Saturday, May 14, 2011

Semana Santa: Man does not live on bread alone (except in Chile)

A few weeks ago was Semana Santa, or Holy Week. Given that my school is Catholic, they had events all week long for Easter, like prayer services and a passover dinner (it was for breakfast). Lets begin with Palm Sunday... in the Catholic church, Palm Sunday is a big deal and in the US it is a formal occasion. Here it is not formal. In fact, nobody ever dresses up to go to church... not even on Easter or Christmas. They wear jeans and regular clothes, and the atmosphere is casual.

God, you old friend
Palm Sunday was the first time I had been to mass in Chile, and it was an interesting experience- I learned they use the form of you  with God, instead of usted. For those who are unfamiliar with what I am talking about, in Spanish there are two forms of you- one is formal (usted) and the other is informal (tú). You use ¨usted¨ when speaking with professors, people you don´t know, bosses... basically anyone you want to show respect or keep a healthy distance from. Tú is for friends or people your own age; obviously there is less distance between people who use it.  Since God is almighty and all that jazz, I was sure they´d want to show some respect and that el Dios would be prayed to as ¨Usted.¨ But no, here in Chile God is an old friend... in all the bibles they only use Tú. How wonderful and strange a simple thing like saying ¨you¨ in a foreign language can shape your perception of God!

School Events
During Semana Santa I attended prayer services in the morning, a mass, and a passover dinner. I will be honest and say mass was more comical than spiritual! The entire school had gathered, and you could see it in everyone´s faces that not many students or teachers really wanted to be there. Quieting 1,000 children for an hour is no easy task! Teachers walked around doing crowd control instead of praying. Besides staff, the only students who sung the songs and waved the palms around were the kids 10 and under. Past that age they only sang or waved their palms around as a joke. You could tell secretly they were enjoying it, but had to appear cool in front of their friends. The priest.... HAHA! During the part where he blesses the crowd with holy water he practically started drenching the kids. He had an semi angry, semi laughing look on his face and these kids started ducking when he sprayed them! After a while he was really going at it... I have never seen a priest fling water so hard at children.

Below: The childen singing and waving palms around. Notice in front of the camera you see many palms and when the camera turns around all you see are a bunch of I´m-too-cool-for-this teenagers.


Passover dinner. What can I say? Traditionally you are supposed to have unleavened bread, since back in the day thats what it was... in fact, the entire point of a passover dinner is supposed to be eating unleavened bread. Here in Chile they don´t know what that is. We had big, fluffy white bread. If you are Jewish and celebrate Passover you might find this strange... I have a Jewish friend who did EOD and she thought it was hilarious and fitting that Chile would honor the Passover tradition with big, fluffy Chilean bread.

On a side note the bread consumption in Chile is absolutely ridiculous! All of the girls and I are convinced we are gaining ¨the bread weight.¨ They don´t eat dinner here. They have bread with tea and sometimes sandwiches, or bread with avacado and salt. (I love this and add tomato!) In Iquique one of Chileans I went with asked me, ¨Do you have to eat dinner? Can´t you just have some cookies and pop instead?¨ No, sorry I need dinner!

 If you are wondering about Easter traditions, they have the Easter Bunny here who brings chocolate. But the eggs he brings are all the same... you know, no crunchies or butterfinger eggs, no Cadburys... just chocolate. Kind of boring but I had a lot!

Below: our holy passover dinner of soda pop, candy, and fluffy bread. Notice the lack of water... more on this topic later in the post.

For the weekend of Easter I went to Iquique, a city 5-6 hours
north of us with a great beach. I drove with my host family but stayed with my teacher Yasna, and we met my other teacher- Ivannia, and her husband, along with some EOD volunteers. We went to a tax free shopping zone with ¨super cheap¨ prices... as in, the same prices you would find in the USA. Regular prices, I did not find them cheap. Perfumes were about $50. Apparently here in Antofagasta they are $100! Also went to the beach and just around town, to a nightclub... nothing too touristy, but I really enjoyed spending time with people and seeing a new city.

