To read the first part of this, please see When I was four.
So, I had arrived in Chile. As we moved through customs and got our bags, each of us new exchange students pushed our way through the big glass doors of the Santiago airport, wondering what our future would bring. Mine brought a rolly-poley host father and a white pick-up truck. He held a sign with my name on it; it was the first of several times in my life that I would find myself in a new country, search the crowds for my name, my ride “home”. The airport parking lot had a huge Cristal beer sign which was the first thing one saw upon leaving the airport. I remember wondering what Cristal was. On the way home, we stopped at Bavaria, a typical restaurant. I had a hamburger with avocado (ah, my avocado obsession begins) and a fresh raspberry juice.
I lived with this first family a short time, before moving to a second family. It is the second family who I consider home. But I am getting ahead of myself.
It was the first family and the first school where I really struggled with my language. I clearly remember dreaming that everyone around me was speaking Spanish and that I was´t understanding. Then I remember dreaming that everyone was speaking Spanish and I was understanding; sadly, I don´t believe that the people in either of the dreams was actually speaking Spanish. Years later this skill would be useful as my roommates (again in Chile) tried to speak in Portuguese when they didn´t want me to know what was going on. It felt just like those first few months where I would focus on just getting the gist. To their surprise (and dismay)- I started to understand them very quickly! The biggest trick to my language acquisition was the fact that I don´t stop talking and don´t really care if I get it right, as long as I am understood. To this day I am that way.
Hmm… I am supposed to be giving first impressions here, so let me just name off the last few I could think of.
- It was in Chile that I learned to love mayonnaise. There is an entire isle in the supermarket. You can get flavored mayo here, my favorites are garlic or spicy. Also, it can go on just about anything, including fries and hot dogs.
- I was sick of lemon juice within the first month i was here. It is used with oil and salt as salad dressing. By the time I left, I missed it.
- I had an orange tree outside my window and my host grandmother had a fruit farm where she sold her goods to Dole. The fruits in the states that come from Chile are so much more amazing here, fresh.
- I thought I wouldn´t like uniforms, and I was right– i hated mine. It was a wool, pleated, red plaid skirt with white button down shirt and matching tie. Also, blue knee socks and black shoes. I almost never managed to get the whole ensemble right and the woman who checked everyone´s uniforms as they entered was less endeared by my lack of Spanish at the end of the year then she was at the beginning. Of course, everyone else knew I spoke Spanish well, but if you asked her, couldn´t but three words together. That said, not speaking the language kept me from being sent home daily to change. As is, I only got sent home three times.
- It as also this first year in Chile that I learned that I was not made to stay up all night. Like most of Latin America, parties here start late and end late. My friends would go to a club at 11pm and come home at 6am. By 4 I was dead. Since we didn´t have cars and taxis were too expensive, we had to either stay out that late and wait for the buses to start or have a parent pick us up early. Neither was a great option for me. Therefore, I learned that I could actually manage to fall asleep in the middle of a club. I would simply hand my wallet to a friend and have them check in on me. Since I wasn´t passed out drunk, I would wake up if people touched me or messed with me. Not saying it was the greatest idea in the world, but it worked and I learned that can sleep just fine regardless of the noise!