Salsa, salsa, salsa, y despedidas todo el rato: the final few days in Chile!

Holaaaaa amig@s! Jordin and I leave Chile tomorrow and that is ASTONISHING to both of us. I can’t believe we’ve been living here for almost eight months already…and that it’s almost over. Our schedules have been extremely packed since we got back from the Atacama Desert over a month ago, and they will continue to be until the moment we head to the airport. We’ve been going out A LOT, so I am pretty sleep deprived, and honestly pretty surprised that I haven’t been sick yet from my lack of sleep (***knocks on every piece of wood***). (EDIT: I wrote this over a week ago when I was initially planning to send this update, but last weekend I developed a cold that turned into a sore throat. Pero siempre salimos de todos modos!)

Before getting into my final update, PLEASE click on the title of this post (“Salsa, salsa, salsa…”) to read it from the web browser instead of from your email! This is especially important because I finally compiled and created a salsa video and you cannot watch it from the email – it often won’t show up on this page. So please please click on the title of this post to get everything out of it!

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The transition from summer to fall here was pretty stark – one night I was in shorts and a t-shirt, with just a thin sheet over me, and the next night I was in sweatpants with blankets on the bed. It’s been cold-cool in the mornings and evenings/night (in the 40s/50s), but generally warm-ish (anywhere in the 50s-60s-70s) during the day.

Chile has public holidays every month, and especially throughout April! I think there was a holiday every week for at least three weeks straight – they’re called “días feriados”.

  • March 29 – Día del joven combatiente (“Day of the Young Combatant”), but it’s often described as Día del joven delinquente (“Day of the Criminal Youth”). In 1985, there were two adolescent brothers who were killed in the street during the military regime. This is not actually a public holiday, but it’s a non-official commemoration of the deaths of the brothers, and to honor the young people who were killed during the dictatorship. However, every year there are numerous demonstrations and sometimes violent protests against whatever government is in power, and especially against the police. These often take place after dark, and there have been instances in certain parts of the city where it can be quite dangerous. Our salsa/bachata classes were postponed for another day (since they’re 7:30-10pm) and I cancelled my class right beforehand, and spent the evening at home. Wikipedia article here!
  • April 19 – Censo (census) – Every five years, Chile collects census data about people living in Chile, and this is a holiday because at least one person from each household has to be at home until they’ve completed the survey. People conducting the survey go to every house and apartment in the country of Chile. Our teacher from our TEFL course in October, Kimberley, told us that the asked her things like what she does for a living (but not her salary), if she has kids, and what her apartment is made of, and it only took five minutes overall. If the country is shut down for an entire day for census data that is only collected every five years, I think they could definitely do better. They could ask questions about salary, religion, if people can afford healthy food, how they pay their bills, etc. The last time they did the census, apparently something went wrong with the data and they couldn’t use any or all of it, so this is the first year it was made a national holiday.
  • May 1 – Día del trabajo (Labor Day) – There were many protests for workers to get better salaries (not new to anyone), and everyone has off from work.

Earthquakes!

Over the past few weeks, there have been many temblores, or tremors/baby earthquakes, throughout Chile. Chileans are used to temblores and usually don’t think anything of them if it’s under a 5 or 6 on the Richter Scale. But on Monday, April 24th, there was one that was centered in Valparaíso (on the coast) at a 7.1, and it was rated 6.9 in Santiago. This was a decently big deal and everyone was talking about where they were during it, what they felt, etc. However, I actually didn’t feel anything! I was either walking or sitting on a bench at the time, but didn’t know anything happened until I received a lot of texts in various group chats asking if everyone was okay. For people in buildings, especially on high stories, it was pretty scary, and even the Chileans were shaken up a bit (no pun intended). In the days that followed, I received the following message many times about earthquakes here and how they’re described for foreigners. It’s very funny – here it is in English (and afterward Spanish!):

Seismic manual for foreigners: In case of a telluric movement, the first thing to do is to find a Chilean. You can identify them because they are the ones that salt the food before you try it.

Degree of tremor / Reaction of the Chilean → Explanation.

