Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ruminations on Chile

      My relationship with Chile, vaguely and indirectly, goes back to early childhood.  In the late nineteen-forties and early fifties my Aunt Helen and Uncle Dave Wright and their children lived in Chile for three years while Uncle Dave worked for the U.S. government.  I have memories of seeing them off at the airport and re-uniting with them upon their return, and writing letters to my cousins, Kathy and Maren.  Upon returning they gave my parents a gift:  a beautiful plate of Chilean copper with the official coat of arms of the country cast in relief and the words 'Republica de Chile'.  For many years that plate hung on the wall of our living room.  Looking upon it as a child, I often wondered what life would be like in this country so far to the south.
      During childhood, looking at the shape of Chile on my globe caused me to be incredulous.  "How could any country be so long and so narrow?" I wondered.  I thought that it looked like a string bean.  Later, as I gained experience in surgery during my medical training, I thought of the country as being in the shape of an abnormally elongated appendix with a hook on the end.  I've seen many appendices over the years that have had that very appearance.  I can't help it and I don't mean this in any way derogatorily, but to me Chile will always be in the shape of an abnormal, inflamed appendix.

      Over the years a large number of my relatives and friends served missions in Chile, and my Aunt Helen and Uncle Dave, along with my cousins, returned for another three year assignment.  Suzanne and I also have developed friends in Utah who are Chilenos.  During medical school I had a professor of Physiology who was Chilean, Dr. Ezyguirre.

      My vague relationship with Chile included this incident:  While interning at Walter Reed I had an experience that has stuck with me.  During an all-night gig in the ER the deputy ambassador from Chile came in and I diagnosed and treated a middle ear infection in him.  I asked him, through an interpretor, if he was allergic to any medications and he said "no."  I then dispensed to him some ampicillin, and made him take the first one in front of me so as to be sure that he understood the instructions.  He got into a car and his driver started returning him to the embassy.  Within ten minutes  he developed difficulty breathing, and it went downhill from there.  The driver turned around and brought him back to the hospital, and he was in full anaphylactic shock by the time he arrived.  He would have died had he waited to get home before taking the meds.  He was admitted to the ICU, on a respirator, but he was alright by the time I visited him the next morning.  He sheepishly confessed to me that he had forgotten all about an allergic reaction he'd had to penicillin as a child.  An international incident had been averted, and I learned a valuable lesson about asking about allergies that I hope I never forget.  But I digress....

      As I became more interested in the wild, beautiful places of the world, I read about Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego in the far south of Chile.  I had a desire to visit those places but I dismissed the thought of ever being able to because of their remoteness.  Now they are part of our mission area and we will see those areas as part of our assigned work.

      Here are a few facts and superlatives concerning the country that is our home for the next eighteen months:

          Average width = 100 miles
          Total length = 2,700 miles (as far as from New York City to Los Angelas.  That covers about 36 deg. of latitude north to south, but it's not as long as Russia is wide.)
          Largest producer of copper in the world, producing 38% of the total
          Largest copper mine in the world
          World's largest exporter of table grapes, @ 21%
          World's fifth largest exporter of wines
          World's dryest desert.  The Atacama Desert in the north goes for years at a time without measurable precip.
          World's oldest known mummies:  9,000 yrs., discovered in the Atacama Desert.
          World's tallest active volcano, at 22,383 ft.
          10% of the world's active volcanoes, totaling fifty
          The strongest earthquake ever recorded anywhere, 9.5 on the Richter Scale, occurred in Chile in 1960.
          The name 'Chile' is thought to derive from a Quechua (Inca) word meaning 'cold, snowy, deepest place on earth.'  The Spanish first called the country 'Nuevo Extremadura', after a province of Spain.

