Letters from Antofagasta

Delaney Turner's subjective take on his experiences with the IBM Corporate Service Corps, Team Chile 3. Follow him at @DTurnerBlogs; follow the Team at @IBMCSCChile3


  1. PostScript

    Even the brightest flame must dwindle to embers.

    Even the hottest embers turn to ash.

  2. For 28 days the flame of CSC Chile 3 burned brightly, indeed. I’ve been home a mere two days, but already the return of familiar sights, sounds and flavors are conspiring to extinguish impressions, sensations and discoveries that once burned white hot. In the weeks and months ahead I must work to keep these memories fresh, lest they turn irrevocably into cold, cold ash.  My photos and these letters I hope, will help.

    CSC Chile 3 was an intense group. Among us were some of the best and brightest professionals IBM can offer the world. For 28 days we came together in a country few of us knew, in a city none of us knew, to help the people there grapple with the challenges of a city quickly outgrowing itself and seeking a new status on the national stage. To help them we listened, we sought out ideas from our colleagues and finally, we shared what we knew. We know the willingness to change is there in our clients. We believe our solutions are sound. But only time will reveal the measure of our success. 

    City and country gave back in equal measure. Among the official lines of the Corporate Service Corps is that participants come back transformed. This is true. I believe we took home more than souvenirs. When we arrived few of us could place Antofagasta on a map. 28 days later we had grown into a cohesive, capable and innovative team. Along the way we discovered aspects of ourselves and of our world that we could not have learned anywhere else. For me, Antofagasta is both unique and a microcosm of Chile at an important moment in its history. The city's fate is inextricably linked to the country's own willingness to change.

    This is my last Letter from Antofagasta, though I believe it is the start of something powerfully significant in my career and my life. Thanks for reading, and coming along for the trip.

    Postcards del Patrimonio

    Last Sunday was "Dia del Patrimonio" in  Chile. Throughout the country, cities opened up government buildings to the public, staged historical re-enactments and dressed up in old-timey clothes. For Antofagasta, that meant opening the old train station, firing up the steam engine, reciting the work of poet Andres Sabella and taking in some quite flirtatious national dances. Here's a sampling....
  3. Ghosts of the past, lessons for the future

    There's another old saw that says those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Should Antofagasta need a lesson in its own history, officials need only visit the abandoned mining towns that haunt the highway between here and San Pedro de Atacama. These eerie structures stand as poignant reminders of the region's past and loom large over its future.
  4. Ex oficina salitrera Francisco Puelma
    Ex oficina salitrera Francisco Puelma
  5. In addition to copper, this region is rich in nitrates – a highly valuable mineral once used in fertilizer and explosives. From 1912 to 1914, the industry boasted 170 mines that produced three million tons of nitrate. It gave economic prosperity to 200,000 people who lived in mining towns spread throughout the region.

    During the First World War, all of that changed. The War ended Germany’s supply of Chilean nitrates and forced the country to look for alternatives. It succeeded when Fritz Haber found a way to make synthetic fertilizers. With a cheaper alternative now freely available, global demand for Chilean nitrate – and the prosperity it had created – quickly collapsed. Once-thriving mining towns became ghost towns almost overnight.
  6. Ex oficina salitrera Francisco Puelma
    Ex oficina salitrera Francisco Puelma
  7. Today, copper drives another prosperous period for the region. Again, Chileans are flocking to Antofagasta. In 2002, census figures pegged the population at just under 300,000. In 2009, a government projection put that figure at 360,000. The city has the highest GDP of any in the country and ranks third on the Chilean Human Development Index. Seven hundred new cars take to its streets each month. Construction cranes seem just as prevalent as the dwellings they help build.

    Two of the abandoned towns are now Unesco world heritage sites. Such an esteemed status helps preserve their importance to the history of this region. But I'm happy to report that in my conversations thus far, current city leaders have no desire for Antofagasta to follow them into the past.

    Photos courtesty of sensaos
  8. Curiosity, creativity

    Curiosity takes you beyond what’s apparent, comfortable and familiar. Creativity puts the familiar in a new context. Curiosity leads you further down the street than you had planned to go. Creativity helps you find new ways of doing things when the old way isn’t getting things done.

    Both can teach, question, even frighten you. Moreover, the former often feeds the latter. New discoveries drive new ideas in a productive, virtuous cycle.

    At least this is what happens in the best cases. I’ve also been down more dull and empty streets than I care to count. A lot of my ideas are just plain duds.

    Curiosity and creativity aren’t as directly related to my work life as the educational choices I wrote about last time, but they’ve had an equally significant impact on my career. I say they’re not directly related only because I’m most aware of them when I’m traveling, not working. Then again, travel is such a large component of the Corporate Service Corps that there’s bound to be some happy overlap.