Monthly Archives: August 2011

Seeing Stars


I suppose people who live near Hollywood must see stars every so often, doing everyday things, living their lives. I am not talking about the paparazzi who stalk them. Or the stalkers who photograph them. But rather, everyday people, people on the jobs, people not looking running into really cool people.

In some ways, Chile makes me feel like I am one of those everyday people. Santiago is big. But it is also small enough to see the stars from the teleserias out at a restaurant or parking their cars.

On this trip, the news media has also made me feel this way. Revista Ya this week has Denisse Van Lamoen, who is the 2011 World Champion in Archery, on the cover. She is Chilean. She also happens to be an old classmate from when I was an exchange student in Rancagua. In fact, she was very close friends with my host sister. In college, when I returned to Chile, I spent a year hanging out with her younger brother. He even came to the very first Thanksgiving that I cooked without my Mom’s help. It was amazing to see her on the cover– she looks beautiful in the photo shoots. But, the best part, for me, is that she still looks like the girl I knew. Only, famous.

Denisse isn’t the only person I know who has been in the newspapers while I have been here.  A bunch of my Chile blogger buddies (all gringas) were featured in La Tercera. Kyle (in the photo), Emily, Eileen, AndreaAbby and Margaret were all quoted.  Of them, I know in person Kyle, Emily and Abby (I think I have met Abby, but now that it is in writing perhaps she is just a virtual friend).  And I definitely also read Eileen and Margaret.   Now that I have been notified of Andrea’s blog, I will have to check it out (Thank you La Tercera).

Human trafficking state side


Inevitably when I tell people that I have worked in counter-human trafficking, I get sighs. “That must be so hard to see,” they say.  “Where have your worked?” they ask. “Moldova”, I answer.  “Where is that?” they reply. “Cambodia,” I answer. “How exotic!” they reply. “Chile,” I tell them. “Do you speak Spanish?” they reply. “St. Louis,” I continue. They don’t reply.  They look at me as if I have just spoken in Khmer.  They cock their heads to the side and wonder what I could possibly mean.  Finally, the respond: “You mean in the US?”

Yes, human trafficking is not just a problem seen on HBO specials and Law and Order episodes. It does not just happen overseas and some of the victims are white. In fact, some of the victims are American citizens. In the case of those I worked with, the victims were men (yes, men) from Latin America who had been illegally trafficked to the US and ended up receiving victim services in St. Louis.

The Polaris Project recently put out a report that rates states and  tracks the presence or absence of 10 categories of state statutes that Polaris Project believes are critical to a comprehensive anti-trafficking legal framework. Below is the map that will show you where your state (assuming you are from the US) falls in the ranking.  If you want more information, please check out the full Polaris Project Report.

I should be embarrased… but I don’t understand


Margaret wrote a great piece called “Dumb Stuff the Gringa Says” in which she catalogs some of her most embarrassing (or funny) linguistic faux pax. She then invites her readers, and she has quite a few, to comment with their most embarrassing (or funny) linguistic moments in a second language. I thought it was a great idea– in fact, I think it should be a group post and will link to anyone who writes their own and tells me about it (Emily, Kyle, Joanna, Sara, Abby, Tyffanie, Heather, Andre, and anyone else who has a story, I am talking to you!).

Before I relate my favorite story, however, I want to emphases something that Margaret eloquently said.  A sense of humor is a must when working, living or speaking in a foreign language.  No matter how good your scores in school were, once you are speaking 24/7, you will make mistakes some of them real errors and some of them caused by double meanings (often sexual at least in Spanish) and cultural jokes. You can get upset and stop talking or you can learn to laugh at yourself.  In fact, I have found that telling stories of my own mistakes 1) makes me more endearing and 2) quietly gives permission for others to try out English and make their own mistakes with me.

My best “opps! I said what” story is from high school.  I was 16 and the other exchange student in my class was 18.  We are young American girls living in Rancagua and we thought we were invincible.  We also, correctly, thought that Chile was sexist.

