Monthly Archives: July 2012

Estás en tu casa

I know I posted very recently, but we went on a paseo today in which we could not take many photos, and I feel like I have to write it down before the images fade in my mind.

Today, we visited La Isla Negra, which is one of Pablo Neruda’s houses, located on the Pacific coast. Pablo Neruda, in case you don’t know, is one of the most important Latin American writers ever. He won a Nobel Prize (although fellow Chilean Gabriela Mistral did it first!) in Literature and served as Chile’s ambassador in various posts. Neruda is one of my favorite writers. That says a lot, considering that I’m not one for poetry. Neruda and Mistral are major exceptions to that rule. I especially appreciate Neruda’s political poetry, in particular Canto general, an epic poem about which I wrote one of the few research papers I’ve ever actually enjoyed writing.

Sadly, we were not allowed to take photos of the interior of the house. That’s probably a good thing, since there were so many things to remember that I’d have taken a photo every step of the way. What I will say is that the house absolutely met my expectations for eccentricity. Read some of his poetry sometime, especially his surrealist works. I don’t understand it in English. The house corresponds with this. The decoration of the house, however, also connects to his poetic style: it’s deliberate. Everything has a point. Everything means something. Just like his poetry.

Many of the items might not seem like something a great artist would own, but according to the audio guide (none of the following information is my own knowledge!) they’re there for a reason. Many items belong in the house because they evoke the maritime theme present throughout- for instance, one set of windows has ships in a bottle perched along the panes, because they appear to be floating on the sea beyond. Other collectibles evoked certain memories of the poet, and others played to his inner child. An active inner child was very important to Neruda- and so, his childhood stuffed lamb remains perched above his bed. I loved getting this look into the life and creative process of one of my favorite artists.

Neruda died on 9/23/1973, but was not buried here in La Isla Negra, as he requested, until 1992, after the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (who presumably did not allow the burial) finally fell.

The view of the ocean from outside the house.

Then it was off to lunch! I had my first pisco sour today.

It’s got foam and a lime and everything!

The pisco sour is one of the major ways in which pisco is served in Chile. I consider this a real grown-up drink, and man, you have to be a grown-up to drink this. Once again, Chileans make their drinks muy fuerte. I took the entire lunch to finish just one, knowing that we still had stuff to do and a two-hour bus ride after lunch.

For lunch, we had fish. When you’re at a beachside restaurant, you order the fish. Trust me.

Fish and rice, like a good Filipina.

And before we headed home, we had a little more beach time.

It looks warm. It’s winter. It’s really not.

So much blue!

It’s a pelican! I promise.

Enough with pictures and poets and pescado.

As of Sunday, I will have completed three full weeks away from home, including that first day spent in an airport. In those two weeks, I have lived in three places: in a retreat house; with a family in Linares; and now with a family in Santiago, where I will remain until December.

Both of my host families, upon showing me around the house, have told me, “Estás en tu casa.” In English this means, “You are in your house.” But what does this really mean? In our program, we live with families, and we are supposed to be part of the family. But you don’t become part of the family overnight. You have to learn the family dynamic and figure out what role you play there. I think I did it in Linares, and now I have to do it again here in Santiago- but in some sense, it’s a bigger role, since I’m here for so much longer.

I do have the very good fortune of living with a family who hosted a good friend of mine about a year ago, and so she’s given me the inside scoop. However, I am not my friend. We will have different roles in this house, this home, this family. I’ve received a very warm welcome: a metro card, slippers, a calendar, a bathrobe, and an adaptor for my electronics were all provided for me upon my arrival. Besides that, my host dad has put together my snack every night for me to bring wherever the next day, and when he saw that I was missing my down key on my computer, he went and got me a new one, without my even asking or mentioning it.

Obviously, these are all very good things, and I’m so excited to get to know the family better. But when do you really feel like you’re home? When does tu casa turn into tu hogar? Is it when you come home and you know exactly where everything is? Is it when you’re not worried about getting in the shower when someone else might need it? Is it when you know how to say goodbye in more words than, “Chao! Que te vaya bien!”? Is it when you know how you’re supposed to say goodnight?

That’s when this starts to happen, when you would give anything not to have those questions and be back where you never had to learn any of it. But it’s also when I have to remember what I talked about here, in the sense that this is a learning experience. It’s a time for immense growth. It all takes time. It just cannot be figured out right away, no matter how well you plan or how many emails you send to your family ahead of time.

When I’ve had moments like that recently, where I start getting worried or anxious, I’ve really been clinging to this prayer by Santa Teresa de Ávila. The rhythm in Spanish is like a mantra:

Nada te turbe. Nada te espante. Todo se pasa. Dios no se muda. La paciencia todo lo alcanza. Quien a Dios tiene nada le falta. Solo Dios basta.

