Wednesday, November 3, 2010

All you need is love, Love is all you need.

In the United States I think we often live with a subconscious belief that, as Americans, we are superior to others. When I think of Jesus, I think of a white man that looks just like me and is gentle and warm and someone I am so familiar with seeing every day. But being a nice gentle man doesn’t necessarily make you a white man. People are so different, and many times the people we do not see in our everyday life can be hard to relate to. Racism is extremely common here in Chile. It is in your face and understood that it is a way of life. It is not a good way of life, but something that can happen anywhere.
I will never stop standing out in the crowd here. My skin will always be white no matter how much sun I get. My Spanish will always hold an accent (if in fact I do learn Spanish). And so much of what was common and normal to me, will never be normal here. With that said, in spite of the many simple ways we differ, and regardless of the vast oceans that separate us from where we live, and considering the complex being of man, we are still so much the same. We are all born with the same nature that is deeply rooted into our hearts, and can be shared no matter where we go. That can only be called love.
I can barely hold a one or two sentence conversation with most of my students or family, but many times I can understand them. I have learned the great importance of a smile, the touch of a hand on your shoulder to feel secure. Chileans are blessed with an amazing facial structure that can form into the most heartwarming smiles. On days when I need it the most, if any one gives me a grin here, my heart is comforted and I am ready to take on the world again. If you add a few dimples and a little child's face in the mix, then I can’t help but to throw my head back and laugh every time!
And how lucky are we that, no matter what language is spoken, laughter is the same sound and so easy to associate with? I don’t always understand every word, but I do understand how contagious laughter can be. And even if everything doesn’t make sense, when everyone is laughing together, it just seems to be understood. I may mime my way through life here but, when it comes to happiness, it is so easy to be shared! I am so grateful for this!
Music is another form of communication that I have come to appreciate even more in my life. I have enjoyed myself so many nights with new friends, their guitars and a lot of singing. Words may get mixed up but, when a tune is shared, everyone can have fun together. Dancing and music is such an important part of culture in Chile! I am so happy to be able to enjoy my school’s anniversary events through music and dance.
I really believe that deep down everyone has love in their hearts and, through love, we find patience, kindness and a pureness of life that can be shared no matter where we are. Understanding I am worlds away from home, I am so happy that love is a universal feeling that can be experienced everywhere. Being loved by new friends and family here makes me consider this a home away from home. (Feeling Joyful)

Love never fails....And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

San Pedro

Wow! I have been blessed with two extremely unbelievable weekends the last two weeks. I have a lot to fill you all in on. Two weeks ago my roommate, Jeanina and I made our way to San Pedro Atacama. San Pedro is a very small town located in the heart of a natural park. The park is HUGE and there are so many places to see including salt flats with flamingos, geysers, and an active volcano. For our first trip, we were able to take two tours, and they were both extremely amazing! But I am getting ahead of myself, so first things first.

Friday afternoon Jeanina and I hopped on a bus and made our way to a town located three hours inland towards the desert called Calema. A handful of volunteers in our program live in Calema, two of them being our good friends. We were really excited to have a reunion with them so quickly after getting here. For the first night we decided to stay in Calema because the elevation is much higher both there and in San Pedro. It is recommended to gradually go up in altitude.

Jeanina and I stayed with our friend Sara. Before we went to Calema, whenever we heard about the city, we were told two words - (pardon my French) “shit hole.” It literally says that in the Lonely Planet book when describing this city. Calema is a mining town located in the middle of the desert. People really only live there because of the mines. It is also known for prostitutes, drugs and a lot of dogs. So with that said we were not expecting a great night there.

We started our drive around 1:00. It was a pretty interesting drive through the desert. Sandy hills lined the side of the roads with simply nothingness for miles and miles. To our surprise there was quite a deal of trash scattered throughout the desert during the first leg of our journey. We later asked about this and were given this explanation. Antofagasta paid a company to collect trash and install new trash receptacles throughout the city. Chile is still developing in some ways and many businesses still suffer from corruption. The business responsible for trash pick up took the money and ran. For three months in Antofagasta there was no trash pick up. It took a cholera outbreak for the situation to finally get taken care of. Prior to that some people were taking their trash and putting it in the desert, but hey can you blame them? I am happy that I wasn’t here to witness that, and I am still taking some precautions like peeling the skin off of my tomatoes. Ha ha!

Back to Calema though. Beyond the trash, the desert was beautiful! The sun was setting as we made our way into the city, and beautiful shadows and tints danced around the desert. My eyes were glued to the views outside the bus. We drove past a small abandoned town with buildings in ruins. Apparently there are a handful of “ghost towns” in the area surrounding Antofagasta. It was pretty neat to see!

Finally, after three hours, we made it! We pulled into the bus station and saw Sara smiling and waving in our direction. We held our breath and hopped off the bus. As we made our way into the city, however, we were very presently surprised! The town was very clean. There were fewer dogs than Antofagasta, and there were no bad smells. We were set!

Sara’s host home was amazing! I guess this a good time to touch on where I am living a little bit more with that said. I really am enjoying Antofagasta and my home stay. My family is wonderful and there are so many hidden gems in this city. I am living in a poor area. Like most cities Antofagasta has some problems with drugs and crime. The majority of the problem is located in the North (not where I live). But there are also some issues in the center (closer to my home). I have to be honest when saying I don’t live in the safest area, but my home is situated further from where there is crime, drug problems and violence. My home is very much the bare necessities, but I am happy to call it home. I have a roof over my head and am in very great company! As I learn the city, my friends are filling me in more and more about what streets to avoid and how to find my way around. Collectivos (their taxi system here) run all night long and are about two dollars to get anywhere in the city. So this is a safe option. We try to avoid going out at night as much as possible and, when we do, we take as many precautions as possible. When my roommate went out to work tonight, I armed her with pepper spray and my cell phone (hers wasn’t letting her make outgoing calls at the moment). I wanted to make sure that she would be okay walking alone. Don’t worry. I am being as safe as possible!

