Letters Of Love, Carried By 'Doves' To Chilean Miners

Rescue workers in Chile communicate with the 33 trapped miners via a narrow passageway carved through nearly half a mile of rock and soil. Relief supplies are sent down in narrow, 5-foot-long parcels nicknamed "doves." The doves also carry handwritten letters between the miners and their loved ones, who they may not see again for months.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

The 33 Chilean miners trapped underground are reportedly in stable condition. Food and other supplies are being sent down at regular integrals, as well as letters from family members who are waiting above ground. Now, in most of the world, letters written on paper are getting a bit rare, but for these men and their families they are vital communication that can't be replaced, even by a video connection that was recently established.

Annie Murphy has this story.

ANNIE MURPHY: Camp Hope sits near the San Jose Mine, a bunch of tents and port-a-potties under the hot desert sun, where the families of the trapped miners have been waiting. Some people have returned to their homes; many had to go back to work; but a handful are left and they pass the time any way they can.

(Soundbite of children playing)

MURPHY: A few young kids play soccer with police officers. Some people take naps. And almost all the family members write letters and wait for replies, like Christina Nunez, whose boyfriend Claudio is one of the miners.

Christina wears all her letters from Claudio in a pouch around her neck, along with a picture of him. He's pale and lanky and looks as impatient as Christina says he is. She opens up the letter she got from him yesterday. The paper has already been unfolded and refolded many times and the ink is beginning to smudge.

(Soundbite of crumpling paper)

MURPHY: Christina reads aloud: Hello, my love, says the letter, I hope you're not sad. Claudio lists all the people he misses and then he lists all the things he's dreaming of eating.

Ms. CHRISTINA NUNEZ: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: When I get out of here, he writes, I want to eat pancakes, sweet fritters, roast chicken with French fries, grilled steak. Most of Claudio's letters follow the same form - the start is meant to be read aloud to all his family members, and then the end is for Christina alone. She won't even let me take a peak at the bottom of this letter.

Ms. NUNEZ: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: We never wrote each other letters before, she says. We always just said things face-to-face. But now it's almost like we're dating again.

Christina met Claudio when she was 15. They've been together for 10 years and they have two daughters. But even though Claudio proposed many times, Christina never wanted to get married. Now things are different, and there was something in her last letter that Christina is too shy to mention, but her Aunt Maggie isn't.

MAGGIE: (Through translator) She asked him to get married. Since we're her aunts, we're just waiting to find out if there's going to be a wedding.

MURPHY: Lily Pulgar is a social worker and she's been watching families write letters.

Ms. LILY PULGAR (Social Worker): (Through translator) It's like stepping back in time. But here it's the only form of communication. You know, it's strange that we don't write letters anymore.

MURPHY: Lily says all this letter writing has made her realize that even if faster forms of communication have made letters seem obsolete, the format of a letter can help people express themselves in ways they might not be able to with texts or emails.

Ms. PULGAR: (Through translator) Letters are longer. A person goes deeper in a letter. It comes from within. It's really different from what you write on Facebook or on the Internet, which is so quick. Paper and pen give something more. With a letter, you can say many things that you wouldn't be able to otherwise.

MURPHY: Chata Segovia is also writing letters. She's camped next to Cristina Nunez and the two aunts. Chata is waiting for her younger brother Dario. She scribbles to get the ink going.

(Soundbite of scribbling)

Ms. CHATA SEGOVIA: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: She starts: Hello, little brother.

Chata didn't make it far in school and is embarrassed by her careful, looping penmanship. But she writes her brother notes almost every day to keep his spirits up and to let him know he hasn't been forgotten.

Ms. SEGOVIA: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: As Chata finishes the letter, she writes: Be strong, they're going to rescue you soon. And then she stops and scribbles out the word soon.

Ms. SEGOVIA: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: She's crossed out soon, she says, because she's afraid it will remind Dario just how long he might be underground, since the rescue is expected to take up to four months.

Ms. SEGOVIA: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: So I'm just going to leave it out, she says, and finishes: Hugs, your sister, Chata.

For NPR News, this is Annie Murphy in Chile.

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