09 11 / 2011

it seems like i’m always playing catch-up on the blog; sorry about that! after our whirlwind trip north i moved straight to santiago to start my independent research, but more about that later. i admit to stalling on writing this post because i didn’t know how to go about sum up all of the different experiences we had. i’m going to cheat a bit and post a few representative pictures and then describe those.

we spent just under a week in putre, the town pictured above. it has about 1000 resident and we got to visit the elementary school with not only chilean students but also boarders from bolivia and peru. during the day we had class, theater rehearsal (we put on a short play for the schoolkids), and tours around the area. it was absolutely freezing at night so we all snuggled up and watched movies because leaving one’s bed was asking to get frostbite (okay, i exaggerate, but still…) probably the most interesting class was about local agriculture - the teacher was very worried because he said he couldn’t see the inhabitants of the region ever being able to produce their crops at a quantity over subsistence level. many of the local young adults have moved to the city and won’t come back, and so the town is in serious danger of disappearing.

we took an excursion to lago chungara, the highest altitude non-navigable lake in the world. the pictures only begin to do it justice. absolutely unreal.

then i moved to belen (population 25) for four days. above is a me with my aymara host mom (first time i’ve felt like a such a giantess) and a view of the town from one of the surrounding hills. this experience is definitely the hardest to sum up, but here are some of the things i’m still thinking about. 1) agriculture is the lifeblood for belen’s residents. hardly anything else gets talked about. ever. 2) even though the town is so small, there was a surprising lack of community (to me). 3) i really struggled to adjust to the much slower pace of life. even though they all work so hard, they can just sit without talking for hours at a time. i’m used to always doing six things at once, and the biggest challenge of the whole experience was trying to slow down my racing brain and live more calmly in the moment. 4) the public health situation was definitely very different - outhouses, dirt floors, rats in the kitchen, no refrigeration, no soap. even though my body resisted a little bit, i was proud of myself for being (almost) completely unbothered.

i spent the time in belen with one other girl from the program which was really nice. her host mom has her own goat cheese business so we got to help with milking and pasturing the goats as well as making the cheese! her business was the only other type of economic activity apart from agriculture, which was interesting to me and i tried to learn as much as i could about the finances of the kitchen as possible.

even though we lived with our indigenous families for such a short amount of time, it was definitely an experience that will influence me for a long time. it was my first experience in a classically “underdeveloped” area, and first opportunity to experience daily life in such rural poor conditions. since i’m thinking about pursuing a career in development, i think experiences such as this are extremely important to be able to truly understand the local culture and society and offer help in the most sustainable, least intrusive way possible.

18 10 / 2011

after almost spending a day in santiago because i got kicked off our planned flight (because of overbooking, not bad behavior…) i made it safely to arica! it’s in the waaaay north of chile, basically on the border with peru and bolivia. uneventful trip in the end, though there were two “firsts” involved: first domestic flight outside of the us (something i’d never really thought about, but kind of cool) and first flight with a stop in the middle (this one was kind of silly because after the stop we only went about twenty minutes)

arica seems like a cool city so far. the geography is super interesting: cliffs straight into desert straight into the ocean. the panorama flying in was really striking with the andes in the back too. we went to a “mexican” restaurant for lunch - didn’t know fettucini was mexican, but it’s cool and now it’s siesta time before our first classes/orientation.

just wanted to check in - chao chao!

16 10 / 2011

yesterday i went to the feria (farmer’s market basically) and made my host sister a layer cake for her birthday!

13 10 / 2011

one of the most important, and often stressful, aspects of visiting or living in a new place is figuring out how to get where you want. it’s kind of amazing how much you take for granted in regards to transportation, especially in the smallest aspects that you don’t even realize exist until they’re not there. i’ve also found that a lot of the most fun, quirky aspects of a new way of life can be experienced via different modes of transportation. so here are the major ways to get around in vina and valpo.

walking: i usually walk everywhere because everything is fairly close to each other plus it’s still unreal to me to be able to walk to and from class right next to the ocean. walking around valpo is fun because you never know what cool graffiti or cute cafes you might happen upon. however, valpo is completely constructed on hills, and some are steeeeeep. definitely a good workout - an excuse to eat that extra empanada! the women of valparaiso are evidently extremely proud of having the best legs in chile from all of that climbing ha. i don’t know about that, but hey. also i’m definitely trying to make the most of not being the middle of a frigid new england winter and enjoy the mediterranean climate while i can.

