Friendship Meets Public Transport

MICRO [mee-croh]: the word Chileans use for city buses.

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The famed Chilean micro.


By the time I’ve consumed my breakfast of toasted bread, avocado, and tea (which I´ve had for breakfast every day since living with my family in Chile and still LOVE), I am rushing to catch my micro. I flag down a micro by sticking my arm out, kind of like the New Yorkers do in movies when they flag taxis. However, I am from Wisconsin where cows are more populous than taxis, so this action is merely an imitation.

The micro is pulling away before I’m barely in the door with my sack lunch and backpack (normal). The driver hands me change before I give him my fare I had been clutching (not normal). Someone before me had forgotten their change and it seems I am the accidental recipient. I take a seat and try to gauge my guilt of now possessing someone else’s pesos.

A middle-aged man with a large belly and a small tambourine-like instrument gets on shortly after and takes a seat in the back. He begins to sing, more of a beautiful bellow actually, and plays his tambourine/drum as I try to decipher some of the Spanish he’s singing. It’s not yet noon and I am looking at the ocean outside the micro window, listening to “live music” from my fellow passenger. Living in a country where I feel frustrated by the language barrier in simple conversations at many times, and where buying dinner sometimes involves more anxiety than it should, doesn’t always leave one feeling their strongest. But it’s the tiny eccentricities like this tambourine man that leave me with a ridiculous amount of silly-drunken happiness.

I would consider myself a minorly anxious person before traveling, but being in a place where you feel like you have a large sticker on your forehead that says “I’M NOT FROM HERE!” makes you think about everything way more than you should. The rest of the micro ride I can’t stop worrying about how to give my guilt change to this tambourine man with all of the people standing in the aisle. But mostly I’m just very content with the music. The music reminds me of how much of a monumental commitment I’ve made by studying abroad in Chile for a few months.

I get off the micro at my stop feeling like a failure but also thinking about how many Super 8’s (see photo below) I can buy with my change.



The Super 8 is a classic treat here in Chile. Sold on micros, streets, and in every supermarket and minimarket. Think Nutty Bar and Kit Kat. Addicting and delicious.


Then tambourine man gets off the micro too and I put my change in his upside down tambourine more eagerly than I should (“I’M NOT FROM HERE!”). I wait to cross the street and he appears next to me.  I try to study him casually but he appears to be doing the same to me. I’m painfully aware of the opportunity for conversation but am frozen because I’m still in a stage where I forget I speak Spanish upon contact with other Spanish-speakers. This is partially exaggerated for humor but also a very real part of study abroad. I panic and forget I have the capacity, knowledge, and strength to communicate. It’s very intimidating but I try to engage in conversation with him, and it was well worth the fear and insecurity.

He says something to me in rapid Spanish that I must have answered correctly because he doesn’t give up and he doesn’t laugh. We’re walking past empanada stands and a man selling books and ice cream, and we’re talking and I’m understanding a stranger’s Spanish and feeling pretty okay about myself. We talk about music and dancing and salsa and exchange names. He tells me he plays salsa music too. We are both delighted to have this simple conversation and I’m suddenly convinced that this is what humanity is about. I feel my best when I’m meeting new people to share the experience of life with. I often wonder which parts of life I should place more time and attention to (homework, social justice, figuring out my career track among one day raising children, earning a living, etc). Maybe the answers are in Chile. More likely though, there are no answers, only possibilities and that itself is a scary, overwhelming thought. But those possibilities are something that joins all of us together, no matter where you call home. Even tambourine-playing Jon and gringa Natalie.

He walks me the rest of the way to school and I kiss him the customary air kiss goodbye- “besitos!” I’ll probably never see that man again, but I know I had a better day and a more positive outlook because of meeting him and I have a strong feeling he did too. It’s not a lifelong friendship, but we boost each other up in the smallest of actions.

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Filed under Natalie in Chile, south america

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