Los poetas odiamos el odio y hacemos guerra a la guerra — Pablo Neruda
“Pablo Neruda es un Gran Chileno,” our history professor told us. Looking at his life and his world, I’m convinced. Pablo Neruda was a Chilean poet, writer, politician, and professor, but what Chileans love most about him, I think, is his personality.
He was a collector of many things, with a lot of personality quirks. For example, he always wrote in green ink pens, and he had a train relocated to his front yard.
So far, I have visited two of his houses (there were three) and have been very impressed by his whimsical style. I’m inspired by his fun approach to life, and his belief that “la risa es el lenguaje del alma,” or “laughter is the language of the soul.” Honestly, this makes sense coming from a poet who wrote odes to kitchen objects and various fruits.
I’ve been working on a few Neruda-inspired poems this semester that I wanted to share with you. I’m generally nervous about sharing my poetry, but I’m also reminded by Neruda not to take myself so seriously. 🙂 Ok, here it goes:
Laughter is sweet
Like that first crunch of empanada dough,
An easy way to break through the initial awkwardness
One of my most impactful moments in Chile was during one of my shadowing shifts in a local hospital. I shadowed an OBGYN in a maternity clinic. Initially, I did not know what to expect but I must say that it was definitely a fast-paced experience. After we were shown around the clinic for a tour, we saw our first patient who was entering into labor. Walking in, I noticed blood on the floor in the corner by another bed and I asked the nurse about it. I was surprised that they had not cleaned it up yet, but he told me that it was an emergency and that patient was already being moved to another room to give birth. Right after asking, he left the room to find out if we could see the birth and within minutes he was back and excited to tell us that we had clearance to go to the birthing room. Breaking into a quick stride and light jog we were already quickly headed into the room where we met the mother and the father nervously gearing up for their life-changing moment.
I was nervous myself as I was uncomfortably close to the mother, who I did not know. I felt that it was a moment too precious to be shared with foreign strangers, but I was thankful that she allowed my classmate and I to observe. Once inside, we are given masks to protect our mouths and I already was breathing heavily as it was my first time wearing one and the room was getting exceptionally warm. It was a matter of minutes until she began and it felt like it all happened in just a few seconds but I was already seeing the newborn in the mother’s arms with her relieved and heart-filled smile. I look up to the father who had to step out a moment earlier to calm his nerves. His expression of relief was indescribable. It was a miracle. My face was a little damp from sweating and also from the tears that fell down my face. It was just absolutely beautiful how mothers can bring so much beauty into this world. It was at this moment that I started getting excited for when maybe I would see that beauty enter this world again and hoped that maybe that beauty would be my own child.
So much has happened in the past few days that I feel a gallery of photos would better express my excitement for the wonders that I had the privilege of beholding. The enormous Palacio Real (ironically, the king and queen do not live here), the beautiful and monumental Almudena Cathedral where the current king and queen of Spain held their wedding, the awe-inspiring Madrid town hall (El Ayuntamiento de Madrid), and the oldest restaurant in the world (el Restaurante Botín, which was founded in 1725) are just a few of the sights that made me beam with life.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” James 1:19
If you know my personality, you know that I am often a better listener than talker. I’m slow to contribute to conversations, and it seems like when I do speak, my words come out jumbled.
In Spanish, this is ten times worse.
Especially at the beginning of my time here, I was often frustrated by my inability to express exactly what’s on my mind. I forget words like cuchillo (knife), bolsillo (pocket), and silla (chair), and realized I never learned how to say “spill” or “hip.”
When it comes to Latin American poetry, though, my vocabulary is impressive. The words you learn in Spanish class (like dictatorship, military coup, and communism) don’t come up in daily conversation as much, however.
Oddly, I’ve come to appreciate the limits of my Spanish. I’ve also come up with strategies to get around them. But, you know what, listening is an important skill. James tells us to practice listening and practice being slow to speak.
I came to Chile not knowing anything about the culture. Sure, I read up on some history, but I still have a ton to soak up. Which is why I need to listen to people and hear their perspectives. Luckily, Chileans are buenos para hablar– they’ll talk your ear off.
On Wednesday, when that verse from James came up in Bible study, my Chilean hermanos took it as a challenge. For me, I’m already living the challenge. I’m thankful to God for the way He’s using this experience to make me better at listening and forcing me to be even slower to speak. After all, that’s why we have 2 ears and 1 mouth.
