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New Job, New Blog

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I just started a new blog, Altitude 1.6, where I will chronicle my upcoming year in Bogotá, Colombia.  Please read my first post and click “Subscribe!” at the bottom right if you would like to get email updates.

Check me out!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I am now writing for a different site:

Gringolandia Santiago

See if you can find me.


Probably My Last Post

Thursday, December 22, 2011

One of my novice crew coaches liked to say that while any cardio is good cross-training, the best is running.  ¨There´s nothing quite like running – it´s just so damn efficient.¨  That´s how I feel about living abroad.  Anything new makes you grow, but damn, this route sure is efficient at making you a grown-up.  The last thing I want to do is offer unsolicited advice — I recently suffered that experience with a gringo aquaintance in Palena (who also told me “not to worry” about not having a boyfriend) — so I’m not preaching, just speaking from my experience.

When I picture myself landing in Chile on Febuary 1st, I think, aw, que niñita [what a little girl].  It´s a sweet feeling, not condescending.  But I have grown.  While I guess there are plenty of tangible skills I´ve gained  (Spanish, teaching, wood-chopping) there are plenty I still lack (like avoiding getting a sunburn — it hurts to be wearing jeans right now).  The growth, I feel it in my spine: I am stronger and also much more flexible.  Mostly, eleven months later, I am better at taking care of myself, which really comes down to knowing what I need and want.  I don’t know precisely what I want in the future, but at 23, most of the time I know exactly what I want on the day-to-day level — a quite night, a social night, a spin around the block.

And as to Chile, traveling this week, especially returning to Chile from Argentina, I´ve realized I really do love this country.  Sometimes, I think this has more to do with my humanity that with Chile; that is, my affection for Chile is a simple reflection of our instinctual tendency to attach and to love.  I could just have easily lived in Argentina for a year — in fact, Buenos Aires was high on my dream list — and then che and voz would be normal, po and wn strange.  But we are programmed to love, and I lived in Chile, so it is Chile I love.  This attachment business is the fact that makes me want to live abroad again, and simultaneously makes me fear it, because as I am currently experiencing, leaving love hurts.

What next?  I´ve changed my answer, from being sure of TESL February to just vacationing January.  I need to be in one place and see what arrives.  I need to stare at the walls of my childhood home, to laugh with my sister, to cook with my mother, to go out for breakfast and pizza with my dad, to talk for hours with my dear friends, not on a computer screen but by my side.

I have lived so much living in the past year.  The past two weeks have packed more raw human experience than ever before in my life — more despair, elation, and recently, a surprisingly peaceful, yet equally strong emotion: pride.  I am proud of surviving winter without central heating, of milking a goat, of teaching damn-good lessons in a damn-awful school, of not losing anything in my travels.  More than anything, I am proud of taking this leap, of boarding a plane January 1, 2011 to arrive in a town I could barely locate on Google Earth.  I am so glad I took the chance.  Proud and grateful — so very grateful for my family, the luck of the emotional and material foundation that allow me able to stretch, further and further.

I am writing this post from Dunkin’ Donuts in the Santiago airport (one of two places with wifi — the other was Starbucks), and it’s time to buy a snack and then camp out with my Kindle at the gate (I’m reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog, really fun).  As my title states, this is probably my last post.  I will post here if and when I start another blog, but I think this is the end of Latitude 43.  Thank you for reading!

5 Last-Minute Discoveries

Monday, December 19, 2011

On the last day of my first summer at Wediko (therapeutic summer camp), one of my charges jumped into the pond at breakfast, accompanied by his preferred greeting, “You f****** b**** I’m gonna…” .  My supervisor walked by and said, “The good thing is, we still have time to learn!”  Even though the buses were leaving in a few hours, the program rolled on, and we dealt with the situation as one more precious opportunity to teach this child new skills.

Though my last days in Palena were all about leaving the old, there was actually some new, too:

1. New path the the river.  Melissa and I found a way to get down from the garden to the river — though the water was shallow (not like the OCEAN here in Viña del Mar!  Delicious!), I found my way in.

