The Last Full Week

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.

First “full body shot” of the Chilean run squad.
I nearly cried.

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.

La Vega.
Flower emporium by La Vega.

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.

View from Austin’s apartment building.

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).

Pato gives DD a thumbs up.

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.

Pato, Isa, and Austin.

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.

Working in the garden.

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!


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