Archive for March, 2007

h1

Who Knew Hell Was So Close to the Andes Moutains?

March 30, 2007

I tried not to, but I’ve hated Santiago from the moment I got off the airport shuttle. My housing accommodations are horrible. When the driver dropped me off at some sort of boarding house that was older and creakier than the joints of Moses I was sure that he had made some sort of mistake. My room faces a busy street and the noise from the street is so loud I have to play my ipod and plug my ears with cotton around my earbuds just to get to sleep. Please keep in mind that I lived next to Howard Hospital for three years and had no problem falling asleep to the sounds of sirens (and a few gunshots) all night. The windows are so old that you could put your hand through the space where the window and the window frame are supposed to meet. So what does that mean when you are in the middle of the Andes Mountains and the city is on the cusp of winter (the seasons are opposite the Northern Hemisphere)? It means you freeze your ass off.

O and did I mention the fact that I was sharing one tiny, disgusting bathroom with 8 strangers, none of whom go to my school. The shower (if you could really call it that, more like a hole in the wall where water ran from and a drain in the floor) is so shallow that I had to lean out of the shower and hold on to sink in order to rinse off my back. The bathroom/shower situation is so shady that some days I just take what I call a travellers bath (a series of actions with baby wipes, face astringent, hand sanitizer, and a bottle of water). It’s amplified by the fact that everyone in the house adheres to the South American toilet paper rules. What are those? Well in South America they don’t flush toilet paper down the drain (probably clogs up the ancient or inefficient plumbing systems), so after wiping yourself one throws it in a small trash can next to the toilet. I have discovered that where you throw your toilet paper is an engrained cultural thing. The Americans and Europeans at school have had many a discussion on our dilemma when we are faced with signs that clearly say “Please do not put toilet paper in the toilet. Please use the bin”. You just don’t feel right putting soiled paper in a trash can and not flushing it away out of sight. So usually we just don’t. It’s probably wrong, but it’s just one of those things about yourself that is extremely hard to change, even times where I have intended to comply, I always forget at the last moment and the paper ends up in the toilet anyway. Culturally engrained.

Anyhow, so I don’t need to say more about the state of the bathroom with roommates who actually follow the SA toilet paper rule. My housemates are a mix of German exchange students from the local university here, and local Chileans. I hardly ever see the two Chilean guys that live here, and let me just say that Germans are not the nicest people on face of the planet…………but that’s a whole other post in itself.

………….at least there is a computer here.

h1

Santiago:: Is it love that I´m feeling?? Umm, no thats just gas…

March 28, 2007

So I´ve been in Santiago for a few days now and I must admit that when I first arrived here I was disappointed, sad, disgusted, and ready to bring my tail back to the states. It was difficult to leave Buenos Aires, a city that I am so in love with so much personality and come here to Santiago where the city lacks a little….. je ne sais que…. Basically in a nutshell, Santiago kind of sucks. I have searched high and low and I have yet to find the charm in this city. The people are wonderful……but I seem to find the people everywhere to be wonderful.

Though this is a city of 5 million or more people it lacks that bustling big city feel that I was expecting. Instead it always feels like you are in a dirty run down suburb of a big city. I am counting the days until I leave.

h1

A doctor in the works??

March 15, 2007

………2 years of frustration, trying to decide if was worth it……1 application to 1 school….. 1 interview……. Ladies and Gentlemen, I have officially been accepted medical school and will begin in July ….. barring that some huge error has not been made.

……I now believe in Santa Claus again. And the Easter Bunny.

h1

Spanish and Shoes

March 4, 2007

So a week into the program and ummm yup, I still don´t know Spanish. I know more than I did last week, I suppose that’s progress. Truthfully, I was worried about whether or not this Spanish immersion program that I found over internet even existed. I did as much research as possible over the web and saw where people had blogged about their experiences doing the program during their gap year and so forth, but at a certain point you pay your money and just set out on hope that it actually exist. I was incredibly relieved at the airport when there was actually someone to pick me up.  I am in class everyday from 2-6pm. Those four hours Monday-Friday are very humbling as I fumble and attempt to speak Spanish. “No entiendo” are my two new favorite words. I was expecting to be volunteering in hospitals for half a day each day but when I got here I was disappointed to learn that you need to be at a certain level in the school before they will let you go work in the community and I won´t be eligible for that until my 5th week. Unfortunately, at which time I will be in Santiago, Chile and they don´t have hospital volunteer opportunities at the Chile school. I was disappointed when I found that out but after hanging out in the city trying to get things done for a week, I suppose it makes sense that a person needs to be at a certain speaking level before assisting the public.

I live in an apartment with two other young men from the program. One is an 18 year old English “chap” doing a gap year and the other is a 25 year old Polish guy traveling around for 10 months. We make quite an interesting international house. The young Englishman is so proper and gentleman like, while the Polish roommate is a stereotypical huge hairy Eastern European man who walks around the house half naked all the time muttering Kuerva (which apparently means fuck in Polish). We all get along well and its kinda nice living with boys ….. though the weird smells emanating from their rooms and the fact that toilet paper is scarce and used for absolutely everything (ok, see fellas there is toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins…they all serve a separate purpose) reminds me everyday that yes I am indeed the only female around.

