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English-speaking foreign wives try to get a handle on their new home.
But times change, and so has Chile. Politically, the country has come out of the shadows and into the limelight. “There’s certainly a lot more interest and curiosity about Chile now than when I announced that I was moving here,” said Casanga. Chile has a reputation (deserved or not) for being a prosperous, orderly country where you can go about your business without the political and social unrest that characterizes many of its Latin American neighbors. It's the regional leader in per capita internet connections. Email, Skype and webcams are now high on the list of essential household appliances for the foreign wife.
More recently, Santiago and Valparaiso have lured a steady stream of U.S. and European university students to learn Spanish and “experience” life in a foreign country. The year-abroad romance has ushered in a new generation of young women who meet their Latin lover here, go home to finish their studies and later return to Chile to hitch up and stay on.
As the Chilespouses membership criterion expands from spouse to partner, the group has also spawned a growing subset: the "De-spoused, Spouse-less, Newly Single, Separated, Divorced." Divorce finally became legal in 2004, in response to the dwindling marriage rate and high number of broken unions.
As with other virtual communities, in Chilespouses, the action takes place online. Each day, dozens of emails are exchanged concerning the ex-pats’ eternal quests for foods from home or the universal quest of women everywhere for a good haircut. "Datos" (tips) for recommended doctors, schools, handymen and the like are so popular that member Eileen Shea, a comedian from Canada, immortalized them in a song she performed at the group’s annual dinner.
“We started out with datos on where to get your shoes dyed, hear Mass in English and pick a kindergarten,” said Shea. “Now we're trading info on the best places for gays, including where to get picked up for a one-night stand. We've come a long way, baby.”
Members meet occasionally for coffee, happy hour or a “JapyJane” (pronounced “Happy Jane”) party — a house party in the Tupperware model, only featuring sex toys. It's one of the many business ventures that Chilespouse members have tried out on the group before going mainstream.
The group has no dues and no rules, just one unwritten code: no husband-bashing or Chile-bashing. Wise counsel for anyone who plans to stick around.