Sunday, March 29, 2009

very brief update

I haven't written anything in a long time, but with good reason because I've been ridiculously busy. Here's a quick replay of my week:

-decided we had to move
-found a great place that was a little too expensive
-got the owners down 30.000 pesos-->planned to sign contract
-ended up throwing up all day Thursday from something I ate so we didin't do anything about moving and I did nothing about working.
-signed the new apartment contract
-broke the news to our landlady who took it HORRIBLY (I rescind my recommendation of her and our soon-to-be vacant apartment to my two fellow bloggers)
-packed up our entire apartment and arranged to move for almost no cost
-ran into 10,000,000 problems with our building, landlady, and the law about moving our furniture across town
-called my contract lawyer student hysterical over everything who assured me it would be OK by Monday
-had to spend all of my chanchito I had saved for my mom's visit which left me with less than 5.000 clp to my name until payday
-maybe/sort of/kind of have everything straightened out for getting our salvoconducto (license to move our furniture from one building to another), evil landlady meeting, work, and another almost as good deal on moving.
-OH, on top of it all, Italo has to defend his thesis Tuesday morning so he's super stressed about all of this plus his thesis/he hasn't been much help in the packing process ;)

To say the very least, I'll be THRILLED when this is all over. It will be nice to finally sleep next weekend. I'll expand a little more on the move and whatnot, but for now my pillow and a borrowed copy of Anthony Bourdain's book (thanks, Heather!) await me.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Group Post: What drew me to Chile?

This is part of a group post that took place on Friday. I am way behind on mine, but you can read the others here.

Much like Abby says about her reasons for coming to Chile, mine are boring. I was a Latin American Studies major at the University of Virginia and studying abroad was always a part of my plan. I had a gut feeling that led me to Chile, but no specific reasons as to why I chose it. When people ask me here I always say that it was because of the history, the Andes mountains or the fact that a professor from my department started the study abroad program and it had a great reputation--but that's not really true. I have no idea where Chile popped into my head, but I remember thinking I'd go to Chile years ago and I never really changed my mind. Again, this isn't that interesting. What might be a little more interesting is why I chose Latin American Studies which then drew me to Chile.

My grandmother's family on my mom's side is Puerto Rican with some distant Mexican relatives. While my grams (Carmen) grew up in New York City, she spent a lot of time on the island with her family. Her father used to pal around NYC with his beat generation cousin Luis Muñoz Marin (yup, I'm a Marin). My grandmother was fluent in Spanish and very latina in many ways, yet she somehow lost touch with a lot of her family and never seemed to be too proud of being Puerto Rican/Mexican/American (she would say her family got there by way of Spain).

When my grandmother got divorced, she moved to Mexico to live with family with her two young daughters. There, my mom learned the Spanish she's never forgotten. She also picked up her taste for delicious Mexican food and her tendency to want to have her entire family under one roof.

Right when I was born and a few years after my sister was born, my mom hired a nanny from Bolivia, Deisy. From then on, she and my mom only spoke in Spanish so my dad was left to fend for himself, my sister picked it up right away, and my first words were "jugo" and "gato". We ate chicharrón and I was (and still am) Deisy's little chanchita. I switched from Spanish to English with ease since my mom, grandmother and Deisy only spoke Spanish in the house. But when I was still very young, Deisy got another job and left and we had many other latina babysitters and nannies, but I don't remember them well. The only one who sticks out in my mind is Deisy because she was (and still is) a very important person in my life. The Spanish, however, left with Deisy.

After that I never really thought about Spanish. I remember a trip to Puerto Rico when I was 12 and I didn't understand anything my family said to me in Spanish, but they all understood everything I said in English. It was then that I decided to take Spanish in high school, but I was horrible. I'm really a brick wall when it comes to teaching me a new language and it only got harder as I got older, but at least my interest was piqued.

When I went to college I decided to take an introductory Latin American history course just for fun and because I wanted to know a little more than I did about Latin America (which was next to nothing). During my first class of my first semester of college, I was hooked. I was fascinated by the history and everything my professor said. I really started trying to speak Spanish and trying to learn more about my mom's side of the family. When I decided I was transferring to another school, I based a large part of my decision on my study abroad options and the school's Latin American Studies programs. At UVA, I continued.

