Trip Start Feb 14, 2006
Trip End Aug 2006

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Flag of Chile  ,
Friday, March 3, 2006

For the last few days, I´ve dropped off the face of the earth. My first Chilean family, during my two weeks there, invited four foreign exchange students (not including myself)to live in the house. Before welcoming me into their home, they signed a contract with CIEE, the group that operates study abroad programs for Georgetown, promising not to bring other foreigners into the house. But that was one of the many rules they broke.

First, if I wasn´t at home, I got no lunch, though they were obligated to pack me something (and that is the big meal down here). Second, all of the exchange students came from western Europe (Germany, Switzerland, Austria) and all spoke English. The oldest son in the house also spoke English. All saw me as an opportunity to practice the language. I heard only a few sentences in spanish from Mauricio, the eldest child. If I couldn´t speak spanish at my home, where was I to do it? Of course, that was a meaningless point because they rarely spoke to me. It seemed clear to me that, though this family lived in a rich neighborhood, the house was falling apart, and they used all of these exchange students as a source of income.

One night at dinner, one of the only nights I ate with anyone, my host mother ordered me not to speak to Briggitta, the woman in charge of housing, about my living situations. Specifically, she ordered me not to speak about the other exchange students.

So, what did I do? I told Briggitta all about it. And within 24 hours, I was out of the house and into a new one. The parting was awkward. Briggitta came to pick me up (she´s 4 months pregnant) after giving the family only an hour´s advance notice of her coming. I had to pack up my room surreptitiously, so that when they finished conversing, I was out the door. I have to return in a week to get my replacement debit card, which is in the mail, and to pick up some clothes that were ¨lost¨in the wash. It took the family nearly a week and a half to do one small load of laundry.

Complaints, complaints. Anyway, the new family is great. I live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in the east of the city. A wall of windows looks off to the south, straight at a stretch of the Andes. The sunsets cast an orange haze on the mountains, and at night the expansiveness of the city is clear, as the lights stretch up the mountainside.

My host mother, Alicia, is a great cook, the son, Pablo is kind (though much older than me), and the father, Mario, is extremely interesting. Though both of the parents are in their 70s--Mario is losing his hearing--they are kind and interesting. I feel a member of the family, and get tons of conversation each night.

The family is high on the ¨cute¨ scale. Much of what I say to Mario must be relayed through his wife. Mario´s ¨throne,¨ if you will, is a lazy boy a few feet from the window, from which he looks out on the city with a pair of binoculars and listens to classical music on the stereo, which sits at arm´s length. On the other side of the chair is his bar, a small rod iron table with a few odd bottles. He certainly seems to be enjoying his retirement (he was a large animal veteranarian in the south of the country).

There is more to tell than I could possibly write now, but I thought it best to keep you informed of this big change. More later, when I travel.
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