Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merton my hero

"For it is God's love that warms me in the sun and God's love that sends the cold rain. It is God's love that feeds me in the bread I eat and God that feeds me also by hunger and fasting. It is the love of God that sends the winter days when I am cold and sick, and the hot summer when I labor and my clothes are full of sweat: but it is God Who breathes on me with light winds off the river and in the breezes out of the wood...If these seeds would take root in my liberty, and if His will would grow from my freedom, I would become the love that He is, and my harvest would be His glory and my own joy. And I would grow together with thousands and millions of other freedoms into the gold of one huge field praising God, loaded with increase,loaded with wheat. If in all things I consider only the heat and the cold, the food or the hunger, the sickness or the labor, the beauty or pleasure, the success and failure and material good or evil my works have won for my own will, I will find only emptiness, not happiness. I shall not be fed, I shall not be full. For my food is the will of Him Who made me and Who made all things in order to give Himself to me through them."

Monday, December 03, 2007

longing for winter

It's raining in Seattle.
Not the soft, damp shroud that usually embraces the city--but wet, rolling, indeterminate rain. It started early this morning. It seems as if it has no intention of stopping.
I'm not accustomed to this kind of rain--the kind that you imagine would make you feel lonely, for the sheer, heavy insistence of it; blocking out the world of all sound but its steady drumming. But strangely, it doesn't. Doesn't make you lonely, I mean. Maybe by blocking out the ambiguous void of the world out there, it has entrapped me in something certain and familiar, unrequested, but needed.
Maybe we get stuck for a reason.
Did you know the rain whispers? It is something that enchants me about this place; the reason I will never be able to settle my soul anywhere but exactly here. And a whisperer casts a spell, weaves you into the eternal and the moment all at once. The rain here does this. Tonight her voice is husky and pregnant with intention.
This place claims me. Sometimes I believe that it is I who have chosen it, but that is not true. I was claimed early on; maybe my cord was buried in the soil as I would like to believe.
Regardless, claimed. Where do I think I can run and find one that would hold me this way...
Stay. for the rain whispers it so.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

the returning

Home, in Seattle, officially.
It's been about four weeks now and with the mountain of laundry just about done I can finally see my floor. I've also been doing a little bit of hiking, waitressing, roadtripping, margarita-drinking, and catching-up with friends and family.

It's been an amazing month but insanely busy. This week has been "Math Camp"--a math refresher course put on by University of Washington, math homework, babysitting, job meetings, stress over class scheduling, etc, etc. The pre-school crunch---that love/hate relationship. I've realized that cars definitely make things much more efficient, which means you can pack 5 times more into one day--something I eagerly awaited being without a car in Chile, but now...? being immobile is starting to look attractive ;)

It's hard to come up with 'closing thoughts' about Chile. In some ways I feel like leaving was anti-climactic because I think somehow I expect to go back at some point--if even just to visit. My last few weeks were full of activities with the girls, dancing at Maestra Vida, live drumfest, a day of skiing in the Andes, and even a hint of warmer weather (Yes, I left Winter there just to get ready for Winter coming here--where was the logic?!)

I'm eager to go back, but also enjoying (and more deeply appreciating) those things I love about this city--boats, water, trees, music, food, paved sidewalks...
I feel very lucky to have had my experience in Chile. Not only for the experience there, but for what it has given me to carry back here. Of course, even just four weeks out, I am looking back on my life there with rose-colored glasses. But there were parts of life there that merited those glasses, and the parts which I found more difficult just gave me more opportunities to appreciate the parts which were beautiful. I think that's something that I'm carrying home with me--a greater appreciation. For people in my life. For the opportunities I have in this country. For the roadblacks that cause me to look around at what's beside me rather than always what's up ahead.

Also, I read/am reading some great books which definitely defined my time down there...If anyone's interested:

The Gringo Trail, by Mark Mann

The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell

The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell

The ReEnchantment of Everyday Life, Thomas Moore


Five thousand fires enfolded
me catching fire
in this far night

Ancient glacier unrolling
me rising tired
claims fading light

what is it spent that spends me to heaven

what is it given
that gives me this turn

and wonder

pour with and from me
and steady





52 minutes from Pisac to Cusco.
A man holding a single pink rose dozes beside me. His head bobs and turns with the sharply mounting curves. And - luckily - the quiet darkness keeps those of us awake from seeing just how sharp are those curves we are embracing.
Seven Germans behind me and one more on either side. A Qechua woman's thick, black braids tumble down her back like streams of water. A small, round hat perched impossibly atop her head.
We catch sight of more potential passengers in the headlight...
An aisle full of rocking bodies.

Our diesel smoke rolls along the steep valley walls and somewhere far beneath us, alpacas mingle with ancient Incas.
The Copa Americana sings to us through a lisping radio: "somos peruanos...orgulloso...nuestros jugadores...GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!!!!!
And Peru clinches 3 to Uruguay's 0.

52 minutes from Pisac to Cusco.
A small black wristwatch on a deep, brown arm counts and collects each one.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Fotitos de Santiago

The Cordillera after a huge rainfall in the city...Amazing because we get both snowy mountains to gape at and a few days of clear air without the smog.

Outside Maestra Vida--yes, salsa dancing again.

A couple shots from salsa dancing at Cafe Brasil--not quite Maestra Vida but I guess you've got to switch it up sometimes, yeah?

Macchu Picchu, Peru.

3 Stars on the Southern Cross

Santiago, Chile.

It seems like a long time since I've written anything about being here...I keep starting something up, get interrupted and then return to it and all my thoughts have changed. Time is moving really fast. I only spend 4 or 5 hours a day actually at the hogar with the kids, but spend an hour and a half commuting and many more going to meetings, buying groceries, and planning activities to do while I'm at work.
I miss my car! I miss being able to go to one store and get groceries, develop photos, buy office supplies and then drive it all home where I can quickly hop onto the internet to write e-mails while unpacking groceries and cleaning up the house. I feel like I never have nearly enough time here to get anything done—I hate feeling inefficient. That word keeps coming to me—efficiency. The US is so efficient. Rapid. Streamlined. Everything here requires at least 3 times as many steps to accomplish. Which means 3 times as much contact with different people. And ends up being at the very least interesting, if not downright fun—but means I'm generally late to everywhere. And I'm already a late person, so you can only imagine.

