Santiago, Chile

Santiago, Chile

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Going Home

On Wednesday I'm leaving Chile; heading home to the USA with my fiance where two weeks away a wedding awaits us, and beyond that a new life together in a new country and a new language (for him), a new career, and new prospects we have yet to discover. I've been here for two and a half years now, and it's amazing when I realize how many memories I've collected during this time, and how much I've missed out on at home. There are always two sides to that coin, I suppose. You have to sacrifice something, either time with your family in order to explore new places, or the possibility of further adventures in order to go back to the ones you love. I don't regret any of the choices I've made. I've had amazing experiences here in Chile, met some great people (and some awful ones), seen fantastic places, met the man of my dreams, and lived a different life. I will always cherish the good times I've shared with friends here, but I am glad to be going back to my family as I prepare to start one of my own.

So, the questions I always get: First, What will you miss the most about Chile?

In homage to my friend Anna, let me say first that I will miss my dear friends!! I'll miss Sunday night dinners that always made me feel like home. I'll miss that easy schedule that allowed me to meet for coffee in the middle of the day. I'll miss my super-king sized bed, from which I have a clear view of the Andes that glisten with snow after it rains. I'll miss delicious and inexpensive wine, riding my bike along Andres Bello at 9:30 when the sun is out and warming up the morning, riding up San Cristobal above the smog where you can see everything, and even more, whizzing down San Cristobal with the wind in my face and singing some happy song. I'll miss the food! I'll miss having great, cheap Peruvian food a few blocks away. I'll miss empanadas, queso fresco, manjar, the combinado at La Vega, the strange toppings on hot dogs, choripan, and the art that is the Chilean sandwich. I'll miss some of my really great students, with whom teaching English felt more like hanging out with a friend, only I got paid for it! I think I'll really miss this time of my life, being young and in love in a foreign country, when everything is new and exciting, and the "hard responsibilities" of parenthood, home ownership and career are still just ideas we have for the future.

The other question I always get: What will you do first when you get home?

The boring answer is: hug my mom when I see her at the airport, go home and sleep. But assuming you want the fun answer, I'll go to my sister's house and visit her and my niece and nephews, who have grown up so much while I've been away. I'll introduce my fiance to the rest of my family who haven't met him, and I'll go grocery shopping!! Yes, I really, really miss shopping in a grocery store (not having to call it a supermarket), where you have aisle after aisle of delicious food options! Diet! Organic! Fair Trade! Local! Fruits and vegetables that aren't even in season!! (I know I shouldn't admit it, but it's hard only eating seasonal produce). Cheese!! Varieties of cheese!! Cheddar, Swiss, Provolone! And those overpriced healthy juices that come in single servings, like Naked! You can even buy cosmetics and medicine and magazines at the grocery store!! I will go to whatever bookstore is still in business and sit in the cushy chairs and smell all the books, and skim them, and maybe buy some of them because I can afford to. I will drive my car.

And then, I will get married. November 16th is the big day, but this is a travel blog not a wedding blog so that's all I'll say about that. Then it becomes what we will do. We will go away for a few days on a mini honeymoon, and then we will come home and eat a REAL Thanksgiving with a turkey, and cranberry sauce, and stuffing, and pumpkin pie, and family. We will visit Washington DC and Baltimore and New York. We will move to our own place and get jobs. We will have Christmas in the cold weather, drinking peppermint mochas and decorating a tree and listening to Christmas carols in our own place, with no roommates. We will skype with our friends here in Chile, who meanwhile will be sipping cocktails on the roof by the pool, and we will tell ourselves we prefer the winter.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Caution: Pilgrims on the road

Every year, thousands of faithful pilgrims make their way across Chile to the Santuario de Lo Vasquez, located 80 km west of Santiago, to ask the Virgin there for favors or forgiveness on the day which is celebrated in Catholic countries as the day of the Immaculate Conception. According to the news channel 24 Horas, over a million people made the pilgrimage to this small rural temple complex this Thursday, thousands of them on bike. Last year, Din walked the 80+ kms from Pajaritos station to Lo Vasquez, and this year he asked me to go with him by bike.

