Monday, October 18, 2010

Cultural Exchange: Homemade Pizza

Today I made lunch for my host family, something I thought everyone would like... It didn't get the great reviews I had hoped. Here's the deal. Never offer a Chilean pizza if it has mozzarella cheese and doesn't have thinly sliced hotdogs as the main topping. 
Italy would be ashamed. 
Salami (almost pepperoni!) 

Ham and Pineapple

If you're hungry, there's plenty left-over. 

Monday, September 13, 2010


I was invited to the birthday party of the Kindergarten teacher, Patricia. Every woman in the teachers' lounge insisted that I bring my pololo, Greg, who once again proved to be a great dance partner. It was a mask party that took place in a local bar, called Nativo. We were the among the youngest people in attendance, and we forgot to bring our masks. My host teacher and her friend made us wear these for the picture. 

The party was thrown for Patricia, by Patricia. She announced that the purpose of the party was to "share a great time together, dance, have fun, and just enjoy the night." Just togetherness. The music was a mixture of 80's Spanish rock, romantic karaoke, Spanish pop, and reggaeton. My host teacher leaned to me and asked, "You don't have this music in your country, do you?" It dawned on me that the party scene was a truly special, authentic Chilean experience, unlike a lot of things I attend here. I'll be more than delighted to accept any more Chilean birthday party invitations in the future. 

Speaking of dancing, we had a mini lesson in Salsa. Either everyone at the party had taken lessons as children or it came naturally to them. A lot of instruction just wasn't necessary. 

So, another great weekend down. A Chilean, mask birthday party with cool music and salsa dancing. That's my life for the next 2 months. It's time to soak it all up, as much as I possibly can. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How are you fine thank you and you?

A lot of senseless things happen every day, but something happened today that tops them all. Every last one of them. 

I began my morning with a group of fifteen 1st grade girls. Twirling, singing, pony-tailed, pink finger-tipped girls, all with their own little agendas. The door to my room was locked when they arrived. I was still sitting in the teachers' lounge pretending that NPR was some kind of online ESL class preparation tool.

To be correct, "my room" is not my room at all anymore. Last Thursday morning at 7:15, a classroom caught on fire displacing the entire class of high school seniors (and cancelling two entire days of school for everyone). Rumor has it someone left the gas heater on all night, and the nuns caught the fire before it got out of hand. The English volunteer from the United States is the lowest on the totem pole, claro, so I volunteered my space before it was taken from me forcefully.

A tiny voice called to me, "te busco, tia Mary!" It has become a bad habit of mine to wait for my students to find me before class starts, instead of the other way around. It's my own version of hide and seek. One day I'll decide to be creative and they'll discover me under the gym stage huddled with my laptop and a cup of instant coffee. I'm impressed they search for me at all. It's misleading. Almost like they want to learn something! I discover that's never the case. I gathered my things and followed her out of the lounge.

The messenger and I approached the crowd of squiggling bodies. When they noticed us, they yelled "sorpresa!" trying to surprise us as though they had been invisible until they said it. Through the window of the adjacent classroom I could tell by the expressions on the faces of the senior class that they were not happy about 1. being in a different room period and 2. being bothered by the constant squeals of my class. While I fumbled for the key to the room, I did my best to reason with the first graders. I tried to explain "why we should be quiet when others are trying to learn." Within that blurry 30 seconds I managed to ask the questions, "where are we? Why are we here? Why should we respect other people?" It kept them quiet only while I was physically asking the questions. We entered no less disruptively than we had arrived. 

I had been instructed by my host teacher Lucy to help the girls prepare for their oral presentations.

"Hello my name is Valentina. This is a cat," holding a small square cardboard picture she pulled from the pocket of her smock. There were four more animals in her pocket anxiously waiting to be introduced.

In order to keep the attention of all fifteen chatty ladies, I paced the room non-stop smiling and touching their arms and backs. Interest waned, so I decided to ask the presenter to stand on a chair. It didn't stop the conversation and wiggling, but I tripled my number of volunteers. 

"My name is Gabriela. This is a frog. That is a bee. This dog. Is a Cat." They are taught to memorize, not to understand. For that reason, I am sometimes noticed, greeted, questioned and dismissed all in one sentence. Passing girls in the hallway I hear, "Hello Marie how are you fine thank you!" 