In English: Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things pass. God never changes. Patience achieves everything. They who have God lack nothing. God alone is enough.

With love and saludos,

Gaby

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Welcome to the jungle

I think that could describe my first couple of days here pretty accurately.

MIÉRCOLES (WEDNESDAY)

I got up nice and late on Wednesday morning to finish packing my things and have a hearty breakfast of bread with quesillo and peach jam and an empanada. Eventually we set off for the church where we met our host families to say goodbye and get on the bus to Santiago.

I hate saying goodbye. That was not an easy moment, even though I’d only lived in my family’s house for ten days. I am lucky enough to have a standing invitation to their home, and I fully intend to take them up on it when I get a long weekend later in the semester.

Then came what felt like the longest bus ride ever- and it only lasted four hours. I need to figure out how to sleep while traveling.

And then we arrived.

We went into a tunnel, and when we came out of it, suddenly we were surrounded by cars and buildings and people. Santiago is definitely a big city. It does not have a skyline, however. Why? Because Chile has earthquakes, including a large one that occurs about every 25 years. While all new construction is built to withstand seismic movement, height doesn’t play the same role in Santiago’s architecture as it does in the US’s largest cities.

I managed to get completely unpacked that night, and then had time to start filling in the calendar my family had waiting for me on my desk. Previous students also left travel guides and Spanish-English dictionaries on the bookshelf, leaving me pretty well-equipped for a semester in this city.

JUEVES (THURSDAY)

Let’s learn the metro!

Santiago has a great metro (train/subway) system, consisting of six lines denoted by color and number. It’s important to know which stations are combination stations (meaning you can transfer lines) and how the express trains work during rush hour in the morning and afternoon (you take the train with the light that corresponds to the express route, not the line your stop is on!). I was very lucky that my host dad took me all the way to my final destination on Thursday, explaining the metro system and my routes the whole way. I’m also lucky that other students live near me, so we were able to get to our stop together on the way home.

It was a long day, with no real break besides lunch. Let’s review all the places we saw in central Santiago our first day in the city:

CERRO SANTA LUCÍA

Santiago is constructed around big hills- remember, it’s not that far from the Andes! One of the biggest, which also serves as a landmark for city dwellers, is Cerro (hill) Santa Lucía. The very top of the hill provides great views of the city, and when we went, it was packed with visitors trying to get photos.

Bottom of the hill.

Around halfway up the hill.

“Pololear” means “to date” or “to go out with.”

One of the views of the city from the top.

See that haze in the photo? That would be smog. You can see the snowcaps on the mountains through it, but since the smog obscures the rest of the mountain, it looks as if they’re just floating there, like a mirage. I’ve heard the rain helps dissipate the pollution, so hopefully we can make it back up the hill when the city gets clean again.

Next was El Palacio de la Moneda, which is currently the residence of the president. We couldn’t get very close to it of course, since it’s where the president lives and all, but here’s a picture!

Yup. A big presidential house.

There was also a protest happening on one of the side streets, but they blocked it off, so we couldn’t really figure out what was happening there. We did hear “igualidad,” which may point to a protest about equality in education, another topic which I’m sure I’ll write about later.

Beneath La Moneda is a cultural/art museum, which to me was just like any other little art museum but with specifically Chilean exhibits.

We were swept off to el mercado central (the central market) for lunch, but were nearly immediately sat down at a table. Therefore I have not explored it yet nor do I have any pictures. But I ate fish! It was really delicious. You can tell they’re close to the ocean here.

Next up was the Plaza de Armas, which is basically the very center of Santiago (if I understood our tour guides correctly). Right off the Plaza is the Cathedral of Santiago. Santiago actually means Saint James. Therefore it’s not just the Cathedral of the city of Santiago, but the Cathedral of Saint James. The cathedral is massive (hence cathedral) and filled with altars and religious art. I’d like to go again to see it fully lit, since in the dim lighting it was difficult to see the intricate artwork on the ceiling.

Part of la Plaza de Armas.

Can you tell how big the cathedral is?

A sad attempt at capturing the finer details of the cathedral.

Cathedrals really like to put tombs and effigies on display. Just saying.

View of the Plaza de Armas from the front of la Catedral.

One more stop! And that was to another art museum, El Museo de Bellas Artes. The museum managed to hold a lot more art than I thought it could from the outside, once again with a focus on Chilean creators.

Front of el Museo.

That’s about it! Today I got to and from campus all by myself. I even reloaded my metro card! I then spent around seven hours in meetings regarding a lot of important stuff I have to do early next week. In Spanish.

Oh, and regarding food: my bread intake has plummeted drastically. I went from about three pieces of bread a day, to one hallulla yesterday, to just half a roll today. I had no tea yesterday, but I finally broke (finally…as in 24 hours) and asked where it was in the house and had one cup today. Still: just one cup! After at least three a day in Linares. I mean, I’m being fed very well. It was just a big difference very suddenly!

