Friday, April 27, 2007

First Day in Pichilemu

After a three hour bus ride from Santiago to Pichilemu we had arrived to our final destination. Whizzing past trees, twisting around endless curves, passing many dilapidated casas, the magnificent waters of the Pacific Ocean revealed themselves, beckoning us to what would be our home for eight months. We could see it for what felt like a fleeting moment, and then it was gone, and we and our luggage rested anxiously on a sidewalk, waiting. We, (Bethany, another volunteer, Daniela, our Chilean guide and friend, Kyle and I) waited on the curbside,

for what, I wasn't sure. After two weeks of a disorganized orientation, I was used to not knowing what was going to happen next, and so I waited without questions. However, we didn't have to wait long, before two cars with two men came along quickly and brought us to a building we now lovingly call "The Prov." We were ushered into a room with couches, offered tea with cookies, the staple of the Chilean diet, and poked and prodded with many questions. Bethany, who is just about fluent in Spanish, did all of the talking. I didn't mind, because I understood maybe three words of the entire conversation and just stared at the rapidly moving mouths hoping something sensible would come out. After a while, I excused myself so that I could use the restroom, but when I came back, the room had filled with three more guests. Three women, one a nun, stared at me as I walked back into the crazy Spanish speaking room. The director had forgotten my name which I excused since I hadn't caught any of their names. As I approached he said in Spanish, "This is .... she." I introduced myself to these strangers, going around the room and dutifully kissing every one's cheek then quickly found refuge in the sofa. Because there wasn't enough room for everyone to sit comfortably, Kyle and I had to squeeze into the couch with one of the new women. After officially squeezing into our sardine can, this woman sitting next to me, whom I didn't know, was introduced again as my host mom. I was so embarrassed I tried to apologize and laugh at the confusing situation, but it was nearly impossible to turn and look at her as I was lodged meticulously in between her and Kyle. The other two ladies were also introduced as Bethany's host mom, and the nun was the director of her school. After we were pryed loose, our host mom was told to come back for us later in the afternoon.
After the awkward meeting, we climbed into a car and were taken for a tour around Pichilelemu. Our first stop, the ocean, Punto de Lobos or Point of the Wolves. We were told that this amazing location was named for the many wolves who used to come for mating, but since Chileans had taken up residence, they no longer came. We were a bit confused as to why wolves would come to this particular location by the ocean for mating, until our misunderstanding was corrected weeks later. Lobos did not refer to land animals, but creatures of the sea, Lobos del Mar, seals.
The waters at this location are particularly violent and treacherous. They dance in unison to create graceful and awe-inspiring waves. However beautiful, this dance is also frightening. The dancers are choreographed perfectly with centuries of practice, and the force behind these waters holds an ancient and incredible power. I am afraid of this spot and I am filled with contradicting emotions. Fear, and humility bounce around my body, but peace and happiness course through my veins. It is our first day in our new city and I can't keep my feet on the ground or figure out what emotion to grab hold of to keep as mine.
We drove around the rest of the city with our guide pointing out particulars in Pichilemu. The old Casino which is now an empty building was built by the founder of Pichilemu, in hopes of making the town a huge tourist attraction; seafood restaurants that are designed for tourists to pay too much dinero; and the Parque Ross, a park with a wonderful view of the ocean. After the tour, we venture past an Internet cafe, up some stairs into a room that feels like somebody's house, and into an empty dining room. We are served pisco sours, the Chilean lemon lime specialty drink, and local wine. Our meal is delicious, and the conversation is sometimes slow enough for me to follow and even chime in on occasion. I must say, however, the wine is somewhat to thank as it helped to loosen my tongue. After our delicious lunch, we were taken to our designated schools. Who ever had the idea to stuff and wine the American volunteers before their official and formal introduction to their places of employment had a sick sense of humor. In any case, the introductions went well and the schools were all very welcoming and excited for the new comers to teach their children English. After visiting my schools, and Bethany's school, (the rural schools were saved for the following day) our tour was finally coming to an end. But our day was far from over. Although I felt that it had already been the longest day of my life and all I wanted to do was crawl into my bed and curl into a ball, we had the second round of this on going test waiting for us at The Prov, our host mom. It was to be the first time, we were left alone with a Spanish speaker who didn't also know English.
Camila, a short, beautiful woman, with blond hair, brown, cheerful eyes, and an easy laugh was waiting for us when we arrived back to the Prov. She gave us a tour of the house and introduced us to her pregnant dog, Canela. She was patient with us and praised us for our Spanish. She told us that before, they hosted a couple from Germany who spoke absolutely no Spanish whatsoever, and our little Spanish was a great improvement on no Spanish. I was greatly relieved to find this bit of information out, because it meant that I had a low expectation to meet and exceed rather than a high expectation to fall short of. We discussed anything we could think of to talk about. We discussed the spiders on the porch, who refused to admit defeat even after their homes were destroyed once a week, the orange sun kissing the horizon and the bright moon taking it's place, the horses eating and neighing in the pasture, and the washing machine that stopped functioning but couldn't be fixed in Pichilemu. We also discussed, Jorge, her husband, who hadn't arrived home yet. After an hour or more of talking, we excused ourselves to the bedroom, to start unpacking our belongings. After a short while, Jorge arrived home. He informed us that he knew five English words, one of which was lawyer because that was his profession. Jorge is the equivalent to a district attorney and has a reputation of leading with an iron fist. As we talked over our fantastic four course meal, fit for a king, or at least someone in the king's court, they described to us a recent case of a corrupt public official taking bribes and pocketing money whom Jorge had prosecuted and successfully placed in jail. Among our topics were differences in American and Chilean culture, different animals, foods, and how and why we chose Chile. Somehow, we succeeded to have a two and a half hour conversation with our broken Spanish. When dinner was over, and we had given them their picture book of Texas, and their stuffed armadillo, we retreated to our bedroom to discuss the miracle that had just transpired. I don't know how it happened but amazingly we conversed and for the most part understood what was being discussed. It was an amazing feeling. We loved our family from the get go and they continue to be amazing. We are truly blessed to have such a wonderful family to live with.

1 comment:

Pamela said...

Vanessa and Kyle,
This so far is just wonderful. I will keep reading tomorrow evening. Reading your accounts gives me a feel of your experience. It seems like a more different culture than Italy was. Does it seem that way to you? Love you both!!