2. Bono de matrimonio.   That’s right: under Piñera, there is a cash prize of $500 for couples that have been married for over 50 years, “to reward the institution of the family”.  Are you kidding?  Look, if you’ve been married for 50 years and you want to celebrate with your family, go right ahead!  But does the State need to enter this?  And how do we know long-term marriage is always a good thing?  In some marriages, we could give you a prize for getting out!  If you care about family, care about the quality of family — about birth control, about maternal health, about preschool, about counseling, about parental leave-of-absense and vacation time — not  “marriage” as if it were an end unto itself.

3. Mate con leche.  I’ve heard for awhile that I have to try mate served with milk, rather than water — on my very last day in Palena, the women attending a weaving training course in the office were serving it (with milk from one of their cows).  They heated the water up in the kettle and the served it into each serving, just like you normally do with water.  It was ultra sweet (from added sugar), but interesting.  Like a breakfast desert.

4. “Tuto. I learned this Chilean slang for sleep when I went for onces (tea/dinner) at one of my high school student’s houses.  I’m not sure how I hadn’t come across it before, because after learning it Monday, I suddenly heard it left and right.  (By the way, this dinner event was a such a sweet, initially awkward but ultimately very satisfying and fulfilling evening.  At first they offered me juice while everyone had mate, and when they started a second round of mate and offered me coffee, I gently suggested I could have mate too.  ‘But no, we have coffee!’  As Tito had taught me, coffee is more expensive and fancy, certainly more fit for a gringo guest.  They were surprised and impressed that I liked mate and obviously knew how to deal with it).

5. “Un Verano Sin Corbata.”  A frequently-playing TV commercial is advertising this new campaign, “A Summer Without Ties,” with the aim of reducing energy costs.  The estimate is that this will save 3.31% of energy expenditures in the public and commercial sectors, a savings of 10 million dollars.  My comments:

  • Does taking off a tie really make that much of a difference?
  • If you want to save money/energy on air conditioning, why not make a meaningful change and wear shorts and t-shirts?  It’s in the 90s in Santiago!
  • Do women go to work?
  • Does anyone blink an eye that a commercial by the Chilean government talking about savings in Chile cites that amount in US dollars?
  • You guys realize this video is hilarious, right?  I mean, your real goal is to get us to know your names, and for us to think you’re funny.  Why else would you film yourselves strip-teasing, for an extremely token environmental gain?

Crying, Fire & Interim

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I left Palena Friday morning at 8:00 AM.  I don’t think I’ve ever cried more in 24 hours.  But as I said to my dad, I think one of the worst human feelings is isolation, and this week, I have felt more connected than ever.

When my sister graduated from high school, I felt sad but distant during the ceremony; only later, wandering alone through the classrooms, did I cry.  But leaving Palena, I cried big, full-body shaking sobs, in farewell embraces, wandering the streets, and then on buses by myself.   There was no coaxing — this was my body speaking, in the arms of my peer-friends, my mother-figure friends, my beloved children, and most especially in the arms of Melissa and Tito.  I have no comparison for this feeling, because I’ve never said goodbye to people I love so much, not knowing when I will return.  I cried leaving Boston last January, but there was never any doubt about my return to my parents, nor of their constant presence during the year.

And then, at 5:30 PM on my last day (Thursday), I was in a brief rest from crying, happily eating pineapple and strawberries at my neighbor’s house, when we saw the smoke rising behind the school.  Outside, we felt the heat and smelled the burning from a block away, saw black burning bits fall on the lawn.  Another neighboor immediately climbed her roof with a hose, watching the wind carrying the danger across all of Palena.

Within minutes the entire town was crammed into a few blocks.  Men ran carrying gas tanks — though we heard the explosions of some that were not saved.  Outside of the office, we gave water to man in a wheel-chair who had been evacuated from the hospital (adjacent to burned buildings, luckily saved).  A young Argentine couple stayed in the Foundation house, their bed & breakfast burned.  When we went to see the area after the fire was put out, only a few posts remained, with the tin roofs sitting on top of ash, still smoking.  The neighboring houses that didn’t burn were busy returning their possesions, having taken everything out.  They had covered their roofs with wet towels.

