Today we visited the Palacio de la Moneda, also known as the official center for the Chilean government. La Moneda has taken different forms over the years, has been destroyed and rebuilt various times, and has slowly but surely opened its doors wider and wider to the public. With our excellent guide, Paulo (who looked like was a secret agent…he never took off his sunglasses, even indoors), we got to see several rooms and patios and learn their different functions.
We arrived at La Moneda and were escorted in by several guards in very official green uniforms and squeaky black boots. The building is a large off-white building, not unlike the White House, with north and south entrances marked by huge Chilean flags. Paulo would later tell us that when the flag is raised with a particular emblem, that indicates that the President is somewhere within Chile. If the emblem is removed, he/she is traveling outside of Chile. The guards took our passports and pointed us through the metal detectors before we met Paulo, a young and enthusiastic Chilean guy. He gave the tour in Spanish, but as he knew we were students, explained everything very clearly, elaborating and acting out words. It was pretty entertaining for all of us.
The tour began in el Patio de los Naranjos, or orange trees. There are 40 orange trees in this patio; Paulo doesn’t know why 40, exactly. The section of la Moneda to the south of this patio was originally a money factory, which is where it gets name, la Moneda. After 1846, it was demolished and rebuilt as the center of the government and the President’s house. However, no president has actually lived in la Moneda since 1956.
Next we entered the first reception room, Salón Pedro de Valdivia. Pedro de Valdivia was the original conquistador from Spain who conquered the indigenous people of Chile, later founding Santiago in 1561. The room had a grand portrait of the conquistador, in addition to marble flooring, a 19th century carpet that we couldn’t walk upon, and a crystal chandelier.
The next reception room was completely red, full of velvet red chairs arranged in front of a small stage and podium. Paulo indicated a space in front of the chairs that is reserved for the press – this room is actually used practically daily by government officials to address the public. It is decorated entirely in red to make the room stand out, to give it more attention and importance. Named after President Manual Montt (1851-1861) and Prime Minister Antonio Varas.
The final reception room is Salón O’Higgins, named after a soldier and politician who fought for Chilean independence. As “director supremo,” Bernardo O’Higgins was essentially the Chilean president, and the highway through the center of Santiago, the Alameda, is named after him. This room is used primarily to receive diplomats or hold fancy dinners and lunches.
Moving back outside, Paulo introduced us to the “patio principal,” to which the north entrance opens. This entrance is the official entrance, through which enter esteemed guests and politicians. Workers were setting up a large stage and music stands for some sort of orchestra. Paulo wasn’t positive, but he thought it was likely for a celebration tomorrow – the anniversary of Chile’s declaration of independence from Spain, April 5th, 1805.
The final patio was the patio de canelos, canelo being a tree sacred to the indigenous Mapuches. The tree has medicinal properties and represents the spirituality of the people. Beside it were two large wooden totems, meant to represent the male and female indigenous people. To the top left of the patio, we could see the very office in which President Salvador Allende committed suicide. It was very ironic but symbolic that this office was named “Salón de la Independencia.”
Last but not least, we examined a small case of coins that contains a coin with the face of every Chilean president next to a coin depicting la Moneda during their presidency. There is no coin for Pinochet because he was never democratically elected as president of Chile. (Only in 1980 did he issue a referendum claiming his legitimacy as president, and he totally falsified the results.) Beside the case is a beautiful wooden door with a window hatch. The door is called “Morande 80” because that is its official address. Morande 80 used to be the official entrance to the Moneda that only the President used. Allende was the last president to enter through it; after the coup in 1973, the door was destroyed or stolen, not to be replaced until 2003, 30 years later. Now, no one is to enter through the door, as a sign of respect to Allende.
Paulo regretfully had to end the tour, as the hour was up – we had asked so many questions that he was pressed for time. He saw us off cheerfully while we watched in awe as several guards performed a sort of ritual march.
Paulo told us that there were about 40,000 visitors to la Moneda last year, 60% of them being students. I’m glad to have been another one of those students to see it. Like the museum dedicated to Violeta Parra, though there was not much to see, our guide made it worthwhile.
