Peace at the End

Happy new year! We had a wonderful Christmas and New Year celebration with visiting family. It’s funny, but we agree that this feels more like “home” now that we’ve hosted visitors from the US.

I have been going to a day center for older adults in Talagante weekly for the past few months. Run by Hogar de Cristo, the center serves a few dozen seniors who come on a regular schedule — some come every weekday, while others come only a few days per week. I’ve been doing gentle seated exercises with them (using a fantastic resource called Sit and Be Fit) as well as guided meditation and relaxation exercises. Just a few small things to aid physical and mental well being.

Let me put it simply: I love these abuelitos.

I was sad today when Isabel, one of the program staff, told me that one of the abuelitos had died a few days ago. He was part of a group of guys (really nice guys) who hung out back in the garden and didn’t really come inside for activities. Isabel said that the Hogar de Cristo staff were the ones who actually took him to the hospital, but once he was there his family descended and stayed by his side until the end. She said that his ex-wife even came to see him, and he asked her for forgiveness. I did not know him well at all. But hearing that he was surrounded by family and truly at peace made me glad for him.

St. Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death. I think he was with Don Orlando earlier this week. May he rest in peace.

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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There and Back Again *

* I have been informed that this title has already been taken.

We’ve been in Chile a little while. Got a place to live. Kids have started school. I even managed to find a proctor and took my first MPH exam outside the U.S. earlier today.

Now that we’re settled, what’s the logical next thing to do? Leave the country.

One of my friends from the U.S. was planning a trip to Argentina, and we figured it would be great fun to drive across the Andes and meet him in Mendoza. So we started planning our getaway. Hotel reservation? Check. Winery tours and vineyard lunches set up? Absolutely. Duh. Obligatory Mercosur additional car insurance? Yeeeeesss. Payment of reciprocity fees to cross the border into Argentina? What do you take me for, a rookie? Document that says the car we bought does, in fact, belong to us?

Oh.

We realized four days before departure that we still didn’t have the car title. Long story, but the notary who did the transfer didn’t exactly finish the job with the Registro Civil, so technically, as far as the Chilean government is concerned, that car still belongs to someone else. And once we brought it to her attention, it takes about two weeks to fix.

Cars waiting to cross the border back into Chile from Argentina, Paso Los Libertadores

Chilean side of the border crossing

I actually called the central office of the Chilean customs agency and even the border crossing itself to see if there wasn’t some way we could drive across with the paper that said we bought it and the ownership is “in tramites” (being taken care of) … pretty bold, if I say so myself, but no dice. There was no way they were going to let us drive our own car out of this country. (If you’re interested in the requirements to drive a car across the border, go to the web site of the customs service, Aduanas. This page is in Spanish.)

We found this out on Thursday around noon. We had been planning to depart on Friday around 5:00 a.m. Ryan made the excellent point that he never thought he’d see a process that made buying a car in the U.S. look easy. Well. There you go.

We can laugh about it now, but it was a rather stressful and frustrating experience. But of course, it’s also a pretty trivial problem to have. We couldn’t go on this vacation and drink fancy wine because the car we bought (in the country we chose to live in) wasn’t through the bureaucracy yet. With everything that’s going on in our world today, I felt a bit ashamed when I put it into perspective. We went and got coffee after our trip to the government office on Thursday and decided it wasn’t that big of a deal. Maybe we needed to make a little room for the Holy Spirit to work here.

Meeting a truck going around one of the switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes Mountains

Going up the Chilean side of the border

So, in that mindset, my dear husband insisted that I buy a bus ticket and go by myself. I got on the Andesmar salon cama the next morning at 9:30 and settled back for a relaxing trip across the mountains. The bus ride itself was great. It’s the three hours I spent at the Argentine crossing that wasn’t so awesome. I think maybe it was a blessing in disguise that the whole family wasn’t able to go – that would have been a nightmare with the kids. We rolled into the Mendoza bus station around 6:00 p.m.

