Let People Give You Something

Let People Give You Something

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A heartfelt “¡Gracias!” for the abuelitas that work on the delivery lunches every week.

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The crew from parroquia San Roque and Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep

There are probably 6 dozen things I want to write about the students who just visited Chile for their service immersion trip. I will focus on one, for now. Yesterday, we had the honor to go to San Roque parish in Peñalolen, Santiago, to help prepare meals for homebound individuals and deliver them all over the neighborhood.IMG_6511 IMG_6518 IMG_6510IMG_6513

Our actual volunteer work was minimal, which is what I expected. They run this program twice a week without our help. They didn’t technically need us there. I wanted our stuIMG_6503dents to see the power of a few people in a poor parish making a huge difference in the lives of others who are in need.

We did light work preparing the lunches for delivery. Students walked into a few homes to meet people receiving the lunches to see how they lived and to offer a smile. I think the students got the message.

But then the most amazing thing happened. We returned to the parish and the regular kitchen volunteers had made enough food for all uf us to have lunch together. IMG_6500

The “North American Me” said thank you, but we brought bagged lunches. We don’t want to take food or money from your program. Use it for the people you serve each week. Then my “Chilean Me” said to N.A. Me, “Shut up and accept their hospitality. It’s about the relationship, not the dollars and cents.” And, as I’m learning more than I care to admit, “Chilean Me” was right again.
cents.” And, as’m learning more than I care to admit, “Chilean Me” was right again.

We sat with the parish volunteers, staff, and assistant pastor (who is basically a world renowned theologian!) and ate a delicious meal prepared with love. We thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company and, of course, the food was amazing.

What is it about us that sometimes makes our first response to the invitation, “No, thank you”? If I had insisted on leaving, we would have missed one of the most memorable experiences of those students’ trip to Chile. True Chilean hospitality, and the best example of kinship (thank you for that word, Fr. Greg Boyle!) that we encountered during their time in Chile. At that table, we were parishioners, brothers and sisters.
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Flat Visitor

Flat Visitor

Do you know Flat Stanley? Stanley is the protagonist in this delightful book about a boy who is accidentally flattened (and unharmed), and then he’s able to mail himself all over the world. Teachers have been using Stanley to help teach geography and world citizenship for years. Students often make a paper version of themselves to be mailed somewhere and returned with information and pictures of their flat self’s adventures. I first encountered Stanley living in San Francisco and my flat nieces and nephews started arriving to be photographed in front of the Golden Gate Bridge and sea lions at Pier 39.

Last week, Flat Edda from Boise, ID, came to visit us in Talagante, Chile. Unlike San Francisco, Talagante does not have a lot of distinguishing landmarks, architecture, or animal life. It’s kind of a farm town. So I really had to think about what is interesting in Talagante, something that makes it different from Edda’s hometown. Then it occurred to me, something that we almost take for granted now, having lived here for six months.

We headed to the feria (street market).

The feria happens three times per week on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. Typically our kids do not love to attend the feria for a variety of reasons.

First, there are a few vendors with cheap plastic toys and knock-off Disney coloring books, and we never buy them those things.

Second, the streets are almost exclusively filled with adults, especially at the weekday markets. Since our kids are still small, they are often unseen and get bumped into a little bit because people are looking at items for sale at the stands, not looking down where they walk.

Third, it can turn into a good bit of walking for their little legs, so Krissy or I inevitably carry Caleb for a decent chunk of the time.

This time when the kids and I went to the feria they had a welcome distraction. They were to be Flat Edda’s tour guides. They helped me choose most of our photo locations.

Caleb finds something he’d like to take home from the feria.

The result was a good learning experience for my kids. They took more notice of the sights and sounds around them. Maybe they realized that this is a pretty unique part of our experience living in Chile.

And since Flat Edda was such a great guest, we took her to the park, too.

A different kind of night out on the town

A different kind of night out on the town

Let me start by saying, I can’t believe I did this nearly two weeks ago. And I can’t believe we haven’t posted anything since mid-October. Two Tuesdays ago, I went on a homeless outreach project with our local chapter of Hogar de Cristo. Every Tuesday and Thursday night, they go on one of their two routes near our community to visit with and bring some food and other supplies to people living without permanent shelter. They head out around 6:00 pm and are back at about 11:00. They take simple fare: tea, soup, hard boiled eggs, and bread, Obviously, bringing some sustenance once a week does not end their problems. By driving the same route and encountering more-or-less the same people each week, Hogar de Cristo can informally keep track of the men. As the coordinator for the project described to me, most of the men they meet won’t seek medical help, and most don’t have anyone looking out for them and keeping track of where they are. So by being consistent in their outreach and connection, they can help them beyond the bit of food and other supplies they bring.

These gentleman are very good friends. They thrilled at the idea of having a group picture taken, and were even more excited when I told them I'd get copies and bring them back. They welcomed me to know them, and for that, I am very grateful.

