all had created with one another.
Before the night ended the tias presented us each with a small bag of gifts, each holding significance to our respective likes and personalities. We were in awe at the thought and effort they put into this occasion, as we knew with certainty that the hogar had not paid for the luxuries we were enjoying, but that the cost had been covered by the tias personally. These humble woman had brought together everything they could to give us such a lovely going away party, and I was so incredibly touched by their generosity. Again, although the following day would be my last I still hadn’t fully comprehended what that was going to bring.