Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bailes Típicos and Great Traditions

When we were in Lima in July, we went to a special buffet lunch as guests of Victoria Campoverde's family (one of my former teachers at Joyce Preschool). It was a delightful day and included with the lunch (which last for several hours) is a show that highlights some of the typical dances from each region of Perú. I was incredulous that the entire restaurant full of Peruvians all knew the lyrics to all the songs and the dances (as was obvious as volunteers from the crowd were pulled up to dance).

Well, so it goes in Chile. I think it's one of the coolest traditions. Every year at fiestas patrias time (independence days parties) all the school children learn a different regional dance and perform it in traditional costume.

Our kids had so much fun. Theo danced the "Costillar" from Chiloe and Gracie danced the typical "Cueca" from central Chile. We all are singing the "costillar" song - or humming as the case may be -since Theo is the only one that knows all the lyrics.

It was a lot of fun and all the kids did a fantastic job. Here are some photos (I'll see if I can get Dan to put up the video) of their dances.
- Laura

Monday, September 26, 2011


The ships in the harbor, and a few emergency lights, were all that was shining Saturday night.  Photo from UPI, via here.

It's been quite a year to be here in Chile.  Violent protests, massive demonstrations, student strikes, a tsunami alert, a soccer game cut short by tear gas and riot police, and earthquakes strong enough to wake us from a deep sleep.  What's next, you might ask?  How about a massive, nearly nationwide electrical blackout affecting more than 10 million people?

It's kite-flying season here in Valparaíso, with 15-20 knot winds almost daily.  But it was a beautiful calm evening on Saturday when the lights went out.  As we looked out our window we saw only darkness in the city below, and as we watched the lights of Viña del Mar, the city up the coast, dimmed and flickered out as well.  An ominous red glow flickered above the mountains to the north, over the oil refineries and power plants of Ventanas.  Uh oh.

We filled up water containers, and dug out an FM radio, anticipating a long outage.  The radio confirmed that the capital, Santiago, was also dark, as well as smaller cities up and down the country.  There was no indication of what might have gone wrong.  We sat around the candle and told stories from power outages and storms of the past.

But then, an hour or so later, the lights came back on.  Two days later, the news is still reporting only 'instability in the power grid' as the cause, and small regions up and down the country continue to have brief unexplained blackouts.  And we find ourselves wondering again, what's next?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Gracie's birthday party!

Hi everyone I had a really cool birthday party on Friday and I am going to tell you all about it!

For my birthday party we decided to do it in our house and do some games from the United States. So on Friday right after school we took all the girls in my class to our house. They were all really tired by the time we got up to our house so, we had some water and a snack. Then to start with the games we played two rounds of musical chairs, after that we played pin the tail on the donkey with counting in different languages then after a break of making sugar cookies to finish the games we decided to play Pictionary which was hard but fun. Then for the end of the game time we colored eggs which was fun to do it again for me and Theo and a fun new experience for the other girls.

After that we eat tacos, some dessert ,and some crazy fun time.

I really liked my birthday party being in Chile because it was fun to show my friends some traditiones from my country. But I kind of missed having it the U.S.A. because there we have a park so that we could play outside because here our house got a little destroyed.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My new creations

I've gotten busy all of a sudden. I'm doing some pro bono nonprofit work, connecting with the ICA (Institute of Cultural Affairs) facilitators network here and teaching an English class. It's a bit of a shock to be so busy, but I interested in it all. I'm having to reprioritize my time a bit. More on those experiences later.

I am still managing to hang on to my once a week mosaics class and I continue to love it. It's a bit like gardening for me - I completely lose myself in it. No multitasking, no coordinating multiple family schedules and needs. I turn off my phone and just cut tile.

Here's a photo of my teacher Monica, and my friend, Cecilia, who has now joined our class. We went on an outing to buy some beautiful ceramic tiles and see some cool mosaics along the way. We stopped for sushi and lots of laughs afterward.

