Thursday, July 7, 2011

Students Rule! (Literally)

*If you only have time to read a little bit, skip to Las Tomas. I guarantee its the most interesting part!*

La Cueca

The cueca is Chile´s national dance. It is the story of a rooster courting a hen. The male is the rooster and the female, the hen, is bashfully resisting his courtship. They dance around each other in half moons and circles, feet stomping, until the male wins. It’s a flirtatious and very cute dance. I love the tradition, but it’s not too popular in northern Chile. I got lucky when my friend invited me to a cueca competition. It was lovely and you can see more photos here.

Epic walk to La Portada
My volunteer friends and I decided to take an epic walk to La Portada. We met at a park and walked 8-9 miles to get there and had lunch. We had a buddy (yep, a stray dog) follow us all three hours to La Portada. I was pretty proud of it to make the journey! After lunch some took the bus back, but I wanted to say I had walked to La Portada…and back. So we walked. And walked. Other volunteers walked with me and we encountered the strangest things: an anatomically correct baby doll carcass, a gypsy camp, and a billboard with a giant rat on it. I ended up walking 14 miles back to my house, for a total of 22.5 miles that day. For some reason walking is not popular in Chile, and if you walk more than 20 minutes anywhere people think you are strange for not taking the bus. When I told Americans (and some Chileans) I had walked to La Portada and back, they congratulated me. But the majority of Chileans just shook their head and said I was crazy. I almost felt offended, like here I pushed and pushed myself despite the forming blisters and exhaustion to accomplish a goal. It was important to me, and you are just saying I´m crazy? A former volunteer told me walking ¨could be considered an extreme sport in northern Chile.¨ I have an even crazier idea to take a bus to one end of the city and keep walking to sunset just to see how far we´d get!

Every time I think I am adjusted to Antofagasta or Chilean culture something new surprises me. I feel the familiar waves of disorientation and start speculating about what is happening. Which brings us to: LAS TOMAS.

Las Tomas
Say you are a student, or a teacher, who is deeply unsatisfied with the education system. You can go on strike in the USA… as in, hold up a few signs and march around. Or, if you are a Chilean you can take over your school. And I do mean take (toma) over. Most of the public schools- and many universities- are experiencing una toma. The students did not just make up signs to make their voice heard. They live inside the school: they take the keys, put chains on the door, sleep, eat, and live inside. I was shocked out of my mind when I saw this happen.

Students as young as middle school, but more frequently high school and university, are in tomas. The students have locked out the teachers and administrators. Only a select few are allowed in. There are no classes and chairs are shoved up against the gates and fences of the schools to illustrate a point. My host father told me sometimes the events get violent, but often the school administration supports the students taking a stand. In Santiago the protests did turn violent.

The government mandated that schools in toma must go on vacation, but when they return many will go back to toma. If the students want una toma and the administration says no, the students will break in during the middle of the night and school will be shut down. My school is semi private, so the students can not strike because they pay for the education (that, and they will be expelled). They get their way and have better quality than the public schools.

But once my school did go on strike, and not by choice. The University of Antofagasta students came to my school years ago and told them if they do not go on strike, the university students would go on strike for them. As in, break into the school, destroy it, and force them out of their own school. In case you are wondering, sometimes police get involved, but sometimes this is too widespread to stop it. That is the most amazing part to me- that an entire school can bully another school into striking and nobody stops it.

Students have to make up any time they missed during their vacation. This means if you strike for 3 weeks, you have 3 weeks less of vacation. The whole notion of taking over school started a few years ago with the ¨Penguin Revolution.¨ If you are interested more in this topic you can go to google. Now the tomas are happening with more frequency, and its considered normal. Illegal, but normal. People are always protesting something in Chile… whether it’s the miners, education, or the bus fare.

Other volunteers who are in public schools don´t have school. One girl told me her teachers were going to sleep overnight in the school to prevent the students from taking over, and her school never went on toma. I went to my friend’s school that is currently on strike and spoke with a student about it: Honestly, some students take this really seriously, but many just sleep overnight and have fun with their friends playing games. There are rules the student center makes- like no drugs or talking to the media- but tomas appear serious and social. Her school seemed more serious, but it could have been the girl I spoke with.

