Friday, December 10, 2010

Por Favor, Espere

Latin America is known for having long lines, and it is very true.  I noticed I had to wait longer for everything when I was in Ciudad de México years ago, and I really notice it here in Chile.  It really makes you realize that patience is a virture.

I have to call work every night to find out if any of my classes have canceled.  (I think this is a really stupid system, but I find that procedures that could be relatively simple are made to be as complex as possible in this country.)  When I call, there is this big shpeel (in both Spanish and English) about if you know your party's extension you can dial it.  Then, if you don't know your party's extension, you are asked to please wait (por favor, espere) and you will be connected to the operator (the night secretary that tells you which of your classes you actually get to teach tomorrow).  Everytime I hear the recording tell me "por favor, espere" I wonder how much of my time here is spent waiting.

I wait for buses and metros occasionally.  They come fairly regularly, but those moments of waiting surely add up.  I was really glad that the metro strike didn't effect me much, and I didn't have to wait longer or ride in a more crowded metro to get out to Manquehue in the mornings. 

Planning a trip to the grocery store must be strategic at times if I don't want to wait in the check out line for a half an hour.  Going to the grocery store at the wrong time is (generally) when everybody is on their way home from work and trying to buy things for dinner.  Sometimes you can't guess that the lines will be long, and you just get stuck.  This happens to me occasionally.  I feel like it is Latin America's way of telling my gringa ass to suck it; there is no way around the esperando (waiting).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Putzy Cat: Update

I thought about starting off my showing you a picture of my foot, but after the reaction I got from showing someone, I thought maybe I should just keep it to myself and let your imaginations soar. 

Clearly, I am not a putzy cat.  And my feet clearly reflect this.  Since originally writing about Putzy Cat, my feet have acquired very large blisters on top of blisters under callouses.  There has been two levels of excitement with these blisters:

First, the popping of the blisters.  The first one just oozed.  It was so disgustingly intriguing.  The second one was a squirter.  I think I let out a bit of a yell when I poked the hole and it started squirting- it was a bit of a suprise.  After yelling, I laughed.  A lot.  A blister squirting liquid across the bathroom is kind of hilarious.  The last one was a bubbler.  I couldn't help but stare and watch.  This whole process was amazing.  Feeling the relief of the blisters being popped was beyond words.  I was having serious issues walking for any length (and putting shoes and socks on) before popping the blisters. 

Since the blisters have dried up and started to callous, I have started to cut off the dead skin, which is kind of awesome, both literally and metaphorically.  It is literally awesome because I don't walk around feeling dead skin re-arranging itself on the bottom of my foot anymore.  It is metaphoraclly awesome because it is like I am peeling away a layer of myself that is gross and ready to go away.  Something rather disgusting and alarming has been left in place of the dead skin, but someday (when I don't have to walk 8+ kilometers everyday) something beautiful will be left in its place (hopefully).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"The Wrong Sort"

I was sitting here listening to my new favorite (Hanukkah) song.  No, I am not Jewish, but I have had a slight obsession with them since Evil Bear Buddies (one of the most ridiculous professors ever) deemed them "the wrong sort".  I have always found Judaism interesting, but EBB calling them the "wrong sort" made the even more interesting.  So I was listening to this song about and by the "wrong sort" and started thinking about how we think about who the "wrong sort" are, how we treat them, and how we talk about them.

First, I want to explain what I mean by "the wrong sort".  I by no means think any group of people are "the wrong sort" except perhaps those that hurt others or something.  And even then, I don't think they are necessarily inherently a "wrong sort", but they could just be misguided individuals and are crying out for something.   And it is no reason to create preconceived notions about certain groups of people.

Back to who "the wrong sort" are.  I took a class called Topics in Identity and Culture: The Racial Dimension of America or something like that.  What I learned was, unless you are an Anglo Christian American, you are the "wrong sort".  Take for example myself.  I am Irish Catholic.  I am the really wrong sort.  Let's start with the Irish part: I (supposedly) drink entirely too much whiskey, go to work drunk, get drunk after work, and after spending all of my money on drinking (instead of feeding my family), I go home and beat my wife.  And since I am so busy drinking whiskey and getting drunk, I don't have time for civic participation.  Then comes the Catholic part: My allegiance to the Pope calls into question  my allegiance to America.  It creates unstable democracies. 

There really isn't a "wrong sort" literally speaking.  Instead, it was a term the professor used to describe the mindset of the American people at certain points in history.  (Although, it is fun to think about how wrong of a sort I am.) 

So now that you (kind of) understand where my thoughts are coming from... I have noticed some conceptions of "wrong sorts" since I have arrived here in Santiago.

One of my students is rather vocal about who he deems as "the wrong sort" in class, and frankly, it makes me more and more uncomfortable with every class.  He makes a lot of comments about certain people or things being "gay", and it is pretty clear he thinks they are not worthy of being equal to other "right sort" people.  This is really uncomfortable considering how many of my friends are gay.  Also, I am essentially told that I should make the student happy by most any means, so I feel like I can't say anything to harsh when he makes those comments.  I think this reflects a larger perception in Santiago of intolerance toward gay people- they are the "wrong sort".