Back to my travels for now though. Calema was a pleasant surprise for me.  First things first, we made our way to Sara´s host home.  The home was absolutely beautiful (like I said)!  It was located in a small gated neighborhood.  Sara has her own room and bathroom.  It was just a little bit different from where I was living to say the least.  Jeanina and I marveled at her house and were pretty excited to spend a night in such luxury. After showing us around, Sara brought out her family dog.  Not sure what kind it was but it was a little bundle of white fur that fit in one hand.  The thing was so precious.  I really like my host family's dog  named ¨Piggy¨  as well, but everything just seemed a little bit cleaner in Calema.  Ha ha.
After getting settled, the three of us hopped into a collectivo and explored the town. The center was similar to Antofagasta and a typical northern Chilean town I would say (from my little experience).  We ate dinner at a place called Shop Dogs.  It is a chain here in Chile. We ate one of the healthiest Chilean dishes that you can get here.  It is a plate of French fries with Meat, Cheese and Eggs on top of it.  It was delicious, but I spent the rest of the night in full regret for my decision to eat it.  My stomach was not used to this kind of food.
After dinner we walked through the streets of Calema a bit.  There were street performers drawing a crowd and playing drums in a circle.  It was really neat!  At 8:00 Sara´s host mom called and told us there was a performance in town.  We walked to the local theater and found ourselves at a very festive Chilean dance performance. People from age 10 to 70 were dancing, playing instruments and singing.  Everyone was in full costume.  It was really an amazing thing to witness. We stayed at the performance for about two hours and then decided to call it a night.  We had to be up early for San Pedro! Sara had a really big bed so we all slept in it together.  There was an extra bedroom upstairs but we were not sure we were welcome to sleep in it.  There was plenty of room in the bed and we all slept well.  However, in the morning Sara´s host mom was cracking up! She could not believe that we all shared a bed. She said she had two extra beds for us.  I tell this story because it is a good example of common confusion that occurs on a pretty regular basis. With the language barriers I am always scratching my head, hoping I understand and generally just agree to everything.  I hope that this strategy for general agreement never causes me to get into any trouble! Ha ha.  It does cause me to eat a lot of food though. Yum!  The Chileans just laugh at the ¨crazy gringos¨ while we are just trying to be polite and adapt to their culture.  Ha ha!
So on Saturday morning we woke up around 8:00 and took the short trip to the bus station.  The bus, we were told, was leaving right when we got there.  Our co-volunteers and friends Matt (who also lives in Calema) and Kevin (who made the trek from Arica) also came along with us.  We ran to the bus only to end up waiting for it for an hour and a half.  Chilean something else.  Being flexible here is definitely a necessity or you probably won't make it.
So finally, after a lot of waiting, we made our way to San Pedro.  We arrived around noon and hopped off the bus to find ourselves in the most charming little town.  It looked like a set from the wild west.  There were dirt roads lined with stucco homes and walls.  People rode down the streets on horseback.  I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had booked a hostel the night before and we walked through the city searching for it.  It took a little bit of time to figure out the winding streets. After a stop for an empanada, we eventually got there!

The hostel was very simple. It was open to the elements everywhere but in the bedrooms. With the lack of rain (or so I had thought), buildings are constructed with little concern for protection. We spent a short time in the hostel and made our way back into the heart of the city. When we got there, we explored a small church in the center. The roof of the church was constructed entirely from cacti. It was absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately the church took a bit of a hit from the last earthquake, but it still was very nice. As we continued walking, we stumbled upon a man with two baby llamas. He walked right up to me and handed me both of the ropes they were tied to and then took a seat. I was a little confused at first but then very amused. The llamas ran around and I tried my best not to lose them. They came up to me and started trying to eat my shirt and purse. Sara and Jeanina came over and helped me keep the little guys under control. After a few minutes and a lot of photos the man came back for his llamas. We had a lot of fun with the little guys! After exploring the city a little more, we were on our way to find a tour. Our first San Pedro tour we booked was a trip to a place called Valley de Luna. (I will put pictures up as soon as possible. Sorry, but the internet isn’t very cooperative here.) Before leaving on the tour, Matt and Kevin bought some coca leaves. They sell them here to help with the altitude. We would be going pretty high up, so I decided to give them a try. You are supposed to put them on the side of your mouth and leave them there for about a half hour. For that half hour the only reaction I got was a very dry mouth, and the feeling that I was sucking on a tea bag. I am not sure if they actually helped me get adjusted to the altitude, but my guess is probably not.

The tour was around four hours, and we stopped throughout the park to explore natural caves, a canyon, a rock formation that resembled the Virgin Mary and finally the Valley itself. Each stop of the bus blew me away. We would hop off each time to find sites more exciting than the last. My heart was full, and I don’t think a smile left my face during the entire trip. The many colors of the rocks with the sun dancing off of it and creating stunning shadows was an unbelievable site to see. We got to Valley de Luna just in time for the sun to set. Many of us from the tour climbed up a sand mountain and witnessed it from there. In Valley de Luna the moon can be seen almost all day and, as we watched the sun set, the moon stayed high in the sky. It was breathtaking.

Our tour bus was filled with wonderful people. We have been told that San Pedro is the most beautiful location in all of Northern Chile and I can absolutely see why. We were surrounded by other tourists from all around the world. It was really fun and exciting to talk to these people as we made our way on the bus. I met a wonderful couple from the Netherlands who had been traveling through South America for about eight months. It was unbelievable to hear their experiences!

