Thursday, December 2, 2010

A few firsts at the finish

My darling people,

Well, it's official. I am done done doneski with my semester at La Catolica. I leave for what I hope to be an AMAZING trip to the south of the country. And, most importantly for all of you (assuming that you haven't forgotten me and still want to be friends/family), 2 weeks from today my feet will be on US soil. I won't lie to you, I don't know if I'm ready to leave this country. I'm certainly ready to see all of you, but I don't know that I'm ready for this experience to be over. Perhaps there will be another Chilean era in my future.

Anyways, perhaps I don't feel like I'm finished here because I'm still having new (and at times shocking) experiences. I'll leave you all with a few of them here.

Chiropractor

I finally cracked down (puns!) and took the plunge to go see a chiropractor. My back had still been bothering me and as the days inched closer and closer to our trip to the south, I was getting desperate. So I blindly chose one in the phone book and hoped for the best. Turns out the doc not only was trained in the US but was American himself. So...I cheated a little and spoke in English, it made it much easier to communicate exactly how/where I was feeling the pain and the exact steps I should take to improve the state of my back. Overall, it was very successful; I felt loads better afterwards and have been stretching twice daily, which seems to be helping as well. And, the best part of all, was that I didn't have to wait in line, or take 10 tickets in order to pay for my visit; however, the one oddity was that they only took cash. When I said I needed to run to an ATM but would return pronto, the receptionist just shrugged nonchalantly, there were no precautions taken to make sure I wasn't going to run off with my free back crack. I'll miss this trusting attitude.

Museo de la Paz (Museum of Peace)

This is a museum which documents (incredibly well) the before and after effects of the golpe de estado (couo d'etat/military takeover of the government) with real artifacts such as newspapers, video footage, pictures and letters, some of which were written by childen to Pinochet and his wife, asking about the whereabouts of their parents who had disappeared. Powerful stuff. In addition, while I was waiting outside the museum for my friends, a man came running out the door with tears streaming down his face. A reminder that all of this took place in the not so distant past.

Interestingly enough, there were some lighthearted parts as well; for example, there was a television showing all the political commercials from 1989, encouraging people to vote "Si" or "No" to Pinochet's dictatorship. For a such a serious subject, they were rather comic, including people skipping on the beach under rainbows for the "Si" campaign and a rousing chorus of different people screaming out "NO!" in silly voices for the "No" campaign. I'd take silly voices over rainbows anyday.

Primer Temblor

My first earthquake!!! I know there have been dozens while I've been here but I finally FELT my first one last tuesday night! I was up writing an essay and at about 12:30AM, I felt my chair start to tremble. I immediately turned around, ready to shoo away what I thought was the dog humping my chair. But there was nothing there. About 10 seconds later, a light bulb went off in my head and I ran into my host mother's room, calling out that it was my first temblor! She jumped excitedly and hugged me, saying "Te felicito!" (I congratulate you!) A celebration of Mother Nature.

Primeras despedidas

Unfortunately with things coming to a close, come the first goodbyes. Friday night at our "last supper" (No, JC was not present) for the program, I said farewell to my professor for the program class. A truly inspiring, intelligent man; I learned more in his class than in all my others combined. The next one came Tuesday and hit a bit closer to home, I bid adieu my program mate and close friend who will be travelling when I leave the country. Won't lie, that made it all a bit too real. And finally, I had my last trabajo voluntario (volunteering) for English Opens Doors on Wednesday. I printed out pictures and wrote little notes (in Spanish and English) to all my students and at the end of each class they all lined up and gave me hugs and kisses, wishing me well, the darlings. The most difficult part however, was saying goodbye to my co-teacher; I learned so much from her, not only about the English language (which is so difficult to learn) but about educational standards around the world and what steps should be taken to improve them. She sparked an interest in this subject that I never knew I had and perhaps more educational work lies in my future as well...

Now I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have kept up reading my entries all the way to the end. I hope it was enjoyable for you guys, it definitely was entertaining for me, not to mention an excellent way to document my trip and keep in touch with a bunch of people at the same time. This will probably be my last post from Chile as I won't have internet access while travelling and only have 2.5 days in Santiago when I get back before I'll be stateside once again. But, once I'm home and settled, I'll be sure to at least put up some pictures from the South for the last big hurrah.

So I think this goes without saying, but the shout-out goes to each and everyone of you. Thanks for reading and I can't wait to see you all IN PERSON soon!

Un monton de besos,

Abby

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bucket list=almost complete

Hey guys,

I am officially done with classes for the semester! And I couldn't be happier, let's just say I've been less than pleased with my academic experience in the classroom here, so it's nice to be able to check that off the list. I've got finals until November 30 and then I'm home free for the travel times. I've got roughly 2 weeks left in Santiago so I've been running around like a maniac trying to do/see/experience everything possible before I peace out of this country for awhile. A couple of things I checked off my bucket list this weekend include:

1)Museo de Bellas Artes

My friend and I actually stumbled upon it by accident wandering around the centro but Lonely Planet travel guide (aka the Bible) says it's a must so we went in for a quick stroll through. Turns out they are currently remodeling/changing out exhibits, so admission was free! Normally in the US when they are changing exhibits, there are huge curtains hung around to hide the area in progress, only to be revealed when it is perfectly pristine. Not here; the museum was practically a construction site, we nearly tripped over 2x4 rods and walked past paintings stacked against the wall. I never thought about it before, but the use of a curtain is rather arbitrary and...silly. Unfortunately, our tour was cut short by a train of speeding middle schoolers literally doing laps around the second floor. We figured that was our cue to exit.

2) Answered a piropo

Unfortunately, due to the proximity of my house and 4 construction sites, my daily life has been filled with piropos (effectively, catcalls). A friend and I were standing on the corner waiting to cross the street. It was exceedingly warm so I chose to take off my sweater right when a truck pulled up in front of us with a guy hanging out the window. He looked me up and down and grined slimely. I looked directly at him and shook my head no. He took my response as an opportunity to yell "sacalo! sacalo!" (literally "take it off!). So I took his response as an opportunity to flip him off. Appropriate? I think yes.

3) Barrio Brasil

Another Lonely Planet must. We ended up going to a club there on Friday although not without getting VERY lost along the way. A couple friends of our drove us, we missed the turn and 20 minutes later found ourselves on the western side of town, which can be a bit fleite (sketch) especially at 1AM. But all is well, we eventually found our way and proceeded to dance the night away. Abby de la fiesta lives!

4) Vina del Mar

Looking for a relaxing sunday after our crazy weekend, we headed to the coast for a day at the beach in Vina del Mar. Literally, I laid there, got tan and had delightful conversation with my friends. Perfect day.

Shout-out goes to my auntie Mary for officially finishing her last class of grad school! Congratulations!!!

Besos,

Abby

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Santiago, you never cease to surprise me...

Hey all,

One month from today I will be in Chicago. With my parents. Sleeping in my bed. With my baby kitty. Eating peanutbutter. Great times? Greatest times? Although I look forward to this idyllic future, I still can't believe how the time has flown. Thus I have continued taking advantage of my time here. A couple of anecdotes from my last week...

Soccer game

On our last group outing we ventured a whole 20 minutes outside of the university to go to Estadio Monumental to see Colo Colo play Santiago Morning. The stadium was rampant with fans, shouting and whistling, especially in our direction (as the desfile (parade) of gringas, we have yet to go unnoticed). Although we were pretty far back from the field (our program director sat us here on purpose so we would be out of harm's way if a fight broke out...she was nervous) we still had a great view, not only of the action but of the mountains as well.



I hate to say it, but the whole experience kind of reminded me of a high school football (futbol?) game; each team had it's own personal cheering section, complete with a marching band and too much body paint. Songs were sung, or rather, war cries were cried, but in the end, there were real tears: Colo Colo played terribly and lost to Santiago Morning (a huge upset) and the fans trudged out of the stadium, disheartened. But hey, I was pleased, now I can check one more thing off the bucket list.

Went to a discussion...in English

Last wednesday, my class on Women in Korean History had a guest lecturer come from Stanford to talk about the current state of North Korea and its relationship to the United States. He didn't know Spanish but almost everyone at my university has a decent comprehension of English so there was no translator necessary. The talk was not only interesting, it was funny too; he opened with a recent poll demonstrating the percentage of Americans who hate North Korea. The poll found the Americans 18-34 years of age hate North Korea less but the man's explanation for this was that young Americans are uneducated about geography and confuse North and South Korea, so they displace their hatred due to their stupidity. At this point, my professor looked at me and just laughed hysterically. United States youth, promoting stereotypes until we are properly educated.

Encountered some cultural differences

On Tuesday, I had a group presentation on the Tibetan culture and health systems. We had to involve the class in some way and many of the other groups brought or made traditional food, so my group suggested we bring in Chinese fortune cookies. I said that I wasn't comfortable doing that because a) Tibet is practically a separate country from China and has it's own unique culture and b) fortune cookies are an occidental creation and have nothing to do with Asia in general. A girl in my group said, "no, it's fine, no one will know the difference" but that we could ask the professor beforehand if I felt absolutely uncomfortable. The next day we asked the professor and she said, "of course! They represent the influence of Chinese culture in Tibet!" and happily munched away on her cookie. I literally still have no words.