Another teacher appeared at my door with a stack of papers in hand. I knew exactly why she had interrupted. Announcements to parents are typed on official school stationary and distributed at all hours of the day. Attention spans and concentration aside, these letters have to get out! I permitted the nice lady to enter. I stood by helplessly as she managed to ruin any semblance of order I had achieved. Everything thus far  is normal, everyday Chilean school routine. But what happened next was astounding. 

She passed out the papers, turned, smiled and closed the door behind her. I gestured for the return of business as usual, but was met with something unexpected. A shriek of fear. No, that's wrong. Fifteen of them. 

"Vacuna! Noooooo!"
"Una vacuna!"
Mumble jumble, unintelligible chatter. Anxiety swept my room faster than I could react. The word "vacuna" was shrilled by more voices than what seemed like there were children in my classroom. 

"What's a vacuna?" I tried to ask one little girl staring blankly at the white board in front of her, dazed and speechless. She raised her right hand from her lap, formed her thumb and index finger in an L shape and held it to her opposite arm. I knew immediately.
A vaccine. 

Lessons in classroom management. I'll suggest it to NPR. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Montevideo, Uruguay

Once again, I have confirmed my belief that travel is my own personal best educational tool.

When you are traveling, things that you tried to learn in school naturally have their turn:
1. Planning and organization - the most basic skill students try to master 
2. Geography and map reading- unless you have a GPS
3. Weather - The decision between an umbrella or sunglasses 
4. Math - especially word problems regarding distance, time, and money
5. History- taking tours and visiting monuments and museums

I hated studying history in school, so names, dates, and events (basically everything about history) never stuck. When I was studing in Spain, my friend Becky and I took a trip to Vienna, Austria. For no particular reason why, we just chose a place on the European map and booked our plane tickets. We passed a very large, elegant yellow palace that stood apart from the modern architecture that surrounded it. Reading a sign, I exclaimed "So THIS is where the Hapsburg's live!" A textbook could never have captured my attention the way this larger-than-life historical structure did. That day was a turning point in my travel life. 

Montevideo shares some of the same significance. If a year ago I had been asked the location of Montevideo, I might have said a small town outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. Nope! It's the capital of Uruguay. I also wouldn't have known where to put Uruguay on an empty map of South America. But everything about it fell into place this winter vacation.

So from the favored Calafate we flew to Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay. We arrived at night, walked the streets with our massive backpacks and I made the mistake of asking a less than credible man selling hotdogs (se llama completos) how to get to our hostel. He responded, “walk up this street and to the plaza, then ask someone else.” I nodded my head with great thanks and appreciation for a few seconds until my mind could make the translation. Jerk. Montevideo is hard to describe. It has beautiful statues and bountiful fountains, old architecture aaaaaand palmtrees.  We decided that the cloudy skies and cold gusts of winter don’t do the city justice. Summertime must liven the vibe altogether. Lonely Planet directed us to an Arabian restaurant that didn’t exist (and must have never existed according to the reactions we got from local store owners). 

There was a small but eloquent museum for J Torres Garcia, an artist born in Montevideo. To broaden our cultural experiences, we visited the Estadio Centenario, the stadium which held the very first World Cup in 1930. I can thank Greg for this opportunity, because without him I would never have known it existed! Without a doubt the most excited thing about our trip to Montevideo was that we were able to attend  a city parade for the national futbol team as they arrived home from South Africa. Greg and I joined the crowd early and felt a little dismissive of the event. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize just how early we had joined. Four hours later, we could see the team hanging out of the windows and the roof of their tour bus as it creaked slowly down the main avenue toward the legislative building where a stage and a mass of hinchas were waiting. Watching the madness I realized that my lifetime wish to one day attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade was no longer necessary. From the night we arrived to the day we left, I slowly grew to appreciate this city that didn’t really seem to care what I thought in the first place. Montevideo “es lo que hay” as many would say. It is what it is and you can love it or leave it. For that reason, it has earned my respect very well and has it's place in my heart and mind - a place more valued than a textbook on my bookshelf. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"...y, a veces enseñamos inglés."