I hadn't ridden a bike since I was about seven years old. An incident involving a bumble bee and crashing into some prickly bushes was enough to keep me from riding for about 17 years. In August Din decided it was ridiculous that a grown woman couldn't ride a bike, and he bought one from his "connected" friend for about $40, and thus began my training. I started off like a little kid, all wobbly and insecure, but with time I got better, and now I ride all over the city to all my classes, even on the street with the buses. I have to say I'm pretty pleased with my progress!

All this city biking didn't mean I was ready for a 50-mile ride leaving in the middle of the night, but I resolved to take it slow and get it done one way or another. So Din was in charge of preparing the bikes and I was in charge of preparing mentally. Wednesday afternoon when I had finished classes I picked up some rations and Din picked up the bikes from the shop. He did some final tweaking at home as I made a carb-loaded spaghetti dinner. We finally headed out a little after 10, taking the Alameda to Pajaritos and then getting on the 68, the highway to Valparaíso.
Me with the Pink Panther, Din with "Chilito" (the little pepper)

At first I was uncomfortable and stressing out because he had just put new handlebars on my bike and lifted the seat so it was at my hip bone, where it used to be at my upper thigh. I'm a shorty so this made it really hard to stop, and while we were still in the city I had to stop a lot, so I didn't have the smoothest start, but once we got on the highway I was fine.

The awesome thing about this pilgrimage is that they close the highway to traffic, so you have all the lanes to ride at ease with no cars to watch out for. And there are so many kinds of people who do it: the rich guys on their fancy mountain bikes, the poor guys who strap boom boxes to a cart that they pull behind them blasting reggaeton as they go, the middle class people like me and Din, the faithful, the athletic, the young, the old, the penitent, and the righteous. There were real gauchos (Chilean cowboys) and horse-drawn buggies.

I asked Din so many questions about why people do this, because I knew that most of them weren't like me and were actually doing it for their beliefs, but I couldn't see it looking at them. Maybe I'm judgemental, but some of these guys did not look like they thought much about where they were going in the afterlife. The way Din put it, they grew up with Catholicism, just like they grew up with reggaeton, violence, alcohol, and drugs. And just because they might sin doesn't mean they don't believe, and that's probably why they're going. I guess I still don't get the idea of believing you will go to hell for something and continuing to do it anyway.

After we got out of Santiago and were passing the airport, all the people from the poblas (poblaciones- the slums) had set up stands selling headlights, tail lights, water, and those glowing plastic things we buy on the 4th of July. Din had to stop at all of them, and we were outfitted with new headlights and some nifty decorations.

Din's bike with it's decorations in front of the lights stand 
We made our first pit stop at a Copec station and filled my tires with air, while Din did some other repairs. All of these stops really slowed us down at the start, but then we made better time, and as we were riding through the hills we could see the Coastal Range lit up by the full moonlight and smell the eucalyptus trees around us. This part really was a magical experience.
The Central Valley lit up by the moon

Then we were climbing through a hillside village and passed some local girls sitting on the edge of the road drinking wine in a box and yelling vulgar pick-up lines at the bikers (who were mostly young men), while the bikers, pumped up on a adrenaline and testosterone, yelled even more vulgar replies. Again, it seemed strange behavior for someone making a pilgrimage, but I'm trying to understand the way Din explained it.

We made a steady climb through those hills, stopping to eat at a tollbooth and making our last big ascent before hitting the Lo Prado Tunnel. After the tunnel it is a looooong, steady, steep descent into the valley before reaching Curacaví, the main town before Lo Vasquez. Remember, I have about 4.5 months of real biking experience, and I don't do hills. I'm pretty athletic, so going uphill is fine, as long as I stop for water some. But going downhill for me is HARD. Not physically, but psychologically. I, for one, do not love the wind rushing past my face with nothing to protect me but my helmet, riding on top of a thin scrap of metal and going faster and faster down a hill. For the experienced people I'm sure this is exhilarating, but at 3 am I was exhausted, and I squeezed the brakes the whole 20-30 minutes of the descent, and cried the whole time. I am a crier, I admit. I cried because of the exhaustion, because my hands hurt from squeezing the brakes so long, because I was afraid of crashing, for Din who wanted to go fast and me holding him back, and because I thought I was a bad companion. Oh man, I cried. Din finally insisted we stop and walk the bikes down the hill. (For the record, this was the only time we walked the bikes). And of course I ate some chocolate and then felt better. Once the road had levelled out some we got back on and decided to push it all the way to Curacaví, which was about 15 km ahead.