metro: i’m actually in love with the metro. they just expanded it from a “commuter” train into a metro for the two cities a few years ago, and it’s the cutest. each train only has three cars, and they come every 6 minutes (or 12 during off-peak). definitely a change from the five metro lines with huge trains every two or three minutes in dc! it kind of meanders along and usually isn’t that full. they play classical music in all of the stations, and people often perform on the cars as well. though a lot of street performers in the us are talented, i’ve been blown away by the musicians i’ve heard playing on the metro here. they’ve all been amazing (the best was a father and daughter playing spanish folksong duets. she had an incredible voice) and i’ve definitely given them way more money than is socially acceptable. also, a good thing to know if you’re ever going to take the metro here: to open the doors (to get both on and off) you have to push a little button in the middle. when you don’t know that and all the businessmen are queued up behind you trying to get to work, they’re usually not very happy.

las micros: these are the city buses. there are million of them, and in general they’re easy to navigate and pretty safe. of course there are some crazy drivers, but it hasn’t been quite the wild ride i was expecting. micros have personality though: some are extremely gaudily decorated, ice cream vendors hop on and off, and you have to be careful the driver doesn’t rip you off by charging you a different type of fare. there’s about four types depending on how far you’re planning to travel and they give you a corresponding slip (i’m not really sure why… they never check them). sometimes they think they can charge the ignorant gringos more, but a few pointed words in spanish usually solves that problem. also, interesting fact: they’re all stick shift!

los colectivos: these are basically fixed-route taxis. they’re also all over the place, but you have to make sure you get in one that’s following the correct route. i haven’t taken them that much so they’re still a little confusing to me. generally they have a route number on them as well as a few of the general areas, so if you take them a lot they’re easy to navigate. you share with other people and get dropped off along the way. sometimes you can pay them more to go out of the way to bring you right to your door if you don’t feel safe walking the rest of the way or something like that. some people on the program have had really in-depth conversations with their colectivo drivers and other passengers, which is pretty cool. 

los buses: the buses here are absolutely amazing. they are clean, comfortable, cheap, and always on time. knowing that such a great option exists definitely encourages me to go on trips to places that are a bit out of the way, like to santiago. it can be up to a two hour trip, but it often takes less, and with buses leaving every fifteen minutes it’s extremely painless. the us could definitely take a few tips from the bus companies here!

we’re heading off on a two-week excursion to the north on tuesday, so i’ll be checking in briefly hopefully at a few points during that. we’re going to be staying for a few days with an aymara community (one of the main indigenous tribes) in the altiplano, as well as visiting arica and putre. i’m excited to experience the andean culture and eat lots of quinoa :) hasta pronto!

09 10 / 2011

caught y’all. bet you thought i would write about food the first day here and not stop. i’ve certainly pondered doing so, but decided to wait until i could give a more organized tour of the subject rather than gushing about how delicious one thing was and being disgusted about something else all over the place. so here is food part one, a brief introduction to the general chilean gastronomic scene.

breakfast: does not exist. lots of people just have a cup of tea and nothing else. for some, the ubiquitous white bread makes its first appearance of the day (of innumerable). i don’t understand how they can not eat breakfast because (as i will later explain) dinner doesn’t really exist either. maybe that’s why no one is fat here… anyway, i am majorly a breakfast girl so i was pretty bummed to learn that there were going to be no eggs or muffins or anything of the sort. luckily since i’m up before the rest of my family they just asked what i like to eat so i’m usually well supplied with yogurt, fruit, etc. sometime i have to make them french toast or pancakes or something to see if i can convert them to the ways of the brunchies.

lunch: biggest meal of the day, usually eaten around 2 or 3 (another reason why i can’t understand why they’re not starving without breakfast.) i love the lunches in my family. we usually start off with a soup or salad, continue with a main course, and sometimes finish with dessert. i’m really lucky because my family eats really healthily. some people just get carbs and red meat, but we’ve been eating a lot of veggies with chicken or turkey for the main course. they think i looooooove vegetables, which i guess is kind of true ish, but i’m not going to let on otherwise because it’s been great. my host mom is a great cook and i’m always really excited to come home for lunch :)

dinner: also doesn’t exist. most chileans eat “once” which is basically just tea and (surprise) some (white) bread with meat or cheese or jam, etc. i thought this was going to be bad news bears but it’s been surprisingly ok by me, i guess because our lunches are so big. chances are i’d be drinking tea at 8pm anyway. the funny thing about once is that if there’s no tea, it’s not once. one time i went running right before once and when i got back my host sister asked if i wanted to have once with them. i said sure, but that i just wanted cold water. she said “so… not once” and we went around for about five minutes about how i would love to have once with them and i would have bread, and would drink a beverage along with the meal, but i would just prefer that it would not be hot tea. i think the tradition kind of derived from english tea times but it’s definitely taken on its own chilean flair.

