Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019 - 8:46 pm.
We've been in Chile for almost a week, with barely a moment for me to collect my thoughts. There's always something to move, something to sort, there's a non-stop flow of little things that should work but aren't. I started writing the entry below last Friday, but had to cut it short due to whatever commitment I had at the moment. So I'll pick it up where I left it:
Well. Hello from the Southern hemisphere again. Andrew and I landed safely after the longest trip of my life (three flights, two-hour, 14-hour, and one-hour long). We left the UK on Monday, with our dear friend Eric seeing us off at Manchester airport. We arrived in Chile on Tuesday morning, and decided to stretch our wallet and stay in the airport hotel while we waited for our domestic flight at night. It was a good decision. A shower and a bed make you feel human again.
The goodbye wasn't *that* hard. I was afraid Eric would bawl his eyes out, and made us bawl our own in return, but the three of us kept it together. We did hug and got teary eyed and we said beautiful things about us being a family no matter the distance. Then off Andrew and I went into customs, hoping to see Eric again one day.
In the waiting area, I learned that my friend Anna's daughter had passed away. Then I started crying, and I felt horrible that I was on my way out of the country and I wouldn't be able to see my friend and hug her and keep her company. Anna's one of the best people I met here in the UK (I'd known her online from a few years prior), and I felt absolutely heartbroken for her. I kept thinking about her and her child, and wished them love and finally being at peace.
I didn't feel much about me leaving the UK as the plane took off. My mind and my heart were almost blank, which doesn't mean I wasn't feeling sad, grateful, or even excited for our future, whatever it holds. I was just...calm. I was also relieved to find myself feeling that way.
The flight across the Atlantic was horrifically long, but with nearly zero turbulence. All of our suitcases were accounted for. I was let into the country as a Permanent Resident without fuss, which felt good. As Andrew was opening a suitcase for a customs agent, I just stood on the side of the door. I must say, considering the next paragraph, that I was looking pretty fresh for someone who had been on a 14-hour flight.
A woman with a head full of curls walked by me, with her roll-on suitcase. I caught her giving me a flirty look and she said "good morning" with a smile. Hooooooooo, boy! My jet lag was gone. Welcome to Chile indeed. I thought I was off to a great start, the second time around in this country.
We arrived to our little city Tuesday afternoon. Our friend Karin and her husband picked us up at the airport, and brought us to their home, where we're staying to this day [Friday, September 6th]. We're moving into our rented house tomorrow, the one that belongs to our friend and fellow PhD student Stephanie, who's staying in the UK until December.
On Wednesday [September 4th] morning, after about 5 hours of sleep, Andrew and I ran some errands in the city center, and most importantly, went to see our cats at Karin's vet clinic. They're well taken care of. Our black cat Marla recognized us and was particularly affectionate. The ginger one, Nico, seemed resentful and evasive. He's my cat, or rather I'm his human, and he's more used to being around people than Marla.
This whole thing has hit him the hardest. It's been a lot for a cat, since we started emptying our house in Sheffield in early August, then the days they spent traveling by car and by plane, and then three weeks at a noisy vet clinic. They're both used to either being in a quiet home, alone or with their humans, following a comfortable routine.
I feel so guilty for putting them through so many changes and discomfort all these time, but we've done all this to keep them. Sunday cannot come soon fucking enough. I'm desperate to get them back.
I'm desperate to get back to having a life myself. These days we've been meeting with friends and colleagues/teachers, and everybody asks how do we feel to be back. I can't put it into words. I do feel like I'm home, I know this place and it isn't half-bad now that I'm standing here. There are more migrants, which seems to be a welcomed change by the locals. The city itself has changed the right amount so as that it's still familiar but also feels somewhat refreshed.
I feel like my life in the UK has simply vanished from my memory. It's almost like it didn't happen. I'm here in Chile and that's it. I have yet to feel any crushing nostalgia, although Andrew and I often turn to each other and ache over a memory or two. It's a huge comfort that the two of us went through the exact same thing. I don't think anybody else could understand, nor would have the patience to listen to us ramble about how much we miss Sheffield, and about the life and friends we lost by leaving it.
Writing this last line made me feel like crying. I did leave a beautiful life behind.
In that life, there is V, my crush. Victoria. I found an email from her shortly after I landed, she was asking how my trip went. I was cheeky enough to reply to her answering her questions, while throwing in a "I've been thinking about you", quickly covered with a remark about the Ragdoll cats I'm currently living with.
I asked her for her number to talk on WhatsApp. She replied with her number, I added her and I was dumb enough to push the video call button instead of the message one. I hung up and messaged her explaining my mistake.
Right. Fast forward a week. I finally straightened my communication with Victoria, and only yesterday I sent her a proper WA message, to which she replied to this morning, calling me "babes". I melted and I wanted to cry. Also, she didn't ask any questions, she just said she was happy to hear from me, so I don't know how to continue. We have been liking each other's tweets, though, and my friend Virginia says I'm having a proper, passionate queer crush, fitting to the second adolescence that comes with coming out of the closet.
Andrew and I have settled into Stephanie's house. The house itself is really nice, with tons of space. We picked up our cats on Saturday afternoon and brought them with us. They explored for hours while we cleaned up. Then the four of us had dinner, them on their brand-new plates, us on a garden table and two stools (the only pieces of furniture here, besides two beds). Then, it was time for bed and the cats snuggled and slept with us, no hard feelings, it seemed. All was right in the world again.
