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Home is Where Your Heart Is

The Hamman Family Comes to Chile!

semi-overcast -6 °C

"Laura no esta, Laura se fue..."
-Nek

The Hamman Adventures

Day 1: A Glorious Reunion

On Friday, January 22nd, a momentous event occurred in the life of the traveling, blog-writing teacher: Julie and Joe Hamman made their first trip to South America! Before arriving, my mom booked the whole expedition with Chile Quest, an action met with no complaints from their ever-planning daughter. By a stroke of pure luck, my parents booked their first two nights in a hotel a few blocks from my Chilean apartment. On the day of their arrival, I arrived early at the hotel and nervously paced up and down the lobby, feeling like an expectant mother. Finding a worn copy of The New York Times, I read up on China's plans of global expansion by 2020 and decided that Chinese would be the next foreign language I tackle.

Suddenly, a familiar voice roused me back to the present moment and I jumped up and ran to hug my mom for the first time in six months. No matter how grown up or worldly I have become, I still feel that same sense of security in my parents’ embrace that I felt as a small light-haired tot in diapers and a Minnie Mouse t-shirt. Perhaps that is what keeps my wheels a-turning from Egypt to Spain, Texas to Chile, knowing that my home is not a plot of land, a city, or a country; home is, simply, where I find my family and my friends. And, the more this gringa treks around the world, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, the wider my home becomes.

After the smiles and hugs, my parents and I hurried to check into the hotel and get ready for the day’s whirlwind tour around Santiago and the nearby port towns of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. Though I love living in Santiago, I have come to discover that all of the touristy sights can comfortably visited in an afternoon (however, what it lacks in cultural hot spots, it makes up in fine-dining, cute cafes, and all-night discotecas). For my parents’ agenda, experiencing Santiago consisted of driving by the Plaza de Armas and La Moneda, the presidential building, and perusing artesania at Los Dominicos over warm empanadas de pino y queso. I convinced our driver to stop by the school where I teach, Saint George, and we had the good fortune of finding unlocked classrooms for exploring and the rector of our school, Father Pepe, a Chilean priest in his mid-forties with a kind eyes, a friendly smile, and an undying passion for Notre Dame. After a quick chat and the generous gift of a hardcover book about Saint George, we were off to the coast!

The narrow, tortuous roads of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso were navigated by our driver with intermittent braking and jolts of acceleration, making for a bumpy ride but allotting time to admire the eclectic graffiti which ranges from single-hued scribbles to elaborate seascapes. Vina has long been the tourist capital of Chile with long stretches of sandy shores and high-rise apartment buildings occupied by santiaguinos who come to escape the summer smog of the city. Valparaiso, its neighboring port town, lacks beaches but thrives as the biggest port in Chile and a vital trading hub with Asia. The city is a mess of colorful clusters of houses jammed along winding cobblestone roads, each jostling for a better view of the ocean, and maintains a charming, bohemian feel.

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Our destination for the evening was Pasta e Vino, a tiny, elusive restaurant with no more than fifteen tables, nestled among the rainbow-hued homes in the hills of Valparaiso. I had luckily snagged a reservation a few days prior by promising to arrive at 8:00PM and be finished by 9:30PM, a request that would seem unnecessary in the States where restaurant meals rarely extend beyond an hour or two, following the accepted regiment of quick seating and drink orders, periodic checks to ensure that the diners are satisfied, clearing the plates as soon as the fork hits the table, and dropping off the bill before diners finish the last bite of chocolate cake. This system perceived by Americans as efficient, good service, Chileans view as rude and pushy, believing that dining out should be an unrushed, relaxing experience in which the waiter comes once to take orders, again to drop off food, and waits to be summoned by an elaborate waving of arms before bringing “la cuenta,” the bill.

Pasta e Vino was no exception to the Chilean dining culture, though service was rather quick considering we were the first customers in the restaurant. There, food was served in a manner more artistic than pragmatic, and we marveled at the delicious pasta creations brought to the table. Joe and Julie Hamman also experienced the best of Chilean beverages: Carmenere wine, a deep red wine unique to Chile, and Pisco Sour, that sweet and smooth concoction of pisco (grape brandy), fresh-squeezed lemon juice, sugar, and egg whites. With a hearty “Salud!” and intense staring into each other’s eyes—abiding by the Chilean superstition that the lack of eye contact while toasting incurs seven years of bad sex—we celebrated their first night in Chile.

Day 2: Mas Vino?

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The next morning we woke early for breakfast at Hotel Atton and then began our day’s work: touring Chilean vineyards. Our first stop was Concha y Toro, the largest wine producer in the country. Founded in 1875 by Chile’s former Minster of Finance Melchor de Concha y Toro, the large estate and vineyard stretches as far as the eye can see, abundant with flower-laden gardens and tree-lined passageways. The tour ranged from interesting facts like the “cal y canto” technique of building strong cellar walls with limestone and egg whites and blatant appeals to tourists like the red-lit image of Satan projected on the wall of the Casillero del Diablo, the “Devil’s Cellar.”

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After a few glasses of wine, we packed back into the van and headed for the nearby Vina Santa Rita, Chile’s third-largest winery. We realized we had some time to kill when our the driver began a snail’s pace along the dusty road, nearly driving my mother—and all of the cars speeding by us—wild with impatience. Despite the driver’s best efforts, we still arrived early so we stopped by the Museo Andino, a collection of poverty, weavings, and gold and silverwork from pre-Colombian Chile. Always intrigued by symbology, I asked a friendly guide about the abundance of ranas (frogs) on the gold jewelry from Northern Chile and learned that a frog symbolized fertility because, in the desert, where there are frogs, there is water, the essence of life. I imagined Chilean natives chasing frogs across a barren desert for a sip of musty water and was decidedly happy that my “life-giving” beverage would be served in a glass goblet.

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With minds filled with indigenous culture, we went to fill our stomachs with tender sea bass, rich chocolate cake, and a few glasses of Santa Rita’s finest wine. An amusing painting in the elegant dining room portrayed a cross-laden Christ stomping grapes with two angels waiting at the bottom of the barrel with a golden chalice, an excellent example of the intermixing of Chilean culture and Catholicism. Afterwards, we were led on a comprehensive bilingual tour of the wine production, and I reveled in the ability to understand both languages and catch any slight variation in translation, which I promptly shared with my increasingly uninterested parents. On the tour, we learned that in 1814 the owner Dona Paula Jaraquemada had supposedly hid revolutionary leader Bernardo O’Higgins—the Chilean equivalent of George Washington—and 120 of his men in the wine cellars to protect them from Spanish troops. Today, the event is commemorated with the “120” wine label, a tribute that far surpasses a fancy statue or plaque. If I go down in history with some ounce of fame, there would be no greater honor than generations of wine-lovers sighing with satisfaction as they sip a merlot carrying my name.

