Travel: Chilean Memories 2
**If you haven't read Part 1, you might want to start there.
Part 2: Arrival in Arica, Chile
After a long layover and one more flight, we finally arrive in Tacna, Peru. All that's left now is to track down my host mother (a mysterious woman whom I've never actually had contact with, as she never did return my e-mails). She is supposedly driving 1 hour to collect Emilie and me and escort us over the border to our new homes in Chile. Given that we haven't the vaguest of ideas which one of the 150 South Americans milling around the 1-room airport she is, we're counting on our blonde hair and the fact that we're taller than 4'8" to help her identify us. We've managed to collect our many bags and are now standing along a wall like puppies hoping to be adopted. Lots of people are staring at us, but no one seems very eager to claim us. I can't say I really blame them- we look like we haven't bathed in a week.
"What do we do now?" I ask nervously.
"Oh, she'll be here! I wonder what your family will be like." I have to hand it to her- so far nothing has phased Emilie.
"I know! I'm nervous. I hope they don't hate me."
Emilie's host mom had responded quite promptly to Emilie's e-mail with her life story. She seems quite sweet, and Emilie has a host brother who is 27 and finishing his degree at our college. We are not sure what to expect from this mysterious host brother, but have decided not to judge too quickly as may be our only friend strictly out of obligation.
"They won't hate you!"
"You're right," I concede, still entirely unconvinced. I'm just too tired for any more optimism at this moment.
I look up as a small woman with exuberant, curly hair is shuffling our way. Finally! It looks as though we may not be abandoned, after all. Suddenly I feel her grab both of us in a giant bear hug. "LEEEENSEE!"
"I think she's trying to say your name," Emilie hisses.
"Oh! Ehm, hola!" I utter stupidly. "Lindsey!" I point at myself. "LIN-ZEE"
Ok. It's fine. We'll work on pronunciation later.
"Vamos a la camioneta, no?" She gestures at our bags and starts walking toward the exit. Ok. Focus. Translation: Let's go to the.... what is a 'camioneta'? Shoot.
Somehow we gather all of our things and stumble behind her as I frantically fumble with my translator.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRANSLATE?
Oh, forget it. Maybe I spelled it wrong.
We follow my madre to her truck (the mysterious 'camioneta') and fill it to the brim with our luggage. The ride home mainly consists of my host mom talking and Emilie and me taking turns pretending to understand her. Somehow, we manage to gather that I will live with her, her daughter, her daughter's daughter, and the family dog, named... Cleopatra. Also, we learn that in Chile they say "El mundo es un paunuelo," (Translation: The world is a handkerchief) which means it's a small world. We aren't really sure why that came up, but are quite pleased with ourselves that we think we understood it.
About half way through our trip, we reach the border between Peru and Chile. My host mom has assured us that crossing into Chile will be easy-peasy (loosely translated). Granted, it probably is really easy for her considering that she is a legal citizen, but surely it will be fine.
The border crossing process seems... well, let's just say that I think I could have probably designed it more efficiently (foreshadowing of the semester to come). First, we have to park, drag our luggage into a building where it is scanned, and get our passport stamped (my favorite part!). This is to officially 'exit' Peru. Then, we load the luggage back into the car, drive about 1/4 of a mile, re-park, and prepare to do the whole process all over again to officially enter Chile. Did it really not occur to anyone to put both processes in the same actual building? And also, who owns the land in between? It seems a bit of a waste. Maybe I could just stake a little flag there and claim it for the United States. I must remember to write President Bush just as soon as I get home.
As we approach the "Enter Chile" portion of this process, I am getting quite tired of loading and unloading and re-loading and unloading my excessive baggage. It's not like you can exactly pack lightly for 5 months. I mean, we're talking changing seasons and everything, so I had no choice but to pack a bit of everything. Which I'm currently regretting.
After 20 minutes of standing at an outdoor window in the freezing wind (it was summer when we left yesterday- seems quite unfair to have entered winter without warning), it's finally Emilie's turn to enter our new homeland. I'm snapping photos left and right: Emilie, handing over passport. Emilie, filling out her paperwork. The little man, asking Emilie for something called a "papelito." Emilie, searching through her things, growing panicked. I'm going make the best scrapbook EVER.
"LINDSEY! Stop taking pictures!"
"Do you have the "papelito" (Translation: little paper) he's asking me for?" She's looking frazzled.
"Do you mean the one they told us not to lose at the airport in Lima? Yes, I have mine. I'm sure you kept yours."
"Well, it isn't here!" I can see panic in her eyes.
Oh sheesh. Emilie can not freak out. And also, she can NOT be banned from Chile, because then I will definitely hyperventilate and die, and the study abroad lady mentioned several times how expensive it is to transport a dead body across an ocean to be buried at home.
"Keep looking! Are you sure you don't have it?"
"No!" She shrieks. "It just isn't here."
I look up at my host mom. "No... lo tiene?" (Translation: She...doesn't have it?) Or at least... I think that's what I said.
"Ah, yah." She calmly ushers us back to the truck, pats Emilie on the back, and then walks off assuring us that everything will be ok.
After about 20 minutes of trying to calm a very nervous Emilie, my host mom returns.
"Tiene dinero?" (Translation: "Do you have money?") She is looking at Emilie.
"Ehm... si. Cuanto?" (Translation: "Ehm... yes. How much?")
After a quick refresh of our Spanish numbers, we establish that she is asking for $20. Emilie quickly hands her the money and she shuffles off. A few minutes later she's back.
"OK! Vamonos." Off we go, over the border and into Chile. It's really hard to believe that this is going to be where I live for an entire semester. I have absolutely no idea what to expect, but am desperately praying that yesterday wasn't the last warm shower I'll have for 5 months. Or the last shower, period, for that matter.
