Back in the USA, Wow, I’ve Changed.

gringolandia
It has been a year and a half since our family left the USA. We relocated to a suburb of Santiago, Chile known as Chicureo. Our family arrived at Miami, FL, USA at 5 in the morning on Christmas Eve. After landing I bent over to gather my belongings and muttered “Finally! No more being stared at!” and sure enough as soon as I looked up there were two young passengers , point blank , eyes glaring at me like I just landed from another planet and not another country. I had spoken English on a LAN flight to the USA. So I chuckled, pointed at them and proceeded to retract my statement “Not yet, but soon.”
The first stop at the airport was the bathroom as every self-respecting parent knows. In between the male and female restrooms stood my youngest, face-to-face with an unfamiliar object until the eldest cut in front and drank from it. ” Water fountain!” I watched and smiled as they taught him how to push the button and slurp the rainbow of free, clean and bubble free water.
We spent so much time fantasizing about food we missed while living in Chile. Like a prisoner on death row planning his final meal we planned our gastronomical tour of favorite haunts in the USA. Our first meal as a family ended-up being a revelation in terms of defining “American”. Nothing says USA like a Mexican lunch truck serving hot and spicy food, in English and Spanish 24/7.
I am a conformist now. I was quite the opposite in my little town of Chicureo. No matter how outspoken or outlandish I thought I was my adopted country of Chile had tamed me in ways I am now beginning to appreciate. My ears had to readjust to parents shouting at their kids and strangers voicing their unsolicited opinions.
At first I must admit I celebrated when I heard a fellow parent publicly reprimand their child. Back in Chile I often asked the mothers for their secret. I never witnessed a Chilena openly lose her patience and yell at her child. Somehow they found a subtle way to keep their kids in line. I am sure I got my fair share of stares that way, not from disciplining my kids, but for raising my voice in order to achieve it. Point for Chile.
And oh the complaining! Dear God the USA is a nation of whiners. Then again my peers in Chile were raised under a dictatorship so this freedom of speech thing has not become the monster that it is in the USA. While in Chile I begged the people to speak-up and now in the USA I am begging the people to tone it down. Please, I can hear you, all the way across the store.
Before I part ways with today’s blog entry I would like to thank those of you you hit that “like” button on my blog. What I would love more are some questions, comments or suggestions on what to write about. Post a link to your blog or item of interest on my comments so I can do the same for you. I am honored to know someone finds what I write interesting and worthy of discussion or sharing.
Hasta la pasta from Gringolandia.

Welcome To Bedrock

blogsize01 1   Welcome to Bedrock, Chile.

For the longest time I wondered what on Earth was going on in that hill across from my home. “Boom! Boom! Boom!”several times a day followed by the rumbling of stones down the hill.  The dust it raises forms a cloud that settles on every vehicle, in every home and even some lungs… cough cough. I sometimes wish I could just hose down my home the way they do an industrial bathroom. You know, the ones with the stainless steel doors and a drain on the floor; much easier.  As it is when I do hose down the outer walls it looks like the bleeding tears of the Madonna.  Everything in our area  appears as if it went through one of the Instagram or Flikr filters to make it seem like the old west.

I was not a fan of this hill.  It represented filth and noise to me.  There is constant movement on it.  Maybe it is a small mountain. You can run up a hill. You can’t run up this thing.  There are winding roads, dirt roads of course, wrapping themselves around it like the grooves of a top.  Every now and then a tarp appears for workers to take refuge underneath. Day in and day out that anthill of tiny people on tiny trucks setting off explosions  gives me cause to mumble like a crazy person as I wipe down everything, knowing full well a fresh coat will land within hours.  “Progress”, I grumble.   Blowing up a mountain to reshape it into modern day suburbia.  That would be my neighborhood.  At the foot of that hill are hundreds upon hundreds of brand new gated communities that depend on this rock for attractive landscaping and whatnot.

One day I decided to jog to the other side of the mountain, to see what I could see. Not that I was earnestly curious.  I had to add some kilometers to my jog and according to  http://runkeeper.com  I could do so with a nice circuit around whatever was back there. Off I went down a lonely road until at some point I think I stepped through a worm hole.  When I landed on the other side I arrived in the town of Las Canteras – The Stone Quarry, or better yet “Bedrock”.