In October of 2005, my grandmother died. This was a huge blow for my sister C. and me because she was living with C. 10 minutes from my college dorm so we spent tons of time together. Even though you can't say she didn't live a full life, it was still so shocking. My sister and I had a really hard time dealing with it and I was already struggling as a transfer student so I decided I'd take a semester off from school and move to Puerto Rico to be with my incredibly warm and loving family there. They welcomed me "home"* with open arms and I made all of the arrangements to leave school. At the last minute, though I decided I'd stay at school which was the right decision for me in the end, but I was left with this yearning to go abroad and learn the Spanish I'd lost.

Going to Puerto Rico would have been an amazing time, but I was really set on going somewhere new when it came to picking a program. I wanted my own experience living abroad alone and if I had gone to Puerto Rico, I bet my mom would have been down there every weekend and I would have probably spoken more English than Spanish. And since Chile had always been in the back of my mind, I started checking into programs there. After months of fighting with my study abroad office, I finally got my program approved and prepared to leave for Chile.

Like I said before, basically nothing drew me to Chile specifically. It was just a feeling I had. A lot of people even tried to convince me not to go, but I was dead set on it. My advisor said that Chile was too dull for me and that I would be safe, but bored. Another professor thought Mexico was the only way to go. My mom, grandmother and Deisy certainly weren't tied to Chile either. If I followed any of them, I would have gone to Mexico, Bolivia or Puerto Rico, but I think I wanted Chile to be all about me. It was a good time in my life to go away and be with new people which would force me to learn Spanish, but it was also so much about those 3 women and feeling connected to them.

I've always felt latina. Maybe it's because everyone says how much I take after my mom's side of the family, but I'm really not latina. I have the same heritage my sister has (1/2 Irish, 1/4 Puerto Rican and 1/4 Norwegian) and she looks like the Irish side of my family and doesn't speak Spanish. There's no reason for me to have come out more hispanic, but I did. I really identify with the culture, the food (not Chilean food, though), and the people. I love the history and feel totally at ease in Chile and in every other Latin American country I've been to. I've always had the urge to know more about my family which then turned into a need to know about Latin America in general. When I go back to the U.S., I want my life to remain part latina. I want to work with latinos in the U.S. and I want my future children to grow up speaking Spanish just as much as English. Now, Chile's a part of me even more than Puerto Rico (although I'd like to change that) and I'll always feel part Chilean after I leave here.

I realize I haven't really answered the question of what drew me to Chile, but it's because I don't know the answer. Chile is totally different from Puerto Rico, Mexico and Bolivia, I know. Why I didn't go to any of those countries (and territory), I don't know. I plan on spending a lot of time in Puerto Rico and hope to get the chance to get to know Deisy's family in Bolivia, but Chile is so special to me. I bitch and moan about a lot of things here, but I also know that when I leave here I'll miss it like crazy. It'll always be a big part of my life regardless of what the future brings.

Oh hell, maybe I came here just to meet Italo :) who knows...

*My grandmother's cousin always calls Puerto Rico home so when I talk to her, she says, "when you come home to us"....and "We're so glad you're home". It's the cutest thing.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Fear and loathing in Lapiz Lopez. No, just loathing.

I hate the store Lapiz Lopez. It's overpriced, poorly run, and under-stocked. As an English teacher, I need to have some office supplies so I occasionally wander into the store and always always always leave annoyed and stressed.

I am not a patient person, but for some reason Chilean bureaucracy rarely gets to me so this has to be bad. Sometimes, I even enjoy taking a ticket at the bank so I can sit and read while I enjoy the air conditioned room. If I had a car, my feelings would be different, but since the metro is expensive I try to take it only twice a day and it's virtually impossible to run more than a handful of errands each day if you have to go to different comunas on top of working, I'm OK with it. I tend to space out what would be a day's worth of errands in the U.S. over the course of a week here. It lets me be a little lazy and not feel guilty about it. Shopping at Lapiz Lopez, however is never a pleasant experience.

