Yesterday as I took the bus back to my apartment a weird thing happened. A couple people started coughing. Then a few more. My eyes started to burn. The whole bus was soon in a hacking fit. Eventually it settled down and if I could have breathed I might have started to laugh because it was just so bizarre. (As I always seem to laugh at inappropriate and troublesome times…) When I returned home I asked my mom about it. Bombillas. Tear gas. The police had thrown them to dissipate a student-led protest.
Right now is a very interesting time here in Chile. The university that I am attending has been on strike since June. The students chained shut the front doors and hung banners all over the front of the academic buildings.
They have been camping out inside since then and have refused to budge unless their voices are heard. Today there is supposed to be a meeting between the student-body president and the president of the university to see what they can agree upon.
My university is supposedly a public university, but it is extremely expensive. The students are claiming that the university is making it virtually impossible for an average level income student to be able to attend. Seeing as how both the student-body president and the president of the university are both outspoken, strong-willed people (and flaming communists so I hear…), I doubt that anything is going to change.
If they were to come to an agreement though, it would take a week for classes to re-start. The Chilean students would finish all of last semester’s material in two weeks, then there would be one week of finals and then the next semester classes would commence. This would be extending the time of the second semester farther into December. And that is all best-case scenario…
So, what does that mean for me? The Chilean students were very kind to the international students and saw that it is not our battle to be fighting, so they are letting the international program go on as scheduled. Our program (called PIIE) offered additional courses just for international students so that we would be able to finish our classes and get credit for them in the time that we are here. Some people still signed up for normal Chilean classes, and they will wait until the strike ends to begin. Certain classes, like my art classes, are starting a little bit later as they search for a place to have them.
It is not just the educational system that seems to be in uproar. The medical system as well is striking. A couple days ago my mom went to her doctor’s appointment and they said she would have to reschedule in a month because the doctors were not working. When I asked her what she was going to do, she just said she would wait until the got everything all straightened out. That was the only thing she could do. Since then she went to another clinic and they also turned her away. I asked her what would happen if it was something really serious. She told me that the person would just die. She went on to explain that her whole life she has paid 7% of her income towards her medical benefits. Then the time that she needs to use them, she can’t even be seen. She said that she could see the three doctors sitting their chatting, but they were “too busy” to see patients.