Piles and piles of stone lined the street; each pile categorized by size and color. The contrast of humble wooden homes with stone  sidewalks, entrances and even a stone ping pong table was a feast for my eyes.  I don’t know who stared the most during that jog, the residents at me or myself at my surroundings.  I was giddy. I had to come back and take this area in, give it the attention it deserved, garner even more stares from the locals. I did look odd.  I was a gringa with flaming red hair (In one of the 2 available colors in the country) running for sport in a town where people use their feet for transportation.  At least I gave the packs of dogs something to chase.  Ah yes, the dogs, the local home security system.  I made sure to warn my kids about them.  “Now stick together! We need to look like a pack so they don’t come after you.” You see for my second trip I brought my kids and my dogs and of course Chocolate .  Chocolate is a street dog who has adopted us.  So off I went leading my little ones on what ended up being a 4.5 hour walk through the town of Bedrock.

blogsize04 The walk went by quickly as the kids were as excited about this town as I was. It had variety, color, creativity.  This is the country that gave us the Moai  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moai of Easter Island.  In fact there were several modern renditions of them standing guard on the sidewalk.  The kids wanted one.  Mind you, it was hand carved stone and twice my height. “Someday and smaller.” I promised. I meant it too. Hunger started calling so we marched up to a local snack shop.

blogsize05 Past the now customary pile of stones there lay a garden  and quite the porch.  I asked the owner and yes, her family designed and built all of it.  Each stone carefully selected and cut to interlock as a mosaic of strength and beauty. I mentioned that somehow, I didn’t think this fortress of a home had any trouble handling http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Chile_earthquake the big quake. Oh, no, nothing she said with pride.

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I guess we won her over when my son told her this was his dream home.  Soon after she waved us through the door for a tour.  If you have ever lived in Chile, you will appreciate that this is a great honor. They are very private people and it may take years to reach this point in a relationship with some folks.  Then again, she had the chance to brag to a family of expats dragging their jaws on the floor in pure admiration of her home.  Right on the other side of her door was her quincho which is a separate BBQ grill area in the back yard.  Her quincho of course was B.C. chic, because, well, we were in Bedrock and Wilma was showing off her kitchen.

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We hugged and kissed and waved good-bye to Wilma. It was time for our picnic.  A little while down the road we found of course,  stone picnic tables next to… yes a hopscotch game; with each number represented by a carved stepping stone.  While the kids ate and played I heard the “Clink, clink” of a mallet and chisel.  There he was, parked underneath a tarp, surrounded by piles of rock and a wheelbarrow: Fred Flintstone. Well Luis actually.  Poor Luis, he had no idea what hit him when I marched up to him and promptly sat down.  I sat face to face with him, munched on my sandwich and yammered away about my day’s adventures, life story and littered in between, questions about his craft.  Rain started to fall which sent my picnic crew, dogs and all, creeping over, politely so as not to kick any stone out-of-place.  There we were, huddled under the tarp in the rain, watching Fred Flintstone measure and trace the lines of each stone with chalk and carefully chip away at it.  Not for some impressive sculpture, no, for use as a brick in a wall or on an entrance way. Each stone, hand measured and carved.

blogsize03  The rain let up long enough for my motley crew to head home. We all said our goodbyes.  No doubt we gave Fred and Wilma something to talk about at the dinner table.  Man, that must be some dinner table. My kids slept well that night.  They not only had a lengthy walking tour through time, they had plenty to dream about.

Trotando Con 4 Patas

Untitled by GringaDchicureo

Luego de observar los múltiples intentos de suicidarse en la última trotada (Lean mi post – Frogger) decidí encerrar mi adorado cachorro en el dormitorio. ¡Qué alivio! Ahora sí pude planificar una trotada larga mas interesante. Tenía que ser interesante por dos razones: Andaba sin escuchar mis podcasts sobre temas tan excitantes como la ciencia y política y segundo iba acompañada de mi hijo quién logró lavar su Ipod al dejarlo en el abismo, digo bolsillo de sus pantalones.
Bien, fui a la página de Runkeeper y con ánimo tracé un circuito por el pueblo de Chicureo. Una vuelta nítida de 14 kilómetros. Así tendríamos paisaje, negocios y las obras de los canteros para nuestra gira peatonal. El primogénito y yo salimos, encerramos al cachorro y comenzamos la trotada.
“Buenos Días Chocolate”saludamos al pasar a la caseta del guardia. Chocolate es un perro bello quién adoptó a los guardias de nuestra comunidad. Es mas, Chocolate merece un uniforme ya que cuando suena una alarma igual anda con los guardias a revisar. Una vez intentaron deshacerse del perrito al dejarlo en Santiago y días después volvió a aparecer hambriento y con las patas peladas.  Desde entonces Chocolate cobra su pega con alimento de perro .