chilean novelties: it’s really exciting to happen upon things that i’ve never tried elsewhere. here it’s mostly fruit i think. lucuma is a yellow fruit called “eggfruit” in english even though i think it only grows in south america. evidently it’s pretty inedible raw but they put it in ice cream and other desserts here and it’s pretty delicious. cherimoya (“custard apple”) is the other major one, which is also good. it has kind of a pear-like consistency and seems pretty mild. it’s also for dessert, often let sit in orange juice for awhile. i also like the mapuche spice merken even though most chileans don’t eat it because it’s too spicy for them. it’s a mix of hot peppers and other spices and to me is most reminiscent of paprika.

new likes: yay! i love starting to like new things it makes me so happy. #1 is chard. i seriously can’t get enough of it i will eat it for every meal. yum. also, papayas and honey have been growing on me.

still don’t like cilantro, celery, or avocado though which is a bummer because they use it in everything and i feel like such a bum for not liking them. oh well, i guess everyone is allowed a few things like that. okay, that was food overview part one. part two to come! it’s hard to believe we’ve already been here for six weeks…

02 10 / 2011

they don’t drink coffee in chile. only nescafe. i can’t even think of it as being coffee because it’s so simultaneously flavorless yet bitter. as its own entity i suppose it’s not so bad though. it just needs a little spicing up. my family thinks i’m slightly strange because every day i try out a new nescafe concoction. the most successful so far: nutmeg and milk, honey and cinnamon (canela can save anything), and the classic hot cocoa. even though i’m lucky that our apartment building has semi-central heating, it still gets a bit chilly at night and as everyone knows i’m incomplete without a cup of something warm to hold onto while studying. so tonight it’s ginger-honey nescafe with milk to accompany the first draft of my independent project proposal.

more soon i promise! i was sick all last week (feeling much better now, perhaps due to the amount of nescafe i imbibed? unlikely…) but the return of my health also spells the return of blog posting, running, and studying chinese. ambitious but achievable. i hope.

15 9 / 2011

hey everyone, sorry for the brief hiatus. i actually moved houses; the old one just wasn’t working out, but i absolutely love my new family. they’re so welcoming and we’ve already cooked, talked about immigration, and listened to a cappella together. what else could i want?! it’s my mom margarita (like the flower, i was assured), dad pepe, sister paula, and “nephew” diego. he’s ten and the cutest, though extremely disappointed in my (lack of) video game skills. anyway, now that i’m all settled in i’ll try to get into a regular pattern with this whole blogging thing.

yesterday was definitely the best day in chile so far. it got off to an exciting start at 4am with my first temblor! in chile there are two different words for “earthquake,” of which temblor is the milder. it was a 5.9 though, and woke me right up. everything (and everyone) is completely okay though; the apartment building we’re in has made it through many an earthquake and now i know what to do in case of another one! it was the most surreal feeling. i don’t actually hope there’s another one of course, but i would be interested to feel one while not totally groggy and disoriented.

during our first class we went down to the “caleta” where all the fishermen bring in the day’s catch and sell it. they’re “artisanal” fishermen, meaning what they catch is their only source of income as opposed receiving a salary from a commercial fishing operation. most of their families had been fishing as a livelihood for generations. they were all great sports about our (still-improving) spanish, and one offered a very interesting though pessimistic view of chilean society. my friend and i were exclaiming about how close the sea lions came to the docks, and he said “yes. they’re our greatest enemies. they eat all the fish. and the laws protect them more than they protect us.” obviously it’s great that environmental protections are in place to make sure the sea lions don’t go extinct, but taking care of the animals is interfering with the welfare of chilean citizens. more than one fisherman complained about how they think many chilean laws are made for the sole benefit of the rich. even though chile is often hailed as the economic prodigy of south america, its income inequality is actually #9 in the world, comparable to countries such as liberia and zambia. i know we were all really surprised to learn that statistic; it definitely adds a different dimension to analyses of the generally strong chilean economy.

it was a very chilly grey day, so our teacher daniel (he is the best) suggested that we head to a cafe in valparaiso for our second class. a few minutes after we got there and briefly discussed the chilean neoliberalist economy, we started to hear some cacerolas (beating on pans) in the street. we’ve all been so excited about the student movement for free education, but hadn’t gotten to witness a protest yet. luckily for us, daniel needed little convincing to let us go down and watch. he’s so politically active it’s great. we weren’t sure if we were allowed to protest too, but he started teaching us some of the cheers and we marched with the students! it was so exhilarating and i was really happy to participate (however minimally) in such an important movement. daniel took extra good care of us, calling his friends who were further ahead to make sure everything was safe and walking us back to the metro afterward. 

so excited!!

this weekend are the “fiestas patrias” aka chilean independence day, so a long weekend with lots of celebrations and copious amounts of empanadas. i’ll write again when i escape from my inevitable food coma.