Now that I’m at the end of my time in Chile, I’ve tried my best to reflect. What I’ve written here is pretty much just word vomit, me writing things as they came to mind. The reality is, I don’t feel like I’ve changed all that much after being here, in comparison to my time in Cuba. Those two months last year seemed much longer and eye-opening. I’ve unfortunately never been able to avoid making comparisons between the two countries, despite them being practically incomparable. That said, I’ve enjoyed my time in Chile tremendously and have learned so much about its culture and history.
The confidence I gained not only in my Spanish speaking ability but myself in Cuba has served me well. I have no fear of making mistakes in Spanish; I have no trouble going up to Spanish speakers and asking questions. In fact, I feel empowered, emboldened doing so. It’s made me realize that I simply can’t stop working on this language. If economically feasible, I plan to visit a Spanish-speaking country every year of the rest of my life. I mean it.
I feel wistful leaving Chile, knowing I saw such a small part of it. I did take advantage of my free time to explore; I saw many places in Santiago, in addition to Pomaire, San Pedro de Atacama, Viña del Mar, Valparaíso, and Cajón de Maipo. I even saw a city in Argentina! But there is so, so much more to visit, particularly south of Santiago. I will certainly come back, though I have no idea when.
I sometimes wonder if I came to Chile simply to escape my constant restlessness, my constant fretting over routine and how robotic life at CC can make me feel. But I know deep down it was more than that. I made the determination to come to Chile while I was in Cuba last year, in fact. I was having the time of my life getting to know a culture so different than mine and making the most incredible connections with its people. Chile was definitely not just a distraction or an escape – it was a chance to make further connections and embrace an entirely new culture.
There were many times that I questioned going abroad this year when I did – Germany during 4th block and Chile during 7th and 8th blocks. Those three blocks are arguably the most fun of the year at CC. Yet after having learned so much about Bach in Germany, and now knowing all that I do about Chile, I have no reason to question it. Moreover, scrolling through my social media feeds, I can say – haughtily, I admit – that I passed my time in a much more productive way this 8th block than most of my peers at CC. 8th block at school is non-stop partying, which is of course attractive. Nevertheless, I felt like here in Chile, I was growing brain cells, whereas at CC I would’ve been destroying them.
When I left Cuba, I didn’t want to be cursed by “rosy retrospection” – looking back with rose-colored glasses, only seeing the good in my time there. So I made a list of all the things I would miss, as well as all the things I wouldn’t miss at all. I’ve done the same for my time in Chile. The lists aren’t exhaustive by any means, but for some idea:
seeing Clarita every morning and evening, frantic and excited to see me; playing fetch with her in the kitchen and backyard
Paula and Roberto’s interactions, particularly their comical squabbling; the love and fascinating conversations I shared with them; seeing them eating breakfast in bed with Dani every day
Being “mom-ed” by Paula – not having to cook or do my laundry for myself (this one’s selfish, I know); Paula is also a solid vegetarian cook
Paula’s constant roasts
Eating ice cream with Roberto after dinner; our shared love of condiments, mayo for him and ketchup for me
Seeing Paula curl up in bed playing Candy Crush, TV on, only to fall asleep
Hearing Dani singing or playing piano in her room, so beautifully
Walking to school every morning, listening to all sorts of music and seeing the same faces over and over
The delicious street food; the abundance of muffins and empanadas
Running and hiking all over Parque Metropolitano
Running on the highway on Sunday mornings
Having no responsibilities – no meetings or work-study or drum lessons – and exploring freely
Having deep, mentally-exhausting class discussions this 8th block
The smog in Santiago – constant congestion
The utter lack of real coffee. I will not miss the Nescafé.
Dealing with transport in a big city; having to take buses and metros and Ubers to get around
The IFSA office – freezing cold and the worst desks imaginable
As anyone can see, the good overwhelmingly outweighs the bad, and the bad consists of inconveniences, no more. I’m certainly excited to go back to the states, but only for the people there. I could stay in Santiago for a while, if I weren’t so far away from my loved ones.
So my time in Santiago comes to a close, at least for now. I have no doubt that I’ll be back. Thank you to all who followed this blog (even if it was just mom and dad) – it means the world to me. I’ll write of more adventures as they come, but I’m thrilled by the prospect of just staying in one place for a bit.
