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Class time, autonomy, and other things I like – I admit it

Saturday, September 24, 2011

My dad commented on Fiestas Patrias, Part I, “It seems like you’re more critical on your blog now than you were before.”  I think he’s right.  As more time has gone by here, I feel more comfortable expressing my dislikes.  In the beginning, even to myself, I was reluctant to think, this is bad or wrong; rather, I would tell myself, no, this is interesting, this is new, this is different.  But after living here for seven months, I guess I feel more entitled to an opinion.  I don’t want to call it judgment, but it is true that there are certain things — such as the eagerness of students, (most) teachers, and (many) administrators to cancel classes — that, if someone close asks me what I think, I am comfortable saying, “No, it’s not good.”  Of course this is always carefully said and to a controlled audience, framed with lots of “Well, in my opinion…” or “What I’ve noticed…” or “Compared to other schools I know/ have attended…” (Please, my mom’s a therapist, my dad teaches special ed.)

It’s particularly sensitive to critique class time cancellation for a patriotic holiday that isn’t mine.  I asked a friend who went to private school in Santiago about this issue, and she looked at me in shock when I recounted the line-up of events in Palena.  In her experience, Fiestas Patrias was a three-day weekend, but other than that, school continued as normal, despite perhaps one assembly or event.  Educational disparities in Chile are a complex issue (and much worse than in the US), but I can’t help but wonder if a first step would be holding classes a little more often.  Or, at minimum, giving clear, advance notice of class cancellations for events and assemblies.  The current procedure of “Knock, knock, time to line-up for an assembly” sends the message that instructional time isn’t that important, and speaks much louder than speeches extolling the benefits of “education” — speeches given, of course, at said assemblies.

In the end, I’m more positive about Palena (though not necessarily the school) than plenty of the Chileans I’m friends with.  However, unlike many, my arrival in — and departure from — Palena are both a result of my own decisions, rather than my boyfriend or husband’s job.  Both the man and woman in most young couples I know here have professional jobs (or did before children), but I can’t think of any couple that made the move to Palena because of the wife’s job.  Alejandra now teaches prekindergarden but moved to Palena in 2008 with her husband (then boyfriend) for his job as a forestry engineer; Belen teaches private art classes but moved to Palena in 2010 with her newlywed husband because of his position as doctor in the hospital.  All four are from Santiago, and both couples don’t hesitate to complain, from time to time, about Palena — the cold, the people, the lack of restaurants and stores and bars, the distance from their families and closest friends.  A favorite phrase is, “Palena es como un reality” — Palena is like a reality TV show, in the sense that everyone knows everything about everyone, and loves to talk about it.  Another joke is about the “efecto cordillero” — literally, “mountain range effect”, referring to the fact that after you’ve lived in Palena for awhile, anyone new and single is automatically extremely attractive (I won’t elaborate here on my own experiences!).

When I recently made a carrot cake for this group of friends (and was requested to make it again — that means they really liked it, since I know they would eat it and say they like it no matter what), everyone was shocked to learn I had baked it (to perfection, let’s be honest) in my wood stove.  Both couples have combustion stoves (exclusively for heating, not heating+cooking like mine) that last through the night. Belen and Claudio have the biggest one in town (a wedding present).  Neither woman knows how to start a fire or chop kindling.  They cook on a gas stove.  I forget to preheat it when I cook at their houses.

I’ve talked before about how I am both the ultimate outsider (the only foreigner in Palena!) and yet in some ways, more attuned to — maybe simply more interested in — the particulars of this place than some Chileans.  In terms of the fire, a lot of that is because I live alone (not with a man and not in a pension), and because of the type of wood stove I have (not top of the line).  But it’s also because I chose to be here.  My God do I love my autonomy.  I don’t look down on either of these friends for their choices and their lives, but for me, at this point in my (young) life, it feels right to put myself first.  It’s not an accident that I am living in rural Patagonia, though sometimes it feels like it is.  I wonder where my next choices — and accidents — will lead me.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. David Russell permalink
    Saturday, September 24, 2011 12:06 pm

    Interesting, as always. I also like your first two words! 🙂

  2. Saturday, September 24, 2011 12:20 pm

    Thanks, Dad!

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