07 9 / 2011

hola from my new casa in vina del mar! we moved into our homestay families on the weekend, and i’ve been settling into life here. i have a host mom kathy, a 29-year-old host brother eduardo, and a host kitty and doggy! our cat toffee (described by everyone in the family as bipolar) hasn’t taken any passes at me yet, and the little isidora (complete princess) loves running around in happy circles on my bed. below are my room and the view out of the window:

they’re all very kind and remarkably quite a few of our interests overlap. eduardo and his polola (chilean slang for ‘girlfriend’) both love to cook, especially food with asian influences, so i’m really excited to learn/share some recipes. kathy sings in a choir, and i got to go to rehearsal with her this past weekend. they’re preparing a mass for chilean independence day, and i might get to sing at city hall with them, which would be awesome. kathy definitely has a very different parenting style from any that i’ve seen before though. some examples: she came into everyone’s rooms waking us up on sunday morning with a banana/milk drink she had made for us, which was super nice but i felt really bad that i was still asleep. i got up immediately after that but everyone had gone back to bed. also, the first day of classes, i returned to find my room completely reorganized (it had been clean to start! i promise!) down to how my clothes were folded in the closet. also very nice, but it made me feel a little bit uncomfortable. during orientation they had talked to us about chileans’ different ideas of personal space, and these were some unexpected manifestations. i guess it’s all part of the cultural experience though; gotta experience it first-hand!

we started classes this week, and so far they’ve been going pretty well. we have spanish 9-1 every day which i thought would seem really intense, but it has been pretty chill. my class has lucked out and we’ve just been chatting about the student protests (i’ll definitely do a big post on that later), chilean geography, and pablo neruda. i presume at some point they’ll crack down on grammar (yay who doesn’t love ser/estar and por/para?!) but it’s been nice. 

we haven’t started our afternoon seminars yet, so we’ve had a fair amount of time to explore. valparaiso is an awesome city, and i think photos will explain it better than i could in words (what’s that old adage?)

01 9 / 2011

welcome to my blog! i’ve never written anything like this before, so apologies if it seems stilted and/or awkward and/or any other not highly positive adjective. my goal is just to provide at least slightly entertaining updates about my life in chile this fall. the stories are for you guys though, so definitely let me know what you do and don’t want to hear about and i’d be more than happy to comply :)

the quick summary: i’m spending the semester in valparaiso/vina del mar, chile, studying cultural identity, social justice, and community development . there are 24 of us - 21 girls, 3 boys; i’m hoping this isn’t necessarily an accurate indication of the (lack of) interest those with xy genes across the globe have in these topics - from different universities across the us. we will be living in homestays, studying spanish with local instructors, volunteering in the community, and hearing from local experts about the program theme. in october we will take a two-week excursion either to the north or south to live with indigenous communities, and the last month of the program will be spent designing and implementing an independent study project on a topic of our choice. i’m thinking about studying chinese immigrants in santiago, but it’s of course possible this will change as i learn more interesting things about chile!

we arrived in santiago on tuesday and met up with the rest of the group at the airport before taking a bus to valparaiso. unfortunately i fell asleep and didn’t see much of the trip, but did manage to get a few pictures of the beautiful mountains literally right next to the airport:

the past two days have been full of orientation activities. basically our academic directors have been filling us in about the program content and making us aware of various aspects of the local culture/geography. it seems like a great place - very vibrant and friendly - and i think everyone is really excited to get going. we had a bit of free time and went down to the beach in vina. it is absolutely gorgeous:

i’m going to be living with a family in vina, up on top of one of the cerros (hills). the inestimable google maps told me the house is about 5k from the beach, so i think i’m going to work up to running there and back. one of the girls on the program found a 10k race in december that i would love to run both for fun and as a way to motivate myself to keep running regularly while i’m here.

the coolest part of orientation so far has been going on a tour of valparaiso from a boat in the harbor. valpo is the main port of chile, both militarily and commercially. i really liked seeing the city from the water (especially as i have no idea to get around on land, so it seemed more accessible from far away). this afternoon we’re going on a “drop-off” where we’re going to different locations in the city in partners to talk to locals and to ask about certain slang words and local culinary specialities (obviously i’m extra excited for the latter). i’ll let you know the results in the next post!

29 8 / 2011

"la despedida" - peace out usa!

also, please forgive the highly unoriginal blog title. as you will all soon learn if you don’t know already, i’m not the most creative person on the planet. more to come soon :)