It's freezing in Santiago—yep, still Winter. My roommate Tyler and I cozy up with the gas heater every night and watch pirated movies and entire seasons of Rome. By the time morning comes, my bed is warm and it takes everything in me to voluntarily get out of it. I can't remember the last time I got to go somewhere barefoot—something I never thought of as a luxury.

I've started talking with the house moms at the hogar about my leaving and how to help prepare future volunteers for working with the girls—trying to maintain continuity in our activities and help them adjust to the comings and goings of so many people. In the middle of one conversation this last weekend, it hit me just how much I'm not prepared to say goodbye to them. The only significant goodbyes I've ever had to say were to people that I always intended to see again—maybe months later, but again. I'm not going to see these girls again, and I'm enforcing every message that they carry with them every day—that people leave them. Most of them let it slide right off their backs because they've learned how. And I doubt that any of them still pine over a departed volunteer. But to know how much it would make a difference if they had someone who actually was there consistently—to give them individual attention and support them as they went through the teenage years that are already a bit, well, rough, even without trying to go it alone.

I know I can't stay here longer. Not many of us can commit to longer than 6 months or so without any sort of financial support. And now that I'm nearly reaching that 6 month mark, I realize how short that time really is. Barely enough time to really learn their lives, their quirks, the system in which they live. What I could do with more time...Maybe it's irresponsible to come here like this, so abrupt, brusque. We think and talk about this a lot, the volunteers. The first times we start hearing them say I love you, and asking us not to leave. Wondering what the hell we were thinking it would be like for them? Or how much I really thought about them before I came—did I think much beyond what it would be like for me?

In the end, I think it's a good thing. Major flaws--as life always has, but the chance to know and learn and share between us makes it good, I think—on both sides. For those of us who come, we are all leaving changed in ways we couldn't have anticipated. And for the kids here, I don't know. I can't say certainly it's better for us to come and go rather than never come at all, but somehow I believe that it is. I need to hope that it is.


So when you enter Chile, you pay $100 US and you're given a 90 day tourist visa. After 90 days, you leave the country, come back again and get another 90 days. If you overstay that 90 days, you become an 'ilegal' and then have to go turn yourself in to the immigration office where you wait in line for 3 hours or so with a lot of Bolivians and Peruvians, and then wait some more for them to send you with various numbers in hand to various stamping authorities, and then you hope that they will think it was good of you to offer yourself up to the law and reluctantly pass over to you a letter of amnesty.
How do I know this? 105 days in Chile. Oops.

I was lucky—amnesty letter to leave the country (within 10 days, no more or the Carabineros are after me) and I didn't even have to pay a fine! So, ok, it's not as serious as I make it sound—I don't think? But you never really know around here what's going to be important. There's an entrance paper that you get when you cross a border—a little slip no bigger than your hand—and if you lose that, there's hell to pay when you try to leave. Can you imagine how many wandering backpackers have made it to the border barely able to find their passport, much less some random yellow slip?

So with letter in hand, I hopped on a TurBus trip up to Arica, a beach town on the border with Peru. 30 hours there and then another 17 hours beyond that, I should be in Cusco to meet up with some friends for the week. What a haul. 50 hours later I pulled into the hostal badly in need of a shower but happy and strangely refreshed by traveling. Not much to see in the northern desert of Chile, but the highlands of Peru were gorgeous—trees and mountains..I didn't realize how much I'd missed that.

Cusco was 75 degrees and sunny, red-tiled roofs and cobbled streets. In just the taxi ride to the hostal I saw more gringos than in four months in Santiago. It was festival week in Cusco so there were more tourists than usual—being the starting off point for exploring Macchu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, Cusco is definitely a tourism hub. We got there just in time for the festival of Inti Raymi—parades, dancing, music and even a llama sacrifice as a reenactment of ancient Incan rituals. It was pretty amazing, and colorful and crazy...Kids wandering around the streets with lambs wrapped around their necks so that tourists could photograph them, troops of people dancing with masks and drums and huge floats made to look like 30 foot long insects, flutes and drums and then, more flutes and drums. A little bit different from Chile.

We spent 3 days there and then went to stay for the night in a little pueblo in the Valley—Pisac. The friend I was with, Christi, had two adopted siblings from Peru so she was really eager to see where they had been born. We went to their birth town and she was able to talk with the municipal hospitals and take photos of the town and countryside. We ate amazing food at cafes run by expat Germans (despite the fact that I spent one night vomiting up the mushroom and cheese sandwich which had been so 'amazing' a few hours earlier) (oh and by the way, apparently most stomach illnesses in Peru can be solved by drinking Coca-Cola—only the real thing, none of that diet crap), we went to markets and bought alpaca sweaters, earrings and puma carvings, and even tried to visit some of the Incan terraces, although after a cab ride there turned back when shocked by the $20 entrance—do you know how many puma carvings you could buy with that? (Admission: I was still dealing with the mushroom and cheese ordeal so I was stoked to take the taxi back). We also spent a good part of our time in Pisac playing with the 2 month-old Alpaca, Wykeyche, who lived in our hostal. We fed him milk from a bottle (he had been orphaned at birth) and let him watch while we practiced Tai Chi with one of the owners. Definitely different from Chile.

Back in Cusco for a night and then the next morning to Macchu Picchu. I can't really do justice to this part of our trip so I'm not going to try very hard. It was better than I expected by a long shot. If any of you have seen pictures, I'm sure you can imagine why...And then the whole sense of the place once you're actually there—incredibly spiritual. Even peaceful, regardless of the thousands of other people wandering about. We spent about 10 hours there, walking and soaking it all in.

I spent about 3 more days beyond that hanging out in Cusco—warm sunny days reading in the Plaza de Armas and cold nights at 9,000 ft altitude (or somewhere near that?) watching Copa America soccer games and eating sandwiches from street vendors (you'd think I'd be smarter after the mushrooms, right?). Finally hopped back on a bus to make my way to the Chilean border but was held up by strikes—in some random Peruvian pueblo the people had organized a sit-in and I was told I would have to get off and walk around it. Luckily there was no 3am trek through the Peruvian countryside, but we did hang out for 2 hours on some random dirt road—it was so cold at 12,000ft I watched the condensation on the window hardening into ice. I made it to the border and over, and por fin, onto a 30 hour bus back to Santiago. The whole trip in total? 65 hours back...but vale la pena—completely worth it--for the entire experience.