"Uhm, Lindsey?" Emilie whispers. "Is this... legal? I mean- am I an illegal immigrant?"
"Well, I guess that depends how you define 'legal.' It's a loose term."
"Not really." She is biting her nail and looking at me worriedly. "I mean, we've been down here one day and we've already bribed a government employee."
Well, technically 'we' didn't bribe anyone as I saved my papelito as I was told, although this is probably not the best time to mention that. Instead, I decide to think positively.
"How do you feel about marriage to a Chilean? We could make you legal pretty quickly, you know... in a pinch."
Drat. A wedding would have made for a killer page in my scrapbook.
"Sorry! I'm sure It will be fine."
"ESPANOL!" We both jerk our heads to look at my host mom. "Espanol, por favor," she added sweetly.
Right. Forgot about that.
The rest the trip is spent semi-understanding my host mom as she serves as our tour guide. She even goes out of the way to drive us by the beach (which, honestly, is a bit unnecessary considering that it is 11:30 at night, we haven't slept properly in something like 3 days, and it is so pitch black outside that all we can do is squint and pretend we see the waves). She talked and talked all about our new homes (I will live in her big, lovely house whereas Emilie will live in a small one, but that is only her opinion, and she is sure that Emilie will love it there. And if not, she is welcome to move in with us.).
By the time we finally make it to my new house, my eyes are physically crossing from exhaustion. My host mom has insisted on bringing Emilie to our house for a snack before taking her to her home, which we opted not to argue with. The house is big and green and sits on the corner of the street surrounded by a big stone wall, and I have to admit that it really is beautiful. The three of us tug all of my bags through the gate and into the entry way, where I set everything down and take in my new habitat. I am standing in the living room, which looks like an antique store. There are hundreds of vases and crystal glasses covering every horizontal surface with old hats hanging on most of them. I know in this moment I've found my people. In the next room is the dining room with a large table absolutely brimming with a veritable smorgasbord of food.
Holy crap- is that our snack??
My host mom makes her way to the table and gestures for us to sit down and eat. I really cannot even imagine a family of six being able to consume this much food, much less the two of us. There is a whole pot of rice, a plate of beef, cups of olives, several jugs of juice, shredded lettuce, sliced lemons, some kind of alcoholic beverage, avocados, tomatoes, tea bags, and something that is white and sticky which I cannot identify and, frankly, looks like glue. After several minutes of scrutiny, I'm still really not sure how one would combine all of these items to create one meal. What exactly is the lemon supposed to be squeezed on? And, better yet, who needs 3 different kinds of beverages for one meal?
We make it through by following my host mom's lead. The beef goes on the rice, which is quite tasty. The lemon is squeezed over the lettuce, which (contrary to my first instinct) is not eaten with the vegetables on it. The lettuce is eaten plain, and the tomatoes, avocado slices, and olives are eaten by themselves. I never did get my nerve up to try the white concoction, but luckily I don't think it was noticed. The freshly squeezed orange juice was my favorite part of the meal- my host sister had actually squeezed it from fresh oranges by hand! Then, apparently, she and her daughter got tired of waiting up for us and went to sleep. The only family member who stayed up for us was Cleo, who turns out to be a cute, friendly white miniature poodle. I have a feeling we'll get along quite well.
We eat and drink and (kind of) talk for what seems like hours when finally my host mom decides it's time to take Emilie to her family. As we ride along, I try very hard to memorize the route so that I can run sobbing to Emilie when needed, which I estimate will be in 7-10 days. Our study abroad counselor educated us very thoroughly on the "Stages of Adjustment," which include: 1) the "Newness" phase, 2) the "Shock" phase, and 3) The "Adjusted" phase. Apparently people who move to a strange culture at first are very excited as they experience new and exciting things until they realize that they actually have to live there. Then, after a few weeks of misery and depression, they accept their new life and adjust to it.
Anyway, the average time for shock to set in is 8.4 days or something like that, but I'm hoping to just skip this step and go from Newness to Adjusted like a champ.
As it turns out, it is very hard to memorize a route when you don't know where on Earth you are, it is pitch black, you are suffering from exhaustion, and all of the street signs are in Spanish. It also turns out that my host mom was not lying about the difference in our living conditions. The apartment complex we've just stopped in front of is quite different from the 2-story house I'll be staying in. It is dark and all of the windows have bars over them. I look at Emilie wondering if she's nervous, but she just looks tired.
We help Emilie unload her luggage and then the three of us proceed to wander around the apartment complex with all of it, unable to find the right apartment number. Given that it is 2 in the morning, we do not exactly want to knock on the wrong door. In hindsight, it would have been good to locate the right door before we started hauling the luggage in.
Finally my host mom calls Emilie's host mom, who directs us to the right apartment and comes shuffling to the door approximately 2 minutes after we knock. She opens the door and looks right at me.
"Ehm, No." (Translation: Please don't kiss me)
I point to Emilie. "Emilie."
"Hola!" Says Emilie, matching her excitement. They are hugging and kissing cheeks and I have to say, they are perfect for each other. Emilie's host mom has got to be the cutest little lady I have ever seen. She is wearing a long gown and slippers, and I get the feeling she's up way past her bedtime. She is small and rosy just looks so... motherly. I bet she'll bake chocolate chip cookies every day and read Emilie bedtime stores.
Given the time, we help Emilie get her luggage into the entry of the apartment and say our good-byes. I thought I would have trouble leaving Emilie, but at this point I am so tired that I don't even care. As I give her a hug, I look over her shoulder into the apartment and spot a table overflowing with food.
Stay tuned for more stories from my crazy semester abroad!
You can read about more of my travels here: