Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Flush...

There is so much to say about my time in Chile; what I learned, what I did, the people I met, the experiences I had. I wish I had the words to express all of my emotions. Yet, when I try and explain what exactly Chile means, I get stuck, the words just won’t come; it is hard to explain what being away from home has meant, what living in a foreign country is like, how can you explain something that you have to live? I want to tell everyone that it was the best time of my life, that is was easy and that I loved every minute of it, but if I said that I would be lying.
Chile was…
• Going on a mission trip with the high school I worked for and seeing Chiloe (a small island in the south). We ate curanto (a mix of shellfish, potatoes, chicken, sausage and white wine cooked in a hole in the ground) and went to a bingo. I was able to go to the same small town twice and not only see how the kids there have grown, but how I had grown in a year.
• Working at a summer camp, burning ourselves to a crisp in the hot hot sun, dealing with kids who would rather flip you off than play games.
• Living in the shack on Ictinos and then moving to the sweet apartment on Maria Celeste. By the way, that shack is now repainted, cleaned out and a rat’s nest was found in the floorboards, and to think I lived with that!
• Going to the feria and buying fresh fruits and vegetables for CHEAP. In comparison to the states, I will never again buy market fresh produce for the prices I paid in Chile.
• Working at the pool in the summer, not only did I get to work on my tan, but on my commands in Spanish. Even though the kids sometimes flipped me off or cursed me out, I love each and every one of them. I especially loved teaching the smallest ones how to swim and watching their progress each week, by the end of the summer they were swimming in the deep end!
• Meals-on-wheels and learning new vocabulary each and every day. I especially loved the day I asked Brother Donald what porotos verdes were only to find out that there were green beans, exactly what the words in Spanish mean. Working at the soup kitchen meant serving food four days a week to those in the community who had nothing, who enjoyed the gourmet meal prepared each day. Being there was my favorite job, both humbling and rewarding, I will always remember my time in the heat of the kitchen as both a challenge and a gift.
• Watching Spanish TV and loving every minute of it, not only for the “quality” programming, but for the chance to practice listening skills in Spanish. Papi Ricky, Don Amor, Amor Ciego and of course Ultimo Pasajero are just some of my favorite shows in Santiago. Ranging from a bachelorette type program to a high school game show, each show offered something different and unique.
• Learning to make beans from scratch. This might come as a shock to you, but beans don’t always come in cans, you can actually buy them dry and cook them yourselves, saving money, but not time. You first have to soak the beans overnight, or for at least 8 hours, then put them in a pressure cooker and cook for about an hour. It was a process and not only that, but you had to think ahead, which who has time for that?
• Finding a cat on the street and actually deciding to take him home! When Michelle and I spotted Nacho on the street, cold, dirty and wet, how could we resist? Upon bringing him home, we found he was full of fleas, but even with all the bugs, we fell in love with him, especially me. It was hard to leave him behind because he became my cuddle buddy, but I know he’s in good hands.
• Meeting families who have been friends of associates for over twenty years! Sara and her family, Margarita and her sons, the Toledos, Marta and her sister Cecilia, Michelle and Jenny, Ramon and Miriam, Isabel, each person holds a dear place in my heart and I am forever grateful for the friendship they offered me, for the unconditional love given, for teaching me what it meant to be an associate and for being there for me when I needed friends the most.
• Setting up a homework club between the orphanage kids and St. George kids. Tony, a friend of mine who was a teacher at St. George, and I set up a homework club for his 9th grade students and the orphanage kids I worked with. Every Friday we went to the orphanage with around twenty 9th graders and played computer games, practiced addition and subtraction and had a blast with the orphanage kids.
• Going on small trips, like to Mendoza and Valdivia. Traveling with my community was highlight, being able to explore other countries, other cities and to do it with my community members and friends. Plus, we were able to see the snow in the Andes Mountains and the sea lions beg for fish at the market.
• Having my mom visit me. In February of 2007 my mom flew down to Chile and stayed with me week. It was awesome to share Chile with my mom and to show her where I lived, that I was happy and it was lots of fun to travel with her to the beach!
• Playing soccer with the seminarians. Every Monday, Roy and I would go and play soccer with all of the guys, I was the only girl and sometimes got roughed up a bit, but I had a great time, even if they gave me a hard time.
• Finally learning a second language. For almost ten years I have studied Spanish and finally I can say that I am bilingual! Hopefully being back in the states, I won’t lose all of the skills acquired.

