Monday, April 23, 2007

I would just like to apologize for my tardiness in writing blogs. I will try and post more frequently! For now however, another volunteer has written a column for a newspaper in Ohio and Colorado about our experience here in Chile. His writing style is very different than mine, but I found it described our first two weeks in Santiago well. I want to share it with you now. But soon, I will post my own writing instead of plagiarizing others!

p.s. I just want to say, that yesterday, as Kyle and I were walking home, we saw a blue truck drive by. There was nothing particulary interesting about the truck itself, except that in the back trailer was a white llama enjoying the ride. It was the funniest thing at the time and totally unexpected! Just goes to show that you never know what to expect in Chile.
By Rob:
Housed smack in the middle of Santiago, Chile, the Chilean Ministry of Education’s new crop of sixty volunteers sticks out like dachshunds in a herd of alpaca.

When we break for the festive nightlife of the city after a tedious day of orientation, our group evokes images of the pack mentality that causes misunderstanding between cultures around the globe.

Fortunately for us, the curious stares from locals and sputtering conversations impeded by language barriers turn more favorable when our veritable mission is exposed. Upon recognizing our goal to “open doors” through the English language, the citizens of Santiago answer our questions and help us on our way.

A welcome ceremony at the modern, glass-encased United Nations building on the day of our arrival yields enough goose bump moments to mask the fatigue of our redeye flights. Nightly Spanish lessons help us to better understand the “Chilenismos” that are smattered frequently throughout the Spanish here and make the language tough to decipher. And soothing glasses of wine shared in the midst of tiki torches, palm trees and screaming red umbrellas on the patio of our four-story international hostel ease the onset of total immersion.

For every instance in which we wear our wine at two in the morning or blow pesos due to deficient Spanish and terrible currency conversion skills, we aspire to convey gems of the English language to our future students several times over. We learn from our mistakes as well as from the most unlikely of resources, such as the street dogs of Santiago.

In comparison to American dogs, the street dogs are dirty and unkempt. They are a bit intrusive into public privacy and scavenge for food. Nonetheless, American dogs are not nearly as savvy. Our dogs are spoiled while the street dogs of Santiago prosper and gain intellect from the grittiness of their existence. Makes me wonder why those from the States are given the world yet many still howl at the moon?

My mother will be proud to hear that some of what I learn here is not from vagabond animals but through the escapades of others. On one warm and starry night I head “home” at a reasonable hour while my companions prolong their evening of debauchery in the bars of Santiago. The night tears right along before it comes to a screeching halt.

The off-duty Chilean police officer from whom my four compatriots accept a ride from bar to hostel blasts techno music and promptly backs his jeep square into a sturdy tree. He proceeds to slam the car straight forward, over the curb and into a street sign. My friends clamor for an escape as the officer spins his wheels fruitlessly in the middle of a flower bed.

Lingering visualizations of these exploits and my delight in making the right decision still make my day, as do thoughts of our daytime excursions into Chile’s vivacious schools.

Our “observations” of local students and teachers are reciprocated by the children ten-fold. We enter any given school and are poked and prodded like cattle at a 4-H fair. The younger students, clad neatly in blue or grey suits and ties for the boys, and skirts, sweaters and stockings of like colors for the girls, nearly fall flat on their backs when we stroll through the expansive interiors of their open air, two-story schools. Our egos blast into orbit.

We pose for cell-phone cameras and sign autographs. Our mere essence of being is as alien to the Chilean kids as a surfboard to an Ohioan.

The lucky amongst us are invited to join indigenous dances with children garnished only in grass skirts, body paint and coconut bras in front of hundreds of giggling students, teachers and friends. Although awkward and red-faced, we grit our teeth and bear the embarrassment of the moment because it offers a rare chance to release our perpetual inner-child.

After all the hoopla of Santiago, the next step in our journey is to part ways from the group and the big city to live out our dreams in a whole new reality in the schools of Chile.

If all involved have taken anything from our first two weeks in Chile it may be that “gringomania” has struck in a huge way and there is no sign of a slump any time soon.

Thanks Rob for the great story!

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