Wednesday, February 5, 2014

January 3-13

Ok so now starts 10 days that I spent building houses in the south of Chile, and since we basically did the same thing every day, I’m just going to write one big post.
We all arrived in the bus around 8 in the morning in Valdivia, and after waiting there for about 5 hours and only getting to walk around the city a little while, they split us off into the different places we would be staying.
I ended up in the town of Lago Ranco (about 2 hours from Valdivia) with Katie, Rosario, and Mery.
We took a bus over and then basically spent the rest of the day settling into the boarding school we were staying at—all the girls stayed in one huge room with bunk beds and shared one bathroom with cold showers. We talked to a bunch of people and I felt really included. Everyone had come alone or with only a few friends, so they were all eager to make new friends and even make the effort to talk to me and understand my Spanish. The next day in the morning was the first real work day. They split us up into cuadrillas of 10-12 people and sent each cuadrilla to a different house. We were 8 cuadrillas in total and each was to build 2 houses, so our school would build a total of 16 houses in 10 days.
Daily Schedule:
7- wake up
7:30- breakfast of 2 pieces of bread
8- leave in bus for building site
11- snack of bread
1- tia makes us lunch and we eat all together with her (soup, spaghetti, or rice)
4- more bread
8:30- bus comes to pick us up
9- cold shower
9:30- dinner
10:30- activity with everyone to teach or reinforce something about the incredible poverty that these people live with (ex: they gave us paper money and a list of grocery store prices and we had to plan a week long meal plan for a family of 5 with very little money)
12:30- lights out
First House:
When we got to the first tia’s house, I got really excited because the land around her house in the country looked completely flat and easy to level out. Then, she took us around the other side of her house where there was a giant slope, and told us this was where she wanted her house. We couldn’t exactly argue, so we ended up spending almost two full days digging out a meter and a half of dirt to level out that giant slope. We learned later that the tia, an old woman living alone in the country with her 40 year old son, had petitioned the house because her son would come home at night sometimes drunk and beat her up and then throw her out of the house and into the cold and because she lived so far out in the country she had nowhere to go. That’s why she wanted the house on the slope so it would be harder for her son to reach her. Although she literally had nothing (tiny kitchen and 2 bedrooms, showered outside with a hose, and used an outhouse with no plumbing), she killed one of her sheep for us and served us lamb stew everyday because it was the best she could do.
She was quiet and a little shy, but she was truly a sweet lady. When we showed her the finished house 4 days later, she started crying and hugged us all and told us how thankful she was.

Second House:
We got to the second house early in the morning on day 5, and realized immediately that it wouldn’t work out. The tia lived with her grandmother, and the piece of land outside her grandma’s house where she wanted to build was way too small. She had to go to Techo headquarters to sort out the problem while we all just chilled at her grandma’s house, talked, and wasted time. When she got back, we all traveled in pickup truck to a new location about 10 minutes away where there was plenty of space to build. She had decided to build her house outside her mom’s house, but we soon discovered that this was a slightly uncomfortable situation because she and her mom didn’t have a particularly good relationship. It because obvious the next day when we got to the house to start work and it was pouring rain. We continued working in the rain digging holes from 9 until 1. I thought we were working because we really needed to advance, but apparently it was because the tia wasn’t at her mom’s house and the mom, who didn’t want anything to do with us or this project, refused to let us inside.
We asked her to cook us the spaghetti packs we had brought with us, and she refused, saying that we would have to wait until her daughter arrived to cook for us. Over the next few days, everyone felt pretty uncomfortable going into the house to use the bathroom or eat lunch (they kept all the doors to other rooms closed and left us completely alone to eat), but I still tried to make an effort to talk to them. Whenever I went to the bathroom, I would have a little conversation with them for a few minutes, telling them about how much I love Chile or about life in the US. I think my effort paid off because the last day when we cut the ribbon on the finished house and said goodbye to the tia, she passed me a piece of paper with her phone number on it and said that if I ever wanted to come back to Chile I could stay with her. It was a little awkward because she didn’t say anything to anyone else, but it was still a really sweet gesture. Another creepy thing that happened in that second house was that on the second day we were there when it was raining so much, I went up the tiny 3 step staircase to the house to ask for a jug of water, and I saw a dog sleeping under the staircase. I commented to the tia that it was adorable that the dog was taking cover from the rain under the staircase, and she promptly told me that the dog had died this morning. I found it incredibly weird that they left the dead dog under their front stairs the entire day. The next day we were there after lunch when we heard a screaming noise. We found another dog (there were a bunch of animals including sheep, chickens, dogs, cows, and a horse running around their land) caught by the neck in a fence of barbed wire. Two guys ran to free his neck and started screaming for people to find scissors. I stood there watching the dog choke and start breathing slower and slower and then finally someone came with scissors and they cut him free and saved his life. The fourth day we got there in the morning and I went right over to the dog house where 3 tiny little puppies lived. Two of the puppies were outside playing, and the third was lying dead inside the dog house. It was just a pretty terrible and crazy coincidence that three dogs died or almost died in the four days we were working there.

This trip was a really fantastic experience for me not only because I didn’t speak a word of English the whole 10 days and my Spanish improved a ton. I met a ton of super amazing people from all over Chile and was sort of re-reminded that Chileans are super sweet and friendly with foreigners. Everyone wanted to talk to me and hear my story and I was also really outgoing and tried to make friends with everyone. I know it wasn’t a competition and I am trying as hard as I can not to compare myself to other exchange students and just live my exchange the best way I can, but a lot of the people I met there told me they were surprised by how much friendlier I was than Katie. All the same, I did feel frustrated a lot of the time when working with my cuadrilla. It was a little frustrating that some people would be working all the time and others would stop to take 20 minute breaks every 5 minutes. They were all super sweet with me, but sometimes there would be problems to solve or instructions to give and they would just spit them out really fast and then get frustrated with me when I didn’t understand them the first time they said it. Once, someone told me to do something and when I asked them to repeat what they said they just sighed loudly, got up, walked over to me, and did it themselves. I got really pissed off and when they tried to do the same thing I yelled at them to stop walking and explain to me what to do. A little while later they came up and apologized to me, but it still hurt a lot. Also, I felt frustrated that I can never really be a part of those secret conversations with double entendre and stuff that really form strong friendship. The girls in the group would sit down during break and talk about boys and things that they all know about but I don’t because I’m not Chilean and I just felt like the difference between me and them was really obvious. I feel like I’m an expert at making acquaintances, but making real close friends is a lot harder. At the same time, I know things can’t be perfect and I really can’t complain because my cuadrilla included me so much and we had lots of great moments laughing together (like when Nico and I had a fight, him using only bad words in English and me using only garabatos in Spanish) and I love them a lot. Also, I met so many amazing people on that trip. Even if it meant waking up early and getting eaten alive by fleas and sunburned until my ears scab over again, I would love to go back and spend more time with them. Techo Para Chile Trabajos del Verano were a giant success.

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