...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Living a la chilena

I´m falling in love with my host family, I think.

We all found out who our host families were on Sunday, our last day in Santiago (Santiasco, hee). The photo I received showed a young, smiling woman holding a baby, standing next to a grinning, muscle-bound, tattooed man. ´´He looks like he´s from Los Angeles,´´ John, one of my friends in the group, remarked. The man and the woman each held the hand of a solemn looking little girl dressed completely in pink, including pink eyeshadow that was applied heavily enough that it showed up in a low-resolution digital picture. Stapled to the front of the picture were a few lines about the family: it said that they were a calm, open-minded, relaxed family that liked to spend time at home, at the beach, and in the countryside. In other words, perfect for me.

Meeting them, however, was anything but calm and relaxed. All four of them came to pick me up from the bus drop-off point when we arrived in Valparaiso. After kissing hello and loading my stuff into the back of their car, Ambar (the mom) and Carlos (the dad) started talking to me a mile a minute; Lisuanne, the five-year-old, wanted to show me a snail she had found on their balcony; and the baby Meysue started crying. All of this while we were speeding down the highway at ninety miles an hour (seriously; I snuck a peek at the spedometer), a CD of Spanish-language children´s songs blaring, Lisuanne singing along and Ambar bouncing Mey on her lap. It was chaotic and overwhelming and illegal in several ways in the United States. But you know what? It was also...kind of joyous, and fun.

When we arrived at their apartment in Viña del Mar, I met the other members of the family: my abuelo, Antonio; and the maid/nanny Maria, who comes everyday around eight in the morning and goes home around eight in the evening. Maria had made a special lunch in honor of my arrival, and Antonio was making pisco sours, the unoffical national drink of Chile, composed of pisco (fermented muscatel grape juice), lemon juice, sugar, and egg white. Lisu´s friend Michelle was over for the afternoon, so the table was completely full: Carlos, Antonio, Maria, Lisu, Michelle, me, and Ambar, who was holding Mey on her lap. Ambar proposed a brindis (toast), and it was very sweet and welcoming.

So, I guess the bottom line is that Chile continues to go well. It´s pretty overwhelming sometimes, figuring out how to get around, which micros and colectivos (buses and taxies that follow a fixed route, respectively) I need to take to get where I´m going, trying to keep my head above water linguistically, not to mention that I don´t know if I´ll ever get used to seeing so many stray dogs and cats in the streets. But I´m constantly glad that I´m here, and I´m optimistic that things will continue to get better. (One thing that definitely needs to get better, pronto, is the weather, because damn, it´s cold. I mean, it´s not raining, but there´s this kind of damp cold, and there´s no central heating anywhere. I should have brought more warm clothes.)

One more thing about my family is that we´ve been having a lot of conversations about politics, and it´s been super-interestante. However, that´s a whole other topic for another, probably much longer, post. Until then, ¡chau!