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