We made it back to San Pedro to pitch black. I had bought groceries before going to San Pedro, and we started back to the hostel so I could cook dinner. The boys were starving so we stopped for empanadas along the way. They were delicious and freshly baked. As we walked back to the hostel, our eyes could not believe the night sky. Stars stretched for miles. We decide to find ourselves a field and we spent the next hour lying in it with our eyes glued upwards. Shooting stars flew through the air. It was stunning.

After looking at the stars, we finally ate dinner at the hostel. Sara, Jeanina and I booked a tour to see the geysers the next morning. The geysers are most active in the morning so we were scheduled to be picked up at our hostel at 3:30am. I went to bed nervous about waking up so early and the high altitude that people continually warned us about. The geysers were in an area of extremely high elevation and people often get sick at them.

At 3:30 we stumbled out of bed very groggy and hopped onto our tour bus. The bus was quickly filled with other people, and we got cozy for a two hour trip through the desert and up to the geysers. Because of the high elevation and the lack of sun this early, the temperature was around -20 degrees Celsius. We were all freezing. Jeanina is from California and she did not take to the extreme cold very easily. Luckily I had brought my entire backpack with me for the trip. Before I got off the bus I put on 6 layers of shirts and four layers of pants. To top off my new wardrobe I got out my sleeping bag and wrapped it around myself. Everyone else on the bus cracked up as they saw me walking around with a giant red sleeping bag draped around me, but hey I was warm!

The first thing we did when we got to the geysers was have breakfast. It was simple with bread, jam, tea and coffee. The tea was coca tea to help those that were feeling the altitude. Luckily none of us ended up getting sick at all on our tour. We had been told earlier to drink a lot of water the day before and the advice helped us.

The geysers were like walking on another planet. After about 45 minutes of being there, the sun started to rise and the geysers began to bubble. Steam and hot water shot through the rocky earth. Puffs of smoke flew everywhere. It was unreal. We walked around looking at the geysers and freezing for a while when the tour guide asked me first if I wanted to wear his coat instead of wearing my ridiculous sleeping bag. I told him I would keep the sleeping bag. Second he told me that I had to go swimming in the hot springs of the geysers. I looked down at the layers and layers of clothing I was wearing and questioned if it was worth possibly getting pneumonia if I put my bathing suit on. He told me it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. So Sara, Jeanina and I headed back to the bus, took off layers and layers and headed to the hot springs with our bathing suits and towels. It was freezing outside! It was getting a bit warmer by the time we got back outside since the sun had begun rising. But by "warmer" I mean still absolutely freezing. We were all shivering. We pulled off our sweat pants and jackets and ran into the hot springs in our bathing suits. The water was so warm! In some places too warm even. Suddenly we forgot how cold we were and had a great time swimming in the springs. We had made friends with an Australian couple on our tour, and they joined us in the water. We all searched for the warmest places to sit and would call everyone over whenever we found a new hot spot. It was a bunch of fun and definitely a once in a lifetime experience. As we swam around we peered at the bubbling geysers surrounding us and the smoking volcano that we could see in the distance. We spent the remainder of our time at the geysers in the hot spring mainly because we had no idea how we could possibly get out of the water back into the freezing air. Finally I took the first step and was the first one out. Surprisingly it was not as terrible as I expected. I threw my sweats on and ran for the bus to find the rest of my layers waiting for me, and an unbelievable experience fresh in my memory.

After the geysers our tour continued through the park for several more hours. The drive was unbelievable and, even though I was tired, I still found myself glued to the window. We drove through the park and marveled as alpacas and other animals popped out of the sand. After about 45 minutes we stopped at the only place that was inhabited by people in the natural park. We got off the bus to find a very cute little village. It was made up of about ten little huts with straw roofs. The town had been abandoned for many years and natives had just recently begun living there again. We walked through the tiny town and found an old man selling llama shish kabobs. We knew we had to try llama meat. Each of us got a kabob. The meat was a bit chewy, but I was happy to check off “eat llama meat” from my bucket list.

Following the little town we stopped at a river that ran through the very dry park. Vegetation surrounded the village and many types of birds made their home in this place. It was really neat to see the desert vegetation and different types of cranes and ducks. Our final stop was to view some of the biggest cacti that can be found in San Pedro. We pulled over on the side of the desert and took a three minute walk to find an enormous cactus towering over us. The tour guide told us that this cactus was over 150 years old. For many years in San Pedro people used the cacti for wood to build their homes. When you walk into some of the older buildings and peer up at the roofs you can find a beautiful unique wood. This is the cactus wood. Today the cacti are protected in San Pedro.

After the final cactus stop it was near 10:00. My exhaustion finally set in as we made our way back to town. The three of us fell asleep on the bus and we awoke, after forty five minutes, back in San Pedro with sleepy eyes and an experience of a lifetime behind us! We gathered our things and decided that, although we would love to stay and explore the rest of the park, it would have to wait for another weekend. We were very tired and had school to prepare for the following day. We walked to the bus station and, after a lot of confusion, made our way back to Antofogasta just in time to watch the sun sink into the sand of the desert. What an amazing weekend!


