Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bringing you up to speed + Betsy’s Visit to South America

It has now been more than three months since I have written anything on this sorry excuse of a blog and I realize that some of you are probably beginning to wonder if I have forgotten about you and the world outside of Chile.  It’s harder to keep up with this than I had imagined, but I think it’s worthwhile so I’m going to try to breathe some life back into this thing. 

As far as the present is concerned, I have been enjoying a few weeks of summer break.  The school year officially ended on Dec. 15, but professors and those involved in the annual school mission trip had to stick around all through December (with the exception of 3 days for Christmas and a few extra before the New Year).  So after two weeks of meetings during the end of December with the students participating in the school mission trip, I had about five days off for New Years.  Then from January 4-17, me and about 8 other adults plus 50 students went about 4 hours outside of Santiago to go on the annual mission trip that the school does.  Since returning, I have been enjoying some free time on my summer break and also helping at an orphanage that the Congregation is in charge of here in Santiago.  I just returned from a 10 day trip to the south of Chile and Argentina, and tomorrow I have to go back to school.  Time really does fly.  

That, very briefly, has been the last 3 months in a nutshell.  However, I want to tell you a bit about my sister’s brief visit to South America this past November.  My older sister Betsy came to Santiago to visit from Nov. 10-22.  Though I was in school at the time, we were able to get away on the weekends that she was here and we had a great time.  During her first few days, Betsy went out on her own each day to explore Santiago, which I thought pretty impressive considering the fact that she knew no more than 10 words in Spanish.  On Friday the 12th, we had some friends over to our house to have a small party for Christine, one of my housemates, whose birthday was earlier that week.
View from Valparaíso

We forced ourselves out of bed early Saturday morning to catch a bus to a small coastal town called Quintero, which is about two hours northeast of Santiago.  There we settled in at a surfer’s hostel on a quiet and remote beach.  After setting our bags down and enjoying a nice seafood lunch on the beach, the hostel staff let us know that everyone was going on a surf excursion later in the afternoon and invited us along.  Betsy and I had never surfed before, but they assured us that if we tried it, we’d love it.  We headed about south to Playa Concon (Concon Beach), which is close to Viña del Mar, Chile’s number one coastal destination for vacationers.  Within an hour or so, we had learned the basics and were surfing.  The water in these parts is especially cold due to the Humboldt Current, which comes up from Antarctica, so even with full-body wetsuits we were pretty cold.  After our afternoon surf session, we went back to the hostel where everyone gathered for an excellent barbecue, prepared by an Australian chef who was staying there.  On Sunday, we headed down the coast to Valparaíso, Chile’s biggest port city famous for its Bohemian culture, art, and laid-back living.  Valparaíso is a really great city to just walk around and get lost in, as it’s full of random art galleries, interesting graffiti and murals, and great places to sit down and enjoy some seafood.  So for our afternoon there, we did just that; walked up and down a few of the cities many hills, found lots of random street art, and enjoyed some great seafood and views of the ocean. 
ATVing in the Andes near Mendoza, Argentina

The following week I was at school while Betsy toured the city, but on Thursday evening, we headed east over the Andes Mountains to visit Mendoza, Argentina.  We spent a pretty relaxing weekend there visiting a couple of wineries, ATVing in the foothills of the Andes, and enjoying some of the great food that Argentina has to offer.  It was a relaxing weekend, but on the mountain pass on the way back to Chile, our bus broke down and for an hour or so, it looked like we would be stranded there waiting half a day for another bus.  However, a mechanic was able to reach us after an hour or so and we were on our way back to Santiago. 

...while they fixed the bus.
Hiking around...

The following day I went back to work, Betsy packed, and in the evening I accompanied her to the airport and she was off.  Her visit was relatively brief, but it was good to see some family and have a reminder of everyone else from back home.  Hope all of you are well and for those of you in the Midwest, I hope the worst of winter has passed (it was 90 degrees in Santiago yesterday, just to give you frame of reference for comparison)!         

Chile vs. Uruguay soccer game, Wed. Nov. 17

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Everybody here is outta sight, they don't bark and they don't bite...