My two latest projects are the box and the flower pot - thanks for indulging me and looking at all three angles of the pot. I haven't told Dan yet, but I am thinking if I can't get a job upon returning to Minnesota, maybe I can just make mosaic flower pots! :-)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Great article about schooling abroad

For all of you who have taken your kids abroad and those of you who are considering it, here's a link to a great New York Times article Dan's friend Celia pointed out. This family's experience in Russian schools is fascinating and hard core. We could relate to the desire to attend a local school and some of the challenges involved with that decision. All four of us enjoyed reading the article.

My Family’s Experiment in Extreme Schooling -


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Felices Fiestas Patrias Chile!

September 18th is Chilean Independence Day and we have seen weeks of build-up for the four-day weekend; Chilean flags everywhere, cueca (a traditional dance) outfits sold at every street corner, fair grounds converted into ramadas - filled with rides, food, and games, the kids learning several traditional dances in gym class, runs on meat at the grocery store, etc.

This weekend is not so different from the 4th of July or Thanksgiving in the States, when family all gather and eat! We made it through four asados (bbqs) and/or picnics in two days and then we ran out of steam.

Today, I told our neighbors we were just resting and eating vegetables all day and they were so appalled that they sent over more grilled meat to our house tonight!

Here's some of the essentials for Chilean fiestas patrias:
- Flags everywhere: on cars, flying in front of houses, on kites!
- Asados; a lonely day for vegetarians.
- Rodeo complete with cowboys
- Cueca dancing
- Some chicha (fermented grape juice), good wine or pisco sours
- Gathering with friends and family
- Kites (September's winds provide recreation for young and old. Everywhere you go kites are high over head, especially in the cerros (hills) of Valparaíso.

It was a lovely weekend and we were lucky to share it with some good Chilean friends.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Happy 10th Birthday Grace Harriet!

Double digits! Wow!

Everyone in Gracie's class made a birthday card for her today - replete with Chilean flags no less (as Independence celebrations approach this weekend)!

Then this evening, the four of us headed out for our favorite ice cream (with a candle) at Amor Porteño and pizza at Allegretto at one of the nearby cerros (hills). We ate in that order because the ice cream shop closes early and the pizza shop doesn't open until late. Yum. Cards and gifts from all the grandparents (no small feat) topped off the evening!

At one point at dinner, we went around the table and talked of all the other places we might visit someday. Just hanging out in Minnesota for awhile was definitely on the list, but so was visiting all of Asia! Who knows where these kids will end up someday.

Because its the equivalent of Chilean 4th of July this weekend, we've postponed a friends' party until next weekend. More on that later. Also pictured, is Gracie testing for her first Tae Kwon Do belt last night. We're so proud of Gracie. What a neat kiddo she is growing up to be.

p.s. Thanks for all the great messages! It was really fun for Gracie to hear from so many of you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tremor makes for a rude awakening

Last night I was shaken awake in the middle of a deep sleep. Somehow I jumped out of bed. Everything was moving and rumbling. I debated...should I wake Dan? Should I grab the kids? What turned out to be only 76 seconds seemed like a long time, during which I envisioned ceilings falling or glass breaking any minute.

Later this morning we found out a tremor, estimated somewhere between 5.6 to 6 on the Richter scale, occurred just off the coast 50 kilometers north of Valparaíso at 4:03am. I asked my English class when a seismic occurrence is considered an earthquake versus a tremor. They responded that the foreigners call anything over "5" an earthquake and in Chile its a tremor until you hit "7"!

Either way, I was a bit shaken up, literally and figuratively. Chile sits over the convergence of the Nazca and South American plates and the rubbing of these tectonic plates causes releases of energy regularly. Up until now, the tremors have been mostly unnoticeable during the day and kind of novel for us at night. Last night was neither novel or unnoticeable, as I tried to get back to sleep and kept feeling my body moving either due to my imagination or aftershocks.

