Thursday, April 15, 2010

I believe you have my stapler

Today was Bureaucracy Day! Even though I've already got a one-year residence visa, in order to stay in Chile more than 90 days, and, also important, in order for the Ministry to give me money, I have to get a carnet, a national identification card. This involves a quick trip to the International/Foreigners Police (kind of a pain to translate: Extranjería y Policia Internacional) to register your visa, then take a photocopy of the resulting document to the Registro Civil, which will not be quick. (The police gave me two copies of the original. I don't know why--the Registro Civil only wanted the photocopy.) The Registro Civil most resembles the DMV back home, but covering things like passports and marriage licenses. Basically, if you need to fill out some forms and wait a while for your turn, you're at the Registro Civil.

Oscar is really excellent about making sure Steve and I are happy and taken care of, so he dispatched René', one of the school's disciplinary inspectores, to walk me through the carnet process, since he knows where the two offices are and he's Chilean, and he speaks excellent English. I could have managed it myself, but with René it probably took half the time, even considering the police screwed up the form and spelled my middle name without an 'H'. I'm hugely impressed with Chilean public servants, though: the woman at the Registro said when we came back with it fixed, we didn't have to wait in line again, and the woman at the police who fixed the mistake not only apologized, but made us replacement photocopies so we didn't have to go make new ones. Everyone is very nice and seems to be trying very hard to do a good job, which I've found is often the case in the States as well, though maybe not quite as often.

I got really lucky with my school, and with my co-teacher Marcela. The school on the whole is extremely well-disciplined (especially for Chilean schools), and Marcela actually practices classroom management. My fellow volunteers have some tougher assignments: J is in a school of at-risk kids, including several doing cocaine on weekends and one girl who's 3 weeks pregnant and smoking crack; B, the small redhead gringa, was initially placed in a school of emotionally disturbed kids, where she didn't feel safe and probably wasn't, so the Regional Coordinator stepped in and she was moved to a different school almost immediately (seriously,
who thought that was a good idea?). Steve, Heather and Allison don't have classrooms--neither do I at the moment, but I'm confident everyone understands the need and that it will happen, while they're having to do some fighting for it.

Marcela is very frustrated that the students aren't learning, and very, very much wants my help or advice or any ideas I have about how to help that. I think I got across the whole "students have to use the language, not have it explained" thing; probably next on the list is to get her to respond more directly to their level of knowledge, which is pretty low. The texts she's using (which are easier than the ludicrous texts handed down from the Ministry) are still too hard for them to do more than do rough translation, and don't encourage use. We're "working together" in her classroom for the classes next week, but I don't think she has a clear sense of what involves. I'm really itching to get my own classroom going, but I can contribute and maybe help her teaching, and get the kids primed for my different way of doing things. If it's what she wants and she thinks it will be useful, there's no good reason to push back on it right now.

I spent some time talking to Aurora this morning, Ximena's mother. I was confused last night when Ignacio, the kid, called Ximena tía, which is "aunt" but used affectionately for any adult woman; it turns out Ignacio is Oscar's son, but not Ximena's. She has 3 kids from her marriage, and they mostly live with their dad elsewhere in town, and stay here at various times. Divorce was only legalized here in 2006, and Allyson told us it's common for people to separate without divorcing (since divorce is only newly available) , and just move on with their lives and live with other partners and have more families. And so it is, which sort of explains why Oscar mumbled a bit on Monday when I asked if there were kids in the house. Ximena's youngest, Álvaro, is almost done with junior high school, and staying here this weekend.

I like Valparaíso. It's got a lot of life to it, but unlike Santiago, it's a manageable size, and not smoggy. The ocean is Right There[tm], with its endless cargo ships and Chilean Navy vessels, and this week, a bunch of tall ships I'll go take pictures of. It's like a Bizarro World version of San Francisco, with more ramshackle houses clinging more precariously to steeper cliffs (which are liberally coated with trash), usable public transit that doesn't actively try to run down pedestrians, and a complete lack of hipsters in skin-tight jeans riding fixies and being ironic and jaded as a persistent lifestyle choice.

Also, everyone speaks Spanish.

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