Monthly Archives: September 2012

It’s a monster blog post

Like monster cookies. Or compost cookies? You know, those cookies that have basically anything you’d ever want to put in a cookie in them? M&M’s, chocolate chips, oatmeal, raisins, potato chips, pretzels, etc. This blog is going to be like that today. And I even have actual cookies to show you. Eventually.

This week I celebrated 2 months in Santiago. 2 whole months. Add up the 2 weeks I was in Linares, and that makes 2.5 months since I left home. Which means I’m about halfway through my time here. Whoa. Stop. Let’s not talk about that right now.

In that time, I have gotten very comfortable with the metro system and slightly improved my micro (bus) riding skills. The metro is easy: find your stop. Connect the dots. Follow that route to your destination. The metro stations are very well-marked, inside and out. It’s hard to screw up the metro. It’s a lot easier to screw up the bus. Sometimes, the bus screws you up. But I’m riding it a little more often now and getting better at planning my routes ahead of time. The last time I rode a new route, I checked my iPhone to make sure I was heading in the right direction. And I was! Thank you thank you thank you, host dad!

It’s springtime here in Santiago. It’s officially here. Thank goodness. You don’t know how sick I am of wearing my same black North Face and trail shoes every day. Spring means it is chilly in the mornings and evenings, but very warm in the middle of the day. Layers are a must. It went from being in the 70’s and sunny to 50’s and rainy overnight. Cold here is cold. It’s never just a little cold. It’s not always freezing. But man, when you get cold, it’s very hard to shake.

It seems like it’s been a little smoggier lately too, with less rain and humidity to wash the pollution away. But after the rain, the vistas are pretty spectacular, and sometimes unexpected. I have to remember to look up once in a while. I caught a gorgeous view of the mountains on the same route I walk from the metro to my house every single day. And I just happened to look up.

It smells like spring too. The grass is damp in the mornings and makes everything smell so earthy. My favorite has to be the jasmine, though. I catch a whiff of it every so often when I’m walking, and then I become that girl who stops right where she is and takes a few big breaths of it before I move on.

Notes for anyone who is going to study abroad in a different language: start your papers ahead of time. Like, way ahead of time. You know how you kick yourself when  you put off your 6-7 page paper until the last night? Imagine doing that in your second language. Start your papers early- as early as you can- so you can give your friends, host family, whoever ample time to correct your paper and make you sound intelligent.

The other day I had huge ganas (craving; the phrase in Spanish is “tener ganas de”) for chocolate chip cookies. And not just any old Chips Ahoy! I wanted the kind of chocolate chip cookies that my mom and I make. Because cookies here are just not the same. All the cookies they have here that I couldn’t get in the States are delicious. Everything else is at best a mediocre facsimile of the real thing, and at its worst tastes like soap or Lip Smackers. I wanted something buttery and soft and warm and gooey and really chocolatey. To spend some time baking and putting love into. To give to my host dad for revising my essay and making it sound brilliant. To share with people because they are some of the best cookies I make.

Reasons I will not be enjoying chocolate chip cookies soon: I’d have to convert all the ingredients. This recipe yields about 72 cookies. There are four of us in the house. Granted, we have a collectively huge sweet tooth, but still. 72 cookies. Also, chocolate chips are carísimo (expensive) here. As in, $4 for a package about a quarter of the size that I’d need for this recipe. I’m not paying almost $20 for chocolate chips. Nope.

But I did make Funfetti cookies! Snack time!

Apparently they don’t have Funfetti cake mix here. Or at least we couldn’t find any in the store. So my host mom was kind enough to grab me some vanilla cake mix and sprinkles. I took my trusty cake mix cookies recipe and adapted it for these cookies. Prep the cake mix as directed, plus add around a teaspoon of almond extract. Add in the sprinkles at the end. Bake as directed. Ta-da!

I love sprinkles. I didn’t realize how much until I made these cookies.

I mean, this batter just shouts birthdays and joy and fun and happiness and parties with cake and frosting.

Sprinkles and cookies. Perfect for a Friday.