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After the tour and some wine, we headed back to the city for the Laura Hamman Exclusive Santiago Adventure Tour. We began with a twenty-minute metro ride, during which my father’s nervous, defensive eyes never left the face of the man sitting next to me. Happy to get my parents off the metro, I led them through the neighborhood of Bellavista, animated by patio bars filled with pre-soccer game drinkers and vendors selling tiny dinosaur figurines, colorful glass pendants, and paperback books. We arrived at the base of Cerro San Cristobal and rode up an aging funicular, essentially a train with inclined tracks. Any fears we had about the safety of our transportation were instantly alleviated upon reading a small golden plack informing passengers that Pope John Paul II himself had ridden up the funicular on his visit to Chile in 1987. A blessed funicular can’t fail, right? At the top we snapped a few photos of the smog-covered city of Santiago—extra thick in the steamy summer months—and drank mote con huesillos, a typical Chilean refreshment made with syrupy peach juice, wheat grains, and dried peaches. My parents loved it and I felt a surge of joy in sharing a bit of my Chilean experience with “mis viejos.”

That evening, I took my parents to my favorite restaurant in Chile: Tiramisu, a bustling pizza parlor with an active dinner crowd that arrives around eight and lingers until midnight. We shared a few laughs and a few pisco sours, which had quickly become my father’s favorite Chilean beverage. After a lengthy process of flagging down the waiter, we paid the bill and I walked my parents back to their hotel before heading for my apartment, a strange role reversal that had me feeling extremely independent in my little Chilean world.

Day 3: Heading South

The next morning, we woke early for our flight to Punta Arenas, one of the southernmost cities in Chile. Unlike the States, in Chile “going south” does not conjure up images of palm trees and sandy beaches; on the contrary, Southern Chile is a wind-whipped, desolate plain that dips down towards Antarctica. In other words, we had exchanged the warm Santiago sun for glaciers, frigid winds, and penguins. This region of Chile is called Patagonia, a word meaning “big feet” that stems from the colonists’ first impressions of the supposedly giant-sized indigenous people that lived in the area. Considering the small stature of the average Chilean, I wager it was the Patagonian people who were the normal-sized folk.

Arriving in Punta Arenas, we had our first taste of bad travel luck—my luggage was MIA and the van that was supposed to pick us up had gotten into an accident. But, as I have learned over and over again through my too-frequent traveling mishaps, things often have a way of working themselves out. Two hours and several cups of coffee later, my luggage and my housemate Heather arrived on the next flight from Santiago just as our new driver showed up.

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Mom trying to look calm

To compensate for arriving late, our driver agreed to take Heather along too so the four of us piled into the van and headed straight to Seno Otway, home to a colony of Magellanic penguins. These curious birds were quite different from the typical glacier-dwelling penguins shown on Discovery Channel specials; instead, they live in an intricate system of burrows that span the long-grass flatland. The fierce wind nearly knocked us over but the penguins seemed unfazed. We marveled at their speedy waddle, like curious toddlers in elegant black suits, pausing intermittently to pluck a feather or acknowledge a passing bird. During this season, the fluffy chicks were almost as big as their parents, prompting my mother to draw lines of comparison between “pinguinos” and Chilean young adults, who generally live at home well into their mid- to late-twenties. I had to admit she made a good point…

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After filling our cameras with penguin photos, we were back on the road, heading for Puerto Natales. We stopped at a small restaurant on the way for a quick “once,” the typical Chilean meal taken between four and seven o’clock in the afternoon. The story behind the “once,” which literally means “eleven,” is that Chilean men used to drink a glass of liquor or “aguardiente” at five o’clock in the afternoon. To hide the face that they were drinking liquor during teatime, they used the number of letters in aguardiente—eleven—as a code word. As time passed, teatime and “once” became synonymous, though liquor is generally not part of the meal; today, the typical “once” includes bread, crackers, jam, manjar (a caramel spread), butter, avocado, eggs, coffee, and tea. Our “once” was a little smaller—a couple cups of coffee, scrambled eggs on toast, and a beer, for my dad.

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As we neared Puerto Natales, we passed by several impressive mountains, prompting Heather’s question of what sentiment a mountain evoked in each of us. “Climbing to the summit,” I mused, recalling my recent ascent of Cotopaxi in Ecuador. “Taking a deep breath,” sighed my mom, seeming more relaxed in just saying the words. “Running alongside it!” Heather chirped. And my dad? “Drinking a Busch Beer.” Classy as ever.

We arrived in Puerto Natales at an ego-friendly hotel that was literally built into the ground, with a grassy mound as the rooftop and small windows in earth-tone walls that peaked out towards the lake. I half expected to see Bilbo Baggins peering out of the front door. Thankfully, the inside was quite modern with all the typical hotel conveniences. We bid farewell to Heather, shared a few warm appetizers and pisco sours and then got some much-needed shuteye.

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Day 4: Familia unica

My dad and I woke early the next day for a breathtaking run along the calm, pristine inlet of Ultima Esperanza, or “Last Hope,” which received its name from the weary captain Juan Ladrillero, desperately and unsuccessfully seeking the Magellan Strait, a watery route to the other side of the continent. With graceful black-neck swans drifting along its waters in the early morning light, nothing about the inlet seemed hopeless. We paused for a goofy photo with a Milodon statue, a prehistoric animal that supposedly lived in nearby caves, and then were joined by a friendly, mangy dog for the remainder of the run. My father, true to form, snapped plenty of photos.

Back at the hotel we ate a quick breakfast, met our new tour guide, and drove to the dock to board a ship called “21 de Mayo.” This date marks a pivotal naval battle in 1879 during the Pacific War between Chile and a united Bolivia and Peru, a national holiday in Chile but still a source of tension in the latter nations, which lost significant areas of coastal land. The boat took us on a beautiful tour through towering mountains on crystal-blue waterways. We passed powerful waterfalls with mist that extended towards our boat like a long, flowing white dress. After about an hour, the boat entered into turbulent waters and, reminded of my weak stomach on the Ecuadorian humpback whale tour, I prepared myself for another seasick venture; surprisingly, my stomach didn’t concede to the seesawing ship and I kept down my breakfast. Other passengers weren’t so fortunate. A Swiss man a few seats away looked positively green. Between a strong, pale fist he clutched a plastic bag and, every few minutes, he flung his face inside, let out a wretch, and, well, you get the idea.