Coming up: La Isla Negra, the home of Pablo Neruda, and reflections on settling in.

With love,

Gaby

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¡Chao, cuídate, Linares!

Leg 1 of the big Chilean adventure is just about done. I’m about to move on out to Santiago, where I will live until December.

It’s been a busy few days. Bear with me for the recap:

SÁBADO (SATURDAY)

We got up early in the morning and headed up to Rabones, a town in el campo that features some pretty fantastic hiking and a lovely retreat site operated by the Diocese of Linares. The day basically consisted of trying not to fall down really steep, slippery, rocky hills, followed by trying not to get caught on barbed wire as we climbed back up the hill, followed by taking 700 shaky pictures of a gringos vs. Chileans soccer game. Note: the gringos won for the first time ever. The Chileans were less than thrilled.

¡Fotos!

Another pretty river.

Not the last mountain photo you’ll see this semester.

Big sky. Big blue sky.

Later that night was the church discoteca. Not much to say about that besides that it was a lot of fun, but that I have trouble reconciling reggaeton and its dances with the presence of a priest.

The discoteca was another example of knowing your limit. You just have to know when to stop, and when you’re going to draw the line. Dance and party cultures, like everything else, vary between countries. If you’re not feeling it yet, don’t jump in. Give yourself time. You don’t want to get up the next morning and feel bad about what you did last night.

DOMINGO (SUNDAY)

Mass again! Then we had a nice long almuerzo, and my family took me to the beach! Linares is about an hour and a half from Constitución, which was the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake and the worst hit by the tsunami. Maybe we just weren’t in the right places to see, but I didn’t notice very much remaining damage. I did notice lots of tsunami evacuation route and tsunami danger zone signs, though.

The beach is beautiful. We went later in the day when the sun was getting ready to set. It was freezing cold, and the dock smelled so strongly of fish, but the experience was great nonetheless.

Lots of contrast in the photo.

So many colors!

The big church in Constitución is constructed of stone from that rock in the distance.

I have now seen the sun rise over the Atlantic and set over the Pacific. Beautiful.

LUNES (MONDAY)

Oral presentations in class. Whatever.

Then they took us about half an hour away to Panimavida to write our evaluations and have onces, with incredible bread and quesillo (queso fresco, or fresh/soft cheese).

Really. That was it.

MARTES (TUESDAY)

We set off in the morning for Panimavida once again, but this time to spend the morning hanging out with artisanal craftswomen (in Crin and chocolate), and the rest of the day at a resort and spa doing whatever we pleased. This pretty much involved getting facials and hanging out in the hot tub, after a delicious buffet lunch which included salmon. Real salmon!

Crin is the art of weaving jewelry and other items out of horsehair. Rari, in the Linares region of Chile, is the only place in the world that has this art.

Some of the hair is dyed, some of it is not.

The grounds of the hotel and spa. Imagine this in the summer.

When I got home, my host mom had a huge well of flour and several pounds of empanada filling ready to go. Had I been better able to explain my obsession with photographing and documenting food, I would have photos of the entire process. Instead, I have the finished product.

These things never cool down.

My goodbye dinner in Linares. With Coca-Cola and red wine.

LINARES, I LOVE YOU/LINARES, TE QUIERO

Linares smells like diesel fuel and winter. It looks like rainbow blocks of houses dropped on a background of gray, and sprinkled with dogs and roadside shrines. It sounds like Spanish, roosters, and reggaeton.

While I’m really excited for Santiago, I can’t tell you how much I’m going to miss Linares. The people are probably the friendliest, most welcoming, and I’ve had an excellent experience with my host family. As soon as I can get back here, I’m coming.

No time to sit around, though. ¡Vámonos a Santiago!

With love,

Gaby

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Gaby, hijita, ¿pancito? ¿Tecito?

The title describes what I have learned about Chilean food culture thus far.

(Also what I’ve learned about the language. Chileans are big fans of the diminutive.)

Chile is the second biggest consumer of bread in the entire world. They don’t mess around with carbs down here, folks. Bread is served with every meal of the day (more on mealtimes later). Bread is served even if the main course includes a large quantity of potatoes or rice. And in my experience, every main course includes one of those, if not both. My host family took me on a trip up to the beach today, and we actually brought bread with us. And then we bought more bread to eat in the car when we were less than an hour away from home, where we would certainly be eating supper, which would inevitably include bread and other carbs. The most popular breads are probably hallulla and marraqueta.

At first, I tried to resist. I thought, no! Carbs are bad! This bread is not whole grain. I’m not running. There’s no way my body will use all these carbs. And then I ate the bread. And I really liked the bread. And I heard that we see a lot less of the good bread when we get to Santiago. So I figured, all right. Two weeks of a high-carb diet where I let myself enjoy the food and worry about it later. As of now, my jeans still fit. I’ve got the rest of the semester to undo any damage. Right?

