Smells of the City

My friend Luisa has a very sensitive nose.  This is one of the first things I learned about her when we met three weeks ago.  She sampled my gnocchi and told me it had hints of sweet potato in it.  I had no idea.

Luisa’s nose has come in handy various times, like when we were in Santiago and she warned us to stay clear of a marijuana-smelling alleyway.  Or that time when she recognized the scent of Peruvian food just out the window and we spent the rest of our class period gazing longingly outside.

Her uncanny ability to distinguish scents has got me thinking about the smells of Valparaíso.  It is a city with a lot of different scents I’m grateful to experience. Now, where to start?

Mercado El Cardonal.

 

This is the big outdoor market in Valparaíso. Although a part of it is indoors, the market sprawls out across the neighboring streets until cars can no longer drive through, and every inch of sidewalk is covered with piles of fruit and vegetables, or vendors selling empañadas.  I walk by on my way to class, and I get a whiff of fresh lemons.  Another day, it’s bananas or eggplants that are the freshest.

The problem with the streets of Mercado El Cardonal is that at night they become dangerous.  It’s a place where lots of drunks hang out.  So, combine the smell of alcohol with some piss and leftover garbage scraps rotting in the gutters, and it’s not the most pleasant scent.  To be honest, I’d recommend visiting during the day.

Escuela Ciencias del Mar.

 

My marine biology class is in this building, and it’s my favorite because it looks like a castle.  Plus there are often sea lions lounging around on the nearby rocks. We get the smells of the ocean here, a salty misty spray might even hit you if you’re studying on the outdoor patio.  There’s also a large fish market nearby, so every time I come back from Escuela Ciencias del Mar, my clothes smell like fish. It’s really fresh though; the mariscos (seafood) here is the best!

Cerro Mauco.

 

Today we hiked up a very steep “hill” about an hour away from Valparaíso.  This area was home to the indigenous picunches, before being conquered by the Inca, then the Spaniards.  In their native language, mau means suspended and co means water; the suspended water the name describes refers to the low-hanging clouds.  While we were up there, we got a refreshing scent of rain, though the shower only lasted a few minutes.  The flowers along the way also gave a pleasant aroma, and as my friend Pablo remarked, “el aire huele más fresco arriba” (the air smells fresher up here).

Mi Casa.

 

This is the hardest scent to describe.  It’s definitely a homey smell, and when our nana, Elisa, is there, the kitchen is filled with delicious aromas of whatever she’s cooking.  The house is always spick and span, so I’m sure the cleaning chemicals contribute, and I know the laundry detergent we use is Ariel.  The funny thing is, I think I’m starting to lose the ability to distinguish the smell of mi casa.  I’m starting to smell like it.  It’s become a part of me.

My friends and I were talking the other day about how our houses back home don’t have a scent to us; that’s just the way we smell.  Here, too, mi casa es mi casa.  My house in Chile has become my home.

Surprise! Congratulations! We’ll miss you!

Last night I walked in on a bridal shower/going away party.  Honestly, I had no idea my host mom was hosting one.  I just had finished making the long trek up the hill to our house and, worn out from my first day of classes, I was looking forward to relaxing on the couch in the living room.

Instead, my host mom was making heaping plates of sandwiches and chatting with two women who were the first to arrive.  About an hour later, once everyone had trickled in, we sat down at the table, pulling up approximately seven extra chairs to accommodate all of the guests.  The kids, mostly younger than ten, and all extremely rowdy, were exiled to “la mesa de niños.” (The kid table was also a staple of my childhood.)

Anyway, the guest of honor was this woman named Jackie.  From what I gathered, she was about to marry this Spanish man named Raul.  They had met over the internet and started chatting and Skyping.  Both had fairly young children from previous marriages, and weren’t expecting anything to happen.  But they fell in love, started dating long-distance, and now, a year later, are getting married. What a romantic love story!

Here’s a glimpse of the “despedida” party. My Chilean mom, Rocío, is the one on the left, and Jackie is on the right.

Even though the bride-to-be was glowing, and her friends teased her lightheartedly about lingerie and the wedding night, there was a bittersweet sense to this gathering.