I didn’t actually realize how much progress I’d made in my Spanish until I encountered a couple of new arrivals the other day. I’m volunteering once a week, and my site hosts volunteers from a nonprofit that places students from all over the world with different groups here in Chile. We just got three newbies from this group. One of the girls is Australian, but her family is Chilean- her grandparents still live here. So when she speaks Spanish, she fits right in. She and I were joking and laughing with the staff at lunch this week. But the other two? My heart hurt for them a little bit. One is American and the other is German, and they were both wide-eyed and clearly missing out on the conversation. I spoke to the American in Spanish, and he had no clue what I said. What I said. His fellow American. I felt bad that they’re struggling, because I know how it feels. But it did make me feel a little bit proud that I’m definitely not speaking gringa Spanish.

That’s not to say that I don’t hit bumps anymore. Because I do. I’ve had to ask my host parents to repeat a lot of stuff recently. I asked for an agua de hierbas de maravilla tonight. Maravilla is sunflower seed. I really wanted manzanilla- chamomile. And the other day in the mall I had to ask the cashier to repeat her question three times before I understood (“¿forma de pago?” Really?). Which led to her and her coworker mumbling in Castellano about me, in front of me. That I do not appreciate. She did tell me that they were talking about how pretty my hair is. Either way, I understand better how uncomfortable it is to hear people conversing in another language.

To close out, I’ll share a few pictures of my field trip to Pomaire, a little pueblo about an hour away from Santiago where they produce and sell tons of artisanal goods. We had breakfast and lunch and a pottery tutorial in this gorgeous, lived-in, well-worn house (which I have decided is the kind of house I want, sleekness be damned). Here’s the bread that we ate, pan amasado. We saw them put it in and take it out of the oven. Talk about fresh.

Oh, good morning.

What you can’t see is the steam coming off the bread. That fresh. We ate it with butter, plum jam, avocado, and scrambled eggs.

Then they took us into town to visit a workshop where they make pottery on the wheel. Pottery like this passes through many hands: you have to dig up the dirt, get it wet, work the air out of it, and then you can finally make something of it.

They go through all this clay in a month.

They roll out the clay several times to get the air out, or else it will shatter in the oven.

It takes the artisan about 30 seconds to make one of these flower pots. No más.

Then we went and played with clay for a while. This is what I made. I don’t think I have a future in pottery.

And lunch. Oh, lunch. What a delicious lunch we had. Empanadas, soup, salad, rice, some of the best chicken I have ever had in my life, and a fruit salad made from the fruits of the juice we were drinking. And more bread with pebre, of course.

You’re aware I have an obsession with photographing everything I eat, right?

Just a great, lovely lunch.

And then we had some time to shop.

I could have worn all of these earrings. I ended up buying a pair that had plain clay teapots.

Pomaire is also known for its giant empanadas. Here is an example. Although this was not for sale.

That’s all I’ve got for now! Time is flying by. Someone please make it stop.

With love,

Gaby

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¡Viva Chile! Chilean Independence Day

We have arrived.

This will be a rather long post. Just so you’re aware. Settle in, find some Chilean music (I suggest cumbia or cueca) to play in the background. If I owned any I would attempt to upload it myself.

Let’s go back to the beginning of this vacation, shall we?

VIERNES, 14/9

While the rest of my group flew off on an amazing adventure to the Atacama desert, I stayed back in Santiago to help out with the fonda dieciochera (September 18th party) that my service site hosted for the kids and their families as a fundraiser. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Why wouldn’t you want to see a ton of little kids dressed up in traditional costumes dancing the national dance??

I’d like to discuss that for a second. Every kid- no, really. Every kid- was dressed up in the clothes. Beautiful ruffled and floral dresses for the girls, dark pants with boots, a hat, and a mantel (like a poncho, but square and smaller) for the boys. And they all knew how to dance la cueca, which is Chile’s national dance.

America: what’s up? I know we come from lots of different cultural traditions and so agreeing on one singular dance would be quite difficult. But can’t we pick like…3? And everyone learn the very basics in gym or music class? (Okay, sure, those programs are being cut in many schools. Just ignore that for a second.) Chileans ask me to demonstrate American dancing, and I just shake my head and tell them no. No, I can’t. What would you like to see? Grinding? The Dougie? Hardly “typical” or based in our national identity. A square dance? A fancydance? I don’t know how to dance those! But why didn’t I ever really learn them?

