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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Passover in Chile

I have a few Jewish friends in the program who were all very set on finding seders to go to in Santiago and they all somehow found them. I didn’t particularly care and didn’t have anywhere to go so figure I wouldn’t be doing anything for Passover. Then I randomly received an email inviting me to a seder. Jojo, my friend from camp and Bard was here last summer and put me in touch with this woman who grew up in the US but lives here now. I had been in contact with her about finding volunteer work and she sent me an email saying she had heard I was Jewish and did I want to come with her to her synagogue’s community seder. So Thursday night I went to meet her and her husband who is Chilean. We were supposed to meet at a Metro stop at the ticket booth. I waited there for a while and they didn’t show up. Then a voice come over the loud speaker and says that Sari Bilick (or some version of my name that was at least recognizable) should come to the ticket booth. Slightly embarrassing but I guess I didn’t know anyone so it is ok. I go to the ticket booth and they tell me that someone is waiting for me but at the other ticket booth. Who knew there were two of them? So a guard leads me to the other ticket booth on the other side of the tracks and I finally meet up with Maxine and Carlos. Around Santiago there are Estadios that have names of different countries, Estadio Palestino, Estadio España, Estadio Italia, etc. They are kind of like country clubs for people from that country. They have auditoriums, cultural events, multiple pools, gyms, etc. So this seder was at Estadio Israelita which is the Jewish community center. Besides being my first interaction with any Jews in Chile, it was the weirdest seder I had ever been to. Usually I have a seder with my family at someone’s house. This was a community seder so there was about 160 people there and so obviously less intimate. Since there were so many people, rather than everyone following along in the hagadah, we followed along with a Power Point presentation, projected onto two screens, complete with laser pointer to follow along with the songs. The Power Point also had little picture of claymation figures. When it got time for the plagues, there was a claymation video depicting all the plagues, so weird. The whole service was a mix of Spanish and Hebrew which was really interesting. It was fun to hear the story and the four questions and things like that in Spanish. So then, the weirdest part…even weirder than the Power Point. Every time we sang a song, it had a theme. The keyboardist would put on a beat, and the cantors put on costume accessories to match the theme (hats, jackets, etc.) and then they would dance with the traditional songs which were usually in Hebrew. For instance, one song had a techno beat, another was salsa, mambo, country western, opera, etc. It was so strange and pretty corney. I think the idea was to keep the kids entertained which worked pretty well, but not at all your traditional seder. I think the people at my table were slightly embarrassed that this was what I was seeing of a Chilean seder because the kept telling me that this is not what every Chilean seder was like.

I spent the night at Maxine and Carlos’s house. They live on the edge of Santiago in a really nice house with a cute garden in the back and grape vines one their patio. Carlos is an artist and has his paintings all over the house.

There is a place called Villa Grimaldi which during the military dictatorship in the 1970’s and 1980’s was one of the detention and torture camps of political prisoners. It has now been converted into a peace park to commemorate the people that were held, tortured, killed there. Every Good Friday, a group of progressive Catholics organizes a March to Villa Grimaldi. The next day I went with Maxine and Carlos to this event and met up with my friend Pesha there. There was a couple hundred people there and the march started a few blocks away and we walked to the park, stopping every once in a while so people could talk. There was lots of singing, and speeches. When we got to the park, we moved around to different places and people would talk. A couple of people who had be detained and tortured there spoke about there experiences. It was all very intense and moving. I would like to go back sometime to look around more. Here are some pictures of the event.

These plaques have the names of all the people that were killed at Villa Grimaldi. Everyone has a D.D. or a E.P. next to their name. D.D. means detained and disappeared, E.P. means political execution. In another part of the park there are other plaques with the same names but that list people by the years they were killed. The last death at Villa Grimaldi was in 1983. The detention center closed after that, but there were still many other detention centers and killings after 1983.

It is hard to see in this picture, but this is a tower that prisoners were held in.

This is one of the isolation chambers where they would keep prisoners

This is the original gate that prisoners would enter through. The gate is symbolically locked to represent that it is closed and that these gates will never open again. The park has a different entrance.

These things were horrific to see. I don’t have a picture but there is also a pool there that was used to drown prisoners. It is almost hard to believe that these things actually happened, and so recently, but then there were people talking about there personal experiences there and they are witnesses to everything that happened and it is all very real.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Las Micros

I think it’s about time for a blog post on the micros. Seeing as I just wrote an essay about them for my Spanish class and they are a very important part of Santiago culture they deserve a post. So, what are the micros? Micros are the public buses. This is how I get around for the most part, so I take the micros about twice a day. They are usually yellow although there are new ones that are twice the length and white and green. We are going to ignore the new ones for now because they are stupid and not nearly as cool. Basically, foreigners either love or hate the micros, there is no in between. In case you couldn’t tell, I love the micros.