We had decided to go to the Underground, a discotech that we frequented on weekends.  Usually we went with groups of boys and girls from our class.  This time, however, there were no boys in attendance.  As we got dressed at her house, he host Mama found out it was just a group of girls. She was noticeably concerned and at length tried to explain to us that if we went to the club without boys to protect us, anything could happen.  We shrugged her off and said we would be fine.  She explained that we could be robbed or raped.  My friend, the more outgoing of the two of us, explained that we could defend ourselves.

So far, so good.

Only, she didn’t know the word “puño” (fist).  Since she wore a ring the shape of a frog on her finger, she decided to make a fist and explain that if someone tried to rape her, she would hit them with her “sapo” (toad).   Being supportive (and also not knowing the word for fist), I agreed that this is what we would do and that her host Mama had nothing to worry about.

Her host Mama was horrified.

So we explained again, more emphatically.   With the zest of teenagers, we explained and explained, repeated and repeated.  Finally, her host Mama burst out laughing.  She went to get a host brother to explain what we had said.  This would have worked, only he turned red, laughed nervously and left. Ditto with host Papa.

No one told us what we had said, but they let us go to the Discotech.

At the discotech, we told our friends who laughed and laughed.  They laughed so hard, they couldn’t explain to us.  I don’t remember when someone finally explained or who it was… however, I do know that neither of us (but particularly the ring wearer) never lived it down.  Turns out, sapo does mean toad– but in Chilean slang it also refers to female genitalia.  Clearly, if someone were raping us, this is not what we should be using as a weapon to fight back!

Okay— there.  Embarrassing and also out on the internet.  Now you share yours!


Filling up the tank


It is the simple things I miss when I am overseas.  Things that I never thought I would miss. Things that are silly to miss. Things that I don’t even think about in the US.

I miss being able to fill up my own tank at a gas station. I like knowing what is going on, not feeling like I am going to be ripped off, not actually being taken advantage of and, besides, it is really not that hard.  Even when it is raining, I don’t mind taking a few moments, swiping my credit card, and filling up the tank.

Only– overseas, I often can’t.  There are people to fill up my car with gas.  And, just like I don’t really like bell boys pulling my suitcase when I am perfectly capable, I don’t like having people fill up my tank for me.  Yet, I have no choice. In Chile, I have no choice and in Kazakhstan, I have no choice.  In Moldova and Cambodia I didn’t drive– so I don’t know if I could have done it myself or not.

To make my dislike even stronger, in Chile (I don’t know about Kazakhstan), it is very common for the attendants to try and make a few extra pesos at the expense of the client either by filling the tank with less gas and then charging the full amount or by “forgetting” to zero out the machine before pumping the next person’s gas.

Since my mind doesn’t tend to automatically think of ways to rip others off, I had to watch the following videos (in Spanish) to understand this deception.

Yum! Tastes like Chile


torta de mil hojas con manjar, originally uploaded by 1novelgirl.

Overall, I think that taste in deserts is different in different countries and people tend to like best what they have known since childhood. And, while I like treats in Chile, I usually prefer stuff from home.

Except, I do love the Torta de Mil Hojas– Cake of a Thousand layers. When I was in high school, my host mom and I would spend whole days making this cake. Each layer has to be rolled out and cut individually. It is not complicated, but it was long as we could only cook two layers at a time.

Now that we are visiting my parents-in-law, I have had this cake multiple times. Granted, both they and my own host family, buy it already made. Equally delicious!

If you want to try for yourself:


* 4 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 7/8 cup butter
* 3 egg yolks
* 1 cup milk
* 2 (14 ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
* 1 cup chopped walnuts
* 1/4 cup orange juice


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Mix together the flour and baking powder; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Blend in the egg yolks, one at a time. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk. The dough will be stiff like a cookie dough. Divide the dough into 10 pieces and shape into balls. Roll each ball into a 9 inch circle. Place on cookie sheets and prick with a fork in several places.

3. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside.