We served a whole bunch of traditional food and drink as well: empanadas, choripan, and terremotos (which is a crazy strong alcoholic drink made with pineapple ice cream and multiple liquors), among other things. I would have had a lot more pictures for you had I not been in charge of keeping the children from fighting and hurting themselves on the trampoline. But here are a couple photos I did manage to take!

Here’s the patio all decorated for the party. It was lovely.

The Chilean bandera (flag) and the parrilla (grill). La parrilla is a central part of Chilean Independence Day celebrations. You have no idea how much grilled meat I’ve consumed in the past few weeks.

Look at my kids dancing la cueca in their pretty outfits!

Important castellano words to know when you’re in charge of a trampoline: sube (get on), baje (get off), ¡baja al tiro! (get off right now!, no empujen (don’t push), cuidado (be careful!), ¡voy a llamar a la tía! (I’m going to get the tía!) (I’m a tía, but I’m not the tía in charge. They know who I mean when I say “la tía.”)

Lessons learned during that week: feeling like part of the family eventually just happens if you want it to. Just chill out.

BUT, right when you think you’ve gotten there, homesickness rears its big fat ugly head, grabs you back up in its claws and decides not to let you go for a few days.

So you Skype your friends and family. You bust out the Carole King, Elton John, and your Elite pañuelos de cónfor (Chilean Kleenex) and hold on for the ride.

There’s just nothing I can do about it but let it pass and avoid making a scene about it. Keeping myself busy helps a whole heck of a lot. Boredom and restlessness just beg for a round of frustrated tears.

And then I went on a trip.

MARTES, 17/9

Before I get into it, I would like to apologize in advance for the grand lack of photos. In many instances, it was awkward to just whip out the camera and start clicking, nor did I want to ruin the moment by announcing that I was about to take a photo. Another thing: Chile is not tourist-y. This is not like New York or London where everyone is taking photos of every single thing all the time. So bear with me; this will be a lot of words and not a ton to look at.

Can we just talk for two seconds about how I have bad luck with buses? As in, I can’t ever just get where I’m going without going somewhere else in between or just doing it absolutely wrong. I’ve had a couple nights here in Santiago where I’ve come about this close to calling my host dad for help getting back home. One night where I really should have called him and someone sent me two angels in the form of a lady and a bus driver who saved me. And now I have an old iPhone just for the fact that it has Internet and maps in case I screw up again (the look I got from host dad when I got this present told me that he somehow found out about my late night bus adventures. Oops.).

(Everybody who’s praying for me back home: thank you. Clearly I need it…)

Anyways. This leads me to the day I was leaving for Linares to celebrate fiestas patrias with my pre-program host family. I was dropped off at the metro with plenty of time to get to the bus terminal. I got to the bus terminal about an hour ahead of time. I found a friend there and we walked around for a little while, and then I decided I should figure out where my platform actually is. Then the lady at the booth tells me it’s at another terminal nearby. So my friend and I walk to another terminal. This is also the wrong terminal. This is five minutes before my bus is about to leave.

By the time I get to the correct terminal, I’ve missed my bus by about five minutes. (Really, Santiago bus terminals? Would it kill you to put up a sign saying that THIS is Terminal Sur?!) Which means that after some frantic texting and calling, I end up waiting two and a half hours for another bus. You can imagine how this did wonders for the homesickness that’d been bothering me.

But eventually, I made it! I was welcomed with empanadas and wine. Being that I didn’t get in until 9:30, more than three hours later than I’d planned, I thought we’d just have something to eat and head to bed. Oh noooo. At about 12:30 (AM. 00:30 for all you international time fans.), we headed out to Colbún, about 40 minutes away, to las ramadas. Las ramadas is another word for fonda, which is another word for party/fair, or the typical public fiestas patrias celebration. (fiestas and celebration are redundant. This is what I get for using Spanglish.). We paid a small entrance fee to a big barn, where there were tons of people dancing to a live cumbia band. Cumbia is a kind of music, very upbeat and kind of like Chilean country music, if you can imagine that. Just Google it. It was very fun and the dance is so easy that I barely consider it an actual dance.

