Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"I've been really good this year"

Today Angel and I went to the post office to mail an amaaaazing package to my parents. I am so proud of the things Angel made for them, and regretful I didn't take any pictures before sending it. As soon as we walked in I saw the piles of letters along the walls, but we assumed the post office or volunteer workers were selecting the cutest or funniest "Dear Santa" letters, and Angel guessed would pick some of the most needy children to get them their gifts. Luckily, after we got to the front of the line, something was out of order so we soon had to go to the back of the line and do it again. This time we went equipped with a stack of Santa letters because we realized that the public was allowed to read them too.
After a few really normal letters asking for bikes and a playstation, I read one that seemed really simple yet cute.
I felt so bad when I looked at how many letters there were there and realized it would be unlikely that this girl was chosen out of everyone.

Then I saw the sign that explained the real deal for the letters. It said the public are encouraged to select a letter and play Santa, later dropping off or mailing the gifts to the address on the envelope.
I was sold.

Our letter had a phone number of a neighbor on front because they didn't have a telephone, and the neighbor's niece confirmed the address and the need for our help. The kids were told they wouldnt be able to have Christmas this year, not even a dinner, because of money, and the mom washes clothes to make a living.

(click to enlarge)
We left the post office with the letter and went straight to a department type store and got an amazingly cute little boyshorts bikini for the 8 year old (at one point I said "but she's 8, dont you think the mom would prefer we get a one piece?" and about 4 chilean mothers sifting through the bins next to me looked up with grins, looked at the swimsuit and said "get it".)

Then we went to a large outdoor market set up for Christmas. We found a cute and quality small backpack (more for going out than school, seeing as summer vacation just started) for the letter writer, picked only after I pleaded not to buy Pooh merchandise for a middleschooler- I cannot get over the cultural hurdle of accepting Disney apparel being cool for all ages.

For the boy, picking was easy and after a price and quality survey we returned to a store we had passed for a shiny blue and white soccer ball that should last.

On the way back, we found a little drawstring Hello Kitty bag and hid the swimsuit in that, and got some hair barrettes and a mini handbag to put in the writer's backpack.

We wrapped the gifts, invited another friend, and bought meat, veggies and drinks for their Christmas dinner, and a little extra. Then we got on a bus that took us outside of the port area of Valparaiso and then started heading up.
and up.
and up.
and up.

Some people on the bus and the driver let us know when we finally got to the neighborhood. There was no more up to go. I saw the most incredible view of not only Valparaiso but all of the mountains layered in the distance behind it. To the other side was a cloudy coast I'd never seen before. We looked down on hills of Valparaiso and it was hard to imagine how tall they look from the plan.

We called the neighbor again to help us find our way, and started walking through the street. Everybody had houses mostly built from scratch and siding materials or wood, and there was the most random mix of dogs.... puppies to spaniel looking things to muts to one that passed a Saint Bernard in size were all wandering or fenced in. We gave the neighbor a small jar of maple syrup for her help (did I mention all the lost phone calls in between leaving and arriving?) and knocked on the family's door. A younger mother opened the door with a smile and called down the kids. The house was made of cement but very simple. We noticed a small tree in the corner of the room too and it was obvious that the family got along and the mom was caring. We explained that we were representing Santa in delivering the gifts and handed one to each and the food for the mom. They looked really excited and thankful and kept us there to chat. As we were leaving, Angel and his friends put on a show of acrobatics for them outside.

The mom said the kids would have to wait until Christmas to open the gifts, but the boy looked extremely content with his (note the ball's lack of disguise in the photo), and the girls would have to wait but we saw that one of the neighbors had a large above ground plastic pool and knew the little one would be set for the summer. And the letter writer, the middle child 11 year old girl who wrote a letter to Santa just asking for what everybody else needed and just a little something, whatever that may be, for herself... well she already looked pretty happy.

And finally, I feel the Christmas spirit. I didn't think that was going to come around this year at all.


claresays said...

This is the perfect christmas story! Thank you for sharing.

lydia said...

Thanks, isn't it though?! I'm glad it worked out so well but after all that I woke up early this morning with the jolting thought "we forgot the pan de pascua!!!" oops.

I think sometimes people becomes so wary they decline to participate.
True, sometimes these things don't work out ideally... (watch the news)
But this time it did! It was so nice to see some cute little kids with a good mom and help them be able to celebrate.
Restores a little faith in helping out, I think.

Abby said...

this story made me so happy. i'm really glad it worked out, i'm sure the family will always remember you for making their christmas a little brighter.

kumichan83 said...

This is so sweet... and I like your new header!

Happy Holidays!

Mamacita Chilena said...

This really made me smile :) I'm so glad you were able to help them out a little bit.

Merry Christmas!

Fned said...

Your post really made me smile (and tear up I have to add).

I wasn't feeling the Holiday cheer this year, it just seemed like one bad news coming after another, but your reading your post this morning reminded me of what it's all about.

