After another couple weeks in Chile, it’s getting easier to call this place my home. Between going to classes twice/day in Valparaíso during the week and coming home midday for lunch with the family, I’m getting the hang of traveling around the city. Nonetheless everyday is different and learn something new each time I leave my bedroom.
SIT is great in the sense that multiple experiential excursions planned for the program through out the semester- a great opportunity to interact the Chilean people on the most authentic level. Last Tuesday, we had class down at the pier and each student individually interviewed local fisherman in order to get a strong sense of the humbling reality, which “Pescadores Artesanales” live every day. To say that the local fishermen’s rights are exploited would be an understatement. In the waters near Valparaíso, huge commercial fishing ships dominate the water while the local fisherman scrounge up whatever is left. After los Pescadores Artesanales real in their catch, their sale profits are then distributed usually between five families. The profits are distributed so because the cost of maintaining even a small fishing boat is so high because of the high taxes and strict regulations placed on the local fishing industry by the government. Meanwhile the government allows the large commercial fishing ships free reign over the waters, little to no taxes, and no regulations all so that the commercial fish sales will bring money into the cities. However consequently, since the big ships have no regulations to when they can fish, the ships end up taking the fish out of the water before they are fully developed and also end up taking the fish eggs out of the water, leaving less and less fish for los Pescadores Artesanales who are forbidden to fish during these regulated times. Needless to say, these hard working fishermen struggle to live on the poverty line and was very humbling to speak to them in person (although I can only understand about every 5th word they say as Chilean Spanish is very hard to understand if someone is not consciously trying to slow down and enunciate- words just bleed into each other in a seemingly slurred dialect).
At the end of the week, SIT took us to Santiago for a day where we ate a huge traditional Chilean meal, visited La Moneda (the Chilean version of the White House), and finished off the day with a tour of El Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos that was constructed to commemorate all the missing, tortured, and killed Chileans as a result of Pinochet’s military Golpe del Estado and the succeeding dictatorship. Like the holocaust museums in DC and in Israel, this museum hits hard and is impossible to take in in only one visit.
Like I said in a previous post, leading up to last Wednesday, September 11th, the media and common conversations have been saturated with the commemoration of the 40 anniversary of the Golpe. Certainly strange to be enveloped in this dark aspect of Chile’s recent past on September 11th while recognizing that September 11th means something much different for most Americans…and I believe with this reality comes a bit of ignorance. It’s been extremely interesting and sobering to hear of the US’s involvement/financial aid given to Pinochet during the early 1970’s and yet the majority of Americans are not aware of this unflattering truth.
Last weekend was another chance to get out with Valpo Surf Project for a day with the kids- unfortunately we were unable to get a car to take the surf boards to the beach, so instead we went to a local Valpo beach and played lacrosse and soccer! The kids are so intrigued by the sticks and the way you fling a ball out and get to push each other around (a reflection of my initial interest in the game). Surprisingly or not, it’s the girls who are more willing to pick up the sticks and have a toss after all! I’ll try to put another video together in the next couple weeks.
This week is Chile’s independence celebrations and certainly proving to be the country’s time to shine- a week full of friends, family and food instead of just one day. The past few days have been a chance to eat great food (mostly empanadas and red meat), drink terremotos and chicha, fly kites, and attempt to dance the Cueca, Chile’s national dance. I’ve been schlepped around to multiple family asados at one of Wee Wee’s kids house outside of Viña del Mar and another one in at a beautiful park in Olmue (about an hour into the interior where my family used to own a second house) where we all played some lacrosse too. It’s quite a distinct landscape there in the Chile’s central interior- steep green and lush mountains sprouting out of the valley floor filled with vineyards and farmland.
No Chilean goes this week without a family asado or a trip to Las Ramadas/ La Fonda… “Ramadas feature a dance floor, music, and tables to eat. Fondas, or refreshment stands, offer a wide variety of Chilean food including empanadas, anticuchos (shish kabobs), chicha (alchoholic drink), and more” – pretty much a big fair with people of all types including tourists, dancers, overly drunk teenagers/flaites, and everyone else. Quite a lively scene! And after a night at La Fonda last night, we had one last family asado at the house today then my host brother, Felipe, and I went sand surfing at the sand dunes that line the coast about a 15 min micro ride north of Viña- after a mouth full sand we decided it was our one way to justify all the food we’ve been eating these past few days.
By the end of this weekend, I have to decide where I want to go during my two week excursion in October- either to the northern desert of Chile to experience the Aymara culture or south to Temuco to spend my time with a Mapuche community. There’s definitely no bad decision, yet both present very different landscapes and people.
As every day goes on, I continue to fight against my own desire to do all that I can while I’m here and still stay healthy and exercise regularly. Even so, I am alive and well and looking forward to tomorrow. Love to all.