Tea is also essential to the Chilean diet, and like bread, is included with every meal. Coffee is usually offered too, but it’s instant coffee, not coffee out of the pot. This tea is black tea. Do not call herbal tea “tea” down here. That’s agua de hierbas: herbal water. Depending on the hierba, agua de hierbas is supposed to be very helpful for various ailments. Tea (té, or more often, tecito) is the dark stuff, drunk without milk, but with sugar or Daily Gotas, a liquid artificial sweetener that I’ve seen in every house I’ve visited. We also brought hot water and tea with us on our little trip today. I hope that tells you how central bread and tea are in Chilean gastronomy.

Mealtimes are pretty different from in the US. There are typically three important meals every day: desayuno (breakfast), almuerzo (lunch), and either onces or cena. In my experience thus far, desayuno consists of bread with a number of toppings, including butter or margarine, jam, cheese, ham, honey, palta (guacamole), and crema de pollo (a chicken and mayonnaise spread). I’ve also enjoyed huevos revuelto and frito: scrambled or fried eggs. In other houses, they might serve queque, which would be like unfrosted cake, typically topped with butter, margarine, or jam. Beverages include juice and tea.

Almuerzo is the biggest meal of the day, generally served after 1 PM. It’s winter here, so we’ve had a lot of hearty soups. Thus far I’ve enjoyed cazuela and carbonada. Cazuela is a very typical Chilean dish, consisting of a broth-based soup with large pieces of potatoes or other vegetables and a big piece of meat. Carbonada is similar, but with browned ground beef instead of the big meat. On the side of the main plate, you’ll find bread and some kind of salad. Salad here is different. They shred up the various components (often lettuce and cabbage, sometimes carrots and celery too), toss them in oil, lemon, and salt, and put them in separate bowls for you to serve yourself as you please. Beverages include juice, soda, and tea.

The next meal of the day depends on your family. Most of the people I know take onces, which is like a light suppertime, around 7 PM or later. Onces might consist of leftovers from almuerzo, as well as a repeat of desayuno foods. Tea, as always, is included. I’ve also had several cenas (dinner) while I’ve been here. Cena is a bigger meal, closer to almuerzo in size and timespan, but with similar plates.

Here’s a round-up of what I’ve eaten so far:

Parrilla/asado: a variety of grilled meats, including pork, chicken, beef, longaniza, hot dogs, and intestines.

Lentejas: lentil soup, with rice and longaniza.

Encebollada: onions sautéed with egg. This will be one of the first things I try to make for myself back home.

Papas mayo and arroz mayo: okay, haven’t actually eaten these because I don’t like mayonnaise, but I’ve been served them. It’s cooked potatoes or rice tossed in mayonnaise.

Pollo con jugo y arroz: chicken, stewed with onions and peppers, and served with rice tossed in the cooking juice. One of my favorite meals so far.

Empanadas: Chilean empanadas are different from Mexican empanadas. The traditional empanada, la empanada de pino, includes a filling of beef, onions, raisins, chopped egg, and a whole olive. You can tell how many empanadas a person has eaten by the number of pits they have on their plate afterward. We were lucky enough to get homemade empanadas during la peña familiar we had last week. They were delicious. I ate two.

Empanada de pino. Get in my carb-filled belly.

Sopaipillas: fried bread dough pillows. So delicious. I’ve eaten them with pebre, palta, and chicharrones (fried pork bits). (Eat a dinner of sopaipillas and chicharrones before a party and you won’t get drunk.)

Tallarines con salmon: spaghetti with a tomato and canned salmon sauce. Note: canned salmon tastes like tuna fish.

Pisco: the Chilean national alcohol. It’s grape-based and has a color similar to white wine. I have yet to drink a pisco sour, but I have had pisco with a soda mixer, first lemon-lime, then ginger ale. The ginger ale-pisco combo tastes a lot more like a grown-up drink. Note: Chileans make their drinks stronger than we normally do in the United States.

Choripan: longaniza served on marraqueta with pebre and palta.

Navegado: hot wine, flavored with orange and sugar. It smells like Christmas.

There you have it! Nearly 1000 words about food. I am not kidding when I tell you that at least 50% of my conversations with my fellow gringos each day surround food. Mostly the quantity of pan (bread) we’ve eaten that day. Our host families are extremely preoccupied with making sure we’re not hungry. It’s important to keep in mind that Chileans are a very caring and affectionate people, and one of the biggest ways they show this affection is through food.

And what good food it is. They must really love us!

With love, bread, and tea,

Gaby

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Hoy es viernes

And it feels like I’ve been living in this house for a lot more than six days! That’s a sign that I’m very comfortable here, and for that I have to thank my host family for being so great, and the director of our program for matching us up so well.

