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2 posts categorized "*Traveling around Chile"

A punto de partir

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Some very brief reflections on my year spent teaching in Chile: 

As I prepare to leave Chile for Ecuador and Colombia and, eventually, the United States, I find myself thinking about the lessons I've learned during my time here. I tend to think of everything in life as a learning experience, so I've compiled a list of important take-aways. Some are more cliche than others. But all of them rang true for me, so I'm going to share them with you in the hopes that they may be helpful. 

  1. Ask for help when you need it.
  2. Working relationships, friendships, and social ties are important. Build them and maintain them.
  3. Not everything goes according to plan. Sometimes that’s for the best, even if it's not readily apparent. 
  4. Be flexible.
  5. Be humble.
  6. Be inquisitive.
  7. Be the only gringa in the room when possible. 
  8. Try new things - constantly.
  9. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
  10. Take time to get to know yourself. Step outside your comfort zone. Challenge yourself often.

Today I met with Tati and Nati to go ride the teleférico and also sort of as a despedida/farewell. But, the teleférico was closed for maintenance, so we walked around the park and then had juices at a vegan café. It was so nice to spend time with them. Nati gave me a graphic novel called A punto de partir, about a Chilean woman’s travels.

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I had a blast catching up with them. We reflected on my year here in Chile. We talked about relationships, social media, minimalism and documentaries we’ve seen. I think I have progressed with my Spanish even further during this year in Chile because I know I wouldn’t have been able to follow the conversation when I arrived here 10 months ago. Although I would have been able to understand the Spanish, the cultural elements and Chilean modismos would have been largely inaccessible to me. But, out of necessity, I have become more culturally literate since I got here.

My time spent with Tati and Nati made me realize that I'll miss my friends and coworkers here in Chile un montón. (Shoutout to everyone at Plaza Oeste and un abrazo enorme.) But I know I will take the next step in life confidently, many thanks to you all, with the knowledge that I am resilient and capable.

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A Day in the Life

Tuesdays and Fridays are feria days. After months of acclimating myself to the very special relationship caseros have with their clients at these open-air markets, I have begun to love the feria. Everyone’s yelling TOMATE FRESQUITO LECHUGA RICA TODO BUENO TODO RICO and singing MAL DE AMORES COMO ME DEJASTE CORAZON to the music being blasted out of beaten-up trucks filled with cauliflower and what seems to be the bounty of an entire orange grove. Salsa, bachata, cumbia. Never reggaeton for fear of offending the señoras. A pair of mutts fight over a stray ear of corn, stolen from an unsuspecting casera.

My caseros know what I like and what I don’t like. They hand me bananas, chirimoya to try – sin compromiso. Directo del campo. They call me reina, hermosa, rubia: queen, beautiful, blonde. Generally this specific variety of gendered nicknames grates on my nerves, but not from my caseros. They hold out halved mangoes glistening in the overbearing sun, an offering. Pruebe, profe.

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The caseros get jealous – just like lovers –  when I buy from someone else. If I choose to buy my broccoli from another offering a better price, I must prepare myself for my casero’s inevitable rebuff the next time I stop at his stand. Me engañó, they will say. You cheated on me. To which I will play my part by looking ashamed, but shrugging my shoulders. An ice queen.

I walk back home with a carrito full of broccoli, peppers, apples, pears, cilantro, bananas, guayaba, chirimoya, and palta. Whatever doesn’t fit into the carrito I carry in a bag on my shoulder.

There’s traffic getting to school – protestas against AFP. NO MAS AFP they shout, while I bury myself in underground mycorrhizal networks and fungi-tree communication, the newest addition to my morning podcast circuit. I arrive at school about 10 minutes late due to the traffic, pero paso piola.

My students are rambunctious, ready for the weekend. One student wants to know why eggplants are called eggplants, even though they certainly aren’t part-egg, part-plant. I silently curse my apparently lacking etymological knowledge and resort to Google.

As we’re grappling with the intricacies of the past perfect, the projector screen starts to wobble. Then, the floor begins moving under our feet. Ah, a temblor, I think. A tremor. These mini-earthquake-like murmurs are frequent in Chile and almost never progress into full-fledged earthquakes. I tell everyone to settle down, that class will continue as usual. I wave at my coworker across the hall.