Ate the "best" empanadas in Santiago

Cheesy. Fried. The size of my head. Need I say more?



Shout-out goes Ben Herrmann! Happy early Birthday! Can't wait to see you in December!
Besos,
Abby

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hay que aprovechar!

Hey guys,

So after that whirlwind month of travelling, my last full month in Santiago hath commenced. Upon this bitter sweet realization, my fellow program mates (who I now consider to be part of my family) and I have decided that hay que aprovechar de todo (we need to take advantage of everything). Therefore, we have constructed a sort of bucket list (if you will) for our time left in Santiago and have vowed to have new and exciting experiences every weekend in November. (I of course use weekend as a loose term since it usually starts on Wednesday). So, below is a list of some of the new experiences I had this weekend, enjoy!

1) Went to a doctor. I shrewdly omited this in my last post, but I, being the 70 year old woman that I am, threw out my back in Pucon. Literally, I bent down to put on my shoe and didn't get back up (there's a visual for you). Upon returning to Santiago, I asked my program director about seeing a chiropractor. Apparently this is an undeveloped art in Chile so she suggested I go see a traumatologo (from what I can tell, roughly a orthopoedist/physiologist??). I was told to arrive 30 minutes early to my appointment because to my surprise there were multiple steps before I even got to the waiting room. First, I went to the student center where I was given a form confirming said appointment and was instructed to pay. Then, paper in hand (VERY IMPORTANT, NEVER lose your papers in Chile) walked across campus to the medical building where the next stop was the Caja (cashier/counter) where I took a number and waited (I felt like I was in purgatory from Beetlejuice) was finally called up to the counter, where I turned in my paper from before. The woman at the counter then proceed to pull out more papers, scribble on them, rip them, staple them back together...by the end, I was given a packet roughly equivalent to the size of the Bible and finally was allowed to go to the doctor's office. There I waited for a surprising 2 minutes, my appointment was 10 minutes, got a prescription for Ibu profen and was on my way! Oh irony, how you follow me everywhere.

2) Went to a gourmet food fair! Probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. The entrance fee was $10 which was well worth my weight in free sample of bread and olive oil, not to mention artisan marmelade, chutney, empanadas, ice cream and salsa! SPICES! It was a miracle. Highlights were by far the honey peanutbutter, dulce de leche (purchased!) and cupcakes (a new delicacy in this country! Included wine and pisco sour flavors, surprisingly not repulsive). But what you all really need to know is that Hellmann's mayonaise had a booth. Only in Chile is mayonaise considered gourmet.

3) Alto Las Condes. I was literally convinced I had returned to the US earlier than expected. This is a mall located in the ritziest part of town; it was as though I were strolling through Woodfield, multiple levels, huge crowds and Christmas decorations strung from the escalators, a month before Thanksgiving. Not the most unique new experience but something to check off the list.

4) We went out to eat for lunch! Lunch is the most important and large meal of the day and on the weekends is usually an hour and half and a time for family gathering in the home. It felt so odd to be in a restaurant; I can count on one hand the times my host family has gone out to eat in the last 4.5 months. We dined on bread and pebre (salsa that is eaten with dinner bread, literally the only spicy food in Chilean cusine) and for an appetizer someone ordered something whose name escapes me but what can only be described as a slab of fried cheese with pieces of sausage on top. My host brother exclaimed gleefully, "Great for the cholesterol levels". Yum!

Shout out goes to my darling grandfather, I stood next to a man wearing a newsboy cap on the metro the other day, of course you were the first person who came to mind.

Besos,

Abby

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pucon!

Dearest ones,

Well, I have officially survived my month of travelling! Monday we returned from our trip to Pucon which is located about 10 hours south of Santiago. I had heard that the south could be a bit unpredictable with weather conditions but of course with our luck, this past weekend was exactly as predicted on weather.com; Rain the entire weekend. Que lata. (What a bummer). But we made do, still had a good time and came home in one piece...more or less. Some highlight for me were:

1) Greenery!

The naturaleza (you guessed it, nature) was gorgeous; even covered in fog and clouds, the rolling hills of evergreen trees and just general vibrantly colored vegetation was overwhelming (made me think of Ireland!). It made me realize that this was the first time I had actually seen real forests and plants in Chile since we live in an urban center and all of our trips have been taken in the winter or to the desert. Certainly a welcome change.

2) Termas
The owners of our hostel recommended a dip in the natural Termas de Pozones (Hot springs) as a good rainy day activity. We hopped on a bus which literally had a plastic sign in the window saying "Destinacion: Termas" and shared our one our journey with sopping wet school children who were homeward bound after finishing class for the day. (Note: the music was particularly excellent; an ever so artful mixture starting off with Paul Simon and ending with great 90's hits, don't worry, Britney was not forgotten). We arrived at the termas and spent the afternoon relaxing, eating chocolate and conversing with the other vacationers. Let's just say, we made a lot of "amigos".

3) Ojos de Caburgua

Day 2: We had run out of rainy day activities so we decided to brave the weather and hacer trekking (go hiking) anyways. We headed to Ojos de Caburgua which consists of a forest, a lagoon and some gorgeous cascadas (waterfalls). Despite the weather which was pesimo (awful) we still had fun and the naturaleza was gorgeous!

But the views weren't the only entertainment, there was signage everywhere in broken English and what I found to be rather abrasive (and grammatially incorrect) spanish. The one below translates to "Mr. Visitor, demonstrate you education and culture, don't vote garbage".




4) My current physical state

After our delightful hike through the wilderness, we returned to the hostel to drink some tea and do grocery shopping. I bent down to put on my shoes and when I came back up I felt a twinge in my lower back and suddenly it became very difficult to move. Yup, like an old woman, I threw out my back. So, unfortunately for me, the rest of the weekend was more low key. Advil and I have gotten very close and I now have a new gel of sorts (equivalent of vick's rub I think) thanks to the owner of a booth at the artisan's fair in town who took pity on me. I was trying on some wool leg warmers (which I bought! see below) and lamented my debil (weakened) situation to the shop owner; she promptly dragged me to the back of her store where she procured said gel and demanded that I lift up my shirt. She massaged the gel into my back and afterwards I felt much better, much looser. In the end she gave me the gel for free, told me to apply hot vinegar to the sore spot and tied a piece of yarn around my waist to "hold things in place". Not sure about the yarn but the gel has been working wonders, I'm still hobbling around a bit but it's getting better every day. I'm learning patience is a virtue...which I do not possess.




Shout out goes to Jill Smith, I had dark chocolate for the first time in Chile the other day and obviously immediately thought of you! Can't wait to overindulge with you when I get back!
Besos,
Abby

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Soy Santiaguina??

Hola guapos y guapas! (For the non-spanish speakers, look it up, I just paid you all a compliment!)

Hope you're all doing well. This last week and a half I've been in Santiago so my life has been, well, I don't want to say boring, but average. Perhaps I've gotten too used to the jet setting lifestyle? Or perhaps I'm actually acostumbrada (used to) life here in this smoggy metropolis. I'm beginning to find that I'm making less comparisons (in my head...most of the time) between Santiago and my life back in the states and have begun to really settle into the pace and Chilean lifestyle. Hey, it took 4 months but I made it!

A couple highlights from the past week:

1) Thursday night we all went to go see Que Pena Tu Vida (Your life sucks), a newly released Chilean film about a rather undesirable dude who is having love life troubles. The plot was nothing special but I understood 95% of the movie!!!! This is a huge improvement, considering my 3rd week here we saw La Vida de Los Peces where I understood approximately 10 phrases. Real learning has occurred!

2) About a month ago, I failed a test. I mean straight up failed, on a scale of 1-7, I received a 2.1 (hey man, if I'm going to do something, I'm going to go all the way). Anyways, this past week I met with my professor (who by the way is never in class, literally, I can count on my fingers the amount of times I've seen this woman and there are 3 weeks of classes left) to find out what happened. After a short chat, I realized I had misused a few words in my essay (typical foreigner) but after explaining what I had actually intended to say, she raised my grade to a 5.5! Credit will be received!

3) On Friday, a couple friends and I went to a hip hop class. Although I was an excellent dancer at the age of eight, se me fue mi habilidades (my skills have since left me). However, I still enjoyed myself; it was good exercise and the instructor had an (unhealthy?) obsession with Michael Jackson. After showing us the moves, he would continue dancing on his own, and let's just say it wasn't hard to imagine the red pleather jacket and one gloved hand.

4) I walked up a hill! For reasons only known to my subconscious, I woke up at 9AM on a Saturday to climb Cerro San Cristobal with a few friends as prep for our 5 day hike in Patagonia in December. Although I was under the impression that all of Santiago stays out until 6am, it appears that they also wake up (or stay awake) until this time and run for the hills to exercise. We came across a herd of bikers, runners, walkers and 3 different group exercise classes, including step aerobics, although I sorry to say the hunt for the Chilean Richard Simmons still continues.