The days are long, but the weeks seem to fly by. Because it’s the weekend now, and we only have one morning left of classes and three field trips before we move to Santiago for the rest of the semester. I feel like I’ve been in Linares for so long, when really, it’s been less than two weeks.

There’s been a lot going on, so I’m going to try and do a quick day-by-day summary before I get any more overwhelmed with keeping track of everything that’s happened each day.

LUNES (MONDAY)

We went over to the abuela’s house for lunch, after visiting them for dinner the night before. It was a lot more enjoyable this time around, because I think with rest and prior exposure, I was in a much better position to keep up with their Castellano (what the Chileans call Spanish. It’s not Castilian Spanish. Not even close.). They’ve got an uncle who’s a bit of a clown, and of course he liked to talk to me and joke around. Fantastic Spanish practice, since he spoke probably the fastest and least-elocuted of any Chilean I’ve met so far. I’ve also learned that a lot of the gringos get teased (in good humor) a little bit in their families, and it was the same for me. Over at la abuela’s house, the uncle would talk to me for a while, and then somehow end the conversation with “Me gusta tu pelo!” In English: I like your hair! And he said it so many times it became funny.

Later in the afternoon we had Mass and a little party in a rural chapel to celebrate the Feast (definitely typed “Fiest.” As in “fiesta.”) of the Virgin of Carmen, who is the patroness of Chile. There’s enough Catholics here that religious holidays are feriados: everyone gets the day off. I understood more of the Mass this time around, especially the homily, and after Mass we ate. Because you pretty much can’t go anywhere as a guest in Chile and not get fed.

It was nice to hang out with the gringos for a while after not seeing anyone for nearly two whole days, but we also had to be reminded that we should avoid English when we’re with the community, because they feel disrespected. I felt a little guilty afterwards, but it was really great to give my brain a break.

I also found an extra pair of jeans that I hadn’t worn yet. So, so exciting.

MARTES (TUESDAY)

We began classes. Classes run from 9:30 AM until 1 PM, when we all return to our houses for lunch, and begin again at 3 PM. We finish up around 6 PM. Classes have really taught us about la hora chilena: Chilean time. For instance, we usually don’t start class until at least 10 AM. We have a break around 11:30 which the professors tell us will last ten minutes. In our program, ten minutes = at least twenty minutes, in which we drink agua de hierbas and eat fruit and cookies. Class begin again well after 3. Then it’s break time around 4:30 or so. The other day, the afternoon break lasted at least thirty minutes.

Classes are nice because we get to have cool discussions about things like spiders that could kill us, the public health system, and education. They’re not so nice when we have to do actual school things like skits (three days in.a.row.) and write sentences using all kinds of Spanish words.

Fun story: my host family either comes to pick me up in the car, or they meet me partway when I walk. They also insist that I do not sleep with wet hair, and they are intensely preoccupied with making sure I am well fed and that I am not cold.

MIÉRCOLES (WEDNESDAY)

More class. Wednesday we talked about dirty words and euphemisms. This is incredibly important, since we’ll be around a lot of people our age who speak an entirely different language than we do- and by that, I mean they speak a different Spanish than we do. It’s also critical because Chileans are very quick-witted and love to joke around. Knowing those euphemisms and double-entendres (and EVERYTHING has a double meaning) is the key to understanding their sense of humor. Castellano also has four words for everything. Again, I don’t joke about how hard this language is. Not Spanish in general, but the Spanish that they speak in this country.

That night we also had la peña familiar, which I can only describe as a folkloric presentation in which we saw and learned a bunch of dances. The highlight of this was learning la cueca. Granted, the night before, my host mom and little sister taught me some of la cueca so I’d be prepared when I was pulled in to dance. My host mom says I danced the best of all the American girls. Then again, she is my host mom, so maybe she has to say that…

We also ate empanadas. Good lord. I’ll talk more about them in a food round-up later. All I say is that I ate two.

JUEVES

More classes. More skits. Are you kidding me?!

VIERNES

We listened to Chilean music in class and played bingo. It was very chill, which was wonderful considering all of us were thinking about the weekend and had very little desire to sit in class all day.

PENSAMIENTOS EN GENERAL

Why doesn’t the US have a national dance? Okay, we’ve got too much music to just pick one. So why don’t we have like four? Why don’t we all know how to dance? And by dance, I mean really dance, with a partner and with rhythm. Grinding and jumping around in a dorm room does not count.

I love listening to my host sister sing along to songs in English, and think of how crazy our language must sound.

They pronounce LMFAO as LIM-FOW. It’s the best.

Agua de hierbas is herbal tea. But do not call it té de hierbas here. It’s herbal water. If it’s not black tea, it’s not tea.