” Mami el perro.” El perro, me parece,  se inspiró al ver  mi cachorro acompañarme la última vez y como andábamos sin él,  decidió que nos hacía falta el tercer integrante, el de cuatro patas.  Como era temprano por la mañana Chocolate confiaba que el guardia humano podía cumplir sin él, seamos realistas, ni los ladrones madrugan a estas horas. Así que mi hijo y yo partimos para la vuelta a ver cuánto iba durar este trío.

La hora de la verdad llegó al abandonar a la zona de los condominios y pasar a los hogares particulares protegidos por perros y escasamente cercadas.  Los que trotan  ya saben andar con cautela para no levantar las sospechas de los perros guardianes.  Ladran y sacuden las verjas al brincarles encima , todo a nombre de proteger su terreno. Eso es su deber.  Es la pega de la mayoría de los perros, pero no el  de Chocolate.  Chocolate totalmente confundió a los perros de Chicureo.

Chocolate dejó su uniforme de guardia atrás en el condominio y como muchos trotadores guardaba un cambio de indumentaria. Los perros de Chicureo estaban pocos preparados para ver este atleta. Perdí cuenta de cuantos perros salieron a amenazar o saludarnos durante esa trotada. Una y otra vez llegaban a toda velocidad en grupos, de todos tamaños rodeándonos mostrándonos sus dientes hasta que se dieron cuenta que Chocolate andaba relajado…. muy relajado y contento con la vida.

Chocolate, feliz como lombriz, prueba única del “Runner’s High” en el mundo canino culminó sus 14 kilómetros con unas vienesas y nuestra admiración.

Immigrant Children In Chile: The USA Episode

filming by GringaDchicureo

Chile is doing well compared to most countries, so well that it is no longer a pit stop for business travelers. Families are now packing their bags as well, and staying. Coming from the United States, a country deemed a land of immigrants this is nothing new to me, however… it is here. In an effort to help ease the local population into this demographic shift the decision was made to create a documentary series for the children of Chile by the immigrant children of Chile aka Niños Inmigrantes.
Their efforts are funded by an award from CNTV (Consejo Nacional de Televisión) of Chile.

Niños inmigrantes

Programa que recopila, escucha y presenta las voces de niñas y niños hijos de inmigrantes que viven en Chile. Con el objetivo de buscar la mayor diversidad cultural, sin importar la raza, la etnia, la nacionalidad o el credo, esta iniciativa pretende establecer un canal de diálogo entre estos niños extranjeros y la sociedad chilena con la que conviven. Nos interesa conocer sus historias de vida, sus tradiciones, sus culturas, sus alegrías, sus temores, sus proyectos, en fin… conocer un poco más de la vida de estos pequeños migrantes. Asimismo, este programa busca hacer de Chile un país más amable, tolerante e intercultural.

Dirigida por: Martín Arechaga
Producción general: Macarena Cardone
Presentado por: LovFilms

It began by responding to an ad in the paper . We were sent a questionnaire with such items as “What is your favorite Chilean food?” followed by “Do you understand Chilenos?’ and “Do they understand you?” They liked his responses and called him in for an interview. I prepped him for it since he has Aspergers Light which means I coach him through the details of communication, not the heart of it. Life as an expat, where one has to sort out different cultural norms goes hand-in-hand with life as an Aspie. If nothing else expat parents will finally understand what their kids experience when trying to make sense of communicating in a new social context. Well, it turns out they liked what my son had to offer. That same evening they called and said they would come over in a day or so to my home and film. Wait, my home? Why not film all over the lovely town we live in? Oh dear, what have I gotten myself into? Why sure, c’mon over! Let the cleaning marathon begin!

Upon arrival they went straight up to his room. His room is an opus to transportation: License plates, posters of cars, sketches, model cars…and he made sure to give them a full tour and historical background of anything with a motor that caught their fancy. The producers kept commenting to me that they had never met someone so young with such a vast knowledge of vehicles. He was at ease with the film crew, narrating away for the camera. They said his personality was unlike that of the other children they worked with. Many whom shut down at the sight of the camera or when surrounded by so many adults. Every now and then a member of the crew would ask me about different aspects of our home such as the list of chores I had posted for the kids, a jar of peanut butter, myself wearing an apron and the mural of my children’s school work taped to the kitchen wall.
Since then there have been many visits, phone calls and e-mails. They even provided him with a camera with which to document his summer vacation in the USA. He, along with 11 other children have been chosen for this honorable project. Until production is completed I can offer you this teaser:

Click Here For Teaser

As part of the project they provided him with art supplies and requested he draw some vehicles for the episode.