5) My inner Betty Crocker was calling out to me (that and the approaching birthday of my host brother) so I decided to bake cookies. My lovely parents sent me Nestle chocolate chips (which are not sold here. Yet literally every other product here is Nestle, coffee, ice cream, the Cheerios I eat for breakfast in the morning, I'm pretty sure they have an illegal monopoly going on. Irony) so I of course chose to make the classic chocolate chip cookies. All went according to plan until the baking part, Chilean ovens and I have a strained relationship.

1) In order to turn it on, you have to turn on the gas on the stove, light a piece of paper towel on fire and then quickly stick it in the bottom of the oven. Without burning the house down. What??

2) There is no way to set the temperature; it's either on, or it's off.

3) There is no timer but this doesn't matter because cookies bake in literally 4 minutes.

The last one I found out the hard way. After about 6 minutes, I opened the oven to check on the little galletas and was greeted by a puff of smoke. As I pulled out the tray and swung open the window for oxygen, my host mother comes strolling in the door and says sweetly what a finely pleasant aroma the house has. I'm chalking this up to cultural differences.

Shout out goes to Tosin Akinsanya. The other day on the metro, Me Gustas Tu came on my Ipod, so obvio you were the first person who popped into my head. Hope you're well and can't wait to talk next week!

Besos,

Abby

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

San Pedro de Atacama!

Lovely People in my Life!


I have returned from the Northern Lands aka the best viaje (trip) thus far! 3 days of exploring the driest desert in the world left me breathless, gleeful and in the mood to watch Indiana Jones (a certain type of hat was purchased and now I can't get the theme song out of my head).

Highs

1) Salar de Atacama (Salt Flat) was unlike any place I have ever been before. The national park is covered in white and produces 50% of the world's lithium (I'm sure the Energizer Bunny is thankful!). Besides being a gold mine for exports, Salar de Atacama is also home to 3 different types of flamingoes which soared over our heads travelling from one laguna (you guessed it, lagoon) to the next. Know that a good hour was spent taking photos of the landscape, animals, humans imitating the animals and our jumps for joy over our discovery of this other worldly location.
2)Hacer trekking en Valle de La Luna (Hiking in the Moon Valley) was probably my favorite part of the whole weekend. In 3 hours we ran down sand dunes, crawled through caves and scrambled on salt rocks. Salt is one of the most prominent materials in the entire region; now I understand its prominence (over abundance?) on the table during almuerzo (lunch).

3) Atardecer en Valle de La Luna (Sunset in the Moon Valley)

After our fabulous trek, we went to higher ground to watch the sunset over the mountains. The colors ranged from pink to purple to blue and changed by the minute. A relaxing end to a wonderfully nature-charged day!

4) Yet another birthday surprise! Saturday night we were privileged enough to listen to musica andina (Andean music?) and learn some of the traditional dances from the owner of our hotel. Suddenly the band started playing "Feliz cumpleanos" and all my friends pulled out noisemakers and sang to me as the hotel owner brought out the most delicious cake ever (peaches and manjar) brightly lit with 21 candles. I was sufficiently surprised and very touched; I'm so lucky to share this life changing experience with these six amazing women.

Lows

1) Although babies and children love me, it seems animals and I are not on the same wave length. We visited an indigenous community where there were goats, horses, sheep and llamas. When I tried to interact in a calm and friendly fashion with the latter, his response was to spit in my face (chewed grass included). Needless to say, that was the end of that short lived friendship.

2) Yet the lowest low was actually due to the highest high: Saturday morning we woke up at 5AM to see 5 different types of geysers! Unfortunately, this also meant doubling the altitude we were at in an hour and a half from 2,000m to 4,300m. While I was impressed with the sights and sounds of these natural phenomenons, my body was less than pleased. After about an hour in the upper stratosphere, I came down with altitude sickness and was confined to putting my head between my knees and sleeping in the van for the rest of the morning. But hey, sometimes sacrifices have to be made and I would say it definitely valio la pena (was worth it)!

Shout-out goes to Laura Adkins; know that when I was taking 10,000 pictures of the flamingoes, all I could think about was baking apple pie (and the cinnamon sugar crust crispies) with you in your kitchen while you stood with one leg perched on the knee of the other like a rare form of bird. But don't worry, you are, and always will be, the most elegant.

Besos,

Abby

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cumple Cumple Cumpleanos!

Hey guys!

First things first...I'm 21! So legal in all the countries of the world!

I've had an absolutely lovely and wonderful birthday here in the southern cone. It's been incredible; turning 21 and being so far from home makes me a bit sad but I have been received so warmly today by all of friends, students and family that I have entered into a state of continuous smiles! And the fact that my birthday is coinciding with the rescue of the 33 miners has been a very unique and special experience, que todos esten seguros y con sus familias antes de la medianoche hoy dia! (I hope that all will be safe and with their families before midnight tonight!)

A couple memorable moments from today:

1) I arrived at volunteering a few minutes late but my co-teacher told me not to worry, that there were visiters at the school today, so we wouldn't be starting class until half past the hour. 20 minutes later, I entered the classroom to a huge surprise party from my first class of students! They sang feliz cumpleanos and had all brought food to share, as well as buying me a Kunstman cerveza (beer) to drink on my 21st! So, like many newly legal estadounidenses (U.S. citizens) I began drinking at 8:30 in the morning on my birthday. Don't worry, I haven't forgotten my culture.

I went to my second class and after half the period was over, we left because they had an assembly to go to. 15 minutes later, my co-teacher informed me that the "assembly" had been cancelled and I returned to the class only to be surprise partied once again! This time there was a cake, I made a wish and blew out my candle and then was told to shove my face in the cake, apparently a Chilean tradition. Pretty sure I looked super chori fly (basically, really cool) with frosting all over my face! The girls bought me an apron with pictures of empanadas and recipes, so be prepared to eat some yummy traditional Chilean food when I get back!

2) My lovely program mates also threw me a surprise party in the office of our program director. We had chocolate cake with manjar and will be enjoying a delightful dessert wine from Mendoza on our next trip which begins in less than 8 hours!!!

3) All the girls on my program came to my house to have once (translates literally to elevens and is the third of four daily meals, essentially tea time). The ladies and my family sang me feliz cumpleanos and my host mother informed me before I blew out the candles that in Chile you get 3 wishes instead of one. Perhaps I should have my birthday here every year! The cake was a mixture of lucuma (fruit that is stil unknown to me but rather delicious) and manjar (dulce de leche) Yummmm!!!! Afterwards, my host brother made us some sort of special "family secret" drink. All I know was that it had pineapple flavored ice cream and was alcoholic. Drink up!

So in summary, I have consumed alcohol, sugar and received lots of carino (basically equivalent of TLC). All in all, an absolutely wonderful and most memorable birthday!

Shout-out to all of you who have contacted me today! I miss you all and hope you are as well as can be!

Besos gigantes!!!

Abby

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mendoza, Argentina!

Hey lovely people in my life!

So, in case you didn't read title of this post, I just got back from Mendoza, Argentina! (ok, maybe I just wanted to say that again). We had a long weekend with Columbus Day (although here it's called Dia de la Raza or Day of the Race) so we decided to jet off to holiday in another country. Have I mentioned I love my life?

Thursday

We were scheduled to leave in the afternoon on bus. Unfortunately, we almost didn't make it because our same seats, which we bought online, had been sold to other passengers, who bought their tickets at the bus station. Turns out there is a lack of communication between the bus company and their website. Because that makes sense. Fortunately, after a bit of a scuffle (don't worry, it didn't have to get physical) we were able change our seats, board the bus and begin our vacation! The afternoon was an absolute delight with sunshine and hardly a cloud in the sky during our 6 hour bus ride, 3/4 of which was in the mountains. I probably took 80 some pictures of the elegant Andes but here is one of my favorites:
Anyone else now have "The Long and Winding Road" by The Beatles stuck in their head?
Friday
We were unfortunately awoken early by the sound of a jack hammer out the window. Three out of the four blocks surrounding our hostel were under construction and apparently they didn't get the memo about the long holiday weekend. So we started the day a bit early. Before leaving the hostel, we attempted to pay for our rooms (for the cheap cheap price of $10 a night!) but the total kept coming out as more than it should have been because a friend of ours got sick at the last minute and couldn't come and we were being charged for her fee as well. Although I had previously emailed the hostel about this change and received confirmation, it seems the owner's son answers the emails and he lives in Buenos Aires and only talks to the family a few times a week, so there was a lack of communication. (are we sensing a theme here?) So, after a scuffle (which very nearly did get physical) we ended getting the price down to only $20 extra pesos argentinos which is the equivalent of $5 dollars. Thanks to my friend Victoria for her excellent negotiating skills!
Saturday
Mendoza is smack dab in the middle of wine country, so what could we do but rise early (once again) and head to the vineyards? We arrived at 10AM at CarinaE to meet up with the ever so lovely Jessica Woll and learn about the process of fermentation. After a short tour, we were lead to the tasting room, where we sophisticatedly sipped three different types of Malbec wine (to all my WashU buddies, hope you all had fun at WILD and please know that I too was tipsy at 11 o'clock in the morning). I felt so adult and want to highlight that this took place 4 days before my 21st birthday!