4. Make the Manjar Filling: In a sauce pan, boil the unopened cans of sweetened condensed milk for 3 hours. Monitor the water closely, to make sure there is always water in the pan. Remove can from heat and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. In a small measuring cup, combine the orange juice and the manjar.

5. Place one cookie layer on serving plate. Spread with the Manjar. Sprinkle with nuts. Continue stacking until all layers are used. (Nuts are optional and can be used in the layers or just on top or not at all)

Parents, don’t dress your girls like tramps


Oh boy! I don’t even want to guess how that title is going to affect the google searches that find my site! Still, it is also the title of a piece on CNN that my friend K sent me a while back. You probably won’t remember, but K is a friend who wrote a guest blog post on human trafficking in Canada a couple years back.  She is also a tireless advocate for victims of trafficking.

Anyways… K sent me this article from CNN and asked my opinion, not as a social worker or as someone who has worked in the counter-trafficking movement and with victims, but rather as a mother. In her email to me, K said: “is an interesting opinion piece written by a man about how sexual much of the clothing for young girls has become. I have actually discussed this very issue during my anti-human trafficking trafficking work. I was absolutely shocked to find that the most frequent reaction was to be ridiculed – – by women – – for saying much the same thing as the article (at least in principle). Interestingly, the guys tended to agree with me.”

I guess before I tell you my reaction, I should tell you about the article.  The tongue-and-cheek humor in the piece blatantly blames parents (and to some extent society) for the over-sexualization of younger and younger girls.  While you should click the link to get the whole article, here is piece of what is said:

I mean, that is the purpose of a push-up bra, right? To enhance sex appeal by lifting up, pushing together and basically showcasing the wearer’s breasts. Now, thanks to AF Kids, girls don’t have to wait until high school to feel self-conscious about their, uhm, girls. They can start almost as soon as they’re potty trained. Maybe this fall the retailer should consider keeping a plastic surgeon on site for free consultations.

We’ve been here with Abercrombie before — if you recall, about 10 years ago they sold thongs for 10-year-olds — but they’re hardly alone in pitching inappropriate clothing to young girls. Four years ago the popular “Bratz” franchise introduced padded bras called “bralettes” for girls as young as six. That was also around the time the good folks at Wal-Mart rolled out a pair of pink panties in its junior department with the phrase “Who Needs Credit Cards” printed on the front.

I guess I’ve been out-of-the-loop and didn’t realize there’s been an ongoing stampede of 10-year-old girls driving to the mall with their tiny fists full of cash demanding sexier apparel.

What’s that you say? Ten-year-olds can’t drive? They don’t have money, either? Well, how else are they getting ahold of these push-up bras and whore-friendly panties?

My reaction to the piece is that I agree— parent’s should be held accountable for what clothes their children wear.  Parents should be saying “no” and not supporting societies push to make girls sexier and sexier, earlier and earlier.  Personally, I will not be buying push-up bras, thongs, or anything that says her body is for sale (for example Walmart’s undies for little girls that says: “Who needs credit cards) for my daughter at any point in her life– but particularly when she is a child.

Life is hard enough for little girls. (Yes, little boys also suffer from the strict gender roles imposed on them– but here I am talking about little girls and I am thinking about my little girl).

As I was saying: Life is hard enough for little girls.  Society (and advertising and companies) send all kinds of messages.  Just yesterday as we were driving over to my in-law’s house (in Chile) we passed a new billboard for a fancy hospital.  It featured 7 doctors– all male.  No, this sign doesn’t say that girls can’t be doctors, but it doesn’t give them a view of women as doctors.  I happen to know for a fact many women doctors work at the hospital.  Certainly they could have found a few to photograph.

Commercials on television and even kids entertainment are showing children having heterosexual dating relationships (sexual or not) at earlier and earlier ages.  The music industry is glorifying being bootylicious. And, society, is placing a strong value on looking “sexy”.

So, little girls are learning that this is their value.  Their value and their future lies in their ability to be sexy and they can fill that role if their parents will buy them whore-like outfits for everyday wear as opposed to just for Halloween.  I get that corporations will fill that need– after all, they are just trying to fill their pockets.  I don’t get parent’s handing over the cash and saying it is okay.