  • 1 to 3 / Absolutely no reaction → We Chileans have mutated and we are unable to feel these smooth seismic movements. We are somewhat like the X-men of the Earthquake (find out other meanings of earthquake, in particular bebestibles).
  • 4 a 5 / No reaction → The Chilean knows that there’s shaking, but they will not interrupt what they’re is doing for something so pichiruchi (little thing).
  • 6 / The Chilean says: “It is trembling” → You will believe that it is the end of the world, but nothing actually happens: don’t even think of leaving, which is much more dangerous. Stay calm, watch the Chilean closely, and wait. And please do return to our country, or at least don’t give us a bad name, especially about the natural disasters that we have.
  • 7 / The Chilean says: “It’s strong” → We can start talking about the earthquake. In other countries it would be a cataclysm, but here the buildings are built strongly enough to endure the earthquake (and those that don’t already fell with other earthquakes of the past). All right, we understand if you never wants to return to Chile. Hire a good psychologist for post-traumatic stress, seriously.
  • 8 / Chilean: “CSM!” (An abbreviation for a common cursing phrase in Chile that stands for “concha su madre!”, or “Your mother’s cunt!”) → Place your feet firmly on the floor because if not, you will fall to the ground. Do exactly the same as the Chilean. Try not to cry or shout. It is very likely that nothing will happen, but if you have bad cuea (luck) then the building will split in two (shit happens).
  • 9+ / Chilean praying → The mansaca. Now it is actually the end of the world: the Apocalypse. Try to pray and think about your loved ones, because everything has come to an end.
  • Welcome to Chile!

Spanish: Manual sísmico para extranjeros: En caso de movimiento telúrico, lo primero que debe hacer es encontrar a un chileno. Los puede identificar porque son los que le echan sal a la comida antes de probarla.

Grado del temblor / Reacción del chileno → Explicación.

  • 1 a 3 / Absolutamente ninguna reacción → Los chilenos hemos mutado y somos incapaces de sentir movimientos sísmicos tan suaves. Somos algo así como los X-men del Terremoto (averiguar otras acepciones de terremoto, en particular bebestibles).
  • 4 a 5 / Ninguna reacción → El chileno sabe que está temblando, pero no va a interrumpir lo que está haciendo por algo tan pichiruchi (poca cosa). Tampoco va a interrumpir lo que no está haciendo.
  • 6 / El chileno dice: “Ta temblando” → Usted creerá que es el fin del mundo, pero no pasa nada, no se le ocurra salir, que es mucho más peligroso. Quédese tranquilo, mire al chileno con atención y espere. Y porfa vuelva a nuestro país, o por lo menos no nos haga mala fama, si no son taaantos los desastres naturales que tenemos  (ah no si no).
  • 7 / El chileno dice: “Ta fuerte” → Ya podemos empezar a hablar de terremoto. En otros países sería un cataclismo, pero acá las construcciones aguantan bastante (y las que no, ya se cayeron con otros terremotos del pasado). Está bien, comprendemos si no quiere volver nunca a Chile. Contrate un buen psicólogo para el estrés post traumático, la dura (en serio).
  • 8 / Chileno: “¡CSM!” (buscar significado de esa abreviatura) → Afírmese porque si no, se va a caer al suelo. Haga exactamente lo mismo que el chileno. Trate de no llorar y menos gritar. Es muy probable que no pase nada, pero le puede tocar la mala cuea (suerte) de que justo el edificio en que usted está se parta en dos (shit happens). Así nomá la cosa.
  • 9+ / Chileno rezando → La mansaca. Ahora sí que es el fin del mundo en serio, el Apocalipsis. Trate de rezar y pensar en sus seres queridos, porque todo ha llegado a su fin.
  • ¡Bienvenidos a Chile!

Every week, usually twice, and sometimes even 3-4 times (depending on the week), we go to salsotecas (salsa clubs) to dance the night away! We always go on Thursdays, but because of the many holidays, there have been long weekends as well, so Sunday night has been the new Saturday night! We always know at least a few people there, but not necessarily from our salsa/bachata classes – we often see the same people every week who go there to dance as well, and we greet each other like old friends. Every night is different, but the best nights are the ones where I dance a tonnnnnn. Sometimes I’ll dance 10 songs in the first hour – after each song, people leave the dance floor, but when you go to sit down, someone else will often ask you to dance. So you dance until you get a break to sit when no one asks, and those 4-5 minutes are bliss for the legs. My absolute favorite salsa song is called La Casa Por La Ventana – give it a listen if you want to hear the type of music we dance to for most of the week! My favorite bachata song is called Quitémonos La Ropa. I highly recommend listening to each for a least a minute to get a feel for the beat. Keep reading and later you’ll find the dancing video I finally created!

