Monday, June 28, 2010
"Que no sabían nada," I murmured through the haze. After a few seconds, I sat bolt upright. "What did I just say?"
"I don't know," my mom replied.
"Was it in Spanish?"
"I just know that I didn't understand it."
It's not the first time my mom has had to put up with episodes of linguistic disorientation. After arriving home after my junior year abroad in Chile, I promptly fell asleep on the couch. My mom told me that when she tried to wake me up, I started babbling in Spanish with a terrified expression on my face. Over the next few weeks, she occasionally had to ask me to clarify what I was trying to say because I was unknowingly importing grammatical structures from Spanish.
Of all my returns from South America, the one I made after study abroad was probably the rockiest in terms of language readjustment. I had lived with Chileans all year and had had relatively limited interaction with other English speakers during my second semester. Since I had been one of the last of my exchange group to leave Chile, I had spoken hardly any English at all during my last two weeks in the country. The result was that when another passenger offered to help me with my (grossly overweight) suitcase at the baggage carousel in Minneapolis, no words came out when I opened my mouth to thank him. My brain knew that I had to speak English now but hadn’t yet unearthed the necessary vocabulary.
The language transition wasn’t too difficult when I returned after fourteen months in Quito; I’d been working as an English teacher and living with an English-speaking roommate. And aside from last night’s Dateline stumble, things haven’t been so rough this time around. I lived with Chileans in Santiago and worked a job that required me to speak Spanish about 95 percent of the time, but I hung out with English-speaking friends from time to time and had home internet access – which I hadn’t had in Quito or while studying abroad in Chile – that allowed me to consume a fair amount of English-language media. Who knows? Maybe writing this blog even helped ward off English atrophy.
I suppose the real test of the health of my English will be when I start grad school in the fall. I’m actually a bit concerned about this because nearly all of my recent academic work – both at college, where I majored in Spanish, and in the diploma program I completed last year at a Chilean university – has been in Spanish. Let’s hope I show enough dexterity in my native language to produce written work that doesn’t resemble a high school essay. And that I stop scaring my mom.
Friday, June 25, 2010
I’m writing from the international terminal of the Santiago airport. I’ve been here many times, but this time is different: In two hours, I’ll be leaving Chile for good.
No, not really. I have no doubt I’ll be back. After all, I’ve lived a long and formative period of my life here. If you follow this blog all the way back to the womb, you'll see that I've called this country home since October of 2007 -- and that's not counting the year I spent studying here in college. That's a total of nearly four years, four extremely important years if you believe -- as I do -- that a person's twenties are vital when it comes to becoming who he or she is. Santiago is the city where I began to come into my own; I honestly believe that I would be a different person today if I had confronted the challenges of young adulthood somewhere else. New York City will undoubtedly play a major role in this continuing evolution, but Santiago will always have the advantage of having started the ball rolling.
I've written before about the mixed emotions I have about leaving Chile. In the interest of not breaking down and bawling here in the terminal, I'm not going to get into those emotions here. I will, however, include a sappy but very fitting quote I just happened to come across the other day. According to Lawrence Durrell, "A city becomes a world when one loves one of its inhabitants." If loving one inhabitant makes a city a world, loving many makes Santiago a universe -- one I'll definitely be back to.
And, in order to rescue this entry from complete and utter sapdom, I'll toss in my four main gripes about what otherwise is a decent airport terminal: It's hot, there's hardly anything to eat, there are no drinking fountains, and the guy sitting next to me has a scary-sounding phlegm cough that he's not covering up. Is it time to board yet?
By the way, I stole the title of this post from this famous Chilean cueca. Of the landmarks mentioned in the song, Quinta Normal and San Pablo con Matucana have special places in my heart.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
I just happened to be snapping a photo of this street corner in western Santiago's Yungay neighborhood when this car zoomed by. I've always wondered how many traffic accidents Chilean fans' love of mobile flag flying causes each year.
This seems like a safer place to wave the red, white and blue.
The salesperson at this hat kiosk outside Estacion Central was hesitant to let me take a photo of her heads until I told her I had a blog about Chile.
As you can see from the banner flying on the balcony, not even an 8.8 earthquake can stop diehard fans.
And, alas, more soccer-spawned sexism. These posters are advertising a mystery Father's Day promotion (I visited the website and still have no idea what it is) that promises soccer to men and "relaxation" to women. The man's poster is the same color as the national team's jersey and is headed by the phrase: "World Cup + Father's Day: Welcome to Paradise." The woman, on the other hand, stands awash in the sky blue of saintly motherhood below the phrase: "World Cup + Father's Day: You Deserve Heaven." In other words, "You're a Saint." Which you obviously are for putting up with your man's obvious love of soccer, which you obviously don't share, all while slaving over that enormous Father's Day luncheon.
Chile didn't pull out its best game on Wednesday, in my opinion. Let's just hope they were saving it for upcoming rivals Switzerland and Spain!
Friday, June 11, 2010
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
When people ask me what I've been up to since I quit my job, I generally respond that I've been preparing for the big move. The truth of this statement depends on your perspective. If you consider taking meandering bike rides through the city and staring wistfully at the Andes preparation, then yes, I've been preparing. However, if your idea of preparation includes sorting through and packing the physical evidence of the past three years of my life, then I have not been preparing at all.
This afternoon, a friend stopped by my house and took away some of my stuff. His haul included a giant paper mache lamp, magenta curtains and some Saint Patrick's Day costume glasses. Although I'd been emotionally preparing myself for the inevitable for quite some time, his visit was my first move toward initiating the physical process of leaving.
I think I know why I've been putting it off. Ever since I was little, I've been extremely sensitive to the sentimental value of objects. I'm not a big shopper and would not consider myself materialistic; however, when an object represents an important moment or period in my life, I find it incredibly difficult to let go. For example, I've held onto dingy shoes because they've tread foreign soil and notebooks from high school because they're a testament to who I was at that point in my life. When I see hoarders interviewed on TV, I frequently understand exactly what they're talking about when they explain their reasons for refusing to throw out items everyone else finds useless.
Don't worry: My house isn't packed with empty soup cans and floor-to-ceiling stacks of old newspapers. I've been so mobile over the past few years that I've had to learn to look past my emotional attachment to things when the time comes to move out. This doesn't mean it's easy. Although I consider my tendency to find magic in places and everyday objects a gift when it comes to creative activities like writing and photography, it can be a curse when it comes to moving forward.
I think I was so afraid to begin sorting because I felt that doing so would be like watching a slow parade of significant moments in the Chilean life I'm leaving behind. As the process continues, I know that practically every item I unearth will embody a memory that I'll be afraid will vanish forever if I don't hang onto the object itself.
I've had to try to make myself comfortable with the idea of forgetting. After all, if I refuse to let some things escape my brain, there won't be as much room to remember the most important aspect of my life in Chile: the people who have made it what it is. I like to think that every time those people draw their magenta curtains or put on their sparky green sunglasses, they'll remember me, too.