Looking out my bedroom window is always a new adventure. I love to walk up to my window, push the curtains aside and stare. Stare at the unknown, and the incomprehensible. The shacks, I mean houses, here in Chile are pitiful by American standards. They are thrown together without thought to the future. Unlike Italy, these buildings and houses are not built with love and care, but with haste and thoughtlessness. The centers of almost all towns in Chile, have dilapidated buildings, crying with neglect. I understand there is a lack of money, but building houses that are made to fall in the face of a storm will not prove helpful in times of need. Even the beautiful house we live in, doesn't seem made to last. In the entire house, there is only one built in closet. The closet we use is poorly built and is actually more of a wardrobe. I don't believe I have seen one garage since moving here to Chile, 2 months ago, and storage space is non existent. Kitchens, if the house comes with one, don't have a pantry, and many of the dishes are stored in the oven. The dishwasher is not built in, and is in the form of a woman. Dishwashers, the machines, are rare, and a luxury. Gas is bought from a truck and heats the water and the general cooking devices such as the stove and the oven. However if the gas runs out, which it does often, your shower turns from hot to cold within the blink of an eye. Cold showers really make the day start off fantastically.
I didn't realize before, that houses could come without kitchens. Next door, I see our neighbor tending his outside fire, as he does everyday. I never realized until recently that the reason for his outside fire, is not for warmth, or entertainment, but for cooking. How could a house be built without a kitchen? What happens when it rains, how does he eat? Pichilemu is cold and unpleasant in the winter and to be outdoors, enduring nature is unthinkable for a spoiled American brat like me. In order to eat a hot meal, he has to start a fire, outside, against the wind and elements. I am cold enough inside buildings, since heaters are almost non-existent here in the sixth region. Houses also don't have fire places but these iron box chimineas that are used in place. Unfortunately, only the room they are located in stays warm, while the rest of the house, or building remains as cold or colder than the outside. Pichilemu is not much colder than San Antonio, but imagine never being able to feel fully warm and protected by the outside cold. San Antonio might actually be miserable in the winter without the car heater or the house and building heaters. My bones have a permanent cold gripping at their core, and it's impossible to defrost.
We ran into a woman Camila knows at the market, where all of the town congregates to buy their produce, used shoes, cheap jewelry, and gossip about the scandals rocking Pichilemu for the week. Camila's friend invited us over for “onces”, the snack that they have in place of dinner, that evening. She recognized me as the American English teacher, and informed me that her daughter was one of my students and was always talking about Tia Vanessa. I was apprehensive about the situation. I didn't want to lie if she was one of my dreadful students who came to school only to play and harass the other students and teachers, making the learning process near impossible. I don't like to lie, and I certainly didn't want to lie to this nice woman inviting us into her house, if her child was one of those born to cause me pain, but luckily my fibbing skills weren't necessary. Her daughter is in my last class on Friday afternoon at Divino Maestro, when the only English my students bother to listen for is “You may leave.” This class is horrid, and feeds on my energy like leeches sucking blood out of it's host. They sit looking out the window, holding their backpacks for the entire 45 minutes of class ready to bolt when the bell rings. Or in the case of last week, the children cornered me fifteen minutes before the bell, begging and pleading to be let out early. That's right, fifteen minutes early. Not two, not five minutes, but fifteen. I held the fort for 11, blocking the door, while they surrounded me like a pride of lions moving in for a slow kill. All twenty-five students encircled me, so close I could smell their hair, body oder and breath. Eleven minutes, I stood there blocking my students from leaving, yelling at them to sit down and finish their work, and repeating that they couldn't leave, but it all fell on deaf ears. They were done for the day, and sitting and behaving was out of question. I had already written down almost half of the classes names to be placed on the behavior needs improvement list, so I was out of threats. I gave in after eleven minutes. I wanted to leave as much as they did, and to breath fresh oxygen. My personal bubble needed tending. The poking and pulling and prodding had ripped gaping holes in not only my bubble, but also my good mood and positive energy. All of this is to say that Sylvia, the daughter of the woman who invited us over, is in this class and is the best and my favorite student.
We arrived at the house, on Chilean time and were welcomed by the entire family. Sylvia made my head swell with pride when the first words our of her mouth were, “Hello, how are you?” Many of my students say “hello”, but very few venture out to speak anymore English than that one word. For the first time, I realized that even though my classes were difficult teaching environments, some of the students are learning and want to learn. She was thrilled to have all three of the Americans (Bethany, the other volunteer came with us) in her house, and was very affectionate the entire night. Hugging me, petting my hair, and trying to converse with me, even when I was involved in another conversation. She was actually excited to have her teacher over for dinner. However, the reason I am telling you this long, bloated story, which is obviously not staying on the main road, is to bring us to the point of their very interesting house. It consisted of an extremely small living room, two bedrooms each containing two people; the two sisters in one room, and the parents in the other, and a bathroom. The house was tiny and quaint and lacking in a dining room and a kitchen. However, dinner wasn't in the house, but in an outside, dirt-floored, over sized tool shed. This very rugged, yet actually cozy room served as their kitchen and dining room. In the middle was a fire and to the left was a long wooden table which might have been made out of the same tree that built the kitchen. Four of us squeezed into a bench facing the family, as we ate our avocado, tomatoes, potatoes and tea over good conversation and wonderful company. Oh yeah, almost forgot. There was a tarantula in the bedroom.