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Thankfully, the turbulence passed and we soon arrived at Glacier Balmaceda, a thick layer of ice the color of blue raspberry freeze pops. After surfing the Internet to find the reason for this intense blue, I learned that glacier ice is distinct from regular ice because of its density—as layers of ice are compressed, air bubbles are squeezed out. When light enters, it is not reflected as with snow, but penetrates into the ice. Due to the thickness of the glacier, the colors red and yellow are absorbed, leaving only the blue end of the visible light spectrum. This is why thinner ice appears clear but thicker ice takes on a rich blue hue. Though I found this very informative, I’m still partial to my freeze pop comparison…

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We arrived an hour later at Glacier Serrano and were able to hike close to its edge and snap a few pictures. Then, our boat took us across the bay to a small restaurant where we enjoyed the view of the glacier from the comfort of a warm room and delicious fresh fish. The last part of our journey was on a Zodiac, a large, inflatable boat with a roaring motor. We strapped on life vests and covered ourselves with thick, florescent orange coats; not a moment too soon, since seconds after we took off, the rain began to pour. Our Zodiac skipped smoothly across the surface of the river like a puck on ice, as we, despite our oversized jackets, were drenched in the chilling rain. Some of the other passengers looked positively miserable but I felt as giddy as the rain-soaked Allie Hamilton in The Notebook when she stops trying to fight the falling water, tosses her wet hair back, and laughs. My dad fell asleep.

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Off the Zodiac, we piled into our third form of transportation that day—a large, white van that took us on the gravel path winding through the National Park Torres del Paine. After two hours of creek-crossing, pothole-bouncing, and corner-speeding, our ill-equipped van finally came to a stop at the Hosteria Las Torres, a high-class resort that seemed out of place in the towering mountains, rolling grass plains, and crystalline lakes of this wild terrain. Still, we had no complaints as we jogged from the van to the front door, trying to ignore the envious glares of wet campers huddled under the dripping ledges of the resort.

At dinner in the hotel restaurant that evening, I put my gringa charm to work and was able to convince our waiter, Walter, to give us half-price on the buffet if we promised to just use one plate, or “plato unico” as he called it. When I passed Walter with a plate of food piled precariously high, he went to the back and brought me an even bigger plate. My parents and I laughed heartily at our good fortune as we watched the full-paying crowd go back for seconds with their tiny ceramic plates. I recalled the advice given to me when I first became a teacher: it pays to befriend the food service.

Day 5: The Hamman Family Takes on the Torres

I had been anticipating the next morning since the day my parents arrived in Chile. Today, Joe and Julie Hamman were going to go on their first official trek in the mountains! Determined to give them the full experience, I had insisted on purchasing bags of tuna and mayonnaise for lunch and leaving early so that we would arrive at the base of the Torres around noon. As we munched on breakfast, both of my parents seemed a little nervous but they never said a word about it—too stubborn or too naïve.

We set off in the morning mist, which quickly became a morning rain, but, nevertheless, hiked onward and upward towards the Albergue Chileno. About halfway up, my dad made an innocent remark about how my “Hamman-size” calves made me an effective trekker. With the unpleasant image of mammoth-size leg muscles in my mind, I decided on a no-mercy rule and set a brisk pace up the mountain. By the time we got to the edge of the Bosque Lenga, the rain had let up so we took a quick water break and then entered the smooth, dirt path of the forest. This part of the hike was relatively easy, mostly flat and with few rocks, and we moved quickly. My mom gasped a few times as we crossed over raging rivers on rickety wooden bridges, but I still never heard a single complaint.

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The last part of the climb was a steep, rocky incline to see the famous Torres, or towers, up close. The path wound up, up, up with the top always just beyond our reach. My parents slowed, but when a high-stepping team of grandmas and grandpas began to gain on us, they picked up the pace. A few more steps to get over the windy ledge and there they were, the Torres, partially obscured by clouds but looking just as prestigious as we had imagined. Under a light snowfall, we crouched against a giant rock and ravenously ate our tuna packets and crackers.

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The wind picked up and we decided it was time to head back down. My mom found two “abandoned” walking sticks at the top—a rather nice euphemism for stolen goods—that she and my father employed as balance poles for the tricky descent. We paused to let two runners pass by, a man and woman dressed in tight spandex tanks and shorts, and were surprised to see them sunning themselves on a rock not long after. A few minutes later, they passed us again, only to stop for a stretch a few hundred meters below. My dad mumbled something about the Tortoise and the Hare and I sighed, knowing we represented the bumbling half-shell racer.

With just an hour to go, we stopped at the Albergue Chileno to grab some coffee and eat chocolate and trail mix. The crowd inside the refugio, or warming house, was decidedly younger, but my parents had proven that they had every right to be sitting there too. My face shown with pride—and sweat, no doubt—in having parents who were able to fight the wind, rain, and snow to hike up a mountain and back again. We finished off the evening with another half-priced plato unico and, of course, pisco sours.

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Posted by lhamman1 08:42 Archived in Chile Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Bienvenidos 2010

Vamos!

sunny 29 °C

"... y desde entonces soy porque tu eres,
y desde entonces eres, soy y somos,
y por amor sere, seras, seremos."
- Pablo Neruda

Some people read daily horoscopes. Others prefer palm readings, telepathy, or fortune cookies. My clairvoyant of choice: dictionary.com. Crazy as it sounds--though I suppose when placed in the same category as palm readings and horoscopes, I'm in good company--my daily emails from dictionary.com and, recently acquired, spanishdictionary.com never cease to amaze me with their relevance to my current life situation. For example, Wednesday's spanishditionary.com entry was preparado, to be ready or prepared. Considering the frantic late-night packing spree that just ensued in my bedroom and the lack of mental readiness for my misiones trip that begins in six hours, the irony runs deep.

My dictionary.com word of the day yesterday was vicissitude, the change or succession from one thing to another, an instance of mutability in life or nature. As I lay in my freshly washed bedsheets after a somewhat stressful evening of anticipating what I will need to survive for the next three weeks, I can't help but feel that my next vicissitude of life and fortune lies on the brink of the morning's sunrise. Tomorrow I begin my South American experience of mochileando, backpacking through Southern Chile. I, along with Heather and Megan, will be joining high school students from Saint George on a missions trip to Osorno, Chile where we will be living alongside and ministering to Mapuche communities.

The prospect of "missioning" seemed strange at first, as it conjured up images of Jehovah's Witness believers standing at my doorstep with hands full of black-and-white pamphlets; however, from what I understand, our misiones experience will be more like building community and understanding between people from different walks of life. We begin each day visiting families at their homes and spending time in conversation. Each afternoon we organize activities for children and adolescents from the town and each evening ends with a mass. Tired as I feel, I am excited to embark on this unique experience. Afterwards, the ChACE girls and I will cross the border for Bariloche, Argentina where some sort of hiking adventure will likely begin. Then, I take a night bus back up north to Santiago to meet my parents for their first South American travel experience. Blogging will be a challenge and the caliber may suffer, but I will try to keep my stories up-to-date more for my memory's sake than anything else.

With that being said, the intention of this evening's blog was to provide a brief summary of Chilean Christmas and New Year's before I grab some much-needed zzzzz's. First, a shout-out of thanks to my first American visitors! Two weeks ago, my friend from ND, forever dubbed "Taco Dan," and his friend Steve spent a few glorious days in Santiago as part of their South American travel adventure. We took on the town with pisco sours and Chile's finest red meat to sustain us. Time and space prohibit further elaboration but a big thanks to my first visitors and an invitation to all others considering a taste of SA...who will be next?

