Two weeks and counting…

I can’t believe that in two weeks I will boarding an airplane to go home. Somehow I feel like this semester flew by while at the same time I feel like I’ve been here for years. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, trying to understand this wonderful, unique, bizarre experience so I can try to explain it. Why don’t you step into my kitchen, we can talk it over while I make some sopaipillas.

First we need our ingredients. We need a squash, Oil for frying (vegetable or canola), butter, flour, salt, baking soda, chancaca, cinnamon, and orange peels.

Zapallo

Because it needs to boil for a while, let’s start by preparing the chancaca. In a little saucepan I’ve added the block of chancaca, a cinnamon stick, and some orange peels with a few inches of water and set uncovered over medium low heat. The block of chancaca will melt over time and as the water evaporates it will thicken, just be sure to stir it every five minutes or so to keep it from sticking.

Chancaca, Orange Peels, Canela

Now, to prepare the sopaipillas first you need to cut up and seed the squash. Usually one good karate chop is enough.

Karate Chop!

So while I skin and cut up the squash, I am thinking about all the things I have learned from this trip that I would never had learned otherwise. Obviously my Spanish is much much stronger and so is my understanding of Chilean and Latin American culture. But more than that, I think I’ve developed a skill set I never had before. For example, using public transportation was completely new to me when I arrived, but now I have no problem hopping on and off the micro and metro like a boss. I’ve also improved my “street smarts” and lost much of my small-town naivety.
A very important skill that I learned is the ability to accept the things that I don’t know and ask for help when I need it. Before I was afraid of people finding out that I didn’t know how to do something, so I would refuse offers of help even though I had no idea what I was doing. Here I quickly learned to swallow my pride and ask for help and clarification when I need it, and to persist until I fully understand. I could have saved myself a great deal of time and frustration if I had just done that from the beginning!
So I’ve cut up about two cups of squash into a pot, covered it with a few inches of water, and set it to boil. We’ve got about twenty minutes until the squash is soft enough to squish with a fork.

Cooking Sopaipillas

Some of the skills I already had got fine tuned and sharpened during this experience. For example, I have always been a very motivated and engaged student but I often lacked self-discipline when it came to my procrastination problem. Since I need much more time to complete an assignment than my classmates here, I start projects much earlier now to make sure I have the time I need to be successful. I’ve also become more attentive in class because if I miss a few key sentences or words during a professor’s lecture I can be lost for the rest of the class. Lastly, in terms of academics I learned the value of making friends, even if it takes an extra effort. The inside advise and explanations from my Chilean friends were more valuable then I ever could have imagined.
As the squash finishes up cooking, I’m going to melt 10 tablespoons of butter in the microwave and set it aside. Then in a large mixing bowl I will mix the four cups of flour, two tablespoons of salt, and three tablespoons of baking soda. When the squash is nice and soft, I drain it, let it cool until I can touch it, and mix it with the butter before adding the butter and squash mix to the flour mix. The next part is fun because you get to knead the mixture for around 10 minutes until you get a nice, smooth dough.

Dough no you didn't!

My tastes have also broadened during my stay here. I set the president for myself during orientation of tasting everything that was offered to me, as well as being open to alternative ways of doing things. I learned to like tea, mushrooms, squash, and a wide variety of Chilean foods such as cazuela, empanadas, sopaipillas, flan, manjar, and of course choclo. I’ve learned to use graph paper notebooks instead of college ruled, to smother almost everything in mayonnaise, to wear a million layers in the summer, and to use a calefont. I’m more conscious of my use of utilities like electricity and water, and more aware of how I spend my money.

Mmm! Melty yummy chancaca! Let it simmer gently over the heat to let it thicken some more while we form our dough.
Chancaca ready

Now put a few inches of oil in a pot on to heat up while we make the circles of dough. I roll it out on a floured surface just like for sugar cookies. The thinner they are the better, I used a flour-rimmed glass to cut the little circles and then I pierce each one a few times with a fork to let them cook all the way through. Now all you have to do is drop them a few at a time into the hot oil and let them fry, a minute or so per side until they are a nice rich gold.