The micros are kind of like NY taxis in that there are tons of them on every street and the drivers are crazy (and they are yellow). They all have numbers but I have no idea what number micros go to my house, I just look at the sign in the window that says wear it is going to see if it is going to the right place. Whether or not you are at an official stop you usually have to flag down the micro or they might not stop. If you catch the driver’s attention and he is three lanes over, he will cross three lanes in about 10 feet to pull over, or they just stop in the middle of the street and you have to cross the three lanes of traffic to get to the door. You get on and hand the driver your 350 pesos (about 70 cents) and while driving (stick shift) he rips you a ticket, counts your money, and gives you change, all with one hand and (hopefully) still paying attention to the road, it is quite impressive. Sometimes the micro starts to move as you are getting on and you have to quickly climb on before it starts going faster. Once you are on the micro there is the chance that you can find a seat, but more likely you stand in the crowded aisles, especially if it is rush hour. When you are ready to get off you either let the driver know or push the button and hopefully they will come to a complete stop to let you off, but you never know.

Often, while you are on the micro, a vendor, musician or beggar will get on the micro. The vendors that sell ice cream or water, walk down the aisles shouting out what they have and people buy stuff. The vendors that sell random things like, books, pens, socks, best of the 80’s mix cd’s, toys, etc. walk down the aisle and hand things out. Then they give a little speech about their product and then walk back down the aisle to either get the thing back or collect money if you want to buy it. Then there are the musicians who are the most fun. They will come on and just start playing a couple of songs and then give a speech about who they are and come and collect money. Since this is a regular practice and part of the culture, a bunch of people will usually give them money. Once, these two kids who were in high school and in their school uniforms played music while I was on the micro. Since these people get on for free I think some people just use it as a way to get home and make a little extra money at the same time. Sometimes people come on to ask for money. Usually they are blind, have some kind of disability, or are asking for a particular cause. It is unclear how many of these people are legitimate and how many of them are faking it.

I know this is a very long post so don’t feel obligated to keep reading. This is the story of my craziest micro experience so far. About two weeks ago I got on the micro after class to go home. An ice cream man gets on, walks up and down the aisle, sells a few ice cream bars, and then goes to the front of the bus to wait for where he wants to get off. He is talking to the driver and after a minute or two it is clear they are arguing. All of a sudden, in the middle of the street the driver slams on his breaks, almost crashing into the car in front of us. He stands up, grabs the ice cream man by the collar and shoves him against the door, screaming at him. Then, still holding his collar, he holds up his fist and was about to punch the ice cream man in the face but stopped himself. Instead he opens the door and yells at him to get off the micro. The driver was still upset so is not paying so much attention to driving and yelling at the ice cream man out the window who was picking up dirt off the ground and throwing it at the micro. Then one of the passengers shouted that the ice cream man had a rock and was going to throw it at the micro. These little old ladies sitting next to a window, scooted away from the window to the edge of their seats and spent about two minutes holding their pocketbooks in front of their faces to protect themselves from a rock coming through the window. Luckily, nothing happened and we kept going as if nothing had happened. I was much more scared of the crazy driver than the ice cream man with the rock and so was relieved to safely get off the bus at my stop. So, a slightly scary experience, but also very entertaining and just part of the day to day micro experience. Also, it made for a good story to tell everyone.

Also, you always say las micros even though the word micro should be masculine, it is a mystery to everyone why the word has a feminine article in front of it.

Ok, that is far more than you wanted to know about the micros.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Completly unrelated to Chile, I figured out housing for next year. I am going to be living off campus in Tivoli in a four bedroom house with my friends Emma, Ariana, and one other undetermined person (probebly Rachel Schragis). So I am very excited about that because it means no more eating cafeteria food and I can cook lots of yummy food and I am living with my friends in a house! The only problem is that since the other people will all be juniors, some or all of them might abandon me in the spring to study abroad, so I have no idea who I will be living with in the spring.

P.S. Anyone need summer plans and want to travel in South America?.............

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Beach, Penguins, and Chileans

It will soon be clear how these three this are related...they were all part of my weekend.

On Friday, I went to Algarrobo, a beach town about an hour and a half outside of Santiago, with Sasha, a friend of mine from Berkeley High who is also in Santiago for the semester. After very little sleep the night before, I woke up at 6 to get to the metro by 7 and get an early start. We were on one of those big tour buses and it was completly empty, only two other people were on it the whole ride. We didn´t really know what this place was, we had just heard there was a beach, some waterfalls you could walk to, and lots of penguins. We ended up not walking to the waterfalls because we weren´t sure where they were, and there were no penguins (at least not that were around this time of year and that we could see), but there were lots of beautiful beaches. Since both of us were exhausted, we found a beautiful deserted beach and we both took a nap for a while. It was so nice to wake up and feel sand on my feet and hear waves crashing and birds.

