Thursday, March 01, 2007

Up in Smoke

Photos for this blog entry were unable to be uploaded at this time, should be up soon. Also, please check the bottom of this blog for a great update about my cousin. Thanks everyone for your prayers, the Lord listened as always!

We were the first to see the fire. Riding on our bikes to a señora’s house who had invited us over for lunch, Emily and I noticed the large cloud of black smoke that was coming from a field along Pocuro’s main road. The fire was close to the street and we wondered if it was safe enough to pass by; I said yes, Emily followed her instinct and said no. “Maybe we should call the fire department,” she told me. Noticing that there were electrical power lines in the path of the quickly spreading fire, I promptly changed my mind and agreed.

Returning to our house, we turned the corner and saw many people coming out of their houses, smelling the thick smoke and realizing that it was not from the common practice of burning trash or weeds. Others, who had witnessed the smoke from afar, came to either be helpful or just to be nosey. Regardless, in just a matter of minutes, it seemed to us that entire town was in front of our house.

A police officer, who was controlling the situation until the fire department could arrive, told Emily and me that our house was in the direct path of the fire. This did not concern me. We have a large cement wall that separates our house from the field; certainly the wall would save our house from the fire if anything. Five or so minutes later, the same police officer told us that we should start to get our possessions out of the house. I thought, “you have got to be joking,” but Emily and I, just for precautionary sake, went into our house and grabbed the bare essentials. A few moments later, we walked out with two bags each filled with our house money, important papers, iPods, journals, photo albums, digital cameras, and other various items with sentimental value.

I cannot explain to you the look on many of the Chilean’s faces when we walked out with such few items. It was clear they thought we should have more and urged us to go back into the house and grab our clothes. “You have really got to be kidding,” I thought and this time expressed vocally. I did not want to take all of my clothes outside, knowing in just a few moments time I would have to bring them all back in again. Under the infamous pressure of the señoras, we reentered our house. With a sense of urgency that I did not share, about 20 Chileans joined us this time, taking out everything; our clothes, our mattresses and bedding, our television, and furniture from the living room. People were racing in and out of the house, taking items and throwing it in a large pile located just outside of our front gate. Organization and neatness was out the window and before I knew it, our house was bare; almost everything from the inside of our house was now outside in a large pile, in front of the chapel and for all the world to see.

All I could say during this time of complete madness was “this is ridiculous.” If the fire were to burn down our house, I had everything that was important to me. Although I was extremely grateful for the help that was offered to us by our surrounding community, I could not understand why they would want to carry out an old worn-out chair or mattresses that had clearly been used in the house for the last 25 years. My lack of understanding many times caused me to politely tell those who were helping us that the things they were carrying out were not important. This was a lost cause; they would set the unimportant items down and go grab other unimportant items to carry out. Before I knew it, the same items that had been previously set down were again being carried out by people who were unaware of my previous statement.

It took 20 minutes for the fire department to arrive, which I am told is a great response time here in Chile. It took two separate fire departments around 25 minutes to extinguish the flames. In the end, our house did not catch fire, although it did get close…about 10 feet away from the cement wall that I had mentioned earlier. It took us about 2 hours to bring everything back into the house and 4 days later, we felt we had our house back to its original state.

Looking back, a few things have caught my attention. First, I only had two small bags of things that were important to me. I left many items in my room, including my entire wardrobe. Yet, I came here to Chile with three large bags, paying overweight luggage fees along the way. Is this a good thing? Does this say I am not materialistic or does it say that I clearly need to downsize the number of possessions I own? Will I feel the need to bring all of these things back with me to the U.S. when I return? Second, I was so quick to let everything that was not important to me go down in flames. Despite the fact that I did not take the fire seriously, I know that if those items would have burned, I only would have been upset with the inconvenience of finding a new place to live. Possessions lost would not be a problem because my program would replace each item we had lost. Would this have been my reaction if the same were to happen to me in the U.S.? Or would I have run into a burning house to save what I could? Lastly and most shockingly, I did not understand the actions of the Chileans who helped us remove items from our house. Didn't they see that these items were not important? If not, why did they continue to remove items from the house knowing we deemed them unimportant?

Soon after the incident, I learned that in Chile most do not have insurance. An owned house is the most prized possession that one can have here. Most houses are passed down from family to family and the items within it are an accumulation of purchases throughout the years. If their house was to catch fire, their entire life would burn up with it and they would have to restart again from scratch. This is an unthinkable option knowing how little a month’s salary is here. Their willingness to help us and save everything we own when our house was in danger is therefore not only appreciated, but very understandable.


Thank you everyone for your prayers! Katelynn has had eight operations thus far, the latest providing the best news: despite opposite reports received earlier, doctors will be able to save her foot! Doctors grafted skin from her theigh and muscle from under her arm on to the side of her foot; they head surgeon stated Katie's excellent physical condition allowed her to be the best possible patient a doctor could ask for in this type of procedure. Although she will most likely be unable to continue track and basketball (what the doctor considers extreme sports) she will be able to jog as well as participate in her high school's marching band if everything continues to go well.

All others in the hospital due to the accident have been released from the hospital after a full recovery.

Katelynn was in the spotlight after all this happened; an interview with her appeared on the local news stations several times daily and an article about her was featured in the Kansas City Star. You can check it out here.

She is recovering and continues to improve each day. Thank you again everyone for your prayers.

Also, Roy's grandfather is doing great after a double-bypass heart surgery and has apparently "returned to his good ol' self, giving the nurses a hard time." See - prayers do help and the Lord listens!! :-)