      So the country has everything from tropics and desert in the far north to ice fields and penguins in the south.  Common to all of it is a eastern border of mountains, the Andes, towering 18,000 to 22,000 ft above sea level.  It is these mountains, comprising the Continental Divide, that explain the unusual shape of the country.  Chilenos are proud to call their country 'fin de la tierra', or the end of the Earth, which it literally is for the the American continent.  In fact, Chile surrounds the entire Strait of Magellan and wraps around southernmost Argentina all the way to the Atlantic as the Chilean part of the island Tierra del Fuego. I was interested in learning that the country claims possession of a corresponding sector of Antarctica all the way to the South Pole
      Santiago was 306 years old when Brigham Young founded Salt Lake City.  The city is named for the patron saint of Spain, Santiago, or St. James.  (Used today as a man's name, the word is translated simply as 'James'.)  The city was named 'La Ciudad de Santiago de Nuevo Extremadura'.  Today it's known simply as 'Santiago de Chile'.  It's population is approximately six million.  The Andean peaks tower above it, at more than 20.000 ft,. and with perennial glaciers.  Although they're only ten to twenty miles away, we haven't seen them because of the smog.  We will, however.

      So, we're enjoying getting to know this country, whose government wouldn't extradite the ex-dictator Agosto Pinochet to Spain for trial for atrocities to 'disappeareds,' yet almost instantaneously extradited Peru's ex-president, Alberto Fujimora, to face trial for embezzlement and murder in Peru, after he thought he could safely live out his years in Chile.  That's their business, not ours.  We are enjoying our work here, and happy to be here, even with the stress of fully 'coming out of retirement.'


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Expanding Our Family and Settling-in

Our biggest news is the birth of our newest grandchild on Tuesday.  He belongs to John and Traci and was born 3 1/2 wks early but is a healthy 7 pounds 2 ounces and is doing well.  Of course, he is beautiful!

We have survived our first week in Chile and are still smiling.  Our clinic was very busy each day and we have had many questions and 'issues' to resolve but I am  learning my job in reception and have a great time visiting with the missionaries.  I also type in all the notes that Dave writes up after seeing the missionaries and  assist with minor procedures like partial toenail removal.  I even got to go over to the MTC, which is here in the same block as the Santiago Temple, the MTC and the Area Office, and give immunizations.  It is a treat to be with missionaries.

Dave is very busy advising missionaries over the phone and seeing missionaries in the clinic.  He feels that many of the symptoms that the missionaries are relating are at least partially stress related, due to the earthquake.  Many of them even realize this.  They say that their symptoms started just after the earthquake.  It was a very traumatic experience for many of them who experienced severe shaking.  One missionary related that her companion's cousin (just a toddler) was ripped from his mother's arms by the tsunami.  Even though she had put a flotation device on him, they have never found his body.  Some ran outside their building only to find live electric power lines flipping around creating further danger.  It is a great blessing that no missionaries lost their lives but many of them are traumatized by that experience to one degree or another.
The temple had a little damage but not much.  Angel Moroni lost his trumpet but it was soon replaced.  For some reason, they had a spare trumpet on the temple grounds.

There are still many aftershocks.  On Wednesday we had two large enough to require us to vacate the building for a few minutes.  One was  measured at 7.2.  The other was milder but continued for quite awhile which is a little disconcerting.

We have just learned that my nephew, Jordan DeMann, has been called to the Concepcion Mission and we are so excited about that.  We are pretty sure to run in to him a few times.  We did run into his best friend on Thursday.  The friend is serving a mission here in Santiago.  We were visiting about where each of us came from and I said I was from Murray and  that my sister and mother were still living there.  Without any other information, he said "Challis?" (my maiden name).   At about that very same time we met Amberlyn Peterson, Warren Peterson's daughter, from Delta and a young elder from the Copan area of Honduras which is very close to where we lived in Guatemala.  We have learned from Dave's sister Marsha that we are now working with a senior missionary here whom she knew on her mission in Uruguay.  It is a very small world.

We are pretty well settled into our apartment and find it very comfortable.  It is big city living--something we are not used to--but are adjusting well.  We even have our Vonage phone working so we can call the US without international rates.  I can just pick up the phone and call anyone in the states just like we were in Fillmore.