Felíces Fiestas to Angel and yourself!

Cachando Chile said...

Thanks for that! I have a hard time with the whole Christmas in the summer bit and the way it all seems so commercial... and I tend to forget the true meaing of Christmas... thanks for reminding me... and I'm sure there are 3 kids and a mom who will never forget your act of kindness!

Stephanie said...

wow, that's amazing, thanks for sharing, and as for tearing up, I all out cried.

Christian said...

BRAVO!!! Well done! You've made the world just that much more lovely to be in. I wish I was there to have done the same, perhaps sometime in the future. Best wishes for everyone this 2009!

Meredith said...

Wow, I've been a lazy blog reader so I just got to this.....that's a really great story. I wish I'd known about this! I've always done this sort of thing in the states but this year I was so in my own head it didn't even occur to me...

Now that I've changed my pesos into dollars (the exchange rate is death right now) I'm pretty sure I could've done a lot more as Santa with that cash than I can do as me in the US!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Honest and hardworking individuals are foolish

Today one of my students brought up a viewpoint that really interests but aggravates me, especially because I believed he may be on to something.

He feels that many of the problems in Chile such as theft and other crime, are due indirectly to low wages in the sense that people who are honest, good people that earn low wages eventually become seen as "foolish," especially by their children who are affected and frustrated by their parents economic situation. They see the little payoff for their parents good actions and begin to see other activities that involve lying, cheating, and stealing as more advantageous or strategic in the long run. There seems to be very little reward for people who want to do things the right way and the younger generation learns that hard work, good morals, and determination don't necessarily bring you advantages in life.

(*edit- I do agree with this for the most part, the part I'm not sure I want to commit to is the causal relationship and singling this out as the only factor)


Mamacita Chilena said...

I have thought about this SO many times. There is no Chilean dream and the system truly does seem to penalize those who work hard. It really is a vicious circle isn't it?

lydia said...

totally, and unfortunate. it seems to go against a lot of the life morals i feel like i learned as a kid. and it gets to me every time I want to tell one of the lazy drunk punk teens harassing me for money to "get a job"... I don't think I would follow my own advice if I were one of them.

Emily said...

Rodolfo has a friend who grows and sells weed every year, making a few hundred lucas to support his carretes for a couple months (the rest of the year his parents give him money, that's a whole different story about parenting skills). He isn't studying or working, and while he says he wants to get a job he doesn't make much effort - why bother working long days for very little pay when he can get far more money for far less effort and no bad consequences?

Sara said...

I think your student is on to something, but unfortunately, it also seems way more complicated than that.

Maybe the young people don't just see from their parents, but friends, and well an entire country that is kept down by working way to hard, way to long for really low wages.

Then if you add in politics...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Mil tambores 2008

Seeing as nobody ever invited me to even watch before (In 2006, I remember complaining about having the worlds most boring weekend and someone suggests 2 days too late "why didnt you go to the parade," "...what parade?" ...thanks everyone) this weekend I got my revenge on the Carnival de Mil Tambores by participating!

The carnival is mostly dance and drum groups, many of them African in origin. But it also has a parade like any with stunts and juggling and costumes and the like. There are workshops and presentations all weekend.
For the parade, my boyfriend and I dressed up and joined the procession as clowns. It was cute.

I even invented a decent clown dance. But, doing a goofy clown dance in front of a zillion people is probably still a lot less intimidating than dancing in your birthday suit.

Everyone kept taking pictures with me too. But this morning it was my boyfriend that ended up famous in El Mercurio.

He steals my thunder. But like I said last post...I suspect its got something to do with gravity.


Isabel said...

that looks like so much fun! and, that is a great picture in the paper of your does he do that??!!

Abby said...

That's awesome!

lydia said...

thanks, must be some mix of practice and muscles completely unfamiliar to me.... haha

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The antique slot machine

So I thought i'd go basic for some of my friends/readers unfamiliar with Chile (which, now that i rethink it, is silly cuz i just swapped URLs on them and nobody has tracked me down again). But the little things are sometimes what make it interesting abroad.

So this is a calefont:

I have narrowed the calefont's main functions down to
a) heating water
b) sucking up all my money
c) causing alarm and worry about my safety

I call it a slot machine because I feel like it's a constant hopeful gamble of investing money, which usually results in a small payoff just big enough to suck you into "playing again." And, antique being...the thing is probably 1.5 times my age. Plus! Since I am gringa, there are always lots of sudden extra charges that accumulate once the calefont repair man arrives at the house and $ee$ me. (sees me, get it? yeah.)
To work it, you turn a lever which allows gas to flow through the pipes, light a match or something and stick it in that hole in front above a pilot thing while sliding the lever below to determine temperature, and then turn on the water. Hopefully, rows of burner looking things next to the pilot light will also shoot up in flames and the water will become hot. Also everytime someone else who shares our piping system turns on the water, the pressure changes and affects the water heating process. Everytime I need to change the temp, I get out of the shower, leave the bathroom, and go change the lever. Sometimes this happens half a dozen times.