Being Stalked by a Garbage Truck is not Trashy
Have you ever been followed by a garbage truck? I can proudly say I have. When we went out in Iquique, I wore a skirt. A short skirt, but not too revealing- just a cute outfit. Oh my god. I have never gotten more attention in my entire life. Since its ¨autumn¨ and 50 degrees at night is freezing, I was the only girl in a skirt. I mean the only one I saw the entire night. And everywhere I went, people stared- I have seen women in the US wear far less clothing and not get nearly the amount of attention I received. The catcalls started as soon as we left the building, and as Yasna and I were walking down the street a garbage truck started following us for a minute. The driver slowed down so he could stare. Creepy. Creepy. Creepy. Did I mention creepy? For real? I am being followed by a garbage truck?! Yasna said this is pretty normal in Chile. The only thing I thought about is how if we aren´t raped this will make for a great blog excerpt. Nothing happened, so there ya go... Ladies, if you ever wear a skirt in weather less than 70 degrees in Chile, except to be followed by the garbagemen or other creepers.

Below: The skirt that started it all

Sunday morning (on Easter) my host family was kind enough to take me to a place called Humberstone on the way back. Humberstone is a salitrera, which is an abandoned mining town. They used to mine nitrate or saltpeter... something like that. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and my first ghost town. Its in the desert and was pretty cool to see! Definitely worth a visit if you have the chance.

On the way back we drove through the desert and passed an oasis- in the middle of nothing came a small valley full of trees. You have to wonder and admire how they came to be. (Apparently there is an underground river or water source.) Regardless, its a pleasant oddity amongst nothing alive. I started having more respect for life that can survive in the desert. I will post more pictures that show the true harshness of this landscape. And that is the end of Semana Santa. Fluffy bread, Iquique, garbage men, church, and Humberstone.

Below: Humberstone and the desert

Barren desert

The oasis!

Fire! Fire! Fire!
... is common here. In Iquique we saw a giant cloud of smoke billowing from a building. A couple weeks ago I saw smoke and flames in the distance. Nobody bats an eye. Both of my parents were in fires growing up, and they are quite common here. I´m not really ok with that. Moving on.

One weekend Juli, another EOD volunteer, organized a lovely camping trip for us gringos. We went to a beach near the end of the city on the South side. All the volunteers came and 6 of us stayed over. All was well until 1:30am when were going to sleep. Earlier in the night there had been about 5 cars on the beach, and I knew sometimes people came to beaches to party. Since it was so empty, I did not think we were on a party beach. That was until 1:30am.... when we noticed more and more cars arriving at the beach, and heard more music playing... and at about 2am the entire beach had been transformed from a deserted playa to a huge party. One butthead parked right next to our tent and the music was so loud my body felt vibrations. After an hour they moved, but the party lasted all night. If you think about it, we were in a vulnerable position. Obviously this wasn´t your mother´s party, there was drinking and who knows what else going on. ON all the beach there was ONE tent. Yep, the sleeping gringos. I did not leave the tent once the parties started, but you could see shadows of people walking right past us. Awkward, dangerous, infuriating, and hilarious all at once. In the morning the entire beach was desolate once again. It was like the music and shadows were all ghosts haunting us, only to disappear with the rising sun. At 10am the garbageman came to clean up the trashed beach. And no, this time they did not follow me.

Thursday night I attended a meeting with a group of Chileans who gather to practice English. I had a great time and met some cool people. They meet every Thursday and are thinking about having a Spanish night for us. Que bueno... my Spanish is improving, but I still speak in English con mucha frecuencia. Last weekend some volunteers and I went on a boat ride along the coast. They saw penguins, but I am not sure if I saw them or not... I tried getting pictures but it was hard. I also went to an asado (barbeque) for Labor Day. My school announced they were having this asado for the professors on WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON. The asado took place Friday night and they had a great turnout. If you announced an event so late in the US, only a few people would come- we like to make plans in advance! Here major last minute events somehow work out ok. They also had a very nice Mother´s Day event where students put on a show, read poems to their mothers, and we ate cake. When the event started, the male students waited at the school entrance and escorted the mothers into the building arm in arm- it was adorable!

I still have some settling in to do and adjusting to Antofagasta. There are ups and downs but I generally like it. I have the option to remain until November, and I may take advantage of that. I will know by the end of May.