After the fire was controlled (unfortunately fire-fighting is a volunteer position in Chile! ), it became known that Don Juvenal Mancilla, a neducation administrator somewhat equivalent to superintendent, had died.  He lived in one of the two hospedajes that burned, houses that served both as bed & breakfasts (such as where my parents stayed in July) as well as long-term pensions.  I wasn’t emotionally close to Don Juve, but I saw him almost every day, and was in his office once a week asking for a signature or to reserve a van.  Wednesday I drove to one of the rural schools with him, and promised I would come by on Thursday to say goodbye.

As Melissa said, “Now you know the full cycle of fire.”

On a different note, I am writing tonight from El Bolsón, a small, beautiful city in Argentina where you can kayak/hike/swim, savor fresh pasta or an artisanal beer alongside European & Israeli tourists, and get dreds put in your hair.  This interim is just what I need: part crying, part staring at the walls as it all seeks in, and part enjoying this summer I have so very much longed for (it’s been extremely hot and sunny!)

Today I checked out the wonderful crafts fair, enjoyed my dream lunch of empanadas (one tomato/onion/cheese, one chard/onion/cheese), cherries, and an artisanal beer (which cost the same as all the food combined, though the grand total was $6.50).  In the afternoon I took a bus to a lake.  I haven’t been in a body of water that has enough room for my body since August 2010, so I swam with the glee of my seven-year-old soul, regardless of the clouds.

Crafts fair

Lago Puelo, El Bolsón

I seem to have left my camera cord in Palena, so the photos I’ve provided are from Google, as well as a map of my itinerary for the next week:

Friday, December 16th: Palena –> Futaleufú –> Esquel –> El Bolsón.

Saturday, 12/17: El Bolsón.

Sunday, 12/18: El Bolsón –> Bariloche –> Osorno –> Stgo.

Monday, 12/19: arrive in Stgo in the morning, see friends here.

Tuesday, 12/20: Stgo –> Viña del Mar.  Beach!

Wednesday, 12/21: Viña –> Zapallar (another beach!)

Thursday, 12/22: Zapallar –> Stgo.  9:00 flight, Stgo –> Toronto.

Friday, 12/23: Toronto –> Boston, 10:04 AM.

One of my favorite things about this itinerary is the opportunity to return to Chile one last time.  Argentina is nice and has better food, but it doesn’t feel familiar.  I scan my wallet for weird-looking coins to find the Argentine pesos in the mix of the Chilean ones, and laugh in my head as people talk in the accent we so frequently imitated in Palena.  I am excited to return to my dear Chile tomorrow, if not my beloved Palena.

12 Things I Think Will Be Weird About the USA

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In the past week, I’ve found myself thinking about my former life in the US, and, out of nowhere, imagining my childhood home in detail.   As I picture the place I will return to on December 23, more and more things have occurred to me that seem strange to me now about life in (my little sector of) Gringolandia.

My beloved water-heater

see the toilet paper in the trash can?