But I will say that it has been fun today to hear the "talk" of why Porteños (people from the port city) should have known it was coming...because the moon was red, because of the quick change in temperature (it was unseasonably hot this weekend), because of certain alignments of interstellar objects! Good stuff. :-)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Chile's 9/11

Chilean soldiers take aim at the presidential palace, as its warplanes bomb it.
As the United States (and the world) remember the events of 9/11/2001, here in Chile people are also marking the day as the anniversary of the military overthrow of the democratically elected president Salvador Allende.  On 9/11/1973, the Chilean air force began bombing its own presidential palace, and army tanks took to the streets of Santiago and other cities.  Citizens were rounded up and detained in soccer stadiums all over Chile, which became concentration camps where people from all walks of life were tortured, murdered, and 'disappeared', never to be heard from again.  Some of the same navy ships which we see today out our window here in Valparaíso were, on that day 38 years ago, landing troops on the docks to take over the city, clearing the streets and shutting down radio and TV stations.

It is uncomfortable for us to think about the U.S. role in the events of that day.  By order of President Nixon, the CIA was active in orchestrating the coup and supported the resulting military dictatorship, which was in power for 17 years.  Our country talks a great deal about promoting democracy around the world, but we should all remember that 38 years ago today, here in Chile, the U.S. was on the other side.

Friday, September 9, 2011

How 3rd Grade saved Montealegre School

Hi. This is a story I did for school. The assignment was to do a "terror" story. If you don't understand you can look at Google translate. Hope you enjoy it.


Como 3ro Básico Salvó a Montealegre

En el momento de este cuento, recien la habían votado a 3ro básico de Montealegre por ser tan travieso. Mientras tanto, había un temblor que se abrió la tierra y de reprente un ejército de zombies salió. Y como el hueco era cerca de Valparaíso, empezaron a atacar a Valparaíso. Eran terribles. Algunos no tenían cabezas, otros huelían de caca de perro. Habían sangre y cerebros por todos lados.

Cuando ya no había esperanza y los zombies estaban acercando a Montealegre, Alvaro tiró una pelota de fútbol donde escribió, “3ro básico, ven a salvarnos”. Entonces 3ro básico volvió para enfrentar a los zombies. Primero empezaron a tirar pelotas de fútbol, que les relentizaron los zombies. Pero todavía estaban avanzando. Cuando estaban a punto de estrar a atacar, los niños de 3ro les administraron un examén de division dificíl a los zombies. Ellos se asustaron tanto (porque no sabían nada de division) que volvieron a la tierra. Entonces los niños de 3ro básico se convirtieron en heroes. La escuela les agradeció tanto que los dejó hacer lo que querían.

Por Teo Prince

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Culture Shock

I am going to violate blog protocol now and you'll have to actually scroll through tons of text(!) regarding my thoughts about culture shock. For those of you brave souls that aren't intimidated, grab a cup of tea and read on.

The anthropologist Kalvero Oberg first coined the term cultural shock. He reported that cultural shock was caused by the "anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse" while living and working in another culture. There's five typical stages of culture shock;

1) Stage 1: The honeymoon. Everything is new and exciting. You are open to the possibilities.
2) Stage 2: The rejection. Coming down from the novelty of it all and trying to work and live in a new place. A stage marked by frustration and eventual hostility to the new environment.
3) Stage 3: The regression. Frustration fosters self-isolation and foreigners often look for the comfort of home language and cultural outlets and blame and complain about the new culture.
4) Stage 4: The acceptance or assimilation. Realizing that there's good and bad of both your home culture and country as well as the culture and country of your new home. Things get more comfortable, you have a greater understanding and acceptance of your environs.
5) Stage 5: The re-entry. You've finally adapted to your new life and then its time to go back to your old one, but you have changes and so has everyone else. Often the toughest stage.

These stages aren't necessarily linear, often one cycles through them more than once. But they are a very common experience to those who have lived abroad.

I think my honeymoon period with Chile lasted longer than normal- up into July really. I was so happy to be abroad again and in particular in Latin America. In some ways, it was like going home after living for almost 5 years in the Dominican Republic and another year in Venezuela more than a decade ago. I was so happy to be speaking Spanish full time again and learning about so many new things here in a kid in a candy store.