After a Year, I´ll Trust You Enough to Tell You my Favorite Color
Ok. So it finally happened. All the research I did on Chile and how I ¨ already knew everything¨ did not prepare me for culture shock. I knew all about the surface culture... the dogs, uninhibited amounts of bread and mayo (sometimes together alone...), making out in parks, kissing on the cheeks... all surface culture. None of that shocked me. What has shocked me is the sense of mistrust in relationships I am starting to gather. I thought it was my imagination, or that I was going slightly crazy, perhaps taking things too personally. I feel like people in Chile like me, but they don´t know me enough to trust me yet. And I started feeling this strange emotional wall between people. I turned to google, and found some blog posts by girls my age living in Chile... I am not crazy! Both of their posts spoke of how Chileans as a whole do not trust people and take a long time to know you. In Chile it is rude to be a jerk in public, so people will act extremely nice and wonderful to you, then screw you over later. This is socially acceptable, flat out saying ¨no¨ is not. In the States we are more direct. If people act like they want to be your friend, they mean it and you can trust these people. In Chile I am starting to question people´s motives. Recently it seems like a woman I thought I was friends with completely blew me off and I am pretty sure she lied about it. I was quite taken aback! Friendships here might be different than I originally thought. You see, they can´t tell you personal information like their favorite color... what if it was blue and you told people it was green? Then for their birthday they would get everything in green and it would be your fault.

One of my teachers told me I am too trusting of people, and at first I took her comment with a grain of salt... maybe she is right. I miss the directness of US culture, and how people open up and trust me so quickly. Here other American EOD volunteers told me pretty personal information about themselves in about a week and I thought nothing unusual of it. Most Chileans I´ve met... some who I spend more time with than Americans... have barely told me anything personal, whereas I spill my soul each time I have a bad day. I am so open and love talking, so I am having a hard time adjusting to this. I am getting so confused!

There are people here who are extremely friendly, maybe even for the US. I am making friends with some of them, but sometimes I find myself questioning their motives, trying to find flaws and reasons to be wary. I don´t like how my mindset is changing into Chilean- cold and distant. I want to believe these people are good, but when you compare them to the rest of the ¨cold¨ culture they seem odd. There is a small bright side to this- in the US I am too trusting of people, and I know it. I share too much sometimes. Maybe here I will develop a ¨healthy¨ sense of mistrust.

What did I just step in? Crap.
Crap is everywhere! I hate these street dogs! I want them to all be neutered so they peacefully die off! They leave their crap everywhere, they have fleas which bite me, and some of them chase people jogging or biking and try to bite. WHY DOESN´T CHILE do something about this?! I´ve spoken with several people who love these dogs, and some that hate them. Sure some are cute, but they aren´t so cute when you walk past a pile of their waste that is covered in flies. They aren´t so cute when the 30 flies scatter about you if you walk to close. And they aren´t so cute when you jump because the flies startle you and another dog comes out of nowhere and is furiously barking at you, as if to say... well YOU stepped too close to my pile of fresh crap, what did you think would happen to you gringa?

H2O, Agua, Water, big ocean full of the stuff... have you heard of it?
Water, water everywhere and nobody drinks a drop. All day long Chileans drink pop. I mean it. At meals I am the only one who drinks water. At the asado the other day, I brought my own water, and out of 25 people I was the ONLY one drinking it. I am not sure why Chileans are opposed to even drinking bottled water, or how their bodies handle that much toxic sugar. Sometimes I play the water game in restaurants. Its a game I invented where I count how many people are drinking water. I think my record is 3?

or lack of it. All night long these stupid people in the street scream and fight and move boxes or sing or whatever they want. Garbagemen are blasting their music as they collect trash. Where is the consideration for people sleeping? What about picking up your garbage? And don´t get me started on customer service. It doesn´t exist. In the US I worked for a store that had EXTREMELY high customer service. As in, secret shoppers that gave you a bad evaluation if you forgot to offer them a basket when they had a candy bar in their hand. Here, if you want something you need to fight for it. As in, put on boxing gloves and don´t give up when you are punched again and again and again. I haven´t even experienced it that badly myself, but just stories I hear from other people and the general attitude in the stores... we don´t care about your business. You either will buy it or you won´t. Go away now.