After we were good and buzzed and had taken a delightful stroll through the vineyard, half of us chose to head back. The price of a taxi was ridiculous so we opted for the colectivo (Argentina's name for the bus system). Unfortunately, the colectivo only takes monedas (coins) or a magnetic fare card which we didn't have and are only available for purchase in downtown Mendoza, which was our final destination. We ended up going to a nearby kiosk/grocery store and begging for coins. After everyone in the store, workers and customers, had emptied out their pockets, we had just enough for our journey back to the centro (center of town).

Things to note: a) my ridiculous amount of excitement in this photo and b) while getting to the vineyard took about 25 minutes, the bus trip back was an hour and a half. O well, at least the views were nice.

Sunday

After going out the night before, sleeping less than four hours and getting up early to check out of the hostel, what, you may ask, had we planned for the day? Paragliding! We signed up to do it the day before but after a night of partying and a lack of the sleeping, you'd think I'd be less than pumped. But, aside from a few nerves, I was ready and willing! A year ago, I would have never had the guts or the confidence in myself to do this but I found myself jumping at the chance!

We were picked up outside the hostel by a guy in a dusty jeep and drove about 20 minutes outside the city into the hills of the Andes. On the way there, our instructor asked us if we were nervous; when we shakily replied yes, he said not to worry, only about half the people who paraglide vomit. But don't worry he said, "Relajense y si se sienten enfermas, pueden vomitar tranquilmente" (Relax! and if you guys feel sick, you can vomit tranquilly/in a relaxed state). I put my life in this man's hands.

But hey, sometimes you've got to take risks in life. And I'd like to say, although I did feel a bit sick during the 30 minute ride, it was well worth it!

My friend Naomi and I were the last to go. After subiendo el cerro (driving up the hill) on a "road" which really was the equivalent texture of the rest of the mountain, we arrived at the top. I got strapped into my gear and to my instructor and the assistant asked me "Are you ready to run?" Before I could answer, he pulled on my jump suit and my instructor and I ran off the mountain and flew into the air. Honestly, it was just like a dream, nothing beneath my feet and soaring above the mountains with ease. Although we were blowing about in the wind, for the most part it felt like we were still, as though I were seated in a porch swing and enjoying the view.

Because we were the last to go, we were in the air right when the sun began to set. Well worth the wait!

We headed back on bus that night and upon arriving at my house in Santiago at about 6:30am, I promptly slept for 8 more hours, waking up just in time for lunch!

Shout out goes to Mary Vasquez, after this experience I just might be ready for sky diving with you after your graduation! Well, falling from the sky is a bit different than swinging about, so perhaps a bit more convincing will be necessary.

Besos,

Abby

P.S. As I write this, they are beginning the rescue of the 33 miners in Copiapo. It'll be about an hour for each one so they'll be working all day tomorrow and won't finish until Thursday morning. Keep them in your thoughts!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ingles Abre Puertas: part deaux

Hey All,

A few quick anecdotes from my volunteering experience thus far:

1) I speak in English with my co-teacher so she can practice her language skills; therefore I am my usual expressive, ruidosa (noisy, loud) self every Wednesday morning! Today I was telling her a story and made some sort of obnoxiously nasal noise to express my mood within said story. First her eyes nearly popped out of their sockets with shock, then she just shook her head, saying that she is always taken aback by the expansive nature of North American personalities and the volume of their voices. According to her, Chileans are much more reserved and express the same intensity of emotion but in a more laid back manner. (Yet my host mother's weekly teas with her friends, which can best be described as playful screaming matches beg to differ...)

2) Today in class, my co-teacher was talking to a student sitting at a desk and urgently called me over. She pointed to the desk which had some writing on it and asked, "Is this a swear word?". It read, "I'm a GLEEk". (I nearly collapsed with excitement). I struggled to explain the nature of the word and the concept of GLEE fandom. She stared blankly at me, then asked if I was talking about some type of gang. If my love for showtunes and absurd plotlines makes me a hoodlum, I don't want to be straightened out. Viva Glee!

3) I asked my co-teacher if I could bring some treats for the girls on my birthday next week, like a small piece of chocolate for each one. She said that would be fine but a bit odd because usually here in Chile, when it's your birthday, people give YOU presents rather than the other way around. I tried to explain that it's the same in the US and then confused myself and now I'm not sure why we bring things for other people on our birthdays. Perhaps we want to go Hobbit style? Or perhaps my subconscious wants to bribe the girls into bonding with me?

Shout-out goes to Ayesha Saied for a) giving me a shout out in her blog and b) because I ate Kuchen (sp?) today and thought of you and your German adventure. Hope all is well!

Besos,

Abby

P.S. I will be travelling the next two weekends to Mendoza, Argentina and to San Pedro de Atacama (Chilean Northern Desert) and will only be in Santiago for 2 days in between. I'll try to update between the two but if not, here's fair warning for the rather long hiatus to come.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Ten (Chilean) Commandments

Hey all,

Those of you who have studied spanish know that there are 7 or 8 ways to conjugate verbs depending on who is speaking, who they are talking about and the tense they are using. Mandatos (commands) have remained to be a challenge for me as a) there are different rules for a positive or negative command and b) I'm very uncomfortable ordering people around. Coming from a culture where we say "could you please..." or "if you wouldn't mind/if it's not too much trouble" before asking for something, it seems rather abrasive and rude to say Damelo (Give me that).

Yet here it's part of the everyday dialect and adding polite phrases before a command seems excessive, especially when nobody really cares if you use them or not. Well, at times, I wish someone would ask me if I wanted juice before ordering me to drink it (Bebelo!) but I have to accept that it's a cultural norm here and that it's ok to say no. (I need to work on this skill otherwise my stomach is going to kill me before the six months are up).

Anyways, below is a list of daily mandatos which I hear, receive and, despite my discomfort, have begun to incorporate into my vocabulary.

1. Come (Eat!) Something I hear way too often in my house and continues to bother me. I will eat when my body needs food thank you and one portion is enough, I don't need three. I'm no Joey Chestnut (although I certainly felt like him during the bicentenario...sooo many hotdogs)

2. Ven (Come!) Don't know about the rest of you, but I immediately associate this with calling a dog.

3. Pasame (Pass me the...!) Almost always used during meal times, however, ironically, it is usually followed by por favor (please) and a nice smile.

4. Fijate (Focus! Pay attention!) Often used by my professor in my south american history class. It definitely snaps me to attention and keeps me focused on the topic at hand.

5. Toma (Drink! and almost always associated with alcohol) Something I'll probably hear way too much when I turn 21 in less than 2 weeks...

6. Pruebalo (Try it!) Last week during lunch, we had salad with what can only be described as an appalling piece of meat on top. It was some sort of cold cut which was pink with spots in the middle and a prominent layer of fat laced around it. When I asked the name and origen of this mystery meat, my family just said "Pruebalo" and then later joked that the meat was from the day's freshest roadkill. I didn't laugh. It could have been true.

7. Espera (Wait!) One of the few ways to get people to listen to me, especially in a group. But after using it, I always feel empowered...perhaps commands aren't so bad after all??

8. Mira (Look!) similar use to Espera

9. Oye (Hey!) Often times a filler or transition word, still getting used to using this word although, I'll admit, when I'm frustrated or tired, Hey! just flies out of my mouth. Oops!

10. Cuidate (Be Careful!) Although it can be used as a warning, it's also a normal, if not nice thing to say when bidding people goodbye. At first, I wanted to respond with "Thanks but I'm a responsible adult and can take care of myself and don't make idiotic decisions" now I just gracias, igual! (thanks, you too) and carry on with my day.

I'll admit, at times I'm rather bothered by being ordered around in this manner. I feel like people are treating me like a child just when I've begun to feel more adult than ever. But I keep telling myself that I have to accept 2 things: a) mandatos are part of the language and culture and b) people my age are not considered adults here as they all still live with their parents rather than moving out at the age of 18. My belief in myself and my capabilities as a grown up will have to suffice.

Shout-out goes to all my Chi Omega ladies. Hope the classic goes well today and tons of money has been raised for the Make A Wish foundation!

Besos,

Abby

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pomaire!



Hey all,

So our most recent group day trip brought us to Pomaire, a small pueblo about an hour and a half outside of Santiago where 80% of the population makes ceramics for a living. Not sure if you all could tell but I've been in a bit of a slump the last few weeks, but the combination of fresh air and dirt miraculously brought back the spring in my step! Highlights of the day included:

Tour guides:

Not going to lie, I was expecting the whole Disney magical kingdom of pottery schpeel, an inside (superficial) peek at the men behind the magic. Yet I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at a cozy country home where we were served a delightful little breakfast of tea, toast and jam and chilean pastries. Next we took a stroll through town on our way to the "factory" which turned out to be a huge open air shed where they make the ceramics. We got to see the whole process, from the hardened clay they dig out of the ground to making the pot itself. I found the whole thing fascinating; actually, it's possible I was a bit over zealous. The guide had barely finished offering us the chance to make a pot on the potter's wheel when I screamed out "YO!" (ME!) and skipped ahead of everyone else like a school girl. I'm not ashamed of my actions.





