Waldo

We’re quite fortunate to be able to exercise some control over the day to day running of our lives, yet eventually there comes a time when we have to let go and cede the reins into the hands of others. Generally, I find these moments quite exciting, delivering myself to the ebb of chaos with that look of a child about to tear into his Christmas presents. But not this time. There is nothing remotely exciting about ceding my life into the hands of a pilot and a crew of aircraft maintenance engineers. In fact it is probably my greatest fear.

I pondered this whilst a man removed his jacket, placed it in the overhead compartment and lowered his large frame into the seat next to mine. I turned my head and cursed the ticket allocation machine for denying me the company of a striking looking red head I had noticed in the departure lounge. I also wanted to stop myself from staring at the small goatee beard he sported on his chin which was dyed crimson pink, perfectly matching the colour of his shirt. Was this intentional ? Did he dye it depending on his chosen attire for the day ? Colour coordinated body hair ?

It was only after dinner had been served did we start talking. The person in front of me had just reclined their chair, upsetting my drink and causing it to spill all over my jeans. He offered me his serviette and thus we embarked upon the usual exchange of pleasantries: Why are you going to Chile ? Where are you from ? What do you do ? And so forth.

His name was Waldo. He was born in Chile but lived in England and was returning to see friends and family, as he did every couple of years. He lent to the left when Pinochet came to power during the bloody coup of September 11th 1973. Consequently, he served a few years in prison and then left for England on his release. He had been a keen footballer in his youth and was fortunate to be given a trial for Portsmouth Football team on his arrival. This was the first link in the chain of our bond as I was born and raised in Portsmouth and an avid supporter of the local team…currently lying fourth in the premiership as I write this. Unfortunately Waldo broke both his legs some months later thus ending his short professional football career. He went on to help coach the youth team and now works as a drug counselor.

As the flight went on into the night, Waldo and I discussed the Chilean coup at great length. The effect it had on his life and how he had to bring his British born children with him when he first returned for fear of being re-arrested. His disdain for the “Chicago Boys”, the group of Chilean students educated in Milton Friedman’s shock therapy economics at the University of Chicago and widely considered responsible for Chile’s disastrous economical policies during Pinochet’s rule. His appreciation of Victor Jara, the Chilean poet, songwriter, guitarist, theatre director and university lecturer arrested, brutally tortured and machine gunned to death in the Santiago Stadium (renamed the Estadio Victor Jara in 2003). And how he, along with a network of like minded dissidents, continued to promote social change throughout the duration of Pinochet’s regime.

Chile is a different country today and Waldo is pleased of the changes he sees taking place. He will retire in three years and hopes to use his UK pension to return home and establish a youth workshop to encourage development through art, craft, music and sport.

When the plane landed in Santiago, we exchanged email addresses and said goodbye. As I joined the rest of the Beyond Endurance team at baggage reclaim I was again struck by the nature of chaos and, instead of cursing the ticket allocation machine, I thanked it dearly for allowing me to share the company of such an honourable and courageous man.

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