Sunday, August 24, 2008

Night and Day

It's amazing what a difference a year makes. Last year, the ski trip was one of the worst memorable experiences of my life (to be a little dramatic about it). This year it was incredible.

For a reminder of how bad things went last year, you can click this link and reread my post:

Anyway, I knew this year's ski trip was coming up, and I wasn't sure what to do about it. My first reaction was to say I'd go. But then the more I thought about it, and the more I remembered the horrors of last year, the less I wanted to go. So I started to talk myself out of it. However, my friends convinced me to go, and being as swayable by peer influence as I am (positive peer influence, mind you), I decided to go.
And I gotta say, IT WAS AWESOME!
Let me explain the differences.
First of all, I was not slightly sick and sleep deprived, like I was last year. Secondly, I bought some dramamine-like medicine to help deal with the insanely curvy mountain road. Thirdly, I sat near the front of the bus and slept for most of the ride. Although I did wake up when we got to an icy curve that the bus couldn't pass. We all kind of gritted our teeth and pretended to smile nonchalantly as the bus backed up, closer and closer to the small guard rail protecting us from the precipice, in order to stop on dry pavement and avoid slipping. This was quite the experience. (And really, not nearly as dangerous as I'm portraying it, although it did have potential). The driver got out and put chains on the tires while the rest of us were entertained by watching cars try to race around the curve and over the ice. We cheered those who made it and laughed at those who didn't, and the whole time heard the commentaries of the 3 or 4 young, 20something guys who felt they could do it better.
We finally got up to the top, got in line to get our equipment, and headed back over to the lodge. Somehow, once again, I was one of the last ones through. And it was stressful, because people were rushing me, and I HATE being rushed when I'm in an unfamiliar situation. And skiing is one of those situations. Although, I will say, this year I decided to try snowboarding. I will never in my life ski again, but I was willing to try something else. This made all the difference in the world!
The boots are soooooo much more comfortable! They have a little structure to them, but you just tie relatively firmly two different sets of laces. So much better than the vice-like contraptions that are called ski boots!!
By the time I got everything settled, all the good snowboarders (one who used to actually be an instructor) were long gone, so I decided to take the class with one of the ninth grade girls. The problem was, we had to wait a little over an hour for our class to start (so why all the rush earlier? I don't know!). When we finally got to the class, it consisted of me, my student, and 4 Chilean girls from another school. I was the oldest person there, besides the instructor. His name was Cristian, and he did a quick survey to see what language people spoke. He discovered that I understood most of his instructions in Spanish, so very little of it was in English. For the first half of the class, he didn't know my name, so he just referred to me as "Teacher." :o) After he heard my student call me by name, he picked right up on it. Anyway, I'm glad I waited for the lesson, because I never would've figured that stuff out on my own.
He'd teach us something, and we'd try it. When he'd ask me if I wanted to try again, I'd always say yes. Many of the other girls were not very bold in their practicing. This may be why I made an impression on him. This is not a usual occurrence for me...usually I'm in the bottom of the middle of these types of groups. Anyway, my first little attempt at snowboarding resulted in a fall, and I immediately heard Cristian say, "Muy bien!"...which means "Very good!" Ha! I don't know what he saw, but it certainly didn't feel "very good"! In fact, I fell pretty much every time I tried something, but I always smiled and jumped back up again, so maybe that's why he said "very good." Who knows.
Every new thing he'd teach, I'd try (although not very successfully). He seemed to help me more and more as the other girls slowly gave up in varying degrees. I was the first one to make it down the little mini-hill that was the practice slope. Then he taught me how to take the little rope-y thing back up. I'd make small squeals and groans intermittently throughout the lesson. The word I heard most from my instructor was "Tranquila, tranquila," which means "Calm, stay calm." Easier said than done!
After an hour, class was over and he had to leave for his next class. But he stopped to say bye to me, and to say he was sorry he had to go. He said I was doing very well, and that now that I've had a base lesson, next time I should come and have a TWO hour lesson, but one-on-one...not in a class. Wow! When am I ever the one to pick up something sporty? Rarely.
Anyway, I went down the mini-slope, this time with no instructor, no one yelling tips to me. And I flew down the hill, at break neck speed (or so it seemed to me) and with almost no control. However, I didn't fall til the end! So I went back up, and talked to my student as I recooped. She had given up at this point. But she did say I "looked hot" going down the hill. I don't know how that's possible, with arms flailing and body jerking in a desperate attempt to maintain balance, and then tumbling to a snow-covered stop, but apparently I did. :o)
I tried it again, this time practicing the turns he had taught me. I was doing ok, turning a teensy bit, when I saw a skiier standing in front of me, watching me. He made no signs of moving (I figured as a beginner he didn't know how), and I didn't have enough control to turn, so I fell down on purpose and skidded to a stop. He smiled at me, and then turned as someone from his ski class asked for a tip. He was an instructor!! I stood up, changed directions, and went again. Two falls later, I was at the bottom again. I collected myself for a bit, and the ski instructor asked me where I was English. I said the States, and he asked where. At this point I noticed that he had an American accent. We ended up chatting for awhile, he asked me what I'm doing here and how long I'll stay. He told me he just graduated from Penn State and took the summer to teach skiing and be able to ski for free before having to settle down to a real job. It was very interesting to meet someone who lives so close to my home on the side of a mountain in the Andes!
It was time for lunch, and then I headed out for a little more snowboarding. This time I was by myself, and the practice slope was almost completely empty. I tried a few more times, and I think I gained a little more control, but I still didn't turn or stop very well. I think I stopped without falling just once the whole time. One time, as I tumbled down the slope, the board stuck in the snow as my body kept rolling, so that by the time I stopped, my leg was almost completely backwards! That hurt a little, and I quickly spun the other way to straighten out my leg. Another quarter turn and I probably would've torn and/or broken something. It was about then that I decided to call it quits since I was virtually alone...after one more run. :o)
The day was over and we headed home. I was a little sore, but not all that bad. My knee hurt a little bit from the twist the next day, but not too much. All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience. I don't know if I'll ever get enough practice to be a competent snowboarder, but I'd definitely try it again!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

