Monday, March 10, 2008

Greetings from Valparaíso and Viña del Mar

Hello again! I’ve finished my stay in Santiago and had an awesome time. We had a weeks’ worth of training on what is expected of us as teachers, which was mostly helpful but often repetitive. I’m grateful for the teaching experience I have since for a lot of people this marks the first time they’ve set foot in a classroom – those who have never taught and don’t speak Spanish are far braver than I!

My teaching schedule is AWESOME and I’m so relieved about it, especially considering some of the schedules other people got. I teach two beginner classes on Monday-Wednesday from 11:00-2:00, and three advanced classes on Tuesday-Thursday from 2:00-6:30. May I just say, w00t, especially since the campus is open until 11:45 pm (!!) and on Saturdays. One teacher has class until 11:45 Friday night and then teaches for 6 hours on Saturday starting at 8:00 am. Other teachers only have Sundays off, and still others don’t start classes until 7:30 at night. Of course, there’s always next semester for my schedule to suck, but for now I plan to enjoy it.

My first classes have gone extremely well so far. The campus is beautiful, the other teachers seem friend, and my students are all really sweet. Most of them belong to the school of tourism, which I think is fun, and so far are more than willing to participate in class. They also think I’m pretty funny which is nice since they’ll be comfortable talking in their beginner English (apparently students are sometimes nervous to make mistakes in front of a native speaker).

The hostel in Valparaiso has a lot of personality but is a bit dilapidated. My first night I showed up five minutes before the guest of honor at a surprise birthday party, so there was free wine and a huge asado (their word for barbecue: think delicious sausages, thick steaks, and potato salad – who says we’re so different?) which luckily ended right as I wanted to go to bed. The next morning I left for a beach further south to meet friends from my group. Although we all used sunscreen we were burned to a crisp after a shockingly short period of time. My students all got a good laugh out of the gringa’s sunburn. The sun really is stronger down here, partly for the hole in the ozone above us (eek!) and partly because it had rained for the first time in two months (can you imagine??) which diluted the pollution. Apparently in addition to giving us black lung, the smog also protects us from UV. Who knew? I learned that Santiago’s pollution gets even worse in the winter, so I’m doubly grateful to be on the ocean, although admittedly somewhat lonely now that I’ve left my new friends behind in the big city. There are other U.S. teachers staying at my hostel and teaching on my campus (there are a few organizations that place teachers in the same school systems) but it’s not the same – I never expected to get so attached to people after only a week.

I did get some good news for my sanity, and it has to do with daylight savings time. The five hours’ difference was because when the Northern hemisphere springs ahead, the Southern falls back, so we move two hours apart. Now we are only 4 hours ahead of Seattle, since y’all sprung forward but we didn’t fall back due to the electricity crisis. The Chilean government sort of decided to do this at the last minute and people weren’t necessarily well informed, and I’m not sure when it’ll happen, but one of these days we really will line up with the east coast! In addition to a power problem Chile is also experiencing its worst drought in 100 years. But hey, at least I’m not in Colombia, Venezuela, or Ecuador. It’s kind of ugly up there at the moment.

Speaking of ugly, someone tried to rob me on the metro in Santiago on Friday. After days of being warned that Chile has little violent crime but many thefts, I was careful to always hook my bag to a table or bench when sitting (we use these fun nylon straps) and to always hug my bag to my chest in a crowded public place, especially on public transportation. Well, the Metro is ALWAYS crowded in Santiago which blows my mind since the trains literally come every 2 minutes (although I guess a city with 6 million people - half the country’s population – can fill up lots of trains) so I was standing, as usual, hugging my bag, as usual, surrounded by a horde of people, as usual. It’s normal for thieves to work in pairs or groups, and this was a man-woman duo. She was in front of me, trying to distract me by acting like she was sick. He was next to me, holding his jacket over his arm so I couldn’t see his hand. It seemed suspicious so I pulled my bag away from him. I do have to say their timing is incredible – right as we were about to come to a full stop she made a big to do about getting around me (for no good reason – the door was in front of her) and pushed me into him, causing me to lose my grip on the bar and then fall back onto him as the train stopped. I righted myself and pulled my bag away again, but was again pushed when the train started rolling. Someone behind me said ‘déjala’ (leave it/her alone) and the two of them quickly got off at the next stop since their cover was blown. As soon as they left and there wasn’t anyone pushing me around, I noticed that my purse was hanging out of my bag, which was latched shut and snug against my body. Luckily they didn’t get anything, and if they had it only would have been my purse filled with chapstick, band-aids, and my cheap cell phone, since I keep my wallet in a zippered pocket. I literally couldn’t have taken any more precautions, and it was a good lesson for all of us to know what to watch out for. A similar thing happened to our program director on the same day, only that time it was four women and they DID get his wallet. He’s lived here for 5 years and it was a first for him. It just goes to show, the warnings are correct! I’d rather be robbed than stabbed though, so I’ll take the ladrones (thieves) over the violent criminals any day. Otherwise, the Chilenos have been helpful and polite, and it’s an interesting culture to get to know. They practically speak their own language consisting of chilenismos, which I will share once I understand them better.