More rested than before, we headed out to some rocks on the water to look through the tide pools. There were some other people looking around at the tide pools and they seemed to know what they were doing so we went over and asked them about what they were finding...and that is how we ended up spending the whole day with three Chilean guys, Claudio, Marco, and Fidel, and a French girl, Claire. It turns out they are all students at the University of Chile and they study natural resources. They were there because that day was the lowest tide of the year and they were supposed to meet a professor later who was going to talk about the tide pools and sea creatures. So far it has been difficult to meet Chileans. There are people I talk to in classes but no one who I have really got to hang out with. Usually when you meet the Chileans who want to hang out, they are kind of sketchy. These people were all really nice and not sketchy at all and we all went to the beach together to eat lunch. Although the water was freezing, me and Sasha decided to go in, and after a while convinced all of the rest of them, except one, to get in too. After getting thrown down by two giant waves, I came out covered in sand. For the rest of the day my hair was filled with sand and my whole body caked in salt...fun.

The whole group of us then headed over to the tide pools so they could meet their professor. I ended up not going with the professor but just wandering around the tide pools on my own, occasionally running into someone who would explain to me what the things I was finding were. Here is some of the stuff in the tide pools and some of the seaweed I just thought was cool.

As they finished up their talk with the proffesor, me and sasha created some modern art with seaweed while we watched the sunset over the ocean and the waves crashing over the rocks.
In case you couldn´t tell, this is me lying next to an octopus sitting on a peace sign...

Our new Chilean friends offered us a ride back to Santiago and so we all piled into a tiny little car for the ride home. Before we left, we stopped to get seafood empanadas and ate them on the beach where there was a new moon that was a perfect crecent over the water. On the ride home, 2 km from the Santiago exit, the car ran out of gas (or at least that is what we thought happened). We pulled over to the side of the road and called the highway service. After sitting on the side of the road, in the cold, singing songs with our new friends for over an hour, the highway service came and gave us some gas but the car still wouldn´t start. After fiddling around with the engine for a while, some phone calls to Claudio´s parents who´s car it is, it finally started and we got back on the road. When we were safely back in Santiago we went out to Suezia, a neighborhood filled with a slightly touristy nightlife where you can´t walk down the street without every single bar and restaurant trying to get you to come to their place. Since we were with Chileans we didn´t stand out quite as much as the other times I have been there and so it wasn´t that bad walking through.
At the end of the night we all exchanged numbers and emails and hopefully we will all hang out again, maybe a hiking trip near Santiago, maybe camping...we´ll see. Anyway, very exciting to have met really cool Chileans and spent the whole entire day talking in Spanish which was really great since I speak all in English when I hang out with the people from my group. Me and Sasha decided that you meet cool Chileans in cool places. Rather than meeting these people in a club or bar, we had met them in tide pools which made them much cooler and more interesting people.

Saturday I did absolutly nothing which was really nice since the past couple weekends have been busy with traveling and constant plans.

Sunday, for the first time really, I went out with my host family. We drove fairly far away to go to an Argentinian restaurant. It was a huge place with about six different giant rooms and it was still hard to find a table. Every Sunday they have people in animal costumes with giant heads (kind of Disney Land style) walking around talking to all the kids. At tables where there are kids, the waiters bring out big bouncy balls with the drinks for the kids to play with. I didn´t quite get that because it seemed dangerous to have tons of kids with balls in a restaurant...but there didn´t seem to be any problems.

After lunch, we went to see March of the Penguins (Marcha de los Penguinos) which I hadn´t seen yet and just came out in theaters here. We saw it in Spanish and it was very different than what I had expected. It turns out that was because it was very different than the English version. I haven´t seen the English version, but from what I have heard, it is just Morgan Freeman narrativing about the penguins. The Spanish version there are three narrators, a woman for the female penguins, a man for the male penguins and a little kid for the babies. The narrators talk in first person like they are the penguins which was fairly corney. Like when the baby penguins first start to walk, this little kid voice says something like, ¨look, my first steps, oops I fell, look at me I´m walking.¨ Through this first person narration they still talk about the penguins but it gets kind of silly. I don´t know if the music was the same in the English version but they played really bad music with corney words in English at a bunch of points. Despite all that, I still really liked the movie because the actual footage of the penguins was amazing. So even though I didn´t get to see penguins in person at the beach, I got to see lots of them in the movie. Plus, there are lots of places in Chile with penguins so hopefully I will get another opportunity to see some in person.