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

School and Life in Antofagasta

Hello Again Blog Followers,

So much has happened since I have last written and I am very excited to share my experiences with you. Since my last blog I have been told more about the part of town in which I live. It is considered a “bad area.” Although it is not the ideal place for anyone to live, I do feel safe here. I continue learning the safest way to travel around the city, and how to stay away from problem areas. I am always checking situations to make sure I am going about them in the safest way possible. So, fear not, all is well!
My school continues to bring me a lot of joy, and continues to be a great challenge. Each day I have struggles, but I am also learning so much. And I am amazed by my students’ talents. I feel very blessed to have been put in the situation I am in.
As I stated earlier, my school consists of many children that come from “troubled homes.” I am beginning to connect with the students and teachers. I learn a lot about them and their family lives. The stories I hear never fail to amaze me, and often bring me great sadness. However I must say that I have great pride for all of my students. Each one is talented in his or her own way. As I spend time getting to know them, I always have a smile on my face and we share a lot of laughter. In a classroom of 40 students (yes, there are supposed to be 40 students in a class), about 30 show up. Their just being in school means a lot in my opinion! I want to make it worth their while!
I am here for four months. I am going to do whatever possible to help these children to learn English, but, more than anything, I want to connect with them. I want them to feel happy and loved, and associate these emotions with learning the English language. If this happens, then it is my hope they will take the initiative to continue learning the language independently once my time here in Chile is finished.
I am learning more than ever now that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I have students that act out in my class, or are very socially different. In this culture, political correctness is not a priority. Teachers often just ignore these problems or give up on these students. As I learn more about these particular students and the struggles they have been through in their homes, these behaviors are understandable. I hope I can give each and every one of my students the attention they need. I do my best to keep a kind face at all times to let them know I truly care about them. In all honesty this can be very difficult. In some cases I have students in my class for three 45 minute blocks in a row. It gets long. Students get restless, and I get tired. I feel like God has to be the one helping me through these times at some points. It is a lot to handle on some days. But overall it is really great!
Life moves much more slowly here than in America. Classes begin, and there is a lot of transition time. This is great because it gives me the opportunity to speak a lot with my students! They only have a very basic understanding of English so, for the most part, it leaves me speaking a lot of Spanglish. I don’t know Spanish well in any sense. It is a lot of fun trying to have a conversation with my students. They get excited to speak with me. I am eager to understand what they are saying as much as they are eager to help me understand. Many times there is a lot of confusion, but in the end somehow the point gets across.
Today my students asked me how I got to Chile. They continuously asked me about my car as well. I told them I had a car in America but I did not have one in Chile. They were very confused by this, and I was confused as to why. Eventually I figured out that they thought I drove from America to Chile! I finally was able to explain to them how I flew here and that America is on the other side of the world. They are very excited to learn about America. They are always asking me about my family, my home life and how far away places are from where I live. It really is a riot having these conversations. They are mostly in Spanish, and everyone involved is scratching their head trying to figure out how we can understand each other. In the end it pushes both me and my students to learn Spanish and English! Today one of my students was crying because of problems with her home life. I sat with her and spoke a little bit. She looked up at me crying and, in Spanish, said, “I don’t understand English.” I looked back at her and said, in Spanish, that I don’t understand Spanish, and gave her a very sad face. Suddenly the tears went away and we both had a big laugh. Maybe you had to be there, but these little moments with my students continue to crack me up. They are a ton of fun and I always leave school smiling!
One thing I have done to help my students practice their Spanish is make a Facebook account just for them. I have it posted in class and they are able to “friend” me. The only rule is that they can only write to me in English on it. They are all very excited about my Facebook page, and they are trying very hard to write to me in English on it. It’s pretty funny to read what they say. Here is a message that I got this evening:

hi megan hope I miss you like a lot to me if you like me too much and you are very pretty and that fried fish is delicious and I would see that this good and I do not want you to go we keep doing classes and I forgot to tell you like this? Take care of yourself

Hmm? Looks like I have a lot more work to do with my Eighth graders. Ha ha!

Right now my school is celebrating its anniversary. It is a huge event! It lasts for three weeks. On many days the last hour of school is devoted to anniversary activities. Last Wednesday was the “class mascot” competition. Each class has their own mascot that they dress up and model in front of the entire school. There was a life-sized pencil, cartoon characters, movie stars and a lot of cute animals. One of my favorites was a very cute kindergartner dressed up as a lobster. If that doesn’t make someone want to pinch a kid’s cheeks, I don’t know what does. Last Thursday was a dance competition. It was a riot to see! Some of my students, who I could never imagine dancing in my wildest dreams, were breaking out moves that were amazing! There were salsa, kuaka and regatone dances. The kids were so impressive, and the audience really got into cheering for them. Some parents came to watch the event as well. Each grade had students representing each dance. The kindergartners were adorable and very talented. As the children went up in age, they continued to display more talent. I was very impressed and very proud.
The regatone dancing was, let’s just say, interesting. I have done a lot of adapting to the culture here, but seeing children ages 5-14 dancing so intimately was still a little strange to me. By ”a little” I actually mean VERY strange. I think that if I was participating in this kind of dance, even at a high school function, my teachers would have a word with me. However here it is completely normal and encouraged!
There are a lot more anniversary events to come including singing, soccer games, and a showcase of countries around the world. One of my classes has the United States for the country that they will showcase. They have learned all about America and even know a square dance! They also made a banner about the United States that is very impressive! The children and teachers put a lot of time into making the anniversary celebration a success. It does take time from normal class work, but the excitement and tradition evident in it make me feel that this is all worthwhile!
Another interesting thing that happened during the school week was a tsunami drill. Antofagasta has a lot to worry about as far as natural disasters. We are all very aware of the huge earthquake that hit Chile last year. Here in the North, another large earthquake occurred only three months ago. Here we also have to worry about mudslides, tsunamis, and sandstorms that stop normal activity for days. And I shouldn’t forget to mention the killer spiders. Oh my! The precautions that the city has begun to take in the last ten years are very reassuring. This drill was a great example. During the drill, no one in town was allowed to drive on the streets. There were sirens, drums, helicopters, planes, and emergency respondents throughout the city. My school is in a safe zone so our emergency procedure was simply to go to the courtyard and line up. Once the students were in place, we practiced searching for missing students. There were three kids that were hidden in our school. I stayed outside with the students while other teachers searched. Whenever a plane or helicopter flew over our school, all the littler children got very excited. Many of them smiled, cheered and waved into the sky. It was very cute to see!
My co-teacher Evelyn is a Christian. She is very involved in her church. Last Sunday I had the opportunity to attend church with her. My school is primarily Catholic. One elective the students take is a Catholic religion class. Evelyn’s church is what I would call a “super church” in America. It was one of the nicest places I have been to in Antofagasta thus far. It was a wild experience. The church had a full band and spiritual dancers. The dancers were in hot pink sequence dresses and waved flags while they danced. The band was great and played all contemporary music. There was a projector at the front of the church, so I was able to sing along with all the songs in Spanish. I really enjoyed this. I even knew some of the songs in English! The church service lasted about three hours in total. I brought my bible and was able to read along with the scriptures in English as they read in Spanish. It was helpful because I was able to pick up on many Spanish words I did not know before. The church was very different from my home church but I did enjoy my experience! People were very nice and welcoming. I am excited to attend again.
So in conclusion, school continues to be a lot of fun! I am learning so much and hoping the children are as well. As I continue to grow and learn, I continue to enjoy my time here in Antofagata more and more. I am beginning to love this place and appreciate the unseen beauty in it!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Oh what a night.....