Yesterday we were taken by a senior Elder who has a car to a BIG mall which has a store like Walmart named 'Jumbo' and another store similar to Home Depot named 'Easy'.  It was quite the experience.  They have large escalators which are made to grab the wheels of your shopping cart so the carts can go up and down  the five levels to the parking below.

The previous couple had nursed along two stray kittens who have adopted the church compound as their home.  We are befriending them and have promised to have them 'fixed''.

I was asked to substitute for a sick sister and accompany on the piano in Sacrament Meeting and Primary.  Then they asked me to do choir.  Then five or so teenagers came up and asked if I would teach them piano.  Several had started in the past but their teacher had moved.  I was pretty excited about that.

The climate here is wonderful--like Southern California--and it is most beautiful.  Life is good!

(Right after I posted this most of the country of Chile lost electricity.  It appeared to be the result of overload on the system after the earthquake.  A flashlight was on our list of things to get on Saturday but we never found one. Fortunately the Dixons had left two candles in a little table in the dining room. I took a candle-light bath and we went to bed early.  Elder Boyden called to say that it could take a long time (possibly days) to get the power back up again but actually it was only about 3 hrs.  I awoke about 11:15 pm and found lights on in the apartment.)


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On The Ground in Chile

We arrived at the Santiago airport Sunday morning. They were still only operating at about 50% of capacity, and there were long waits. The passenger terminal is closed for repairs. We processed through immigration and customs inside of tents pitched on the tarmac.

The Dixons, the couple we are replacing, had waited patiently for two hours (actually, for eight days). They brought us to the guesthouse on the temple grounds and let us sleep. Later, they started orienting us to our duties in the area office building. They had to get in as much instruction as they could, as they were leaving on Monday night to return to their home in the States. Elder Dixon is eighty-one years old. What a trooper he is!

Monday began with a bang. We still had Dixons here for a few hours, but they had to finish packing, tie up loose ends, and still try to instruct us in the hundreds of details we need to know. They handed us the cell phones and we went to work in the clinic, located in the lower floor of the area office building. Dozens of people came by to welcome us, Chileans and North Americans. We met the temple president and his wife. They later took us grocery shopping. The area president, Elder Carlos Amado, and his first counsellor, Elder Corbridge, came into our new domain to say bienvenidos. They had just returned from Concepcion, where they had overseen the contacting of and accounting for every ward and branch, to be sure that all of the members affected by the quake had their essential needs met. We met mission presidents and their wives, the MTC president, and a number of other Sr. and regular missionaries and people who help us with all of the essentials for our new responsibilities. A surgeon who is very friendly to the Church came by to meet us. Later, he met us at a local hospital where we, along with Dixons, visited some missionaries who were patients there. Last evening we attended the weekly sr. missionaries family home evening and met even more of the 'older missionaries' like ourselves. We have been treated very well, by some of the best people you could want to meet. How blessed we are!

Today was sort of a 'baptism by fire' - I know that missionaries are supposed to PERFORM baptisms, not BE baptized. There were sick missionaries who had come in from the five missions that are close to, or within, Santiago. There were also a number of phone calls from further out, particularly the Concepcion area. The wife of one of the mission presidents in Concepcion wants to know if we can go down there, once we're settled, and help with some stress relief counselling. I told her that we'd love to. To explain, we are called to help with the health matters of ALL of the missionaries, young and older, but not with the members in general. Miraculously, there were no missionary deaths, and no serious physical injuries to any of the missionaries. They do need more help with water filtration, and things like that, in the Concepcion area.

Here in Santiago, other than the airport, there hasn't been a lot of visable damage. There wasn't even a 'boil' order for the public water supply right afer the quake. (It's nice to be able to drink water here right out of the tap.) The statue of Angel Moroni lost its trumpet during the quake, but now there is a scaffolding around the spire and I understnd that a new trumpet will be in place by tomorrow or the next day.