When I returned to Chile in August, after 3 weeks out of the country, I think I realized the honeymoon was over. I started becoming more sensitive to the differences between Chile and the States and even more so, the differences between Chile and the culture in the Caribbean, which had been so familiar to me. Unlike the Caribbean, it was winter and cold and people tend to be less gregarious and open here in Chile. In the winter, I think folks tend to hibernate a bit here, similar to Minnesota, and perhaps socialize most with familial or long-established groups, which can make for a somewhat isolating experience if you are new in this land. There isn't a a vibrant nonprofit sector in Chile, unlike in Minnesota, which had made it difficult to find appropriate volunteer opportunities for me. And then, watching the kids navigate the social challenges surrounding a new school, in a new language, and particularly one with its own cultural idiosyncrasies, has been very difficult for me (watch out mama bear).

I know that this has been an amazing experience for the kids and that they have learned a ton. I trust that in the end, the positives will far outweigh the negatives - hands down. But I also recognize that this hasn't been easy for either of them and that we have asked a great deal of them; to leave family, friends, their home, everything familiar for a year. To walk in a school everyday and face the challenges of not understanding everything in the class or outside of it, of not having a history with friends and feeling like you really don't and won't ever fit in in some fundamental ways. Probably, I'm more sensitive than the kids, but Dan and I opted for this experience which maybe makes its harder when things are difficult for the kids.

So, August was a tough month and probably I went through some rejection and regression, which was made easier as we had family visiting from home. I think I'm moving on in terms of the stages now. I think I am becoming more comfortable and patient with some of the challenges that surround us. Plus I am becoming more engaged again. My English class started again with double the number of students. I have had an explosion of volunteer opportunities related to nonprofits and facilitation work that had all seemed remote previously, but now all are becoming possible at the same time. That all makes a big difference for me (I don't do idle or non-engaged well). And the kids seem very happy, which may be a testament to their resilience or maybe to the fact that its not so challenging for them these days. Hard for me to know, but I need to trust the smiles and laughter.

Just like any country or any culture, there is the good and bad of it. And just like anywhere one lives, isn't the trick to focus on how to enjoy the great aspects of living there, of which in Chile there are many, and let go some of harder aspects of it.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Days of Mourning

In the news here...Chile has declared two days of national mourning for the losses from a small airplane that crashed this Saturday. All 21 passengers plus crew are presumed dead. The plane was trying to land on Robinson Crusoe Island, which is part of the Juan Fernandez Islands, about 400 miles west of Valparaiso. It is most famous as the location for sailor's Alexander Selkirk's marooning for four years, which may have inspired the novel.

As you can see by the picture, not an easy landing and September winds in this part of the world would have made it even more difficult. The losses included a well-known business leader and philanthropist as well as a popular TV host and his crew. Also on board were some leaders from the Valparaiso's municipal cultural board.

When something like this happens, one realizes that Chile is a relatively small country (pop. 16 million) and Valparaiso is a small town (pop. 300,000) because so many people we know are directly touched by the tragedy; ie. our principal's uncles were part of the group of fishermen who went out to try to search and rescue despite the dangerous waves surrounding the island or we were going to our friends' school on Saturday for a festival and it was canceled because one of the parents from that school had been on board, etc. There is definitely a subdued feeling all around.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Falling in love with Valparaiso all over again

Saturday was a beautiful day to wander the labyrinthine alleys and passage ways of Valparaiso and make new discoveries of art and angles.

The kids invited Vincente and Isadora to join us for a great puppet show and spent the day playing. I think we were all surprised at how much easier playdates are now - more fun than language work! Yah.

Picking up and dropping friends off again involved wandering cobblestone streets filled with public art and a joyous lack of cars. We did have to walk around the ubiquitous garbage and dog poop, but with the sun shining and friends calling out to us from windows - we hardly noticed.