However, I sadly report that pottery is not my hidden talent. While on the wheel, I ripped open my pot several times and sanded off part of my pinky finger nail, so I don't think it's in the cards for me. Perhaps next I'll try carpentry?
Chicha:
If you'll all recall, chicha is a delightfully sweet Chilean drink, somewhere between wine and juice. When our guide asked us how we celebrated the bicentenario, we couldn't help but gush over the sweet nectar that is Chilean chicha. She quickly informed us that the best chicha in Pomaire (actually in all of Chile) was located just around the corner from the factory. So we decided to go for a recorrido (a tour, a walk around) to investigate. I was rather dumbfounded when we stopped in front of a house, the guide rang the doorbell and a woman as old as the cerros answered the door. She made the chicha in an annex just off the living room! We were warmly invited inside where we sat on her couch and tasted three different types, all distinct yet each one delectable. The price was roughly $3 for a liter, incredible! When we asked to take it to go, she handed us old plastic Coke and juice bottles filled with the chicha. A bit sketch yet excellent for measuring liters and environmentally friendly!
El Campo

I've been here for over three months now but the Chilean landscape still doesn't cease to amaze me.


Shout out goes to Megan McLean. Apparently you look exactly like a friend of my host mother's. I'm sorry to say her friend is in her mid 50's, but I think it's because her friend is also a red head, not because you look like you're middle aged. Love you!
Besos,
Abby

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fiestas Patrias

To my loved ones!

Sorry for the long hiatus but I've been a bit busy celebrating Fiestas Patrias (Chilean Independence celebrations) this weekend. And when I say weekend, I actually mean the last 5 days. From the hype beforehand, I gathered that it would be a weekend of eating, drinking, celebrating, drinking and drinking. It should also be mentioned that this year was the bicentenario (bicentennial (2 n's or 1? I'm forgetting my English...) so everyone was extra excited and even more in the "celebratory mood". While I did enjoy myself (don't worry, not too much), there were some points of frustration and exhaustion; nevertheless, I survived and have lived to tell the tale. Unfortunately, my camera didn't. The batteries decided to die on thursday night, when every grocery store, pharmacy or anywhere else they sell battieres shut down for the weekend. But, thanks to a friend's pictures and the Internet, I can still give you guys a visual.

I don't want to essentialize the celebration in anyway but for me, the highlights were as follows:

Fondas

Basically HUGE parties in parks all over the city which happen all day every day for the entire weekend and include traditional Chilean food, drink and activities, such as dancing, music, games and in one case, an amusement park (For all my elmhurst folk out there, think Elmfest). I visited four different fondas, each with a distinct flavor yet all were packed with people every day disfrutando el bicentenario (enjoying (perhaps too much?) the bicentennial).


Food

Well, found out that empanadas are actually the national food here and there was a ridiculous abundance of them at every fonda. It should also be noted that these were pretty much the only type of food that I didn't eat off a stick the entire weekend. The fondas were lined with grills filled with steak and chicken kebobs as well as fruit stands, which offered strawberries, pineapples and bananas, all dunked in a red carmelized substance or chocolate. Just the way I like my fruit: sugary.

Other traditional foods are manjar (excellent) and mote con huesillos, which is literally peaches floating in juice with some sort of grain at the bottom. I think it looks like a shriveled up brain; tastes about the same too.

I also attended several asados (barbecues) which offered (you guessed it) MORE MEAT, the most popular of which is choripan, which is somewhere between a brat and hotdog in size and is probably one the only foods I've eaten here with an actual flavor.

Despite this triumph, after the second day of asados I had to decline the choripan since before this weekend I hadn't eaten a hot dog in the last 5 years and my body was not accustomed. It should be noted that this proved to be quite the difficult task as the food is handed to you right off the grill without asking if you have an appetite first. If you try to say "no, gracias", you'll receive one of two responses: A) You'll be ignored or B) You'll be openly mocked by the entire family and considered fome (boring). Needless to say, there was more than one occasion where I sneaked off to dispose of the food I didn't want in the first place.
Drink

To say alcohol was in abundance would be an understatement; everywhere I went, I was offered wine, beer, or terremotos (literally earthquakes, but the drink is a mixture of white wine and pineapple flavored ice cream). But the most popular was chicha, a wine-like drink but much sweeter and made with different kinds of group. The taste and color make is seem like a "girly" drink but I assure you that alcohol seems to be one of the few things in this language, and at times this culture, which has no gender assigned to it.

Traditional Chilean Games/Activities

The first fonda we went to on Thursday night advertised "traditional chilean games" as a highlight, so naturally I was excited to find out the true meaning of this ambiguous title. Yet, I'll admit, I was a bit disappointed when the first game we encountered was "Taca Taca" which is literally, fooseball. No cultural spins or twists. Just fooseball.


Another game we played called "Argollas" consisted of a pyramid of bottles of alcohol. For the equivalent of $1, we were given 20 small wooden rings which we threw at the bottles, trying to place one around the neck of one of the bottles. Know that this is practically impossible, I tried for the Malbec wine and was unfortunately unsuccessful.

Yet the most popular activity was dancing the cueca, Chile's national dance which originates from the Northern Region. Everywhere I went there were men and women in costume, waving pañuelos (handkerchiefs) to the ringing of the spurs on the men's cowboy boots and the bouncing melody of Chilean folk bands. Below is a picture of some children from the school I volunteer at dancing the cueca. So precious.

Special Events for the Bicentenario

There was un show de luces (yup, a light show) every night displayed on the front of La Moneda, which is basically the equivalent of the White House, although the president (Sebastian Piñera if you were curious) doesn't live there. We arrived Friday night an hour before it started to find roughly 40,000 people already waiting. Although being scrunched between a family of five and their stroller and a cozy (to say the least) couple was less than comfortable, when the lights finally appeared, it was more or less worth it. There were not only fireworks but 3D images projected on the front of the building, such as statues characteristic of Easter Island, Bernardo O'Higgins (George Washington of Chile) and at one point a whale (still flabbergasted by this). My friend got a couple good pictures, which are posted below:



Conversations
Well, I'm proud to say that my language skills have improved immensely as I was able not only to understand but participate in conversations at the several asados I attended this weekend, although some of what I heard was feo (direct translation is ugly but is often used to describe a rude remark or someone who is acting in an offensive manner) or, at the very least, controversial. For example, I had a long conversation with an older gentleman who had no problem telling me all about his feelings about divorce (just legalized in Chile in 2005), homosexual relationships and how the two are a threat to the sanctity of the institution of marriage and the family, one of the most important constructions in Chilean society.
There were also several conversations concerning the huelga de hambre (hunger strike) of the leader of a group of Mapuche (the largest of several groups of indigenous peoples here in Chile). At one asado, the consensus was that these people are flojo (lazy) and a amenaza (threat) to Chile as a united nation, as, according to the people at the asado, one of their desires is to take back their land and form a Mapuche nation within Chile (the Mapuche were a group of indigenous peoples living here when the Spaniards invaded in the sixteenth century).

Although at times I wanted to scream and shout and pound my fist on the table, all I could do was sit and take it all in. I have opinions (that's for sure) but I wasn't about to get into a debate with people who are a) much older than me b) who I hardly know and c) who understand the complexities of Chilean society much better than I do. So, instead, I exercised a lot, scribbled angrily in my journal and have now blogged about it, so I feel like I've sufficiently vented my frustrations.

Funniest moment of the weekend: On Saturday, a woman asked me if I practice a sport. I said I used to play baseball when I was young and still enjoy it. She got an odd look on her face, cracked up laughing and then asked if there was another sport I liked, you know, something more normal? At first I was a bit put off but later thinking about the ethnocentrism of both her response and my reaction just made me giggle.

Shout-out goes to anyone who watched Glee last night! I'm so jealous, how was it??? Give me the deets in the comments please!

Besos,
Abby

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My week in a nutshell

Loved ones!

Hope you are all well! I've been missing all of you very much this week. I think I have reached the point in the study abroad experience where the adrenaline is wearing off and I'm starting to long for my familiar environment. But hey, I made it about 2.5 months (which is about 2.4 months longer than I thought) and I don't think it's possible to experience 6 months straight of giddy overwhelming excitement. Probably not good for heart health.

Anyways, figured I'd give you all another grab bag of updates. Here we go!

Night out of the week

So many of you have expressed hope that "Abby de la fiesta" will return with me to the US of A. While I'm not sure about 3 months from now, I can assure you all that she is still going strong now so I have high hopes for the future. Last night for example, we went out for drinks around 11:30pm (I have fallen in love with Kunstmann Beer, especially of the honey variety) and after some delightful conversation, decided to head out dancing around 2:00am. We discovered "Jammin" which from the name and colors of the building seemed to be straight up reggae but upon entering, it seemed to be an odd mixture of multiple genres. The music was mostly reggaeton (for those of you who are unfamiliar, here is a great example) with the occasional allusion to Bob Marley and the decorations of the club ranged everywhere from discoballs (of course) to a large steel mask hanging on the wall, complete with copper dreadlocks. The club was hoppin' when we got there and filled with pure Chileans so needless to say we attracted some attention. I danced with one guy por un ratito (for a little bit); he seemed nice enough but the only two things he said that I could understand were "Eres guapa" (You are pretty) and "Tengo marahuana si quieres?" (I have pot if you want some). Another Chilean soulmate.