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Several months have transpired since production of Niños Inmigrantes began. Yesterday’s component involved a 12 hour shoot in my home. The neighborhood kids, gardeners, nannies and even the community guard were excited about the hubbub. I saw it as an opportunity to reach out to my Chilean neighbors, whom are very private. I had no trouble bringing the kids in to have a look, but their parents were another story. I did actually have to take two lovely mommies by the arm and “drag” them in. I convinced them that they were not imposing by saying that everybody else in the world seemed to be in my home, why not them?

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The filming concluded with a camping scene in our backyard. I watched as Chilenos tried and failed for the longest time to start a fire. I, being the tactless expat that I am, poked fun at them. They are after all master “Parilleros”. Grilling is to Chileans as baking is to Martha Stewart. Eventually, after handing them a ball of newspaper to light underneath their visually appealing firewood the flames grew and the director called “Action!” Now I have a large circular patch of scorched earth in my yard with which to commemorate this occasion.

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The producers told me that they originally envisioned a series focusing on children from neighboring Latin American countries and yet were pleasantly surprised to find that people from all over the world were moving to Chile “Even Greece!” they kept telling me. I look forward to meeting the other families participating in this project and learning from their experiences as well. That of course is another episode, stay tuned.

The Original Angry Birds

The Original Angry Birds by GringaDchicureo
        This is my second Christmas away from the madness in the USA.  I don’t mind not having to come up with an alibi for every fake Santa Claus posing for photos.  No sight of any so far.  There must be one somewhere, but I would have to make the effort to find him and I am not about to.  Yesterday we went to one of the major malls in the city and it was packed with people and Christmas decorations.  I stuck to window shopping and working out my biceps and triceps via tug-of-war with the youngest.  He is small enough to be stepped on, I am convinced, yet Mr. Independence wanted to sail the sea of shoppers on his own.  I watched my eldest march over to a mat in front of a very large screen and start waving his hand as though he were putting it into a trance. Soon after he was virtually launching fluffy cartoon birds at virtual wooden block castles. My daughter, insisted on pointing out every toy her friends had… hint hint.  Good for them now move it along kiddos!
     Today we did our real Christmas shopping an hour away in the village of Pomaire. This indigenous village supplied all of Chile with their earthen flatware for centuries until the more recent arrival of foreign imports.  In addition to the traditional clay pots there were plenty of other locally produced goods to choose from. I pointed out the wooden tops to the kids and said “Look, the original Bey Blade!”.  They did not find any humor in that.  At least with the wooden top if you loose the dang string you can cut off a new piece.  Then came the doll ‘Oooooooh Mommy!’squealed my daughter.  A glimmer of hope.  A yarn doll in traditional Aymara dress was simply calling her name. Next came the “Mooooom!  from my son who had attached himself to a hand carved slingshot and was not letting go without a fight.  The ladies peddling toys out of barrels marched a marionette across my youngest’s path and well, now he is marching it across the dinner table.
     I took this photo thinking how cool it was to be able fire off pebbles with a slingshot into a river.  I later instructed my child in the time-honored way of carrying his new weapon, stuffed in his back pocket.  My kids like their toys.  They are playing with their toys.  So much for Angry Birds….more like Happy Kids.

Chilenas, all of them, I swear!

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Chilenas, all of them, I swear!  Well, all except for yours truly, but seriously people I can’t begin to emphasize how monumental this moment was for me as an expat in Chile.  I broke through the bubble and you can too.  There is hope for us gringos to bond with the locals without marrying into the family.  Granted that has not been the only way, but the most popular no doubt.

We spent hours exchanging our personal stories over coffee and laughing, so much laughing.  These ladies felt comfortable right off the bat sharing intimate details of themselves without a single drop of pisco.  Well, you see, that is usually what it takes to get the locals relaxed: a BBQ and wine marathon known as a “parillada” which begins at lunch and extends way, way past dinner. This was breakfast, yeah, that’s right, I had breakfast with Chileans.  Let that sink in won’t you.

All of this thanks to the wonders of Twitter, a way for an introverted nation to observe you and then choose when and how to socialize with you.  I grew up on an island where the phrase “Mi casa es su casa.” was taken very seriously.  You knew your neighbors and happily marched into their homes as they did yours with only one invitation: the first upon introduction.  Today I sat with a group of women who still could not fathom going to someone’s home, even though they were invited as a group.  It was too much too soon for them, better some breakfast at a restaurant…. for now.