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!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

New Address!!

Okay, so it took forever to get this, but here it is, my NEW mailing address... use it, abuse it, you know, send me things! :-)

Associados de Santa Cruz
c/o Natalie Nathan
Casilla 8, Correo 59
Santiago, CHILE

Send mail here from now on!!


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Knock, knock...

I have a new found respect for the Mormon missionaries. I never thought that I would say that, but here I am in Chile, saying the Mormons have it rough.
I recently (Jan 2-14th) went on a missions trip. My mind immediately went to knocking on doors and handing out Bibles or rather, Books of Mormon, but what we encountered was much different from my Mormon counterparts. First, I was not wearing the Mormon uniform of black pants, white shirt and tie, but a dirty UofP sweatshirt and jeans. Second, my trip lasted two weeks and not two years (thank goodness). Third, we handed out crumpled calendars (which all Chileans love, the calendar part, not the crumpled part) instead of a Bible. Lastly, when I got back to my house, I was able to access the internet and actually call my family, instead of relying on snail mail to communicate.
Our days started off as such: We would wake up early, which for the girls meant at least an hour of preparation, when mind you, we did not have showers or water, so I’m still confused as to what took so long and why we needed a wake-up call so early. Getting ready was followed by a sugar cereal fest for breakfast (try chocolate cereal and chocolate milk) and then morning prayer, which considering high school kids planned it, sometimes left me wanting, and other times left me ready to start the day. We would walk up hill, down the beach, around the river bend, and through potato fields to random people’s houses where, now this is where we differ from Mormons (at least to my knowledge) we were welcomed into their homes, fed and talked for at least an hour or so. We were even invited back for lunch on some days and on the good days, invited back for dinner. In the afternoons, we had activities for younger children (read giant paint fights) and then a mass for the entire community. After mass we would have activities for the high school kids and finally eat dinner and call it a night. Yet, these fun and games taught me nothing, but the time spent in people’s homes taught me everything.
In those hours of conversation spent with random strangers and a few high school students, I learned that some little girl in the campo was abused and then left for dead. Another lady was traveling back and forth from her home to the larger city of Castro for cancer treatments, leaving her son (17) in charge of the house and at times her daughter (8). Another man lived alone in a two room house, with his horse and two dogs. There was another older lady who lived alone as well, patiently waiting for her son to return from the military. And then there was a family of nine all living in the same house, with the most precious baby (Pia) whom I grew to love. This family was a mix of brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren, yet they all lived together in harmony. They all worked hard in the fisheries and scrapped out a living. I could tell when I walked into their home, they weren’t lacking any of the basic necessities, yet it was not as if they were living in the Plaza Hotel. With that being said, they invited me into their home and fed me, no questions asked. They invited me into their home and treated me like a daughter. They gave what they had and they taught me a valuable lesson, which I also found in Matthew, “Give as freely as you have received.”
When I think of being a volunteer here in Chile, my mind often wanders. I ask myself if I have made the right choice and if what I am doing here actually matters, but what Miriam’s family has taught me, is a lesson that will last a lifetime. Treat people as you would like to be treated, treat people with respect even if they barely speak your language. Be patient, be kind, but most of all, be open to experiencing life and the random people that might walk through your door.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mailing address...

Hey All.... just a quick update, our mailing address will be changing soon, so I would suggest not sending mail to the address that is both on this website and on my e-mail, when I know the correct address, ya´ll will be the first to know! adios for now!

but, you know you can all call me with Latin American calling cards, I´m usually around in the evenings and it´s super easy to call, just dial from the states like this,
011-56-2-278-5051 --- we all speak English in the house, so don´t worry about Spanish skills when trying to ask for me! :-) adios!

take care! natalie

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

January in Chile

So I realized that I haven´t exactly updated this whole blog thing in awhile, granted I have been busy and unable to, but still, I´m sure I have many adoring fans waiting on pins and needles to find out what and how I am doing.

First, let me start off with the how: I am doing great. The transition to Chile has been a challenge, a new accent to learn, a new city to get around, new people to live with, but truth be told, I feel very at home and very comfortable here in Chile. The people are so friendly and welcoming and man do they feed you to death, thank goodness I walk everywhere or I would be a big as a blimp.

Now the second part, the what: Well, since landing in Chile, it´s been go, go, go. We celebrated Christmas Eve at the house in Pocuro, went to midnight mass, had a fantastic dinner and then woke up early on Christmas day to go where else, camping. Who would have thought that camping would be so big down here on Christmas day, but hey I learned something new this year, not everyone celebrates Christmas in snowpants, some like here in Chile celebrate in swimsuits. After Christmas we had a few days to unwind before heading to missions with St. George, the famous Holy Cross high school in Santiago. We went to Chiloé and all I can say was, amazing. My group from the high school left me wanting but my experience talking to the people down South was worth it. (Just for reference, Chiloé is about a 20 hour bus ride down to Southern Chile, we saw sea lions, and some even saw penguins on their trip) We got back from missions on Jan 14 and left for Pocuro on the 17th for CEVA, which in basic terms in summer camp for the kids in the pueblo. We played in a tree-less field from 9-6, Monday thru Friday, with some visits from firemen, a visit to the pool and on Saturday a trip to Santiago. As one camper said, we out did ourselves, every kid enjoyed it and now that I have time to think about it, so did I. We stayed up in Pocuro to celebrate Ryan´s birthday and finally headed back to Santiago. It´s been a January that has flown by and now moving onto February, pretty soon it will be March and time to start working, until then I think I´m going to rest and enjoy the Santiago summer.

Looking back on the month of January, I realize that I have done a lot of things. Each one being a challenge, yet each one I have passed. While I was in Bolivia, I never would have thought that two months in Chile would pass by so quickly, but here I am. I have learned so much about myself, challenged myself and succeded. I have been given such an amazing opportunity to do something wonderful here in Chile and if the rest of my time here is anything like January, then life will good, a challenge, but good.