Chile is great.  Everything is going well, the people are friendly, I even enjoy working at my school.  However, there’s a slight problem with street dogs here.  Though there are municipal services that ‘take care’ of street dogs when people report attacks or aggressive behavior by a particular dog, no one ever really cares to report them.  Many people in my neighborhood feed a number of dogs that don’t really belong to anyone.  They sleep on the street every night, bark incessantly, fight other dogs, frequently get killed when they chase passing cars or motorcycles, and occasionally chase me in the park near my house when I’m going for a run.  The point is, there are many things that make Chile great…street dogs are not one of those things.  And they certainly do bite.  

I think that many of you heard it through the grapevine (or through facebook status updates) that a dog bit me recently.  One of the ugly, flea-ridden, street dogs that my neighbors happen to adore because it barks like crazy when anyone it doesn’t recognize walks down our street.  So while I’m familiar with the dog and see it around the neighborhood and on my street all the time, it was decided that I should get vaccinated for rabies just in case.  So on Tuesday, Sept. 28th I went to see a doctor at the urgent care clinic at the hospital of La Ponitificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, which is one of the better private clinics in the country.  I spoke with the doctor and told him the situation.  He prescribed antibiotics, a tetanus booster, and a post-exposure rabies vaccination series.  The tetanus I had, the antibiotics were no problem to get, but wouldn’t you know it, this hospital- one of the best in Chile- didn’t have the rabies vaccine.  The doctor didn’t seem worried either, he just told me to call him the next day to see if they got more of the vaccine.  When I called him the following day, he only told me to call back again the day after.  Finally, three days later, I was able to get the first vaccination. 

The gray dog, known affectionately as Goliat by my neighbors, is the one who bit me
When I went back a week later to get the second dose, they told me to go to the public hospital down the street where I could get the vaccine for free.  Just two blocks down the street, the public hospital was a far cry from the ultra modern clinic at La Catolica.  There were homeless people sleeping on the steps to the building.  I could tell as soon as I entered that I was in a public clinic.  To be blunt, people seemed poorer.  The clinic was understaffed and the building, though sufficient, did not have the same resources that the private clinic did.  However, I was able to get my second vaccine all the same, but the doctor that gave it to me told me not to come back to the hospital to receive (you have to go to urgent care for rabies vaccinations).  Instead, she directed me to a ‘consultorio’ where they had a vaccination center for my next dose.
For my 3rd dose, I found the vaccination center and had no problems.  I just walked in, showed my passport and the sheet with my dose schedule, and five minutes later I was gone.  However, a week later when I went back for the 4th dose to the same vaccination center, it was closed (apparently they close at 3 on Fridays).  So, I decided to go back to the urgent care clinic at the public hospital.  This time it was much worse.  There were probably 30 people in front of me waiting for treatment.  Some appeared to have broken bones.  Others were sitting down in wheelchairs, clutching their stomachs, doubled over in pain.  One lady was vomiting violently for about 3 hours while she was waiting to be taken care of.  I waited for six hours that day for a vaccination that took five minutes to administer (they insisted that a doctor administer the vaccination even though a five year old could have done it themselves).  I was certainly bothered by the fact that I spent my Friday waiting for six hours for a shot, but it also made me think a bit about socialized medicine, its advantages and apparent inadequacies…
Anyway, just last Friday, October 29th, I was up for my final dose.  I made sure that I had the hours of the vaccination center correct before I went and then took care of it.  Anyway, I’m glad that that unpleasant chapter of my life is finished.  Just after I got my shot, I went home, grabbed my bags, and left for a long weekend in Mendoza, Argentina…which you will hear about sooner or later.  Until next time- stay hungry, stay foolish. 

These 2 pictures have nothing to do with dogs, but my blog is generally lacking in pictures and I thought you might like to know what my house and 'hood' look like.  

My street...Pasaje General Armstrong (I still don't know who General Armstrong was)
The 1st floor of my house.  Small but cozy. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Las Fiestas Patrias

Giant flag at La Moneda

Chile just celebrated 200 years of being an independent country, breaking free from Spain in 1810 (though not actually independent until 1818…apparently just a minor detail).  As you can imagine, there was a pretty extraordinary celebration and luckily I got to be a part of it.  Given the importance of this momentous holiday, most schools in Santiago (mine included) had a nice vacation from Sept. 10-19.  With the exception of the sort of extended celebration that usually happens between the Christmas and New Year holidays, I think I speak for most Americans when I say that we are used to a sort of one (day) and done, event.  Labor Day is one day, Memorial Day is one day…OK maybe we get 2 days off, for the price of one with Thanksgiving.  And maybe again with the Fourth of July.  But it appears that every year, not just this year during the bicentennial, that most Chileans get an entire week of vacation to celebrate their equivalent of the 4th, which is called ‘Fiestas Patrias’ (translation: Patriotic/National Holidays).