OK. So I know I'm not actually there yet. Just thought I'd give a little update for anyone who is actually still reading this ;)
I'll be back sometime mid to late August, completely broke and probably more than a little bit happy to see sun in August as it should be but isn't down here in the Southern half. It seems like everyone I know has either already moved, is getting ready to move, or wants to move—or else I haven't heard anything from you, which means you probably are already packing your boxes. So maybe when you come back through Seattle you can look me up because I actually plan on staying put for awhile.
I'm starting up classes at the Evans School at UW in September—I'm getting--well, starting--a degree in Environmental Policy and trying to tack on Latin American Studies as well...hoping that means I get to go south again at some point? But not for long—like I said, Seattle is homebase.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

to be here, and to recognize it. as here. to take that look heavenward without even the consciousness that it was needed--and breathe. It was needed. And I knew that somewhere. To greet the long-limbed trees and their folding, limping leaves. Amidst this busy street something settles in me. I´m quiet--despite the charcoal eyes of a thousand passing strangers, the lumbering madness of a hundred crowded buses. the diesel, the dust and the lung I´ve seemed to sacrifice. To this city. this glorious, uncelebrated, contaminated city. I find my quiet here on Avenue Makul because, unwittingly, in the smog of a dozen burning questions, I find myself coming to life and liberation.

does this square with what I´ve imagined? Not the slightest. my dreamer´s weeds could not have better choked this picture. yet luckily I live not in the image, but in the smoke of something smoldering deeper in me and in the machinations of this still-composing continent. a country often moved by tectonics is still and never settling into it´s identity. the star of south america? the failure of ecology. the beauty and the bounty persisting despite relentless assault. If I can find peace here, I know that my peace is dropping deeper yet within me.

From Cusco to Macchu Picchu, with Inti Raymi in between...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Inti Raymi

Festival in Cusco, Peru. Taking a vacation from Santiago to renew my visa and see more of the continent.
It`s definitely a lot more colorful here. And the food is better. Maybe that`s just Cusco...? We spent the last three days watching relentless parades and dancing and even a llama sacrifice. Lots of Andean drums and pan flutes.

in the city

rap it release it
let it all flow
the spasms of energy
exploding inside me
yearning for their breath
their blow
flower, maybe
more likely errode
stripping off my insides
trying to find
an anecdote
release or peace
a moment`s scream
or something sane and slow
I don`t know
like fire roling through me
a mind
it`s own
control, collect my thoughts
my self

La Maestra

Sunday, June 17, 2007

i've deleted every word i've written in the past 20 minutes.

this week i was a failure and i was humbled by my lack of abilities, resources and patience. before the voices chime in with encouraging words...not a failure! I need to be a failure, want to be a failure. Right now. Contrary to popular belief in the united states, I can not do anything I want, can not achieve anything I dream. I have limits. I hit them. And I crack.
I retreat to what is comfortable and I realize how much I have managed to accomplish in my home country because of the resources I've been provided with there. A car, an education, a roof, the right clothing, the right vocabulary, the ability to network.
Stripped of my resources I see more of what I'm really capable of--or incapable of.
A lot of self-illusions are dashed and I realize what I owe to the wealth of my country, the generosity of my parents, my skills of manipulation.

I wish I could retreat into something beautiful, poetic, idealistic right now. But I think it's important for me--the eternal dreamer--to be practical and stark with myself in this moment. Why have I failed myself and others this week and how can I learn from those failures. How can I continue to grow into the person I want to be. How can I strip away the images and words I use to construct a life which may not match so well at the core as with the shiny surface?
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Or with half-baked dreams. I'm so very good at sleeping. What am I going to be when I'm awake?

(later disclaimer: if you really want to know, you can ask. But let´s just say it was a tough week work, life and otherwise...good reflections, but harsh--better now ;)

Monday, June 04, 2007

smoggy in santiago

this week.
This week for me started Sunday night at Maestra Vida with salsa dancing. First, the intermediate class at 9pm which I still struggle to keep up with, but only occasionally do I step on someone’s foot or fully bodyslam another couple—yes, I really am improving.
I’m also learning salsa commands in Spanish. Kind-of. Hence the occasional bodyslam.
Maestra Vida may be my favorite place in all of Chile…we go every Thursday night for live music and salsa and Sundays for the class and dancing til 4am. I’m working on making friends with Hugo the doorman who smokes Cuban cigars and with his cap and goatee, looks like he must belong to some sort of latin revolution. And then there’s Matias, the bartender, who is teaching me all about latin music and Chilean theater.
When I’m at Maestra Vida, I take a big, deep, breath, and smile.
It’s one of those one-of-a-kind places that only fits exactly where it is—big murals of people, laughing, dancing, colors, splashed on every wall. Small, rough wooden tables adorned with a single white candle in a rusted, wax-drenched holder. Colombian drums, churrango guitars, trumpets, more trumpets and people singing along.
Besides spending a lot of time here with my closest volunteer friends, I also have met nearly all of my latin friends there as well—Chilean and even a few Cubans.

Monday…started another week at the Aldea. Daily activities at the hogar include helping girls with their homework—usually English, helping out in our new computer lab, or just hanging out watching Chilean telenovelas (soap operas) or doing arts and crafts.
There’s little volunteer support or structure at my particular hogar (our organization staffs 14 hogars that all have very different structures) which has its perks and its drawbacks. It means I can do just about any project I want—like make pinatas! But than it also means that all of a sudden I find myself alone with a dozen girls, 2 candy-stuffed pinatas and large, swinging sticks. Those are the times I wonder if I’ve really thought things through…

Tuesday and Wednesday—both really good days. I taught my creative writing workshop Tuesday with 5 girls and we did some response writing with random words I chose from a book of Spanish short stories and then wrote stories together as I dictated to them various colors, feelings and places to guide the ideas of their stories. Then we read the stories out loud—lots of laughter—and discussed our next meeting, maybe a play? The girls are stoked about putting together a theater 

Wednesday I took two girls to another hogar, the baby house, so that the girls from my hogar could help out there as volunteers with the babies and toddlers. They’ve been asking me about going for months new, so when I woke up that morning with fever chills and a cough that could wake the dead, I just put on 3 layers of every type of clothing I owned and convinced myself to visualize Havana.

