Saturday, 11 April 2015
Stranger in Richmond.
Tucked in tight on the Surrey side of Richmond Bridge, is a small park which slopes steeply down to the river. In summer a long queue waits patiently for ice cream and coffee from the popular cafe, built into the arches and cyclists, arriving along the Thames from Kingston and Ham, struggle up the impossible gradient from the river bank, up to the road.
Overlooking it all is the moon faced, hollow eyed and pursed lipped bust of an impressively decorated solider sporting glorious side burns, quizzical eyebrows and the stiffest of collars, whose incongruous presence in this Arcadian setting is mostly ignored by those messing about by the river.
This is Bernardo O'Higgins, the liberator of Chile, who arrived in the borough in 1795, as a seventeen year old scholar finishing his formal education in history and the arts.
London was a radical hot bed of ideas and idealists and inspired by his study of the War of Independence Bernardo began to develop a nationalist belief that South America could be released from Spanish colonialism as surely as the North American patriots had done twenty years earlier.
Thoughts of Chile formulated on the banks of the Thames.
Skip forward 220 years and this afternoon a group of intrepid Applied Theatre students together with Julie and I gathered at Heathrow in a state of high excitement ready to take part in own Chilean adventure, working for a week in Santiago as guests of the NGO Ventana de Color. It's a long journey, involving a two hour stop in Madrid before boarding a red-eye flight across the Atlantic.
It's hard to know what to expect at the other end. We're working at the University of Chile as well as in a School South of the city centre and a couple of SENAMES - children's homes run by the Chilean government where young people who have gone through particularly traumatic experiences during their childhoods are supported in order to help them reintegrate back into main stream education and society. The schedule looks rigorous to say the least and we spent last week in University putting together some loose schemes of work, but we all know that these will have to be reassessed once we've got our feet on the ground on the other side of The Andes.
For tonight all we can do is settle into our seats, pull the window shutters down and try and get a few hours of cramped sleep before the voyage really begins.