Questions I always get asked by Chileans: are you cold? Are you hungry? How did you sleep? Were you cold? Did they feed you? Do you have a boyfriend? Would you like tea? Would you like more tea?

This weekend: a field trip to the country. Hiking and football (soccer. Like, the game that actually uses your foot to hit the ball.). A disco. Mass.

Also upcoming: a food round-up post. Because it really deserves its own post.

Un abrazo y besos,

Gaby

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Hills and valleys

Oh man. What a weekend.

FRIDAY (VIERNES)

Friday was just a great day. We originally were supposed to visit Constitución, a city on the coast that was the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake, but the fisherman there went on strike, and they’d taken the highway. Thus, we had a ton of free time before lunch to do whatever. Since it was such a beautiful day (60 degrees and sunny. They call this winter?), we went on a walk towards town. Picture this: a bunch of gringos take a stroll on the sidewalk in the middle of a really busy street. Then the gringos find manually-powered exercise machines on aforementioned sidewalk, and begin exercising and messing around really loudly for all the Chileans to see.

It was a lot of fun.

After lunch, we headed out to Purapel, a little town (if you can even call it a town) about an hour outside of Linares. Linares is a city. It is not el campo. Purapel is el campo. Our pre-program is run by a Catholic charity called Caritas, and Caritas operates a program for campesinos in the Linares region. We visited one of their families, who own a small farm and who have been taught sustainable agriculture techniques through the program.

Sustainable agriculture is really interesting to me. The methods they use to preserve water and maximize crops without destroying the land or using chemicals are incredible. They’re cheap and effective. But that wasn’t my favorite part of the visit. That would have to be the views in the country. So many hills, and so many great places to take pictures of the mountains in the distance and the fields below.

My camera had a good day.

Dusk. On a farm. In the hills. In Chile.

I think no camera could adequately capture everything we saw out there on Friday. The whole time I just couldn’t believe that I was there, seeing what I was seeing. It was overwhelming, to say the least. But also incredibly exciting.

SATURDAY (SÁBADO)

Saturday was a day. Oh, it was a day.

After breakfast, we headed out to an artisanal vineyard to learn about the wine making process and try the goods. Truthfully, I didn’t understand or hear much of what the vintner was saying. He spoke quietly AND quickly, which is about as bad as it gets for a new language learner. All I could understand was that they use very little machinery and no chemicals. And you can tell in the wine. The alcohol content is a little higher than the wine we normally drink in the States, but there is zero burn.

$6. For a carafe of that size.

The owners also set out cheese, olives, and a special bread that the vintner made himself. Things I’ve learned about Chile #1: there’s always food.

Lots of snacks so the gringos no están borrachos.

Then our coordinators took us out to lunch for parrilla, which is basically a big pile of various grilled meats. Our plates had longaniza (a really rich and smoky sausage), braided intestines (not bad, but definitely an acquired taste), chicken, pork, and steak. We also had sopaipillas, which is a fried bread I’ve been served with pebre (a Chilean salsa) or palta (guacamole). After lunch, they served us an aperitif of manzanilla (in English, chamomile) liqueur.

Our friend really wants me to put away my camera so we can get at the meat.

None of this was really great for my stomach as we quickly approached the time we would meet our Linares host families. You see, we’ve all been in contact with our Santiago families for a few weeks now. But the Linares families are a surprise- for both the students AND the families. It was a little nerve-wracking: the whole past week we lived in a retreat house all together, spending most of our time with Chileans who knew a little bit of English or at least knew enough to slow down and enunciate. You’re not guaranteed that with host families. That’s all on top of the fact that you’ll be living in stranger’s house for 11 days.

Those are the moments where you really have to trust your school and the people they’ve chosen to get you from Point A to Point B in one piece- physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m glad I did, because I’m really enjoying my host family so far.

SUNDAY (DOMINGO)

Yay for Mass! I’d really been craving Mass (I know, I know) since Day 3 of this adventure. I knew there was something about sitting in a church and listening to the Word of God (well, 80% of it, since I don’t know the Mass in Spanish yet) that would keep my spirits up. It’s not that I’ve been unhappy at all, but this trip is a challenge, especially these first two weeks. Mass is familiar, because no matter the language, the order and content are the same. Even though I didn’t know what words to say, I at least knew when to be especially reverent. But now, I really need to learn the Mass in Spanish. I don’t like not being able to participate fully.

Oh. I also had to get up in front of the entire congregation and introduce our group and talk for a couple of minutes. Apparently I’m that person no matter where I go. I can’t remember the last time I was that nervous. Seriously.

It was such a beautiful day.

My neighborhood in the morning. Add reggaeton and people in the street.

So after lunch, my host family took me up to the precordillera to see Ancoa, which is a popular camping and swimming site in the summer. Holy gorgeous. It reminds me of Vermont.

