I was walking around the Plaza Las Armas when I decided to send my parents a postcard. Why not? It was easy. The Correo Central de Santiago was right in front of me and, conveniently and predictably, there were vendors selling postcards and mailing supplies right at the entrance. Plus, I kind of wanted to step inside the historical building. This was a perfect excuse.
I bought a postcard, counted my change (note to self: must stop hoarding coins, this is not Argentina) and paused. Estampillas. I needed two.
I observed the other customers and realized I needed to grab a number before going to the counter. I found the machine delivering the tickets: it wasn’t hard, six or seven customers were gathered around it, waiting for the magic to happen, a printed black-and-white ticket with a number on it to be spit out.
Except the machine wasn’t spitting out anything.
“How do you do it?” an older lady asked around.
“I have no idea, I’m not from here!”
“Neither I am!”
We all looked at each other and laughed. Turned out that the Chilean post office, like many post offices around the world, is popular with immigrants and tourists who favour snail mail in order to stay in touch with loved ones back home.
I can gloat, I am the one who figured out how to use the damn queue ticket machine. I got mine, then helped everyone out. We all spoke Spanish but two Black guys looked puzzled. “Do you speak English?” I asked. “Noo… no…” “Est-ce vous parlez français?” “Pas beaucoup.”
Now I was intrigued. I had yet to meet a Black person who doesn’t speak English, Spanish or French (and again, on behalf of Europe, sorry about the whole colonization thing…).
“Where are you from?” I asked again slowly in French, hopefully not sounding too patronizing.
Their faces lit up. “Oui, oui!”
This is pretty much as far as the conversation went because I don’t speak a word of Haitian Creole, but I noticed they had immigration papers in their hands. Presumably, they were settling in Chile.
Santiago is way more multicultural than I remember it. There are many immigrants from Peru, Colombia and Venezuela judging by the people I met and the number of Internet cafés offering cheap phone calls to these countries. There are also Chinese and Korean immigrants, plus many shades of skin tones from all over the world.
Once again, I hit the streets with my camera and tried to capture the people of Santiago. I love people. People are interesting.