And so it was. We rolled into Curacaví at 4 am and pitched the tent outside the cemetery. We bought a couple of hot dogs from the stand across the street and I remember my last thought before going totally unconscious was "oh, this is so uncomfortable."

The hotdog stand in Curacaví
We woke up at 6 to an irritating phone call from our neighbor downstairs complaining about the noise in our apartment, which had pretty big consequences, but is a subject for another blog. After that we couldn't rest anymore and we still had about 35 km left so we decided to get up and get moving. We got a couple coffees from the stand, ate some cookies, packed up, and headed out at 7. We were both in good shape in spite of the lack of sleep, and we made good time on the second leg of our trip. The sun was shining, there was a cool breeze, and the ride ahead once we got out of the town was through the Casablanca Valley and its fields of grapevines. Immediately after Curacaví we had to climb the Cuesta Zapata. This was the steepest hill, but thanks to 2 sets of gears we made it with only 2 stops for water and snacks and 1 to put my chain back on after it had slipped. We went through another tunnel and then downhill (a smoother slope this time) past vineyards and into an easy pace and incline. We rode along like this, talking and laughing, awake on pure adrenaline, for a couple of hours. We had one more big hill to tackle, Cuesta Lo Vasquez, and by then we were pretty wiped out. But we did it! (see video) and when we reached the top we could see the Sanctuary and the sprawling fair and thousands of people around it.

We were both pretty ecstatic as we coasted down the last hill to Lo Vasquez at 11 am until we came to the beginning of the whole thing. I have to say, if there is a hell on earth, that was my version. By 11:00 the sun in central Chile is hot, no, boiling. As if riding 80 km wasn't enough to a penance, we had to weave our way through throngs of people under the scorching sun, under tents selling hot empanadas, barbecued skewers, grilled hot dogs, and all that smoke and no breeze flowing in because it was all covered. Not to mention all the people who came in by the busloads to leave flowers for the Virgin, who gave us dirty looks if we bumped into them with our bikes, even though it was so crowded that it would be impossible not to. It was like the metro at rush hour. And this fair was that kind of fair where you keep your purse tucked under your arm and never let your loved ones out of your sight. And who knew that riding a bike for so long would hurt your feet? Maybe it was just wearing the same shoes for a long time, but there I was, bright red as a tomato, with my feet halfway in my shoes because my toes were so sore, clinging to my bike, looking over my shoulder every 30 seconds to look for Din, trying not to run over old people's feet or small children, with a neon yellow vest over my head to keep the sun off me. All doubts about being a good companion dissolved.

But this was what we had come for: Din bought some white carnations to leave at the Virgin's feet. I didn't get to see the Virgin; I found a spot on a step and sat drinking water and eating bread while Din waited in line to leave his offering. When he came back I was ready to get in line for the bus to Santiago, so although he was ready to eat one of everything they were selling, he agreed to work our way back through the crowd and find the bus. The line for people with bikes was about 150 people deep, and they were only loading 7 bikes at a time. We got in line at noon and waited under that damn midday sun for an hour and fifteen minutes, hungry, tired and thirsty, until they loaded us on to a bus- a bus that left the fair only to sit on some country road in the middle of the Casablanca Valley for 2 hours. I guess there was traffic or a road was closed because of the pilgrimage, but I never found out, and to be honest, everyone on that bus slept those whole 2 hours. I never heard a single complaint except from the driver. We got back to Santiago at 4:30 and had to get back on our bikes for the last trip home. It was rough last ride, but worth the unforgettable experience.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Here comes the novia

I have BIG news which calls for some serious updating. As you have heard or can guess by my title, Din and I are ENGAGED! Yes, amazing, I know. It happened so fast, we're so young, this could be complicated, etc. But I am really excited. And HAPPY! First thing's first, let me tell you about the proposal....