New Experience #487-495

You know, there's just nothing like sitting alone and eating dinner in a mall food court in a foreign country where they speak a foreign language. It really is quite amazing. I should know; I just did it tonight. But let me start from the beginning.
I decided to go to the mall after school today to pick up a few random yet necessary items. Now, in the States, I would know what to do. I would know which stores would carry what I needed at prices that I wanted, and I'd know where these stores were located, for the most part. And if not, I'd be able to search helpful websites to answer these questions. But here, well, none of that is true. I know a few stores down here, but I'm not familiar with the majority of the types of stores, let alone their names, price ranges, and stock. Throw on top of all that the fact that I didn't know the Spanish words for most of what I was looking for, and I was in for a long afternoon. I needed cheap sunglasses for my upcoming ski trip, guitar strings and bongos for the school's worship team, and that yellow mushy stuff that you use to stick things to the wall...what's it called?...I can't even think of the word in English now...Sticky tack? Man, that's going to bother me.
But I digress.
I invited a couple of friends to come with me, but by the time we got to the mall, they only had a half hour to stick around. Well, we found the bongos right away. Shocking? I thought so. I decided not to get them just yet so as to not have to lug them around as I did my other shopping. Smart move number one. Soon after my friends left, and I was on my own. Now, I have been to this mall several times, but I'm not overly familiar with the layout. I know where a few stores are, but that's it. I find it to be quite a confusing layout--like a rectangular tic-tac-toe board. For these reasons, I traversed the mall, right and left, up and down, back and forth, willy nilly, retracing my tracks and generally wasting time. I should also add that, having come straight from school, I was wearing my "nice" clothes, and my shoes were definitely not engineered for aimless marathon walking. They quickly grew uncomfortable and also had next to no traction on their soles. This made walking on the highly polished fake-marble tiled floors very treacherous! Especially when descending the slight ramp to the food court. I very nearly slipped and fell!
After wandering aimlessly and being discouraged at only finding sunglasses ranging from $70-$400, I decided to head to the one solace of the afternoon. This particular mall houses a Starbucks. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I indulged. And it was heavenly.
After this recharge, I was back on my quest for reasonably priced sunglasses and that sticky stuff. Well, I found $15 dollar sunglasses that look like bug-eyes, but at least they'll protect me from the wind as I fly (or should I say tumble) down the slopes on Thursday. I may never wear them again after that, but I had already resigned myself to that eventuality. I found the sticky stuff in a store where I had previously been to search for sunglasses. Oh the joys of not knowing your way around! This whole process took me approximately 17 times longer than it would in the States.
An hour and a half and 2 purchases later, I decided to go to the food court for dinner. I know if I didn't it would be very late until I got home and I certainly wouldn't feel like cooking anything. So I headed to Pizza Hut/Taco Bell. Interesting combo, huh? I waited in line for about a year and contemplated my choices. I noticed that they sell French fries as a side for everything: pizza, tacos, burritos, what have you. So I ordered a taco and papas fritas supreme, which is basically your typical nacho toppings (cheese, beef, sour cream, tomatoes, and chives) but instead glopped over French fries. This truly was an experience I could not pass up. It wasn't all that bad, although I had to eat it with a fork since the fries had become relatively soggy. I also had the wonderful privilege of experiencing taco sauce drip down the inside of my sleeve. That was thrilling, let me tell you.