As I blogged in a previous post, I was part of a health-studies clinical observation program as a part of the IES Abroad program. In this program, we have a Medical Spanish course that meets 3 times a week, a biweekly public health seminar course and a weekly field placement.
My field placement was under Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile’s School of Nursing. Initially, I wanted to sign up for public health placement for health education but due to limited spots, I did not get the placement. Luckily, the clinical observations placement that I was put in was much better than I expected. Rather than only shadowing nurses and doctors, we were able to assess several health systems ranging from substance abuse rehabilitation homes to visiting indigenous Mapuche machi (Mapuche healer). It definitely sparked an interest in both medicine and public health for me as it allowed me to even co-write an article on alternative and complementary medicine implementation in Chile’s healthcare system. But if I were to state some of my most impactful experiences of the program, I would say that witnessing my first birth, visiting a Mapuche ruca and a woman’s abuse rehabilitation home, along with watching 4 surgeries in one day were some at the top of the list. To those who are interested in medicine and are hoping to study abroad, I would highly recommend doing this program as it will also give you tools to serve patients in Spanish and gain a global perspective on medicine. Below, I have some miscellaneous videos and photos from the program. For privacy purposes not many could be taken during my experience.
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!
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).
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.
Last week, when my Chilean family went on a hike with other families from the church, they turned it into a learning experience for everyone about caring for the environment. It was so sweet how my Chilean parents took it upon themselves to educate people on how to “cuidar la tierra.”
One woman, Gloria, who organized the trip, was also very passionate about environmental issues. I overheard her talking to my little brother, Camilo: “What is this stuff on the side of the road? It’s trash. Camilo, say ‘basura’.”
“Tasuta,” he said back in his baby talk.
“And is it supposed to be here?”
“That’s right, Camilo. Basura is bad for the planet. But we have to cuidar la tierra. We don’t leave trash everywhere.”
And there was more. She talked with Camilo for a while, holding him on her hip, teaching him ways to take care of the earth, and telling him why. This was my favorite part. Gloria told him that God made the earth and entrusted it to us. She said it was a gift, but also a responsibility. In order to be obedient, faithful followers of Christ, we can’t forget about cuidar la tierra.
As we wrapped up the hike, Rocío (mi mamá) and Gloria gave us a little lecture on cuidar la tierra, and they mentioned the responsibility and opportunity we have to make positive changes that protect natural spaces like the one we just enjoyed. I understood and deeply resonated with what they were saying, but as we turned to go I made eye contact with another American girl who had come on the trip with us. Her face looked puzzled.
“They mentioned pizza, science, trash, and God. Then we prayed. What just happened?” she asked.
I laughed, because those things really are connected. But not everyone I talk to sees it that way. I’m really grateful that I’m part of a family (and church family) here that shares my interests and worldview.
In my time in Chile, I’ve met many more people who are interested in preserving and caring for the environment. My lab partner brought in a collection of glass jars he had been saving to recycle, and yesterday I had a conversation with a friend about alternative energy in Chile. Additionally, cuidar la tierra seems to be a theme of national conversation. There are political parties devoted to “green legislation,” and I’ve seen commercials on tv advertising the environmentally-friendly aspects of their products.
Despite this seemingly high level of public awareness, many Chileans I’ve spoken to want to see more.
My host mom, as well as two of my professors, have lamented the lack of environmental education in the school system. So Chileans are making efforts to change that. This weekend, I went to a museum exhibit in the Parque Cultural de Valparaiso focused on environmental issues and innovative ways to cuidar la tierra.
The exhibit touched on themes ranging from biodiversity to pollution to consumerism, and displayed a variety of mediums, including film, false advertisements, and styrofoam cutouts. It was really cool to see artists creating such remarkable pieces for the purpose of raising public awareness of environmental issues.
I think my favorite piece was a digital creation by a Scandinavian artist. He combined a futuristic-looking technology with a beautifully peaceful nature scene. To me, the result is a striking commentary on the interconnectedness of people and the land, and our need for preservation/conservation. But what I liked most about this piece was that it was another conversation-starter on the topic of how best to cuidar la tierra.
Everybody has different ideas on what the best way to cuidar la tierra is, and why (or if) it’s important. I’m just grateful to be participating in the conversation here in Chile. And I hope it’s continuing back home too. I’m excited to bring my new perspectives back to the US in a few months — maybe this blog post can serve as the first link 😉