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!

1 comment:

Trini said...

Remember that Leo's born in South America, are born during the coldest, and rainy month... well, in some places... :-)