We skip ahead to Christmas, that most wonderful time of year with the kids jingle-belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer...well, not exactly, but the spirit was alive and well. Though I should be promoting my own blog though literary genius and cleverly worded descriptions of the holiday season in Chile, this time I am going to pass the buck to an excellent blog writer who truly encapsulates everything there is to like (and dislike) about Christmas in Chile. http://cachandochile.wordpress.com/2008/12/27/christmas-a-la-chilena/

On that sunny Thursday, I met my host parents at Saint George for Christmas Mass on the Noche Buena (Christmas Eve). In Chile, the night before Christmas tends to be a much bigger celebration than Christmas Day itself. Arriving only twenty minutes before the start of mass, I nervously raced to the outdoor arena, hoping to find at least a few seats with a decent view. Surprisingly, I was one of the first to arrive and, in an incredible feat that I still don't quite believe, the remainder of the two-thousand seats filled within the next fifteen minutes.

After the mass, my host family and I went back to their house and began indulging on aperitivos (appetizers) of cheese and crackers, Argentinian wine, and a festive beverage called "cola de mono" or "monkey's tail," made with milk cinnamon, pisco, and sugar.

Too tired to keep writing and the travels begin.
To be continued...

Posted by lhamman1 02:05 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...Christmas?

Soaking up Sun in the Southern Hemisphere

sunny 26 °C

“Pasion, ese es el secreto del vencedor…y ese es mi mayor deseo, vivir con pasion hasta el ultimo de mis dias”

(“Passion, that is the winner’s secret…and that is my greatest desire, to live with passion until the last of my days.”)

-Isabel Allende, La suma de los dias

The strange juxtaposition of ornately decorated Christmas trees and colorful nativity scenes with the sticky summer weather makes it difficult for even the most malleable Christmas aficionado to feel the holiday spirit. As those who know me well can attest, I have a strict regiment against Christmas music before the Advent season; but, once December 1st arrives, I plunge full force into Mariah Carey, Bing Crosby, and all my other holiday favorites. This year, I honestly have not listened to a single song from my extensive Christmas collection, mainly because the spicy aroma of asados (Chilean barbecues) and the sound of waves crashing on the beach evoke the converse craving for the tropical twang of the Beach Boys and Jimmy Buffett. Still, I managed to hastily wrap a few Christmas gifts before the cut-off mailing date and, thanks to my young host brother’s Christmas program, have discovered a new holiday tune that is sure to earn a ranking in the Hamman Holiday Hits anthology. To hear it, click the link below and enjoy the accompanying angelic picture of my adorable host brother Hikaru.

Campanas de Belen (The Bells of Bethlehem) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqlPMv1nllU

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Hikaru, the little angel

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All three boys (Hikaru, Masaru, and Satoru)

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Much time has transpired in the interim of my last post and tonight’s edition so I will try my best to be thorough without committing my loyal readers to an epic tale—it’s no secret that, with the advent of blogs, facebook posts, and tweets, the attention span of the average adult has greatly decreased. For example, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman claims that the attention span of humans today could never withstand the Lincoln-Douglas debates in the 1800’s that enticed people to listen and pay attention for eight to ten hours as the contenders read their pre-formulated arguments. My mother, for one, rarely lasts an entire movie and I struggle to read to completion the news articles on CNN.com.

With this in mind, I beg you to bear with me as we journey back a month to the collision of my past and present when Notre Dame came to Chile. The arrival of the charismatic Father Scully, founder of the ACE program, and Brian Green, our CHACE director, marked the beginning of an eventful week of rubbing elbows with the elite, dining on fancy appetizer platters, and relaxing on the sunny beaches of Cachagua. The principal event was an awards ceremony at La Moneda, the Chilean equivalent of the White House, to honor Jose Zalaquett for his work in the human rights movement during the Pinochet era. Dressed to impress, we snapped a few glamour shots in front of La Monedo before checking in at the front gate. We were ushered into a small conference room where the award-giving and speech-making commenced. I must confess that, between the lengthy acclamations and the heavy Chilean accent, I understood very little of the actual event but it was exciting to see the Vice President Edmundo Pérez Yoma. The subsequent reception was an absolute delight as we dined on empanadas and crab dip, sipped pisco sours, and chatted with the range of Chilean and American invitees. I certainly never imagined this level of prestige within my first two months in Chile.

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In front of La Moneda

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With Jose Zalaquett, the winner of the Notre Dame Prize

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The following day we began our retreat with Brain Green. I use the term “retreat” as a loose synonym for sunbathing, wine tasting, and relaxing. Granted, we did celebrate mass several times with Father Scully, but I believe that the primary focus of the weekend was to take a few days to enjoy each other’s company away from the hubbub of the city. And enjoy it we did! Thanks to a generous donation from an ND alum, we were treated to a free tour of the De Martino Winery (http://www.demartino.cl/web), along with a decadent lunch of fancy appetizers and roast duck. Just thinking about it makes me salivate…

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The Vineyard

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Super sophisticated...

We spent the next few days at a Georgian family’s beach house in Cachagua, a quaint town with gravel roads, flower-laden patios, and easy access to warm, sandy beaches. A pick-up game of American football and a speedy entrance into and exit out of the bone-chilling water of the Pacific Ocean capped off the lazy afternoon. We prepared a simple yet delicious meal of pasta and steak one night and, in true Chilean style, rocked our final night away to the Black Eyed Peas’ hit, “I’ve Got a Feeling.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOHGOwbnvTk

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With Father Scully

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Gonzalo shows off his gymnastic skills

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The succeeding week brought with it a tad of homesickness as I celebrated my first Thanksgiving away from home. But, to help us through the family-oriented holiday, St. George prepared a mass and dinner that was as close to the real event as we could get have hoped from 5,000 miles away. Turkey, stuffing, vegetables, rolls, and plenty of rich Chilean wine created quite a spread on that warm Thanksgiving evening. And, to top it off, I was able to skype with nearly the entire family on my mom’s side; however, due to unforeseen technical difficulties, though they were able to hear and see me, I could only receive their well wishes through their typing. According to my cousin Sarah, this situation fit quite well with my reputation of being more of a talker than a listener. I don’t know where she got that idea…

To further combat the occasional sentiment of homesickness, I have been fortunate to have the greatest host family in all of Chile. Sushi night is a regular occurrence in the Kodama household, a personal favorite, and the family often brings their “adopted daughter” to family parties and course asados. These Chilean barbeques are unlike any equivalent in the states, beginning with a round of tragos (drinks) and then the meat feast commences! At my first asado, I made the mistake of over-indulging in the first meat brought to my table—the sausage links; little did I know, sausage is just the tip of the meat-berg. Steak, chicken, pork, and all the savory meats in-between are essential to any successful Chilean asado. It is no wonder there are so few vegetarians in Chile.