I have much to be thankful for and I’m sure the list of things that I did in Chile could go on and on, but there are the ones that stick out in my mind. Being back in Boise for a few days, I have had time to reflect and think about what I have been through. I walked into Target (yeah, I went the same day I got back, I couldn’t help it) and was overwhelmed with all of the choices. I sit in the TV room in my house, over-stimulated by the millions of channels on the new wide screen high def TV. I sit in my bed, playing on my brand new laptop, talking on my new cell phone and think to myself, I lived without all of this for almost two years, and I survived; I found that all of these things, albeit nice, are unnecessary. Sure I need a cell phone to travel and communicate and sure, having a laptop for graduate school will be a big help, but I know that they are just things and what matters most are the people you meet, the person you are and the fact that once again, I can flush the toilet paper.

Thank you Chile and thank you to every person that supported me on this crazy journey, I am back a changed person, but for the better.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Grace of Change

Since October 27th a lot has changed here in Chile.

For one thing, three of my community members have returned to the states; they completed two full years of service in Chile and I could not be happier for them to be back at home with their family and friends. Without the three of them, I would be lost in Chile. I would be stuck in my house, without anything to do or anyone to visit. Without Caitlin, I would never have met Lucia and Sara. Without Ryan, I would not have met Michelle and Jenny. Without Roy I would not have met Paula and Madga. It has been a huge transition relearning community, since now community consists of Michelle and me (and our new kitten, Nacho), but we are making it work. We have card nights with friends, dinners with nuns and even a few beach trips for fun. Change number one.

When the three of them left, Brother Donald also returned to the states for a hip-replacement. The hip-replacement went well and he is now recovering in Columba Hall at the Notre Dame campus. When he left, he left behind the soup kitchen (the meals-on-wheels program). His program feeds almost 50 elderly and bed-ridden people of the parish. He sends a wholesome meal four days a week, complete with soup, salad, bread and last but not least, the main meal. Most of these elderly people are unable to prepare food for themselves, are sick, in bed and appreciative of what Brother Donald is able to do for them. Before he (Brother Donald) left, I volunteered to help in the kitchen, to replace Caitlin on Tuesdays and to be available to do whatever was needed to ensure that these people had food until the end of the year. With that being said, I was given the keys to the parish, kitchen and safe and was told, have at it and thank you.

As soon as he left, problems began to pop up. As the one who was left in charge of paying the bills, making the shopping lists, and being available four days a week, the brunt of the problems began to take a toll on me. I began to hate going to work, began to leave early when I should have stayed to wash the dishes, and began to lose sight of who I was making food for. It took one final problem for me to realize exactly who I was helping.

As Meals-On-Wheels suggests, we have wheels to deliver the food. A couple from the parish, Paula and Jaime, spend about two hours a day, running around Peñalolén, ensuring each and every person receives their lunch. When Brother Donald left, he thought we would have enough money through the end of November, but through various donations and a few budget cuts, we are hoping to make it through December 21st. Since Paula thought that the program was ending earlier, she made other arrangements for work. She informed me that she was available until December 6th, but after a small argument with Padre Pedro, she just didn’t show up. So, Tuesday there I was, without wheels. Padre Pedro borrowed some wheels, we loaded up lunch and off we went. Four and a half hours later, I gained my will to work again.

Until you see the smiling faces of the people you serve lunch for, each person only has a number. It was as if we were serving lunch to a large state university; each student only has a number and the professors could care less about their name. I knew that certain numbers were elderly couples and certain numbers sometimes took care of their grandson, but I did not know much more beyond that. On Tuesday, I learned names, faces, houses (or in many cases, rooms rented) and the needs of these people. We arrived with lunch hours late and Lucia, Jorge, Maria, Lidia, Juan and José could not have been happier.

I have known since I started working in the kitchen in March that I was helping people. I knew that I was making a difference. I knew that the tears cried cutting onions was worth the hassle, but I did not know for whom I was crying for. I am crying for the woman who rents a small dilapidated room behind a castle of a house. I am crying for the woman who is bed-ridden and can’t move. I am crying for the elderly couple who takes care of their grandson who is mentally handicapped. I cry for a blind woman whose daughter neglects her. I cry for a woman with diabetes who looks forward to her lunch everyday. I cry for them all.

Thanksgiving was yesterday and once again I am humbled. I have much to be thankful for. I am thankful for my family who is willing to share me with Chile. I am thankful for my friends who support me. I am thankful for my community members, both past and present who challenge me to be a better person. But mostly I am thankful for cutting onions and crying for those who need it most.

Monday, August 06, 2007


Hey Folks!

New photos on flickr, check them out!!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Call Me...

Hola folks!! I now have a land line in my apartment, so you can call me! The number is:

(as dialing from the US) 011-56-2-271-1609

Call me!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

When it rains, it pours...

I hate to sound like a snob, but I know rain. I know what it is like to hate the day you woke up because it is pouring outside; to loathe putting on your rain-coat, getting out your umbrella and putting on your rain boots. Trust me, I know.