Cultural experience of the week

Although the subject matter in my class on the Chilean family is extremely intriguing, at times it is a bit difficult to sit and listen to some of the discussion without my eyes bogging out of my head in disgust. It seems there are very set ideas about a woman's role and a man's role in the family here, below are a couple of examples:

1) Our professor declared that she is not a feminist because she believes in fighting for men's rights as well. They have it hard to since they are the breadwinners of the family and we should be more sensitive to the pressure society exerts upon them.

While I couldn't agree more with her second sentiment, I'm concerned that a) she is suffering from tunnel vision syndrome as far as gender roles and b) has no idea what feminism actually entails.

2) On Tuesday, we had a guest professor who said that after a child is born, it is difficult for men to be fatherly or caring for the kid because at that age, they are essentially useless. At 8-10 years of age, the child becomes easier to relate to for the father, who can then start to active in the child's life.

I'd really love to read the study that proves this point.

After my semester in Women and Gender Studies, it's been difficult to bite my tongue. I've thought about participating but I don't want to come off as the ethnocentrist who believes her culture is superior to all others, especially when I'm here in this country to learn about another way of life. So, I'll absorb, process and probably join a kickboxing class to release my aggression.

New experience of the week

For those of you who know me well, you're aware of the 3 things I abhor the most in this world: 1) Injustice, 2) taking any kind of medicine and 3) shaving my legs. Yet unfortunately, the hair continues to grow and due to societal pressures, I feel the need to partake in this ridiculous pasttime de vez en cuando (once in a while). Yet here a multitude of problems have arisen, one being that the drain in my bathroom easily clogs with hair so shaving the forest that so easily springs to life below my knees would clearly be a problem. The other problem is that there isn't really a market for women's razors here because the majority depilarse (wax). Now, I was a waxing virgin but, due to the combination of the aforementioned problems and the enticingly low prices of the procedure, today, with the support of a friend, I faced my fears and got my legs waxed. And I'm proud to say I survived, without a single screech, no 40 year-old Virgin moments to speak of (Ahhhh Kelly Clarkson). Now my calves feel like a baby's bottom and I can wear shorts with ease this week, as the temperatures are beginning to peak into the 70's Fahrenheit. Summer here I come!

Shout-out goes to Keith Potts; in one of my classes we were discussing violence between different groups of youth and in trying to describe the concept of a gang, I obviously had no choice but to reference West Side Story. Apparently musicals aren't so popular here, no one had any idea what I was talking about. When I return in December, marathon of WSS, Rent and 42nd street please.

Besos,

Abby

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Freddie Lives!

Dearest ones,

So thus far, Chilean carrete (nightlife) has been filled with plenty of surprises, such as the tribal like dancing around the pile of coats or the combination of reggae concerts and discoballs . However, last night, we discovered the true gem of Santiago: a Queen cover band.

As all you Bohemian Rhapsody fans out there know, the opportunity to play a Brian May solo on air guitar is never to be passed up. So when I came across the webpage for Batuta and discovered that the coverband Chilequeen would be giving a special performance in honor of Freddie Mercury's birthday (today September 5th) we clearly had no choice but to warm up our vocal cords and go!

The Band

The group consisted of five guys; the "Brian May" of the group unfortunately didn't have a shock of beautiful curls although he was sporting a delightfully vintage Queen concert T-shirt while the "John Deacon" inexplicably wore a Chicago Bears football jersey (I'm still a bit confused). Yet "Freddie Mercury" was by far the most extravagant; he of course made his grand entrance during the intro for "Hammer to Fall", clad in white pleather pants and a matching jacket. But of course the outfit wouldn't have been complete without his tight black tank top, the V-neck of which dipped close to his navel, revealing a selva (jungle) of chest hair. It should also be noted that about halfway through the performance, he left the stage for a brief minute, only to reemerge to proudly display for us his costume change, a muscle shirt consisting of the British flag, with an equally revealing neckline.

But all effects aside, the band was actually really good. The "Freddie" was not only a great impersonator but had the pipes to back it up; his vocal range rivaled that of Mercury himself, complete with high pitched screams which were remarkably in tune and enjoyable to listen to. Everything from "Another One Bites the Dust" to " I Want to Break Free" was incredible and when we the crowd acted as the gospel choir during "Somebody to Love" it was probably the closest thing I've ever had to a religious experience.

Yet what was equally entertaining was the commentary in between songs simply because of the abrupt change in language; one minute "Freddie" was crooning out the end of "We will Rock you" and the next said, "Gracias! Que bacan esa cancion!" (Thanks! That song is great!)

The Crowd

A great mix of genders and ages. There was a strong presence of men with long hair, that which is ideal for head banging, an activity which was not scarce throughout the course of the evening. But despite our different fashion choices, our shared love for Queen united us; we swayed together during "We are the Champions" and lamented to "Mama" during "Bohemian Rhapsody", the best encore song ever. By the end of the night, my ears were ringing from the excessively loud dynamics but I had a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart, that of which can only come from grooving to "Crazy Little Thing called Love". Over all, great night.


In other exciting news, I'm legal in this country! If you'll remember from my post about our pre-BuenosAires adventures, five of us lost our student visas due to a system crash which prevented us from getting our Chilean ID cards. Although we were in the process of re-applying for visas, our program director received a call Monday morning from the government, angrily questioning why we had two visa applications and no ID cards. After a short but hardly sweet meeting with a government official Thursday morning in an office which reminded me too much of the DMV (aka HELL) the Chilean government reluctantly granted us a 10 day extension to register for ID cards, thereby telling us that our old visas are still valid! So, although this whole process was a "lata" (hassle/bummer) in 9 days I'll have an official Chilean ID and all will be well with the world.

Shout-out goes to my dear mother Julie Eskenazi, know that I could only think of you, Pictionary and the globe when the cover band did a glorious rendition of "We are the Champions" last night. Actually, I guess this shout-out goes to Barb Helfrich as well...isn't it fun playinig board games as a family?

Abrazos,

Abby

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ingles Abre Puertas!

Hey all,

So, since I only have class 3.5 days a week and I haven't been gallivanting off to exotic destinations every weekend, I've had a bit of free time on my hands. So, I decided to participate in the volunteer program Ingles Abre Puertas (English Opens Doors). This program, created in 2004 by President Michelle Bachelet, employs foreign exchange students from English speaking countries in middle school and high school English classes throughout the country to help with pronunciation and encourage the students to speak as much English as possible in order to have a better control of the language. (Note: I had no idea beforehand, but learning English is not only a popular but enforced pasttime here. For example, in order to graduate from Universidad Catolica, you have to take either a proficiency exam in English or pass 7 levels of courses, otherwise, no diploma for you). Since today was my first day as a volunteer, I figured I'd share with you all some of my more memorable experiences.

The School:

Conveniently located only 20 minutes from my house, it is a private religious school for girls, K-12th grade although they are slowly starting to integrate male students into the program as well. The school is mostly outdoors; only the classrooms are indoors and without central heating (have I mentioned that it's STILL winter???). Each class period is 1 hour 30 minutes long with 15 minute breaks between each one. Let us compare that when I was in high school, there was a 6 minute passing period in which to change classes but here it was the English teacher and I who were passing between classes, the students staying in their home room all day. During this break time, all the teachers meet up in the equivalent of a teacher's lounge, have coffee and gossip (Mom, is this what you do between classes???).

It should also be noted that in the morning when I arrived, I entered the school without problems; it's evident that I'm not a high school student nor am I Chilean, and although I walked by several teachers and school officials, no one asked me who I was or what I was doing there. At first I thought that this proved to be a lack of security for the students, but after mentioning this to the teacher I'm helping, she looked at me quizzically and then just shrugged it off. Apparently being checked in and out of school is not a common practice, I'm sure metal detectors are unheard of.

The Students:

I visited three classes of the equivalent of Freshman, Sophomores and Seniors in high school. Each class consisted of close to 40 students, the average class size here. Although this was a bit overwhelming, nos pasamos el regio! (we had a great time!). At the beginning of each class, I was instructed to introduce myself in English and explain what I was doing here and Chile and a little bit about my background. Afterwards, the girls had a chance to ask me preguntas (questions) about myself and my culture, most of which was conducted in Spanish Here's a few of the good ones:

1) Do you play an instrument? (None of them had ever heard of the oboe haha).

2) Do you find that technology in Chile es retrasado (in essence, behind the times) compared to the US?

3) At one point, the teacher stepped out of the classroom for a minute and immediately the first words out of the girls' mouths were "Tienes pololo???" (Do you have a boyfriend? It should also be noted that I was asked this same question by the teachers earlier in the day and before I could answer they had already planned to set me up with another Abre Puertas volunteer).

4) Hay un baile nacional en los Estados Unidos? (Is there a national dance in the US? Not that I know of but if anyone has a clue, let me know in the comments please!)

5) Are there gothic people in the US?

6) Was I a good student in high school? What grades did I get?

7) What's the national anthem of the US? (After answering this question, the students yelled "Cantala!" and was joined by the rest of the class, chanting "Sing it, Sing it!". I was kind enough to grace them with my smashing version of the Star Spangled Banner, a noise that only my shower has been privy to. Several of the girls pulled out their cellphones and recorded my performance...don't be surprised when I become a Youtube sensation.)