An 'asado' with some friends
In many ways, it is pretty similar to the Fourth of July.  Chileans gather with family and friends to relax and celebrate their culture and history.  Nearly every family (in Santiago at least) has some sort of ‘asado’ or barbecue with pretty typical fare like pork, beef, and chicken, usually prepared with a simple rub of salt and herbs.  Chileans also love ‘anticuchos,’ which are shish-kabobs usually made with such things as chorizo or longaniza (Chilean sausage very similar to chorizo), beef, pork, onion, and bell peppers.  Chorripan is another popular grill-out item and happens to be a favorite of mine.  It’s like a hot dog, but made with chorizo and fresh Chilean bread called marraqueta (similar to French bread), which you toast on the grill while the chorizo cooks.  Drinks are an obvious and indispensible complement to all of the food.  Chicha, at least in the Chilean sense, is basically a slightly alcoholic beverage that falls somewhere between grape juice and wine…with lots of added sugar.  It’s great.  Terremotos (earthquakes) are also a popular trago during these holidays and they consist of vino pipeño (a sweet, ordinary wine), a bit of pineapple ice cream, maybe some grenadine, and usually some type of liquor (either pisco or fernet- I’ll explain them another time).  Ten points for anyone who can guess why they’re called terremotos.  They get to be a problem when you’re neighbors insist that you have one in your hand at all times.  

 Though food and drink are what I happen to find most important in the holiday, there are some other interesting things that happen too.  ‘La cueca’ is the national dance of Chile (a traditional dance of courtship) that nearly all Chileans dance during this holiday.  In nearly every park in Santiago, there are ‘fondas’ during the week of the 18th, which are basically the equivalent of a small fairs or carnivals with games, food, and shows (live music or traditional Chilean dances).  This video is of one of our neighbor and his girlfriend dancing la cueca while his dad looks on and films the family memories.

The light show at La Moneda
This year for the bicentenario, the government put together an impressive show at La Moneda, in Santiago (used to be a mint- moneda meaning money- then was the President’s private residence, now just a general gov’t building).  Using a handful of 3D video projectors, lasers, and other lights, they basically turned its white façade into a video screen.  Part of the show was a celebration of Chile’s history and cultural heritage and the rest was basically an impressive light show with music.  There was also a Chilean flag in the front of La Moneda that was roughly 60 x 90 feet.  Pretty impressive spectacle on the whole.  So impressive, in fact, that I went twice.  Although the first night I went to the show there were probably about 500,000 people and I didn’t see anything.  Two of the friends I was with climbed a tree in the square for a better view.  Though the carabineros (military police) threatened the two, there was nothing they could do to get through the sea of people to the tree.  In the end, those two saw the show and the other 5 of us didn’t, so I went back a few days later to see it with other friends. 

Joe and I celebrating our win...we were playing
a Chilean game called 'caballito' with our neighbors.
Imagine chicken fights but on the street...
All in all, that was the best week I’ve spent in Chile so far.  Every day during that week when I stepped out of our house, neighbors were offering me some of the food from their grill or some kind of a drink.  I really had the chance to get to know more of the people from my neighborhood and develop a few relationships with neighbors that have continued to grow in these past weeks.  In any case, getting to know some of the people that I live around and sharing the excitement of these holidays has made it seem a bit more like home.  ¡Viva Chile!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beneath Foreign Skies

During the week of August 9-15, Kelsey and I spent lots of time getting to know more of the students and community at St. George’s College.  There is another house of Holy Cross priests that live right next to St. George’s, whom we had dinner with on Monday.  One of the priests there is the rector (principal) of St. George’s and there were two other older priests, one Chilean and one American, who lived through the political turmoil in the early 70s in Chile.  Needless to say, our dinner conversation was pretty interesting and a good opportunity for us to learn more about Chilean culture (luckily we were speaking in English, so I was able to actually understand).  On Tuesday, Kelsey and I accompanied Joe to St. George’s to help with a retreat for 10th graders which was rather uneventful but still a good opportunity to meet more people and become acquainted with customs and procedures in the school environment. 

