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
Is there a national dance in the US? No, claro, los gringos aren’t very good at dancing.
This was my excuse this weekend when I was asked that question. But the truth is, Chileans aren’t always good at dancing either. It doesn’t stop them from trying, though.
Chile’s national dance, called the cueca, is an obligatory part of every fiestas patrias celebration. For five days, the entire country gets excited about their national traditions. People dress up as huasos and chinitas, eat a lot of empanadas and choripán, and drink a lot of wine. This weekend, I went to a lot of parties where the cueca was danced.
This unique Chilean dance tells the story of the conquest of a woman. It’s danced in parejas, a boy and a girl. At first, the girl acts shy. They circle around each other, coming near and turning away. The guy is supposed to follow her around and stomp near her feet. Finally, at the end of the dance, he sticks out his arm to ask for another. Most times, the girl hooks his arm in his and the audience applauds. I learned that if she wants, though, she can throw her pañuelo on the ground and walk away.
The pañuelos are an important component of the cueca. They are little handkerchiefs that the dancers have to hold in their hands and twirl around. I made sure to have my pañuelo before the festivities began, but Chileans aren’t always that prepared. They improvise pañuelos all the time. It could be a napkin, a scarf, maybe some toilet paper.
In the end, it makes for a pretty unique spectacle. I love watching the Chileans stomp around, twirling their mismatched pañuelos and getting into the character of the dance.
Ask me to dance, though, and I’m a little more hesitant.
How do you find words to describe the Infinite? When I try to explain the beauty and majesty I saw this weekend, especially in Spanish, simplemente no hay palabras. I find myself struggling against my limits. And then the Voice inside me tells me to relax.
“Tranquila,” it says. “We will have all eternity to discover that.” My mind is blown again.
I don’t understand the concept of eternity. But in my limits, I can wonder.
What I learned this weekend is that that’s enough.
Being in the most beautiful place we’d ever seen brought so much wonder to myself and my friends. The trip was filled with exclamations of “¡Guauu!“, “¡Mira!“, “¡Qué hermoso!“, “¡Es maravilloso!” and “¡No lo puedo creer!” We could only marvel at the beauty of the Atacama desert.
Take a look at my slideshow and marvel along with us! Fun fact: it’s the driest desert on earth.
Being somewhere like this also makes you ponder deep questions like why we experience the sensation of beauty. My friend Erin had a very wise and interesting response.
“It’s the size of this place that makes us reflect on our own smallness and insignificance.” And that’s what wonder is. It’s being surrounded by something that’s too big to understand. It’s recognizing our limits of size and understanding.
If we knew everything, nothing would amaze us. If we were bigger or stronger we might not be dwarfed by the majesty of mountains.
Riding around the valle on bikes made me realize how big that corner of the desert was. By the end of the day our butts were sore and legs were tired. I had pushed myself to the limit, for sure. But there was a lot of joy in recognizing my limit; it made room for appreciation of God’s creation.
I think often times we try to push our limits, or forget them. In the process, we lose sight of our place in the world. Truly, we are just one second in the span of history, smaller than one grain of sand in a desert.
We have a choice to recognize that insignificance, or not. Either we accept our place in the world or create a worldview that puts us in the very center. Though it takes a lot of humility to wonder, I can’t help but think it’s worth it.
I met two slightly unpleasant people on this trip. And I feel bad judging them on some short conversations, but I wanted to share what left a bad taste in my mouth– their lack of wonder. A Finnish boy and Australian girl were in one of the hostels I stayed at, and what both of them said was: “I’ve already seen something like that. I didn’t think it was that cool.”
To me, who felt awestruck at the sights I saw this weekend, this attitude surprised me. Maybe I’m just less cultured and important than (they think) they are. But if that’s the price to recognize beauty and value in a place, I’m willing to pay it.
I’d much rather be like our Brazilian roommate, Sabrina, who told me, “pienso que cada lugar que visito es lo máximo”, or “I think that every place I see is the coolest.” I want her sense of wonder to see lo máximo everywhere I go.
I began dreaming of my college study abroad semester pretty early on in my high school Spanish classes (what else would have motivated me to get through all those “preterite versus imperfect” lectures?). During Hope prospective student visit days, I sat front row at every off-campus study info session, stored away all the pamphlets, and talked to countless students about their experiences abroad. When I arrived at Hope in Fall 2014, I plotted out my 4-Year Plan based entirely upon my semester abroad. However, when it came time to actually make the plans a reality, fear and anxiety crept in. It wasn’t that I lost the desire to go abroad, but rather that I didn’t want to leave Hope for a semester.
Clearly, events occurred that changed my mind, because here I am writing from Chile. I can confidently say that I am exactly where I am supposed to be– being challenged, humbled, and left in wonder by this new home of mine. However, I will break the myth that every day abroad is as much of an adventure as an Instagram picture or blog post may convey.