Winter in Santiago is miserable. Add to the steep changes in temperature and the lack of heating, the cloud of perma-smog over the city and the fact that this is one of the 15 most polluted cities in the world. There are daily environmental alert levels to warn people against doing activities out-of-doors (such as anything involving breathing). This means that everyone is either on the verge of, in the midst of, or recovering from, bronchitis. Like I said, it hit me Wednesday…so I get to be in the recovering category—for now.

Still, I played with the babies and toddlers without too much worry. Without any heat in their house or sufficient clothing they are all mostly more sick than I am. And to give you an idea of what a house with tile floors and no heat feels like—I was wearing 2 shirts, a wool sweater, a down vest, a thick ski parka, a wool hat, wool scarf, tights, pants, thick socks and shoes, and still, I was shivering. Crazy. Somehow I think they more or less adapt.
In my room at home I have a gas space heater which is a life-saver in the hours before bed or especially right after a shower. But going into other parts of the house or, for example, using the toilet, can be brutal—like that feeling you get if someone puts ice down your back.
We don’t have hot water on demand. To take a shower we light a furnace to supply the hot water—but luckily our house actually can count on hot water from our furnace…more than you can say about a lot of houses, from what I’ve heard. Never do you use hot water to wash hands or dishes.
Every Chilean home has a plug-in hot water warmer for tea and coffee, both of which you drink numerous times a day and is lovingly referred to as, ‘tecito’ or ‘cafecito’. Either Nescafe instant or Tea Supreme—green or black. Today I splurged and put fresh lemon in my tea.
It is never quiet here. If you don’t hear the traffic from the nearest street, then you certainly hear the chorus of neighborhood dogs. Our home contributes three dogs to that chorus at the moment, but that could grow if my house mom gets a little tipsy again and brings home another street dog. The latest one—Perla—is so not accustomed to life behind a gate that she wails like a banshee all night long—just outside my window.
I share a room with my Floridian roommate, Jess, and our aforementioned space heater—an R2D2-looking thing that we both adore. She’s here just one more week and then maybe another volunteer will move in to take her space—I’m not sure how I feel about that.
I have a map of southern South America hanging on my wall that’s about the size of, well, about the size of the entire wall. I also have an Ansel Adams calendar, various postcards, pictures of friends and family, another calendar of cats and a couple of artistic photos taken by girls at my hogar and displayed at a photo exposition in a local academy of photography here in Santiago (another volunteer organized the exposition to display the girls’ work—really, really amazing). I also usually have clothing slung across my closet door to air out the smell of smoke from going dancing. Although between Maestra Vida, the air contamination and my Chilean mother burning incense, I wonder if I ever really stop smelling like smoke…?
The food is consistent—lots of bread or variations on bread, like fried dough. Street vendors sell empanadas (fried meat or cheese pies) or sopaipillas (fried dough with mustard and salsas). Quick food from a restaurant is some variation of a sandwich with slices of beef, avocado, tomato and mayo. They love mayo. Love mayo. You can also find a kiosk about every 7 feet or so selling every kind of candy, cookie, potato chip, or sugary soda-ish thing. Sweet popcorn is also a very big deal.
Their public transportation system, although lauded by NPR, is a mess. They brought in all sorts of consultants from Bogota, Colombia to try and iron things out, but still ‘Transantiago’ is the topic of daily newspaper rantings and the victim of every communist protest. The trains are always overcrowded, bus service is intermittent and they have no monthly pass, which means public transport gets expensive, fast. You’re only other option for transportation is the municipality buses, which can actually be a lot of fun…If you ever hop on one during rush hour (if they agree to stop for you) you’ll undoubtedly spend at least the beginning of the ride with your backside hanging out the door, until enough people can get off and you can push in and some other guy can have his backside hanging out the door. If you’re lucky, you’ll make it up to the front of the bus by the engine and get to warm your hands on the dashboard.

So after all of this—who wants to come visit??! After reading through some of it, it sounds like I might hate it here…But no, the opposite actually. Maybe because when a place is so quirky it just settles into you and you can’t imagine life being quiet and smooth and ‘normal’ like it is at home. I do wish I had heat—I’ll admit that.
Anyway. Just wanted to give an idea of what I do here and how I do it rather than the random things I think about. I’ll be putting some pictures up as well to give a visual of the photo expo and more of the girls at the Aldea…maybe even Maestra Vida 

105 am

April 17, 2007

It’s getting colder in Santiago. Sunny, seventy-degree days quickly turn into wool sweater weather as the sun dips down behind the Cordillera. I find myself sleeping in fleece pants, wool socks and sweater every night.

I wrapped myself up in a slow and quiet weekend these last few days—equal parts fighting South American flu germs and losing time in a good book. The book: Gringo Trail. The story: three off-beat Brits travel through South America in search of self-awareness, social injustice and really good drug trips. I wasn’t expecting anything more from it than a bit of entertainment and maybe some travel advice. But instead it turned into one of those books you can’t stop reading—the one you’re glad you have when you incidentally have insomnia one night and then get up and read til 4am with your camping headlamp so as not to disturb your Floridian roommate. I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about.

So my Saturday was shot. I escaped from the house at 5:30pm or so with a bad case of cabin fever and with nothing better to do, rode the metro into the center to try and find someone to hang out with. I wandered into Plaza Italia at dusk—just as the sun was setting fire to a thousand cracked clouds. I sat down on a park bench in the midst of a river of busy pedestrians and watched the most amazing sunset I’ve seen yet in South America. Having my ipod with me and Sufjan Stevens in my ear didn’t hurt either.

It’s good to have familiarity here—Sufjan Stevens or a good pirated American movie... As much as I sometimes wish I could, I am not one who can lose myself in another culture. I cannot have a foreign boyfriend, (even if only for the sake of learning more Spanish, as some do…) prefer foreign foods, or dream of setting up camp in a small foreign pueblo. It’s all just too foreign. I know—I see it. The smirks on some of your faces…aren’t I always diving into cross-cultural activities and going to Lebanese cooking classes and salsa lessons and dreaming of all the countries I want to visit. Guilty. But somehow I like all the foreign stuff so much more in my own country—where it’s different and exotic. Rather than being away where I am different and exotic (yet no one seems to be interested one way or another in us foreigners).