Throughout the day, the English teacher asked me questions as well, but rather than probing me about my thoughts on Chilean fashion or food like the students, she was more interested in the nuances of the English language (she is Chilean although pretty fluent in English). For example, she asked me about the difference between "fun" and "funny" and when I told her their equivalents in Spanish (divertido and chistoso respectively) she concluded that they both have the same meaning. Perhaps the difference doesn't translate?

Class Activities:

The school just received projectors and wireless internet for each classroom as a grant from the government so they have a lot more flexibility with classroom activities. Today, the girls wrote down the lyrics to a song, making special note of the verb usage and then repeated after me as I read each line. Today's song of choice: Copacabana by Barry Manilow, apparently the teacher's all time favorite. I will personally never tire of Barry's suave voice crooning about the adventures of Lola, the has-been showgirl. Fanilows unite!


Shout-out goes to all my WashU guys and gals! Hope you had a wonderful first day of classes yesterday, I miss you all dearly.

Un besito,

Abby

Friday, August 27, 2010

Shop til you Drop!

Hey all,

So I was feeling a bit bogged down by school and such this past week so a friend and I decided to treat ourselves and do a bit of shopping! Since practically Day 1 of Chile I have heard nothing but good things about El Patronato, which is a shopping district located North of the downtown area of Santiago. Apparently everyone and their brother makes a regular visit here due to the cute clothes, cheap prices and the fact that's it's easily accessible by public transit. Clearly, El Patronato and I have a solid future together.

When we got off the bus, we were immediately overwhelmed. Store after store after store lined the street, bursting with shirts, skirts, scarves and neon colors (have I mentioned much of Chilean style seems to equate itself with the US 1980's?). Not only were there stores but street stands as well, selling everything from jewelery to socks, dresses to panties and a plethora of crazy colored and patterned leggings. I'm not going to lie, the concept of wearing "no pants" becomes a lot more attractive when tye-dye is involved.

Yet it's possible that actually trying on the clothes proved to be an equally entertaining experience. First of all, many of the clothes had no size labels, so it was a bit of an eyeball game (I'm happy to report my actual body size is still in accordance with my size in my mind's eye, despite the fact that I ate practically an entire cake this week). Secondly, many of the fitting rooms were about half the width and height of a phone booth; one of them only came up to my chin which proved to be a bit uncomfortable since it was situated right in front of the cash register where the MALE owner stood and I was clearly half naked at certain points.

Another store we went into didn't have fitting rooms period; instead there was a small corner sans curtain or door with a mirror and few places to hang things up where we were directed to probar (try on) the clothes in which we were interested over the clothes which we were already wearing. Please note: a tank top will never look flattering when tried on over a sweatshirt.
Despite this unfortunate mishap, I did find a few things I liked! Yet actually buying the clothes proved to be a foreign experience as well. In most stores, there were shelves located behind the cashier practically the height of the ceiling and lleno (full) of small vacuum sealed plastic bags which contain one item of clothing each. Upon approaching the cash register with the shirt I wanted to purchase, I was surprised when the woman took my piece of clothing, promptly tossed it aside and instead presented me with the same item, wrapped in plastic. I was then given a ticket and instructed to go to another counter where I actually paid (this is a very common practice in Chile, although I'm not exactly sure why. Research will be done and I'll get back to you all later). I then opened the plastic wrapper to ensure that the clothing was a) in good condition and b) what I actually wanted to buy and then went happily on my way. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Although the majority of clothes I bought have similar versions in the US, I did choose to buy a polvoron (sweatshirt) which is more of a Chilean style. It has a huge hood which can be worn on my head or unfolded around my neck to reveal a lovely floral print:





I can totally wear this in the US too, right?

Shout out goes to Laura Adkins: The last few days on the metro I've heard the song with the lyrics "Believe or not, I'm walking on air..." and all I want to do is call you and talk about George's answering machine on Seinfeld. Love you buddy boo!

Besos,

Abby

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Grab bag!

Dearest ones,

Well, I'm fresh out of profound topics to discuss with you all, so this week is going to be a free for all of anecdotes! Enjoy!

Language faux pas of the week: A few days ago, the lightbulb burned out in the bathroom. I thought I knew how to communicate this so I marched up to my host brother and said confidently: "El bombero se quemo!" There was an awkward pause and he looked at me in a confused and concerned manner. Turns out the word for lightbulb is "bombilla"..."bombero" means firefighter. Hopefully I haven't spoken a bad omen.

Strange food of the week: Kentucky Fried Chicken. I kid you not, also lovingly referred to as KFC here. My host family had a cornacopia of coupons and decided sunday was the day to indulge cheap and fried flavors of fast food. (Naturally I abstained) Yet I was surprised to find that the food was neither cheap nor fast; a box of chicken, sauces and empanadas (instead of french fries) cost close to $10 and instead of going through the drive-thru, my host brothers called the restaurant on the phone and FIFTY minutes later, the doorbell rang with their delivery. I will say though that the appearance and smell of the food didn't fail to impress and disgust; a nice reminder of home?

News of the week: A few weeks ago, a mine collapsed in a northern region of Chile, trapping 33 miners deep underground without a means of communication. Sunday, after 17 days of being underground with limited provisions, a note was received which read "estamos bien en el refugio, los 33 (We are fine in the shelter, the 33)". Amazing. My family and other host families spent much of the day glued to the television, celebrating and talking about this incredible event. There were literally celebrations in the streets. Even days later, people are still talking enthusiastically about the event. Yet not one person I have met knows these men or their families personally. But it seems they all feel a strong connection to their suffering, a compassion not only for them as people, but as Chileans. I have pondered the reasons for the strength of their reaction but I also find myself wondering why I'm pondering it. Perhaps because there have been several collapsed mines in the US in my lifetime and I've never spent the day flipping between news broadcasts hoping for an update.

Shout out goes to Catie Gainor and her cleanse! Don't be concerned that there is an excess of junk food in the world because you aren't eating any this week; in the last day and a half I have achieved a record high sugar consumption. Seriously, I've eaten cookies, the equivalent of a donut and roughly the third of some sort of delightful lemon meringue cake. Keep on cleansing!

Abrazos,

Abby

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kissing and Hugging and Squeezing O MY!

Hello loves,

So, I think we're all familiar with the term latin lover, no? The hot, steamy passion, corsing through the veins of Latin men and women, bursting with lust for their desired partner. Before coming here, I guessed there was probably some truth to this stereotype, what I did not foresee was that I would witness it first hand...among adolescents on the metro.

The PDA

Yes, I'm aware PDA (Public Displays of Affection) exist in the US. Yes, I can handle it. But here, from my culturally biased standpoint, it seems a bit out of control. It seems everywhere I look, somebody is getting some sort of physical attention; I'm not talking about hand holding or a simple peck on the cheek, I mean full on steamy make out sessions, with lots of tongue and butt grabbing. Things I have only seen other people do in movies or on TV, behind closed doors. In my spanish immersion class, our professor taught us that the slang for these actions is comerse caras, which directly translates to "eating each others faces". Pretty accurate.

Also, I would like to point out that it is not just one age group; although the majority seem to be high school or college students, I have encountered a few couples who appear to be in their thirties and forties enjoying a quickie in a dark corner of the metro station. Why, you might ask, are all these people so pleasant as to demonstrate their animal instincts right before my eyes?

The Reason

From what I have gathered from Chileans here, it is absolutely inappropriate and unheard of to have anyone of the opposite sex in your bedroom, whether or not your parents are home. The home is considered a sacred place, a place for family, and to bring your pololo /a(boyfriend/girlfriend) over for a good time which warrants a door closed is considered disrespectful. Let it also be noted that most students go to school in their home town and continue to live with their parents through university and even after. My thirty year old host brother still lives at home and the same is true in several other host families in the program. Since this young adults typically don't have their own homes, they aren't allowed to sexually do as they please either. So I guess it's a choice between getting it on in public or straight up celibacy. Take your pick.

The Places

Pretty much any public place seems to be fair game; the university, bars and clubs, a random street corner but the metro seems to be the hot spot. Seriously, I probably see close to twenty couples daily during my train rides to and from campus, those of which are usually during peak hours when the metro is stuffed with bodies like sardines in a can, vacuum packed. Seriously, my body has been closer to some random people on the metro than to some of my past boyfriends. Yet the lack of personal space doesn't seem to be a deterrent for any couple, they just continue on about their business, which quickly becomes everyone's business when the sounds of their face sucking begin to echo throughout the train cabin. Also, Cerro Santa Lucia ,a gorgeous hill which is conveniently located close to campus, becomes a zoo of lovers every afternoon, basking in the glow of the sun and their libidos. A unique view for tourists.

You may ask why I have chosen to post about this particularly topic this week. Well, I will admit that I have made a Chilean friend of sorts. While we haven't spent anytime on hills or the metro together, I have kissed him on a few street corners. Hey, when in Rome, right?

Shout out goes to all my WashU loves who are back in STL or heading back in the near future. Miss all you guys and hope you have a great semester!

BESOS,

Abby

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fun things I've eaten lately!

