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, tortillas...by 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.