I just started the largest private English class I've ever had so I decided I need to be much more organized about archiving lesson plans and keeping track of what we cover each class. Since I live right by a Lapiz Lopez, I stopped in after my first class with these students to get some notebooks, paperclips and some sort of binder to keep all of our handouts. What should have taken all of 5 minutes ended up taking 20 because of 3 people who do their job horribly.

In a nutshell, I walked into the store, picked out what I wanted to buy in 2 minutes, then waited and waited and waited. I'm sure everyone living in Chile has been into one of these store, but for anyone who hasn't, it's a school and office supply store that has little counters setup all over. If you want to buy a pen, you have to ask the person behind the pen counter to show you each one until you find the perfect pen for you. This person then has to write down the price of the pen so you can take the pen and piece of paper with the price so professionally scribbled down and pay for it.

This day I was there, there was a woman having a particularly difficult time deciding on a pen so I was stuck waiting for 2 boxes of paper clips that cost around 75 cents each. I tried to reach over the counter and grab what I needed, but the woman snapped at me. I was in no mood so I went to another person working there (I have NO IDEA what his supposed job there is) and asked him to hand me the paperclips. Then, I took my paperclips, two notebooks and plastic file-thingy to the counter to pay.

I got the "you poor, stupid foreigner" look from the cashier because no one hand-wrote the prices down for me. I told her all the prices, but she said I had to take it to someone else and have them do it (WHY doesn't the cashier have the prices listed at the register??!). I went to a guy doing nothing who said to drop my items off and go wait for them at the counter so I did. Then I watched as he walked around and asked his co-workers how much each item cost and they all sort of guessed as he wrote down the prices. I ran over there and said that the prices were clearly marked on the items but he said he had it covered and to go wait for him.

I was pissed by now and intent on making sure he actually did have it covered so I checked over the official torn off piece of scrap paper and sure enough, he had written the wrong price for my paperclips. The total was about $1 more than it should have been which isn't a huge deal, but I certainly wasn't going to pay for nothing. I told him he wrote the wrong price down and pointed to the shelf where the paperclips were hanging behind the security-tight desk with the price clearly marked yet he STILL wen to ask a co-worker instead of checking the marked price.

Finally, he got the right price and scratched out the incorrect total and I went to the cashier to pay. She about chewed my head off because she thought that I had changed the price to make it cheaper. This really pissed me off because she wouldn't listen to me so I said "Oye, no me hables asi. Anda a hablar con ese hombre si no me crees pero estas loca si crees que voy a pagar más por un error de la tienda" (lHey, don't talk to me like that. Go ask that man if you don't believe me, but you're crazy if you think I'm going to pay for the store's mistake). She did, changed the price and took my money and practically threw the bag and receipt at me and I left the store.

As I walked to my apartment, I was fuming over the experience. I always try to be nice to people in customer service jobs because they're constantly subjected to people's bad sides, but in situations like that I can't help it because costumer service doesn't even exist. Plus, I am so chata (sick of) with what I think are people taking advantage of the fact that I'm foreign. So many times people try to scam me because they think I'm stupid or because they think I don't understand the system. Now, I fight it every time but it makes me wonder how many times I was cheated when I first got here in 2007 and didn't even realize it.

What's more is that of the 3 times I've been to Lapiz Lopez, there's been a mistake with the bill each time and it's taken much longer than it should have. In the U.S., I absolutely love shopping for pens, pencils, folders, and anything associated with organization and now, I would love to get some binders and plastic bins to organize the tons and tons of English books and handouts I have, but the process is so unpleasant and expensive here that I just end up throwing everything on any open counter space I can find in my apartment.

It may just be bad luck, but unless I have an office supplies emergency, I will never set foot in another Lapiz Lopez. Shame on me for going in a third time after 2 already bad experiences, but I won't do it again. At least when I go into the small, privately owned office supplies stores I expect it to take a long time so I'll be more patient. But Lapiz Lopez, you won't get me again.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Chilly in Chile

I couldn't be happier with the weather today. Chilly, rainy days just before fall begins are pure bliss. Today I stayed in bed with a big cup of coffee way too long, went to see a great movie with great friends, and am looking forward to a glass of wine and Italo's cooking followed by one of my new favorite series, The Big Bang Theory. I'll save my mujer pesada story for another post so as not to ruin the onda of this one.