Finally I was off for my last purchase: the bongos. I knew right where to go and I headed there like I was on a mission...the first time the whole shopping trip. I walk in to the tiny store and up to the counter. They smile and ask how they can help me. I falteringly tell them I need guitar strings (of which I suddenly can't remember the word for, so I just point at them right in front of me and say "these"...I don't even read the word printed on the packaging right in front of me), and then I point to and ask for bongos. This I remembered the word for because it's "bongos" just pronounced differently. They kind of give me this odd look, and one guy gives a quick, odd grunt/chuckle...a gruckle, if you will. I could read their thoughts in their eyes, "What the heck is this gringa who can barely say what she wants in our language going to do with guitar strings and bongos??" And then their look of thinly veiled bewilderment intensifies as I choose my items--a fairly high quality set of bongos and then the cheapest guitar strings they have. I am at times an enigma in this country. :o)
I leave the mall toting my large, bright yellow bag with the long bongo box in it. I decide that my best bet is to stop by school on my way home to drop the bongos off. It would be very difficult to travel with it in the cattle herding that it my morning commute. So I take a slightly longer path home in order to pass the school. Even still I run into some human traffic and inadvertently collide my box with some heels of people crowding in too close. This doesn't last long, thankfully, and I have room to breathe. Well, I make my stop at school, which basically involves getting off the metro that would take me almost straight home, walking about 8 minutes to school, making a much needed bathroom stop (thank you, Starbucks), trading my bongos for my backpack filled to near overflowing with school papers and clean laundry (I'm doing laundry at school since we still haven't bought a washer for our apartment...and we'll never be able to fit a dryer in here as well, anyway), and making the 8 minute walk back to the metro. It may have been the longest 20 minutes of my life.
At 8 o'clock I trudge into my apartment, having for the last hour ignored my feet's announcements of their displeasure at every step. I peel off the burdens of bookbag, purse, coat, scarf, and shoes and collapse onto my bed, wishing at that moment that I had a massage therapist at my beck and call. After a few minutes I come to grips with the reality that this is, in fact, not the case. I give myself some time to regroup, then pull out Uncle Tom's Cabin to prepare for class tomorrow...not an easy book to read when you're tired! I took a break from work to write this lovely commentary, and now I will head back to work and begin writing a test.
Is it Friday yet??

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Culture Shock

It's an interesting thing that I've been here over a year and I'm going through culture shock. But I am. And I know that culture shock goes in cycles, especially after having left the country for a bit, but it's still not a pleasant experience.
I'm not really quite sure why I'm feeling this way, and it's not a type of culture shock I've felt before. It comes in brief flashes when I'm not expecting it...usually when I'm not all that occupied with something else. I'll be riding in the car and think, "Ugh, this is not what things look like in the States." Or I'll see some missionary who's been here for decades and think, "Ugh, how can they stay here for that long? Doesn't it drive them crazy?" It's the strangest thing because I absolutely love this country and the fact that I get to live here for a while. I mean, there are some practical reasons why I'm frustrated. For instance, I still haven't found a cooking/meal schedule that doesn't involve leftover pizza. ;o) What's more, every basic little thing here is a chore: grocery shopping, renting a movie, going to a restaurant, answering the phone. I can cope with most of these things, but I never know when they're going to say something to me I don't understand. It can be very difficult. And I don't know why it bothers me so much, except for maybe because I so desperately want to be fluent in Spanish.
I guess this is hitting me now because I'm out on my own. I have to do more things for myself, and that leaves my weakness wide open and exposed. Plus, I guess the honeymoon is over. My first year is done, and this year is very different.
I don't know. I'm just talking through my thoughts on this blog. I am 100% certain this is where God wants me for now, and I'm thrilled about it. But being here isn't all sunshine and carefree days, and I guess I feel like I should share those sides of life with you too. So, if you could pray for me, I would love that. It does help knowing it's culture shock, which means it's a phase and should pass. But in the meantime, I'll be praying about it...
Ok, I should finish getting ready for school. I need to leave in 5 minutes! :o)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Simple Discoveries and Strange Experiences

