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.