The lowest point in my study abroad experience happens almost twice a day.
Santiago, Chile, like many metropolitan regions, divides itself into different sections or, comunas. The bulk of the population live near the city center, in la comuna called Santiago, and this is where you’ll find my university (The University of Chile). My host family’s house resides in a comuna more similar to suburbian life, with houses instead of apartments, more trees, their own yards, and was dubbed the name, La Reina.
In order to get from my house to my university, from La Reina to Santiago, from trees and yards to concrete and skyscrapers, I usually take what is called, el metro—sometimes called my least favorite form of transportation, sometimes called Satan’s Chariot, but in English you just say subway.
I walk to the metro station from my house. On the way the sun usually warms my face, and I walk alongside a dirty river. Three big red diamonds are used as the subway’s logo, and are held up to let me know where to descend into the station. The amount of people climbing up and down the stairs and the escalator is a dismal foreshadowing of rush hour. Once underground, and on the tiled floor of the metro station, I head towards the metal turnstiles to swipe my card. Chileans have dawned the name Bip! for their metro-cards in tribute to the sound a turnstile makes letting you know you had sufficient money on your card and can now pass through. Bip! I bip on through the turnstiles and follow the crowd of people towards our boarding platform.
The train’s distant yellow eyes grow in the tunneled darkness as the lead car nears. When it speeds passed, the rush of air threatens to pull me onto the tracks. I wait with a group of eight other people as the train slows down. Looking through the windows at the amount of bodies, I know only two, maybe three of us will get aboard. The train comes to a stop, and opens her doors. This moment, which happens almost twice a day, starts the lowest point of my study abroad experience.
The train stops, and the car doors open. Fifty or so people, literally sardined into this small space, pear out to us. Sometimes a person will try to get off, and you’ll see them crawling from the back of the crowd, swimming through the people, gasping for air before they eventually leave the train to freedom. We let the few people leave the subway car before it’s our move. Luckily, I managed a spot in front of the pack, and though it appears as if no more people could possibly fit inside, I know the contrary. In between a dark-skinned hefty woman with tight pink pants and a tall older gentlemen with a wrinkled face, is a spot for little Henry.
Taking a deep breath, I begin to push. I push between the two with my backpack in my hands and in front of my waist. I push more, condensing the train car of bodies, apologizing as I completely disregard their personal space, lo siento, permiso, lo siento. The alarm rings signaling the closing of the doors, and I push one more time, moving and skinnying-up as to not have an appendage caught in them. The disappointed people left behind on the platform look at me through the window with envy and sympathy. Closed doors, the mass still moves inside the subway car, trying in vain to get comfortable. The train eases forward, on to the next stop. Suffocated between the two, the old man looks out the car, thinking about years past, and the busty woman with gold-hooped earrings chews her gum. I just put my headphones on, and close my eyes, imagining I’m back in Wyoming, driving my truck on an open highway and the windows are down. Nothing on either side of the road but green hay fields, and the sun is shining.
The connection I take from one line to another crowds during rush hour: