Every summer in Chile the highway gets clogged with cars of all types and sizes. Endless traffic jams cause you to take up to three additional hours to get to your final destination. For the most part, this is due to all the people going on holidays to the beach, lake, country side or just outside the city. Everyone wants to get outside the burning city on the weekends, so there is more traffic. However, another big part of why there is more traffic is that people drive through places that they aren’t supposed to, because they think their time is more valuable than others’.
To explain this, imagine a highway with two lanes in each direction. After the two lanes are the typical barriers that highways have, and to separate the barriers from the lanes there is “la berma”, a berm. La berma is not to be used by cars, and there are huge traffic signs all over saying “No use la berma – Do not use the berm,” but cars do fit through it, so of course some people just try and get away with it. Instead of waiting in the jam like all other cars, some decide to drive through la berma, as far as they can, and when they can’t go any further, they get back inside the jam, only to make the traffic worse. I would certainly understand people using it in case of emergency, ambulances for instance, or someone who needs to get to their destination as soon as possible as a matter of life or death. However, the majority of the people who go through la berma are just like everyone else, not in any real hurry. They, just like everyone else, want to get to their destination, to their place of comfort, as soon as possible, but they have no consideration, so they try to go faster, by making everyone else worse off. It’s frustrating when you are stuck in the same place for hours, and you see hundreds of cars passing by your side illegally, not caring, only to make everything even slower.
All my life I saw this in anger, more than because it was unfair, because it reflected a selfish mentality that very often is the stereotype of Chileans. I’ve heard many times that Chileans are characterized by trying to get the most by giving in the least, always trying to win out of situations, even when there is nothing to win, or when it’s at others’ expense. For example, if you buy something and the cashier gives you more change than what they owed you, the stereotype says that a Chilean will keep it. Of course, this is a stereotype, and by no means characterizes all Chileans, but it has a lot to say. Those people who go through the berm, while all others just wait as they are supposed to, are just like a person keeping the extra change: selfish, dishonest, and vain.
This summer it was enough. After a wonderful 10 days, living “the summer of love,” as we called it, relaxing at the lake, surrounded by family, family friends’, good food, and the sun, it was time for my friend and I to go back to Santiago. It was yet another beautiful sunny day, with a deep celest sky, all our energies were charged from those days of bloom. We were driving back to the highway, windows down, passing first through the calming sights of the deserted, dry, peaceful roads that surround the lake. I was submerged in my own thoughts, as I drove with the breeze, next to my good friend. She is one of those friends who you are so close with, that you can just get lost deep in your thoughts in peace while being together. We drove for an hour, each inside our own head, with jams from our childhood playing in the back, until we reached the highway, where the traffic jam began. I thought, “oh well, time for more meditation,” but then, it began.
The egocentric people started passing by, disturbing the peace with inconsideration. The jam would have been okay, as it is only natural for it to happen. What’s not natural is for others to make it worse by trying to make themselves better off. Every year I had just watched them pass by our car which had been sometimes stuck in the same place for hours. This year, however, I decided to, turn my silence into action, in the words of Audre Lorde. As soon as I was stuck in the traffic jam, I moved my small, little white car to the berm, and instead of driving through it, I just stopped it there so that no one could pass through. I waited in the same place as I would in the jam, but in the berm, so all those “winners” could not pass through me without having a hard time.
At first, no one tried to pass us, but after some five minutes, cars just started coming and honking, some cursing at us with their dirtiest words from their open windows. I got a bit nervous and my body started to heat up. We turned the music off, to be more aware of the surroundings. Then it just got worse, an old, red, dirty, unmaintained car passed me doing a crazy maneuver and abruptly stopped in front of mine, so that if I had reacted a second slower, I would have crashed him. We decided to close the windows and turn the air conditioner on, to help the adrenaline rush. After that, he drove through the berm as fast as he could yelling more bad words, as dirty as his car, “maraca re culia, corre tu chatarra conchetumare”. Nervous as I was, I still decided I would not move, because I was stating a point. Plus, I had my friend to support me, I doubt that I’d do that if I was alone.
Another car joined us in the fight for five minutes, it helped me remain confident of what I was doing, some sort of reassurance. But it was just not worth it for them to do more, so we were left alone in the fight again.
A taxi driver was next, “Mind your own business, live your own life, you’re not the police, pendeja culia” – Chilean curse that means something like “dumbass fucked bitch.” Wow. My friend yelled back to him, calmly and politely, “we are minding our own business, you are making us lose time, and so we are reacting.” He just kept yelling the same, accompanied by insults, as people with no arguments do.
In total I did this for 15 minutes. By the end I had to stop because I realized I would not be able to make a point with these people, it wasn’t really worth it, and most importantly, it was dangerous.
The last thing that happened, was that a 50-year-old woman, with kids in her expensive, grey, monster car after yelling “hija de puta, córrete o te saco la chucha,” a vulgar way to say “son of a bitch, move or I’ll fuck you up,” threw a yoghurt at my car- or one of her kids did, following her instructions because she was driving,- in rage because I did not let her pass. After this I stopped, and as the strawberry smell of the yoghurt filled my nostril, I started thinking what a great example this mother was for her children.
I realized some people are actually insane and go against all logic; people of all social classes, age, and gender. They will fight for something that goes against others, convinced that they are right. They will fight for their own selfish, unreasonable self. At the end, a minority can always cause a huge impact on the majority.
This experience made me realize that if you are not an authority it is hard, maybe even impossible, to fight against injustice. People are capable of fighting for things that are unjustifiable and are willing to do inexplicable things just to get what they want. I guess if it had been more than one car trying to fight against the others, it could have been more possible, but everyone seems to know that trying to fight for this does not lead anywhere, so no one really does it. This taught me to better choose my battles, and to not expect people to be reasonable. If something like this is so hard to fight for, I can only imagine what it takes to fight against real injustices like racism. This experience took some of my faith in humanity away because it reflected so many of its bigger scale issues.