This is a beautiful, very modern city. The grounds that surround us here - yes, the temple grounds - are beautiful of themselves. When our apartment is ready to move into, another two days, we will still be only one-half block from the area office, the MTC, the temple, the distribution center, and the chapel where we'll attend Sunday meetings.

This is the guest house and MTC.  This is where we are staying right now.  It is right behind the temple.  Our apartment is across the street from this building.  We get to view the temple right out our living room window.

'Sorry for these disjointed thoughts, and no photos this time. I'll soon start to put down my impressions, observations, plenty of photos, and some interesting history. For right now, we are trying to get our bearings and get moved in. We are, however, extremely happy and feel very blessed to be here.

As they say here, Ciao!

(Oops, I just felt our first aftershock!)


Friday, March 5, 2010

Waiting in Dallas

We're not in Chile yet, but as of today we have the best hope that we've had in the past six days.  American Airlines has rescheduled us several times onto their nightly flight from DFW to Santiago.  Then that flight gets cancelled and we get bumped a day or two.  The problem is that, because of earthquake damage to the passenger terminal, the Santiago airport has only been able to operate at about 30 % of capacity, but that's gone to 50% as of today.  They only handle domestic flights by day and only international ones by night, from what I've gleaned.   The scheduled AA flights were supposed to arrive at Santiago around 10:00 AM, so that wasn't working.  The airline has altered their schedule so that flights from DFW now arrive in Chile at 7:00 AM.  We are now confirmed for the Saturday night departure ( AA # 9222, 6:20 PM ) that will put us into Santiago on Sunday morning ( March 7th ) at 7:00 AM.  We are confident that the Lord is in charge, and He'll get us there when it fits His plan.

We've been staying at a La Quinta Inn in Irving, not far from the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. From here we've been able to get to church meetings, Wal Mart, a commuter rail station, the airport, and any number of - too many - fine restaurants.  There's an excercise room, laundry, etc.  On Tuesday we took the train into Fort Worth, as we hadn't seen it before.  We spent the afternoon at the historic Stock Yards, and learned a lot about the history of Fort Worth, including the Chisholm Trail and other cowboy lore.  You probably know that that city calls itself 'Cow Town, USA'.  We saw several museums along that theme.  Unfortunately (tongue-in-cheek), we didn't have enough time to go across town to visit the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame.  This amazing cart was made in Europe in the 1600's and passed down in the family.  It has amazing art on it which is still preserved somewhat.

Here you can see some of that art work.

The highlight of the week was re-connecting with an old friend, Charla Hays.  We've known her and her husband, Vernon, since the eighties, when they lived in Delta and Charla worked as an RN at the Fillmore Hospital.  They now live in Kingsland, TX, a little north of Austin.  Bless her heart, Charla drove up to Dallas, and we were able to spend parts of two days with her, visiting and reminiscing.

We've been able to spend time in worthwhile pursuits such as studying Spanish and reading.  We've also had a number of phone calls and emails from many of you who are concerned about our whereabouts and our welfare.  An interesting thing is that three of you have each sent to us a copy of an email from the matron of the Santiago Temple, wherein she writes, concerning the immediate aftermath of the earthquake:  "Our new missionary doctor was supposed to arrive this morning and we don't know what has happened to him and his wife."  We are very grateful for the concern and the prayers of each one of you.

Another letter that has been circulated to us via email tells the story of President and Sister Laycock of the Santiago East Mission, and how two weeks before the earthquake they were warned, by revelation, that they should prepare all of their missionaries for the coming disaster, which they did.  You can read that account on line by going to

We are anxious to be of service as much and as soon as we can.  We knew that this mission was going to be exciting, and now we are starting to see the adventure unfold.  How many missionary couples get within three hours of landing when their flight is turned around because of an earthquake that damages the destination airport?  We're not sure what experiences await us after we arrive, but they are not going to be boring, that's certain.  Stay tuned....