Saturday, David, Caroline, Noah, Anna, and I went to Temple Baha’i, very close to Parque Aguas de Ramón. Though the temple has mostly eastern Asian roots (supposedly Buddhist), it has been declared a sacred place in which all religions are welcome. It was absolutely gorgeous; it has this incredible architecture to make it look like a lotus flower about to bloom. Pictures aren’t allowed inside, unfortunately, but I can say that the space is very open and bright and simple – just long pews facing forward, quotes carved into the walls along the perimeter. We stayed for about an hour, exploring all the gardens and reflecting pools surrounding it. Great idea, Caroline.
The temple is at the top of a tall hill on the eastern edge of the city. The metro doesn’t go very far east, so we met at the closest station and took an Uber from there. After cramming five of us into this tiny Uber, our driver drove us all the way to the top of the temple, the engine straining. He was so impressed by the building upon arrival that David asked, “Want to take a picture with us and the temple?” And he was like, “Yeah!” So we entered the park and took selfies with our Uber driver. To get home, we figured we’d call an Uber at the bottom of the hill. However, as we walked down, this nice Chilean couple offered to give us a lift. So we once again crammed five people into a tiny car, this time with no free passenger seat. The couple was super nice and we thanked them profusely.
That night, we went out for beers with our professor, Andreea, and Nate Goodman made a second appearance! A really fun time had by all, but chilly. The temperatures are definitely are dropping here, and it will be nice to return home to summer.
The following day, Mother’s Day, we had plans to see La Nenita in Viña. Paula and Roberto were up at 8:00 a.m., which is unheard of for them on a weekend! In fact, Paula had barely gotten up at 10:30 the previous morning, as I headed out for the temple. But the reason they were up was to prep. La Nenita hates cooking – always has – so Paula was up to prepare Mother’s Day lunch to bring over. Meanwhile, I went for my second and last run on the highway, it being a Sunday when they close the roads to traffic. It was cloudy and clammy, but there were still tons of bikers, runners, and skaters about. Even some yoga and spinning classes being set up!
We arrived in Viña around 12:30. La Nenita lives in a very residential part of the city in a lovely apartment. Paula’s nephew, Nicolás, lives with her – he’s studying to be a lawyer at University of Chile in Valparaíso. They also have a turtle, and I immediately asked, “Oh, what’s the turtle’s name?” “He doesn’t have a name…” they both responded. Small bummer. Roberto named him “Tortura,” I guess a play on words for the Spanish word for turtle, “Tortuga.” Not his best joke.
We spent the next few hours just hanging out eating chips and drinking “Fanschop.” “Schop” refers to beer and “Fan” is short for Fanta. Dani explained that it’s a very common drink and easy to make. You basically take a simple beer like Corona (we used a Mexican beer, Sol), and mix it half and half with a soda of your choosing, in this case, Fanta. I should mention that Dani was originally not going to come to La Nenita’s because she spent the whole weekend working on her music video for her single, “A Mi Futuro.” She was showing me pictures and videos from the shoot and it’s looking great! There’ll be one more day of filming next week, but she won’t be there – she’s now on vacation in Cartagena, Colombia, for about 10 days. She left Tuesday night. The filming they did this past weekend was of the band playing the song, whereas the next shoot will be filming the story line they’ve created for the it, which doesn’t involve the band members.
At one point while we were snacking it up, I had such a moment of déjà vu. Paula was trying to take a photo on her fancy new cellphone (“It’s Chinese, but I like it well enough…”). She lamented, “Ah, why does everything look so blurry?” Dani took a look at her camera and discovered that Paula had yet to remove its little transparent screen protector. I recalled the time years ago when my dad, the famous Steve, got a new phone. “All of my photos are turning out blurry. Oh wait, there’s this screen on my camera. You think that’s it?” “Dad, I’m sure that’s it.”