Twilight in the Chilean countryside
Thursday 8/13 brought the beginning of probably the most interesting experience I’ve had here thus far.  Joe, Kelsey and I departed early in the afternoon to accompany a group of 11th graders from St. George’s on ‘trabajos de invernio,’ which translates as ‘winter works’ but basically is a service trip organized by the school (they organize a service trip during each season of the year with the exception of fall).  Many schools in Santiago organize similar trips, recently focused on aiding earthquake victims.  We left Santiago around 3 pm heading south for the small town of Huerta del Maule (if you look on a map, it’s about halfway between Talca and Linares) and arrived around 9 pm.  There were no paved roads in the town and few lights.  The lack of light pollution during the night gave us an unobstructed view of the night sky in the southern hemisphere.  It was pretty awesome to see the Southern Cross and other constellations that only partially appear in the Northern hemisphere, but it was also strange to be under a different part of the sky.  I’ve been looking up at the same stars for most of my life so seeing the difference in the sky that night really gave me the feeling of being in a foreign place, a wayfarer in an unimaginably different place than home. 

We stayed in a school in the town center, sleeping in classrooms on the floor or on tables.  For a kid who is used to the seasonal ice ages that are common during the Midwestern winters, the winter days here can be relatively warm with temperatures around 50 or 60 degrees when the sun is out.  When the sun sets, however, the temperature drops drastically and hovers just above freezing point.  The cold, coupled with the dampness made sleep pretty difficult, even when I was wearing 3 undershirts (2 of them longsleeve), a sweatshirt, wool hat, scarf, thermal pants and wool socks.  Being uncomfortably cold made sleeping difficult, but being stuck in the same room with about 20 high school kids made it well near impossible.  Chileans are gregarious people and as I previously mentioned, have no problem staying up until 7 am.  Needless to say, a couple hours of sleep is all I got. 

Orlando, Me, Taldo, Peiro, y Marisol
We woke the next morning to prepare for our work, which involved dividing into teams of 5 or 6 and going to different homes in the countryside that had been destroyed by the earthquake to build ‘mediaguas.’  Mediaguas are temporary wooden shanties built for earthquake victims and though the literal translation means ‘half-water,’ it is really just the word that is used for hut or shack.  Kelsey and I were on a team with 3 students, one girl and two guys.  We were helping a couple, Marisol and Orlando, finish their mediagua by insulating it and putting up drywall.  Sounds like pretty simple work, but the only tools we had were screwdrivers, tape measures, and utility knives to cut the drywall.  After working all day Friday and until about 6 pm on Saturday, we finished.  Other teams, however, hadn’t been as efficient as us so we had to help them finish before we could depart for Santiago.  By 8 pm, everyone had finished their work.  It was freezing cold and we were all tired and hadn’t showered in 2 days so we were excited to be on our way back to Santiago.  Or so we thought.  After we had all boarded the bus near our worksite to go back to the town and collect our stuff, the driver got us stuck in a ditch and was unable to maneuver his way out of it.  So we waited around for another half hour for another bus.  We finally departed by 9 or so and made it back to our house, in Santiago, at 2 am.  I was looking forward to a warm shower and comfortable bed to sleep in. 
Taldo, Me, and Peiro insulating the 'mediagau'

A futile attempt to get the bus out of the ditch...
However, the night was far from over.  One of our friends Gusty Simpson, who had been working as a volunteer at some orphanages managed by Holy Cross, was leaving the next morning after spending his summer break here and we were hosting his ‘despedida’ (meaning farewell…a going away party for him).  It didn’t matter that I hadn’t really slept in the last few days, it was Gusty’s last night and despedidas are important.  And since we’re in Chile, the party didn’t end until Gusty finally left our house at about 6 am.  So it was an exhausting weekend overall, but great nonetheless.  There have been some other things that have happened between then and now, but things are becoming a bit more routine here so I think I’ll be able to fill you in with just one update after this to bring us to the present.  Hope you are all alive and well…and missing me. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