I have also grown quite fond of my Chilean brothers, especially of little, intrepid Hikaru whose imagination never ceases to amaze. He can turn a bread roll into a cannon-bursting pirate ship, a bed into a pillow-covered fort, a ceramic floor into a dance club. My other host brothers have also provided endless entertainment and I’m looking forward to having the twins in my classes next March.

Speaking of class, I suppose I should share a bit about what I’ve been doing from 8AM to 4PM each weekday. The past two months at St. George passed quickly, thanks to many days of subbing and assisting in the classroom for mostly the 1st and 2nd grades. A couple of days of unsuccessfully trying to manage the 4th grade classes made me happy to return to my hyperactive, yet affectionate seven-year olds. Still, one day I was reminded why I simultaneously love and am driven crazy by children at that age. I was leading a lesson on plant life cycles and the students had just begun independent work when a boy returned from the bathroom cradling four small seeds. I, of course, congratulated him on this excellent real-world connection to the text and returned to helping some of the other children. Simultaneously, two more students asked to use the restroom and I sent them without thinking twice. Five minutes later, they returned with hands teeming with tiny black seeds. Suddenly, children seemed to be coming from all areas of the classroom with pockets full and sweaty hands covered in seeds. Despite what they teach you in pedagogy courses, sometimes too much positive reinforcement can be detrimental to classroom instruction…and teacher sanity.

I have also continued my exploration of the unique language that is Chilean Spanish, the distinctive linguistic amalgamation that writer John Brennan aptly termed the “Chilean Jungle.” Foraging in this “jungle” of modismos, I never cease to be surprised by new words or expressions. For example, today, as I embarked on an enigmatic search for a man from Banco de Chile, I was asked to leave my name at the front desk in case he should venture by. In my purist Chilean accent, I responded, “Laaauura,” and waited as he scribbled the letters. “¿Cuanto?” he asked. How much? It seemed a strange sort of proposition, particularly at 2PM on a weekday. “Mi apellido?” I hesitantly responded, hoping it was my last name he was seeking. “Claro.” Of course. In Chile, I should have known better.

Continuing on with my social life in this elongated nation, we arrive at the heart of my meet-and-greet experiences: rugby. Through this imported sport, it has been remarkably easy to meet Chileans, both men AND women (contrary to what my mother believes), and I have formed several fast friendships within the league. And, though I debated retelling this story, allow me a moment of self-abasement as I share my most embarrassing moment in Chile. At the end-of-the-season rugby party two weeks ago, the festivities commenced with an awards ceremony for the individual and team winners. I was situated at a table near the stage with some of my new Chilean girl friends in the league. The first category was announced—most improved—and, surprisingly, my name was called out. Slightly shocked, I stumbled around bar chairs and up to the stage. Two more names were called. I remained standing alone. After an uncomfortable pause, the announcer read, “And the winner is, Lisa.” It only took a few seconds for it to dawn on me that I was a NOMINEE. I flushed, hastily exited the stage, and planted myself firmly in the nearest seat. Worst of all, I couldn’t even blame my error on being a gringa; after all, the Oscars originated in the United States! One more embarrassing moment to add to the Laura Hamman archives—at least I’m consistent.

Finally, we have arrived at this past weekend. I attended my favorite event thus far in my Chilean experience: a wine festival. Contrary to other wine tasting events in which I have taken part, this one seemed uniquely designed for my enjoyment—for $20 I received a complementary wine glass and all the wine, cheese, and chocolate I could consume in four hours. Megan, Johnnie, and I meandered through the gala de vino, pausing at each stand to admire the wine bottles arranged like tiny soldiers, proudly standing at attention with elegant regional labels.

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Megan, Johnnie, and I at the Gala de Vino

I was particularly intrigued by the Carménère, a rich red wine with an even richer history. Originally of a French variety, the grapes were cultivated in the region of Medoc and Burdeos until 1860 when a plague of insects known as the phylloxera wiped out the whole line. It seemed the grapes of Carménère had seen their last sunlit afternoon. However, in 1994, a French wine specialist discovered something strange in a Chilean vineyard: some of the vines were taking longer to mature than the others. After much scientific study and testing, it was realized that the stock thought to be extinct had been living a secret life within the Chilean Merlot. Today, nearly every vineyard produces Carménère and it has become linked to the national identity of Chile. Wine experts and amateurs alike appreciate its rich scarlet hues and its tasty notes of chocolate, fruit, and spices.

I also cannot conclude the entry without mention of my new favorite place in Santiago: el cerro San Cristobal, a small mountain nestled in the northern sector of the city with an incredible view, multifarious parks and picnic tables, and a winding three-mile road that is frequented by ambitious runners and bicyclists who want an extra aerobic challenge. It stands at 880 meters above sea-level, or about 320 meters above city-level. The first trek I made with my friend Diego. Since then, I have done the course two more times—running! The fresh air, steady incline, and spectacular vista of the city make it the best place to run that I have found thus far. I’m venturing up again tomorrow and I’ll try to grab a few more pictures on the way!

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View from San Cristobal

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The Japanese Garden (one of many gardens on the mountain)

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La Virgin welcomes all weary travelers at the top of San Cristobal

Finally, I spent this past Tuesday with my host family at their beach apartment in Algorrobo, a small town about an hour outside of Santiago. Or, if you travel to Algorrobo on the day before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, it takes about two hours since the main road, Casablanca, is closed off for peregrinos (pilgrims) walking from Santiago to Valparaiso to honor the Virgen in the Santuario de Lo Vasquez. Though I didn’t participate in the spiritual walk that day, I did feel quite at peace as I soaked up sun on that hot Tuesday afternoon and held hands with my host brothers as we strolled along the makeshift boardwalk. Some find God through a pilgrimage; others, in sunsets and friendly conversation.

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The pool at the apartment

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My host family

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And, at long last, my story ends…for today. Summer vacation is fast approaching and I look forward to many more tales to share. Enjoy the holiday season and, if you are lucky enough to be spending your Christmas in cold, snowy weather, go out and make a snowman. I’ll be thinking of you all as the holiday season approaches—stay safe and have fun!

Posted by lhamman1 19:53 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Finding the World Within

My Ever Multicultural Chilean Experience

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Let each man pass his days in that endeavor wherein his gift is greatest.
-Propertius

I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.
~Lillian Smith

Two weekends ago, I traveled to San Antonio to reconnect with friends, visit former students, and soak up some Fighting Irish spirit. Returning to my surrogate home for the past two years was an abrupt shift from my South American lifestyle but was, at the same time, strangely comfortable. Danny picked me up at the airport and we drove directly—and by directly I mean, took numerous wrong turns in an unconscious revival of our incompetent driving abilities in San Antonio—to our favorite restaurant, Lisa’s. And, in true ACE San Antonio fashion, Danny continued the tradition of sneakily informing the waiter that it was somebody’s birthday. So, with sombrero on head and cheeks blazing red from the upbeat birthday jingle, I indulged in my well-deserved vanilla ice cream.

