Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas En Concepción

It's christmas, the seagulls and crying and it's 61 degrees outside. It's a very strange change to have beach weather on this holiday. Normally for I am all bundled up in pajamas and a pair of big furry christmas socks. This morning I woke up and put on the warmest pants I have, and the biggest pair of socks, which happen to be some big blue organic cotton socks from Whole Foods, but it's just not the same.
This is also the first year I haven't done the Canyon road Farolito walk, and I miss it dearly. But last night we went to the house of our friend Oscar, and celebrated with his parents, brother, aunts, uncle and cousin. It was really nice to be with a family during that time.
In Chile, families celebrate Christmas on the night of the 24th. Everyone gathers together and eats a big meal then at 12:00 AM they all get to open presents. And that is pretty much what we did last night. We arrived at their house and were offered some great beer, then we all sat down in the living room and snacked on olives and different cheeses, and ginger bread cookies made from the boxed mix Jane ans Skipp sent us. We also drank ponche, which is a very typical drink here made of red or white whine, fruit (in this case strawberry) and a bit of sugar. When we got to the table to eat we had turkey, and beef with a cherry dressing (it was delicious) or pineapple dressing.We also roasted potatoes, corn, tomatoes and more wine. Dessert was ice cream or tiramisu with strawberries, raspberries or cantaloupe. We also got to try some brandy that was older than us, which was really good.
Then at 12 AM, as promised we all went into the living room again and started to open presents. And to my surprise there were presents for Zach and I. Zach got a beautiful chess board and all the pieces are based on the stone figures that are on Easter Island. I got a beautiful earring and necklace set made from a stone called cross stone, because it naturally has a cross set in the middle. And we also got an indio picaro. Which I won't try and describe because it is so funny you just have to see it for yourself.
And that was our christmas eve in Concepción. Different but delightful. Although next year I will be glad to do christmas in snow.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

New Column I wrote for the Daily Lobo

Escribé este para el lobo. Puedes leer akah. Prefiero como yo lo edité.

Like an all-encompassing wave washing over your body and sweeping you off your feet, throwing you on your ass so hard that you feel nauseous -- that is how I would equate moving abroad. You get plunged into an instant identity crisis in every facet of your being. It’s terrible and wonderful at the same time, like too many similes in a paragraph.

If you come from the United States, there isn’t really anywhere in the world that hasn’t had some exposure to western culture. There are, of course, the outliers North Korea, the deep southern states and bits of Africa. But anywhere you go these days there always seems to be Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, and that’s probably the most common perspective of what America is. Sometimes living abroad you feel like it might be the most honest depiction.

But in between that first day and that second to third month, the new and exciting of it all falls away, and the culture shock sets in. Going to a new ethnic restaurant is fun and just outside of your comfort zone for as long as you choose. But deciding to live there and not leave for six months to a year is a whole other story. The fun of not knowing what you’re eating turns to frustration, and always being on the outside of a joke becomes embarrassing. The clothes you think are cool seem even odder than at home.

And this is where the wave comes in: You get knocked down. You know nothing -- not the language, not the culture, not the food. And you’ve decided to live here for the next little chunk of life. It sucks.

Then a funny thing happens. It’s the most surreal feeling; you leave the town you’ve been in, and travel around the country. And when you get back in the bus station or airport tired and haggard you feel like you’ve come home. And like the ocean receding the horizon comes into view again. That wave that just knocked you on your ass doesn’t look like it ever could have. And you maybe don’t crave all the new food you’ve encountered, but maybe a dish or two.

I had been on a bus for nearly eight hours, which in Chile is laughably nothing, and I was super hot, and the one thing I craved more than anything was an ice cold Piscola. It’s a type of grape brandy made only in northern Chile/Southern Peru, mixed with a soft drink. But I remember the moment fondly because I wasn’t craving something from home in a time of hot stress, I was craving something from right now. From Chile.

And this is the Zen-like mantra that moving abroad forces you to accept. You know nothing, you are nothing, you cannot predict anything. You are golden once you’ve accepted this mind-set: strong like stone, smooth like water.

I am at about five months in, and about a month and a half ago I really started getting into the swing of things. Spanish is bueno, I have a good amount of friends, and I know where and when to do things. One of the downsides for studying abroad only a short time like six months is that once you get used to things, you move on.

I come back in early January and start school almost immediately, and while it will be nice to get back to normal, I am going to miss Chile.