12 Things I Think Will Be Weird About the USA

  1. Hot water makes no sound.  Here in the Foundation house/office, we upgraded to a fancy water-heater in September.  The previous model, like most houses in Palena, had to be lit every time you want hot water; but  our model was old and got worse, to the point that I bathed out of a pot with water heated in an electric kettle in August (which I also didn’t think was that bad — it was the perfect temperature!).  Anyway, the new model still lights up when the hot water tap is open, and when we ran out of gas last week (easily replaced the next day), the first sign that something was wrong was the silence — no flame — rather than the cold.
  2. I have brown hair.  Here, I am universally considered blond.
  3. I am not a minor celebrity.  Here, I get greeted by name everywhere I go.   My favorite is by younger children or students from the rural schools (who I don’t see often), especially when they first whisper to their mother, “Look, it’s Miss Margaret!”
  4. In the bathroom, you don’t have to bring your own toilet paper, and you flush it down.  Also, the bathroom is the same temperature as the house.  Here, like in Mexico, toilet paper is a bonus, not a given.  Gas stations, mediocre restaurants, universities — even the teacher’s bathroom here in Palena — do not have toilet paper.  This isn’t a big deal once you get used to bringing your own.  Neither is putting your (yes, used) toilet paper in the trash can — it becomes a habit that is then hard to reverse back in gringolandia!  I mentioned to someone here that bathrooms in the US are the same temperature as the house, because of central heating, and they were shocked — here the bathroom is icy in the winter, because the door is closed, and no heat generated inside.
  5. Dogs and cats are well-fed pets that live inside with designated owners.  Chickens, cows and horses are on farms, not roaming the streets or sniffing around your clothsline.  It is news-worthy when a cow or pig was roams the streets in Palena, but chickens and loose, aggressive (i.e. hungry) dogs are the norm.  Roosters and dog or cat fights routinely wake me up in the night here in the zona urbana (downtown Palena), and I’ve spent significant weekend time around goats, horses, cows and pigs.
  6. When you arrive in a house, it’s warm.  You don’t have to chop or bring in wood.  When the sun starts to set, you don’t automatically check to see if you’ve got enough wood for the night.  I have dreams I would categorize as nightmares that I am wandering through my childhood home in Ipswich, looking for the stove.  I’m not joking when I say this fire thing has gotten into me.  As much as it is a huge huevo, it’s also real.  Winter is cold, and it’s cold until you do something about it.  And here that “do” is visible, tangible, part of every day and every hour.
  7. When you meet someone or say hi, you don’t touch.  The kiss-cheeking greeting (for women, man-man is a hearty handshake) has become very, very normal.  When I meet an occasional gringo (tourists that come to visit the Foundation), we exchange an awkward, frozen hello or half-hug.  It feels cold, bordering on hostile.  When I explain to people here that when I great my best friend, unless I haven’t seen her in a long time, we don’t touch.  So strange!
  8. Homemade white bread and mate are not staples of my diet.  Even though I probably consume 70% less bread then most people in Palena, I’ve come to expect warm bread whenever I go to someone’s house, along with the mate.  My god I love mate.
  9. My friends and family know less about animals, serving mate, making fire, chopping kindling, and speaking Spanish than I do.  Here, I am the constant novice.
  10. People understand 100% of what I say in English.  Well, maybe 95% if you ask my mother (I get pretty fast when I get excited!), but the point is, in the US, you can’t say things on the side to yourself in front of children, or use English as a secret code with your co-teacher.
  11. The big, social, cooking-worthy meal is dinner.  Here, it is almuerzo, at 1:00 PM or later, that is an institution.  In the afternoon/night, it could be once (bread, etc.) could be cena (dinner, later), but there is no universally agreed upon hour.  It is sad to think that someone would almorzar (yup, lunch is also a verb) alone, but tomar once?  No big deal — you know, just grab some bread and cheese or whatever.  Reverse of the US.
  12. The water flushes the other way, and the moon waxes and wanes opposite, as well.  High on my to-do list for my last days in Palena (I leave Friday at 8:00 AM) is to take good note of these two things, so I can notice the difference back in the US.

Melissa & goat (#9)

Tito & the fire (#9)

Also on my to-do list: packing.

First & Second Grade

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I. First Grade

Looking for the word “head”.

Making Christmas cards.

The famous “Letrilandia” alphabet — the curriculum used to teach the first graders to read in Spanish.  Every letter has a song and story — for example, “h” is “la muda” [the mute] and only speaks with “la enfermera” [the nurse], the letter “c”.  This explains why second graders will ask, “Tia, ‘hace’ se escribe con la muda?” [Tia, is the word ‘hace’ [make] spelled with the mute (letter h)?].  One day the first graders begged me to show them the alphabet in English, so I went over each letter — they giggled at the mixed up vowels (“i” in Spanish sounds like “e” in English), and gasped in astonishment when I skipped “rr”, “ñ” and “ll”.