I was walking home tonight, and I found myself weaving around packs of sketchy looking men yelling at Jeanina and me.

As we continued walking, another man ran up to us screaming frantically - something about a cell phone.

Still continuing up the street, what appeared to be a homeless guy approached us and "dropped" his wallet in front of me. When I looked down, he had actually "dropped" five wallets! And by dropped I mean he threw the five wallets onto the ground and then ran away. I can only imagine that he was a pickpocket getting rid of them...or a very unfortunate man that now is missing the five wallets he happens to carry.

About two minutes later we saw two cops walking down the street. We decided to let them know. They just laughed and said that it happens all the time. Reassuring.

Following that a dog ran at us and started yipping and barking like crazy. Jeanina and I took refuge in a pack of people who proceeded to laugh and laugh at us.

At that point we just wanted to be home, and Jeanina unknowingly ran in front of oncoming traffic to get across the street.

We made our way up the street and, when we walked past the prison, the inmates started yelling out their windows at us.

Lesson learned: Stay in on Sunday nights.....

I feel uncomfortable.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

It's Raining...It's Pouring

I have been teaching English in Chile for a little over a week now and am happy to report I have yet to start pulling my hair out (knock on wood). I am teaching at a school in the center of Antofagasta named Dario Salas Diaz. It is a school for children from low income homes that are learning challenged. I am teaching first through eighth grade.
My co-teachers name is Evelyn. She is a woman in her 30's who speaks a moderate amount of English. Evelyn is very interesting. I am excited to work with her and help her continue to improve her English. She is also helping me improve my Spanish. Each day after school we have a thirty minute Spanish/English lesson together. I am learning more and more each day and it is my hope Evelyn is too.
It is really interesting to be teaching so many different age levels and work with several different lesson plans. All of the children have a very (very) basic understanding of English so, for the most part, I can teach each grade the same subject. Once I have a subject for the lesson, I must alter it for each class based on age level. My first through fourth grade classes have been doing a whole lot of singing thus far and they seem to really enjoy it. I must say that Chileans have some very cute kids! I can't help but smile when I see the children sing in their Spanish accents with their pipsqueak voices!
Education here is very different from the United States. Initially it is something very hard to get used to. The order that is in most U.S. classrooms does not exist here. Children have more freedom in the classroom. If you want to learn here, you must have the initiative to apply yourself to the lessons. The children who do not are penalized through their grades, but are generally not spoken to. Many of the children need a lot of help getting motivated. Evelyn and I must often walk around the room and motivate each student individually to do their work when given an assignment. This is something that I hope will change during the four months that I am here.
A really positive thing is that all of the students are very excited that I am here! When I walk into the school each day I am greeted with many hello's and hugs. Children often try and sneak into my classroom when it is not their time for class. The classes are anywhere from 25-35 children, so we try and catch any extra bodies that make/sneak their way into a desk. The children want to speak to me, so for this reason they are motivated to learn. It is really exciting that just being present in the school encourages students to study English! I know that it is important to separate oneself from being seen as a friend, and have the children see me as an instructor. However I think, having a close connection in this circumstance, is something that is very important. When I am not teaching English, I am always having a lot of fun talking and playing with my students. My first grade boys now have a secret handshake I taught them that they great me with when they walk in the classroom. We practice counting by doing thumb wars. And I must say that I think the elementary school students are the only ones who can understand me when I speak Spanish!
My students have been really great! Like I said, it is an adjustment to learn and understand the Culture of a Chilean classroom. As I continue to adjust to it, I hope to work with it to make my classroom the most positive learning environment possible. My kids are a big challenge (like all children), but I am excited!
Life in general in Antofagasta is getting more and more normal each day. There are always new things to learn, but I am really enjoying learning! Today I was asked if it was nice here? That is a difficult question to answer. I am thrilled to be getting to know this culture, and I find beauty in a place that honestly can easily be a little depressing. Although I would never recommend a vacation to Antofagasta, I am so happy that I have the opportunity to live here for four months. The people who live here in no way have easy lives. However there is never any complaining and they know no other way.
Life is so different from home, but the more I understand the culture and explore my temporary home, the more I begin to enjoy it. Slowly the garbage and stray animals fade away, and I can begin to notice the culture, boldly painted houses and views of the coast that peeks through some streets. Having a garage in the living room is almost starting to make sense and, when the weather changes from chilly to warm, I will be pretty happy about the absence of windows so the house warms up!
This week a lot of exciting things have happened. This morning I attended a Cuawka competition with a co-volunteer that I met during the week. Matt's (the co-volunteer) host brother was performing in the competition. Cuawka is Chile's traditional dance. It was really awesome witnessing it! The dance is in some ways like salsa however there is little touching. It is very fun and VERY flirtatious. I loved the students' facial expressions! The dance generally always initiates with the male approaching the female and taking her by the arm. From there a clap to keep the beat begins. Then the dancers pull out handkerchiefs and twirl them through the air as they move their hips and feet to the music. I really enjoyed getting to see this today!