For lunch, we ate pastel de choclo, a classic Chilean dish. Paula went out and bought six servings, and they actually came in little clay bowls. We finished it all off with some coffee, then went to the beach to get ice cream. It was also cloudy and clammy in Viña, but the cold ice cream was appreciated regardless. A couple funny things happened along the way, too. I had been thinking just that morning, “Man, I feel like Paula hasn’t roasted anyone in a while.” And then BOOM. We were getting in the car, Roberto driving, Nicolás in the passenger seat, the four of us girls in the back. And Paula just goes, “See, we can fit, we’re skinny…me, La Nenita, Sarah.” And Dani just went, “Ay, que pena!” Dani is not by any stretch of the imagination fat. In fact, she’s the most ideal, healthy weight you could possibly be. But there goes Paula roasting away.
Paula was on a roll. When we ordered our ice creams, we asked for 5 “simples,” single scoops, and 1 “doble,” 2 scoops. Roberto, naturally, ordered the doble. At this place, two scoops was actually so unnecessary since you got a ton of ice cream with just one. Anyway, we go to order and Paula asks for 2 flavors, chocolate chip and banana. The server decides she must be the one “doble” order, so when Roberto goes up, he asks for two flavors and gets denied – “You only ordered one doble, and she [Paula] took it.” Biggest bummer of Roberto’s day. Thankfully, Paula could barely finish her two scoops and gave about two-thirds of her ice cream to him.
We finally left Viña at 5:00 p.m., making the whole excursion “just for lunch” a total of 8 hours. But I had fun all the same and was happy to have such quality time with my Chilean family.
Monday was our last day of “real” class. We discussed some of the final readings, then had a visitor. I didn’t catch his name, but he was a Colombian immigrant who works for an organization that helps Chilean immigrants find work and a place to live in Chile. I really enjoyed getting an up-to-date perspective on immigration here, especially from an immigrant himself. He talked about the biggest challenges immigrants face now, including health care, securing documentation to work, social discrimination, etc.
We spent the afternoon banging out our final critical essays. The relief I felt pressing the send button on that email was enormous; junior year, case closed.
With that, I went home, did a lot of free reading, then said goodbye to Dani. She left for Cartagena, scrambling, with Paula clucking her tongue. The next morning, we had a late class in which we discussed the last couple readings we still hadn’t gotten to (we couldn’t keep to schedule this block; every discussion went way longer than expected) and discussed the broad takeaways of the course. We kind of all just hung out/went our separate ways that afternoon, then met up for drinks with Andreea before our “goodbye dinner.” Dinner itself was a marathon – lots of fancy appetizers, more gnocchi, and some absurdly good tres leches cake topped with broiled marshmallow fluff. Talk about bacán.
4th Wednesday was very bittersweet and full of goodbyes! David, Austin, and I ran to the statue of the Virgin Mary one last time and gazed out at Santiago. I definitely got a little teary-eyed. We then had “class” at school, where we celebrated Austin’s graduation, Jaysha and Ula’s birthdays, and our time in Chile. Isa and her three assistants, Claudia, Domi, and Alice, gave us IFSA mugs and little clay penguins, made by a woman we met in Pomaire named Marisol. We also ate the most decadent chocolate cake I have eaten in a while. In return, we gave our gifts to the IFSA girls and Andreea – a scarf for Isa, chocolate for the assistants, and wine for Andreea, plus cards for all. Everyone was in good spirits.
We then stepped out of the office for about an hour to watch a huge women’s march taking place on the highway. The signs and chants were very empowering and badass, and the whole event was cool to watch. As “tourists,” we’re not allowed to participate in demonstrations, but we still kind of felt like a part of it due to its lively atmosphere. I’m glad to say I got to see an important march like this one before leaving.
After, we all just retreated to our houses to pack up with mixed feelings. Eventually Austin, Emily, and I met up a last time to see Nate Goodman, our fearless traveler. His latest news was he was bit by a dog, was receiving rabies shots, and had befriended some Peruvian drug dealers. I would expect nothing less.
Finally, today! Austin and I went climbing in an area on the outskirts of the city, to the northeast. Our Uber driver was baffled as we snaked our way up and up along the mountainside through a really expensive neighborhood. We finally arrived more or less at the trail, then trekked up. The trail was completely unclear, just lots of loose dirt that got us filthy. Thankfully, we arrived at the crag quickly and then did a few quick pitches before we had to hurry home. The air was fresh and the city view was perfect.
