Paloma: 1) the bane of my existence; 2) pigeon.
Let me clarify, for those who do not know: I have a horrible fear of birds (go ahead and laugh; many of my friends and family members do!), which is made even more unfortunate when combined with my bad luck with most animals. But really, look at this picture… how could I NOT be afraid of these things??
Las palomas are to Santiago as squirrels are to Wofford. Like the rambunctious squirrels on campus, pigeons run rampant here in my beloved city, flapping about and popping up in my path unexpectedly. Additionally, both have contributed to convincing me that my death will one day be caused by small animals. My roommate has witnessed or heard my panicked stories of many incidents at Wofford where squirrels have dropped acorns and twigs on me from their perches up in the trees, or narrowly missed my head when jumping from one tree to another as I was walking to the Olin Building. Those rambunctious little creatures do not exist in Chile (at least, not in any of the cities I have been in). The substitution, unfortunately for me, is pigeons…and a lot of them. I have had lots of unpleasant encounters with them (so many that I am convinced there is a plot afoot). To give my family and friends a laugh or two, I thought I would share some of them here.
- They lurk at the bus stop. The bus stop I use to get from my PUC class to mi casa is on a corner right in front of a car dealership and a Laundromat, and there are always food carts around. Thus between the many ledges and food crumbs, it tends to be a magnet for birds. Typically, you can see me there standing rigidly and looking anxiously down the street for the bus to appear and whisk me away from the dozen or so pigeons ominously lingering close by. One day a few weeks ago, though, las palomas were especially terrifying. I was waiting with about 20 other people, and apparently the pigeons decided that the windowsills just weren’t cutting it because next thing I knew, there were 15 pigeons swooping down and landing right at MY feet (really?! Of all the people there, I was the ONLY one who they were interested in…) and starting to strut in circles around me. So there I am, a gringa merely trying to blend in and not draw attention to myself, and the birds go and thwart my attempt, because nothing says “Hey, look at me!” like shrieking, flailing around, and hyperventilating at a crowded bus stop amIright?? The next week, there were miraculously fewer pigeons waiting for me when I got to the bus stop. However, the elderly gentleman standing next to me thought it would be a nice gesture to toss some of his roasted peanuts on the ground in between us for the birds…and thus commenced ‘The Great Pigeon Fight of 2012.’ About four of them were scrambling around competing amongst themselves for the crumbs, less than two feet away from me. One came perilously close to running into me. Needless to say, I made like Young MC and busted a move out of there.
- They wait for me outside the metro. Exiting the metro stations can be tedious enough trying to weave among the throngs of slow-moving Chileans, but I have the additional obstacle of avoiding the birds that are inevitably meandering around the landings and stairs. Sometimes they will continue going about their business despite the people walking around. Other times, they will decide to sporadically fly straight up into the air without warning. This usually happens when they are directly in front of me. My friend Jim witnessed this many times last semester and still laughs at me for it simply recalling it. He says he can do a perfect impression of my “Kirsten-seeing-a-bird” shriek.
- They spy on me in the shower. There is a window about two feet long and eight inches tall in my shower that we leave cracked open for ventilation. One morning last week as I was showering, I was startled by a loud thud, and looked up to see a pigeon trying to get in the window. I quickly slammed it shut and finished my shower in record time. On the bright side, I was home alone so at least my family wasn’t there to hear me scream…and after that, I was wide awake and didn’t even need my morning coffee!
- They follow me. One afternoon, I decided to aprovechar de the nice weather by walking around and doing some errands. This one particular pigeon, though, first blocked my path (like when you run into someone in the hallway and you both keep moving to the same side to get around each other), and then turned and was following me. I know, I know, I probably sound like a crazy person, but that thing was right behind me for almost an entire block! I ducked into a pharmacy to get away from it and por fin saw it wander away after a few minutes.
- They congregate in alleys to all surprise me at once. This happened last semester, but I think it is still relevant. During a weekend trip to Valparaíso with some friends, we decided to walk around and look at the graffiti, since Valpo has some incredible street art. We turned down a street that had many small alleyways on either side, one of which contained about a hundred pigeons. Right as we were approaching, it was like a group lift-off and they all began to scatter and fly around in a frenzy. I don’t think I have ever freaked out more in my entire life; I screamed, and on instinct jumped toward Jim for protection, seeing as he was the tallest of the group, but he was already doubled over practically with tears streaming down his face laughing at me. He describes the scene quite well– if I were someone else I would probably laugh at me, too.
My run-ins with pigeons are surprisingly frequent, more than anyone else I know. Hopefully it will eventually work as exposure therapy? In any event, at least I know I will leave my mark on Chile this year as being that crazy gringa who so many Chileans have laughed at upon seeing the incidents… and that’s something, right? J
¡Que estén bien! And may your paths be pigeon-free!