Phew! This is pretty long. Just a few more random/funny things before I sign off. 1) The signs for meat shops randomly feature pictures of horses, which I find creepy. 2) Our hostel owner doesn’t speak English and as such his translated signs around the place are hilarious. The best is in the bathroom: “It extinguishes the lights and it closes the water faucet before it leaves.” Silence of the Lambs anyone? 3) I learned that the clean and well-fed feral dogs are not, in fact, feral, but simply house pets that wander the streets by day and don’t wear collars. I also learned that ‘está prohibída comer las mascotas’ in Chile, which means that eating pets is not allowed. Hmm.

Finally, I regret to inform you that I am still picture-less, this time because I can’t find my photo cord. I was sure I packed it and will hopefully find it when I move into a permanent location. (I started the housing search in vain today and was overwhelmed so quit to come back to blog. I fully plan on making a more concerted effort tomorrow.) If not I’ll have Jacob (who visits in a mere 3 weeks, yay!) to bring me one, among other things. So, pictures inside of three weeks, I promise.

Ok, that’s all for now. I hope this post finds everyone well and I can’t wait to talk to you all once I’m settled somewhere. Be sure to leave me comments or send me e-mails. ¡Hasta entonces!


Mom said...

Wow, what an amazing two weeks you've had! It's funny, I was just reading up on Vina del Mar and
the articles mentioned pickpockets and wandering dogs. Apparently, you've got those covered.
Have a blast! Love,
Yo Momma

Anonymous said...

Hi Beth,
sounds like my first trip to New York on the subway. As soon as I got off the subway, a man approached me and wanted some money. Just then, a small hispanic man jumped in between us and I screamed, "exit, exit!", and he pointed me to the exit and I ran. You may be safer in Chile than N.Y. I'm glad to hear you have your street smarts.
Careful of that sun!
Aunt Kathy

Jacob said...

sounds like a blast so far, i can't wait to join you!! i'm fully excited now, and not too worried about the language barrier.... chile here i come!

Troy said...

It's Troy from Apex. Yeah, yeah.

So I need to ask a question because evidently I may indirectly know someone you have met in Chile, and it is weirding me out. Did you meet a guy named Lucas at all in the last few weeks? Medium-height, bearded, wears hiking boots?

Just wondering. He went to my high school, and his sister knows about 50% of my friends growing up. He's got a Chile blog, too, which is weirding me out even more:

Anonymous said...

Eduardo: Did you get the purse?
Luisa: No ... better! The gringa's camera cable, like we always dreamed!
Eduardo: We're RICH!!!!
Sorry to hear your journey is fraught with such peril, but it's nothing like the damage left in your wake! WaMu has just about tanked since you cut up their card (a connection?), and Mark is nowhere near the office buddy you are ...unlike you he snores when "working!" (J/K Mark!)
No doubt you'll get settled in and soon be enjoying all the perks of "Beach U." :D Thanks for sharing your adventures! - Greg

Robyn said...

Dude. I heart the blogs. i espeically love reading them and hearing your voice in my head as i do they give good blog. the silence of the lambs bit...totally read it like that. i miss you and am super excited for Peru!!

jrteacherlady said...

Wow what an adventurer you are!! I am a total whimp and would never be able to do what you are doing! I am so impressed! Keep us updated on your adventures I love reading about them... PS All the Cali Archers say hi:) ~Julie