I was also happy to leave our friend Karin's house. She adores us and goes a long way for us. She picked up the cats at the airport, 800 km away from our city, and kept them safe. She picked us up and gave us a room. She made us a "welcome package" with toiletries and such. She's kept a huge bookcase full of my books these four years. She went to Andrew's grandfather funeral earlier this year and brought flowers, and then paid for a space in his memory in the local newspaper (and saved a copy for Andrew). She's done all this and more for us all these years.
But she leads a lifestyle that comes with having lots of money, and sometimes she can't see that we're not in a position that's half as comfortable as hers. She made an appointment for her and for me, to get our nails done on Friday morning. I smiled and said thanks, because she was so happy, but in my head I went: I'm. Fucking. Moving.
By Friday Andrew and I were frantically running errands, and buying stuff, and trying to get people to help us move into the house. Among all the rush and uncertainty, she thinks it's appropriate to separate from Andrew and our list of tasks, and take me to get my nails done. I know this comes from a good place in her heart, to get me to relax or something, but I had rather pressing issues to attend. Furthermore, I'll be fucking doing manual labor with the moving, this shit won't last.
On top of that, I felt really stupid. There I was, with my arm stretched out, while the woman doing my nails told me she had a bachelor's degree from her country Venezuela, but couldn't find work here; she needed to get an equivalence but had no time or money to get it. And she's a single mother. And there I was, rendered useless by getting my nails done, with my friend next to me enjoying her coffee and her two-hour-long nail treatment. (mine took like 25 minutes, thank fuck).
Note that we went on Friday morning. This was before my friend's yoga class. She really has a lot of free time now. She worked hard to get her vet clinic up and running and found someone else to manage it for her, but she got a comfortable start because she comes from money. Her dad owns a ridiculous amount of land, and currently he's building an apartment building on the edge of a lake in a nearby city. One story an apartment for each of his two daughters, one for him and his wife, and one for his office. They will live there. Like, it's not for holidays, they'll all live there.
Karin's had her share of severe depression, and was horribly bullied growing up, so it's great that she gets to enjoy life like this. I don't care for people enjoying what they have, and it's not that she hasn't worked hard with her clinic (as an effort to gain independence from her parents, in case you missed they made a building so that they could live together with their daughters. And their daughters agreed).
What pisses me off is a certain inability that sometimes comes with socioeconomic privilege, the inability to see things from a perspective that's not your own. For starters, My friend is prejudiced on certain subjects to cringe-worthy levels. Then, there's the stuff like the nails or, say, casually recommending Andrew -his unemployed friend- getting a professional massage to cure his back pain. I was embarrassed to be walking her dogs at 3 pm in the afternoon, in some sort of rich ghetto, in front of a handful of workers building houses they could never afford. Then the nails appointment, a bit before her yoga class.
Anyway. Needless to say, my feelings about her are complicated. I love her and I'm grateful for all she does for us (and our cats), but truly it's best to interact on a controlled doses.
Sorry, I was saying. Karin and her husband truly helped us land on our feet here. Also other friends have given us rides here and there while we settled into our house, or given us stuff to start out in this house, like a coffee machine or a much-needed heater.
The "culture shock" has been growing on us, even more so as we return to work. We have a sort of academic gig until December, and I felt like crying when I realized I'll be doing the same thing I did before I left for my PhD. Or even worse: I have to call nearly 500 people to ask them if they want to take part in a study.
I don't think I'll do it. I mean, I already signed the contract with my boss, who's happy to see me and wishes I stay working with her forever, but I'll probably pay someone to make the calls for me. I started getting the instructions this morning and my stomach and throat flared up like they hadn't in years. Acid reflux at its best and out of my control. My boss once asked me to do the same thing with students, calling them, and I didn't last long. I was driven to bed for two weeks, unable to get up due to vertigo.
And that's the thing: I'm back to square zero. It's like I don't have a PhD. It's like nothing happened. The academic system here is savage, and it's made very clear to Andrew and I that there's no room for us, not if we want a decent contract. Many professors are retiring, but (a) they don't leave entirely, and (b) the university, instead of hiring a new academic, breaks down that post into small gigs, so they'll hire more academics to do more work for less money.
So right now we're research assistants, doing menial jobs. Our bosses -the ones who hired Andrew and I- want us to apply for funding for a postdoc research, but all that means is that I bring in my own money to conduct my research while the university lends me its name and benefits from my intellectual outputs. The university, however, has not hired me, and there is no guarantee that it will hire me once I finish the research and I run out of money. I'll be simply kicked out.
I know I should be grateful for having a job, but I'm also angry because people might think I'm entitled just because I ask for a decent job according to my abilities. Andrew and I have to put on a fake smile and say it's good to be back, but it's really not. Academia is ungrateful, and people are very demanding with your reactions: be grateful you have a job, be happy you're back, be humble about your experience, you privileged brat. They think you went abroad on holiday and magically got a PhD, so hey, "fun's over, welcome back to reality!". Fuck you.
This city's ugly. It's old, dirty and falling apart. More than poverty, there's misery. My bus ride from home to work can take between half-an-hour and an hour-and-a-half, and I love riding the bus, but everything outside the window is depressing, forsaken. It was never an exciting sight, but now that I've seen a different world, now that I know things can be done differently and they can work, it is harder to resign to such a heartbreaking sight.
Sorry this has been so long. So many things have happened, and just now I had the chance to sit down and go through my thoughts and feelings. I've missed this. I've not had an inner life in weeks, which is usually what keeps me in a happy mood. Today I was on the verge of tears, due to our job situation, but writing all this has helped me release some tension.