There were two ladies sitting in front of me with their little boys, who both looked about two years old. Of the five and a half hours we were actually moving on the bus, the boys were awake maybe one and a half hours. HOW DO PEOPLE MAKE THEIR KIDS DO THAT? Seriously, any tips welcome.

The scenery on the drive was astounding. Mountains are probably my favorite of all the earth’s physical features, and the Andes do not disappoint. The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the border can be a little harrowing – I deliberately chose a seat in the downstairs portion of the two-level bus to minimize motion sickness – but the driver didn’t take it too fast so I didn’t mind too much.

Glass of late harvest wine from Bodega Lagarde, Mendoza AR

Wine pairing at Bodega Lagarde outdoor lunch

Mendoza itself is a delight. I immediately felt the cultural shift – things are closed in the afternoons, evenings begin very late, and there is a wonderful café culture. Things are also a lot cheaper than in Chile (a nice bonus). The city is full of huge trees, plazas, and parks and has a good balance of busy commercial streets and quiet residential areas (the latter are dotted with a notable number of apart-hotels and hostels).

Places I went that I would recommend: Bodega Lagarde, The Vines of Mendoza tasting room, El Palenque, Brillat Savarin bakery and chocolate shop, and pretty much anyplace selling you an alfajor.

Places I didn’t get to this time: Gimenez Riili winery, Andeluna winery, Atamisque winery, Vines Spa and Resort, 1884 restaurant, and the dozens of cute shops I passed but didn’t have time to enter.

It was a nice break. It was fantastic to see Jason and to meet his friend Rosie. And coming back to Chile felt like coming home.

Glowing sunset with shadows of trees

Sunset at our house

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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Life in Song, in South America

The kids both refused to nap one afternoon last week, despite a very busy morning. Our little guy was so wound up that he took off his sleep sack, pants, and diaper a grand total of four times before I gave up on the nap. Well, life must go on and I’ve got things to do. So I was letting Daniel Tiger babysit the kids while I worked on boring adult stuff like cell phones and my master’s degree. (And Ryan took care of extremely boring adult stuff like buying a car and getting it insured.)

Daniel Tiger

PBS Kids’ Daniel Tiger

If you have young children and let them watch TV, I highly recommend Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. There is just a lot of really good stuff going on there. The episode the kids watched this afternoon (okay, one of the episodes) talked about how every person has something special about them. I looked over and saw them completely absorbed in the story. Lucy sang along when they broke out the “I like you just the way you are” song; then she turned to me and said, “I’m special too, Mom.”

Well, of course.

I set aside the riveting chat I was having with a Verizon rep in favor of telling my daughter how much I love the things that are special about her. One of the things I think is special is how she makes up songs throughout the day. Sometimes I don’t think she even knows she’s doing it. I will catch her narrating her playtime in song (“…and then she goes over here, and wait a minute, that’s a dinosaur…”), totally absorbed in her make-believe.

This evening, she was singing, “I love my life in South America!” This prompted a nice discussion about how we love what we’re doing here, but that we can still love the United States as well. 

And then, naturally, there was that moment at lunch today when she was singing “La Cucaracha” in the middle of a restaurant full of Spanish speakers trying to eat their food without imagining it full of, well, you know. 

It’s true — she has songs for every occasion. But we’re still working on finding the perfect song for each moment.

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 Complete Hot Dog

A friend of ours who, incidentally, is also moving to Chile soon shared a web series with us. 

It’s called Gringolandia. It’s brilliant.

A Chilean man falls in love with a woman from New York; he comes to the US; highjinks ensue. Those who have been to Chile will understand the beauty of the second episode, “Complete Hot Dog.” Keep watching until he asks for “palt.”

Watching this series both excites and terrifies me. It’s exciting because we will be there soon and terrifying because I can barely understand what the Chilean dude is saying. Thank God it is subtitled. Maybe I can find someone to subtitle my real life.