This past weekend at Hope was Orientation Weekend. Having been a part of the Orientation Staff for the past two years and loving freshman orientation myself, it has been incredibly difficult to miss out on the best weekend of the year. Flipping through all the Instagrams and Snapchats, the reality hits that life goes on without you. When your friends are all moving in together and reuniting after summers apart, you’re not a part of the group texts to meet up at New Holland, Captain Sundae, or a Lake Michigan sunset. No matter how much we glorify FaceTime and Skype to keep us connected, nothing adequately compensates for the 10,000 miles of distance that exists.
Amidst the FOMO, I am reminded of the gift it is to have a place and people to miss. I would not trade this adventure abroad for anything– even for my long-awaited senior year fall semester at Hope. As I write this, I fear that this is just the beginning of the FOMO. There will be an abundance of things to miss out on, and plenty more anticlimactic days abroad. However, when I allow myself to sit in that ache to be with the people that know me the best and in the place that I feel the most at home, I am grateful to carry that sense of belonging with me. Best of all, it’s what will welcome me home in just a few months!
“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.
I’m a bad vegetarian. I’m not Catholic, but I’m feeling a need to confess.
This last month here in Chile has really tested my commitment to my self-imposed dietary guidelines, and truth be told, they haven’t stood up to the test. I have three (kinda funny) examples of the challenges of being a vegetarian while traveling. Ready? Here we go.
Sushi. (Or as Chileans call it, “su-chi.”)
I guess I’m not the strictest vegetarian to begin with because I’m ok with eating fish. Especially here, in a seaport town, I’m not opposed to a little fresh salmon or ceviche. So, when my host aunt/sister Flo texted me that she was gonna order in sushi for our anime night, I was all in.
“Go for it,” I told her. “I’ll get you back.”
It didn’t even occur to me to mention that I was a vegetarian (or pescatarian). What more is in sushi than a little bit of fish?
In Chile, it’s common to have sushi with chicken or pork. Flo ordered us “handrolls” which had cream cheese, avocado, and a few massive hunks of chicken, all wrapped in rice and seaweed. It wasn’t even cut up in little slices, which I thought was funny. That’s the most distinctive thing about sushi, right?
That, and the fish.
I felt bad when I realized what had happened. And I was too hungry to make a fuss about a little bit of chicken, not when she had ordered me some yummy sushi. So I ate it, and it was good.
Sushi here might not be what I’m used to, but it’s funny. I was glad to have discovered a cultural quirk of Chile. Mixing cultures always ends up being entertaining, and I guess a bit weird.
2. Completos. The Chilean hot dog.
Here’s another cultural mash-up. Imagine an extra-long hot dog slathered with mayonnaise, and topped with an entire avocado, mashed-up of course. Add your typical ketchup and mustard and, if you’re feeling adventurous (or just particularly German), sauerkraut. There you have a completo.
After about two weeks of hearing my gringo friends get excited about this culinary discovery, I was feeling intrigued and interested enough to try a completo for myself. It wasn’t like I went looking for one though. An opportunity fell in my lap one afternoon when I was working on a marine biology project with my Chilean lab group. It was late afternoon, and we were all starving.
Usually in Chile, people eat almuerzo (lunch) at 2 or 3 pm, but once the clock hit 4, we gave up working on our project, resolved to meet another time, and jumped on the bus to Sergio’s favorite completo place. They were really excited for me to try my first completo and since there was a special deal that day (2-for-1) Sergio bought me two, convinced I would love it.
For a hot dog, it was amazing! A completo is the perfect twist on the American classic. Though I wouldn’t eat it regularly, I’m really glad I tried the completo with my Chilean friends. Since then, I’ve had a couple completos without the hot dog (the meat part isn’t the best anyway), but I don’t regret trying it the authentic way first.
3. An Asado (Barbecue).
Did you know that here, people spend Christmas barbecueing on the beach?! And they’re jealous of us for having snow! Personally, I would trade the freezing Michigan winter for a Christmas asado.
Here, we’re reaching the end of Chilean winter. Which I guess means it’s asado season. My friend Sergio invited me again to try some authentic Chilean meat. And I said yes.
We went to his house in a little beach town about 30 minutes away. Then we started cooking. I loved how everyone got involved in the process, but I felt a little useless because one of the tasks I was given was peeling tomatoes. I had to admit I had never peeled a tomato.
About 2 hours later, the pinchos were on the grill. I wish I had a picture, because the amount of food there was impressive. And the meat was rico and juicy.
I had at least 7 skewers. Not to mention the multiple salads, soup, rice, and bag of potato chips I munched while waiting for the meat to roast.
On the bus ride home, I had an awful stomachache.
After that pound-of-meat shock to my system, I think I’ve learned my lesson on staying vegetarian. Sometimes it might be worth it to break it, but I think from now on I’ll stick to salads and veggies to keep my tummy happy.
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.