So we were there dancing in a barn until 4:30 AM. It didn’t matter at all that I missed my first bus! We had a whole night’s worth of celebrating anyways. There was some really beautiful cueca going on at the end of the night, too. Just young people in street clothes, dancing this dance like it was their life’s calling, all pride and joy. No photos. It was dark.

MIÉRCOLES, 18/9: DÍA DE INDEPENDENCIA

September 18th, 1810 marks the historically recognized beginning of Chile’s independence, although there’s something about it being in February and actually several years later. Anyways. We party on the 18th!

Here’s what our street looked like that afternoon. Chileans are obligated to fly the flag on certain days of the year.

All kinds of patriotism going on here.

My 18th was actually quite relaxed. We went over to the grandma’s house for lunch (cazuela and empanadas. All we were missing was pastel de choclo and it was about as Chilean as it gets.) and dinner (asado. Grilled meat. So much grilled meat.). This day was a little bit less fun. I felt a little bored/uncomfortable while at the grandma’s house all afternoon, mainly because there wasn’t much conversation, and it was just a slow day. Then I started to miss my host family in Santiago (have I ever told you that I like routine and get attached to people? Yup.). I was quite thankful when we headed out to visit more ramadas to try chicha, which is a very sweet alcoholic grape drink made with the remnants of the winemaking process. These ramadas were less fun. One just had a bad vibe- I could feel myself being stared at (I had to be the only blonde for kilometers), and there had been a stabbing there earlier in the week. The next one was very quiet, and the chicha there had a weird chemical taste. Oh well!

I did take photos, but they turned out dark. Grr.

JUEVES, 19/9

The 19th of September is also a federal holiday, called Las Glorias del Ejército, which means the Glories of the Army. Apparently the special thing about the 19th is the big parade of the armed forces. I learned that Chile has some really nice uniforms. And that their armed forces goose step.

More fondas! ¡Más chicha! After lunch we went to two more fondas to find chicha to buy for my Linares host dad, who was up working at the copper mines instead of vacationing with us (the Chilean copper industry runs on its own schedule). We enjoyed cabritas, which is kettle corn minus the salt, and churros rellenos (churros filled with manjar, Chile’s caramel or dulce de leche). We finally found a chicha that had the right taste and bought a few liters’ worth. We also watched this contest in which they strung a live duck up by its feet and a bunch of guys on horses galloped at it and tried to snatch it down. Oh, if only PETA had been there…

We went home and had another huge dinner of asado. Here’s what our parrilla looked like.

You’ve got chuletas (chops) de chancho (pork), vienesas (hot dogs), and longaniza (the big sausages. Oh, they’re smoky and greasy and so so good. Like kielbasa but different and just as delicious.)

JUEVES, 20/9

I tripped on the last step of the staircase while I was bringing my luggage downstairs and nearly sprained my ankle. Apparently I can’t just get on a bus without incident like a normal human being. I enjoyed one last big Chilean breakfast with a hearty helping of bread (hallulla and marraqueta, I’m looking at you) and headed back to this big smoggy city I’m living in for a while.

There were almost a few more tears this morning. Not because of homesickness- that appears to have passed for now- but because I realized it may be a very long time before I see my Linares family again, if I ever see them again. Think about it: I only have so many more months left here. I can only travel on the weekends. I have a lot of other places to see before December 11th. So it was a pretty big goodbye.

Here’s hoping that I get back to this country again some day. Because I kind of love it a lot.

Well, we took the long way, but we got here! Hope that satisfies your blog cravings, folks. Talk to you all again soon!

With love,

Gaby

P.S. I’ve gotten some new “likes” recently. Please comment! I love hearing from all of you!

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2 meses y más

Oh hi! How are you all? It’s been more than a week. Did you miss me? (Please say yes.)

In case you weren’t aware, it’s September. And I’m in Chile. September 18th is Chilean Independence Day. This means that I have the entire week of September 17-24th off, and also that the entire month is just a huge party. My vacation began today after my last test. You have no idea how ready I am for a week off.