Notice the stars and tally marks on the board — part of my incentive plan where each perfect “1, 2, 3 –” (me) “Silence, Please!” (students) earns a tally mark, and the “price” of a star is posted daily (competition to see which grade earns the most stars).  For our last day there was a special offer — 5 “Silence, Please” = 1 star, 10 = 2, and 15 = 3, meaning that coincidentally, 1st grade reached the maximum of 5 stars all in one day.  Yipee!

II. Second Grade

Excitement at earning a star, while doing the same card-making project.

The classic count-down (3, 2, 1, with visual aid of fingers for my English Language Learners, though they know the drill by now) to get everyone back in their seats after a particularly spirited celebration of earning a star.  I love how reliably this works, even without stating the expectation (sit down, turn around, get it together) or delineating a consequence — students comply 95% of the time because they already know what they are supposed to be doing (sitting down, etc.) and they also know they will win a extra-strong high-five from me if they “make it” by 0.

For our last day I brought the “Spanish key” (in my hands) to allow me to speak Spanish — in this case, an easily understood  “I’m leaving, I love you, etc.”

An ideal class size: 14.  School average is at least 25.  First grade is 28.

Yesterday I thought, This could be the last time I ever have to teach a class, ever!  But then I thought, Margaret, who are you kidding.  Standing in front of few dozen munchkins, as I switch from laughter to count downs, charades to modeling hand raising (again!), I feel like I am at my peak, that I am one of my best, fullest selves — most satisfied, most frustrated, most loved and most loving.  I don’t think this is my last class.

A post that IS about leaving

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


From my last Environmental Science class with 3rd grade, students presented posters they had made about native species of Chile.

Here is 4th grade, separated into “damas” and “varones“, as suggested by their teacher.  For our last Environmental Science class, we shared our favorite activities from the year.  Then, over a snack of peanuts and raisins (very well received!), students volunteered questions that they were left with — after I gave my beloved speech about how the more you know, the more you know you don’t know, and the smarter you become, the better your questions.

One of the things my summers at Wediko left me with is a love of unruly boys.  My God some of these little gentlemen are annoying — but I mean look at them making bunny ears!  Adorable.

For my last English class with kinder and prekinder, I cued the group to each of 6 the songs we know; for example, to start the number song, all I have to do is show counting 1, 2, 3 on my fingers — and the little munchkins burst into song!  Then we had a last lesson of “Please” and “Thank you”, which became the key to receiving fruit — “Apple, peas!  Tank juu!”  Coincidentally, this English teacher has taught the words apple, banana, and orange, rather than soda, potato chips and toxic cookies, the normal foods that are fed to children in school.  The best part?  My little students squeeled in delight at the surprise snack.

Unfortunately only eleven of the nineteen kindergardeners came to school today (penultimate day of classes).  Last night I went to their “graduation” — each tot  climbed up the stairs to receive their diploma, then descended to be greeted by their parents, take a photo, and then hand off the diploma to the mother (so it has a chance of getting home in one piece).  Sixteen students were greeted by (what appeared to be) mother and father; two by two women (mother and aunt, though I secretly smiled in my head — Angelo has two mommies!  — a thought they would never occur to anyone here), and one girl by her mother and older sister.  It was beautiful to see two adults beaming for each child, so proud to see their little person that is now just a little bit bigger.

And finally, my beloved prekinder.  I am so proud of how much English they have learned with just one hour a week — I think the majority know colors, numbers and animals better than the first-graders I received in March.  Plus we covered fruits, family members, and a few other things.  And they don’t freak out that I speak exclusively in English — it’s normal and at this point in the year, it works.  We did do goodbyes and well-wishes in Spanish for our last class.

Overall, the imminence of my departure has been oddly liberating.  Recently, I care a lot less about what people think, and I lot more about just making myself happy.  For example, last Saturday I got invited to accompany a folkloric dance group to their show in one of the rural sectors.  I went along to see the dance and a part of Palena I’d never visited, fully aware that this would be a long day of waiting, doing nothing, and eating bread and lettuce while everyone else eats lamb.  I had a great time in large part because I spent all the waiting time with my favorite demographics: kids and the older women.

