...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

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Back in the 503

Okay, so...wow.

Today marks the one-week anniversary of my triumphant (okay...jet-lagged, sore, and greasy) return to the United States of America. Exactly seven days ago, my dad and I were just arriving at my mom's office in Eugene, having driven down from Portland after he met me at the airport around 1pm. When I think of where I was last week, and where I am now, and everything that's happened in between....mindboggling, weones. (And Riana was right: I'm now totally accustomed to South American keyboards, and I keep reaching down to the lower-right with my pinky to make a hyphen, and trying to do that funky key combination to make the @ sign, and I've forgotten how to make accent marks on a Mac, and there's no ñ key at all.) (The trade-off is that it's easier to italicize things and make quotation marks, and I have my precious semicolon back.) The last few days in Valparaíso went predictably fast and I crammed just about as much into them as I possibly could: a boat ride with Ronald in the harbor, then up Ascensor Artillería and a walk around Paseo 21 de Mayo, Plaza Anibal Pinto, Cerros Bellavista and San Juan de Dios, a visit to the Case Museo la Sebastiana; onces (afternoon tea and snacks) with some expatriates from my Chilean German Lutheran Church; a long conversation with Ambar and Carlos about the semester, my time in Chile, and a lot of other stuff; tea with the Acunas, an older couple from the church who became Kristin's and my defacto Chilean grandparents; hanging out with Daniela and going up Ascensores Lecheros, Polanco, and el Peral; talking with María and playing with my host sisters. Any one of those activities could be and deserves to be its own full-length blog post, but I doubt that I'll write them; regardless, those last days are some of my most precious memories of my time in Chile. I started crying as I said goodbye to Mey, Lisu, and María, calmed down, then started crying again on the bus from Viña to the airport in Santiago de Chile. As I scoured the apartment for my things, my stomach was in knots; I made myself so nervous that I almost threw up, no joke. It's just...even rereading what I just wrote, I can't believe it; its as if the past six months happened to a different person. I mean, was I really the person who did all of that? Who not only survived, but flourished in a foreign country, in a foreign language and under a foreign culture? Who read complex, dense books in Spanish then analyzed them according to Bakhtin's theories of the carnivalesque? Who debated the merits of the Chilean presidential candidates and defended the US against charges of imperialism and immorality? Who stayed out all night watching Padre Alberto Hurtado, a Chilean national religious hero, be canonized into sainthood, and who sang and prayed with Chileans at four in the morning? Who bummed her way around South America, usually with friends but often on her own?

I mean, yes, of course. But at the same time, it feels like some wonderful dream. Not that I enjoyed every minute of the experience; far from it. Often I felt resentful of and/or frustrated with people and situations, both in the US and in Chile, or lonely, or bored, or angry at Chilean culture and Chilean men in particular, or despairing of my Spanish and the fact that my blond (according to Chileans) hair and blue eyes immediately marked me as a foreigner. But now, looking back, those complaints seem so trivial.

At some point during the past week, I made a decision: after graduate school, I'm going to move back to South America (Argentina or Uruguay, ideally) to live for at least a year or two. I could probably get a job teaching English pretty easily, and the ideal situation would be to be able to develop a dissertation thesis (and get it accepted by a PhD program; I'm not sure exactly how the whole process works) that I could research down there, like, I don't know...popular religiosity in Latin America and how it relates to the canonization of modern-day saints like Padre Hurtado, or something related to the continuing development of theologies of liberation in South America.

Okay, switching gears. Dilemma!! I don't know what classes to take this semester. Currently, I'm in US Foreign Policy, New Testament, Buddhism, Seminar in Biblical Studies (about Hellenistic Jews in Ptolomaic Egypt, and Spanish 450 (about poetry and theater in Franquist Spain). BUT, I really, really, really want to take Gender Studies 300: Gender in Aesthetic Expression. It seems to be a focus on gender expression in the film media and pop culture in general, which is right up my alley and something that I love to talk and argue and learn about; and it would be a shame if I graduated from Lewis & Clark without ever taking any sort of feminist theory. Plus, it would be fun to have a class (especially such an interesting one) with Carla and Amy, and I currently have no classes taught by women, and I like to try to balance things out gender-wise every semester. So, I initially thougth that I could audit that course and stick with the rest of my schedule...until I thought it through a little more and realized that, although I might not write the papers for a class that I'd be auditing, I would still feel obligated to do all the readings, which would take a minimum of two hours per class session. (Ryan, after I asked his advice: ''People like you and I don't audit courses. We just take courses and don't get credit for them.'') I'm already at 20 credits, four more than they recommend; adding four more defacto credits to that isn't a feasible option, time-, stress-, and mental health-wise. (Ryan, again: ''I have no doubt that you could take 24 credits. I just 100% think that you shouldn't.

So, I considered dropping Foreign Policy. There would be many good reasons, actually: Clay said that the reading load is very heavy, like 500 pages a week, and Kugler's Seminar is already going to be a back-breaking amount of very dense, theoretical readings about people and places whose names I'm not even sure how to pronounce (case in point: the Herakleopolite nome. Uh, yeah), plus I've been out of the country for the past six months and have no idea of what's been going on in the world. Seriously, Carla and I were walking around the Dallas/Fort Worth airport last week and I was like, ''Did something happen to Ariel Sharon?'' And then, I know Cyrus has high expectations of me in particular, and I don't want to disappoint him. On the other hand, this is the first semester that I've been able to fit Fo Po into my schedule, and if I wait until next year to take it, I'm worried that it will conflict with other classes that I absolutely have to take for my majors (Methods in the Study of Religion, Spanish 410, etc). On the other hand, I went to the first class today and it was really interesting and I was even able to contribute something to the discussion.

So, what's a girl to do? I'm pretty married to New Testament, Buddhism, and the Seminar, but I absolutely can't take 24 credits. Kugler (my Religious Studies advisor) already thinks I'm sort of crazy for insisting on taking 20 every semester. I'm seriously considering dropping Spanish. I kind of hate to, because I want to keep up speaking Spanish, but then again, you don't really learn that much actual Spanishin the literature courses, and the concepts, while interesting to me, are possibly not as interesting as the concepts would be next year in 450, if Wendy teaches her Latin American testimonial literature class again. Dropping Spanish would free up some time in the afternoons on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays that would allow me to volunteer in Portland with the Latino community, which would probably ultimately help my Spanish much more than reading Miguel de Unamumba or whatever's poetry. But in a way, dropping Spanish wouldn't help much time- or stress-wise, since Spanish has always been my easiest and least time-consuming course.