These gentleman are very good friends. They thrilled at the idea of having a group picture taken, and were even more excited when I told them I’d get copies and bring them back. They welcomed me to know them, and for that, I am very grateful.

I met men who were very clearly drunk, high, sick, and in need of love and attention. The last observation occurred to me because they really wanted to talk to me. Admittedly, the combination of drugs or alcohol, missing teeth, and having a “country” accent made conversation challenging. I smiled and nodded, I agreed, and occasionally asked them to repeat things, even though I only understood about 50% of what they were saying. One fellow had the very helpful habit of ending his thoughts with the question, “Si o no?/Yes or no?” to seek my position on his ideas. Let’s just say I was very agreeable, a lot of, “Si, por supuesto, claro!/Yes, of course, clearly!” They needed to talk, and more importantly, they needed to be heard. Everyone we met was in a group. They had partners in their life on the street right there by their side. I’d guess, though, those partners knew all their stories. I was a new guy, a new pair of ears (albeit attuned to English more than Spanish, ears nonetheless).

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Bringing soup, hard-boiled eggs, tea, and bread to the “chiquillos” in Melipilla. With my guide Jonatan, a father of two, who drives this route every Tuesday to check up on these guys, bring them some nourishment, and some connection.

On the drive home, I admitted to my travel partners that I had a hard time catching a lot of what was said. They assured me that it was a challenge for them sometimes, too, based on the drugs, alcohol, missing teeth, etc. But they assured me that the most important thing is listening, and the second most important thing is trying to remember what you heard. When you go back to see those guys the next week, being able to pick up the conversation where it left off or ask them about a story you’d already heard means the world to them. Which got me thinking; that’s what means the world to anyone. You remembered me. You listened to me. You came back to see me again. So although their needs for food, shelter, and medical attention are different from mine, their need for connection is exactly the same as yours and mine, I’d guess.

I hope it’s obvious that I don’t claim to be an expert on homelessness. I certainly don’t believe a few hours on this trip on a Tuesday night will make all the difference in the lives of these men. I thought it was an important experience to share, though, because we’re all human. We all struggle and we all need connection. And I look forward to connecting with these guys again.

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First Day of School vs. First Day of Learning

First Day of School vs. First Day of Learning

Our kids started school in Chile today. We’ve been here more than three weeks, so it seems like it is a late start. Organizing our lives and the Chilean calendar worked against us getting into school more quickly. We needed a car, a house, and then a school to attend. But once we had those three in the first two weeks (amazingly quickly, if I do say so myself), Chile went on vacation for a week to celebrate Fiesta Patrias (see earlier post regarding The 18th), so no real work got done and nobody went to school.
This got me thinking. As a parent, I want my children immersed in this culture and language, surrounded by Chileans and soaking it all in. So, hurry up and get in school! Hurry up and get educated! That’s a huge reason why we came here.
As a teacher, though, I absolutely know/believe that the best learning comes from living something, and my kids have been living something very new, unique, and oftentimes challenging for them during these first few weeks here. They loved the children’s art museum in Santiago; the funicular that took us to the top of Cerro San Cristobal; counting snails on our back patio on these wet, cool, countryside mornings. They’ve been switching between English and Spanish language story books when we read together and loving story time just as much as ever. And the kites. Wow, have we spent some time with kites!
Don’t get me wrong: school is important and good. I’ve made a career and a vocation out of school. I’ve been with students inside the classroom and beyond the classroom and seen great learning happen in both settings. I firmly believe in school, because I firmly believe children crave structure and socialization (not earth shattering assertions, I know).
But now I’m talking about my kids and my family, in Chile, living this. In the last three weeks, “before school”, I’ve seen their sibling dynamic grow in amazing new ways. I’ve experienced their curiosity and questioning of their surroundings blossom. And I’ve definitely felt their wonder for another side of the world they didn’t know four weeks ago; a wonder I probably lacked as an adult the first time I came here.
Yes, I’m very excited about the school my children are attending and the heartfelt, warm reception we’ve all received there. But I promise that I won’t rely on their classrooms for their learning. And l believe, speaking as a teacher, that’s a promise all parents should make to their children.
Ryan

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The 18th

It occurred to Krissy that today is August 18th. In exactly one month, we’ll be celebrating el Dieciocho (the 18th), the Fiesta Patrias, the celebration of Chile declaring its independence from Spain. Pretty much equivalent to the U.S. 4th of July.
When I lived in Chile previously, I moved there in mid-August, so I was fairly new when the Dieciocho came around. Some new acquaintances invited me to go out with them to the local fair. We played fooseball (taca-taca) and other games, then went to the chicha garden. Think beer garden, but with this fermented grape concoction that comes out each September. Wow, what a cultural indoctrination into my new circle of friends! Imagine coming to the U.S. and visiting a Moonshine Garden at a Fourth of July fair. You’d probably take a sip, grit your teeth, smile, and raise your glass to your companions indicating, “Mmmmm, delicious!” so as not to offend their celebratory drink. At least that’s what I did on my first Dieciocho with my first drink of chicha.
All this makes me wonder what kinds of cultural experiences my kids will remember thirteen years after their lives in Chile. Will it be food or language or celebrations? I hope it also includes friends and teachers, family visits and volunteering. Right now, ten days before we leave the U.S., I’m very hopeful that their lasting impressions will make them better people.

