‘Character’. A simple word of nine letters, yet probably one of the most universally suspicious words in the English language.
When I try and describe my residence of Casa Republica to my friends, I frequently use the phrases: ‘it’s pretty quirky. It’s got character, you know.’
I have to hand it to the landlord when he showed me around Casa Republic for the first time. The speech he gave was Oscar worthy to say the least. ‘This is real Santiago … trust me I know it looks a bit shabby now but we’re gonna paint it and install new tables and sofas and there’s going to be a new outside area there and a barbeque over there and it’s going to be amazing it’s in the heart of the city and it just has an energy you know, can you feel the energy, it’s just so authentic, everyone here is a family and it’s beautiful and just feel that energy.’ I almost teared up.
He even affectionally kicked a McDonalds cup laying in the street outside, jovially exclaiming: ‘see, this is real Santiago. You don’t get this in other areas’, as if this sacred McDonalds cup was something Barrio Republica should be intensely proud of. Real character.
‘Character’ is purposefully ambiguous. But I really can’t think of a more accurate word to describe Casa Republica.
‘Try ‘shit’’, my housemate suggested helpfully.
‘An experience’, said another. I decided to stick with character.
Cold showers? It builds character. No electricity? Builds character. Rain coming in through the roof? Woah, look at all that character you’ve built up recently.
My housemate and I recently imagined a documentary about Casa Republica, in the style of Bear Grylles survival mode. We concluded that it would be too out there for him. He’d be best off sticking to less extreme environments, such as Everest or the Amazon.
Maybe I’m being slightly unfair on poor old Casa Republica. It definitely has its positives. The people, for a start. Chileans, English, Portuguese, French, Venezuelans, Argentinians, Brazilians…an international melting pot of students and workers alike with different cultures, languages, food, games and music.
Living in such an international house and meeting people from all walks of life has undoubtedly been one of the best things about Casa Republica. I have learnt snippets about the Brazilian political system, the Portuguese dictatorship, and the current situation in Venezuela. Salsa, arrepas (a type of Venezuelan sandwich) and pisco are staples of the house.
Many people recoil in horror when I tell them I live with fifteen others (fifteen?! One five?!), but I quite enjoy this aspect of Casa Republica. There is always someone up for having a glass of wine (or three or four or five- it’s cheap, that’s my excuse) after a tiring 4- hour day at work. Especially when the Universities are on their third week of strikes and the students have nothing better to do than sit and drink cervezas all day (South America for you).
I will definitely look back on my once in a lifetime experience in Casa Republica with a certain fondness. Yes, it was without a doubt the craziest place I have ever lived. Yes, there were too many mornings with cold showers where I wanted to scream and run from the place as fast as I could. Yes, there were many hungover days spent with crazy housemates in the dark living room where I wondered if I was slowly going completely insane. Many times when the forks mysteriously disappeared from the kitchen and I had to attempt eating spaghetti with a knife and spoon (a lot harder than it sounds, trust me, and one of the skills I am most proud of since arriving here). In fact, I have had to finish writing this in a café as there is currently no electricity in my room, and so impossible to charge my laptop or locate anything without the aid of my iphone torch which is also fast running out of power. Character building at its finest. But I have also had a lot of fun these last few months in Casa Republica. It has exposed me to a variety of great people, foods and experiences that have been characteristic of my time so far in South America. It has provided countless moments of amusement, and I have to confess that I will miss many things about this inept and hopelessly disfunctional residence.
But perhaps not the cold showers.