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The rest of the weekend flew by too quickly. A movie date with Danny, Joel, April, and Lukas, the enormous and outlandish haunted house on Grayson Street, the ACE Halloween party, and, of course, breakfast tacos. Although these events were entertaining, the greatest moment of the trip was our visit to St. John Berchmans. Upon entering the classroom of my former students, I was enveloped with hugs and cheering; I had to wipe away the tears. If I die tomorrow, I leave this world with more than my fifteen-minute share of local celebrity. Tailgating, as always, held that special ND charm, even more so in sunny Texas and joined by Cassie Provenzale, ever a beacon of joy and laughter in my life. The Notre Dame victory was the perfect cap for a perfect weekend.

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At the end of five days, it was hard to leave the states, even though I was eager to practice my “castellano” (Spanish) and see my new Chilean friends. While waiting at the San Antonio airport, an hour too early due to the unforeseen Daylight Savings switch, I began to contemplate the wise words of Propertius on the wall: “Let each man pass his days in that endeavor wherein his gift is greatest.” What intrigued me most was the open-ended interpretation of “gift,” whether it is what we give or what we receive, what we do with our talents or what we glean from putting our talents to use.

I considered my own “gifts:” my uncanny urge to talk with just about anyone, my restless spirit of adventure, my passion for words, music, and running. And, in attempting to incorporate these gifts into my daily life, I have received much more: compassion, generosity, laughter, energy, excitement, family, friends, faith. Perhaps that is all we really need in life: to find what takes and makes the best of ourselves. My cup overfloweth.

In Chile, I have not passed a day without learning a new word or cultural oddity. I have become accustomed to Nescafe instant coffee—no rich Folgers aroma in Chile—and I don’t even flinch when meeting someone over the age of 25 who still lives at home with their parents. For my part, I have renounced the gringa pronunciation of my name as “Lora” and firmly insist upon the more Chilean “Laaaa-u-ra.” I have also been making a concerted effort to drop the “s” sound from the ends of words, especially with “ma o meno” (mas o menos). However, despite my best efforts, I have a long way to go in becoming Chilean.

For instance, a few nights ago, as my host family and I strolled through a classy mall in Vitacura, my Chilean mom remarked that we were like a walking United Colors of Benetton ad—one Japanese, one Latina, and one blonde girl—a humorous yet poignant statement about my not-so-typical Chilean experience. In the past few weeks, I have learned Chilean slang, made Chilean friends, and eaten Chilean food; however, even dressed head-to-toe Chilean, it is all too obvious that I will forever be a gringa in this country.

This fact was manifested at Oktoberfest, a paradoxical German beer festival held in Malloco, Chile at the beginning of November. Though dressed in my normal attire, I was as popular a photo subject as the man shuffling around in a traditional German costume. My German ancestors would have been so proud. At the event, Megan, Molly, Katie, and I sampled our way through the surprising number of Chilean-German breweries. A popular favorite was the “Bach Obama,” a dark, potent brew with a stellar name and a pungent bite. We also our share of German sausages and manjar-filled desserts—life doesn’t get much better.

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No German beer festival in Chile is complete without an ostrich pen.

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My unique cultural experiences in Chile also include a Japanese Festival where I was clearly the only gringa but, surprisingly, far from being the only person who didn’t speak a word of Japanese. The festival was more or less a giant field day for adults, including a tug-of-war, raw egg toss, and relay race. I danced a bit of cuenca (the traditional dance of Chile), ate mountains of sushi, and chanted “azul” until my breath ran out. Though the blue team ended up placing second, we were still first in my book.

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Dancing La Cuenca

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"Az-ul! Az-ul! Az-ul!"

Thankfully, I have had some genuinely Chilean experiences too. A few weeks ago I joined my friend Juan Luis on a trip to El Parque Mahuida, a strange amalgamation of amusement park and nature. We rode the Rodelbahn, a German-made bobsled track on which a wheeled cart carrying one or two people is pulled to the top of a hill and released (Check it out: http://www.rodelbahn.cl/). The highly technical controls consisted of a rusty break that, much to the chagrin of Juan Luis, was fully under my command; in other words, we didn’t use it. We also climbed part of the mountain trail at the park and my infamous stubbornness reared its ugly head when a climber walking down the hill advised me I couldn’t survive the muddy upward trek in a flannel dress and flats; one hour later, with my plaid, bow-tied shoes unrecognizable in the muck, I lamented my obstinate pride.

After scrubbing the mud off my shoes in the bathroom sink, Juan Luis and I drove to Villa Grimaldi, a concentration camp used in the 1970’s to detain and torture people thought to be against the military regime. The camp has since been converted to a moving memorial for the hundreds of victims—known and unknown—who lost their lives there. Especially impressionable were the plots of grass that represented the size of the dark, cramped rooms where the captured lived for months on end. This was a part of Chile I had not yet witnessed and I was grateful though saddened to experience the not-so-distant political past.

Living in Chile, I have become an impassioned touch rugby player, despite my lamentably conspicuous lack of talent. Though far from being a typical Chilean pastime, touch rugby has proven itself a handy means for making friends and sharing a beer or two. In rugby, the tercer tiempo (“third half”), or grabbing a drink after playing, is just as important as the game itself—I find myself infinitely more skilled in that sector. In fact, I am certain that last month's rugby party was the decisive factor in maintaining my participation in this coordination-requiring activity. Tomorrow, my hodgepodge team (“Taz”) of middle-aged Chilean men, aggressively competitive Chilean women, and floundering gringas takes on one of the best teams in the league for a spot in the finals. Please send your prayers!

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The Rugby Cancha (field)

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The Rugby Party

I have also tried to pursue my other, more viable “gifts” in Chile. Last week, I joined a Taize choir at St. George for a meditative prayer service, festively and fearlessly led by a fanatic surgeon-by-day choir director. Another week, I assisted with Hermano Mayor (Big Brother), a volunteer program that connects Georgian high school students with young children who are either orphaned or live at the center because their parents cannot afford to care for them. More than anything, I was impressed by the maturity and confidence of the high school students who were so at ease with and supportive of these young children from such difficult and different paths of life.

Running, as always, remains at the forefront of my hobbies. The drastic decrease in altitude from Quito to Santiago makes for much longer distance runs and I am still surprised when my legs tire before my lungs. Heather and I have tried to meet up for runs, but usually end up lost in the winding roads of Lo Barnechea, pausing briefly for our “once de trotar” (what we’ve termed our quick chats) before racing off in opposite directions. We did, however, enjoy a run together on the mountain trail near St. George; inopportunely, it was also the first time I learned that tarantulas thrive in the mountains of Chile. And I thought cockroaches were scary.

