Friday, August 17, 2007

Messin' with Sasquatch

“Vas a jugar conmigo, Meni?” I’m confronted with this question nearly every day. My over-sized 4-yr-old, terribly disciplined, host “sister”, Antonia, deserves a blog entry all her own.

Between sticking her fat little fingers in the dessert bowl during dinner, sneezing directly into my face and acting as if this is totally normal, running around the house with her pants pulled down after using the bathroom, and throwing basketballs at her 1 year old brother’s head and kicking him violently around in his rolling walker as if he were some kind of hockey puck, I’ve got quite a bit to laugh about, snicker at and also go nuts about right here in my host family’s cozy peach-colored corrugated tin home— one in the thousands of similar multi-colored tin homes that speckle the otherwise dull, hazy blue-gray landscape of Punta Arenas.

My dear little Sasquatch looks like a chubby 8-year-old boy with a bowl cut—an entertaining personality combination of Veruca and Augustus from the original Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory—rather than a sweet little 4-year-old girl who plays nice with her dollies. My host mother Paola says that Antonia does as she pleases, and lord, she’s not kidding.

Whatever the case, whatever Paola’s decision not to “tame the beast”, it keeps me going, breaks any awkward tension that might otherwise exist between cultures, as a foreigner coming to have a 4-month peek into the lives of a random family in a random place, where I’m not quite sure what strange stroke of fate led me here at this time and for what reason. Sasquatch is a comic relief… a much needed comic relief.

If you can imagine, its cold here. Not as cold as I expected, but I also didn’t expect my host family to leave the bathroom window open all the time, making the tiles, the porcelain, the metal… everything cold as ice to touch. So close the window and start up a hot, steamy shower? That would be nice… if there were hot water. Apparently its broken and “is going to be fixed” at some yet to be determined point and time. As it stands, I’ve gone the past 5 days without a proper shower. Just…fully-clothed, lean my head over the side of the frigid tub, and nearly in tears, shampoo, rinse, conditioner, rinse, wrap towel as fast as possible around head… it’s miserable.

Enter Sasquatch in her too-tight T-shirt stained with food, her highwater pants giving her a wedgie, shoes on the wrong feet and her lips stained red or orange with some variety of over-sugared juice, threatening to throw the nanny out on the street for laughing at her speech impediment, then crawling under the table to yank the 16-year old dog, Piti's tail and sitting on it crushing the ancient thing nearly to death. It's hard not to have a good laugh despite the cold, dark weather, which will hopefully get better soon.

I started teaching observation this week and the school is crazy, wild, out of control with kids running around the classrooms out of control and not paying attention for more than 25% of the almost 2-hour class periods. Today in 8th grade, a student put a padlock on the door which no one had a key for, so we spent about 20 mins of class time watching the maintenance man take the entire door off its hinges so we could get into the classroom.

It looks like its going to be quite a ride when I start teaching, but it's incredibly entertaining at the same time. Between screaming, out of control kids at home and screaming out of control kids at school, my retreat to the more remote parts of the "ends of the earth" like Torres Del Paine and Tierra del Fuego, will be all the more appreciated :) More to come soon!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Good News, Bad News

This will be a short one. The good news... I have my address here in Punta Arenas for everyone who wants to send me cards, candy, cash... funds to sponsor me on an expedition to Antarctica? ;)

Meri Price
Zenteno 1722 (Barrio San Miguel)
Punta Arenas, Magallanes

The bad news... and happy friggin´ birthday to me... my identity has been stolen AGAIN... at the worst possible time now that I´m thousands of miles away from my bank back in the good old US of A... Some hacker cracked into my PayPal account (which I am now cancelling), and charged up a couple of thousand dollars, forcing me to close my bank card, apply for a new one, and play the waiting game with what little cash I have on me until my new card comes in however many weeks... Somehow these things seem to fall right into my lap at the most utterly inconvenient times.

