Thursday, January 17, 2013

Time to check in 

After a week and a half of classes, I finally have the mental power to actually do something other than sit drooling while palabras en espanol (words in spanish) circle my head like those cute little bluebirds in cartoons.

I take my hat off to anyone else who's done this immersion learning, it remains incredibly grueling and often frustrating, but fascinating at the same time.  I can say it proudly after getting a 90% on my first quiz (that's queeez, en espanol), so some of it's sticking.  The verbs in the present tense are beginning to be recognizable, so now they're adding past tense.  

The escuela is in a small semi-detached house painted a cheerful orange and periwinkle blue. (I'll get a picture for you)  There are 4 classrooms, a common room an office and a small kitchen, plus 2 banos.  Last week it was not particularly crowded, but we got a whole new crop of slightly more mature students this week, and it's a very global crowd.  Three from Brazil, another from Germany, 3 from the US, one from France, one from Norway, one from Sweden and one from Finland. Most of them are in their late 20's and early 30's and are all employed vs. the others who were university students.  It makes for much more interesting conversations.  Did you know that while pisco is the national drink of Chile, pico refers to the male member?  Rory, the sole male, in our class apparently found out the hard way (excuse the pun) last night when trying to order a pisco sour at a bar.  

Enough about school, what about Chile, you ask?  I just read that it's the first country in S America to be added to the list of developed nations.  While this is great, it's a bit deceptive since a minority of the people hold most of the land and money.  (apparently the difference between haves and have nots is worse here than in most places in sub Saharan Africa).  There is a thriving middle class, meaning that they have a decent wage, housing, cars and mobile phones.  But it's not quite as luxurious as it might sound.  There's a good reason that the US uses as much electricity as most of the rest of the world combined, a bunch of things we kind of consider normal are exceptional and expensive in Chile.  In kitchens, for instance, it's unusual for Chileans to have dishwashers and garbage disposals, toasters aren't very popular either, with most toasting done on the stove.  Dryers are scarce as well.  And most adults are using last generation clamshell and  candy bar phones, although the kids are going for blackberries and smartphones.

When walking the streets it's obvious that this country is past third world status, but just barely.  Much of it is cracked (earthquakes), dilapidated, dirty and sometimes smelly.  EVERYTHING private is fenced off, and all the walls and fences are topped with lethal looking spikes or barbed wire.  My friends Brian and Lya accidentally left their gate open, and their fountain in the garden was gone within an hour.  Where there are so many poor people and not enough jobs, something's got to give and it's anything that's not locked up or nailed down.  If it is, it's probably graffitied, most of it tagging, although there's the occasional cool pic.  

One thing that's really strange is the presence of men and women who are unofficial parking monitors.  On the calles near anything important there's typically a man or woman who helps people park, washes parked cars and watches over them.  There's a gratuity of course, but I guess it's a small price to pay for having your car looked after.

But the people are the real attraction, as varied as a group could be.  The teenagers look exactly like the kids at home, with the exception of their new latest boy's haircut, which is a cross between a flat Mohawk and a mullet. (sides shaved)  Long hair for the girls is typical.  Adults are another story, there's a lot of "Sabado Gigante" kind of dressing going on for the women, a bit hoochie-mama, with lots of see through and colored bras, short skirts and leggings, short tops and leggings, and my personal favorite, Daisy dukes (short shorts) with black panty hose.  Score points if your shorts are shorter than the reinforced top of the hose.  Everyone seems to wear platform something, mostly booties or sandals that look like booties.  Given that the pavement is typically pretty uneven, I'm surprised I haven't seen anyone fall down.  

Remember I'm at a beach resort town, so I'm not seeing a completely typical picture of normal attire...  

By and large though the people are cordial and warm, and will listen patiently as their language is mangled, then help with the right words, and mime the action for me.  Speaking of which, on the major intersections at the signals there are lots of street artists (and some really popular ones that draw crowds).  My personal favorite so far is a mime in yellow and white who directs traffic and gives out imaginary tickets to the drivers in the stopped cars.  He's really very clever.

I wish I had more to say, but I've been engrossed in studying and sleeping to build back up the brainpower.  I must have had a bunch of cobwebs in those unused corners, since getting rid of them has been tiring.  

Miss you all, come visit! 

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