We hiked down and got even filthier, since the loose dirt was even more dangerous descending. My Chilean phone wouldn’t load Uber, so we kept walking down the road, making hitch hike attempts. Eventually a guy in a big truck stopped for us. While bringing us to a gas station to get WiFi and call a real Uber, he explained to us how he’d been to the US back in October. Rigby, Idaho, oddly. He wants to go back this June because it was too cold for him in the fall. His name was Nacho, short for Ignacio.
Our second Uber driver chatted us up as well. We talked about the women’s march the previous day and he said it was nonsense. He claimed that abuse is all related to power, not gender. Ugh. He did make a fair point that the march, like most in Chile, ended in some violence. Good marches here, in his opinion, have clearer goals and don’t end in violence. Not the highlight of the conversation, but he was interesting to talk to.
I had about an hour and a half after that to eat lunch, shower, and finish packing. Roberto ate quickly with us, since he had a meeting. The women in the universities have effectively shut down the schools for the past two weeks, so he’s been at home twiddling his thumbs. The meeting would hopefully make it clearer what would be done. He and I were both in high spirits since Paula had bought us blackberry ice cream after an ice cream dry spell for nearly 2 weeks!
Paula and I chatted for a while waiting for my taxi, then finally said goodbye. I was sad, but I also felt ready to go. Paula roasted my driver for being late, and I can’t see a more classic send-off happening.
Now I’m at the airport preparing for the long ride home. It’s been swell here in Chile and I’m super grateful for my experience. But now it’s time to see some friends and family graduate back in the states!
I’ve been asked by several people whether Cuban Spanish or Chilean Spanish is harder. The answer is they’re equally challenging. In Cuba, no one enunciates. In Chile, there are countless slang words, los chilenismos. Despite the challenge of the chilenismos, however, learning them has arguably been my favorite way to get to know Chilean culture. In fact, the chilenismos do a great job summing up some of my experiences – so here’s a brief vocab lesson.
Arriba de la pelota: “Above the ball”; you’re a little drunk, but not drunk drunk.
Bacán: Cool, sweet, groovy. A Spanish equivalent could be “genial.”
Caballero: A worker of some kind; a gentlemen that you would address as “sir.” I find this funny only because caballo means “horse” and caballero also can mean “knight.”
Cabro/a: The literal translation is “goat,” but it refers to some young guy or gal you don’t know well. Usually used when telling a funny or slightly stupid story – e.g., “And this cabro was caught picking his nose by the whole school!”
Cachaí: Got it? You follow me? This word is used so frequently it’s ridiculous. It also exemplifies a weird thing Chileans do with their conjugations. Cachaí comes from the verb “cachar,” to understand. Asking someone if they understand, using “cachar,” would normally be “Cachas?” But Chileans will often make this odd substitution with an accented i. I’ve also heard “Tenís…?” “Do you have…?” instead of “Tienes…?” and “Querís…?” “Do you want…?” instead of “Quieres…?” Just interesting.
Cachilupi: Like bacán; something good. E.g., “Paula, esta sopa de choclo es súper cachilupi.”
Chic@s / Chicxs: To refer to all genders, you’ll often see the masculine “o” replaced with an @ sign or an x to include everyone – same with tod@s / todxs. I dig this.
Chiquillos: Literally, “kids.” But everyone, our professors and IFSA staff alike, call us college students chiquillos and chiquillas.
Chuch: An exclamation like “Mish!” Isa will often go, “Chooch!” when she wants to say “Damn!” or “Sh*t!” It’s short for “chucha,” which actually has much worse meanings as well … careful how and when you use this one, folks.
Colación: A packed lunch. Paula always asks me if I’ll need the colación for school, meaning I have something in the afternoon and can’t come home for lunch. My colación always consists of a couple fruits – apple, pear, kiwis (always 3), and/or banana – plus maybe a small tomato/lettuce salad and leftovers from dinner the night before. Often rice or potatoes with veggie nuggets or a soy burger. I can’t complain.
Cueca: The traditional dance of Chile. It’s done by a male-female pair, and they imitate a courtship between a rooster and hen. It’s not pretty. Paula and Roberto aren’t fans, anyway.