The interview is in Spanish, and I really really want to upload it, but I have tried on 4 computers and it has failed every time. I`ll try again someday...

Maria Elena
Maria Elena is a small mining town of 4,000 people in Chile. Another volunteer, Jen (also from Ohio!) was placed there for a semester. Staci and I went to visit her. It was tranquil but I would find it quite hard to be placed there for a full semester. There really is not much to see or do and the air is extremely, extremely dry.

Jen, me, Staci outside of the local mall

Some poverty- ish areas

...and a pack of local strays

I know a bar out in Mars... San Pedro de Atacama
During the 3 day weekend I went to San Pedro de Atacama with some other volunteers. Its an amazing oasis in the desert with interesting rock formations (the landscape looks Martian), salt lakes, salt caves, geysers, and surreal landscapes. I hope to go back, but it is quite expensive.
Valle de la muerte (Death Valley). Its only named that because some French guy misunderstood Spanish, but not too much grows there so I suppose its appropriate.

The group in front of the geysers. I ran into students here, too!

Me in the middle of the salt lake. During winter (now) the lake fills up with a foot or so of water and you can take these type of reflective pictures. During summer it dries out and you lose that effect. There is a link to the facebook album after this picture with more of the geysers and different rock valleys.

4th of July...
... was great! Except for a problem with a pack of stray dogs I had, it was the best 4th of July I could have had without fireworks. We had an asado (barbeque) at the beach Saturday, my school had a 4th of July US culture day, and I went to a 4th of July celebration at the Universidad del Mar put on by their English department.

First two: Universidad del Mar. They went ALL OUT with the decorations. I was so impressed! Other volunteers Lindsay and Tom put on performances. Lindsay did a power point and Brian played the violen. I wanted to upload his video because it is beautiful, but the computer will not let me (shocking).

Below: Lindsay (and Tom) came to our school and the kids tried teaching us the Cotton Eyed Joe song during their presentations.
Here they tried making American hot dogs. FYI Chile: We do not put mayonesa on our hot dogs. EVER. But nice try.

Below: My English Club kids with the 4th of July drinks I made for them. The colors separated into red, white, and blue. On a side note, one of these kids took a pair of my scissors that I have not gotten back.

Rain in the Driest Desert
Every 5 or six 6 months it lightly sprinkles, and occasionally it will rain once a year. Today was once a year! Usually when it rains school is closed because the schools aren´t equiped to handle rain. Today was the last day of the semester and school did not close, but it became very chaotic! When it rains in Antofagasta rain comes down from the hills and damages a lot of the poorer houses, as well as causes chaos in the streets. But I have not seen rain in months and was elated nevertheless. I heard in the third region of Chile the desert is going to flower, a rare phenenomon that happens every 5 or 6 years. Roadtrip!

Below: Making completos for the last day of school. (Hot dogs with avacado, tomato, and mayo.)

 Why school usually closes when it rains

 The after effects of rain. One student told me sometimes the professors have to come and clean it up the next day.

What Lies Ahead
I officially have decided to stay with English Opens Doors until the very end of November. I will probably travel for a week or two in December and return home before Christmas. But that is not set in stone! Who knows... maybe I will stay here for the Chilean summer. I have a visa until June 14th, 2012. At the end of July I will switch host families. The current one has a contract until the end of July and its difficult for them to host me longer due to the children. (I am living in the room of the little girl and she has to share a room with her brother.) I am a little nervous but excited for the new family.
There were 2 more volunteers who arrived in Antofagasta in May, Drew and Laura, and 3 more are coming this month. From my group of 10-15 people I am the only one who has decided to extend until November. I will remain in my current school. I am happy, but also anxious because July brings a lot changes. I have lived here long enough to adjust and there are ups and downs... I have taken a lot into consideration, but sometimes I question my decision. My friends are leaving, there will be new volunteers, a new family... that is almost like arriving again! We will see. The students are now on a 2 week winter break. This Friday I am going to Peru for a week of vacation, then I have English Winter Camp. In Peru I am traveling to Arequipa, Cuzco, and Machu Pichu. 

During the last week of July school will resume and we start `Part Two` of my experience. Hard to believe its half over... I have a very different concept of time here. Everything just blends together with no sense of anything passing or ending, but always moving too rapidly.