I'm stealing this title from a friend. It made me laugh uncontrollably, and I couldn't stop repeating it to myself. It means, "... and sometimes we teach English." It's true, my friends. Everyday I wake with a different understanding of my responsibilities in this small town. Assistant? Intern? Role model? Practice for the teacher? A sounding board? Free labor? The one I always agree to is "giver and receiver of love." There's plenty of confusion, disagreement and negative energy flowing down here, so the only way to survive is by recognizing love when it's there. Kisses, hugs, the te quiero's from my little sister are a constant reminder that the world is a good place

I'm interrupting my series of travel posts to tell you a little bit about the new semester. It's different, thanks to God and a little ambition. I had made up my mind to change my schedule and my attitude, and it worked.

In addition to "teaching" at Maria Mazzarello, I am teaching 6 evening classes for a small academy and privately tutoring a lady that works in tourism. Before I returned from winter vacation, I had already had solicitations in my mailbox for help from a native English speaker. I replied with gusto, unlike last semester. 

I'm running from one classroom to another, sometimes prepared and others not. I sleep less, and I don't always make it home for lunch. But I'm getting back to being Marie again, the over-scheduled school girl. I don't dread classes anymore, and I pleasure the time I have with my students. I search for games and activities, and I create my own lessons. I get excited when my students ask questions and seem interested. I'm overcoming the little things. Teaching isn't so bad after all. 

Who knows what that conclusion will lead to... 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

El Calafate, Argentina

 I told you. I warned you in my first entry about my blogging history and how my motivation wanes over time. Everything changes here in Chile, constantly, quickly, and often without notice. Keeping track of these changes can be difficult, but I will try to do much better. One change in my life, better described as an addition, is my boyfriend Greg. We met at orientation in Santiago during our first days in Chile. He might agree that I should be held responsible for this relationship, but it's not entirely my fault that he is so wonderful. He lives in Punta Arenas, a larger city three hours by bus. By Chilean geographical standards, we residents of Patagonia are lucky to be so close. Greg and I grew to know one another over the first few months of teaching and living, and we decided with great faith that traveling together for Winter Break might be possible. We were right. It was fantastic. I couldn't have asked for a better person to have by my side for three weeks straight, no exceptions. 


If you haven't already guessed, Winter Break is meant to divide the two semesters of the school year and allow the kids of Patagonia to either travel north of the rigid weather or at least eliminate their one reason for ever going outside. We chose to escape it. Greg and I visited eight locations, all possessing a different flavor.

To avoid jamming everything about our vacation into one single post, I prefer to recount each city on its own beginning with Calafate.

We headed our list with Calafate for a few attractive reasons. A solar eclipse was opportunely expected for the first day of our vacation, and we had been told that Calafate would host the best view. Secondly, we were planning to fly directly to Buenos Aires while somehow avoiding Argentina’s reciprocity fee of $131 for US citizens. After a bit of research we found that the fee is only charged to people arriving on international flights. There is only one international airport, and flying from within the country (from Calafate, for instance) wouldn’t require us to pay. We had crossed the border to Argentina by bus weeks before which proved to be uncomplicated and cheap. In the end, it didn't matter. We went all the way to Calafate only to fly directly into Uruguay.

So we decided to return to the adorable Calafate, a small town made famous by a gigantic glacier located in the nearest national park. Although it sorely disappoints Greg, I consider Calafate one of my favorite locations we visited during our break. Not because it was already familiar. Not because we missed the solar eclipse completely because we failed to research its exact time of passing. Not because we spent the better part of an afternon watching the final game of the World Cup. Instead, I will never forget the first time I was able to ice skate on a frozen lake.

We went for a walk along a long newly built brown boardwalk away from town’s center, and we could see in the distance an open white field with tiny black ants gliding along the surface. As we got closer, we passed parents and children full of exhaustion, hand in hand, skates tied and slung over their shoulders. One of us remarked how unfortunate we were not to own skates like most of the local kids obviously do. Interestingly, they all seemed to have the same color and design. Que raro. On the top of a hill, further away than one would have expected, we saw a building with a line that stretched down the exterior stairs and wrapped along the side. We walked to the building. There was a sign that notified all customers to return their skates by 5:00 pm. Bummer. It was almost… wait! They wanted everyone to return them so that they could prepare for Night Skating! We waited, drank coffee, and waited some more.

I was terrified. It was a lake, for crying out loud. Has there ever been a movie in history that involved someone skating on a frozen lake or pond and not falling through the ice? With every crack, I cringed and shrieked a little. Greg laughed and tried not to make me feel bad about my fear that I quickly overcame when I realized that had I fallen, at least one thousand people would be there to witness and help.