Another really interesting thing that happened this week was the rainstorm. I know everyone that looks at my facebook status has been wondering about this! In Antofagasta it almost NEVER rains. And when I say NEVER I mean NEVER. The last rainstorm was ten years ago. During this time the people were not prepared for rain. Antofagasta is a town at the edge of the desert. It starts at the coast and goes uphill until eventually the hill becomes what I can only describe as several giant sand mountains. Sand mountains that are not used to rain don't stay in place when the rain comes. Ten years ago, 100 people died in a devastating mud slide after a quick 45 minute rainstorm. My host parents had mud filling half of their first floor home. Luckily, since that time, a sort of levee system has been built to hold the mud in place on the hills if it should ever rain again. It is dangerous to have homes built so closely to the desert mountains, but unfortunately many poor families do not have an option. Because of this, there are many homes in threatening areas in Antofagasta.
Besides the danger of mudslides, buildings here are just not built to withstand the rain. Roofs are flat, and many homes are open to the elements. As I stated before, my home has no roof over half of it!
So, on Wednesday around 11:00 a.m., I was teaching a class when suddenly the pitter patter of rain began to fall. The majority of my students had never experienced rain before. What could that noise even be?! They were amazed by what was happening! They ran to the window to look outside. It was exciting to witness the kids checking this out! About five minutes after the rain began, school and work was called off for the day. Some children played and ran around in the rain. Others were beside themselves and had no idea what to do to avoid getting wet! It may seem silly that school was called off, but rain was dripping from the ceiling in some parts of the school after just 15 minutes. I got a ride home from the religion teacher, and made my way to see the damages. When I arrived at home, my host father was home making a roof out of what had been the outside wall of the upstairs a half an hour prior. He removed the metal from this section, and secured it into the part of the home without a roof. In my bedroom black droplets of water began falling from my ceiling, and half of my floor was quickly covered with large puddles. The rain is very dirty both from the desert sand and the mining residue that are in the air.
The rain kept up for about two hours, then slowly went away. Nothing in the home was damaged which was great! We did a lot of mopping and had a lot of buckets catching the rain in the areas that were wet.
Our host family informed us that, after a rain here, the humidity causes the temperatures to drop significantly. It would soon be close to 0 degrees Fahrenheit! I had been pretty cold since I got here, so I was not excited about this news...and the temperature did drop quickly. As my roof in my room slowly dripped the last bits of water I lay on the coach in a blanket and tried my best to keep warm. My host mom and dad cracked up over this, and patted my head and said, "Aww Wa wa," This is the Chilean word for baby. We are getting close quickly, and my host parents are such nice and wonderful people. My host mom brought me a "Guetero" which is a hot water bottle that they use on cold nights to warm the bed. I was thrilled. I skipped the entire - put it in my bed and wait for the bed to heat up part. Instead I stuck it right in my sweatshirt and spent the rest of the night like that. It warmed me up right away and soon I was removing one of the many layers I was wearing.
Thursday again classes were canceled. Although we were very lucky and the sand stayed on the mountains, many of the schools had significant water damage that had to be cleaned up for the day. It was a beautiful day outside. (Many homes were very cold because of the cool night temperatures and the water). I set out around 11:00 a.m. for a run along the coast. As I ran out of the house I got about four blocks down and turned my head towards the ocean. Suddenly I saw mountains peeking out about a mile beyond the water's edge. I couldn't believe my eyes. I had been here for over a week, and this was the first time it had been a clear enough day to see this! Antofagasta is actually an inlet. Like I said, I am learning new things everyday. Ha ha.
I headed North on the coast as the sun beat down on me and enjoyed the big temperature increase. The North is the poorest part of the city. Along the coast, in an attempt to beautify this section, a boardwalk extends for miles. It is a bit run down but still rather nice.
At the beginning of my run, I stumbled upon a small fishing port. As I approached it, the fishermen were throwing fish scraps into the water. HUGE Pelicans swooped over my head and made their way for the water. Sea lions popped their heads out of the water. It was really awesome.
Next to the fishing pier, I found a very colorful market with many different stalls where merchants sold produce, fish and other food. I looked in and saw the sun beating through colorful ceiling tarps. The small market seemed to glow.
A distance later, I found a small beach. It was stunning! Rocks circled the beach and, in the middle, there was a small opening where water flowed through. The waves crashed onto the rocks and white spray flew through the air. It was a rather warm day and I had yet to feel the water so I ran down to the shore, pulled off my shoes (only after soaking one of them first - oops) and waded up to my knees in the water. It was rather cold but enjoyable all the same! After going in the water, I walked on the rocks for a bit. The spray of the waves came inches from me, but I managed to stay dry. The view was breathtaking and I couldn't help but feel God's presence. God is so good to us! It's moments like this that I can't help but feel overwhelmed by the amazing world that he has created.
I ran for about 45 more minutes down the coast. I was too blown away by the views and discoveries to turn around. It was rather amazing as I ran North. If I looked left, I saw the most stunning view of the ocean. Turning my head right, I saw the many shack-like homes that ran up the hills and faded into the sand mountain. In just one turn of the head, there was such contrast in my surroundings. Wild!
When I arrived home after about three and a half hours of exploring, I found my host family just sitting down for lunch. Rosanna, my host mom, is an amazing cook (for Chilean standards, to be fair). We tried a dish that was very similar to shepherd's pie. Instead of corn it had eggs and olives. On the top of the shepherd's pie-like dish the family sprinkled sugar. Chileans love their sugar! Every meal is accompanied by either coke, tea or another sugary beverage, if we don't get enough in the actual meal. Vegetables are often at a minimum in most homes in the North. It is a running joke here that there are only two flavors salt and sugar. So far I have been understanding why this is a "joke." But, like I said, my host mom is a wonderful cook and prepares traditional Chilean dishes amazingly. She works all day long but always has a fresh made from scratch meal waiting for us for lunch (which is the biggest meal of the day.) It's really great and I am enjoying trying her many dishes!
Well that's all for now. Internet connection is limited here but I hope to get some videos and more pictures up asap (fingers crossed.) Thanks for all the continuing support. You guys are the best!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My New Home

