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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.

Quotes of the week

Thursday, November 24, 2011

“My father is an astrounaunt.”  Miguel, one of my 6th graders, in response to the question, “What is your father’s job?” at the English Olympics on Tuesday.  Despite his stellar grammar (judge’s didn’t take off points for his sense of humor), we merely tied with neighboring town Futaleufú, 229 points to 229, and then Futa won in a tie-breaker.

“That’s when someone is walking around and you tell them to go back to their seat.”  First grader Hantz’s translation of “Sit down.”  This week, I am doing the same English test with all the 1st and 2nd graders that I did in March, to quantify how much they have learned.  “Yellow” is still the easiest color, and of pencil, notebook, scissors, and glue, the word most students have missed is pencil, which I would have thought is the easiest.

“That one doesn’t count because you never taught it to us.  Never.”  Facundo, another first grader, when asked the meaning of “Good afternoon.”  It’s true, we always had class in the morning so I’ve never said “Good afternoon to them.

“That makes your hands look even more beautiful, sweetie.”  Miriam, store owner, when I showed her my nails after painting them with the nail polish she gave me as a gift.

You can have the mate cup and straw from the office.”  Melissa, my foundation colleague and dear friend, in response to my wonderings about where to buy mate parafenalia before leaving.

“I want to speak English like you when I’m a senior.”  Natalia, an 8th grade student on the Olympic team, to Edgardo, the high school senior that helped out this semester.

“Starting November 28, there will only be school in the morning.”  One of the administrators made this announcement in a teacher’s meeting yesterday — this means that the last 8 days of school are only half days.

“Guys, Santa Claus is watching us and if we don’t behave we won’t get anything for Christmas.”  Paulita, 1st grader, in reference to the image of Santa Claus on the wall.

“Dear Santa Claus, how are you in september I got in an accident and broke my nose I want a playstation for christmas this year I’ve behaved so-so bye Franco”  Franco, 2nd grader, in a letter (in Spanish) to Santa Claus.

“The beginning and the end are the loneliest times.”  My mom, regarding my year here.

“That means it’s time to go.”  Hantz’s translation of “Goodbye.”

Hantz, March

Hantz, November

Facundo, March

Facundo, November

Princesses, Procrastinating, and the Return of the Rain

Sunday, November 20, 2011

To celebrate the school’s anniversary last week, classes were canceled for three days and everyone (prekinder through 12th grade) was divided into three “alianzas” (green, blue, and black teams) to compete in a variety of activities — indoor soccer, treasure hunts, group choreography, eating contests, dance contests, most-people-in-a-square-meter contests, etc.  Even after nine and a half months in Chile, I was floored by the level of chaos, confusion and misinformation, not to mention the bickering among teachers.  But as a judge, I got front row seats at every event, and full permission — a mandate, really — to oo and aw over kids.  And I love these kids.  Each team had a Queen, King, Prince and Princess representative, all four of which did some beauty-pagent like events (Queen’s talent, all four in sporty outfit, formal outfit, recycled outfit).  This means each “alliance” had an adorable little girl in her favorite princess dress-up outfit, an adorable little boy who had no idea what was going on, and several mothers toting all the costume changes.  After the results were announced on Friday morning, the Alianza Negra (black team — prek, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 12th grade) queen was coronated.  Both king and queen are beloved English students, and as the queen tearfully reminded us this is her last year of high school, I was not far away.  Endings, celebrations, coming of age.

I would like to write a better post, and track down some photos to accompany it, but my time is limited.  In all my years in school, I never once wrote a paper the night before it was due; in college, it felt like a last-minute scramble if my footnotes were not perfected a safe 24-hours before the deadline.  These days I hardly recognize myself: I have transformed into a procrastination professional.  There is a big event Tuesday — The English Olympics, hosted here in Palena — and I am scrambling now (midnight Sunday) to finish activities I could have done weeks ago.  I think part of it is that I know when the Olympics are over, my year is pretty much over; but when I offered that explanation to a friend, he said, “Or you’ve just become really Chilean.”  This stress is not pleasant, but I have to say, it’s remarkable how things actually do get done, even if at the last minute.  Is my quality the same?  Almost, but not really.    I think procrastination is also a coping method with everyone else being last minute.  There was nothing more frustrating first semester than planing something out well in advance, only for it to be forgotten, changed, or postponed; I have in part eliminated that frustration recently by waiting for confirmation before planning the details.  Or, maybe I’ve just become lazy.  Probably it’s a combination.

I would also like to mention that after a heat wave last week (I was sweating and drooping and hiding in the shade), my good friends have returned: the cold and the rain.  Today I got soaked hitch-hiking to Melissa and Tito’s, and curled up around the fire with mate; tonight I am writing by my stove in a sweater and fleece just like old times.  This means that when I finally get my work done, upstairs in my attic bedroom, the rain is waiting for me.