The water is unbelievably clear and blue.

It’s New England, no?

We set off for Linares again around dusk, and on the way back we stopped at a shrine for Padre Pío. Padre Pío is pretty important to my host mother: I’ve seen at least four different images of him scattered around the house and in the car. Pardon the fuzzy picture, but I needed to record it. Hopefully I’ll see another one again before I leave.

My host mom brought those candles with her.

And then we went over to an aunt’s house for dinner. The uncles made parrilla. Just as good in the house as it was in the restaurant. These home visits are so generous, and indispensable for my immersion into the language.

That said: this is hard. As glad as I was to visit another house and meet more people, and as much as I truly appreciate the hospitality, it’s difficult to sit somewhere for an hour or more and understand only 80% of what people are talking about. 80% sounds like a lot, but it’s that 20% that makes up what you can’t learn in a language class. That 20% is humor, tone, intention, double meanings, communication. It makes all the difference. All I wanted was a break. But there’s no way out when you don’t have other gringos around. You basically have your computer- not an option when you’re out, of course- or your brain. But you can’t zone out in those situations either, because you have to be 100% alert if they’re going to address you. I almost didn’t want to keep going. No- I really didn’t want to keep going. And it’s only been a week.

That’s when you know you have to push on. This is what everyone goes through. This is what’s physically and mentally exhausting about going abroad. And I just need to trust that I’ve only been here a week (wow- a week already?!) and that I will break through eventually.

PENSAMIENTOS EN GENERAL

Families are the same everywhere.

Getting noticeably stared at is weird.

I’m kind of tall compared to your average Chilean woman.

You never miss your family at the right moments. You only miss them when you have no escape. Like during Mass, minutes before you have to get up in front of the entire congregation to represent your classmates, in another language.

THIS WEEK

Monday is the Feast of La Virgen del Carmen, who is the patrona of Chile. That means everyone has the day off, and we get to go to Mass out towards el campo.

Classes. In the morning and the afternoon, Tuesday through Friday. Oof.

More language fun!

With love,

Gaby

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Y así empezamos

So that whole thing about not being able to write for like two weeks has obviously not been true. I’m writing while I can, however, because next week we’re going to be much busier (if that’s even possible) with classes and paseos (field trips) and spending time with our host families.

I love it here. Have I mentioned that yet? I’ve just been on a happiness high today since right before lunchtime. I got to help get lunch ready today, and between that and talking with the visitors we had today (which I’ll talk more about later), I’ve just had an endorphin rush. Let’s hope I don’t have too bad of a crash.

Let’s recap the past few days, shall we?

TUESDAY (MARTES)

After a typical breakfast of bread, jam/cheese/ham, yogurt, and tea, we set off for San Javier, a town in the province of Linares about half an hour or so away from where we are outside the city of Linares. We visited a high school for children who come from difficult family situations. The school operates on the principles of Leonardo da Vinci- curiosity, analysis, exploration, et cetera. They also have two technical programs for kids who want to go into nursing and auto mechanics. I was really impressed by the kind of work the kids were doing and how the teachers were helping them, particularly considering the high costs of a program like that, and the challenges the kids face in their home lives.

Why don’t we paint our schools these colors in the US?

We were greeted by a few students performing la cueca, which is the national dance of Chile.

It looked complicated.

My favorite part of this visit was talking with the kids in their classrooms. My classmate and I visited a classroom of nursing students. This was our first experience talking with Chileans who don’t speak any English, or who aren’t accustomed to slowing their speech down for gringos. Therefore it was a little tough sometimes to understand them, particularly when they would talk amongst themselves. Overall, though, they were incredibly curious and interested in us. I loved hearing their impressions of the United States. Apparently, they think the US is composed of cities, rather than the large expanses of countryside and farms that we actually have. They’re also enamored of American pop music, like Rihanna, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and Katy Perry.

Questions they asked a lot of us: are you dating anyone (they call dating “pololeando” in Chilean Spanish)? How do you dance in the US? The dancing question was especially unexpected, since I don’t think people spend much time thinking about how they dance as a culture. It was also helpful to have the students show us how we’ll be dancing in los discos when we get to Santiago!

That afternoon, our group split up in half. I went to a club for the elderly. This might have been my least favorite outing of the week, not because I didn’t like it, but because I think I got the least out of it compared to other visits. We sat on the opposite side of the room from the older women, and all of us got caught up in separate conversations. I did have a cool chat with the nun who organizes and assists the group. Trust me: nuns are the coolest. She talked a little bit about what it was like to leave her family in Spain and come to Chile, what it was like learning the language (yup, she spoke Spanish and she needed to adjust too!), and what it’s like being a nun.