Last year when my friends came to visit I took them to this little eco-friendly surf hostel in Ritoque, about an hour north of Valparaíso. I loved the hostel and the location and I had been wanting to go back, but with Din's schedule and our lack of funds, we didn't manage until last weekend, to celebrate my 25th birthday. This was after I had hosted Thanksgiving (a week of cooking and cleaning) and I could make no excuses to stay in Santiago when a relaxing beach weekend was just a short bus ride away. So I booked the private double at Ritoque Raíces and we left on Saturday morning. On the bus ride we noticed the strange but all-to-familiar phenomenon of leaving behind sunny Santiago, not a cloud in the sky, and after descending from the Coastal Range, hitting a solid curtian of dark gray clouds that hug the coast. I want to sound like I know something about this country where I live, so I'll attribute this to the Humbolt current and the temperature differences, but really I never leave the city and have no clue why this happens. Anyway, we arrive in Quintero and picked up some groceries, and an unusual request by Din to buy champagne piqued my curiosity. But damn me for telling him that we didn't need any because I had brought wine. Oh well. 

The room was not what we were expecting. After months of me telling him how awesome this hostel was, we were both pretty disappointed when the would-be subsititute host (the owner was out of town when we arrived) showed us to a dingy room with low ceilings, an unfinished mural that looked like a child had been doodling on the walls, a strange odor wafting from our bathroom, and the BED. Oh, the bed. I don't know where this thing came from or what possessed Angie (the owner) to buy it and put it in her hostel, but it was like laying on metal coils covered by a sheet. I had to position myself all night long so that the springs were poking me in the muscles and not my spine or hips. Ugh.

So Din got a little pouty, and I wasn't in the mood to put up with that, so I told him (a little insensitively in retrospect) that if he didn't like it we could go back to Santiago, or go find a place in Valpo for the night. Unbeknownst to me, this did not fit into his plan of asking me to marry him and having a romantic night just the two of us in an isolated beach. But we went for a walk, and he cooled off, and we made the best of it. We curled up on the hostel couch and I read Wuthering Heights, and he browsed the Nat Geo collection and looked for English words he knew. As the afternoon wore on, I kept asking him when we would start making dinner. He kept telling me "not yet, let's wait another hour". Poor Din's heart was probably beating like crazy for several hours as I sat immersed in Catherine and Heathcliff. 

Finally I couldn't take it any more, so at about 8:00 I started cooking the hamburgers and toasting the marraqueta. He busied himself making votives out of cut up plastic bottles, and by 8:30 it was dark and brooding outside and we took our food, wine, and candles down to the deserted beach. We planted ourselves on a grassy patch and made our picnic, with his ipod shuffle inside a shell amplifier to set the mood. 

The grassy spot...imagine candlelight

After we finished eating (thank god I thought to rinse my hands off in the surf as they were covered in ketchup) he started saying sweet things, and reflecting on our year together and how happy he was and how much I meant to him. And then he just popped the question: Quieres casarte conmigo? 
The ring! We decided on the right hand then
Mind you, this is not the first time I've heard him utter these words, but in the past the question has been hypothetical. So this night I had to ask him what kind of question it was (meaning Are you for real???). But then, as if suddenly remembering, he reached behind his back and presented a little box. He opened it and revealed a little ring with something very shiny in the middle. I believe my response was something to the effect of  OMAIGODOMYGODOHMYOGMYGOOOOODDDDD!!!! Yes!! And after some tearful hugging and kissing, one of us remembered to put the ring on my finger, and had a moment in which we realized we didn't know which finger it would go on (still resolving this issue). So after trying to draw out that moment as long as possible, I couldn't contain it any more and I had to take the picnic back to the hostel and tell whoever was there.