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Looking back on the entire semester, I think it will be a while until I can fully wrap my mind around all of the effects it has had on me. I can certainly say I’ve changed in my tastes, worldviews, my perspectives, and my individual culture. I’ve learned that I love to blog, for example, and I hope to continue blogging after I get back. Sadly I don’t think my day to day life is interesting enough for this style of blog, but maybe I will be able to branch out and find another engaged and interested audience like the one you are a part of right now.
Now that your sopaipillas are all cooked and warm, you can prepare them a variety of ways. Some people like to eat them plain. My host brother Seba likes his with ketchup on top. Try them with salsa, condensed cream, powdered sugar, tomato sauce, anything you want.
A tisket, a tasket, a sopaipilla basket
But since we have a nice hot batch of chancaca ready, let’s make these sopaipillas pesadas (soaked in chancaca). Chancaca has a maple syrupy taste, in fact it is a form of unrefined sugar. All you have to do is soak the sopaipillas for about five minutes each in the hot chancaca and they are ready to eat!
Soaked in Chancaca, yum!
Like sopaipillas I cannot physically bring Chile home with me, but I can experience it, describe it, try to understand it and then bring it home in my memory and in my skills. In two weeks I’ll be back on U.S. soil, but the knowledge of sopaipillas will come with me and I can’t wait to share them with you all!

I guess it’s the thought that counts…

Today I went to the Universidad Diego Portales central library to check out a book. I went up to the front desk, checked my backpack as usual, and asked for the guest pass so I could get through the turnstile. They asked me for my student ID number, looked me up on a list, and cheerily informed me that my student ID had just arrived that morning.

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I had my picture taken the first week of class, and I was told it would be ready in three weeks. They assured me they would send me an email when it was ready because I kept pestering them once a week for the first two months. Then I gave up hope and stopped asking. And now, with two and a half weeks until I leave the country, it finally comes in.

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Oh Chilean efficiency, how I will miss you!

Lovely Listy Lists

Today we had a meeting with Isa, our beloved program director, about re-entry. Re-entry is the IFSA term for reverse culture shock and the process we will undergo as we transition back into our home countries. Basically, regular culture shock is when you find the unusual where you expected the normal. Reverse culture shock is when you find the normal where you expected the unusual. I remember feeling the same way when I came back from my Peru trip when I was 10.

To help us start to prepare ourselves for these transitions, today we did an exercise where we made lists on some topics that Isa gave us. I thought I would share some of the lists with you guys

5 Things I will miss about Chile

1. El pan (the bread)-Always fresh baked at the supermarket, delicious for sandwiches or by itself!

2. Lit Cafes-Like Starbucks, but with silence reinforced by employees I like to call the “quiet police.” I love working there because its warmer than my house, there’s free wifi, and I can order a teapot and a slice of cake for around $4.50!

3. Buying things from the street or artisan fairs– I don’t know why, maybe because it’s so novel for me, but I love buying things from streetside vendors. I’ve purchased gloves, socks, a fanny pack (they are actually very fashionable here, and practical!), last minute birthday presents, and more. Artisan fairs are also always fun, especially when the vendors are actually selling things they made and not the same old tourist stuff.

4. Being surrounded by Spanish-I’ve grown used to hearing, reading, speaking, writing, and thinking in Spanish for the vast majority of my waking (and sleeping) hours. From the important sounding chatter of businessmen on their cell phones on their morning commute to my host mom calling for my host brothers to set the table for dinner, I am enveloped in the sounds and undulations of the language: the smooth vowels roll like riverbed pebbles and the consonants are like an artist’s brushstrokes, some short and precise and others broad and sweeping. (Spoiler alert-this one will crop up in another list)

5. My favorite lunch-A chicken fajita, with lettuce, avocado, corn, and ciboulette sauce bought from an adorable little place on Sazie for about $2.50 USD.

5 Things I will NOT miss about Chile

1. Having to take public transportation everywhere– Although it’s clean, reliable, safe and relatively easy, I am excited to have my car back and be able to go wherever I want whenever I want without having to figure out bus routes and recharge my Bip! card and such.

2. Paying to use public bathrooms– especially when they don’t have toilet paper! Protip: always carry a little pack of tissues with you, they come in handy.

3. Piropos– These are comments that men, typically lower class workers, shout at passing women about their appearance. Basically, it’s catcalling. And basically, it makes me uncomfortable. Many Chileans have explained to me that it is not meant in a threatening manner, but I still quicken my pace and keep looking ahead when it happens.

4. Being surrounded by Spanish– I know I listed this as something I WILL miss, but I have very mixed feelings about it. I think sometimes I will miss it and sometimes it will be a relief to be able to express myself and understand others effortlessly. Sometimes I want to say something but I can’t find the words or the grammatical construct so I stay quiet, or sometimes after the third time asking my friend to repeat his or herself more slowly I just smile and agree and hope it wasn’t a question.

 

I’ll do some more posts like this as my experience here winds down and I try to make sense of it all and put it into words so I can remember it all and learn from it. I feel a strong urge to preserve these ideas and feelings now, while I’m still here. Some part of me is afraid that when that plane lifts off three weeks from today all of these emotions and lessons and experiences will stay behind on Chilean soil. I also need to start thinking about what I’m going to do with this blog after. I envision it as being something like a love child between a how-to manual for students who want to study abroad and a story for people who like travel. We shall see.