Though I am still behind in my Chilean adventure stories, this will have to do for now. I continue to learn, travel, and live my strangely international Chilean experience. Lots of love to friends and family wherever you may be and stay posted for the next edition!

Posted by lhamman1 05:24 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Chi Chi Chi! Le le le! Viva Chile!

Welcome to Santiago

all seasons in one day

Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.
-Anonymous

“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.”
-Pablo Neruda (Chilean poet and winner of the Nobel Prize in 1971)

Last Wednesday around seven o’clock, the people of Ecuador held their breath and crossed their fingers—and undoubtedly yelled strings of expletives—as they watched the epic futbol game against Chile. Thousands of miles away, in the land of the rival, I, too, watched with eager anticipation, hopeful for their victory. My host family and a few of their friends sat with me, amazed at my loyalty for a country I had but briefly known.

Later that night, after the devastating loss (0-1), I lay awake in bed, considering my deep-set passion for the small, banana-loving country of Ecuador. I began to realize that living in a place is completely distinct from traveling; a piece of yourself is left behind, a memento of what has transpired there, stored securely in the recesses of the heart. That place becomes a second home and, as I reflect upon my life’s travels, I can identify several spots that hold special importance: Libertyville, IL (forever home), the University of Notre Dame (where I became myself), Toledo, Spain (where I feel in love with Spanish), San Antonio, Texas (where I learned how to teach), and Quito, Ecuador (where I set myself free).

Driving down the streets of Santiago for the first time, I felt a strange cultural shock that I had not experienced when entering Ecuador. The neat rows of skyscrapers, the perfectly sculpted sidewalks, the abundance of Starbucks were all strangely reminiscent of my beloved hometown Chicago; however, I had grown so accustomed to the haphazard yet comfortable lifestyle in Ecuador, the woman selling golden oritos for 10 cents, the fresh scent of jungle air, the passion on the salsa floor. Coming to Santiago felt like I had arrived back in the states, leaving the magic of South America far behind.

Luckily, this initial reaction has gradually faded, as I become more ensconced in daily Chilean life, I discover that Chile is delightfully full of irregularities. I should point out that I do not intend to disparage all countries outside of the United States with the perception of “other;” on the contrary, I relish the differences, intrigued by linguistic and cultural variants, often finding that, the more I learn about dissimilarities, the better I understand both their culture and my own.

Oddities abound in Chile. For example, in Santiago there is no line number 3 in the metro system, despite the fact that there is a 1, 2, 4, and 5. The Linea Azul (Blue Line) bus company paints their buses yellow and orange. Chileans eat a snack called the “once,” meaning eleven, at five o’clock. Last week the weather was in the 70’s; today, we had a hailstorm. Yet, despite the idiosyncrasy, Chile is actually a well-organized and highly functional society. Public transportation is easy to manage—as long as you remember to flag down the bus—and you’d be hard-pressed to find a lazy Chilean roaming the streets. It’s no surprise that Chile has one of the strongest economies in all of South America.

Chileans are also very distinct from the typical expectation of a person from South America. In my classes, I have several students with blonde and red hair, and many with skin tones far lighter than my pallidity. Despite the European appearance of many Chileans, white non-Chileans or “gringos” are easily identified as foreigners, especially when they start talking. The linguistic differences are innumerous, including words exclusively employed by Chileans such as “po” and “cachei.” I have provided a brief dictionary of common Chilean terms below should you choose to further your knowledge of Chilean Spanish.

Important Chilean Words and Phrases
cachei? = do you get me? (a shortened vosotros version of the verb cachar)
filo = whatever
fome = boring (another common word employed by students when given assignments)
gringo = a white foreigner (a term that originated in Mexico)
huevon = dude/man (though be careful, in most countries other than Chile it is a very strong expletive)
ir a carrete = to go party (called “farra” in Ecuador)
po = well (comes from “pues” and is commonly attached to the end of ALL sentences)
pololo = boyfriend (novio in most Spanish-speaking countries)
pololear = dating
seco = pro or expert (literally means “dry”)
vacan = cool

Additionally, I should provide a little geographic background for those readers who, like me before arriving, only know that Chile is a long, skinny country on the west coast of South America. To give the size of Chile some perspective: if superimposed on a map of the U.S., Chile would stretch from northern Maine to Southern California. It is 2,647 miles long and only 110 miles across, halting at the natural barrier of the impressive Andes Mountains. Due to the distance, Chile incorporates many different climates and geographic regions, including the Atacama Desert in the north, the rich soil of the wine-growing central region, the scenic lake district of the south, and the rugged, formidable landscape of Tierra del Fuego in the south. Off the mainland, Chile includes Easter Island, renowned for its mysterious stone sculptures or Moais, and part of Antarctica.

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Santiago, my home for the next fifteen months, is a sprawling city nestled in the Andes Mountains of the central region with a temperate climate and all the amenities a city can provide. For the next three months, I am living with a Chilean family, though I quickly learned that they are far from typical. For starters, my host father is Japanese (Seiji) and the two nannies (Maria Elena and Liset) that live and work at the house are Peruvian, making for quite an international mix. My three host brothers, seven-year old twins named Masaru and Satoru and a five-year old named Hikaru, take Tai Kuan Do and have a seemingly endless store of energy. Valeria, my thirty-something Chilean mother, is beautiful and one of the warmest people I have ever met.

My mom (Vale) and my twin brothers (Masa and Sato)
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My host dad (Seiji)
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Vale with my youngest host brother (Hiki)
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On weekdays, we stay up late watching “Donde Esta Elisa?” a popular Chilean soap opera with dramatic pauses, close-ups and fade-outs, and ridiculously drawn-out revelations. Sometimes I accompany Valeria to her beat-pumping exercise classes, though the dance steps are a little too advanced for this clumsy gringa. Sushi is a popular treat and I have just about eaten my weight in seafood. We also enjoy a mutual cultural sharing, such as last night’s discussion about peanut butter where my entire host family revealed their disgust for this fattening substance. Maria Elena later asked me (in Spanish, of course), “So, you like that butter with peanuts?” Butter with peanuts??? I had never really considered the literal breakdown of my favorite snack spread, but I have a new perspective on why the rest of the world thinks it is so revolting.

Not to be outdone, Chileans have their own addictive substance that is applied to every flour-based food, from toast to cake: manjar. Similar to the Argentinian dulce de leche, manjar is a thick, carmel-like spread made with milk and sugar. Apparently it has less than half the number of calories as peanut butter, but I’m not about to change allegiances anytime soon.

Since last night, I learned that conversing about peanut butter reveals many commonly held opinions about Americans. For example, my host mother not-so-reluctantly revealed that, prior to meeting me, she worried I would be too obese to fit in the bed. When discussing the topic at school, a fifth grade boy looked incredulous when I responded affirmatively to his question, “And you eat bacon too? I hear they put it on hamburgers!” Americans, we have work to do!