The two of us in our little hostel room
By that time, Angie had returned, and I showed her the ring, and she was excited, and invited us to a glass of wine with the others who were hanging out on the porch. It was weird sharing something so personal with people I didn't know, especially since my own family didn't know yet. (There was no internet at the hostel and my phone had died, so I was incommunicado until we got back to Santiago).

So that's the story. Beautiful, romantic, and memorable, and brings a smile to my face as I recall it. 

The next chapter was less so. On Monday I started compiling all the documents needed for the fiancé visa petition. We both knew that our next step would be to apply for the visa and go to the US to get married and make a life. Luckily, I had most of the paperwork ready and just had to double check, print some things out, and get some new passport photos. I sent off the petition package on Wednesday, so hopefully by the end of December we'll know if it was accepted and we can move on to the even bigger task of the visa application.

In the meantime, we head off to Peru in about a week to spend Christmas with his family, who I will be meeting for the first time. I am nervous, but I think I'm good with parents. Of course, I don't really know what Peruvian parents, or his parents in particular, want or if it's any different than what other parents want. But I am eager to meet them and to get away from Chile for a bit, and have the romantic beach weekend we've been craving. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


It’s funny how the longer you spend in a place the less you have to say about it. I realized that I hadn’t updated my blog since last October, so while I’d like to say that it’s just because I am so integrated into Santiago culture, it’s probably because I finally had other things to do. It’s been a busy 8 months: I met Din and we started dating in November (the primary reason for my blogosphere absence), three of my friends came to visit over the summer, many other friends have gone on to other teaching jobs or headed home (lots of despedidas), and my grandmother passed away in February, which required me to make an unexpected trip back to MD. Before that trip I had moved out of my place due to “personality conflicts”, and so I’d been crashing with friends and the bf. When I returned to Santiago I decided to take a risk and move in with Din despite only having dated 3 months. No regrets.  In April my dad came to visit and we toured around the south, then my latest nephew Jake was born and finalIy I went back home again for my mom’s wedding in May. Eight months in brief: birth, death, marriage, traveling, friends, family, hellos, and goodbyes.

Since winter has hit things have slowed down a bit, thank God. At work I have some new responsibilities (yawn) and I admit to having no scruples about spending a whole weekend doing chores, going to the gym, and watching every illegally available movie on cuevana. But to be honest, now that I have free time again it would be nice to pursue new things. I have effectively given up capoeira (having a new bf makes it a bit awkward to revisit site of the Chilean redneck aka ex-whatever-he-was). It would be nice to take a class but I have no girl pals to drag with me to dance lessons, and apparently pursuing new hobbies isn’t so common (or affordable) in Chile. Based on recent Googling, my options are Chinese medicine, belly dance, makeup artistry, guitar, and English. Yikes. I think I will stick to agonizing about my near and distant future, fueled by the excessive English-language broadcasting of TLC and Discovery Home&Health shows. What are my chances of getting a job in the US? Must I rely on my dad for financial support? Will I ever qualify for a mortgage? Can I pull off a bilingual and binational wedding and raise adorable mestizo babies? I know, I’m thinking way ahead. For now, I will save up money from my boring job, figure out how to maintain the household I’m living in, and updating my LinkedIn (and my blog!) on the regular.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Social Network

No, I'm not going to review the movie about Mark Zuckerburg, or critique the new Twitter, or complain about how FourSquare is an invasion of privacy. Before we went crazy for social networking applications, we had real friends, we had phone numbers and address books, and we heard about news face-to-face (or through the grapevine, a saying that will mean nothing to the teenagers I used to teach). Living in a foreign country, I admit I log on to Facebook several times a day to keep up with friends across the globe and to make plans with ones down the street, but the ones I really love and who I miss most in my life I make an effort to talk to now and then on Skype or Google Voice (okay, they're still internet-based, but they're at least a little more personal like the old-fashioned telephone).