Should I stay or should I go now...
I will stay in Chile with EOD until November. I am staying in Chile to improve my Spanish, get experience teaching English, and experience a new lifestyle. But why Antofagasta? There are certainly things I like about this city, but most aren´t things exclusive to Antofagasta besides the weather. I want to stay in Antofagasta because I have an excellent school and like the people I work and live with (which might change if they don´t renew the contract past July). But its hard because I want close Chilean friends. And all of the other American volunteers are leaving! There are more coming, but I crave the stability of close friends. I don´t want to have to get all adjusted and comfortable then leave and have to do the same thing again in the South. I know a lot of people now with the potential to become good friends, and that is why I am leaning towards staying in Antofagasta. But the culture here is so closed and cold... this is the most difficult adjustment. I am going to be American and share with my feelings (gasp!): I want to know that people want me to stay. When I tell people I am considering staying, I want them to say ¨Yes please stay! We want you here!¨ Sometimes I get back, ¨Seriously? You want to stay in this city- Antofagasta!?¨ Uh, maybe. I heard in the South they are more open, and there is this plant called grass that grows in abundance...  sometimes I wonder if I should risk leaving my wonderful school (and people) and move South...and I say risk because some of the other volunteers are in terrible schools. One girl got locked in the classroom as a joke by her students.

Don´t let the pulgas bite
Pulgas (fleas) and piojos (lice) are quite common here. This week my lesson was interrupted because the school was doing a piojo check. We were learning about animals in my English class, and I taught them the word ¨lice¨ and we were laughing about it. I have noticed some bites on my legs... only my legs... and my family attributed it to pulgas jumping up my pants. Yep.

I didn´t believe my teacher when she told me everybody has lice at some point. Then she asked the class and they told me ¨ cierto!¨- True! One 6th grade punk made the comment that Americans don´t have lice because we are ¨cuicos.¨ As soon as he said this, the class went, ¨OOOOOoooooooo.¨ Great, what did he just say? My teacher told me he said we dont have lice because we are rich. I had a talk with him in the hallway. What a hilarious conversation. This punk got so nervous and explained to me he wasn´t calling ME a cuica (which I later learned does not mean rich person... it means SNOTTY rich person), but he meant to say ¨in general people have more money and less lice in the US.¨

Is going well! This week my main teacher was absent three days, and although I did not have to, I agreed to sub for our classes together.- Usually I am there with her, then take a group of 12 students by myself. (There was another teacher in the room, but he or she just took attendance and did the occasional shhh.) It was a little rocky at first, because I did not know I would be subbing... but I am glad I did it. Yeah the kids tried to get away with a little more, but not like how they do the in the US! Class sizes are around 40 kids, and it definitely felt like more like student teaching than with my lovely groups of 12 students.

My box of teaching supplies finally arrived! Yay... no more taking markers from other rooms. I took a whiteboard eraser from an 8th grade class, and I did not realize this was the only one they had. Oops. They clapped when I brought it back...I was slightly embarrassed that I ¨stole¨ their only whiteboard eraser.
Remember I had a problem with my classrooms? I decided to use the smaller one: the sound is better, there are curtains, and no nasty smell. I can only fit 12 desks in that room, so I am using the flexible model for both teachers.

My regional director observed my lesson Friday and she liked it. I think ESL is a great fit for me. Here I will have to try and use LESS Spanish in the classroom. Before leaving I was worried I would not be able to communicate in Spanish. I found I usually can, but surpringly that is not the issue... here the English classes are almost completely in English- even the beginner class. I have to make students understand what I am sayiing in English. In the USA if I am doing ESL classes, the students might not be in Spanish and I will have to find a way to communicate in English. But considering this isn´t technically ESL (English as a second language), its EFL (English as a foreign language), its a very different approach then language classes in the US. Imagine walking into Spanish 1 or French 1 and the teacher is speaking 90 percent in Spanish or French your first day.

I <3 my students
I know part of it is the sensationalism and novelty of having an American in the school, but the kids love me! I have never been treated so wonderfully by students. Even the little kids- no, especially the little kids- routinely ask me how I am doing in Chile. One boy said it is important that I ¨feel as comfortable as you do in the US and become accustomed to Chile and our school.¨ Sometimes in class they hold up signs saying ¨We adore you!¨and ¨I love you Miss Sarah!- those were from HIGH SCHOOLERS! Love these students.

Below: on his nametag it says ¨We love Miss Sarah¨

There are wonderful things I like about Chile, but I am definitely in the phase where you move past awe and wonder and start noticing the real differences. When you notice that people aren´t as trusting, that something simple like asking for tap water gets you dirty looks, that you always are surrounded by dogs and their waste, etc, you start to feel disoriented and irritated. I am having a good time, but I am also an honest person. I am not going to make an entry without telling the good and bad, so there you have it. I am still extremely grateful to be having this experience and I wouldn´t trade it for anything- except some of the bread for vegetables.

Ivannia and I after climbing one badass hill!