I’ve been living in Antofagasta for four days now and, don’t worry blog followers, I have not forgotten about you! Four days isn’t long, but sometimes days can seem more like weeks when adjusting to a new place. My emotions have been on a roller coaster for the past four days, but now I am finally starting to feel a little bit more at home here. I have seen much more of Antofagasta than the beautiful coastal town that I was dropped off at on Wednesday afternoon. And, although I am miles away from the beauty of the Pacific, I am slowly finding the beauty that God has placed everywhere in the desert hills of Antofagasta. I am learning more and more about our world each day. Homeward Bound… With a huge suit case and backpack in hand(s), I got picked up by a father and daughter. I would be living with a co-teacher named Jeanina for the next four months along with my new host family. Both our bags and the four of us could not fit in the tiny family car so it took two trips to get there. I sat in the grass speaking the best Spanglish I knew to my new sister Niko. She also spoke some English so we were able to have somewhat of a conversation. Jeanina and I had gotten along extremely well at orientation so we were thrilled to have the opportunity to live together. Little did we know how much of a blessing it would truly be to have one another in the same home. The car that the father picked us up in was brand new. The plastic was still on the seats in order to preserve it. You could tell that this new vehicle was very treasured by the family. It was the first one that they had in many years. In Antofagasta people do have their own cars, but there is also an abundance of public transportation in three forms: the bus (Micro), the collectivo (a taxi that runs a specific route), and taxis. As we drove off, we climbed into the desert hills of Antofagasta leaving the beautiful coastline, hotels and restaurants behind. The streets became dirtier, and stone was replaced with cement. Eventually dirt replaced the cement. Suddenly stray dogs, trash and a particular odor began to permeate the streets. We inched onward and finally came to what we would be calling home for the next four months. Last year in Antofagasta, in order to beautify the city, an order was placed that all residents must paint their homes. Our home had a fresh coat of vibrant red and yellow paint on the outside. We were told that before this order was placed all homes in Antofagasta were left gray. I am really thankful for the color that is now on a majority of the homes. It’s amazing how color can bring a bit of happiness to any situation. I could only imagine how dreary the streets would appear in gray. The homes in the central area of Antofagasta are built touching one another to conserve building material and space. For this reason there are no windows except at the front and the back of homes. As I walked inside the family home my eyes widened. The house was very narrow as I walked in. The living room was the first room in the house. Next to it was a garage separated from the living room simply by a partition that went about a quarter way up from the floor. Placed on this partition was the family's TV and various knickknacks. The family’s new car can be seen at all times when you are in the living room! Behind the garage were Jeanina and my new bedrooms. The only windows in the bedrooms looked out into the living room. The material that the walls are made out of is very similar to plywood. Beyond our bedroom, the roof ends and the area between the kitchen and bathroom is exposed. After that is an open “patio” area where the family’s four cats reside. There is a ladder in the outdoor “patio ” that leads to the upstairs where the family’s bedrooms are located. In Chile there is no central heat in almost any of the homes. At the heart of winter, families layer up to keep warm. With an absence of windows, the home stays pretty cold throughout the day. Even in Southern Chile, where temperatures easily reach below freezing in the winter time, this is the case. Water is only heated when needed. To take a shower or wash dishes, you must open the gas and light a match, then wait for the water to heat. (A similar process to lighting a grill) I have to be honest, when I got to my new home, I was WAY out of my comfort zone. Upon initially meeting the family, they were very cold to us. The family is made up of five people: a mother, father, daughter and two sons. The three children attend college in Santiago and share an apartment there. When we arrived they were home for their winter break. Jamie, the older brother, was in charge of showing us around. He spoke good English, and quickly told us that he did not really like or trust people. He said his father had a temper and liked to be left alone. He asked us if we were good girls, and, when we said yes, he said not to say that because it seemed as though we were lying. What a welcome! The sister Niko and mother were kind to us, but their presence was only for meals and after dinner. Upon arrival there was no tour of the home. We were just shown our bedrooms and told to get settled. This behavior went on for the first two days. Jeanina and I ran into each other’s bedrooms late at night asking each other what we had gotten ourselves into, and trying to laugh through a very strange situation. It was really hard to feel at home here. Chilean families spend the majority of their time together. If a person is in their room alone, they have a hard time understanding this behavior. Jeanina and I tried our best to initially spend our time in the living room with the family. Speaking very little Spanish, I spent the majority of my time trying to comprehend what was being said and participating little in the conversation. The family was a bit confused by this. This led to them asking me about 75 times a day if I was okay. Finally on day three the mood changed and we began to understand what was going on. Jamie had been testing us, and we had finally gained his trust. In the morning we were greeted by what seemed to be a new family. Smiles appeared on everyone’s faces, and stories and laughter filled the house. We all sat in the living room/garage laughing with one another. Jamie was still a bit reserved and skeptical, but he would have to return to Santiago in a few hours, and felt comfortable leaving us alone with his parents. With this new feeling in the household, a weight seemed to suddenly be lifted off my shoulders. I could now begin to focus on getting used to a new culture, and very new way of living. Once the children left for school, the home was quiet and Jeanina and I were left to mostly take care of ourselves. The mother spoke of how much she missed her kids when they were away. In the previous year she had taken the 20 hour (one way) trip to Santiago six times to visit her children. Jeanina and I told her that we hoped to try and fill the void of missing her children in any way possible. Life is a challenge here, but also very new and exciting. Each day I learn more and more about who I am and the world I live in, and I am so thankful for that. First off I have to say that I am so spoiled. I can confidently say that most everyone of you reading this blog is spoiled as well, so feel blessed! I am truly grateful for the home that I am living in, and to have this experience. But the smallest of apartments in America would truly be a luxury here in the hills of Antofagasta. Families work hard here, and many fathers are away for seven days at a time working in the mines just to support their family. The mother is left at home to raise their children. I feel that in America I have been raised in a humble home, and taught the meaning of a dollar. Now, being here, I know even more than I did before that I have so much more than I could ever need. I am so blessed. I find my host mother to be an extremely admirable person. Both my host father and mother are teachers. My host father is the music director at a school, and my host mother is a first grade teacher. Schools in Chile run from 8:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. in many places. In the middle of the day everyone returns home to eat the largest meal. My host mother prepares this meal the night before so we can all eat it at our leisure when we arrive in the afternoon. Although she works all day, her meals are always made 100 percent from scratch in a kitchen in which I have a hard time simply lighting the stove. The pan that she does the majority of her cooking in resembles a flat piece of metal. It is truly amazing what she can whip up! Beyond cooking wonderful meals, she also cleans the entire home and does the laundry. Living in the desert sand storms are frequent. Sweeping and dusting regularly is a must. In our home, with the absence of part of the roof, it makes keeping things sand free even more of a challenge. My host family is very proud of where they live. Jamie reassured us of how safe the family home would be if there was an earthquake. He proudly showed us his childhood bedroom. Although it was hard to understand and deal with his lack of trust for us initially, I admire the care he has for his family and need to make sure that his parents would be safe after he left. The family is able to understand that everything in their town is not perfect, but they are still proud. This pride is contagious and, because of it, it is almost impossible not to begin to notice the positive things that surround us as we adjust to our new home. It is obvious here that many Chileans are unsure of American’s character. Here on the streets, there is no escaping that we are different. We are called the white people, and looked at curiously as we walk down the streets. I am so happy to be an American. I hope that, as I submerge myself in this new culture, I can positively represent where I am from. Jamie told me that many stereotypes that Chileans hold are not the best in regard to Americans. For many of my students and their families, I will be the first American they will meet, and possibly the only one. I hope that I will leave them with a positive impression of Americans, and that I represent our country well. I have a long way to go on my journey here. In just four days I feel like I have experienced so much. I still have a lot more that I want to share. As I continue to experience my school and teaching more, I will work on my next entry! Stay posted and God Bless!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Heading North