And by kids, in this case I mean Mario, in the photo above in bright red pants.  His mother is one of the dancers, and like all parenting I have seen in Palena, he was told no, don’t do that, don’t touch that, but there was no “yes” — there was no possibility for him to be succesful in this context!  What do you expect, he’s going to sit down and complain about his boss like the other adults?  This is a 4-year-old boy!  So, instead of worrying that people would think I was indulging him or that I am freakishly unable to socialize with people my own age, I just started playing with Mario.  It was less because I thought I should (though I did think someone should!) than because honestly, I’d rather play ping pong and sea-saw with a 4-year-old than complain about my boss with grown-ups.

Mario: Miss, catch me!

Me: I don’t see anyone here — oh wait, I caught him! [pick him up]

Mario: Noooooo!

Me: Let me just throw this sack of potatoes — 1, 2 — [swinging in the air with each number]

Mario: No, I’m Mario!

Me: Oh, you’re Mario?  Okay then, 1, 2 — [tossing him around again]

Mario: Noooooooo! [laughing]

Me: 3!  [dramatically, yet carefully, let him down]

Mario: Ah, caramba!  Miss, catch me again!

as I left, he shouted from the car window: “Goodbye [in English!] Miss!  I’m playing with you tomorrow.”



So what I am I doing with my time now that I am done teaching?  Today I made Christmas cookies to bring to share with neighbors tonight (after 8th grade graduation) — a retired couple and their visiting 20-something niece, all of whom I saw in Santiago in July and have become friends this spring.  I was unable to find molasses in Palena, so these are colored with chocolate powder, and spiced with fresh ginger (from Santiago), cinnamon and nutmeg, frosted with egg-white and sugar.  I never in my life thought I’d bake Christmas cookies in shorts (today is the hottest day yet!), and here in Palena, I never thought I’d “suffer” the heating properties of my stove, but so be it.  I’m trying to enjoy every drop of sunshine not out of fear of New England winter, but rather, out of joy for this Patagonian spring.  This is a summer I deserve.


A post that’s not about leaving

Friday, December 2, 2011

If you’re interested, here’s what I’ve read since getting past security at Logan Airport on January 31, in roughly chronological order.

1. Jane Austen.  Northanger Abbey. (February, on Kindle).

  • Why is a time and place so far from my own so comforting?  I think it has to do with watching Sense & Sensibility when we were little, and knowing that Austen is a good companion of my mother, my grandmother, several of my good friends.

2. Steve Reifenberg.  Santiago’s Children: What I Learned about Life at an Orphanage in Chile. (February, in paperback from home).

  • (my question at the time): Why am I stuck in the middle of nowhere when what is really interesting to me is city life, urban poverty, political change, all of which this Steve guy (later founder of the Fundación Patagonia Sur) got to know after he graduated from college?!

3. Daniel Horowitz.  Betty Friedan and the Making of “The Feminine Mystique”: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism (March, in paperback from friend from home).

  • Why did I never take a class with this guy when I was at Smith (or his wife, another premier scholar)?
  • What does it mean about me that this kind of book — academic history — is not only captivating, but intensely important to me?

4. Gail Collins.  When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. (April, on Kindle).

  • How did I not know all of this before?  How can I remember it now?
  • What about women, 1995 to present, and the next few decades?  What is left to be done?
  • How does change happen?  Individuals, books, events, organizations?  Where do I fit in?

5. Marcela Serrano.  Para que no me olvides [So You Don’t Forget Me].  (April/May, in paperback from Palena library).

  • How much am I living in Chile (words, references that make sense to me), and how much in Patagonia (urban setting of this novel completely foreign to me)?
  • Is this great fiction or is this airport trash?  Or is it just easy to dismiss because it’s a female author writing about women, relationships, children, feelings, etc.?

6. Jill Lepore.  The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History (May/June, on Kindle).

  • What does it say about me that this kind of book — smart analysis of current events history — is so compelling and important?  Is Lepore just standing on the side talking, or is she doing something?
  • How much am I interested in America (United States)?