Deep down and always I am a northwest girl. And I think maybe I always will be.

Overall I think Chileans are crazy. Well, let me rephrase—I think people from Santiago are crazy. The north and the south of Chile are dominated by indigenous descendants and seem to have a pace and way of life that is much more connected with the Earth. Santiago is crowded, polluted and up to its eyeballs in conspicuous consumerism. Foreign companies dominate here and Santiaguinos have been well-trained to respond to consumeristic ques. It’s sad to see the obvious signs of American business practice at work here—and the full swing of Chilean participation.

My book, Gringo Trail, gave me a lot of insight on some of these issues. Not for Chile since the crazy Brit travelers in the book never made it this far South, but for Latin America in general—the history and social reality of the continent. The divide between the ‘latinos’ who are eager to model European social culture, and the ‘indigenas’ who support the latino, European and American way of life by working the mines, the factories, the timber outfits and the tour operations. Living the legacy of post-colonial subsistence as slaves to whatever industry will bring in a few pesos.

It’s fascinating, the themes this book points out…How the indigenous peoples of the Americas consistently have a culture of animistic, nature-worshiping religious practice. These cultures survived for hundreds or thousands of years with complex societies that centered on awareness and respect of self, the Earth, and the Other (spiritual). They maintained complex manners of agriculture which guaranteed crop rotation and diverse diets while sustaining a deep spiritual connection with the place they lived, through animals and nature.

European societies and their colonialist descendents, on the other hand, developed farming methods that overused and exhausted the soil, favored mass crops rather than diversification, practiced Christian and Judaic religions which elevated people and God above the Earth and nature, and generally exploited conquered peoples and raw resources. All of this leading to philosophies of commodification and industrialization and a disconnect from structures of respect and balance.

Obviously it’s easier for Europeans (or Euro descendents, for that matter) to poke holes in the shortcomings of our own society without equal ability to do so to that of indigenous culture. But if only to see, by comparison, the ways in which our culture may be imbalanced or impoverished, it is worth a good look at how we’ve evolved.

South America is an incredible research lab.

Drugs, politics, religion, spirituality, nature, conquest, globalization, social classes, nepotism, racism, resource exploitation…It seems as if there are thousands of open stories flowing here—raw and eager. Redundant in their echo of ‘the eternal human condition’, yet no less captivating as a means to understand how these problems change, yet stay exactly the same.

I’m getting the chance to do a lot of reading here. Always by nature I’m caught up in history and politics…religion, sociology, philosophy. Being here makes these stories and these situations so much more significant. Dictatorships and disappearances. Gold mines dug out beneath peoples’ feet. Socialist presidents refusing petroleum access. Communist protests and police bribes. If these things happen where I’m from then I’m definitely a bit dense and very unaware. Yet here it’s business as usual…

Walking by the Chilean counterpart of Walmart everyday, this place seems both eerily familiar and uncomfortably foreign all at the same time.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Aldea Maria Reina

So this is the Aldea--the hogar I work in every day...Fotos of a few of the girls and their tía (house mom).
Francisca, who is full of attitude in a really cute way--has a huge crush on Luke, the director of our organization and is constantly giving me notes to pass along to him. (she´s one of my favorites...;)
Tía Estela, who is one of the 4 main tías in the Aldea. There are four hogares, or houses, in the Aldea, each with a morning and an evening tía. (As well there are psychologists, a doctor and other administrators, all of whom are called tías--I am also. it´s basically a sign of respect). This woman is crazy and always entertaining--we get along really well, and she only scares me sometimes ;)
Me with Jocelyn and Francisca again...
Another volunteer, tío Benjamin with Natalia (Nati).

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Jornada--retreat--in Cajon del Maipu, about 2 hours outside Santiago. Every 3 months we take a retreat outside the city to regroup and reflect about our experiences so far and the work we´re doing.
This place was was an old estate passed down through the generations and then abandoned when the owner was exiled to Spain for his political views against Salvador Allende. Eventually, his daughter was able to return from exile as an adult and reclaim the property and transform it into a retreat center with spanish tiles, fruit trees, grape vines and a swimming pool.

Friends and the dog

Our dog Bobby--who can´t be bothered to stand while he eats. In spanish we call him ´flojo´. more or less, lazy. He jumps between being an insane, energetic adolescent and then a lifeless mop of hair snoozing in the corner of our yard.
Girlfriends from VE! From left to right: Jess, my roommate, Liz and Anna. These are 3 of my closest friends here. These pics were taken during and after a visit to the local hospital San Salvador after Jess stepped into a ridiculously large hole in the sidewalk, fractured her shin and carved a hole in her leg nearly down to the bone. The public hospital after 3 hours decided only to wipe it with antiseptic and give her a shot for the pain. Needless to say, it got infected...

