I’m not the only expat blogger who has talked about the challenges of living so far from home, but I do have to say that many of us in Chile have a very special advantage. Nine years ago today Cathy Casanga, formerly of Seattle, founded a group that has become a lifeline for so many of us here.
Back in August of 2000, I got a call from Cathy asking if I would join a Yahoo Group she was setting up called “Chilespouses.” The idea was to have a space for native English-speaking women with Chilean husbands and a commitment to living in Chile to be in touch and share information. “I called the 6 people I knew at the time,” she says. Never did she ever dream what she was getting herself into. We now number more than 500!
The definition of the members has changed somewhat over the years: “native-English speaking” has become “English speaking but not necessarily as a first language” (we now have a number of members from other, mostly European, countries). And not all are married—the “husband” requirement has turned to “partner” and even “ex.”
What has remained solid, however, is the fact that we are all women (men have tried to join but we remain firm and feminine—ahem, let me rephrase that (some of us are not as “firm” as we used to be)—we are women only, we all have or have had Chilean partners (which creates a specific bonding point as we try to negotiate the rules of belonging to a Chilean family), and we are all foreigners with a long(ish)-term commitment to living and belonging in this country and culture. This is no place for tourists.
Other than that we are a widely diverse group. Some have been here “forever” (Barbee, congrats on 42 years!), and others are just off the boat (I know, nobody comes on a boat anymore, but “just off the plane” really misses that proverbial boat when it comes to making my point). We are of all ages and from all walks of life; we hail from many different places and embrace a variety of religious and political beliefs. Some are just starting their families, and others are seeing their grandchildren off to college. We are doctors and lawyers and nurses and writers and teachers and business women and secretaries and translators and historians and scientists and anthropologists and singers and comedians and journalists and managers and engineers and computer whizzes and wine geeks and cooks and masseuses and moms and so much more, and when it comes right down to it, frankly, we’re one amazingly creative and interesting bunch of women.
The Yahoo group allows us to ask for advice and share tips and opinions, spread information and warnings (and way too many virus hoaxes along with the occasional belly laugh). Every “where can I find…” or “how do I…” or “why does my mother-in-law…” or “Please help…” or “Be careful about…” gets an answer (often many), and the accumulated information we share is truly impressive. Looking for a job? A handyman? A maid? A lawyer? A doctor? A car? (selling a car?) A place to get married? You need to know something about skiing? Hiking? Traveling? Working? Buying? Selling? Looking for corn syrup, cranberries, or the perfect apple pie recipe? Need a good laugh? A shoulder to lean on? You’ve come to the right place.
We support each other in many ways, and the tips and advice that our Chilean friends get from their mothers and sisters and best friends from school get passed among the gringas through Chilespouses. Sub-groups form: “Who wants to start a play group for 3-year-olds?” “Lamaze, anyone?” “Up for a Thai cooking class?” “Menopause workshop?” “Happy hour on Monday?” “Chilespouses from Viña & Valpo” “Want a Japi Jane party?” (Yes, Jane is one of ours) and more.
Chilespouses is so many things to so many women, and through it all, we have one woman in particular to thank. Our founder, our friend, our lifeline… who is surely blushing and blustering as she reads this because it is most certainly her way…
She has done an enormous amount of work and an incredible job of keeping this group together for 9 years. “This is not about me,” she says over and over again. We know that Cathy… but it very much is because of you… This is just my way of saying Thank You Cathy, for being my friend, for being our friend, and for being the Queen of the ‘Spouses. (Do you still have the tiara and the magic wand we gave you after 5 years?)
Thanks too, to the wonderful performers who entertained us last night. Chilespouse members all, comedian Eileen Shea, and singers Stefanie Block, Mia Praught Ossa, and Danielle Gilson.
And if you didn’t quite get all of Eileen’s story about they guy from work who’s wife had a baby, check out the latest version at: Chilean Spanglish Spoken Here: A Rooster from the Glue.