We Tripantu Festival

Last Saturday we had another IFSA field trip, this time to the far south of the city to Cerro Chena. Cerro Chena was and remains an extremely important site in many of the indigenous cultures both as a meeting place as well as a sacred place. We were there to celebrate We Tripantu, which is the indigenous people’s New Year and is marked by the winter solstice or the longest night of the year.

It was an overcast day and the sky threatened rain but the people who began to gather at the foot of the steep hill were excited and happy to see one another. Children were running and playing together, and a group of kids our age were dancing and laughing in a circle. Before the ceremony started we took a hike along the winding trail up to the top of the hill, where we could look out over the farmlands and nearby mountains. The view from the top was breathtaking and we stayed for a while just looking out over the countryside.

We wound our way back down the mountain and took our seats in the folding chairs that had been set up to watch the ceremonies. The facilitator of the event thanked us all for coming, and invited us to stand in a half circle to watch the purification rituals. In the middle of the circle of onlookers was a sacred tree, which was blessed by a mapuche elder who sprinkled it with water from a hollow gourd as he prayed under his breath in mapudungun (ancient Mapuche language). The facilitator prayed aloud in Spanish, thanking the spirits for the past year and asking for their blessing and support in the coming year. An offering of beer, grain, and bread was sprinkled over the sacred tree and also some was burned in a small bowl. Finally we were all asked to hold hands in a symbol of unity and alliance and acceptance of diversity.

After the Mapuche ceremony had concluded, the Rapa Nui delegation from Easter Island also held a ceremony in which they offered water and salt as symbols of the old year and the new. We were invited to think about the elements we will carry with us over to the next year and the things that we should let go and leave in the old year.

Next representatives from the three tribes that were present preformed some of their traditional dances and music, which I enjoyed very much. Here are some short clips of the dances:

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After the dancing was a great cookout, all free of charge, with such awesome food. I had grilled chicken and bread, a sopaipilla, a chicken soup with vegetables, another sopaipilla, some barbequed pork, and a teeny sample of some traditional wine made from fruit. It was all delicious! Full to bursting and happily sleepy, we crawled back into the van and slept all the way home.

 

I am an Earthquake Survivor!

Yes! Just as I was starting to worry I would leave Chile without ever feeling the earth move under my feet I experienced my first tremor! I happened on Wednesday; I was working in the Universidad Diego Portales library on the fifth floor when I started to feel a slight shaking, as if a big truck were passing. The shaking continued and got a little stronger and the glass started to rattle in the window panes. It felt like when the car engine is idling a little rough. That was the worst it got, after a few more seconds it stopped.

At this point all of the Chilean students, all of whom had likely experienced the big earthquake of 2010, grinned at each other but then returned to thier work. I tried to blend in like it was no big deal but on the inside I was like

OMG cat

Now this is the point at which any of my Chilean friends who are reading this (Or anyone from the west coast of the USA) are like “Gringa, please. That wasn’t an earthquake, that was just someone’s Nokia phone vibrating!” But hey, it was my first and possibly only earthquake so I’m allowed to get excited about it. And don’t worry, in case somethign a bit more impressive than the little hiccup comes along internet cats have taught me exactly what to do:

EARTHQUAKE DRILL

 

Gazing at Glaciers

On Saturday we pulled on our hiking boots and backpacks once again and set off for the El Morado National Monument for some trekking and learning with a natural history professor named Patricio. El Morado National Monument refers to the 30 square kilometer privately protected park, specifically we went to visit the glacier and to see the evidence of the geological forces that shaped Chile to what we see today.

From Santiago (A) to Baños Morales (B)

From Santiago (A) to Baños Morales (B)

Our hike started in the tiny village Baños Morales, nestled between the towering mountains of the Andes. The village only has around 200 year round inhabitants, and survives on a mixture of natural tourism and plaster mining. We signed in at the trailhead and set off, within minutes we could see the little group of houses laid out in the valley below us.

The trail wasn’t anywhere as rough as Cerro Manquehue; it rose gently as we followed the valley towards the glacier. Every so often we would stop and our guide would point out interesting geological features. For example, he told us that the horizontal bands of color we could see on the exposed mountainsides are made up of sedimentary rock that used to be an ancient sea floor, and so formed horizontally. We know this today because these mountains are rich with fossils of ancient sea critters and plants. Over time as the tectonic plates pushed together to form the Andes mountains, the pressure was so great that these chunks of sea floor were pushed into their current horizontal position.