Hello all,

So I think you all know me pretty well, so that means you all know about my intimate realtionship with food. How I adore it, can't live without it, practically inhale it at all hours of the day. Although during my brief sickness food and I were at odds, we have since had a reunión cariñosa (loving reunion) and rather than keep it behind closed doors, I figured I'd give you all the juicy details of our relationship (metaphor gone too far?)

Empanadas

Thank god that these are not normally found in my house, I would eat them for breakfast I kid you not. If you haven't had one before, get online and find a place! Literally, they consist of a thin bread with delicious queso (cheese) inside, nothing is wrong with this combination. In addition, you can ask for camarones (shrimp), champinones (mushrooms) or pino (combination of meat, onions and egg. Sounds strange but each bite is like opening a bag of cracker jacks and finding a new toy bobbing amidst the sea of expected flavors. Can you tell that I love eating?) Usually when we go out on the weekends, we'll have a drink and order empanadas to share. (For my WashU people out there, it is literally the equivalent of Bears Den, eating fried goodness at 1:30AM, except here we do it before we go out, not after.) I have eaten them fried, baked, small and large but the most enjoyable was the one which was the size of my face. I consumed it in about 30 seconds.

Mermelada (Jam)

This delightfully sweet substance is available at a moment's notice. It's always on the table for breakfast although oddly it comes in a plastic wrapper rather than a jar. No refridgeration necessary (Please note that this applies to basically all food in Chile, including yogurt, eggs and milk, which comes in a box rather than a jug and is kept in our pantry.) I've been privileged to try multiple flavors, including blackberry, peach and this past week kiwi, which was homemade. Surprisingly unflavorful but I wouldn't kick it out of bed.

Manjar

Literally the best thing ever created. It's Chile's version of Dulce de Leche and comes wrapped in crepes, cakes, cookies and all things wonderful. Also, know that there is always a jar of it in my house, just available for me to eat everyday. Goes well with bananas and other fruits. Also incredibly delicious when licked off my fingers.

In other food news, eveyday my host mom packs me a colaccion (snack), usually consisting of a juice box, crackers, cookies (know that the word galletas signifies both of these items making it even more difficult for me to avoid the gloriousness of baked goods) and a fruit item. However, when my parents were here last week, I ate with them for the most part, so the snacks remained untouched in my backpack. Long story short, I now have 6 packages of cookies, 4 juice boxes, 3 cereal bars, and 2 cracker packs carefully hidden in multiple compartments of my bag. Last week, I thought I could finish them off before the start of this coming week but then for Thursday, when I told her I was going to the playa (beach), she literally extracted half the contents of the kitchen and offered them to me as a "light snack" the leftovers of which have found their new home under my spanish-english dictionary and pencil case. She is very generous to give me all the food and I know she means it as an offering of love and comfort; therefore I cannot by any means return these items to the kitchen. If any of you were thinking of coming to visit me, now is the time; I can feed you for free for weeks.

Shout-out goes to my Uncle Paul! Snowboarding is huge here, especially since it's winter and the mountains are only an hour away. I've met a ton of people who go every weekend and are super into it, they remind me of you and your enthusiasm for the sport. Although I have recounted the tale of your dislocated shoulder a few times. Perhaps this isn't the best story to tell at parties.

Besos,

Abby

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A few language faux pas

Lovely people in my life!

Clearly from my last post, I've been a bit stressed out by classes and adjusting to university life here. Unfortunately, this has continued, BUT today I had successes with participating in a group assignment (via email, so I could read what everyone was saying and then later look it up in my Spanish English Dictionary) and for another class I was brave and asked a girl to work with me on a group project. I communicated effectively and now we are brainstorming topics. And tomorrow, I'm going to the beach with friends. Clearly triumphs are destined to come my way.

So, rather than complain about classes, I thought I would share with you all a couple of my most recent language goof-ups. I'm proud to say that I can now understand Chileans....but it's them who can't understand me.

1) One of my host brothers asked me if I had a boyfriend in the US and upon my reply (no) began asking me a whole slew of personal questions, including details on the type of man I'm interested in. I told him that I like men who are alto (tall); however, he heard this as auto (car) and told me I was rather materialistic. After fixing this confusion, we decided that my ideal man is seventy years old and rich, with multiple cars. When he bites the dust, I'll inherit all the money and my host brother will drive me around Santiago in my new fancy car.

2) At lunch a few weeks ago, we were eating chocolates which were made in Costa Rica but had English writing on the packaging. My host family asked me to read the ingredients and translate them. The first candy was a mixture of chocolate and guava fruit; many fruit names are the same in spanish as they are in English, so I figured guava was the same. After saying this word, the table went silent and my host brother laughed out loud; the word for guava fruit is guayaba, they all thought I said guagua, which directly translates to "baby". I'm pretty sure outting myself as a cannibal is not proper lunch time etiquette.

Shout out goes to my lovely parents, I had such a good time with you guys and miss you already! Enjoy Buenos Aires!

Abrazos,

Abby

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A few quick updates!

Hello Guys and Dolls!

Sorry for a bit of a long hiatus, I haven't had a lot of free time this last week with the beginning of classes and also, my parents are here for the week, which has been a delight! I introduced them to my host family, my program director and program mates, basically they have now been acquainted with my existence here. It's been very special to be able to share this experience with them, so I've decided that now the rest of you should come visit me so I can do the same with all of you!

Ok, a few highlights from the first week of classes! So, the procedure is a bit different from WashU in the way that we visit classes the first week without registering for them and then once we decide the classes we want, we go to the office of the department and wait in line to register for each course. A bit more time consuming than to what I am accustomed but it has made for some delightful adventures. Here are the classes I have ended up taking:

Politicas Sociales y La Familia (Social Policies and the Family): This class deals with the impact of social codes on the Chilean family both inside and outside the household. It should be interesting to compare with the social pressures on a US family and I'm very interested to learn more about the cultural codes which conduct the family inside the home, so I don't unknowingly make a fool of myself in my host home, although it does make for some good stories. The second day of the class, which meets Tuesday and Thursday, we were supposed to form groups of seven and each group was to focus on a certain part of the reading due for the next class. Information you need to know: There are close to 50 people in this class, most of whom are from the same major and therefore are taking this class with all of their friends. I felt like I was the new kid in middle school or something, not knowing anyone and being on the outside of all the cliques. Thankfully, one of the groups was short a few people, so me and my program mate who is also taking the class joined their group.

With this problem solved you'd think we would be home free, but after this small victory, we commenced our hunt for the fotocopiadora (yes, photocopy office) in order to obtain the readings for the class. The girls in our group said something to us which to me sounded like the equivalent of doing tongue exercises and then left (Note: I am at the point where I can understand and participate in conversations, but talking to people between the ages of 17 and 24 continues to prove to be extremely difficult). We had no idea what to do so we just followed them, like the street dogs which follow us daily, hoping for some affection or food. I tried to ask multiple times what it is we were supposed to do in these groups, what readings we were supposed to read, etc, but they talked so fast that my efforts remained futile. Finally, they resorted to speaking in English to us since we were clearly incapable of speaking in Spanish and I got a better idea of the work we were supposed to complete. I have felt like a child multiple times in the last six weeks, but I think it is far worse when I'm being condescended by people my own age.

Mujeres en la Historia de Corea (Women in the History of Korea): Yes, I know it sounds random to be in Chile and taking a class about the culture of another country but I'm actually very excited to take this course! I'm the only foreign exchange student in the class which will be great for practicing my spanish with people my own age. The professor, who is Korean herself, asked me why I was taking this course, had I taken class about Korea before? I told her no but that I had taken Womena and Gender studies classes and was interested in the women's role in the culture of Korea. She promptly stated that she was NOT a feminist and the giggled with the rest of the class. I think it was all in good fun but perhaps I am now known as the crazy American women's liberationist...updates to follow soon.

Sociocultura de Genero (Social culture of Gender): While my other two classes are through the Catholic University, this class is through the University of Chile. We have the opportunity to take classes at both since the student populations vary considerably; at the Catholic University, it is very cuico (elite, upper class students) but at UChile, there is more of a mix of classes and backgrounds. It is also often the site of political protests so often times students arrive for class and are greeted by policeman blockading the campus.

UChile is also way more disorganized than Catolica and on the opposite side of the spectrum from WashU. I read about this course in the handbook I received but there was no information about where it took place, who taught it, or the hours it started and ended. I turned to my program director for help and we spent a good 1.5 hours trying to find this information with no success. She called about 15 people, none of whom answered the phone and there was no information available on line. The next day I had to the department office and solicit the secretary for the information; although the commute to get there was about an hour, I met with the secretary and the information within 2 minutes.

The class itself proved to interesting although equally disorganized. There was no semblance of a syllabus or anything, the professor wrote her email on the dry erase board and said that the information was available on the course website, that which I do not yet have access because I am a foreign exchange student and our emails are not yet working. But the professor lectured passionately, most of which I could understand and the material is intriguing. We'll see how the semester pans out.

Shout-out goes to Ben Herrmann who has just recently returned to the states from his four month adventure in South Africa. Hope you're well and I look forward to trading abroad stories with you in December!

Abrazos,

Abby