One Week Down, 77 To Go

It has been a busy and exciting three weeks since I arrived here in Santiago and it’s been an adventure from the start.  When I got to O’Hare airport in Chicago on Monday, August 2nd, I learned that my flight from Chicago to Atlanta had been delayed.  The flight was pushed back by one hour, which really complicated things, as my layover in Atlanta was only an hour and ten minutes long.  I thought for a few minutes that I would have one last day in the USA but as soon as the thought crossed my mind, the Delta representative at the check-in counter told me excitedly that she was able to reroute my flight, taking me to Santiago via Miami on American Airlines.  I said goodbye to Mom and Dad, rushed through security, made some final telephone calls and was on my way.  Fifteen or so hours later, I arrived in Santiago and was glad to see that my site partner, Kelsey Rea, had waited for me in customs, as her flight had arrived about an hour before mine.  We made our way through customs and were greeted by two others participating in our program, Christine Clark and Joe Coulter, who have been here for a year and will stay with us until January, and Brother Matthew Lyons CSC, a member of the Holy Cross community here in Chile. 

Hermano Mateo (Brother Matt) drove us from the airport to our house, which is not far from the city center.  Along the highway that goes from the airport to the city center, I almost immediately noticed the stark contrast between rich and poor in the city.  Near the airport there are many poor neighborhoods where houses are built mostly from adobe, brick, scrap cardboard, tin, and whatever is lying around.  These neighborhoods lined the banks of the Mapocho, the river that runs through Santiago.  It was easy to discern the poverty from the smoldering fires and garbage heaps near the banks of the Mapocho, just on the outskirts of these shantytowns.  As we got closer to the city center, the scene drastically changed as high-rise apartments and other modern buildings began to dominate the landscape.  We arrived in our neighborhood, Barrio Yungay, which could probably be described as blue collar/middle class according to Chilean living standards.   

Joe and Christine welcomed us with tea, coffee and a small breakfast before we both excused ourselves to have a nice 4 hour nap.  Later that evening, all four of us went to have dinner with some of the Holy Cross priests and brothers that live in community in our neighborhood.  First we had a Mass together and then had some drinks, hors d’oeuvres and conversation followed by a hilarious but delicious first dinner in Chile- Domino’s Pizza.  Maybe the Holy Cross priests and brothers just really wanted us to feel at home in a strange place.  Nothing quite says 'home' like some greasy pepperoni pizza.  The box even said that the pepperoni they use is imported from the United States...I kid you not.  All joking aside, it was a good opportunity to get to know some of the priests and brothers who we will be working with at our schools for the next year and a half.  And for the record, I'm not complaining about the pizza- it was great, just unexpected.      

In the following days, Kelsey and I visited the school in our neighborhood where Christine works called Colegio de Nuestra Señora de Andacollo and the school where Joe works called St. George’s College, both of which are run by Holy Cross.  In Chile there are 3 types of schools: private, public and those like Andacollo that fall somewhere in between.  So while it is a Catholic school, it does get some funding from the government.  Also, many (if not most) schools in Chile are called ‘Colegios’ where there is Kindergarten through 12th grades all in one school.  During our visit to Andacollo, we met lots of teachers, faculty, and we helped Christine teach some 3rd and 4th graders English, which mostly consisted of us asking them if they liked various types of food.  It was basic stuff, but their English was probably better than my Spanish so it was a humbling experience (I feel like a 3rd grader here every day).  We also visited St. George’s the following day with Joe, which is really a world apart from Andacollo.  St. George’s is a private school for well-to-do Chilean families mostly from the upper middle class.  It’s situated in Vitacura, a wealthy, spacious neighborhood in the northeast part of the city.  From various parts of the campus the skyline of Santiago is visible and you can see the Andes as you walk from building to building.  During our visit, we looked around the campus, met with the faculty who works in 'pastoral' (basically campus ministry) and then talked with a 9th grade theology class about religion in the US and about why we had come to Chile.  Being at both schools was great and it was interesting to see the two very different realities of a poorer inner-city school versus the upper middle class St. George’s.  Despite the apparent differences between the schools, we were warmly welcomed at both by the students and teachers alike.