Mi vida en Chile

Some fotos from around the city of Santiago...
The Carabineros van--a green and white staple of Santiago streets. Always present at any political disturbance or flea market selling pirated DVDs.
A colonial building on the Plaza de Armas. Apparently most latin cities were built around a central ´Plaza de Armas´ a legacy of Spanish colonialism. Ours in Santiago is filled with artists painting images of the chilean coastline, tourists gawking upwards at the beautiful buildings and gray-haired men playing chess in the gazebo. Once in awhile there will be a free public concert or a parade wandering through...
A man and his llama meandering through downtown...No, ha, kidding. This is from Pichilemu on the coast. But, it is not at all uncommon to see horse and cart--as an actual means of transportation and hauling equipment--on even the busiest streets of the center. Still throws me to see it.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Dios Mio. What a day! I love latin America.
Sunday night: salsa dancing til 4am. Last night: live cuban band and dancing til 3am. Today: Communist protests and tear gas in the streets...
There are plenty of things I miss about home, but the good ol USA cannot beat this place for action...there is always something boiling under the surface around here.
Today was the Dia de los Trabajadores--translation: Labor Day. In the States, as far as I know, this means nothing more than picnics, waterslides and Kool-aid. But here in Chile, that means an occasion to make any and all political statements about your discontent with the status quo--the education system, public health, public transportation...everything´s fair game.
So I went with a friend into the center to watch the problem, right? I`ve been to `demonstrations` in Seattle. No way. It started out peacefully enough--lots of shouting and speeches and big red communist flags...But then the Caribineros came out. Carabineros are basically the police force, but often act as riot control around here...When young discontents get all riled up and start throwing rocks at windows and buses and breaking down riot barriers, out come the big green tanks with the water cannons and the tear gas.
A group of us had amassed in the center around the stage to listen to speeches and a local protest band called Inti-Illimani. This band is a popular Chilean folk band that was exiled during the dictatorship for singing about controversial issues like free speech and workers` rights. Now back in Santiago under a socialist president, they`re allowed to play--obviously--but their words still have a very incendiary effect. So I`m standing there, red flags waving all around me, hands stuffed with flyers and radical newspapers and thousands of Chileans jumping up and down in sync, fists raised, yelling along with the words of the songs. And then chaos--something stirs somewhere up the street and we see the caribinero tanks rolling down the street spraying water at the crowds to disperse them. The tanks keep getting closer and closer, twenty-something men throwing rocks and paintballs, occasionally getting caught by a troop of shielded police and pulled into a tank..wondering what will happen to them once inside...? Water spraying all around us, people running one direction then the next, not sure which way to get away from the police while other groups are figuring out how to get closer. And to the men in green, all pedestrians are the same--anyone grouping together is a potencial threat...
So then the tear gas! In every direction tanks are rolling through the streets spraying gas. An indian woman with two young children is selling lemons for 5 times their normal price because smelling them helps alleviate the choking. I`m wondering how ironic it is that these people are fighting for the rights of workers and a new social system, and here are the `people` that communism serves--the workers, the marginalized, this indian woman who is bringing her tiny children into the midst of tear gas and whatnot because today they can make a bit of extra money...But maybe that`s not ironic at all. I don`t know.
Eventually we tried to make it back to the metro and got caught in a group that was being pursued by a few tanks...had to run, fast, far enough away that we weren´t close enough to the main group to be a threat. Dispersed.
Finally made it back to the metro and out of the center. Spent the rest of the day reading the commie propaganda and discussing the education system with Chilean friends. Wow.
I feel like living abroad is like an keep peeling back new layers. But with this onion every new layer is of a different color and pattern. For now, I´m loving seeing it all.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Pics from Valparaiso

The funeral train and other vistas from Valparaiso today...
Below are the girls from my hogar--Valentina, Yanina, Herna and Claudia. In the middle is Christi--the volunteer who organized the trip and ran the photo workshop.
Up for a scavenger hunt? Try and find the two places in these pics where Valpo pays homage to NY funny to see that name in this corner of the world ;)

Viaje a Valpo

What a day! I`m exhausted...Up by 6am, (in bed at my usual 3am last night...ayyy) at the Aldea to get the girls by 7:30ish and then on a bus to Valparaiso by 9:30. Valparaiso is on the coast of Chile--it`s largest port city and the way that Chile gets all that fruit and wine out all over the world. Seeing as Chile is no larger than 100 miles wide at any point of its length, it doesn`t take long to reach the coast--an hour and a half, max.
So we pull into the bus station and start wandering through the busy, lively Saturday market streets. Bam! 5 minutes into the day we have some guy run by and grab a camera from one of the girls--right off her neck--and keep on fast I didn`t realize what had happened until he was well out of sight. One camera down--on a photography field trip no less. But everyone took it in stride and we kept going...
Spent about 6 hours or so wandering around the city with 3 gringa volunteers, one Chilean tìa and 4 girls from the Aldea who have been participating in this photo workshop for the past 2 months. This was the big finale--a trip out to the coast for one last photo session.
Other than the robbing incident, everything went really well...Climbed up the hills between multi-colored houses and took in the views. Good weather, lots of public art and murals to check out, as well as the requisite communist graffiti splashed on most walls. We even caught the last moments of a funeral in some random white church tucked up into the hills..It must have been a young man who died--his lover was carried out of the church wailing and completely distraught, difficultly coerced into a car (away from the coffin) and the whole car train set off. The last car in the line had a hand-made flower mural wishing the deceased ¨Adios Amigo¨...5 minutes passing brought quiet to the street again and shrouded any sign that anything eventful had happened there in months, much less minutes.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

mis amigas y yo

soy francisca y estas soy fotos para la tia briana de nuestro paseo por primera ves al museo interactivo mirador