Small lil updates

  • A few weeks ago, we went to the Bahá’i Temple in Santiago. The Bahá’i faith is one that values all religions, and there are eight of these temples in the world. The only one in South America is here in Santiago, only 20 minutes from our house, located at the base of the Andes Mountains. It was very beautiful and peaceful.IMG_9817
  • I often go many days without seeing little toddler Leo – he goes to the “jardín” (preschool) from 8:30am-4:30, but I get up after he leaves, am home for parts of the day, but often leave before 4:30 and am out until at least 11pm, after he’s asleep.
  • Jordin and I have opposite schedules all the time – last Friday, I was out teaching 10:30am-12:30, came home, out again 2:45-7:30, came home, and then went out at 9:30. Jordin was out 12-4pm, came home, then left at 7pm and went straight from there to the bar with our friends. So I didn’t see him for 12 hours – that’s how our days are sometimes!
  • Last Saturday, Jordin and I went to the feria (“fair”, but is the equivalent of a farmer’s market) with our host parents for the second and last time – the first time was our first weekend in Chile! We bought some things for our day out on Sunday with our teacher: 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) of strawberries, 1 kilo of carrots, 4 cucumbers, and 2 kilos of grapes. Guess how much that all cost? Under $5 USD. Increíble.

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  • We had a few visits from some friends who were in Santiago for a few days – it’s always nice to see friends when we’re so far away! One of these friends is a good friend of ours from high school, who took Spanish for years up until IB/AP Spanish. He hasn’t really spoken it since then (five years ago), so he’s lost a bunch of it, but was still able to get by just fine in Santiago. However, listening to him speak made me realize how far I’ve come – this is not meant as an insult (I consulted with him about this before posting it). It wasn’t that he spoke badly, but he just lacks the fluidity which I only started to develop by my immersion here and being forced to speak Spanish every day. I don’t think anyone can really get to that point without spending time in a Spanish-speaking community and being forced to use it – you can know the grammar and vocabulary, but you must also listen and speak to improve and apply what you’ve learned. Even though I’m not leaving Chile fluent in Spanish as I originally hoped, I’ve improved dramatically and know that I can converse comfortably in Spanish and understand the majority of what’s being said. However, this is as long as they don’t speak at typical Chilean speed without enunciating (that is the epitome Chile); Jordin and I have a friend from salsa who speaks so fast that I literally only understand about 5/100 words he says. So am I leaving Santiago fluent in Spanish? No. Am I dreaming in Spanish? Unfortunately, no. But I AM dreaming in Spanglish, and I am most definitely dreaming in DANCE.