Hopefully I´ll be back with better news next time, eh?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Snowing in August

I’m a Leo. A warm, sunny fire sign born during the warmest, sunniest, and some might say, most excruciatingly hot month of the year (Last I heard it was somewhere around 100 degrees on the East coast of the US). It’s always been vacation time, beach time, time to escape the long, suffocating days of summer in the city… time to forget my birthday.

This coming weekend, as I hit a major milestone—my 25th birthday—a quarter century. I’m not asking you to cry for me because I am here alone at the ends of the earth, or because the other kids were always on vacation and couldn’t come to my birthday parties growing up, or because sometimes my own parents went on vacation during my birthday and left us kids at home. Ok, you can cry just a little… but I’m no stranger to being out of town for my birthday, or celebrating my birthday in the company of wonderful, generous strangers. In fact, it’s made for some of the most incredible and memorable celebrations I’ve had.

This year, no matter how I end up celebrating, or who I celebrate with, I’ll always remember one thing from my 25th. It’s snowing in August…

A wise woman once said “sometimes the sun goes ‘round the moon.” More hilariously, I just quoted Vanessa Williams. But in all seriousness, who would have thought I’d ever end up here in Punta Arenas, amidst the fresh, chilly air and intense wind, whipping through the streets, picking up speed along the deep, deep blue water that rushes through the Strait of Magellan, where Atlantic meets Pacific, where Tierra del Fuego looms in the distance and you can experience the equivalent of 4 seasons in a single day… sun, snow, rain, ice. Here the constellations of the Southern hemisphere shine bright in the long, dark winter nights of this unpolluted, barely inhabited corner of the world… here it snows in August, and anything is possible.

We arrived in Punta Arenas on Monday after an inhumanely early 4:30 a.m. departure from our hostel in Santiago. The 5 of us volunteers shared a plane with about 50 or 60 Chilean soldiers all in fatigues, making for the most organized plane-boarding procedure I’ve ever witnessed. I had layered on the clothing to decrease the weight of my bags so I wouldn’t be charged as much for exceeding the domestic flight weight limit. Kindly, the attendants at the airport passed me on through without charging me, so there I was, dressed for a day on the slopes, annoying the Chilean soldier in the seat next to my by peeling off layer after layer after layer to make the 5 hour plane flight more bearable.

But I was glad for those layers when we stepped off the plane. It was cold. Colder than Santiago, anyway. Not as cold as I’d expected, being so close to Antarctica and such. In fact, I’ve witnessed many a worse East-coast winters. But the benefit of all of this is that there is central heating in all of the houses and schools here.

I moved in with my family two days ago. There are two kids, an 11 month-old boy and 3.5 yr-old girl who has trouble pronouncing her “r’s” and calls me “Meni.” There is a nanny who makes great food every day, like Sopaipillas, a fried, doughy chilean bread, something like funnel-cake, to cover in sweet or savory toppings. The father is a carpenter with a big saw-dusty workshop filled with his various furniture projects, which are all very cool… and the mom is a teacher at the same school I’ll be teaching at, Escuela Argentina, grades 1-8 — which everyone I’ve talked to euphemistically describes as a school that is “complicado.”

I went for a visit to the school for the first time yesterday and discovered that “complicado” means that my school takes students from a lower social class, who have a lot of social problems, like abusive parents or parents with drinking problems, or no parents at all. There are actually 40-something students who live in dorms at the school because of family problems. A lot of the kids don’t understand the value of learning, so the classrooms are mass-chaos at times—added to the general constant-chaos of most other “typical” Chilean classrooms.

This may be a major challenge for me, but one that I hope I find rewarding, and one I’m sure I’ll be writing about quite often in the future.

In other news, I was on the news! After our welcome reception, someone mentioned that I speak Spanish and not seconds later, I had a microphone and camera shoved in my face and I was answering rapid-fire questions in Spanish without knowing who these people with the cameras were or why.

