The Valley

I like to imagine what Chile’s Central Valley looked like before humans found it.

Wide, blue rivers cutting swaths across green landscapes, bordered by whitecapped mountains. The whole place gives the impression of a huge fortress.

That’s not to say those things no longer exist. The valley is still green, just interspersed with the various shades of painted buildings, and asphalt. The rivers still flow, but there are dams and diversions. Stones cover riverbanks that I can tell used to be underwater.

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There is a bust of Gandhi in Rancagua, with no explanation as to why it is there. Seeing it reminded me of my two favorite pop culture references involving Gandhi.

The first is the computer game Civilization, where Gandhi was the leader of the Indian civilization. The original game gave Gandhi an aggression rating of 1–the lowest possible, a nod to his life as a pacifist. But there was a bug: if India adopted democracy, Gandhi’s aggression rating would be lowered by 2. The rating was stored as a 256-bit integer, so it couldn’t go to -1. Instead, it recycled to 255, the highest possible number. Since the adoption of democracy in the game usually coincided with the time of nuclear weapons, Civilization Gandhi became notorious for nuking everyone.

Which ties in nicely with other pop culture reference. On an episode of Celebrity Deathmatch–one of the cherished shows of my youth–Gandhi and Genghis Khan were brought through time to fight each other. Thanks to a glitch, their personalities were switched, with Gandhi savagely beating Genghis Khan while shouting, “You want a piece of Gandhi?”

The joke in both cases stems from the reversal of expectations. Gandhi’s life was one of non-aggression and passive resistance. Turning him into a bloodthirsty lunatic is funny.

Gandhi’s story is well-known, yet I don’t think I ever learned about him in school. I can’t point to any specific victories he won or cite famous moments of his life. I just know that India was facing terrible oppression under British rule, and through Gandhi’s leadership was able to gain independence without resorting to violence.

Change cannot be forced. I can’t make something happen by simply willing it into existence. I’ve tried that approach with learning Spanish, and I can tell you that it isn’t working. Passive resistance is the key. That doesn’t mean I sit around doing nothing while waiting for the language to suddenly click in my head. It means not getting frustrated, trusting that the learning process is working. Passive resistance is still resistance–action is required.

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Last night in Talca, I went to a restaurant that is popular among the locals. I asked for un plato tipico–a local dish. The experience was new, yet felt so familiar, like any time I’ve tried a local restaurant. I don’t know why I was expecting anything different. I enjoyed a lovely 30 minute walk back to town, but it was dark so I don’t have any pictures of the Rio Claro. Not that it matters–most of my pictures aren’t that great. But I keep practicing, and maybe by the end I will have a few worth keeping.

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