Monday, April 02, 2007

Daily Details

I currently live in a Latin city of 6 million people--Santiago de Chile. During the Pinochet regime, which was more or less a military dictatorship, American economists were invited to Chile to help overhaul the economic system...Thus, the free market system was born in Chile.
This means that Chile now has the strongest economy of any latin country as well as a huge amount of foreign investment--which means that I regularly shop in and pass by places which look like the Chilean equivalent of Walmart or 24 hour Fitness--they´re ubiquitous and impossible to avoid. I actually believe these places are probably owned by walmart and 24 hour fitness, by the way. I try and buy as much as I can from the small markets and kiosks tucked into peoples garages-within a 1 block radius of my house, there are at least four kiosks selling coffee, tea, cheese, empanadas, eggs, candy, soup, etc. I visit the fruit stand around the corner at least once a day for an avocado, tomato, grapes and an apple. The produce here is amazing and abundant. They ship tons of it up the states--I think all of you in Seattle probably see plenty of Chilean grapes and avo´s and whatnot. But Chile still consumes plenty as well. I eat at least one avocado a day--on eggs, toast, quinoa, itself with a spoon. It´s that good.
I live in La Florida--a suburb of the Santiago center. I´m 5 minutes walk from the metro and 10 minutes to 2 major malls--yes, I also think this is a little funny/ridiculous--but like I said, the free market system reigns here. I live with a Chilean woman named Angelica and her 13 year old daughter, Melanie. Melanie plays more computer video games than any teenager I know and is possibly the quirkiest kid i´ve met. She likes to dance in the middle of the living room with her pants pulled up to her chest and her butt right in front of the TV. I think she likes having us around. I also live with another volunteer named Jess, from the states--Florida. She´s my roommate and constant partner in travels and daily Santiago discoveries and she´s wonderful. Teaches me about lots of Florida oddities and something called free diving. She and I went to the beach together last weekend and watched people surf and ate seafood. Today we went to the private clinic because she stepped in a hole in the sidewalk last Friday and cut her leg almost to the bone (apparently along with fresh produce, random holes in the sidewalk are also abundant). We went to the public hospital that night but in 3 hours all they managed to do was wipe it with alcohol and give her a shot in her backside for the pain. Even in free market foreign countries, do not use the public hospitals--other than maybe for a really crazy experience.
We have 2 dogs--Bobby and Scooby. Scooby is old and allowed to go wander the neighborhood and smell other dogs and bark at things. Bobby is young and dumb and not allowed out of the gate. But bobby is damn cute--some sort of golden retriver mix maybe? He constantly tries to get out when we are trying to get in--except for when it is hot in the afternoons and he can´t be bothered to do anything. I once attempted to take him for a walk around the neighborhood. No-go. We made it half way down the block, he pulled me through the park in 7 different directions and then sniffed around in a shady corner where he flopped down for a nice nap. I´ve since abandoned all walk efforts.
The weather is still beautiful..more or less the South American Fall. I haven´t seen any changing colors though. We´ve had 2 days of rain and I´ve heard that once this kicks in for the winter, it´s like a monsoon but cold. I´m not excited...
I´m avoiding talking about my job and the hogar because I don´t know where to start or how to really describe it. It is a really hard place to fit in. There are 75 girls who live in the home I volunteer in and some of them smile and hug me and have real conversations, and others cuss at me and tell me I´m ugly and stupid. Part of initiation, i think. It´s a challenge, but I am so glad for it. Every day is pushing me to learn their language so I can actually communicate my thoughts and intentions, as well as refining my motivations in being here and building relationships with them. I´ve realized that 6 months will slip past me and these girls will wave me along as they welcome a new volunteer--but that the brevity of our relationship does not necessarily undermine it´s sincerity or importance.
Every volunteer that comes along contributes something--their spirit, their vision--into what seems to become this flow of growth. I am now about to start orienting the girls at the Aldea (my home) on their new computer lab--4 computers gifted by a north american foundation, complete with internet and various programs like office and photoshop. This is only possible because some volunteers before me had a vision and wrote a grant. And now I am the volunteer responsible for continuing this vision and developing into it elements of my own. The next volunteers will carry it on with their own unique mark.
I´m putting together a creative writing workshop for 4 girls, initially, which will incorporate use of the computer lab so that we can make and keep blogs--yes just like this one. If anyone has advice on creative writing exercises--PLEASE pass them along! This will hopefully give me the chance to learn more about writing, poetry and literature myself, along with the girls, and then learn more about each of them through their writing. I am really, really excited about this--and sincerely hoping it works! Anything is possible--or impossible--at the Aldea.
I´ve had a few really difficult days--girls who took paint supplies and painted on floors, walls, windows, etc...then ran from me when I suggested we clean it up. That was a toughie--definitely a day which ended with a stiff margarita ;) So now I´m learning how to use my time there with the girls who are receptive and continue trying to build relationships slowly with the ones who aren´t. It´s a strange and scary process. Chilean spanish is slang-laden and difficult to understand, so much of the time I feel like a deaf, dumb, mute. I wish so much I could converse fluently with the girls..but with time. By the way, the demographic there is mostly 13 to 18 year old girls--so a difficult time of life for girls with stable family situations, much less for these girls with little or no stability whatsoever.
A few other details before I sign off...I´ve been studying a lot of Chilean history and political and environmental issues...realizing with more clarity the direction I think my life will head once I´ve returned home. I´m on a committee here for ´volunteer formation´ which means that I plan our volunteer orientation activities, educational events and discussions and retreats. I get the chance to bring in speakers and reading materials to educate the volunteers on anything from the adoption process to the effects of abuse to the current economic situation of Chile. I´m loving this chance to read and research info about latin america and Chile and am focusing mostly on environmental info...Not particularly accurate for the work I´m doing, but it does tie in to the grand scheme.
So that´s the general picture of my life down here...there´s more words, pictures, songs I want to share, and they´ll come. til then, all my love and prayers.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Traveling, Part II