Goodbye Liza

Friday, November 11, 2011

Six weeks ago, I was pretty much dreading the fact of having a new gringa roomate (remember?); this morning, I dropped my friend off at her bus out of Palena.  Liza, what a treat it has been.  Best of all, we are both from Massachusetts and have promised to see each other in January when we are back.  The thought of mate with this girl in Northampton is already making leaving Palena easier.

Top 11 favorite moments with Liza (in no particular order):

  1. The night she arrived, we fought over doing the dishes — an early sign of our highly compatible living styles (order, cleanliness, list-making, etc.)
  2. When we hitchhiked to Melissa and Tito’s for our First Swim, we walked for an hour and a half (about half way) before hopping into the back of a truck, squeezing in around sacks of flour gas (as seen above).
  3. Last week, Liza came back from the working in the garden and announced, “We have a problem,” before letting loose in the kitchen an aggressive puppy that had followed her home.  An hour and several helpful neighboors later, we got the dog back to its owner.
  4. What a luxury to get out of the shower after a stressful Thursday to enjoy a yummy meal prepared by someone else!  We also shared key moments with Shane-Nuss (milk chocolate with almonds), Frac cappuchino (I’ve mentioned these cookies before), variations on mashed potatoes (with squash!  with beets!  with cauliflower!  who knew?), good beer and cheap (but still good!) wine.
  5. Last Tuesday night, Liza came into my room at 1:30 AM and said, “Someone’s knocking on the door.”  Sure enough, I heard the knocking, as well as a young, male voice calling, “Margaret!  Liza!”  We huddled under the covers together laughing and crying in terror and panic until it occurred to me that I could call someone, that in fact I had to call someone, regardless of the time.  I am so, so grateful to have friends in Palena — Alejandra and Ariel — that called the police and walked over to our house in the middle of the night to take care of us.  Who had been knocking?  The new architect from our sister company who had gotten in a car accident (no injuries!), lost his phone, and, clearly shaken up himself, had no where else to go in Palena.  Of course we took him in with open arms, but Liza and I were both too shaken to fall back asleep immediately.  I can’t think of a time I have felt more fear in my life, and I can’t imagine getting through that without a friend by my side.  If only he had thought to identify himself when knocking — we would have welcomed him inside immediately!
  6. Liza and I developed a long list of inside jokes and impressions of key Palena characters, such as the notoriously dangerous and sleezy school driver, a few of the hot shot guides, the owner of the dog that followed Liza home that day, and others.  I am so glad I will be able to go through these jokes with someone who shares them back in the US!
  7. Liza helped me with my high school elective and my English Olympics team.  This means we shared my favorite recreational activity: talking about students.  Our last day the kids presented her with a thank you card full of sweet little notes.
  8. Liza’s father is from Spain, and everyone here remarked on her funny accident — kids, adults, everyone.  Though our language background is quite different, we share a dedication to and joy of Spanish — and a love of impersonating Chilenismos!
  9.  It was so delicious to be able to trade stories/reflections about dating/relationships/sex with someone from a similar context.  I’ve missed having those sorts of girl talks in person.
  10. During our six weeks together, the water heater didn’t work for one week (options were boiling or ice, and boiling only lasted 2 minutes), the power went off in Palena once, the electricity went off in our house twice (fuse problems), neither of us had internet in the house for a week, my internet didn’t work anywhere for two weeks (resolved today!), we both got fleas (I’ve had them since August), and we ran out of mate twice.  All of the above were easier, and more fun, to weather with a friend — especially a friend who generously shared her laptop!
  11. Liza and I celebrated with spontaneous weeknight dance parties in our (shared) genres: reggaeton, gringa trash, and lesbian guitar music.  For example: “Vaina Loca”, “Vamos a la playa”, “Esta noche haremos el amor bailando”, Kesha, Taio Cruz, Chris Pureka’s “Wagon Wheel”.

First Swim

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

No, it’s not really hot enough.  While my parka and long underwear are stowed under my bed, there are still plenty of days and especially nights where I want a fire.  But last Saturday, I went to the river with three dear friends: Melissa, my foundation colleague; Tito, her partner; and Liza, the new American volunteer.

Was it warm enough?  No.  The Río Palena is fed my melting snow, but I didn’t care.  As I dove in — after some of the longest, coldest months of my life — I thought, “Goodbye, winter.”  This is Patagonian spring.

And what did we bring to make the afternoon complete?  Mate.  While we remembered the teapot, a jug of water, and the yierba (tea leaves), we forgot the cup and bombilla (special straw for mate).  With a smile, Tito went off into the woods, and Melissa said, “This is the type of thing that makes me fall in love with him.  Out of nothing, he makes something.”  Sure enough, Tito used a beer can and bic pen from Liza’s backpack (fusing the rubber part and the poking holes) to make an extremely functional, impromptu mate.  Of course, earlier in the afternoon Tito had caught a fish, gutted it, and roasted it on a stick over a fire that Melissa had started with just matches and sticks.

Some days I’m too happy to be sad.