Itâ€™s been awhile, I knowâ€”the first three weeks I had the legitimate excuse of almost nonexistent Internet access coupled with all-day Spanish classes, but now that Iâ€™m settling into the big city itâ€™s time to get to work. To recap, I was in Linares, a small city about four hours south of Santiago that also borders a more rural area (campo). The first week I stayed in a retreat center with the other Notre Dame students, and then we all moved to stay with different host families for the remaining week and a half. Some highlights from the campo include:
- A night of traditional Chilean music and dance with the community. We learned theÂ cueca, Chileâ€™s official dance, which involves handkerchiefs, cowboy costumes, and dancing in circlesâ€”lots of fun. At the behest of my host dad I danced it with an eight-year-old boy who needed a partner.
- Visiting Chilean high schools to meet the students. They were more than patient with our bumbling Spanish and confused looksâ€”one girl in our group ended up with a stuffed animal and a love letter from an admirer. The visits were a bit overwhelming at first, especially since they were on the first few days we were there, but ultimately lots of fun and great practice talking to younger people.
- Happening upon herds of cows just hanging out in the middle of the streets in Linares. Along with our bovine friends, the ubiquitous street dogs would sometimes finagle their way inside the parish and join us for Spanish class.
- Mysterious bug bites that may or may not have been fleas–the other suspect was bed bugs.
- Pancito (bread that is sort of like a cross between a bagel and a biscuit). Soo much pancito with palta (avocado) and tea. Â Those were the three main food groups, and along with more than ample servings of these every gathering, whether a visit to Chilean high school or the local Catholic parish, was an opportunity for celebrating with tea and pastries. Not that Iâ€™m complainingâ€”it was glorious.
- My host dad very excitedly presenting me with a DVD to watch, explaining that it was really good music. Curious, I took him up on the offer, and what do you think it was? Chilean folk tunes? Reggaeton? Spicy salsa beats? Nay, it was a two-hour montage of 80’s video hits. Everything from â€œTotal Eclipse of the Heartâ€ to Michael Jackson to Cyndi Lauper was represented.
- TheÂ NDÂ gringuitasÂ holdingÂ ourÂ ownÂ inÂ aÂ futbolÂ matchÂ againstÂ theÂ ChileanÂ teenagers.Â Â They still won of course, but I think the final score was 5-3, and both sides played well.
On a more serious note, the threeish weeks spent in Linares started to teach us about the huge disparity between social classes in Chile, as well as the relatively rigid class structure. The contrast between Santiago and Linares is striking. The Santiago host families are all middle to upper middle classâ€”for example, my family lives in a modern apartment, with central heating, hot water, and wireless Internet. The streets are free of trash and stray animalsâ€”thereâ€™s even a Starbucks a few blocks down. The closest malls are overwhelmingly large and upscale for yours truly ($20 seems like a monumental sum on a college student budge) and are packed with American chains and brands. Aside from the Spanish language, I could be in any European or American cityâ€”although English TV and music are popular, so it is unfortunately possible to live here without even having to immerse yourself in a different language.
Linares looked much more like a developing country, with many unpaved roads and trash piling up on the sides. My Linares family lives in a four-room rowhouse. The house was heated with a woodstove that lacked a chimney, and the kitchen was attached in a concrete, garage-style room. My host dad works in the fields earning the Chilean minimum wage ($140,000 pesos per monthâ€”about $250 U.S. dollars) while my host mom works unofficially as a maid a few times a week, as she is paid only in cash. Chile has a Socialist government under the current president, Michele Bachelet, and labor laws and unemployment benefits exist but are easily evaded. My host dadâ€™s boss had worked out a deal where he would send his workers to classes, for which he was paid by the government, then contract the workers for about eight months of the yearâ€”then fire them and leave unemployed for the remaining months of the year. He would then rehire the same people, collect money from the government, and start the whole process over again. This is a common practice, according to my host dad and one of my Spanish teachers, and Iâ€™d like to research this and related issues more since I only got a basic understanding of it.
So much more to say, but this has been a long post so Iâ€™ll leave it here for now. My Poverty and Development class and volunteer work start this week, as well as all my classes that were supposed to start last week and justâ€”didnâ€™t. Such is La CatÃ³lica. But I promise to update more regularly from here on out!