The first watershed in my life, the one that will divide it into a “before” and an “after” coincide with a world famous date: September 11th. Mine is the 1973 coup in Chile, my country of origin. I was 4 years old. I come from a family with a military tradition: my beloved grandfather, my mother, my family friends, the area where we had to reside, my kindergarten, all military. The only inconsistency, my father: socialist, on the side of the democratically elected President, Salvador Allende.
In our residential area, the norm was: working householder, housewife mother, 4 children of marriage and maybe a couple illegitimate. We were the exception: I was the only child with both parents who worked. An abysmal difference that generated envy and led, after the stolen gas cylinder, to the stoned window panes to the anonymous complaint.
That was enough to change our lives.
One day it rings at the door, my mother opens and finds a machine gun pointed at her stomach and the soldiers who say: “Search!”
Everyone knew that if the walls of the house remained standing after the search, you were lucky. My mother coldly confined herself to declining her personal details and declaring that their captain would have to answer for any damage to her superior, whose generalities she declined. The military remained baffled and intimidated by her security and did not dare bring any damage but still arrested and took away my father.
We have been privileged: if we had not been a family linked to the army, my father would have been one of the many desaparecidos, the people kidnapped, tortured, killed and whose bodies many have not been found yet. My mother managed to get her husband returned but only after signing a document stating that at the next anonymous report, the soldiers would have taken away both. At this point we had to escape and thanks to Guido Rivoir, a Protestant pastor who fought to welcome the Chilean refugees, my father was able to leave for Switzerland.
My mother and I were stuck in Chile for a long time because, as the country was in a state of emergency, she could not leave the country as a military woman. Thanks to a friend of a friend, between a round of golf and a Martini, he had a colonel signed his vacation permit. At the airport the employees stole all our luggage because they knew very well that those who left the country for “vacations” at that time would never come back. My mother could not even return to see her father one last time before she died. Despite all this, I am well aware that we have been incredibly fortunate and privileged compared to today’s refugees!