On Friday 8/6, Kelsey and I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon working at  ‘el comedor’ (literally, dining room) or soup kitchen in our neighborhood with Christine.  There we met Señora Christina, the woman in charge of the place who put us to work right away in the kitchen, chopping pumpkin, onion, and other things for the soup she was preparing.  After we got everything together for the soup, we started setting the table and preparing the dining room for the ‘abuelitos’ arrival.  Most of the folks who come here, the ‘abuelitos,’ are older people from our neighborhood who for a variety of reasons don’t always have enough to eat.  Many bring along containers to take soup to their spouses, other family members, or to save for the weekend.  After we served the abuelitos and sat down to eat, it didn’t take long for them to start questioning the two new ones who they’d never seen before (Kelsey and I).  Kelsey managed to understand and communicate pretty well, but unfortunately much of what was said was lost on me.  One of the gentlemen asked me if I worked for the Congregation of Holy Cross, to which I responded "yes."  He then proceeded to talk at me very excitedly for a good 5 minutes without me understanding a single word.  I nodded my head and muttered “sí” every so often so as to appear that I was hanging on to his every word.  A few minutes later, after the rest of were seated and eating, he was on his way out and thanked me graciously followed by a “chau padrecito” (goodbye, father-as if I was a priest).  Christine, upon hearing this, asked me what I had told him.  I told her that I had understood little of what he said but that he had asked me if worked for the Congregation of Holy Cross to which I had responded “yes, I’m doing mission work here in Santiago.”  Apparently he took that to mean that I was a priest, so when he left and said “chau padrecito!” everyone else in the comedor started laughing.  Chile: 1, Blair: 0. 

Only a few minutes after one man in the comedor had mistaken me as a priest, an old woman told me “that she had only seen such a beautiful person as me in her dreams.”  I mean, maybe, but that’s the funny thing about being a gringo (especially a 6' 2" gringo with blond hair and pale skin)- the sheer fact that you look so much different makes people say some pretty hilarious things.  She then proceeded to talk about  some hilarious scenario in which Christine and I would be married and Kelsey would play the violin at our wedding.  Some of the abuelitos also seem to be on the verge of senility, which probably helps explain why some of them say such, uh, interesting things.  Needless to say, we met some fascinating people at the comedor.  It was a great afternoon and I able to share in some pretty good laughs, even if most of them were at my expense.  Chile: A lot, Blair: still 0.   

Friday night our housemates who have been here for a year, Christine and Joe, threw a party to welcome us to Chile and to introduce us to some of their friends down here (both Chileans and gringos).  Needless to say, Chileans know how to have a good time and many of our guests didn’t leave until 5:30 or 6 am.  Apparently 6 or 7 am is the norm for calling it quits during weekend festivities, which sounds like fun but doesn’t sound like something that we’ll be doing every weekend…I promise, I’m here to work too.  Anyway, everyone we met was friendly and even lots of our neighbors showed up to welcome the new gringos to the neighborhood.   

On Saturday and Sunday, all 4 of the OLMs (my 3 housemates and I) spent a short weekend with our director, Fr. Mike Delaney, and Brother Matt in El Quisco.  El Quisco is a small town on the pacific coast, due west of Santiago, where the Congregation has a sizeable house right on the beach that we stayed in.  It was a nice weekend for all of the housemates to really get to know one another.  We didn’t do much besides play cards, check out the beach, and visit the adjacent town of Isla Negra, where Pablo Neruda’s house was (Chilean poet who won the Nobel Prize in 1971 for literature).  The quiet weekend gave us a chance to get to know each other and relax before we really jump in with our work down here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Eagle Has Landed

So I have arrived safely here in Santiago, Chile.  First, let me explain the title.  'Algunos cuentos Chilenos' means 'Some Chilean stories.'  Pretty simple.  '¿Cachai?' is the Chilean way of saying 'You get it?' or 'You understand?' but it's slang so, 'You know what I'm sayin?' might be the best way to explain it.  Anyway, Chileans, especially the younger ones, say it all the time. ¿Cachai?  

I'm new to the blog scene, but I hope to keep up on this 2-4 times per month to keep you updated on what's going on down here south of the equator.  Sorry for a boring first post but I'm a little preoccupied right now as me and my 3 roommates are preparing to host a party at our house (within the next hour or so we'll be hosting 25-30 people in a pretty small house so...).  In the next couple of days I'll write a proper first post and really let you all know what happened this first week, it's been exciting and I have a few hilarious stories already (mostly due to my inability to understand Spanish).  More to come, hope you're all well.  Chau!