7. Nicholas Kristof.  Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.  (July, on Kindle).

  • Why does Kristof think that any contact of first world individuals, students with extreme poverty is a good thing?  Haven’t you ever thought about how complex this is?  Haven’t you ever seen someone posing with brown kids on their facebook and thought, ‘What is really going on here?  Who is benefiting?’
  • Why is Kristof pretending to co-author this with his wife, when clearly he is the narrator?  “I” is always him, so the “we” sounds like he is patriarchally speaking for the two of them.

8. Jorge Luis Borges.  El Aleph.  (July & October, in paperback bought in Buenos Aires).

  • Just when did I develop a taste for this intentionally dense, hard, “classic” fiction?
  • Will I actually read this a second time, at least my favorite stories, like I say I will to understand more?

9. Millie Thayer.  Making Transnational Feminism: Rural Women, NGO Activists, and Northern Donors in Brazil.  (October, on Kindle).

  • What does it say about me that this kind of book — academic sociology  — is so compelling and important?  Would I want this job?
  • Does so much of NGO time really have to be devoted to paperwork, to grant proposals, to dealing with funding?  Would I like working in this environment, either in the US, in Brazil, or elsewhere?
  • What issues are the most important to me, and where do I belong?

10. Jorge Volpi.  El insomnio de Bolívar: Cuatro consideraciones intempestivas sobre América Latina en el siglo XXI [The Sleeplessness of Bolivar: Four untimely considerations on Latin America in the 21st Century]. (October, in hardcover from home).

  • Same question as always — what is it exactly that’s interesting to me?

11. Doug Lemov.  Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College (August– October, in paperback, birthday present from my dad).

  • If I loved reading this book, how can I doubt that I want to be a teacher?
  • How good of a teacher can anyone really be with 25 different kids every hour?

12. Pablo Neruda.  Confieso que he vivido (I Confess What I’ve Lived).  (August — October, in paperback from library).

  • How much do I actually like Neruda’s work, and how much do I just like it because it’s about Chile?

13. Mario Vargas Llosa.  El hablador (The storyteller).  (November, in hardcover bought in Buenos Aires).

  •  What do indigenous peoples want in the 21st century?  What is poverty?  What is culutural imposition?  And who gets to decide?
  • What do I do about missing talking about fiction in Spanish?

14. * currently reading * Milan Kundera.  The Unbearable Lightness of Being (December, in paperback left by Liza).

  • (50 pages in) How far is the English translation from the original Czech?

Fiction: 5; Nonfiction: 9. (I never would’ve guessed that ratio for myself before college.  Looks like my tastes have changed since the last time I read so much on my own, i.e. age 14).

Female author: 6; Male author: 8 (including two books by men that are about women, #3 and #7).

US author: 7; Chilean: 2; British: 1; Mexican: 1; Argentine: 1; Czech: 1; Peruvian: 1.

Read in English: 9;  Read in Spanish: 5.

First Round of Goodbyes

Monday, November 28, 2011

Today was my last day in the rural schools.  Each Monday afternoon, after gobbling down my big Chilean lunch, Cristian (Chilean English teacher) and I hop in a van for a 20 minute ride to El Malito, for an hour and a half of English with the eight children (1st through 5th grade) there.  Next we drive 20 minutes back to Palena and 20 minutes in the opposite direction to Valle California, a school of 14 students (1st through 6th) where all but one board, Monday through Friday.

I felt (guiltily) elated for it to be my last day of the long, bumpy rides and sometimes roudy classrooms.  When we arrived in El Malito to the same disorder as usual, it was hard to feel poignant about leaving.  But as we made Christmas cards with the kid0s, the class was eerily quiet, and I touched each students’ shoulders as I looked to see their designs of shiny paper and glitter glue.  “Teacher, red, three?”  Benja was on fire, proudly flaunting his English to ask for more red stars.  Pedro threw a fit and I felt like I was back at Wediko, coaxing a student off a rock — in the case, out from under a table.

When we went outside for photos and cookies, we explained that it was the last day of English for the year, and most certainly my last day.  Nancy, a quiet 6th grader, glued her arm around my shoulder but refused to get in the group shot.  In a moment of generosity, I gave the kids some animal drawings Luis in particular had begged me for each week, but today he shrugged them off indiferently.  Suddenly all the students dedicated the Christmas cards we had made to Cristian and I, and I asked them to put their names on them, too.

I was bending down for kisses as I balanced sloppy, sticky cards in one hand, when Benja came up to me: “Um, Pedro is crying.  For you.”  Sure enough, Pedro — the 3rd grader who arrived a month ago, and can scream, whine, and pout better than most toddlers — was sobbing.  Through his histerical sadness about me leaving he also said, “I lost four teachers this year,” confirming that his sadness wasn’t as much about me personally as about his circumstances and about him, personally.  And then Pedro collected himself for a parting wish: “Tía, que le vaya bien en Francia [Miss, may you be well in France].”  Cristian and I couldn’t resist laughing.  France?!  Where did he get this idea?

And as we got back in the van, a calmer Pedro ran to find me: “Tía, there’s one other thing.  If you meet a Jerome, I think he’s from there like you, I know him, ask him if he knows me.”



EL MALITO back: Pedro, me, Benja, Javier, Erwin; front: Luís, Anaís, Gonzalo, Cristian; missing: Nancy

After my traditional car nap, I woke up in Valle California to find only five of the twelve students present.  We did the same Christmas card activity, and also learned “We wish you a Merry Christmas.”  Eduardo, in 1st grade, went to ask Danitza, in 6th grade, for glue [In Spanish]:

Eduardo: Danitza, can I borrow your glue?

Danitza: What’s the magic word?

Eduardo: Gracias.

Danitza: But in English!

Eduardo: Um…

Karen: Please!

Eduardo: Please!

Later, Danitza was finished and eager to talk, so I asked her (in English),

me: What’s your favorite profession?

Danitza: Ah, president.

me: Karen?  What’s your favorite profession?

Karen: Doctor.

Eduardo: Yo, tía!

me: Eduardo?

Eduardo: Mechanic!

We made a circle, passed out cookies and explained the endings business, but this group, which I am probably more attached to then in El Malito, was not phased.  It was Cristian and I that wanted more photos and more hugs; they were happy to keep giving, but they weren’t driving it, as the children in El Malito had drawn out the goodbye as long as possible.  I gave each student a hug and also one or two extra, specifically assigned for absent students.

VALLE CALIFORNIA back: me, Sofia, Eduardo, Danitza, Karen front: Enrique, Cristian

Full group on Environmental Science fieldtrip to company property in October back: Sofia, Karen, me, Danitza, Nataly, Marcela, Francesca, Magdalena, Tía Celina (teacher & principal) front: Eduardo, Sebastian, Enrique, Arline still missing! Ronald, John

We wound up giving Enrique, Eduardo, Danitza and one of their mothers a ride back to Palena:

Eduardo: Where have you been?

Enrique: Palena, Chaitén, Esquel, Carrenlefú, Trevelín, Puerto Montt, and the other, ah, what is it again? [ all 3 hour radius from Palena except Puerto Montt]

Me: Esquel?

Enrique: No, I already said that.

Cristian: Futaleufú?

Enrique: That was it!  Futaleufú!  [1.5 hours away, next place same of comparable size to Palena].

Danitza: Tía, how many countries have you been to?

Me: Countries? [Are you really asking me this awkward question?]

Danitza: Yes!

Me: Chile, Argentina [counting slow], Mexico, Canada, United States —

Eduardo: You know the United States!  That’s your family.

Me: That’s right [Thank god I’ve been interrupted so I don’t have to go on or lie].

Eduardo: That’s where they speak English.

Enrique: How many worlds have you been to?

Me: Worlds?

Eduardo: Yeah, like 5, 6, 7 or 8?

Me: 5 and a half.

Enrique: So almost six and a half?

Me: Yup.  I’m going for six and a half next year.