So when I moved to Santiago and they (the current associates) told me, it rains; I laughed in their faces. I scoffed and said, you have no idea, I know rain. After all, I have lived in Houston, where it not only rains but pours. Now, I am talking raining so hard you might as well not have any windshield wipers because they don’t work; they just push the water ever so slightly to the side and allow the sheets of rain to continue blocking your view. In Portland it was blasphemous owning an umbrella. I remember the first time it rained and my roommate told me, “See the people over there with umbrellas, they’re from California.” Not one to stick out, I bought a rain-coat and like the rest of the Oregonians, walked blissfully in the rain.

So, I figured, what is a little rain? After getting through four years of college, content in my rain-coat, I welcomed the challenge of Santiago’s rains. Let me just say now, Santiago wins and I lose.

I forgot that in Portland I had a car. I put on my rain-coat to walk 2 minutes to the SAAB or the 5 minute walk to class. I might have arrived wet, but I had a dryer to put my clothes in. Let’s just say in Portland (and Houston) the rain didn’t bother me because I had the means to avoid it.

In Santiago when it rains, I walk to the metro (which is about 10-15 minutes) with my umbrella in hand. No longer in Portland, I am allowed this one luxury item, which unfortunately doesn’t keep me dry, but it helps. I wait for the bus (in the rain) and here is the kicker, I pray that the bus won’t drive into the large puddle that has formed from the torrential downpour and splash me, because unlike Portland, I do not have a dryer and when my clothes get wet, I have to wait at least a day or two for them to dry.

Plus, when it rains here in Santiago, it is cold. It is a cold that chills your down to your bones and unlike Portland (once again, I think this is a recurring theme) we do not have central heat. How am I supposed to warm up in a house that is as cold inside as out? It is impossible!

It pains me to say that Santiago’s rain have gotten the best of me. I am not one to admit defeat, but I give up. When it rains here, I head for the one place that is guaranteed to be dry and warm, my bed.

Monday, June 04, 2007

S is for Shopping

Most of those who know me, know that I love to go shopping. I love to go to Target, Old Navy, Sephora, the grocery store, the mall, outlet centers, art supply stores, etc. I don’t have to buy things to make my trip worthwhile; I mainly look, try on random outfits I would never buy (like the super short dress and pants combo) and most importantly, have fun with friends.

I think one of the reasons I like to go shopping, is all in the word, go. I get out of the house and go somewhere, do something, occupy my time. Not that I have a lot of free time, but weekends can get a bit long after I finish teaching English and Sunday mass is over. Also in the word go, is that I am (or better put, was) able to drive to the location I wanted to go. Let’s say, I want to go to the mall. I simply get into the trusty old SAAB and in twenty minutes, I am in shopper’s paradise, the mall. Yet, shopping in Chile is different. I plan my trip carefully on the subway and bus system; I know exactly where I am going and what I am shopping for. Not to mention the fact that I am living on a small stipend, not my debit card I was once used to. It is a different experience, yet it is one that I have grown to love and hate.

There are many different types of shopping here in Chile. You can go to the feria (a farmer’s market mixed with the world’s largest garage sale), the supermarket, the mall, craft fairs and a plethora of other random small stores. Being the shopper that I am, I have made sure to cross each of these places off of my list, slowly but surely.

Every week, my housemates and I go to the feria. We have a set list of the fruits and veggies that we buy and since they are so inexpensive, we load up. It is a crazy walk through hundreds of stalls all selling the same things, while the vendors are shouting, “tomatoes, avocado, my Queen, tomatoes!” thinking that by calling you a queen, you will of course buy from them.

Every third Wednesday’s I take my hiking backpack and head towards the feria. List in hand, I carefully select tomatoes, potatoes, avocados, apples, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, oranges, lemons, onions, garlic, bananas and any other fruit or vegetable that catches my eye. I buy around two pounds of each item, sometimes more. When you do the math, I carry home around 25 pounds. Thank goodness for the hip-strap on my backpack, or else I think I might keel over on the twenty minute walk home. There is a change, I don’t drive home. How many times I have wished for a car to make my shopping experience easier, yet at the same time, I enjoy the walk home and the pride I take in the produce I have picked out and carried home.

If you go to the feria on a Saturday or Sunday, you can find anything your heart desires. Pirated movies and music, clothes, tools, yarn, art supplies, scrap wood, underwear, socks, have you gotten the picture yet? It is the world’s largest garage sale. All I have to do to sell things is artfully set my crap out on a sheet or plastic tarp. I have yet to try it, but one day I would love to shout, “My queen, buy from me!”

Chileans love the idea of shopping malls. They combine their biggest outlet stores, grocery stores and many other small shops into one giant shopping mecca. It can be quite over-whelming, especially if you make the dim-witted decision to go on a Saturday, like I did.

Michelle (my housemate) was looking for jeans and I really wanted a new messenger bag, since the one I brought down with me, is now ripped apart and dirty. I asked all of my Chilean friends, where is the best mall to go to, that is easy to find with lots of shops and variety. Simon (a seminarian who I tutor in English) told me about this place only 7 metro stops from my house. We set off and what I found was The United States. Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Adidas, Rockport, Dockers, all US brands that have stores here in Santiago, Chile. I walked around for most of the afternoon shocked, my mouth agape.

The Chilean department stores, Paris, Falabella, Hites, Johnson’s and Ripley’s are Dillard’s, Macy’s and JC Penny counterparts. Michelle and I happened to go shopping while giant sales were going on, making simple living slightly easier, yet at the same time difficult. You know you are living on a limited budget when you are willing to dig through piles of jeans until you find your size because the jeans are only $8 a pair. We both ended up finding the items that we wanted, but after a significant amount of time was devoted to the search.

Once a month, my housemates and I head to the local grocery store to make our purchases. Much like the feria we have a set list, which Ryan has carefully set up in an Excel spread sheet, going as far as dividing the items by aisle. We budget carefully so that we can get all of the items that we need and sometimes the things that we want, like instant coffee and granola.

June was my month to do the grocery shopping. The only afternoon I have free is Sunday, so after mass I headed to Lider (the Wal-Mart of Chile). I must have been out of my mind to go shopping on a Sunday afternoon. I forgot that everyone and their mother’s are shopping on Sundays, what a fool. With list in hand, I marched up and down the aisles, adding up our total in my notebook, so as not to go over budget. After about an hour, I walked out of Lider, basket full of groceries. I stood in line to take a taxi back to the apartment and dreaded the fact that I would have to go up and down the stairs about twenty times to get all of our stuff in the house. Much to my surprise, the doorman (he watches the gate) pushed a shopping cart my way, and up the elevator I went with all of my groceries, happy as a clam, stair climbing avoided. I pushed the cart right into the apartment and unloaded the abundance of goodies, the whole time laughing to myself that we have a shopping cart in our apartment.

Shopping in Chile has taught me to shop on a budget. I always looked for the best sale and the best price, but then I would buy two or three of that item, with the excuse, it’s on sale. I have a set budget while living down here, and when it is gone, tough luck. I am more mindful of my purchases; I buy with a purpose, well, most of the time. There are still the times that I buy things just because, but those times are far and few between. Shopping in Chile has shown me to keep looking until you find exactly what you want, in terms of larger items like the jeans and bag. I no longer buy things just because it sort of fits the bill, I wait until I have found exactly what I want. Perhaps it is the language barrier, but in Chile I shop slower. I talk to the shop owners and the vendors in the feria, with the taxi driver on the way home from the grocery store. I tell them why I am in Chile and that I of course love this country (the required answer and also the truth). I am not rushed to make my purchases and run. On the weekends, I am free to shop leisurely. Walk around; escape the cold inside the shopping mall or grocery store.

If someone had told me that I would have learned such lessons from shopping in Chile, I would have laughed. Before Chile, I went shopping for every need, every want, and every thing. Simple living lesson learned, but my delight in shopping has not dwindled. I am the same Natalie who will accompany you to Target at 8pm, just to see what’s there.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Wizards, witches and muggles, oh my...

People are curious as to what I am doing with my free time while in Chile and I finally have an answer; reading Harry Potter. You would think, living with a younger brother would have been fuel enough to read the books, not to mention the fact that they are best sellers and incredibly popular, but no, I chose to move to Chile and read them here.
In honor of the last installment of Harry Potter due out in July, I figured it was about time to actually read the first six. In three weeks I had all six books read and here I am, desperately waiting the last and final book stranded with nothing to read. I had heard how well written these books were and I had even seen a few of the movies, but nothing compares to the books. Nothing compares to the image of Hogwarts and the fights between ´He who can´t be named´ and Harry Potter. To the opening banquets in the Great Hall, with the delicious food appearing and disappearing before their eyes. These books allowed me to escape to another world, a world of fantasy and magical creatures. A world where people fly around on brooms and send mail via owls. They allowed me to regress to my childhood and just read books for fun, not because I have a test after, not because I have to write a report, I was able to read just to read, which I have not done since high school. I had forgotten how much I enjoy reading. How I look forward to being curled up on the couch with a good book.
In Chile I have had a lot of down time. A lot of time to relax and enjoy just being. A lot of time to read, which has been such a great lesson in life. How often do we take the time to sit and read a good book? Or are we always too busy, going from one activity to the next? Or do we read for pleasure anymore? I had forgotten how enjoyable reading just to read was and all it took was a move to Chile and lots of spare time. Now that work has begun (work started in March), I have had less time to sit and read, but I make sure every night I read a least a few chapters of some book that I will enjoy.
I could go on and on about all six Harry Potter books, but really all I have to say is this: if you have not yet read the books, read them and if you have, party in July!