De miedo: Another synonym for bacán. It’s an adjective that literally means “of fear,” so I think the English equivalent must be “wicked” or “sick.”
Éso: “That’s it.” Chileans use éso all the time when they’re organizing/arranging things, setting things up.
Gallo/a: Like cabro/a, but refers to someone more grown up – a man or woman that you don’t well. E.g. “Ese gallo que me ayudó con el auto.” Can be slightly dismissive, like “That dude who was yelling on the street…” Gallo is actually the word for rooster in Spanish.
Garabato: A bad/curse word. “Mierda” is a garabato, for example.
Hueón: Can mean a million things. It refers to a guy or girl (hueona). It can be derogatory, loving, impatient, aggressive, indifferent. It can mean anything from “guy,” to “buddy,” to “dude,” to “jerk,” to “idiot,” to “a**hole.” It’s really all contextual. It also can be spelled “weón” or “huevón.” Oh, chilenismos.
Luka: Slang for money, or pesos.
Mish: Previously mentioned in another post, mish is like “Mira tú!” “Look at you!” Paula uses it at lot when I’ve done something that impresses her.
Pinchar: In Chile, “the one who calls, pays.” Whenever you make a call, you’re paying for the minutes. So, Chileans will do something called “pinchar,” in which they call someone, but hang up before their friend picks up. That way, their friend has to call them back to talk – and pay for the call themselves. The same was true of Cubans. If you called someone by typing *99 plus their number, you’d ensure that they’d pay for the call. Sneaky Latinos.
Poh: The most ubiquitous chilenismo there is. The internet claims it comes from “pues,” meaning, “well…” but I don’t believe that. Chileans tack poh onto just about any phrase, and it seems to be an emphasizer. “No, poh,” “Sí, po,” “Claro, poh” “Estoy con Miguel. Miguel, poh!” It’s EVERYWHERE. My guess is that it’s a shortening of “por supuesto,” meaning, “of course.” It just sort of implies “duh,” or “naturally.”
Ojo al charqui: I’ve never heard this one used, but the IFSA girls Alice and Claudia taught us that it means to pay close attention. “Charqui” is a shortening of “charquicán,” a typical Chilean meat dish. When you’re grilling charquicán on the back porch, you have to keep a close eye on it so that the birds don’t try to eat it. Thus, “ojo al charqui.” I just like the story behind it.
Otro: For some reason, Chileans use otro, “other,” to refer to something in the future. Such as, “Tienes clase el otro martes?” “Do you have class next Tuesday?” They have confused me numerous times with this one, since I think they mean to ask about something that happened the other day.
Schop: Big beers. Beers you get on tap, and in German-style steins. Cheap and delicious.
Sípo: As mentioned, a common affirmative response. It’s so natural that it sounds like one word instead of sí + poh.
Taco: Traffic. “Hay mucho taco” every morning and evening during rush hour. So much taco, in fact, that there are always policemen and women (Carabineros de Chile) directing traffic at large intersections.
Terremotear: We thought we had made this verb up ourselves – “to get very drunk, specifically off of terremotos,” but it in fact already exists. Chile is great.
Vaya no más: Paula says this to me after almost every meal. It literally means “go no more,” so I was so confused. I asked Claudia and Alice, and they explained that it means “leave without worry.” Paula usually says it when I say something like, “I need to go finish my homework” or, “I have to call my mom,” so “Vaya no más” must be something like, “say no more, you’re free to go.”
Ya: Similar to éso. When everything has been put in order, or you’re about to do something, you say “ya.” “Ya” literally means “already,” but it’s rarely used in that literal sense. Like when Paula yells that it’s dinner time, I’ll yell back, “Ya, vengo,” even though I’m not “already coming.”
These chilenismos only scratch the surface – there’s probably a hundred more. But these ones were some I heard/used a lot or just liked. Hope you’re as entertained as I am.
After an incredibly indulgent weekend, we were thrust back into reality when we had a four and half hour class Monday morning, 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. We were mentally wrecked. Austin and I stayed at the office until nearly 5:00 doing homework, before we lost our minds. To sweat out our stress, we went for a run to the statue of the Virgin Mary with David, and we saw one of the most beautiful sunsets of our lives! Then we all went home to do more homework.