Indeginous people are almost always the "wrong sort", and it is no different here in Chile.  The Mapuche are the largest indiginous group here in Chile, concentrated in the South.  (There are also Mapuche located in Argentina, and one of my favorite songs is sung by an Argentinian Mapuche woman.  You can listen to it on YouTube here.  There is also a photo montage, so that always makes it worth the watch.)  You can read about the Mapuche in this Wikipedia article  or this independent study in athropolgy.  As with many indigenous groups, the Mapuche have suffered injustices, and they are still fighting for recognition of rights and equality.  Currently, there are land disputes caused my Mapuche calling for stronger control over ancestral land claims.  This article briefly explains the recent campain to regain ancestral lands, and how some of their tactics have lead Mapuche people to be imprisoned as terrorists. 

At times, I feel like being gringa is one of two extremes: either I am the "wrong sort" or I am fascinating and exotic.  I get looks and comments occasionally, especially when I don't know the exact word I want to use in Spanish.  I hate feeling like the "wrong sort"- I have enough Irish and Catholic guilt, I don't need gringa guilt on top of it.  (The being fascinating and exotic part is kind can be saved for another time.)

Really, I just hope that some day we can stop thinking of people as being the "wrong sort" and all just get along.  Not in the "Everybody Is Finally Anglo American and Christian and Speaks English" sort of way, but in the "We Are All Different And We Can Peacefully Co-Exist Despite our Ethnic Differences" sort of way.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Gringa Can't Shine on $6.55

Now, I make more than $6.55 (I think), but it still ain't enough to shine on.  Since I don't really make that much money, my time here can be best described as "ballin' on a budget".  Although, it is kind of hard to be "ballin' on a budget" when there is essentially no budget to be had- the last check I got was the first one that covered rent, bills, and had some left over.  They even took a photocopy of my passport at the bank because I was cashing such a huge check!  Holla! 

I was never under the assumption that I would be rolling in dough, but I was under the assumption that I would make enough money to live.  (I was under this assumption because I asked about it in the interview, not because I thought any company would be so generous as to make sure we were living comfortably.)  What I failed to realize was how long it would take to be able to live comfortably, and even then, not really because you are too worried about all the savings you had to spend the months before while you were waiting for a paycheck that actually covered your rent. 

At the end of November, I was poorer than I ever have been before.  I had to count out my last bits of change to find enough money to buy some toilet paper, and that was the only thing I could buy until I got paid.  It also does not help that we only get paid once a month, at the end of the month.  It is kind of annoying, but I guess that is how they roll here.

This possibly sounds like I am just really irresponsible with money, but that is not the case.  Shortly after completing my training, I heard that business was slow, and there weren't a lot of classes coming in.  To make it worse, the week of September 18th came in the first month I was hear, and all of my classes were cancelled (meaning I don't get paid for them).  My first check had to be subsidized because I didn't make the minimum guarantee laid out in the contract.  This did not even cover my rent.  October came around, and I didn't have any cancellations and only one holiday.  My October check covered my rent and bills.  This is around the time when I decided to swear off public transportation.  It wasn't fitting into the budget.  Finally, November came around and I actually kind of felt like I was working and had a good number of classes, and when my balance finally came in, I had enough for rent, bills, and more!  Having to get through November was tough though.  My goal for November was to cut way back on eating (and therefore, groceries), and I succeeded fairly well, all things considered.  (Although, considering October's goal was to star walking everywhere, I do require some level of sustenance in order to not pass out while walking around this city.) 

So now it is December, and I finally have a little extra money from my check.  I have figured out rent, bills, and groceries, and I think there might be a little left over after these necessities are bought.  I might consider a new pair of shoes since mine have holes in them.  I should also probably buy new clothes at some point since mine are getting holes in them and super faded where my backpack rubs for hours a day.  I have also splurged on some fancy grocery items, like shredded cheese (I want to make a pizza).  I don't think I am going to start taking public transportation again on a regular basis any time soon though.  It does save quite a bit of money, and it kind of works out since my schedule is really random and I don't get time to run.

Besides not having nice clothes, being able to buy whatever I want at the grocery store, and do go out and do social things with friends, being poor was (and is) also very time consuming.  I had to plan every peso I spent, and when the pesos were running low, I had to think hard about what to buy.  Do I buy the loaf of bread or do I buy toilet paper?  And walking everywhere obviously becomes time consuming.  It only takes about an hour to walk to my furthest class (although, I just got a new class, which might take longer to get to), but when adding all that time, it gets to be a lot.  I spend more time walking to and from that class than I do teaching that class. 

I hope that being poor now brings good karma to me in the future.  I don't need to be rich by any means, but it would be nice to make enough money to live comfortably and do fun things sometimes.