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 paƱuelos (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 PiƱera 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