Tuesday, we had a guest speaker come to class, Víctor Hugo Robles. Robles is a gay journalist, activist, and feminist, but he likes to think of himself as a worker. After all, he does not earn much money and lives modestly. He explained the difficulty of growing up homosexual during the dictatorship, as both the right and left generally rejected homosexuals (the right just more often and obviously). His family, moreover, was very conservative and Catholic, and his brother was your hyper-masculine star soccer player.
He explained how social class – both during the dictatorship and now – affects your status as a queer in Chile. At the top of the ladder are wealthy homosexual men, at the bottom are poor transsexual men. While his talk was enlightening and gave us good perspective, it soured a little on me towards the end when someone mentioned that he’s referred to as the “Che de los Gays.” Wearing a beret with a sparkly star in its middle, he’s been photographed numerous times crusading down the streets in protest. However, he admitted many of the marches in which he’s been depicted aren’t homosexual rights marches – they’re marches for International Women’s Day, Labor Day, human rights. It’s unclear if he was marching in solidarity, or promoting his own causes … on top of that, he then proceeded to show us a video of images/clips of him parading the streets in his garb with dramatic music – basically singing his praises. At the end of the video, we discovered that it was conducted by him! He then proceeded to make us one by one go around the room to tell him our favorite part of the video. I have mixed feelings about the visit, but I do appreciate him giving us a sense of how homosexual rights have developed over time in Chile.
During the afternoon, we watched “Naomi Campbel,” a movie about a trans woman named Yermén trying to find her place. Andreea admitted that this movie did not earn much attention or awards, and it’s sort of clear why. Although the acting and cinematography are quite solid, nothing really happens in the movie. Nothing is resolved at the end, there are few big moments, and you’re left feeling like: now what? Naomi’s life is full of hardship, and there seems to be no good alternatives for her. It’s also an odd combination of documentary and film, so I couldn’t get a sense for how genuine Yermén was as a person/character.
Wednesday, we had two class presentations that were highly enlightening. The first, given by David and Caroline, was on Venezuelan immigration into Chile. Emigration rates in Venezuela have increased 900% in the last two years, due to the violence and economic hardships in the country. In 2015, socialist leader Nicolás Madura was elected president. Ever since his election, Venezuela’s economy – based overwhelmingly on oil – has deteriorated. Inflation has risen 9000% – yes, 9,000% – just this year. Venezuelans cannot buy food due to either its ambiguous cost or the simple lack of it. In response, Venezuelans have taken to the streets in protest, but the government has reacted violently, using serious weaponry at point blank range and tear gas. Obviously, many have fled the country, Chile being the third most popular Latin American country to which Venezuelans immigrate. However, the new conservative president of Chile, Piñera, has implemented an immigration law, requiring all immigrants from Haiti and Venezuela to apply to enter Chile while still in their home country – whether seeking asylum or not. So Venezuelans that escape in a hurry show up to Chile end up being turned away. It’s a mess. I’ve talked extensively with two Venezuelans here in Chile, a shop worker and a hairstylist, and both alluded to the problems in their country … but I had no idea of the severity. The presentation really opened my eyes.
Austin and Ula also presented, but on a much different topic: sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church in Chile. Basically, many Chileans have recently come forward to tell their stories of abuse (abuse committed when they were underage, too) committed by head religious figures in the church. One such figure, Juan Barros, was accused; in spite of the accusations, however, he was still elected Bishop of Osorno. Pope Francis let this transpire despite being told about the accusations. He visited Chile to meet some of the victims, but remained unconvinced of the abuses. He claimed there was insufficient evidence. Then suddenly he changed his tune; he issued an apology to the victims, now fully convinced. Definitely not a positive addition to his track record.
During the afternoon, we watched the Chilean film “Una Mujer Fantástica,” which just won an Oscar for Best International Film. And it was awesome. The lighting, music, and acting were all excellent, and although there also is not tons to the plot like “Naomi Campbel,” it kept you hooked. The story follows Marina, a young transgender woman who lives with an older man, Orlando. The night of her birthday, Orlando suddenly falls ill. She rushes him to the hospital, but not soon enough. He dies of an aneurysm. The movie then follows her as she tries to say goodbye to her partner while receiving unending criticism, aggression, and suspicion from Orlando’s family and the authorities alike. I really recommend watching it.
