by Janna Elwell, Greenheart Travel Volunteer in Chile
I truly am loving my experience so far volunteering in Chile. The only challenges I’ve come across so far are:
- The language. Which is to be expected. However it´s really difficult when I´m working with a student who either loses focus or patience and other than giving basic commands I can´t ask them to do what I need them to do. At times I feel like I’ve had my voice box removed, completely incapable of communication. It´s particularly frustrating when there´s only one word I can´t think of or understand, but when I ask for help nobody has any way to explain it but in Spanish! But I suppose it goes both ways–English is just as difficult for them, if not more so. Nobody here can pronounce my name because the Spanish alphabet doesn’t have the “j” sound, so everyone just calls me Tìa Yanna. And anytime somebody asks me how to say something in English and I say it they all look at me like I´m crazy and cannot, no matter how hard they try, duplicate the sounds. Even the other tìas have a difficult time. It´s kind of comical though. I taught everyone how to say thank you, but since the consonant sounds are foreign to them everyone walks around saying “sank-oo” instead. Anyway, I know it´s only my first week here, but the 3 semesters of Spanish that I took seem so inadequate for what I need to know. I´m really hoping that with time and a lot of practice it will come more easily.
- The cold…which I can get over. It´s just really different from my typical June days! My friends are all home laying poolside, and here I am sleeping in 8 layers and with my scarf and gloves on. It´s all just part of the experience I suppose!
Despite the challenges, I can hardly believe it has almost been a week since I arrived! It feels like just yesterday I was running around Salt Lake with my friends, making last minute errands to Wal-Mart at 2:00 in the morning. And now here I am, wondering where the time has gone.
I´m excited to report that the weather conditions are improving. It is still unbelievable frigid at night and in the mornings, but around noon the sun is direct enough that if you sit in it long enough you may even begin to perspire a tiny bit. Yesterday in particular was an incredibly lovely day. The temperature rose, and I was able to take off my scarf, gloves and jacket for the first time! In between my time with students I went right outside to sit in the sun, soaking in the warmth. I needed batteries for my camera, so I decided since it was such a nice day that I would walk to the supermarket. It was my first time leaving the hogar since I arrived, and I was able to see much more of Malloco. It was only about a 20 minute walk, and the main street on the way there was lined with all sorts of fruit and vegetable stands or corner convenience stores…much more charming than the landfill fields I saw my first day here. Turns out Malloco isn’t so bad after all!
Something else kind of interesting: ever since the really big earthquake hit Chile a few years back, they have had what they call temblors, or tremors, quite frequently. Apparently early this morning around 1:00 or so there was a temblor felt from Santiago to Peñaflor, right through Malloco. I was either extremely tired last night or I always sleep like a rock, because I didn’t feel a thing. Which is probably for the better…I’ve been bracing myself for the big Salt Lake earthquake in Utah for so long I would have most likely overreacted and gone into panic mode if I were to feel even the tiniest of tremors.
With the end of the week comes the end of my mealtimes with Tía Pauli´s family. The food here isn’t bad, although it isn’t the greatest either. There is a central kitchen, where the cook prepares mass amounts of this food, and then divides it out among the houses where meals are eaten individually. Meals typically consist of some type of soup, rice or pasta and there is always always always broccoli and cauliflower. I’ve eaten more of those two vegetables in the past week than I’ve even seen in my entire life. Anyway, most days the same meal is served for dinner as was served for lunch, so you really have no choice but to like what you´re given. The only issue I have is the amount of food I´m given.
My goodness, Tía Pauli feeds me as if I´m a starving child. I think it´s just customary to feed the guest well, but she gives me such overwhelming servings of everything. Yesterday for lunch the men barbequed mass amounts of meat, and of course Tía Pauli gave me some part of a chicken so large it filled my entire plate. Those of you who know me well probably don´t believe that I sat there and picked meat right off the bone, but I sure did. Tía Pauli doesn’t allow her kids to leave the table until every scrap of food is eaten off of their plates, and I don´t feel as if I can be any exception, so I’ve adapted to eating large quantities of food I don´t particularly like. I must say though, the bread here is absolutely fantastic. Chileans love bread and eat it with every single meal of the day, which is great, but nobody should be surprised if I come home 40 pounds larger based on the amount of bread I’ve been eating. Anyway, I´m looking forward to getting to know the other families at mealtime but I must admit I’ve already become quite attached to Tía Pauli´s family. We’ve all become so comfortable and familiar with one another, and they’ve done so well at making me feel as if I´m part of the family.
As for this weekend: it is my time off, however my first week has completely drained me of energy. There has been so much to take in between the area, the hogar, the new people I´m working with, all the kids, and the language. So I’ve decided to stay here for the weekend to rest, practice my Spanish and prepare some lessons for this upcoming week. Then I´ll have had sufficient time to recuperate enough to begin my travels next weekend!