 

The “When” Of It All

Since the previous blog post, I’ve had a lot of wonderful conversations with people about our decision. The main topics tend toward the “when” and “how” we will be moving. Right now, I’ll address the “when.” The “how” is a little more complicated to explain, so I’m parsing my words carefully. That blog post is concurrently under construction. I’m moved by the interest and response people have shown, and I hope the current energy continues and eventually translates into visitors from the United States. Remember people, we won’t actually be in Chile for a while, so let’s not peak too early!

One of the toughest parts of this decision is imagining our kids being that much farther from their extended family. Our kids are quite accustomed to seeing their grandparents regularly. We’ve been very lucky to have such generous and active grandparents for our children. Even though none of their grandparents live in California, our kids probably never go more than two months without seeing them. This summer is going to be really important for all of us to spend time together, and allowing our children to deepen their relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

That being our goal, we are looking at the middle of June to leave San Francisco. From here, we plan to spend about five weeks in Idaho with my family. Then in late July, we’ll head to Indiana to spend about 5 more weeks with Krissy’s family. Our goal is to be in Chile the first week of September. If you are in Idaho or Indiana (or plan to be this summer), please let us know when we can get together. Even if you are already imagining your visit to Chile (are you doing that already? Awesome…), we’d still like to see you before we go.

But before all of that meeting up in Idaho, Indiana, or Chile can happen, we need to leave San Francisco; a process that won’t be painless, but we’re motivated by the adventure that awaits. This has been my home for 16 years, by far the longest I’ve lived anywhere in my life. Like most residents of “The City,” we believe we live in an amazing place. Yes, amazingly expensive, but amazingly unique, diverse, creative, and vibrant, as well. So as much as we are drawn to life in Chile for a while, it won’t be easy to leave San Francisco. One thing that makes leaving particularly difficult is that we don’t know where we will land when we return to the U.S. We have a goal to be in Chile for about two years. After that, we’ll just see. Although, in a recent conversation I pointed out to a friend that about a day after our kids are settled in school and we all have beds to sleep in in a house in Chile, we’ll start our discernment process for where we want to end up in the States! This is life. It moves in cycles. Much as we truly want to live in the present, when kids are in the mix, we are always thinking about our future. Krissy and I try to pay attention to the signs of the times, be true to our values, think about what is good for our kids, and discuss these decisions. That’s what has gotten us here now. We’ll continue to trust that process going forward.

Ryan

The decision

(not to be confused with this decision)

I’m flying to the United States from Santiago, Chile, for the fifth time in my life. Each of those flights was preceded by a stay in the country that varied from 10 days on the short end, to 11 months, when I came to live and volunteer at Hogar San Jose, a home for children, essentially an orphanage. Besides the length of time traveling, each trip had its own uniqueness associated with it: people I came to know, places I visited, some experience that altered my life in a very big way (that actually happened at least twice!).  For the first time on all of these trips I’m accompanied by Krissy. And this trip will lead to the longest Chile trip of my life.

Krissy, Lucy, Caleb and I are moving to Chile in September. (I tried not to bury the lead too deeply!) Krissy and I just spent nine (long, missing our kids) days in Chile and Argentina during Christmas vacation.  We were going through the final stages of our discernment about whether or not we wanted to relocate our family to one of those two countries. I use the term discernment because we have been thinking about, talking about, imagining, questioning and soliciting input from others since last February. Some of you have been (an integral) part of that process. Others are aware that we have been considering the move. And others may be hearing of this move for the first time. Regardless of how long you’ve been aware of this process, there’s something you need to consider right now.

When are you coming to visit?

One of our goals for living abroad is to practice “radical hospitality.” If there was a bumper sticker for radical hospitality, it might read, “If you can get yourself here, we’ll take care of (basically) everything else!” I should add that our kids will attend school there. Krissy and I will do as much volunteer work as we possibly can, either planting our flag with a single organization or supporting different works within the community. So if you come, be prepared that we might put you to some volunteer work with us. I’ll save some of those details for a later update.

Along with volunteer work, there are lots more details that I look forward to sharing with you as our family moves through this life change, but I’m not going to write it all in one blog post. This is my first time really blogging about anything, but I imagine that veteran bloggers might tell me to save some things for later. Any of you that have ever had a conversation with me will attest that is not my strong suit. We’ll see if I can grow into it as I chronicle our adventures!