If I were to map out all my social connections (I've done it), it would look like a confusing, spider-webby mess. Here in Chile alone I have friends I've made through work, capoeira, those I've been introduced to by mutual friends from the US, those I've met through friends here, and those who I met the previous time I came here. But compared to my social network at home, this messy spider web has just a few spindly branches, mostly which cluster around fellow gringos. When you live in a foreign country, you tend to hang out with other people like yourself. Despite my wishes to get to know Chilean culture and to be welcomed with open arms into a group of local friends, it's just a lot easier to make friends with people who share a language and a culture. And when you're far from home, you tend to cling to the familiar.

The problem with this tendency is that just because you share a language and a culture with someone doesn't mean you share a personality, or goals, or a sense of humor, or interests, or...well, you get the idea. You push yourself into a group of people whom you may never have been friends with in a different context, say, at home in the US. The situation is what bonds you, and sometimes, that's just not enough to sustain a true friendship. Inevitably, conflicts arise. I'm a pretty easy-going person, but even I have occasional spats with my gringo friends here in Chile. We patch it up, either because we want to or because we have to in order to maintain our compatriotic friendship. When you're in that spat, the lack of big, bushy branches in your social network web that you had back home make severing any ties extra difficult. In case the analogy doesn't click, basically when you have tons of friends because you've been living in a place for years, it's easy to let go of people who make you mad, but when you don't have tons of friends because you've only been living somewhere a short time and it's difficult because of linguistic and cultural barriers to meet people, it's a lot more difficult to cut people out of your life.

And when times are tough, who do you turn to for support? Family and friends. When I was living in Baltimore there was a night when I felt bad and had to get out of my apartment at 2 am. I had 4 friends who I knew I could call and would give me a place to crash for the night (only one woke up at the sound of her phone ringing). It was comforting to know that I had people to count on when I needed help, at any hour of the night. Here in Chile, although I know I could call my family and friends on Skype at any time of night, I don't really have anywhere to go if I needed to get away. And when you fight with your friends, who are also your roommates, who are also your co-workers, you realize how interconnected and small your social circle is. Breaking bonds with these people means ostracism at work, at home, and in your social life. If you need to get away for a while, you can't go stay at your parents' house for the weekend. You can't skip town to cool off because you can't afford to travel and you don't have anywhere to go. It makes it all the more essential to maintain those friendships, yet because they're based on circumstances and not true shared interests, maintaining them can be extra difficult.

So while I love my friends here, and we are all on good terms, having fought with them in the past made me realize that being in a foreign county can be volatile. Your highs are extra high because you're traveling, which makes everything more exciting. A hot dog in Chile somehow tastes so much better than in the US, a beer is more refreshing, overcoming challenges is more rewarding. But when you have lows, they are extra low because you don't have the bushy, comforting branches of your network of family and friends to rely on for support. When small setbacks happen, they can seem gargantuan hurdles because you have to face them alone. So even though my Facebook says I have 605 friends, there are days when I feel like I'm starting from zero. On those days, I remember how we talked to each other before the internet took over our social lives, and I pick up the headset, type in a phone number, and call someone I know will answer the phone. Even though my friends and family are far away, I know I can count on them because we're connected by more than just the stamp on our passports.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Don't walk in my toilet?

The single most challenging experience I’ve had in Chile thus far has been dating a Chilean. For two months I was obsessed with a guy from my capoeira class: broad shoulders, perfect muscles, tan, good facial structure, able to do flips, kicks, an somersaults in midair. He invited me to a samba class but then never called me, so I figured he must not like me that much. The next time he invited me I didn’t answer the phone, I just sent him a message saying I was busy. The third time I finally went, but because I couldn’t understand him over the phone I didn’t realize until I arrived that he hadn’t invited me to samba but to a capoeira event.

In any case, we finally started seeing each other outside of class, and I was giddy every time I had the opportunity to go out with him. I bored my roommates by retelling every detail of every date and everything he said to me after each class. Finally, he invited me to Valparaiso for the weekend for another (what else?) capoeira event. He finally kissed me when we were dancing, and the first thing I wanted to do was text my roommate and tell her. I finally had my confirmation that he did like me and all these excursions were in fact dates after all. Dating is confusing enough when you share a language and a culture, but when you don’t, you never have any idea what’s going on.