Communities in Chile

I’m someone who likes to be a part of at least one (but ideally various) communities in my life to feel socially fulfilled. Having a few good friends is important, but I love having a community of people who all know each other and spend time together over some common interest, especially in terms of social events. Our two main communities here are our salsa friends (the group is called Ritmo & Guapería) and Spanglish Party friends. But I didn’t really start feeling this until February, when I started the salsa/bachata classes (Jordin started in November…I was late to the party but considering it’s my favorite thing in Chile, better late than never) and when we met some of our current close friends from Spanglish (though we met los hermanos Valentina and Cristián in December). Our communities here have evolved since we arrived and started developing friendships and social lives. In October, we were taking our TEFL course, so our communities were our classmates and our Chilean host family. Only one of the four other students in the class besides us stayed in Chile afterward, so in November and December, our main community was our host family – they took us to lots of parties and gatherings, and we loved it. But naturally, I wanted a social life outside of them, and though we started going to Spanglish the first week of November, we didn’t meet the people we regularly hang out with until later. In January and February, we went to a lot of pool parties through Spanglish Party, where we met some of our current closest friends. Starting in February, we had many more weekend plans, mostly with Spanglish friends. And from March on, we went to the salsotecas every weekend, often with friends from our salsa/bachata classes. The last few months have been packed with plans. I LOVE seeing the same people at salsotecas every weekend, even those who aren’t in our classes, but we still recognize each other. And because we’re in Chile, the standard greeting is a kiss on the cheek and a hug. There are people I’ve seen and/or danced with at certain salsotecas that I’ve seen at others, and we greet each other like friends – I love that. Our two main communities are salsa/bachata and Spanglish, but the past few weeks have just been packed with dancing. Going to a salsoteca is nothing like going to a discoteca (a club) or anything similar in the United States, because people go to the salsotecas to actually dance, not to try to meet someone by unknowingly grinding up on them, which happens in every club and frat party in the U.S. Even during a very sensual bachata, no one makes out on the dance floor unless they’re already a couple, and even then, it’s usually just a peck. People are so friendly in salsotecas, and are of all ages – I’ve danced with men in their 20s to their 60s/70s (though mostly in their 20s/30s). Dance culture here is totally different than in the states – for example, at all of our twice-weekly salsa and bachata classes, there are ALWAYS more men than women. In all of my dance experience at home, the vast majority was always women. I love that aspect of it in Chile because that means I always have a partner (we keep switching, so all men will be partnerless at times). I also think that there’s often a stereotype in the U.S. that men who can dance (more specifically, men who can move their hips) are gay, but we haven’t found that stereotype to be true here.

The final schedule

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we have been going out a LOT and the schedule is absolutely packed. Aside from our last day teaching, we have many “despedidas”, or farewells, with all sorts of people throughout the week. Here is our (mostly nighttime) schedule for our final two weeks here (even though most of this has already passed):

  • Wednesday, May 3 – salsa and bachata classes at night
  • Thursday, May 4 – salsoteca
  • Friday, May 5 – karaoke with friends from salsa/bachata classes
  • Saturday, May 6 – BBQ and then salsoteca for despedidas (farewells) with our salsa friends (we stayed until the salsoteca actually closed, and got home after 5am).
  • Sunday, May 7 – spent the afternoon/evening with Kimberley, our amazing teacher and good friend from our TEFL course in October.
  • Monday, May 8 – salsa/bachata classes at night. The dance teachers created a goodbye video for us, with pictures of Jordin and me traveling and dancing in Chile – very unexpected and so unbelievably nice. 
  • Tuesday, May 9 – final Spanglish Party at night
  • Wednesday, May 10 – Final day of teaching English!; final salsa/bachata classes :(
  • Thursday, May 11 – final night at a salsoteca: la despedida with other salsa friends
  • Friday, May 12 – party at a friend’s apartment for la despedida with our Spanglish friends (photos at the bottom). Our friends also created a goodbye video for us (again, unexpected, and again, unbelievably sweet) with pictures of Jordin and me in Chile and with our Spanglish friends. They also gave us a Chilean flag that they all signed with beautiful messages – I feel very lucky!
  • Saturday, May 13 – dinner with our host family and their close friends whom we know very well
  • Sunday, May 14 – Mother’s Day lunch with the extended family, and then nos vamos :(
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Final Spanglish Party

Finally, below is the salsa video I have been saying that I’ll post for months now. Don’t be alarmed when you see it’s 8 minutes long – it’s divided into a few different clips, and you can either watch it all OR choose the clips of your liking. But I highly recommend watching at least the first 2-3 minutes – it shows what our twice weekly classes look like and how much fun they are, and our despedidas in a salsoteca this past Saturday night. A disclaimer: Jordin has dancing skills in his blood (maybe from some distant relative many moons ago). I don’t have those innate skills – I love dancing, but it doesn’t come as naturally to me, and doesn’t look as natural either. (Sidenote – in bachata, the girl often flips her hair throughout the song in different movements, and our female bachata teacher does it INCREDIBLY! Her hair always lands perfectly and looks the same as before, if not better. My hair doesn’t work like that – the bachata is a sensual dance, but one flip of my hair and it’s all in front of my face. Not exactly that suave and sensual look for my partner). Even though I danced through most of high school and all of college, I don’t have the more formal dance training that Jordin had during his four years of ballroom dancing at Tufts. However, though I’m not a naturally gifted dancer, I absolutely LOVE dancing salsa and I have the best time doing it. As our teachers here told us, “Lo más importante es pasarlo bien” (The most important thing is to enjoy yourself/have fun!). So keep that in mind as you watch :)