Which means I finally have time to write a post!

It’s been so many days that it’s useless to try and organize this post day by day. Let’s just recap overall.

First, one of my friends celebrated the big 2-1 (yay S.!). This was probably one of the funnest nights I’ve had so far. It was just all gringos, eating food, speaking a lot of English. Everything on study abroad doesn’t have to be a big trip or something planned or something “cultural.” You can still just hang out.

Second, real schoolwork decided to rear its ugly head and remind me that there is indeed a “study” in study abroad. This involved a personal essay proposal, which my host mom very kindly corrected and edited, and a group project proposal. Fun fact about group projects while on study abroad: you still have all the same problems, but in your second language. It’s a hoot, let me tell you. All I can say is thank goodness for Google docs.

Third, I went to daily Mass on campus. It turns out college Mass is pretty much the best Mass no matter where you are, no matter what the language.

Fourth, spring is coming. It might actually be here already. But I don’t want to jinx things, because I’ve thought that about four times now and every time there’s always a nice brisk 50-and-rainy day to shake things up. It’s been around 70 and sunny for three days now…so here’s hoping! With this has come a resentment of my closet and the quantity of winter clothes I have versus cute spring/summer items. Paired with my unwillingness to spend money on “unnecessary” shopping, you can imagine how getting dressed has been lately.

Question for Chileans: how do you wear all those layers when it’s 75 and sunny out? Yes, it’s chilly in the morning. But you’re really going to keep wearing your chaleco and bufanda at 3 PM?

Finally, I went on another vineyard tour.

There was a gate like this at Hallie’s dad’s vineyard in The Parent Trap, right?

Obviously a visit to a vineyard must include references the Lindsay Lohan version of The Parent Trap. We had the pleasure of visiting Viña Concha y Toro, way out on the southern border of the Santiago metropolitan region. Unlike our trip to the artisanal vineyard in Linares, this trip featured a lot less lecturing and a lot more picture-taking. Let’s take a brief photo tour, shall we?

I just like the pictures my camera takes in landscape shooting mode.

Also: people used to live here. Can you imagine?

The former main house of the estate. See previous caption.

It all looks the same, but there’s actually a lot of different wine dormant (it’s winter) here.

There’s a mountain or a cerro in the back! Of course I took a photo of it!

Things I learned: the climate in the central zone of Chile, where Santiago is, is excellent for growing wine grapes. There’s a type of red wine here called carménère, which is only grown in Chile. Keys to tasting wine: see (color), smell, swirl (to oxygenate) and smell again (it WILL smell different!), and sip. I feel smarter drinking wine now.

First wine tasting: a carménère.

El Casillero del Diablo, or “The Devil’s Cellar.” Where the best wine is kept.

Why this picture? The entire cellar- which was huge- was made of bricks laid with limestone, sand, and egg whites. Yes, egg whites.

Camera fun. Thank you for indulging me.

Wine tasting #2: the Trio, a combination of 70% cabernet sauvignon, 15% shiraz/syrah?, 15% carménère. I think.

Just another nice, classy, relaxing paseo. And of course we finished the day with food.

Empanada de pino and a Coca-Cola. Welcome to Chile.

Guess how long I’ve been here now? That’s right! TWO MONTHS. The time is flying by, people. I could do for it to slow down juuuuust a tad if you please.

So what’s next? A fiesta dieciochera for fiestas patria at my volunteer site. Which will feature me in traditional Chilean dress. A nearly 10-day vacation. Four days in Linares! Lots and lots and lots of food. And hopefully a zillion pictures and stories to share with you.

Chao chao! Besos! Cuídate!

Much love,

Gaby

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Lessons and questions

It’s September. It’s about 80 and sunny today. Independence Day will be here in 17 days. This is an exciting month.

It’s September. I’m a week away from TWO whole months in this country. But I’ll blog about that later.

It’s September. And I’m still figuring things out.

Lesson: you will never stop missing your family. Ever. You just won’t. The sooner you can accept that, the easier things will be. Will you still get sad? Yes. Will some nights still be really hard? Yes. But knowing that that’s all okay is comforting somehow.