Then again, I also don’t get the appeal of Toddlers in Tiaras or many of the other TV shows that glorify making little girls dolled-up and sexy.

Having said all this— I get the other side of the argument. I get the fear that if we say children should not be dressed this way that people will blame those who are for horrendous acts against them.  Just look at what was said about the 11 year old who was gang raped in Texas.

Let me be clear: Just because a girl is dressed up sexy, does not give anyone the right to violate her.  Period. It is never an excuse for rape.  It is never an excuse for molestation.  And little girls (as well as big girls, adult women, little boys and adult men) are never “asking for it”.

Tiny Twos!


Dear Little Elephant,

Way back when you were one month old, there were a few things I could count on. One of them was that after I fed you, you would be a milk drunk baby who would happily curl up in the arms of anyone nearby to sleep. Now that you are in your twos (two months) you are fiercely resisting the milk drunk baby state. You want to stay awake and are curious about everything in your surroundings. You have made Mama and Papa work much harder to get you to sleep as you fight it, fight it, crankily fight it and then you are out. It is beyond adorable. The fight it stage also usually only lasts 5 to 20 minutes and you give in when your father or I sing to you (your father sings folk songs in Spanish and I sing Broadway show tunes).

This month you continued to make visitors ooh and ahh at you with your full head of hair, happy-go-lucky attitude, and willingness to snuggle with near strangers also known as friends and family.  You met Kelsey (from DC), Auntie Elaine (from St. Paul), Andy (from New York and also known Tio Calvo), Liza (lives here in town), Meghan (from St. Louis), and your Aunt Erin, Uncle Kevin, and cousins, Mc and D (from DC).  Moreover, Grandpa and Nana had a party at their house from friends, family and people from the condo to see you.  Not surprisingly to your completely un-biased Mama, everyone thought you were beautiful, wonderful, and super strong.

One of the most wonderful things this month was your learning to smile, not just at pooping any more, but also at people.  You interact, smile, make faces and insist that everyone watches you and plays with you.  The control you have over your head is amazing and you like to “stand”.  All we have to do now is keep you balanced, you actually do all the work yourself.  When not standing or sleeping, you like to walk around and look at art.  You particularly like the arpillera at Grandpa and Nanas, the rented modern art in our apartment, and anything with big contrasts in color.   We took you to the Art Museum in Chicago— but there you mostly slept and when you were awake you mostly stared at the ceiling.

Harley is still interested in you, but less so. You have yet to notice her.  She does, however, like to defend you from any strangers in the elevator who want to look at you or people on the bike path who want to admire your full head of hair.  Mama hopes that you two will continue to get along.

The end of this month came with a huge change— in temperature.  At exactly 8 weeks old, you boarded a plane and flew to Chile to meet the other side of your family and experience your first winter!  You flex like a champ; not crying on the whole trip.  You sat on Mama’s lap most of the way from Milwaukee to Atlanta.  Luckily, on the flight to Chile there was an empty seat and we could install your car seat.

Arriving in the airport, Papa’s Mom walked right past him because she only had eyes for her first grandchild.  Your Chilean Grandpa and Uncle and cousins are just as in love as everyone else.  People keep offering to keep you when Mama and Papa return to Kazakhstan! As if we could ever part with you!!  You also have gotten to meet your Great-Grandma, Mama’s host family and a handful of amigos down here.

At Chilean Grandpa and Grandma’s house, you have slept in two rooms as we searched for the warmest place for you.  You have worn socks and slippers for the first time.  You are adorable in your multiple layers, hats, jackets and wrapped warm in blankets. Despite Papa telling you how much he misses Chilean food and how wonderful it is, you find your diet to be exactly the same as back in the states.  Overall, you like Chile too.

Anyway, my dear little girl, I hear you calling, ready for another meal.  I will end this letter by telling you that Mama and Papa love you more this month than last which is almost impossible since last month we thought are hearts were going to explode.