As for the safety, at times there are gas leaks, which you can imagine are dangerous. It happens from time to time, even a few years ago a girl studying abroad through the same company as I did actually was killed by a gas leak from one of these things. It is ideal to keep them outside the house, or at least outside the bathroom so its not as confined.

Also, another factor I had never considered before, came (very suddenly) to my attention on Thursday. After taking a shower, the calefont pipes exploded while I was still in the bathroom. I suppose in the end I was thankful, because what I immediately thought was a house intruder with a pistol turned out to be merely split pipes spraying hot water all over my house. But I guess after all that still sounds pretty bittersweet....


Sara said...

Another use:
4. Scaring the shit out of gringas who have to light those frickin things.

Sara said...

oopsie. Maybe I should have said "crap". Too late.

lydia said...

haha. no worries its not censored. seriously. i;ve given in and purchased one of those long things where you just have to pull the trigger for flames, but seriously the times when i have to try it with a match, or worse... light the stove, ignite some piece of paper and sheild it til i get it into the hole (which, takes like 7 tries) those are the lowest point of my calefont tolerance.

actually, twice i have been lucky enough to live places where it was outside and it was never turned off. and another time we had an automatic one where the spark thing was built in. but now its back to old school troubles with this one.

kumichan83 said...

i was just thinking about how hard it is to get a good shower in latin america. these calefont things aren't so bad compared to those electric shower heads that you attach to your shower for warm water. i got electrocuted by those many times in guatemala and brazil.

i am in chile visiting right now and my in laws have a calefont and i realized that in ecuador we are lucky to have a shower with such great water pressure and a constant flow of warm water. i just don't feel clean after bathing with water that dribbles out of the shower head, haha.

kumichan83 said...

hi lydia, i have a question for you. how did you make your blog header? what program did you use? i am just wondering what program i should use just to make a custom blog header with the lettering and all that. no fancy graphics or anything because i am no designer.

let me know if you can. thanks!
ps- i have the whole adobe suite just sitting here on my laptop

Friday, August 29, 2008

Did I actually stumble out ahead in a Chilean bureaucratic maze?

The types of circles you’re sent around trying to do things in Chile are often amazingly complicated, often times for little apparent reason, or are complete Catch-22s (Ask me about trying to legally exit security in the Santiago airport…)
Anyway, long story short minimally reduced and reflection omitted, one month ago I purchased a brand new refrigerator. Why new? Because when I agreed to buy a used one and return with a rented truck to pick it up, the shop had shut their doors on me. So, Plan B, that was sketchy.

Anyway, the one I picked was the last one in the department store, and they gave a discount because it was the display model on the floor. It arrived at my house, although within days of plugging it in, spoiled soy milk convinced me we had nothing more than a futuristic cupboard with an internal light.
Because it was the last one and swapping to another would be quite a price jump, we just wanted our money back, but customer service needed proof of its dysfunctionality. Apparently I wasn’t in Nordstrom’s anymore… (Ok crappy joke. Their customer service is famous for going to extents of accepting returns for products not even purchased there just to save client satisfaction)

Seeing as I cannot hardly do a pushup and we live essentially on the side of a mountain, someone was going to have to come to our house as “proof,” a later understatement for the technician’s report: does not freeze, missing parts of the motor.
Uhhhhh?….. oh right, Chile.

He advised that help from the store would be unlikely, and pleading with the manufacturer to replace their faulty product was the best bet.
They agreed. They said it would be at our house within 5 days.
8 days later and all food long spoiled, we called back to check in. “We already sent it to the local branch, its out of our control.”
So we call the local branch- “It hasn’t arrived yet.”
Odd, but a few days later they tell us “we’ll deliever it between 9am and 7pm tomorrow, someone has to be home.” So we sit inside all day, and nobody comes. This happens about 4 more times over the following 3 weeks, ‘til last Thursday Angel freaks on the phone and asks why he should waste his days waiting for a truck that never comes, and how he knows when to believe them that they’re actually coming. They replied apologetically that the replacement had not been confirmed on paper before, but to rest assured that this time everything is under control for Saturday.
So you’d laugh to learn Saturday was another no-show.

A month had passed and I was fed up, trying to decide what legal trouble I might get in by asking Visa to cancel the payment. We went to get some legal advice and got things in order to file a lawsuit this tomorrow.

Anyway, anybody who has been through anything similar will realize what a long, horrible, and complicated process I was probably getting into. So thankfully and ironically out of the blue, on my way home that day they called to say they were waiting outside my house. Arriving home would prove otherwise, but they did return later that night with my my brand new replacement refrigerator.
Brand new as in: in the package, never used, never displayed, and a larger, upgraded model than the original purchase.

Excuse me, did I not completely lose out this time?

Wait, seriously?

P.S. Please don’t wait for the sequel to this story, I plugged the thing in, and it *gasp* makes food colder.