Back in Santiago things were a little awkward in class but I kept my distance and played it cool, and we continued to see each other. As I got to know him I learned he’s 28, teaches tennis and capoeira for a living, and lives with his parents (shocking, I know, but suspend judgment because that’s normal here).

I finally invited him over to my place and he started hanging around more than is customary here I suppose, because my roommates pulled me aside one night and told me that he was taking advantage of the situation in order to get away from his parents’ house. This never would have occurred to me since in the US hanging out a lot at your new girl’s house isn’t really weird (and no one has the need to escape their parent’s house at 28). In any event, I promised them I wouldn’t bring him around as much.

We continued dating, but my infatuation faded to interest. He could be a bit condescending at times, not because he meant to be, but probably because he’d never dated a gringa before and I don’t think he realized how much I understand. I am a very proud person and I don’t take kindly to condescension, so I always responded with some sarcastic comment. I could tell at that point that the relationship wasn’t going to work out.

Nonetheless, I kept seeing the guy because my friends are all in serious relationships and I didn’t want to be stuck at home alone on a Saturday night or playing the 3rd, 5th, or 7th wheel at all the social outings. If we were just dating and it was nothing serious, I could tolerate his ignorance in exchange for some company, I told myself.

But one night, I’m hanging out with him at my place and I hear a knock on my door. I decide to ignore it since I figure it’s just my roommates complaining about having a stranger in the house again and I wasn’t in the mood to hear it. But a couple minutes later I hear another knock. I decide I better go see what’s the matter, and I find my roommate puttering in the kitchen with a mop and some Lysol.

“Did you use the bathroom?” he asked me.

“No, why?”

“Was it your friend?” (he refuses to acknowledge that we are actually dating)

“I don’t know, maybe. Why?”

“There’s piss all over the floor,” he tells me.



He takes me to the bathroom and shows me some wet spots on the floor next to the toilet.

“A little more respect,” he growls at me. “That’s all.” He didn’t speak to me for a couple days after that.

Poll: you’ve just started dating a guy in a foreign country. Every interaction you have is in your second language and therefore requires twice the effort and causes you to over-analyze twice as much as you would in your own country. He pees on your floor and doesn’t clean it up. What do you do?

What did I do? Speechless, returned to my room, told him I was tired and had to go to bed, and never brought it up. How do you bring that up? I’m not even sure my English is good enough for that conversation, much less my Spanish.

And so my interest faded to confusion, disapproval, and desperation. Was this infraction of basic hygiene rules enough of a reason for me to stop seeing him? Could I tell him “Look, you peed on my floor, and now we can’t see each other”? Or have the softer yet insincere “It’s not you, it’s me” talk? Was I ready to face the awkwardness that would be capoeira class afterwards?

Apparently not. For some reason I kept seeing the guy. I took a week off when I went on vacation to Colombia, figuring that when I came back maybe things would be clearer or I would have more guts. Of course, when I returned to Chile it was all exactly the same. My solution was to not allow him in the house (I made him wait outside on the sidewalk while I ran upstairs to pick up a coat and some extra cash one night) but to keep seeing him if I had nothing else to do because it was easier than confronting the situation.

Now, instead of boring my roommates with details of our dates I harassed them for their advice on what the hell I was supposed to do. They had little sympathy for me, naturally, and told me to dump the guy for once. Instead, I invited him to happy hour with my whole group of gringo friends and another Chilean guy friend who had a big crush on me. Bad idea possibly conceived because of a few too many Kuntsmans.

When I introduced Capoeira Man the Other Guy, CM asked him what he did for a living. OG told him he was a psychologist, and CM replied “Oh, me too”. So in addition to being a condescending floor-pisser, he’s a liar. Fantastic.