OK, so where did I leave off...?
Chalten. Dusty roads and windswept scenery and all that, huh. I spent my twenty-fifth birthday in that town. Alone! Well, I went hiking alone and then went to dinner alone, and then was approached by a group of 6 or 7 Argentine dudes who wanted me to take their photo. I ended up sitting with them for a bit, we had a toast to celebrate my birthday--with a banana/dulce de leche liquor--and watched a sci-fi flick on a projector screen in the restaurant while half the town packed in around us. So, I guess I technically cannot say that I spent my birthday alone ;) The next day two friends that I had met hiking--Sarah from Texas and Niamh from Ireland--showed up in Chalten and took me out properly for the 25th. We had dinner and lots of red wine--and really good conversation. I overslept my 6:30am bus the next morning which was a bit scary when I woke up panicked at 8am because there really aren´t too many options for public transit when you´re this far out and all the roads are dirt for 200km or so--and I had a flight to catch that evening in a town 5 hours away. Lucky me! I did NOT have to take a 450 peso cab ride, but was able to squeeze onto the only other departing bus that day back to El Calafate. This gave me the rest of the morning to hang out with aforementioned wonderful girls and share a pizza for breakfast while discussing politics--does it get any better than this? That night I flew from El Calafate in Patagonia region up to Buenos Aires--the capital city of Argentina and well-known as the ´Paris of South America´. I met up with Yana at a hostel in the San Telmo neighborhood of town...a bit dirty and sketch on our end, but generally known to be the quaint, cobbly-street section of B.A. On Sundays they have a huge antique market out on the street and plenty of hippies show up to sell their jewelry, photographs, handmade clothing...Yana and I hit this up one day and spent 2 and a half hours at lunch in a little French cafe and then wandered down the street buying earrings and listening to live tango music. Definitely a lot of fun. What else...? We ate, a lot. Steak, Asian infusian, red wine, gelato, steak, chorizo, and steak. We met up with a friend of mine from university in Virginia--she´s a BA native, Alejandra. She showed us around the city a bit, we went to the modern art museum, out to the bars with her boyfriend and his friends, and celebrated her birthday with her whole family and a huge asado (which means really amazing barbeque). We even had a strawberry shortcake theme, complete with piñata. After a week in BA, we caught a flight up to Iguazu falls which is on the border of Argentine and Brasil. We stayed at a hostel with a swimming pool and teepees out back, which apparently used to be a casino, back in the day. We signed on to take a tour of the Brasilian side of the falls---our tour guide had to sneak us into the country, though, because of our lack of Brasilian visas. All went well and we spent 11 hours trekking through iodine-rich red mud, dodging thousands of butterflies and even kayaking in what could only be described as a monsoon. The falls are incredible...I can´t come close to doing them justice by trying to explain what it looks like, but for a short intro--it´s basically a huge wall of water that stretches for maybe half a mile. One VERY large waterfall at the far end, called the Devil´s Throat, and then a series of smaller falls up until the other end where there are at any given time between 10 and 20 enormous, enormous waterfalls. And then jungle everywhere around you with 180 pound super-rats and monkeys and whatnot. Like I said--crazy. From there we flew back to BA for a couple more days with Alejandra and her friends--wonderful people--and then hopped on an overnight busride to Mendoza, Argentina. The busride took about 13 hours direct and is intended to be a decent night´s sleep IF you´re able to pass out in a semi-reclined bus seat. Despite the fact that I was exhausted, there just happened to be a captivating heat storm taking place off to the South somewhere, so I stayed up most of the night watching the bus advance on bright, crashing bolts of lightning. Mendoza is a university town tucked into the pre-Cordillera (foothills) of the Andes mountain range and the Eastern frontier with Chile. This region is famous for its production of Malbec wine and also supplies 70% of the Argentine wine market. Yana and I spent a week here--I almost stayed forever here. We took an all-day tour of the wine country which included 5 wineries, an olive oil farm, a liquor production farm (grappa, triple sec, etc...) and a chocolate factory. We also had an amazing lunch somewhere out in the countryside beneath a huge canopy of grapevines. You guessed it--lots and lots of meat. The next day we went river rafting on the Mendoza river, and the next day rented a car to go check out the rest of the countryside. We headed south about 200km to San Rafael which we had heard was stunningly beautiful. The entire drive down there we were convinced that our recommendors were crazy--nothing but scrubland in every direction. When does it get beautiful? The city was also, mmm, well, not too exciting. We found a map which pointed us toward a canyon just out of town and headed that direction. WOW. First we hit the river and followed that toward the dam, behind which was an amazing, amazing lake. Again, turquoise water, rocky cliffs, small patches of sandy beaches. It looked like what I imagine Greece must be like. We stopped to take a lot of photos (by the way we had with us another gringa--larissa from Alaska) and then ended up at this little cafe/boat rental shop which hung out over the edge of the cliff on stilts and was run by a well-tanned Argentine guy who lived beneath the building in his tent and spent winters teaching snowboarding at Lake Tahoe. What a life. Between him and the rafting guides we met the day before, I was convinced that I was not going to leave Mendoza, ever. I will set up my tent, learn to raft,
and beg, plead and borrow until I find myself an income. This place was gorgeous. After having a beer and a popsicle, we headed further into the canyon with many pitstops for photos...gorgeous. The road keeps going into a red rocks canyon that the Argentines compare to the Grand Canyon. OK. I have not been to the Grand Canyon, but I really don´t think they´re right on this one...not really possible they compare in size anyway. But, it was a really incredible sight--and a rough ride. We made it 30km in and then realized that we wouldn´t make it out the other end before nightfall, so Yana took the wheel and hit the gas. I was only partially afraid for my life as she gunned it over boulders and around blind turns...Apparently she was racing both the sunset and her very full bladder. An absolute lack of portipotties in the Andean foothills...Anyway. We made it back alive and that night began the festivities for the annual Mendoza Wine Festival!! We watched the parade the next morning, complete with drag queens, belly dancers, floats passing out grapes and chunks of meat which were being barbequed ON the float, and lots of men on horses. Wonderful. That night the city hosted a show up on the big hill outside of town. They set up a huge stage and amphitheater which you can buy tickets to, or else join in with the rest of the town and go perch yourself in the hills behind the ´pay seats´. Literally thousands of Argentine families with baby strollers and a few odd tourists tucked into the scrubbrush and dusty boulders, with popcorn and cotton candy vendors wandering through the mess of us. The show featured 2 hours of acrobats, choreographed dance numbers and even giant dancing objects, like a set of hands and a rolling pin. Sounds strange, but it was pretty incredible. After that we went for beers and pool and then caught a bus the next morning to Santiago. This bus is definitely one you want to stay awake for. Six hours through one of the highest passes in the Andes mountain range. You even get a glimpse of Aconcagua, which is about 21,000 feet tall--the highest peak in the Americas. Yana and I struggled on this one--I think we managed 3 hours of sleep, maybe, the night before...;) And then we had trouble with border control for accidentally trying to smuggle grapes across the border--luckily they pegged us for ignorant tourists! So. Now. Santiago, Chile. Well, actually not now--later. It´s about 2am here and I need to sleep. So...I will share thoughts on my first few weeks here--orientation and meeting the girls and seeing the city and whatnot--for a later time. But soon--I promise.

Mr Silverstein

¨If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar. A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...If you´re a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!¨ --Shel Silverstein

Sound and Music

Two of my favorite people on this earth--an amazing bulgher salad--and sunset over Puget sound...Things I love about Seattle.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bariloche, Argentina

The city of Bariloche, Argentina gets so crowded in the summer its hard to move down the sidewalk. So, ignoring the voice in my head that said ´if you rent a car it will probably be robbed from you´ (because that is what happens to me when I travel--things get robbed), I tried anyway and was able to get out of the city for the day. I headed North on the Siete Lagos (seven lakes) route and stopped whenever I saw something I wanted to take a photo of. By midday I was on a random beach with beautiful turqoise water, birds flying overhead and a good book...also on my way to a fantastic sunburn. They were really serious when they said the ozone is thinner down here. Other highlights from this stopover where the nightly performances in the Plaza Grande--one of these photos is of an amazing Argentine folk band...And, I can´t forget to mention the all-day boat trip I took out to the islands. 300 Argentine tourists (mostly toddlers and elderly) and myself. Kind of like trying to get out into nature by going on the Disneyland jungle ride...;)