The noon “bell” rings as I stare into the hillside of trees and run down shacks that pass for houses. The bell sounds at noon in every town in all of Chile and each time, it grips my heart with panic. The sound is less like a bell, actually not bell at all, but the noise one would hear as a warning for a bomb raid or a tornado alert. At noon, every day, the siren fills the town people's ears, not with lovely chimes or musical notes from an instrument, but with a terrifying noise, that I not only associate with a warning siren but also a horror movie I saw a while back called Silent Hill. The noise was made to alert the town of the darkness that would soon take over. The only shelter from the evil that oozed out of the walls, and the creatures that rose from the dead, was a church, which in the end proved to have more evil within it's walls that the outside darkness. These are the thoughts that run through my head when I hear our courtesy noon alarm.
After staring into the heart of the Chile countryside for an unmeasurable length of time, my eyes finally focus on a dog roaming around in the next yard. There are many dogs near and around us, but this particular one causes my nerves to boogie like they had Saturday night fever. The music floating through the night air, every evening, is that of the communication of dogs. Barking, howling and growling, come together to create a symphony to compete with Mozart, except without instruments, a Capella style. The particular dog I mentioned before, is the star of the symphony and has the voice of a dying demon being pulled into hell. Her voice fills the night air with such unbearable noise, that any creature with the ability to hear, scatters to the farthest reaches of the country. The dog probably doesn't even have fleas for the awful noises she makes. Honestly the first time I heard her bark, I thought the poor dog was fighting it's last fight and miserably loosing but after enduring her grating voice everyday, I have come to realize the truth. Her bark always sounds like a dying creature. No one bothers to tell the dogs to stop their music making. It's just an accepted part of living in the country. And did I mention that she, the demon dog, has had puppies, and has given the gift of her beautiful voice to her offspring. So now, not only to we hear the song of the Demon dog, we are also graced with the melody of the little minion perroitos.
Dogs live outside in South America. End of story. Dogs, if they have an owner, are not pets but accessories to the house or the yard. Because they live outside and in the countryside, they all of fleas, even our brand new puppies. Canela, our beautiful chocolate lab who was knocked up by an unknown boyfriend, had her puppies several weeks past. Twelve little black, confused and unhappy puppies were born in a dirt hole outside in the front yard. All twelve survived the first two weeks, but because of normal, but sad realities, we now only have ten. It is fortunate at least that we have a little doggie house for our puppies, and I am surprised and pleased we didn't loose more to the cold. The very day they were born fleas from the countryside found a new home on our precious little puppies. It's sad, but impossible to help.
And there are even more dogs still that roam the streets of Chile without an owner, unwanted and uncared for. Another dog that causes me pain, but rather in my heart than my ears is one that makes his home in the center of town along with the majority of the other strays. He no longer resembles a dog, but a zombie creature back from the dead to torment the living. His mange causes this skeleton like animal to have only patches of hair to protect him from the cold wind. I can't look at him without almost crying, and the other night, he followed us for an uncomfortable length of time on our walk home. It is normal to be followed by dogs wanting attention and food, but this non-dog, zombie creature gives us the willies. The majority of strays in town, don't cause problems. They lay around, wait for food, chase cars and practice making puppy dog eyes for weak-willed humans. The other day, we watched two dogs take post on either side of the street for a fun game of “try and attack the cars”. Every time a car drove by, which was not to their liking, they would run at it from either side, nipping at the tires and barking as if the car were their long-time adversary. The drivers of the cars seem un-phased by the commotion and continued to drive as normal, despite being surrounded by barking, stray dogs. I want to give these poor, attention-deprived dogs love and care that they long for, but I can't because of the possible diseases they might carry. These abandoned and sad creatures therefore are doomed to forever roam the street without human affection.
Looking out my window is like looking into a microcosm of Chile and my emotions about living in this foreign country. The breath-taking countryside consumes my heart with a sense of peace and tranquility. The rolling hills that stretch before my eyes are scattered with dilapidated houses poking out between the trees. The deceivingly calm ocean to my right reaches out towards the sky wanting to touch it's sister, but never quite making contact. Confusing to the human eye, the blends of the blues make it difficult to detect the dividing line, but we sense that they are separate. I can't help but smile at my conflicting emotions surrounding this country. I love the beauty of it's nature and of it's people, but there are permanent flaws in this picture that cry out for help. There are days that this country makes me joyful beyond belief and there are days when all I want is to be home, surrounded with things that are familiar. I am like the ocean reaching out to the sky for something. I am not sure what emotion I should feel or will feel if I touch my mysterious goal. My waters, depending on the wind on the particular day, are either turbulent with fear or calm and content. Chile is beautiful but with flaws. My window gives me a perfect view into the confusing Chilean soul, but helps me reflect on my own as well.