Well, the first week of school is over, and it's going to be a very different year from last year. There are less than two thirds of the amount of students we had last year, and most of the loud ones are gone. So it's much more tranquil than we're used to...and kids don't hang out in the halls as much and are consequently on time for class! I'm not used to such luxuries!
It's going to be a busy year for me. I'm doing the reading class this year, which I've decided is going to be a lot of fun. Mostly because I get to read the books with them, but they have to do all the work! I just sit there and make sure they did their roles well and guide the class as needed. I love it! It's a refreshing change from the typical class. My other classes (English) will be much the same as last year. I also gave up being in charge of yearbook and took on the chapel ministry (which is basically a worship team). I'm co-sponsoring the junior class this semester to help them raise funds for the banquet next semester. I'm helping lead the high school choir (a new addition) to prepare for the Christmas program they'll be taking part in. I'm helping record the accompaniment music for the elementary's half of the Christmas program. Sound busy? I think so. But I also added a non-school related ministry. A couple of the elementary teachers run a ESL class (English as a Second Language) and have been asking me to help out. This semester I said yes. So we teach two one-hour classes every Wednesday. I've only had one week, and I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. I may not be cut out to be that kind of teacher. Ironic, I know, since I teach English at school! :o)

Life in my apartment is going well. I really like my roommates, and we seem to get along well. We speak in Spanish about 80% of the time, so I've been learning a lot. Although, since they both know English, we can switch back and forth if we have to. This is very helpful in the morning when my brain is a little too sluggish to think in Spanish! :o)
We just got our fridge and stove hooked up on Tuesday, and I haven't had time to do grocery shopping since then, so meals have been an interesting experience. Hopefully I can figure out some kind of routine soon, because I want to get back to eating normal food and not prepared-by-a-culinary-challenged-bachelor type meals!

After all that, I'll finally get to the items that inspired the title of this post.
You know, I've been here a year, and I'm still finding things out for the first time. For instance, last week I made a very simple discovery that made me soooo happy. In the whole time I've been here, I have not known that the Subway sandwich place exists in Chile. But last Saturday I found out it does. And not only that, but there's one a block and a half from my apartment! I don't know why that thrilled me so much, but I was definitely entertaining my roommates with my exuberance over sandwiches!!

I've also experienced another first, and this happened just this morning. It was a very strange experience. I was on the metro heading to church, and I started to hear some strangely familiar words coming from a guy about 5 feet away. I realized he was speaking in English (although with a pretty thick accent), but I quickly understood that he was emphatically spouting some of the worst swear words and other crude comments that the English language has to offer. It was plainly obvious to me that he was saying all this for my benefit although he was talking to his friends. Since it was incredibly offensive stuff he was saying, I put on my best poker face, never looked over in that direction, and pretended that I don't understand English. It seemed to work. After a couple of minutes I noticed that one of the guys was slowly backing up to be closer to me. He stood parallel to me, but not overly close and he never made any kind of contact. I had a sneaking suspicion what was going on, and sure enough, when I quickly yet nonchalantly looked over at them, they had a camera out. They took his picture with me!! Not that it's going to be a good picture, because I tried to look as far away as possible and still look natural. I think they took several pictures though. This was definitely a first! It was the weirdest thing, like I'm some sort of celebrity or freak show...not quite sure which!! :o)

I just never know what to expect when I'm down here. Some days are hum-drum, and others are anything but! Plenty of other things have happened already, including Children's Day at church, countless visitors at our apartment, an unwittingly illegal bonfire, a weekend retreat with the students, being tackled by some of the girls during a game, experiments resulting in small burns from a finicky shower, growing frustrations at my limitations in a Spanish speaking country, and many other things...but I've written a lot already, so I'll save some for another time.
Until then...