After Nine days of training and meeting some amazing people about fifteen of us boarded a bus to head towards Antofagasta. Antofagasta is a city in the Big North Region of Chile. It would take us twenty hours to get to the city. After packing and saying goodbye to the chilly city of Santiago (ha ha) we hopped on a bus. The bus was wonderful, two stories with large leather seats that reclined. Between the scenery and comfortable seats the twenty hours went by quickly and I have no complaints about my journey.
The road to Antofagasta is mostly desert but we took the majority of that part of the trip during the night. We boarded the bus at 1:00 p.m. and drove through the lush Small North Region. I took in the sites of hills scattered with crops, and farmers out in the hilly fields harvesting. In some sections there were hills filled with goats and cows. A river ran along the hills for some time and horses were grazing by it. The view was stunning. The hills parted for a short time and we drove along the coast. Around 6:00 p.m. the sun sank behind the hills and a pink glow filled the sky for about an hour. It was an absolutely beautiful site! I watched a few movies and peeked out the window to see the hills slowly turn from green to brown as the desert became more prominent and took over. For the remaining hours it was dark and the only things I could make out, through the window, were sand covered hills.
Around 7:00 a.m. I was awoken by a friend and told that we were fifteen minutes away from Antofagasta. I couldn’t believe how the time flew by! A city suddenly arose from the sand and soon enough we could see the beach again. When we got off the bus we were greeted by Rio, the regional coordinator. She was extremely nice and seemed very well organized!
In Antofagasta we would be spending a night in a hostel for some additional regional training and then go to our host families in the afternoon. From ten in the morning to around three in the afternoon we had free time to explore.
Jeanina, Sarah and I walked out of the hostel and trekked the short distance to the coast. I was immediately blown away by the uniqueness and beauty of the city. It was like no other place I had ever seen before. The shore here is lined with sandy beaches with splashing waves. Fishermen in small boats scatter the water. When you look to the land, massive sand hills arise and houses cover the bottom half of them. Eventually the houses fade and all that is left is rolling desert hills. It is breathtaking.
As I walked the coast I was blown away and I felt so thrilled to call this beautiful city home! As I experience the world I am so thankful each day for what God has given us. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to teach here and live in this stunning city. In the vast world we live in, it is unbelievable to know that things can be so different. But when we dip our toes into the water, the very water that touched our feet can mix with the current and eventually touch the toes of those at home on the other side of the world. In the same way, no matter how far away I am I always feel God right next to me, showing me his world and giving me the security of a best friend in a place where I know no one. Antafogasta is nicknamed the City of God and as I take in the beautiful scenery and begin to meet local people I feel God everywhere . I can’t wait to continue to experience the plans he has for me.