Monday, April 12, 2010

on site, day 1

I'm here getting settled at my new house. Another guy from the group, Stephen, is also here: originally there had been another host family for him, but that fell through and Oscar had two bedrooms, so here we are. Es Chile, no? Jeremy and Leigh Ann are also in the same house, up in Las Ventanas.

This morning we got up entirely too early and shuffled onto the bus from the hostel to the bus station. In an unprecedented case of luck and good timing, the bus was allowed to pull up to the platform and drop us off, and about five minutes later our bus to Vina del Mar pulled up. About 15 minutes after an uneventful but pretty ride to Vina, our Regional Coordinator Monica helped us pile our bags into a couple of Ministry cars, and most of us walked the 3 or 4 blocks to the Ministry office and unloaded all our stuff into a conference room. And suddenly: our first acto!

An acto is a ceremony or assembly: announcements, acknowledgements, performances. It seems to be a very Chilean thing. Our classes will regularly be canceled, sometimes without warning, for an acto of some kind or another.

This one was to present the host families and schools with their volunteers. (Present to whom, exactly? Apparently the other host families and schools, since for the most part that's who the audience was.) A woman who I think is from the Ministry said some very nice words, then they called out the placements and schools, followed by our names. I was grinning like mad with the happy absurdity of it all: I had no idea who the people were who seemed to be associated with us, and we were all just moving where everyone was gently pushing us. Plus, I live in South America now, and I'm finally at the hard part of this project that's been kind of doggedly plodding along for the past 10 months.

Our host parents are Oscar and Ximena (who, so far, we call "Oscar" and "Ximena" because that's how things are rolling). They seem to be pretty awesome, more and more so as we all loosen up. There's Ximena's mother, and then at least one kid, Ignacio, age 13; I'm pretty sure there's another brother, but I haven't seen him yet. Oscar is the sub-director (sort of a vice-principal but without disciplinary involvement) of my school, Instituto Superior de Comercio "Francisco Araya Bennett" de Valparaiso; Stephen is down the road at the Colegio Industrial. As I suspected, I requested a less urban placement and teaching younger kids, so naturally I'm in Valparaiso and I'm teaching high school.

It's a little funky living with another volunteer--though I'm not sure it's against our contract, since we've each got our own room--but Steve and I are being pretty good about speaking Spanish to each other about half-time, so I think it'll be all right. We're in a good place, and if we made a stink about it, first of all there would be a stink, but second I suspect we might end up at different schools, which means a school would lose a volunteer: pretty harsh, since they have to jump through a ton of hoops to get us.

We toured the school for a while, then met with the director, which was a lot of fast-paced Spanish that I mostly managed to track, and I'm 99% sure he's a really nice guy. The great bit for me was that I felt the need to communicate, in Spanish as in English, that just because I'm a software engineer does not mean I can fix your computer.

That said, I adore the looks I get when I say I'm a software engineer. It's some combination of "Wow, you must be really smart" and "What the fuck are you doing here?".

I met my co-teacher, Marcela. She seems pretty cool, and very happy to have me. And she speaks excellent English, which is not a given for Chilean English teachers.

Steve and I have TVs in our rooms. Oscar very much wanted to make sure it was showing a good picture, and I said, "I don't watch much TV." I'm pretty sure he said "You have to watch TV--it's a rule!". Which would be a very Oscar thing to say, because he's hilarious.

So far, so good. I think I got really lucky with the host family and school situations.

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