Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"You know you've entered the desert when chalk boards become street signs."

It's been a week and a half. Slacking, Andy, slacking. School has hit full swing and beyond the daily shout outs and juice box offerings, I've started to settle in as a staple at my Croatian colegio. I've come to the realization that while Asia rivals my Chileans in the height department, they have unquestionable ownership as English speakers. I imagine a decathalon is in order. (I'm not quite sure why thoughts of leading revolutions with my newfound apprentices in my current nation of residency is so appealing.)

Breaking down the number 18 and the word "good" to fifteen year-olds has slowed planned classes substantially, but my role here is teaching by whatever means. Things get more difficult with the realization that basic topics such as family members and homes are sensitive issues. A greater portion of my beloved students come from single-parent household, living in projects within the drug-infested regions neighboring the school. Foster homes are also the norm and if parents are still in the picture, it is not uncommon that so are alcohol or prostitution. No storied success has ever been brought about through the ease of a football jersey in room of inebriated freshmen ladies. And like the freshmen male dropping every possible human connection along with a 100 pack of Solo cups, 4 ping pong balls, and a promise as permanent marker slut to gain entrance to said party, I eagerly accept this challenge and marvel at the smaller successes as they come.

So really, what have I done? Lots. We went to a club not named Kamikaze and cleared out a gringo quarter of the dance floor, while staring up at a wall of males with gold chains and gel observing the female dancers in a three-deep ring as if they were preparing to purchase a steed at auction. We spent one night beachside til the hazy sunrise, enduring a few car chase sequences. Another beach night just passed and this one began with verbal battles of sexism and nearly ended with a personal battle of yours truly with a lad whose fist was amusingly wrapped in a chain as a he prepared to connect it with a skull two feet higher than his. Oh yes, we also met a supposed Al Qaeda member who promised our death on one truly purgatorial Saturday of wandering under gloomy skies amdist abandoned alleys. In all honesty, tennis ball craving dog packs have been the only things to make me truly fear my surroundings. We went to Pica. An oasis two hours from our beach town, we bathed in clear blue skies, nearly clear blue hot springs, and certainly not blue rock-face purification. Bus rides were spent creating new sounds of music (patent pending) and rejecting mayonnaise sandwiches. Would you rather spend the rest of your days living in a desert hut or on a sailboat in a never-ending ocean? My first voyage to the desert had me opting for the latter. Beautiful in many ways, I couldn't escape the desolation and loneliness offered by the Atacama, the world's driest land of sand. I enjoyed some of the best mango drinks of my mango career, although the how and why of an oasis was never realized. Three days in this sunny oasis brought us back to Doggis. Hoo doogy doggy doggy. Hot dog value meals have never looked so appetizing.

And, in closing, Dia de los Ninos. Another silver platter to the 7 volunteers from America. Of course, the twenty-somethings were provided gifts of shaving cream, socks, and keychains for this day celebrated nation-wide by pre-schoolers. Personal gratitude will never equate the overwhelmingly welcoming arms of our families and friends here in Chile. The best service I can do to repay them is to carry their smiles and selflessness with me on my way.

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