Tenemos que evacuarnos. A la casa, entonces. No más clase hoy. The students prod me to dismiss class early, but to no avail.

I think they’re working the “Gringa teacher doesn’t have any experience with earthquakes so maybe she’ll get scared and let us go early” angle, until I notice other teachers walking down the stairs with their students in tow. Turns out, it was a fairly sizable one, about a 6.3 on the Richter scale.

So I accidentally teach class during an veritable earthquake.

My students confer upon me the title of “badass,” which I graciously accept.

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During lunch, I work on a story about a young immigrant to the U.S., but immediately hate it and throw it away.

My last class of the day is more relaxed, with only four students showing up, more likely because it’s Friday than because of the recent earthquake. A student who doesn’t usually participate at all is wearing a shirt that says Surf Something or Another, so I ask him if he surfs. He says yes. We talk about how he loves surfing and how I tried once in Pichilemu, but could barely stand up on the board. He seems to like this story. He laughs. I planned a creative activity in which students go on “the perfect date” in partners to practice phrases of agreement. Surf Dude actively participates and asks questions, much to my surprise. He struggles a bit at first, but eventually gets the gist. Most classes, I can’t get him to look up from his phone. This time, he doesn’t even glance at it once.

At the end of class, as he’s making his way toward the door and I’m erasing the board, I tell him, “Bien hecho hoy. Super.” I smile and he smiles back.

Honestly, I have no idea if he got anything out of the class or even if he’s going to pass English, but our brief exchange feels meaningful.

[Reflecting, I hope I can have more of these moments in the future. I hope to provoke similar exchanges in the university setting with literature and/or anthropology. These types of interactions are fulfilling and remind me that it’s all a learning process.]

On the way home, I stop to grab an impromptu guanabana juice on the street. This one in particular is subpar, but I like it because it came from the same guy I see every day. Not Jamba Juice, not Starbucks. A guy with a blender. A guy who frowns at me when I ask for a lid as if I had just committed a cardinal sin. No name tag, no apron, just a scowl.

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At home, I make a giant salad and head to yoga. After, I try to write, but wind up reading about B12 deficiency and soil erosion.

The next day, I take a bus to Isla Negra, one of Pablo Neruda’s three houses in Chile. Incidentally, it’s the last one I haven’t seen yet.

It is predictably beautiful, right on the beach, with fat, green shrubbery pushing out pink flowers like flares. Somewhat less predictably, it is neither an island nor black, contrary to the place’s name.

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I imagine sleeping in the white bed overlooking the ocean and writing in Neruda’s signature green ink in his nook fashioned after his childhood home in the South of Chile.

An audio guide informs me that one of the Nobel Laureate’s wooden statues is considered to bring life-long bad luck to anyone who looks at it too long,- the same one I have been staring at for the last ten minutes.

I buy chocolate-covered walnuts from a señora stationed outside Neruda’s house. She is wearing the quintessential blue apron and her eyes twinkle as she talks about her grandchildren. She was born and raised in Isla Negra and has never been to Santiago. “My name is Elisinia,” she says, showing off her English skills. When we finally part ways, she says, “Que Dios le bendiga.” The habitual blessing hangs in the air between us like a net. “A usted, también,” I call after her.

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On the beach, Allison and I talk about our childhoods.

“Isn’t it weird how I can remember exactly how those red popsicles taste all these years later?”

“How do they taste?”

A long pause.

“Red.”

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We laugh. Ultimately, we even find a loophole in the perennial  stalemate between Reese’s fans and Team Oreo – those long tubes of pure sugar called Pixie Stix that surely trump all other candies. We praise ourselves for making diplomatic headway.

Waxing philosophical, we wonder what the most important thing in life is. Allison thinks interpersonal connections are at the meat of the issue. I broaden the idea to include connections of all kinds, including connecting with nature, with animals, and with oneself, and I’m satisfied.

That’s what it boils down to, we decide. We don’t even exist independently – we are the result of the combination of two sets of chromosomes. We are conjoined creatures, adept at interlocking and knitting together in different formations.

I like to think that is what I was doing with Surf Dude in my class, with the friendly señora selling chocolates.  I like to think that’s what we’re doing here, on this beach in Chile, spinning our own webs beyond the intimacy of our family and friends back home, extending the net further and further. I carry them all, as they do with me.  We polish each other like sea glass.

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