It was incredible. The ice was patchy and uneven. Someone had encircled a large area of the lake with tiki torches. There was a bond fire and a barbeque happening on the very edge of the shore. The sky was cloudless, and the stars made me forget all about the solar eclipse that I never saw. Cold feet, red noses, and all. Thank you Calafate for showing me just how beautiful winter can be. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

¡Hace frío!

I went camping for the first time in my entire life, not counting the summer when I was a kid and my friends and I slept in the backyard in a big tent luxurious enough to host a cocktail party. The tent sat in the same spot all summer, just long enough to kill the grass leaving a perfect rectangular patch of dark brown. Indeed, my camping trip this past weekend was the real deal. Who would have thought that my very first trial with roughing it in the wilderness  would be in the famous Patagonian national park known as Torres del Paine? I still don’t know the meaning of the word paine,  but the torres are the main attraction. They are huge towers of rock that can be seen from many distances throughout the Magallanes region. I cannot claim that I fended for myself entirely, because I was accompanied by 4 very strong, capable fellows. Greg traded backpacks with me because mine was too heavy, Nathaniel cooked dinner for everyone (rice, tomatoes and tuna) and made hot chocolate,  Chris was our most punctual and responsible leader, and our team was entertained about every hour by Jason’s renditions of “Can’t touch this” and any other song that came to mind.  Needless to say, I would never have made it without them. If we been living a reality tv show, I would have been the first to go.

Our trip began with a short bus ride from Puerto Natales to the entrance to Torres del Paine, which led to a second bus ride much deeper into the park. Our trek to the top passed in about 4 hours with lots of descansas along the way. It began to snow about halfway through the climb, but I continued to de-layer until I was wearing only a light long sleeve t-shirt! No importa the temperature, I was sweating! We decided to put our jackets back on when we made it to a high edge of a mountain side where we had to scoot along, the wind whipping and whirling bitter gusts and tiny pieces of ice. We fought a constant battle against our body temperature, hardly ever satisfied with what we were wearing or how our toes and fingers felt.

We arrived at the camp site ready for a change of pace. Setting up the two tents could have been a great learning experience for me if I had only tried to observe carefully. I didn’t. I stood in one spot shivering, occasionally walking around to another side to watch preparation efforts  from a different perspective and to say, “can I do anything?” I pretended to care, but in reality I was so thankful that someone else was doing the work. I got the main idea. A tent has a main body, poles that unfold, stakes to secure it, and a fly which provides more protection from wind, rain and snow. Next time, I’ll help.

With a few hours left of sunlight, we tried to make it to the top to see the torres. We had seen them already on our trek, but the best view of them rested about an hour trekking from our campsite. A few of us didn’t make it the whole way for various reasons, but Nathaniel and Chris took some pictures that they later shared with us. Back at the campsite, we all gathered in one tent together to eat dinner, devour some cookies and chocolate and to pass around a bottle of pisco sour before trying to fall asleep. We talked about our day, our experiences and feelings for Chile and how much we were really enjoying this crazy life at the end of the earth.

It snowed all night. I shivered and slept in 30 minute increments. I looked at my watch regularly to see that I was getting closer to daylight and the hike to the bottom that would surely warm me up. To make things more interesting, we were accompanied by rats for most of the night. Mama Tatiana had warned me about los ratones and that I needed to guard my food, but in all my frozenness it was all I could do to put on my North Face botties and crawl into my sleeping bag. I couldn’t even muster the energy to walk to the bathroom facility. I could hear the rats screeching and nibbling, and I prayed that they stuck only to my food and not to my hair or ears if I had happened to fall asleep. In the morning when I opened the tent door, I noticed crumbs sprinkled on the tops of our backpacks and found a tiny hole in my bag of bread. They had at lease been polite enough to leave some bread for my breakfast.

The next morning we awoke to one less person, Nathaniel. I asked some other campers at the site if they had seen an adventurous Australian guy attempting to climb the last stretch. Yes, they had. The four of us packed our things, brushed our teeth and ate granola bars and candy for breakfast. Nathaniel returned just in time to leave. The return hike took a fraction of the time, and before we knew it we were resting at the steps of the hotel and gift shop.

Next time, I will do a few things differently, of course. I will have different shoes, a mat for my sleeping bag, and a lighter pack, but I would not change a single thing about my first camping trip in Torres del Paine.  Discomfort aside, it was an incredible experience  I want to relive again.