Daily Archives: June 23, 2012


Yes, the title is in Spanish. Because I am leaving for Chile in just two weeks now. TWO WEEKS.

Now all the stuff I’ve been putting off is catching up with me. Shopping, in particular. Most of my paperwork and travel documents are completed, so no worries there. But I really need to be mostly shopped and packed by the end of next week since I have family coming into town to visit me before I leave. And I also need to say goodbye to most people before then.

I’m trying to take the a-little-at-a-time approach. Buy a few things here, pack a few things there. But I can tell that these next few days are going to be really busy.

Ohhhhh jeez.

This past week, I volunteered at a summer lunch program coordinated between my parish’s St. Vincent dePaul chapter and the county Parks and Rec department. The particular population we served happened to be majority Latino, with a high percentage of native Spanish speakers, including a few who really didn’t know much English. Truth be told, though, I only spoke Spanish on a few occasions, and only had one real exchange with someone. But it turns out that this was enough!

One thing that I’ve learned after serving majority Latino communities a few times is that you should not underestimate their comfortability with English- especially in the kids. Chances are, the kids go to school here, and they’re in English-speaking classrooms. They certainly know enough English to communicate with you. I’ve found that it’s the very youngest children and older adults who may be comfortable communicating in Spanish. So if Spanish is your second language and you think you may encounter native Spanish speakers in a volunteer setting, gauge the situation before you whip out your Spanish.

During the meal program, I’d make little comments in Spanish, trying to get the littlest kids to talk, or commenting on how pretty a little baby was to her mom. I did this mostly to let people know (without loudly proclaiming YO HABLO ESPAÑOL) that I could speak Spanish if they needed it.

Someone did indeed pick up that I could speak Spanish, and on the last day she approached me about taking an extra lunch home for her daughter. This was a little difficult, since we were trying to conserve what food we had so everyone got fed and so we didn’t face a shortage like we nearly had the rest of the week. I am glad, however, that she came right to me instead of struggling through a conversation with my English-only fellow volunteers. She explained her situation to me, and since we hadn’t had lots of people asking for extra meals that day, I arranged to get another lunch for her.

Before she left, she came by to say, “Thank you, amiga.” I can’t tell you how much that means to me. First, because it felt like I actually accomplished something- which, as I’m learning with service, can be a rare feeling- and second, because I successfully understood a native speaker, and she could understand my Spanish too! Granted, knowing the demographics of this area, she was probably Mexican, not Chilean, and Mexican Spanish is an entirely different (and really, more understandable) brand of Spanish from Chilean Spanish. But still! I haven’t lost it since Spanish class last fall! I can talk! I can help!

I owe you all a snack.

For dinner, we made Chilean empanadas. My youngest brother did a project on Chile for his social studies class this year. My dad made empanadas for the presentation day. You can find empanadas all over Latin America, and variations of empanadas all over the world- think of the Cornish (or Upper Michigan) pasty, or the Italian calzone. The thing that distinguishes Chilean empanadas from others, I think, is the filling. In these empanadas, ground beef is cooked up with garlic, green bell peppers, spices, and- probably the unique part- chopped raisins, olives, and eggs. Then you stuff that into a dough, seal it up, brush on an egg wash, and bake!

All right, that may not be the preparation of the empanadas I’ll find myself enjoying on the street in just a few weeks (!!!). But I’ve heard that these were pretty darn close.

Like 10 times better than a Hot Pocket.

Flaky, crunchy, tasty.

Bubbly. Golden. Sizzling right out of the oven.

And the inside:


So. Good. We’ve got extra dough, so hopefully we can make some for the family when they come to visit.

Hope you’re all having a lovely weekend! I plan on having some dessert to show you next time…

With love,



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