Lesson: I like it when new friends/family tease me. My host sister was poking fun at me last Sunday when we were talking about boys. I wasn’t offended one bit. I loved it, actually, because it means that she feels comfortable enough that she can do that and not worry about hurting my feelings. I need more of that. But how do you ask for that? “Please. Bust my chops.”

Also, I’ve got so much personal space/time to myself I don’t know what to do with it.

Question: how do the glamorous women in 5-inch platform Louboutins not break their ankles getting shoved into the subway during la hora punta?

Question: do you ever stop hitting the language wall? I’ve been doing really well. But the other night I had to ask my host parents to repeat everything twice at dinner. And I’d just been reading in Spanish without problems for over an hour! What happened?

Lesson: when you go visit a country, you need to learn as much as you can about their history and culture. Even the bad parts.

This week we took a field trip to Villa Grimaldi. Villa Grimaldi was a family estate converted into a detention and torture center under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Today it has an alternative name, Parque por la Paz, and stands as a memorial for all of those who were victims of the Pinochet regime. We were privileged enough to be led through the park by a former prisoner, who was able to include his personal experience in addition to the hard facts of the park’s past.

If you want to learn more about torture and political detention under Pinochet, you can Google it or go to your library and find tons of information. Know this: it’s disturbing. It wasn’t unique for its time. The United States was involved, as it was in many other Latin American dictatorships during the later part of the Cold War era. Chile lived the Cold War within its own borders. Villa Grimaldi and other centers like it demonstrate the intensity of that war.

Villa Grimaldi Memorial Plaque

Memorial plaque at the entrance. “Nunca más” means “Never again.”

Villa Grimaldi Model

This is scale model of Villa Grimaldi under the dictatorship. Most of the buildings were destroyed by the regime before Pinochet left power and are memorialized today.

The gate through which trucks carrying prisoners would enter.

This artwork represents what little prisoners could see out of their Scotch tape blindfolds: cobblestones and floor tiles.

Between the pool and the back wall were the torture and interrogation rooms.

Representation of isolation cells. A cell of this size would hold four people sitting bound and blindfolded on the floor.

Memorial wall of the names of those known to have died in Villa Grimaldi. Some stones remain blank, in case new information arises.

Memorial to “the parking lot.” If all other forms of torture (which were many and extreme) failed, the most important prisoners would be brought out here and have their legs run over by a truck, in an effort to extract information.

Question: how does something like this happen? How does it continue to happen, in different ways and in different countries?

Lesson: you can make something beautiful out of something terrible. Humanity can rise up from anything.

After this, we visited el Cementerio General of Santiago. It’s the largest and one of the oldest cemeteries in Chile, first established to bury Chile’s founding fathers after they won independence in 1818. The thing that struck me most about the cemetery was that it is essentially a replication of the geographical and architectural class divide in Santiago for the dead. The part of the cemetery closest to the chapel and main entrance is where Chile’s elite bury their loved ones, in mausoleums the size of cabins. Next comes the upper-middle class section, with smaller but well-constructed mausoleums. Beyond that section comes the lower-middle class “neighborhood,” where they have multilevel structures that look like small apartment buildings, but with tombs instead of windows. They actually look like the apartment buildings in which many working class santiaguinos live. Not even kidding. The last section of the cemetery belongs to the poor, who bury their loved ones in the ground. This section, however, seemed the happiest, due to the abundance of fresh flowers, mobiles, wind chimes, flags, and other objects lovingly placed at the gravestones. In general, though, all of the tombs were extremely well-kept. Maybe they have different ideas about the dead here, but I saw very few resting places which lacked fresh flowers or were dirty. The cemetery seemed much more well-visited than a typical cemetery in the US.

Next week, our field trip is a vineyard. My tuition dollars are being so well-spent, don’t you think? And more wine pictures!

Since it is now September (but seriously. When did that happen?!), the weather is getting gorgeous, and basically the whole month is dedicated to la fiestas patria, and I’m planning my travels for the semester, a lot more will be going on to write about. Stay tuned!

With love,

Gaby

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