After dinner, we started our language classes. Every night (next week, during the day) we get into small groups and spend time focusing on how we’re going to get by in Chilean Spanish. The past couple of nights my teacher has focused on vocabulary and conversation. Other teachers I’ll have later focus on pronunciation and grammar. We also get some history, culture, and politics mixed in. It’s really helpful, but it’s been rough having it at the end of some very busy days. I hope I’ll be more energetic next week when we go to class in the morning and afternoon instead.

Phew.

WEDNESDAY (MIÉRCOLES)

In the morning we set off for downtown Linares. It’s a really neat, medium-sized city. Linares actually reminds me a lot of the town where my father grew up, in its architecture and environment. In that way, being here has been comforting. It’s not all that different from what I know.

Our first stop was the cathedral, the seat of the bishop of the diocese.

Gorgeous. Made me want to go to Mass.

A refrain that I’ve heard from the religious I’ve encountered so far has been “todos somos hermanos.” In English, “we’re all brothers and sisters.” With everyone I’ve encountered here, there’s a sense that everything is going to be fine, and we’re all going to help each other along the way. That’s not an attitude I feel like I’ve found a lot in the US, even among the religious. It’s great, to say the least.

We then split up into groups again and walked through downtown to the mercado, the central market of the city. There are stores for everything on every corner. The foodie and closet hippie that I am got really excited about all the fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish you can buy in the market, as well as the artisanal/handmade goods. I hope I’ll have some time to pick up a few things to bring to Santiago with me, because life here is nothing like life there, and I want to remember that.

Then it was time for lunch and tea. All tea, all the time.

I got a little break in which I managed to sneak in a super-quick nap: can you see why I’d need one?

After all of that, we still had stuff to do! My group went over to a family-style home for kids whose parents are no longer in the picture or who can’t take care of them. It pretty much amounted to me holding babies for two hours. And it was fantastic! I can’t tell you how much I love babies. Unless you’ve read the post where I talk about wanting a lot of kids. Then you get an idea of just how much.

Almost there!

THURSDAY (JUEVES)

The big event of today was a visit from a group of temporary laborers, quite like the migrant workers we have in the US. In this case, they’re all Chilean citizens, and they’re all women. Even citizen temporary farm workers in Chile don’t have access to the same rights, wages, and benefits of permanent workers. These women were inspiring in their happiness and how they’re fighting mostly for their children, not themselves, because they know that any success in the political process will likely benefit their children, not them.

It was fascinating how Chile and the US share the same problems surrounding cheap labor. Chile is currently experiencing an influx of immigrants from Peru and Bolivia, and they go to work at wages less than Chileans. Therefore they’re getting jobs that Chilean temporeras previously had. Sound familiar? The women asked us lots of questions about how we handle temporary labor and immigration in the US, and the parallels were incredible.

We then enjoyed a big (like, bigger than usual) lunch with them, and I got hugs and kisses from the women I had the pleasure of speaking with. That’s the thing about Chileans: they’re really physically affectionate (a piel, “skin to skin” kind of), but I haven’t experienced much of it because most of the Chileans I’ve been around know how gringos are less touchy-feely. In reality, I’m a touchy-feely person, and I’m looking forward to more of this affection.

Relevant (not random!) thoughts:

I actually don’t hate the winter. Sure, it stinks at night when the space heaters and wood stove haven’t been on for very long and the retreat house isn’t warm yet. But with long underwear, fleece pajamas, hiking socks, and seven blankets, you can get through anything. The late afternoon and sunset are gorgeous. I have a new appreciation for this season- particularly when there isn’t snow on the ground.

The stars out here? AMAZING. And I can only imagine what they look like way out in el campo (Linares is a small city, but with enough lights to create a little light pollution). The last two nights most of us have gone out after classes end to look at them. I love how something simple like stars can still fascinate us, especially when we’re constantly connected to the internet and incredible technology. I think it’s something divine within us, something connecting us to God, or whatever you believe is out there that’s a whole lot bigger than we are.

Chileans are really politically active. It seems like there’s always a protest or a conference going on, and I have yet to have a conversation with someone that didn’t get around to politics somehow. I like it! Me gusta their participation and awareness.

It never ceases to amaze me how people can get along really well when they haven’t known each other that long.

This whole language thing? I’m not going to lie. It’s really hard. It’s exhausting, actually. I’m so happy that a former expat told me this is normal, because otherwise the fatigue wouldn’t make sense. I keep hitting a low point in the afternoons, or right around dinner time, when I would just love a nap and can’t bear to speak Spanish anymore. I think pushing through is going to be the key to hitting fluency- and fast.

On the other hand, if you’re going to immerse yourself in a language soon, don’t worry about it too much. Know that it will tire you out, but at the same time, people will understand what you’re saying. You just might not understand them. But go ahead and ask them to slow down! You’ll figure it out.

More photos and stories coming!

Tanto amor y un beso y un abrazo,

Gaby

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