My only complaint is that my flat is about 3 miles away from school so it’s quite a bit of walking everyday and I left my sneakers in Trinidad because they got ruined from playing Jouvert (lots of throwing paint and mud). I knew I would need to get some new ones but I figured I could take my time. Well after my feet started bleeding from wearing sandals that weren´t properly broken in on the first day of classes I stopped at a store to buy tennis shoes and ended up buying some adiddas that were the wrong size. Yes I tried them on, but I was tired, frustrated, didn´t really understand what the saleswoman was saying and I just needed some freakin shoes. I thought they felt a little snug when I tried them on, but they were the right size(in number and in theory) so I just took them. Then I had the nerve to wear them out of the store……. so by the time I realized they were tootoo small (about 2 blocks later) they had already been walked in so I can´t return them. 300 pesos down the drain, fucking great. Completely my fault, and at the end of the day it´s just one of those things ya gotta charge it to the game of wandering around the world.

So now large hematomas have developed on the balls of both of my feet (from walking in those stiff sandals for only 2 miles) and the only shoes I have that I can stand to walk in everyday are my Nike flip flops …. but this won’t last long. The weather is changing as their winter is approaching and flip flops have proven not to bode well in rain. Always in travel, the most important part is your bags and your shoes and if it isn’t one giving you trouble its another. I´ll try again next week.

h1

Buenos Aires:: Love at first Sight

March 1, 2007

I knew I loved Buenos Aires at the airport. After dealing with the drama of the Caracas airport I decided that you can tell a lot about a country from how they treat you at the airport. I followed the directions that the school gave me and the car service was waiting for me just like it was supposed to and even though they didn´t speak English everyone was extremely friendly, cheery, and very polite. One of the things I´ve noticed about the people of BA is that even after it’s understood that you don´t speak Spanish, and they don’t speak English this does not deter them at all from trying to have rather in depth conversations with you. Usually in other countries if there is a language barrier then communication is kept to a minimum. Not here. The people of BA will continue to cheerily have a conversation with you even if you have no clue what the hell they are saying. I like it, its pretty funny actually and I´m sure it will help with my Spanish.

Driving into Buenos Aires from the airport it looks like any city in America. All the lush greenery reminds me of driving on the highways in the South actually. So you are driving along and everything is green, fresh, and pleasant, and then the closer into the city you get you are alarmed by what looks like skyscraper project housing tenements. My heart sank at the sight of row after row of these old decrepit looking buildings. I stopped counting somewhere around 60. Think Good Times or driving along the highways in Chicago in the 80s before they started tearing all the projects down. Where is my quaint charming South American city? Did I mess up and pick a city similar to Naples (the crapiest hellhole I ever spent good money to get to)? At this point I´m thinking Paris of South America? — what a crock! Only if you count the hood part that me and my traveling partner dubbed “Little Africa” near the Sacre Coeur Basillica because Paris seems real white until you get off at this stop and suddenly you are thrust into the midst of hair weave shops and KFC and ahoy Black folks!  All the white toursist who got off the subway with us were suddenly so confused and a bit frightened. For us it was mancha because we could restock on hair care products. Sadly it´s a situation worldwide that where Blacks are the living conditions are pretty awful. I know why the Black youth of Paris were setting the city on fire two weeks later…. where was I? Rather telling that Blacks are concentrated in ghettos all over the world…..I digress.

… As we turned into the city and I was dropped off at my hostel, suddenly the view improved, and it did look Parishish I would say.

Previous to arriving here I´ve read that Buenos Aires is the kind of place that you fall in love with little by little. For me it was love at first sight despite that there are many places that look as if they are crumbling to the ground…. a lot of those same places exist in any old European city as well.   BA is not the kind of place that is beautiful from above, you have to walk the streets the appreciate the beauty.  That first night after I finally got some sleep I was walking around looking for somewhere to get something to eat and my heart skipped a beat. That’s how I knew it was love. I can´t even really explain why. This city has a European flavor, but with less of the snotty attitude and everyone is brown (kinda) which makes me feel more comfortable because I stick out just a teeny tiny bit less.  It´s a city that everyone seems to fall in love with, yet noone seems sure why. It´s a major metropolitan city with millions of people squashed ontop of one another so you have typical big city problems, trash, noisy, there are a lot of things that are old and falling apart, the constant sound of bus breaks squealing and taxis honking, yet there is a certain charm about this place that grabs ahold of your heart and holds on for dear life. They might have to kick me out of the city kicking and screaming.

I attend Spanish classes with a program called ECELA in the Recoleta district and I live in Palermo. If Buenos Aires can be compared to Paris then they must be referring to about 6 square blocks in Recoleta where the architecture reminds you of Paris. Recoleta is the she-she-fa-fa part of town with all the high end European designer stores in it. The rest of the city looks more like the different boroughs of New York. Palermo is the largest barrio (neighborhood) of BA and from what I have seen so far it seems to vary in style from old and crumbling to very modern Sohoish. Buenos Aires seems to be obsessed with contemporary/modern design. I live in what from the outside looks like a very decrepit tenement building surrounded by quaint modern townhouses and smaller apartment buildings. The outside of my building is quite deceiving seeing how the inside is pretty luxurious from a traveling student standpoint.  We have cable, broadband (yet no computer), and a washer and dryer. I was worried about my living conditions but I am more than content.