File:Mountain by reverse fault.gif

We couldn’t actually get to the glacier because recent snowfall in the area made the last third of the trail too dangerous, but we still trudged through the snow as far as we could before settling in a bare patch of ground for lunch. We perched on rocks and ate while we talked about how unbelievably close we are to the end of our time in Chile. We discussed our host families, we made farewell party plans and we bemoaned our upcoming finals. We took pictures in front of the glaciers and goofed around in the snow and threw snowballs at each other.

Condors, the national bird of Chile, circled above us as we made our way back down the mountain. The sun had caused the snow to become soft so we often sunk in up to our thighs, and all of our shoes and socks quickly filled up with snow. We saw some puma tracks in the snow, and we we happy to reach the bus and pull on dry socks and shoes. On the way home we stopped for empanadas, which were delicious as always! When i get home I definitely want to make Chilean food for my friends and family, it’s so good!

Hiking pictures!

 

Climbing Cerro Manquehue

My legs and feet seem to be attempting to secede from the United Republic of Abby’s Body in protest of the unjust taxation and abuse they suffered today. What they don’t know is that I’ve already vetoed their petitions. I suspect civil war to break out when I wake up tomorrow morning.

The reason I’ve subjected my lower half to such torment is because today we climbed Cerro Manquehue, the tallest point in the Santiago valley at about a mile above sea level. It is actually an extinct volcano and has an estimated geological age of 19 million years. Another interesting fact is that it is an unruly and harsh monster to hike.

To get to the trail, we first had to walk through a super wealthy neighborhood and hop a fence (which I did with my usual catlike ninja grace). Then you walk through a huge horse paddock and pick up the trail. The first third of the trail is pretty steep; even as an experienced hiker I was winded. Then there’s a fairly even stretch with some gentler undulations in the land. And then the fun begins. Here, fun means about 45 minutes of punishing uphill climbing with such a steep grade that your hands get well acquainted with the rich dark earth. The path seems to follow an old stream bed and features delightfully surprising patches of loose gravel that slide out from under your sneakers to clatter down the mountainside.

From start to finish the hike was about two and a half hours, but we made slow progress because we had to stop often to rest. It was worth it for the reward of the view. As we ascended we were able to see the city laid out below our feet. At least, we could make out bits of it through the thick layer of smog that hangs over the city. Because Santiago is situated in a valley the mountains around it trap the smog and keep it from dissipating. As a result, the pollution concentrates and seeing the thick cloud was startling and worrisome. Santiago is well known as one of the most polluted cities in South America; although updated public transportation vehicles and better policies have made improvements it still frequently reports double or triple the concentration of airborne pollutants that is recommended by the World Health Organization.

Santiago also the list of top 10 cities with worst air quality, right behind Bejing and New Delhi on a recent report by 24/7 Wall St.

Squinting through the thick haze, trying to make out familiar landmarks, I was struck by a very deep concern for our future as a species if we do not start making healthier decisions now. I imagined a future in which every city is like this, smothered and sicked by its own poisonous halitosis. Two of my three host siblings have asthma, many of my friends have reported increased migraines since arriving in Santiago, and I find myself more tired and worn down than usual. The World Health Organization warns that high levels of air pollution can cause a cornucopia of health issues, from clumped veins and pneumonia to increased number of fatal heart attacks and negative effects on fetus in pregnant women. Looking out over the city I didn’t need to see the actual statistics to know that what I was looking at was not healthy by any means.

Turning 180 degrees, we could see the peaks of the Andes Mountains that make up the Cordillera. They were capped in fresh white snow, and we could see tiny ski lifts snaking up the sides of some. They were wrapped in fluffy white fog, blissfully clean and cool. In comparing the two views, I thought about the two directions our future as the human race might take. On the one hand was the city choking and coughing in its own filth, on the other was the pure, clean mountains.

I believe that we are at a critical stage in our development as a species and the decisions we make, or don’t make, will have a profound impact on what the human experience will look like in 50, 100, 1,000 years from now. Will we continue to suffocate and poison ourselves and our children and our children’s children or will we dedicate ourselves to a healthy and sustainable humanity? I also believe that we are capable of choosing the latter, that we can successfully apply our enormous collective intelligence and creativity to solving these problems.

The decent from the mountain was no less treacherous as the steep angle and loose gravel made our footing shaky. I think I made 80% of the return trip by sliding along on my backside. I owe my jeans a thank-you card; they held up remarkably well given the jagged rocks and gravel. Still, my muscles twitched and complained with every step down the mountain, to the micro, and home. Tomorrow I will pay dearly for the perspectives I gleaned on top of Cerro Manquehue, but the pictures at least help make it all worth while.