Clearly undaunted, I saw him one more time when I invited him to a barbecue with the same group of friends. (Other Guy hasn’t spoken to me since now that he knows I’m not interested, and thus I lose all my single male Chilean friends). Afterwards, my friends tell me they couldn’t understand a word the guy said and that I’m essentially dating a Chilean redneck. And this whole time I thought I couldn’t understand him because my Spanish was bad even though I don’t have this problem with anyone else.

I like to think that this was the final straw not because of my personal issues with all things redneck (having grown up in rural Frederick County, Maryland), but because there were really a lot of straws beneath it. My confusion, disapproval, and desperation plummeted to pity and disdain. I couldn’t bear to look at the guy anymore. Hanging out at my apartment the last time, I felt a dire urge to get rid of him. I knew that I could no longer accept his dates out of boredom. I would rather sit at home alone watching old episodes of Glee, or be the 21st wheel every Saturday night for the rest of my time in Chile than have to listen to him tell me I was getting better at dancing or ask him to repeat what he said one more time when I didn’t really give a damn in the first place.

Since then I have seen him in class, and I avoid the mouth kiss by turning to the side for the socially-acceptable and platonic cheek kiss. When he calls I don’t answer, and when he texts I tell him I’m busy. I think he will get the hint. Maybe I’m cruel, but I think my instincts are struggling in this intercultural context. I like to think my attraction to someone doesn’t rise and fall like a roller coaster when I know what I’m dealing with. But I suppose that’s part of the adventure of having a Latin lover: like a box of chocolates, you might get an Antonio Banderas, but then again, you might get the Bumblebee Man.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

2010: Something to celebrate

When I came to Chile three years ago I had the distinct impression that Chileans were not like their proud neighbors to the east, Argentina and Brazil. With no World Cup trophies, no post-card quality women or beaches, and no traditions of tango, Chileans seemed to view themselves as the nerdy cousins of these South American giants. Admittedly, I had to agree. If you look at a map of South America, Chile is like the crust on the bread that is the rest of the continent. It clings on to a rocky shore, a narrow strip about to crumble into the ocean. The most common question I was asked wasn't the usual "Do you have a boyfriend?" that I heard in other parts of Latin America, but rather "Why did you come to Chile?". I was never able to formulate an adequate response.

After doing some research I learned that it wasn't just coincidence that everyone I met wondered why foreigners came to Chile. I read about the country's national identity crisis; possibly due to its history of violent conquest and dictatorship, its geographic isolation, or its cultural austerity, Chileans have gained a reputation (which they seem to have internalized whether it's true or not) of being small, quiet, hard-working, and very humble.

On my second journey here, I feel I have discovered an answer to the question that seemed to plague so many Chileans. This country is magnificent- blessed with mountains, beaches, glaciers, deserts, salt flats, rivers, volcanoes, and lakes. It's safe, modern, and easy to live in. The economy is good, which is really the main reason why I came. And although it isn't exactly Sweden, its social programs put it ahead of the US in caring for its citizens. And now I can add to the list the amazing people I have met here.

The best thing of all, though, is that it seems like Chileans themselves are starting to realize how great their country is. After a natural disaster, the culture of a country can change dramatically, people get swept up in a wave of patriotism (think post 9/11). After the earthquake in February that killed over 500 people and displaced millions, Chileans worked together to rebuild destroyed homes and feed their compatriots. Although I wasn't in the country to witness this, I have been here to witness its aftermath.

Since the nationalistic cultural shift, several other events have given Chileans the opportunity to wave their flag with pride: the historic World Cup victory over Honduras and the national team's advancement to the second round, the tragedy (and the glory) of the accident that trapped 33 miners in Copiapo, and soon dieciocho (September 18), the day Chile will celebrate its bicentennial.

In the three years since I'd been away, Chile changed a lot. Although I still get asked why I came here, the question no longer implies that Chile isn't worth visiting. Chileans are more open to me, and I am more open to them (after all, 3 years have changed me, too). This year seems to be a turning point for Chile; a new president, a natural disaster, a record-breaking sports victory, a national drama, and a 200th birthday. Like the world-class wine its sun-soaked valleys produce, Chile just gets better with age. Feliz cumpleaños!