After people were finished eating and plates were cleared, we began going around the table and saying sweet things about Jackie.  Everyone wished her well for her wedding, gave some tips about moving to Europe, re-lived favorite memories with her, and expounded upon her good characteristics.  Additionally, since these women were all from my host mom’s church, they prayed for Jackie, praised God for her, and spoke truth into her life.  It was a truly beautiful night. Lots of tears were shed and laughs were had.  I was glad to be a part of the celebration of this woman’s life.  I also learned some things about Chilean culture through this experience.

1. It’s okay to be late.  Here, people often arrive an hour after something is about to start.  Time is viewed very differently in this culture; it’s not something to be controlled.  Delays happen.  To be on time is somewhat unexpected.  In light of this, it’s not important to be ready on time.  My host mom was still cooking when her guests arrived.  So they joined in.  It wasn’t a big deal, just another opportunity to socialize.  Which brings me to…

2. Chileans love to talk.  From the moment I walked in the door, the chatter was constant, with only a slight pause to pray for the meal.  As we went around saying nice things to Jackie, everyone had lots to say.  Sometimes people would jump in, interrupting with a side story, but overall the whole thing lasted almost an hour and a half.  And then Jackie wanted to do the same for everyone there! So we spent another hour receiving complements and well-wishes.

3. Family is everything.  When the women at the party called Jackie their “hermana” that was the biggest compliment they could have given.  For someone to be made part of the family is the greatest honor in Chilean culture.  Families here are big, and very close.  I am so grateful to be part of a Chilean family myself!  And I felt honored to be included in Jackie’s special night with her church family.  Surprise!  Congratulations Jackie!  We’ll miss you!

Faithfulness and Ebenezers

Back home I have a rock that sits on my bedside table. Written on it is the word “faithfulness.”  My rock’s role is to remind me of God’s faithfulness.

Though I didn’t really intend this, that rock has become my Ebenezer.  In the Bible, an Ebenezer is a physical representation of God’s goodness to remind His people what He has done.  And God has been faithful in His promises to me, especially this year.

Coming to Chile, I didn’t have very many specific promises to cling to.  I prayed a lot for my host family, and that I would find a church family.  And I tried to trust God, my Provider.

Guess what, friends!  God does provide!  And He is faithful!  This past week I have seen His thoughtful handiwork in arranging the details of my new life in Chile.

To begin, He brought me to the most incredible family!  We share many of the same interests, including a faith in Jesus Christ.  They have been nothing but warm and welcoming and kind.

My family took me to their church this weekend.  I was introduced to a beautiful community of believers, and I got to worship in Spanish with Chileans.  What a dream come true!

Here I am with my new friends at the “bridge of dreams” at the beach in Horcón. Everyone who visits ties ribbons with their wishes onto this bridge, hoping they’ll come true.

Finally, I took a day trip to a nearby beach with a group of students from the church.  They were kind, adventurous, and fun.  We laughed a lot and bonded over empanadas.  But on the bus ride home, as we listened to worship music, it was evident that we shared something more profound in common: our passion for Jesus Christ.
That day at the beach, I picked up a seashell.  Now it’s sitting on my nightstand, a new Ebenezer to remind me every day of God’s faithfulness to me.

Yeah, I can do this

As I brought my luggage to the bus, where the other students were waiting, the mountains greeted me like an old friend. I thought, “yeah, I can do this.”

The view of the Andes on my flight to Santiago.

A few minutes later, I panicked, the scene on the bus like a flashback to middle school. Where do I sit? Who looks friendly? Can I make new friends?

By the time the 2 hour bus trip to Valparaíso was finished, I was once again feeling confident. The girl I shared my seat with was friendly, intelligent, and kind.  We were experiencing similar kinds of emotions. I thought, “yeah, maybe I can do this.”

But don’t let the length of time sink in.  As we sat down to lunch, the girl on my left mentioned, “Can you believe we’re gonna be here 5 months?” Nope.  I started worrying again.

The whole first day I went back and forth between these emotions. Confidence, panic; feel good, start worrying. Constantly conflicted, I had no idea what my life here was going to be like.  I just had to trust that things were going to fall into place.

Then I met my host family.  In Chile, people greet each other with a kiss on the cheek.  After a warm “bienvenido,” we went back to my family’s apartment, where I was also introduced to the grandparents, aunts, and other family members.  After a few hours chatting and eating, I overheard my host mom say to her sister-in-law, “Monica speaks Spanish very well.”

You know what? Yeah, I can do this!