Wednesday night was a little more festive than normal, as our dear CC friend Nate Goodman had come from Valparáiso to see a concert in Santiago. Austin and I met him at a hip music/dance club, Subterráneo, in Providencia. Nate was in good form as usual, donning a full beard and his Outdoor Education backpack. He remarked, “I’m really trying to get this beard to a point whereby people will say, ‘Yeah, it looks like you were in South America for a semester.'”
Nate had actually just dropped out of his semester program, saying that he was getting so little out of the classes. He been traveling all over Chile instead, doing lots of trekking and exploring. He’s planning on continuing his travels all over South America until he’s sick of it.
The concert was an odd mix of a solo guitarist with a voice similar to that of Tallest Man on Earth, followed by a rapper with a gigantic ego and lame dance moves, followed by Nate’s friends, who played some low-key electronic stuff. By the time his friends started playing, it was already midnight, so we didn’t stick around too much longer. But it was great to see Nate!
Thursday morning was another long class and presentation. I got so hangry by the end that I just left the room altogether to grab my lunch box, ended up dropping my silverware on the floor, and made a big commotion. Not the most shining moment for me. All was resolved after class, though, since we went to check out La Vega, a huge marketplace, and the Centro de Artesanía, a large arts and crafts/souvenir space. It was already 4:30 when I realized that I hadn’t started homework, so I rushed to get through it before going to Austin’s to have dinner.
Austin and I arrived home to meet his mom, Isa, cooking in the kitchen. Isa was very gregarious and immediately cried out, “Austin! Your friend is so skinny! I thought she’d be fatter!” Austin: “Why would you think that?” “The photo of her you showed me, she looked fatter!” I swear, I will never escape Latina women commenting on my weight and then saying that they will do everything they can to fatten me.
Isa made some delicious burritos, with guac, yogurt sauce, lettuce, peppers, soy, and cochayuyo salad. Cochayuyo is this rubbery kelp that is only found on the shores of Chile and New Zealand, and is supposedly very healthy. Isa mixed it with cilantro, onion, and lemon juice, and it was delicious. It’s is a little tough, and probably wouldn’t taste very good raw, but I liked it a lot. It kind of reminded me of olives.
After dinner, Isa ranted to us about Allende’s government for a while, a very similar rant to Paula’s. Eventually Austin’s dad, Patricio (Pato), came home from his job running a bookstore. Pato was in high spirits, immediately joking around with us. He had a Dunkin Donuts mug, and I said, “Oh, my family loves Dunkin Donuts! There are many Dunkin Donuts in New York and surrounding states.” He responded that I needed to take a picture of him holding the mug, then. Naturally. Then Austin suggested we take another picture of him with the wooden mallard on the nearby shelf, because “pato” means duck in Spanish. Hence, Pato con el pato. Then I took a picture of Austin, Isa, and Pato together. Then Pato insisted he get a picture with just me, too, because he’s like my Chilean dad (sorry, Roberto).
The evening ended with Pato going into a long, passionate speech about how great Austin is, while Austin was sitting right there. “Sarah you are so lucky to have Austin as a friend. He’s such a great guy, so hard-working. Always studying, exercising, eating well. Such a healthy young man. We’ve never had such a considerate, well-rounded student.” I kept responding, “I know, I know,” while Austin tried desperately to make him stop. It was all very sweet and I had such a lovely time with them. We should’ve had dinner together sooner.
This ridiculously long week finally ended today at 7:00 p.m., after doing volunteer work with the at-risk kids again. There really wasn’t much work for us to do; the kids were gardening and there wasn’t space for them plus all 12 of us. We kind of just messed around for an hour, ate some cake with them, then did coloring and crosswords. While it was good to see the kids again, it was a little disappointing to feel useless.
There’s so little time left here! All we have left is one more class on Monday and an analytical essay due Tuesday. Then we’ll be celebrating Austin’s graduation and Jaysha and Ula’s birthdays on Wednesday. Plenty still in store, but we’re all sort of limping to the finish line. Probably a couple more posts in store!