When I came here, Chile was burning. The Government of Chile announced state of emergency over the wildfire. It was biggest and worst fire in the known history of Chile. More than a dozen of firemen popularly known as bomberos sacrificed their life. Whole countryside, young women and children left their work and joined shoulder to shoulder at fire site.
There was no other news on channels except, fire and fire and fire. Situation went from bad to worst. Finally, US and Russia sent their jumbo water tanker planes to spray water on the fire. I was telling my parents about fire, they asked me what are you doing in the city? I did not understand their question. They asked me to go to fire and help needy people.
I told this idea to team of my friends. Since the idea came from my parents so no one said anything except ‘Take care, we are close to our record, don’t let it go.’ The government agency has warned not to travel to fire site on one’s own. I tried to find some organisations but that was futile. Eventually, I decided to go on my own to Chillan (read Chiyan) a fire site.
I boarded bus for Chillan from Santiago. After reaching their, I searched for Fire Brigade office. I told them that I would like to work as volunteer. No one could understand English and I could not understand Spanish. My mobile translation app got hang. One middle aged fireman gave me bottle power drink and handful of chocolates and bars. He asked me to go back. I smiled and stood up there, waiting some miracle.
After sometime one fireman came. He knew English as much as I know Spanish. I convinced him. He said something like that he is going to Portezuelo and asked me to board his vehicle. On the way, he asked me how much money I am carrying. I doubt on his intention so I said “No money only card.” He looked at me then I showed one currency note of 10,000 CPL (Rs.1,000). Then he dropped me at bus stop and asked to board bus for Portezuelo. I did.
When I reached Portezuelo, it was evening. Military personnel were marching in files and sirens of fire vehicles. It was looking like a disaster relief camp site. Again, I was searching for English Speaking person. I found one: he was Fire Chief, last day, he told me.
His name was Regardo (read Recardo). He is working for Japanese motor company. He is volunteer fireman. He took unpaid leave and came to help. He asked me, “What skills do you know?” That reminded me Skill Education in India. I said “No skill in particular. But, I am a good porter (Reporter/journalist). I can be good labour.” He said, “You are useless there too because you don’t know Spanish.”
At last, he deployed me with medical team since doctors could speak English. First day, I was just doing here and there in the medical camp and trying to help them. Next day, Viviana’s friend asked me, whether I can help them in physiotherapy section because it has lot of patients. I went there. They were giving massage to tired firemen and women through machines.
I said, “I can give nice back massage.” Vivian said, “Come on man! You are most welcome!” I gave a back massage to a firewoman. Then I went to wash room. When I came back, there was a queue for back massage. At end of the day, I was tired and wishing if anyone could give me massage.
Firemen and firewomen were working for 10-12 hours. Their bodies were locked. They did not sleep well. Massage helped me to get relax. Days passed like that.
At fire relief camp, there was disturbance so I could not sleep well. So I asked Dr Carolina Toro Jara (Chileans have two surnames, one from father and one from mother) can I sleep at her quarters?” She said, “It is yours. I am going to Chillan.”
I was thinking what to do tomorrow on February 4, on the birth day. First thought was that work harder. I resolved to work hard. But Regardo told me to take leave for which I was reluctant. At night, when I came back to Carolina’s quarter, she told me one doctor may share the quarters. I was thinking who is coming now.
I was cleaning room, meanwhile Dr Natalia came. Natalia’s face is blank and hardly emotion like Buddha. She has no visible emotions. Initially, I had impression that she might be upset but she was not. We decided to watch some movie. We started one but there was an emergency call for her so has to rush to hospital. Whole night, she was in hospital.
I got up early morning on birth day because of lightening. It was raining heavily. I opened the window to watch it. It was raining heavily more than enough to extinguish fire. I was really happy so does the whole country. Water was restricted and I thought to take day off from work because there would be hardly work.
I asked Natalia whether she can give me lift to Chillan. She said yes and asked me to pack my bag quickly. I did. Then I asked her, “Where is your car?” She said “I don’t have. I don’t drive.” She was walking and I was following her. Then she went into the garage. There was one ambulance was waiting for her.
I did not want to travel in ambulance on birth day. But there was no option as the driver had already put my bag inside. Still it was raining. I took selfie with Natalia and driver. After lot of request Natalia smiled, small, very small.
When we reached Natalia’s house, Dr Daniela Arredondo and Dr Lili Psique were waiting there. After sometime, Dr Carla Sierra joined. We cut a cake at Dr Natalia’s house. I cooked some breakfast, most of it was ready made.
They decided to go for long drive in mountain and swim in hot water spring. I was a bit like reluctant because I was only male among them. It would be rude on my part to say no to their kind invitation for long drive in mountains. Since, I was extra member so there was little space in vehicle. Then Carla decided to go back to home to change vehicle and get big and specious vehicle.
Initially, I was shy but Daniela and Lili made me comfortable. All girls were singing, don’t remember but they said that it was their symbol song. (Sounds something like ‘Let It Go’).
Carla is very disciplined driver. She don’t look left or right when she drives. When we came out of city, we coaxed her to tell her love story. She is just married. She has nice love story.
We swam in the hot water spring for hours. Since it is on the top on mountain, so it was very cold. When I removed my shoes, I got cold. But water in hot spring was boiling hot. It was greatest pleasure to swim in hot water spring when the weather is freezing cold.
At 5pm, I reluctantly came out of water. It was late and Dr Carolina was waiting for me at her house. I could not send her whats app message so I was feeling guilty. On the way, back to home someone gave me bag of bread. It was for Carla’s mother. I was hungry so ate it. Ha ha ha ha ha. Sorry Carla.
When we reached Natalia’s home, Carolina had come to pick me up. Then I went to her house. We cut another cake. I was not really hungry (because I ate Carala’s mother’s bread). After the dinner, I went to bed but not feeling sleepy. I was missing my friend Abu (more than my parents) because I celebrated most of my birth days with his family. In my family, we had not concept of birthday. Its like any other day.
From L to R Dr Daniela, Dr Lili, Dr Carla and Dr Natalia
Carolina saw the lights are on so she came to my room. We spoke about Chile fire and cultures in Chile and India and then watched a movie.
It was memorable birthday with family, away from family. Thank you Dr Carolina, Dr Natalia, Dr Lili, Dr Daniela and Dr Carla for your kind hospitality and kindness. Look forward to see you in India.