Video table of contents:

  • 0:00-0:10: what our salsa/bachata classes look like “en rueda” (a circle)
  • 0:11-2:50 : Salsa en rueda (our final class on Wednesday night) – this is what a typical class looks like! The teacher calls out the steps (listen for them) and you dance them with your partner, and change partners constantly. This was our final class, so the teachers did this after both salsa and bachata ended for our última rueda – I can’t even explain how much I’m going to miss this. It’s just so much fun! Props to anyone who can find Jordin and me in here!
  • 2:51-4:22: despedidas (farewells) at a salsoteca this past Saturday night. Every night at most salsotecas, they play a special birthday song, and if it’s your birthday, you dance for the entire song with all of the people who line up to dance with you! They pass you along to the next person after 20-30 seconds of dancing. I can’t say I danced my best, but it was really fun!
  • 4:23-4:49: Jordin dancing salsa
  • 4:50-5:12: Rachael dancing salsa
  • 5:13-6:00-:Jordin dancing bachata
  • 6:01-6:33: Rachael dancing bachata
  • 6:34-6:41 Jordin and our friend Melh dancing salsa in a salsoteca
  • 6:42-7:11: salsa show in the salsoteca (we don’t know any of them personally)
  • 7:12-end: A different clip of the final rueda on Wednesday (our last class). If you listen and watch people’s movements and energies, you can tell that everyone is having a blast. Even though it was about 50º outside at the time, my body and my heart were full of energy at the end, and I didn’t need my winter coat on the way home.

Can you see the video above? If not, it’s because you’re reading this through your email and didn’t click on the link at the top of the blog (the title of the post). Videos often only work through the actual website, so please click on the title or click on this to go watch it! I promise it’s worth it!

As mentioned above, last Saturday night was our despedidas with our dance friends in a salsoteca – more than 40 people from Ritmo & Guapería came! It was a fantastic night. That was the day I had just developed my cold and wasn’t feeling the best, so I prepped by drinking coffee at 5pm (which is WAY too late for me – I usually can’t drink coffee in the afternoon at all, a concept that is completely foreign to Chileans), but I realized that I may actually be awake for the next 12 hours (which I was).

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Wednesday night was our last night of dance classes, and it was by far one of my favorite nights in Chile. We took a group photo at the end of salsa, and in between salsa and bachata, they played my absolute favorite salsa song (the link is above – La Casa Por La Ventana) and did the same thing that we did on Saturday at the salsoteca: Jordin and I danced with the center for the entire time while our partners switched around! After the bachata class, we took many more photos and hugged everyone multiple times. We also took some great (albeit blurry) photos with the dance teachers. This has truly been my favorite part of my experience in Chile – a community of incredibly warm and welcoming people who love to dance and pasarlo bien – and it’s by far one of the hardest things for me to leave. Jordin and I are planning on looking for salsotecas in Philly this summer, but we realized that we don’t know the steps in English! Spanglish would be great though.

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The best salsa and bachata teachers (they dance like professionals)

Thank you so much for reading! This is the last post I’ll send while I’m in Chile, and I will write and send the final post with reflections, regrets, aha moments, what I’ll miss and what I won’t, English-teaching tips (Jordin and I are collaborating on this one), and a full list of all of the typical Chilean food and drink we’ve had here (of course I started recording this as soon as I arrived) in the next few weeks. Until then, thank you for following along! Aly (host mom) is making a few of our favorite dishes for our final days here: our favorite (yes, we have the same favorite because #twins) is hamburguesa de betarraga – a “burger” made of shredded beets, carrots, garlic, sometimes potato, and congealed together with a bit of flour. This isn’t the least bit Chilean, as it is very vegetable-heavy, not super salty, and doesn’t contain corn, bread, or sugar, but it’s very Aly! I hope to see you in the U.S. soon! Muchísimos besos y abrazos!!

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L@s herman@s – we really feel like siblings.

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