Life in Chile is far busier than in Ecuador, mainly due to the drastic change from a leisurely four hours of Spanish class to teaching five to seven classes a day full of young, occasionally adorable, rascals who roll on the floor and make popping noises during instructional time. I should take a moment to explain the anomaly of an educational institution that is St. George’s College. With over 2,000 students ranging in ages from four to eighteen, the place often feels more like a university campus than an elementary, middle, and high school. The students typically come from middle to upper-class families and are given an abundance of independence.

For example, unlike my orderly lines of second graders in San Antonio who, always accompanied by a teacher, walked with hands behind backs and mouths shut tight, the students of St. George’s stampede from class to class without supervision, flinging school supplies through the air with complete disregard for desks, chairs, and young, blonde English teachers who happen to be standing nearby. Yet, despite the chaos, the students are remarkable intelligent and, beginning at age six, demonstrate a great deal of responsibility in remembering their own school schedules.

The Campus of St. George's
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The Walkway
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From a teacher’s perspective, the school is a dream come true. In Texas, I had one break a day for planning and my lunch and recess was spent with my students in close proximity. Here, all teachers and students have a twenty-minute morning break for “recreo” during which we snack on crackers and pate and down steaming cups of coffee. Lunch lasts an hour and another afternoon break of fifteen-minutes gives us another chance to unwind. As the traveling English teacher, I will have five classes of students and teach one or two English clubs, which are non-graded educational courses with a content-based focus such as story-telling or exploring nature. Meaning, I will likely have some days where I have two or three planning periods. Unsurprisingly, little to no planning or grading is done at home since there is ample time to finish everything at school. What a dramatic change from my Sunday afternoon cram sessions of planning thirty-five lessons for the week and grading mountains of student work!

At school this past week I have been subbing for the first grade classes since Patti is in the states for a wedding. Though they are a little crazy to manage, there have been many moments of hilarity, as is common with young children. For example, one morning, we were going through the daily routine of answering the question, “How do you feel today?” I was walking around, listening to partners, when I heard Luca declare, “I feel salami!” “No, no, Luca,” I corrected, “You feel happy.” Luca insisted, “SALAMI!” Giving up, I moved on to the next group until it was time to gather together as a class and share. Two students were seated at the front of the room holding the visual for this activity, a series of faces matching the words “happy, sad, tired, excited, and angry.” And, under “happy,” there was a crimson circle spotted with white and yellow dots. Ah, salami. Smart kid.

Another entertaining moment occurred with my host family. In the car one afternoon, my host mother Valeria tried to explain to the boys that I was more like a host sister than a host daughter since we are only eleven years apart. After several painfully long minutes of confusion, she began anew. "You see, Sato," she slowly and explicitly articulated (in Spanish, of course), "If Laura was my daughter, I would have been pregnant with her when I was eleven. Pregnant With Laura at Eleven. Do you understand?" Satoru fervently nodded. Satisfied, we turned our attention back to the road. After a moment, he jumped out of his seat and loudly proclaimed, "Laura is pregnant?!?!" We might have had better luck explaining in English.

Despite the numerous hours now spent at school, I have had a chance to travel around Chile a bit and to experience the lunacy that is the nightlife in Santiago. My second weekend, I joined Heather, Connor, and an American Ambassador named Patrick on a trip to Valle Nevado, a nearby mountain with beautiful skiing slopes. Thanks to Valeria, I was decked out from head to toe in ski gear: jacket, pants, boots, and even my own skis! In Ecuador, the phrase “puro equipo” is used to describe a person who has all the equipment and none of the expertise. Dressed like a pro but with wobbly legs designed for flatter terrain, “puro equipo” is an accurate summary of my ski experience.

Heather, Connor, Patrick, and me
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"Puro equipo"
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Heather and I spent the morning on the gentler slopes at the base of Valle Nevado. After embracing the inevitable face-plants in the snow, I began skiing without braking and found myself comfortably maneuvering down the slippery snow. By lunchtime, our confidence had peaked and Heather and I hopped on the ski lift to the top of the mountain to meet the boys for lunch. After sharing a delicious burger and hotdog, both with ample amounts of palta (avocado), a popular addendum to any meat product in Chile, we bravely and successfully navigated our way down the steep slope. We ended the day with a taza of hot cocoa and got back on the Santiago-bound bus for a much-deserved snooze.

Heather and I looking like pros
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Valle Nevado
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The next weekend, Johnnie and I were invited to join Gonzalo, an ND graduate and our newest Chilean friend, and his group for a trip to his lake house at Panguipulli. We left on Friday evening and, after a quick round of introductions in the parking lot of a gas station, we piled into three cars and began the nine-hour drive to the Lakes District of Southern Chile. Arriving at three AM, the gringa room (Johnnie, Katie, Molly, and myself) began changing for bed; but, if I have learned anything about Chileans, I should have anticipated that a weekend night cannot and will not end before 6AM. In our pajamas we pumped up the music and danced until the sun rose up to greet us.

Panguipulli
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We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing, getting to know Gonzalo’s friends, and dancing away the nights. On Saturday, we made a special point to drive into town for the much-anticipated Chile vs. Colombia game. After much jumping about, the game ended in victory and we took to the streets! A stream of honking cars had formed a makeshift parade, with impassioned fans hanging out of the windows, chanting, and wildly waving flags. “Chi Chi Chi! Le le le! Viva Chile!”

Marly and I watching the game
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The next day at the lake house was tranquil and warm, giving a chance to explore Panguipulli and take harta (plenty of) photos. I also squeezed in a few long runs on the gravel trails that weave through the graceful hills, revitalizing my passion for distance runs. Juan Luis Guerra kept me grooving with his quick bachata beat as I raced by sheep and horses along the wooded trails. Hopefully I can keep the fervor going until the Santiago marathon in ‘10!

Katie and I enjoy empanadas de pino
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There is much more to write but, after more than three weeks of silence—a lot for this avid blogger—I think it is high time to publish this entry. Spring is in the air and I am certain that there will be many more stories to share before long. I am also including a couple of photos of my recent shopping venture with my new Chilean girlfriends, Marly and Rosarito. Soon, I’ll be looking so Chilean, even natives won’t be able to tell the difference—at least, here’s to hoping!

Johnnie and I showing off the goods
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Rosarito and Marly showing off their Patronato purchase
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Also, if the spirit should move you, send love, letters, and large packages to...

Current Address (until the middle of December):
Camino Los Trapenses 4820, Casa 18
Lo Barnechea, Santiago
CHILE

CHACE House Address (from this December until December ´10):
Napoleon 3400, Dpto. 12
Los Condes, Santiago
CHILE

I promise to respond with a postcard at the very least!!!! Thank you for the personal emails and, if you get a chance, do yourself a favor and download “Ojala que llueva cafe” or “Como yo” by Juan Luis Guerra. You won’t be disappointed!

Posted by lhamman1 20:35 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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