I didn’t see the clip on the local TV station later that night, but the grandmother who lives around the corner from my family gave me a chocolate bar and casually mentioned she had seen me on the news. That’s when it clicked and I realized I must have looked like a complete idiot on Television…

Oh well, it wouldn’t be the first time… thinking back to a late night when I was studying abroad in Salamanca back in 2003, and I stumbled out of a night club, saw a video camera, and ran up to it to answer some questions for a segment about night life in the town. Of course I had let the alcohol do the talking that time…

Speaking of which, I hope you all will have a drink for me this Saturday as I’ll be thinking about everyone on my Birthday. To be feeling alive at 25… couldn’t ask for more!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Public Transportation

So I seem to have disappointed my audience, and for that, I apologize for the brevity of my last blog. By popular demand, I'm going to do what I normally do and write way too much. I hope all you office-monkeys out there enjoy reading this as much as I would if I were still in your same position :)

So, no, the chaos, which began with me losing my suitcase on day 1, has not stopped. That was, in fact, just the beginning....

I've now been in Santiago for 2 weeks, which feels something like forever, and at the same time, something like no time at all. In that time, I've managed to put back more bottles of Chilean wine than I can count, gone out more times than I can count, gotten much less sleep than I can possibly imagine, and hey, it feels amazing not to be able to count the minutes and days and weeks and months til sweet, sweet lunch break, short-lived weekends, the holidays, that next big vacation...

I'm livin' it! And I think it really just hit me yesterday, after 2 weeks filled with long, questionable rides on various forms of public transportation. Buses, planes, taxis, trains… I’m in motion again.

Between metro rides to meet with new Chilean friends, crowded bus rides to do teaching observations in a town called Maipu (yes, it’s funny) at the far corners of the city, and riding 80 mph in ‘colectivos’- collective taxis- around one-lane twisting mountain roads to go hiking in the Andes, I’ve been able to experience so much here in Santiago!

Everything’s been a sort of “controlled chaos,” which they say is normal here in Chile… or at least that’s what they tell us at the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC)- the masters of this “controlled chaos,” and also my employer for the next 4 months.

For one, in the course of a week, I have packed and unpacked my suitcase no less than 4 times.

There are 5 of us traveling to Patagonia to teach, out of 25 volunteers total, all of whom have already left Santiago for their various cities. MINEDUC originally told us we’d be in Santiago for two weeks (one week longer than everyone else). Then, this past Monday, they said we’d be leaving the following day with everyone else. So I made a mad rush to pack my bags, only to discover on the “day of my departure” that I actually, really was not leaving for another week.

…a relief. I had more things that I wanted to do in Santiago. More sights to see, more new Chilean friends I wanted to hang out with, more time to gather my thoughts. So I breathed a sigh of relief and unpacked my bag…

All was well until we were told the following day we were being forced to leave the hostel we were staying in due to overbooking and moving to another hostel in Santiago. Up-we-go, and here I am in my new hostel…still in Santiago.

I finally leave for Patagonia on Monday morning at 5 a.m. It will be nice to finally unpack “for good”, during my 4 months in Punta Arenas—a cold, windy place, which I hope with every part of my frozen body, has heat.

Two things in Santiago have been rather sporadic… the availability of heat in various establishments, and access to the internet… neither of which I really mind, by the way, as the cold is a “refreshing” break from the blazing-hot sun of August, and I’m rather enjoying being cut off.

But since I know you’re all dying to keep in touch with me, I finally bought a cell phone today. My new number is 92104898. I don’t know the country code to call Chile from the US, but it’s probably on Google somewhere.

I’ll post my address in Punta Arenas soon.

I’ll end by saying I got my host family assignment and it is a married couple with two kids, ages 1 and 4. I’m excited for that.

I’ve added a facebook link to some pictures I’ve managed to put up, which will show better than I can tell, the places I’ve been, people I’ve met, and so on and so forth. See below:

Some highlights include my hiking in the Andes with a view of some waterfalls- “las cascadas de las animas”- walking out of a bar after a night out at 8 a.m. when the sun was coming up (Vegas-style), and of course, making connections with a great group of new people, the 25-or-so fellow teachers, all hailing from many different states and backgrounds and stages and walks of life, all here for whatever reason life has provided us to travel.

To think I ever questioned doing this...