Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Not for the easily offended

I so desperately wanted to believe it was because I was a modern day Saint Francis of Asissi. I mean there we were, the gringo parade, walking down the lonely campo roads of Pocuro with, at one count, 9 dogs following us. Perhaps the image would have been as majestic as I would like to picture it if it weren’t for the fact that Roy and I were busily attempting to chase the dogs away, as they fearlessly pursued the one female dog who took a liking to us- and was getting humped by every four legged creature in sight and come to think of, out of sight..

Apparently Chileans think neutering is a form of cruelty to animals but yet having hundreds or thousands of dogs aimlessly wandering the streets homeless is not. I am yet to figure it out but I can attest that in the heat of the summer, the heat of the poor female dog walking alongside us was even worse. Perhaps you have a vivid imagination and to that I say, first get your head out of the gutter, and then picture the humor of the three Americans sitting at the bus stop while just inches from their feet, every male dog in Pocuro was attempting to hump what must have been the only female dog in the area. Adding to the humor is that, several feet away at safe distances, every local was laughing at the gringo boys who had sunk their heads into their hands, only hoping we would not have to endure the humiliation for too long.

And you’d think going to bed that night it couldn’t have gotten any worse. Daniela, the street dog mentioned earlier follows the Associates wherever they go, and so I tried to get to sleep the night before in spite of the sound of Memo, the Pocuro Associates dog, growling and humping, unsuccessful (wide and to the left I sadly witnessed enough to be able to attest to) for hours and hours throughout the night. And at 5 AM, as I quietly moved to get out of bed to go to the bathroom, I was shocked when climbing over the side of the bed I heard a loud crack and then felt the wood railing at my feet collapse, sending me and the other wood railing that my hand was holding onto crashing into the window head first, and finally ending the long decent down as I collapsed on the wood paneled floor in a heap of tired, what the BEEP just happened to me confusion. Adding insult to injury, the last piece of wood came crashing down, smashing my foot and then tipping back in the dark to smack me in the face.

I laid there quietly in shock for a few seconds until finally mustering the words “I’m OK” to come out of my mouth. When Roy turned on the lights, a pile of what used to be the support of the bed was scattered around me, and Ryan, who was sleeping on the bottom bunk was sitting calmly holding the bed up over his head, his face, not so calmly begging the question ¨what the hell just happened?!?¨

We left the bed in shambles that night (the story about me and Roy fixin it as the photo below proves is for another day), Memo failed over and over, and over again at sinking the put if you will, and another ordinary day came and went in my South American life. Perhaps more shocking is the deal I extend to all of you: you pay for the plane ticket, I will provide entertainment like this free of charge!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Learning American Pop Culture While Abroad

You look like Robbie Williams the girl told me. At first I took offense at the little girls words. It was a long day and Chileans are blunt, and so being told I was going bald and then I was fat, and now this, it just seemed like too much. I figured Robbie Williams was some affectionate Chilean slang for the famous actor Robin Williams, and I mean, come on, I am only 23 years old for God’s sake, find someone else to compare me to. But then I was quickly informed that the Robbie Williams I was being compared to is not in fact the stellar actor but a current pop singer from Britain. I still can not name a song he sings, but at least I rest a little easier knowing that I am being compared to a British Sex Idol and not an incredibly funny but old and alcoholic comedian.

In Bolivia, I kept getting questions about this thing called High School Musical. Grant it the preliminary questions took place in Bolivia at a time when I understood even less Spanish then I do now. And so when the kids would start singing, I just assumed that perhaps there was a trend amongst high schools to add musicals to their theatrical rotation. While I still do not know what exactly it is, I have sense discovered that High School Musical is a hit movie, about what I have yet to discover. Daily high school drama I assume, and instead of just like, talking about it, they like, well you know, they like sing about it I try and say in my best high school slang if you, like, will. For a while, I thought it could not get worse. But then…

I just figured Grey’s Anatomy was a medical term. I mean I always heard it in the context of conversations about medicine, and who have I ever been to correctly identify medical terminology. I have had asthma for over 12 years and I still can’t tell you the names of my medications without looking at the inhalers. And so it was again when people explained that Grey’s Anatomy is not medical jargon but in fact a hit television show, apparently number 1 in the nation according to Natalie, and Grey is not the color gray misspelled but instead a character in the show. By now, you are either incredibly shocked at my ignorance or discovering your own pop culture ignorance, and so it comes down to the final pop culture point of reference that I was told by a friend, everyone knew about.

And this last one did not come from a Chilean but from a desperate moment of boredom in the Santiago House when I pulled out an old issue of People Magazine because sadly, I had nothing better to read at the time. Before you judge, I would like to point out famed Medical Doctor Paul Farmer is a regular reader of People, calling it the JPS- Journal of Popular Science. But back to the point, imagine my surprise first of all at the four page spread following Brangelina. For those who are as far out of pop culture as me, that little creative word is the blending of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s names. But more shocking to me, was that underneath my nose the two of them had shacked up (ok, this I knew) and in the process, had a baby together. Not just adopted a child, because this I knew about, but Angelina actually gave birth to one of her own!

Ironic in many ways that I learn more about “cultural” events in my own country while I am living here, but perhaps not too crazy. I have given up listening to popular radio as an educational tool to aid me in my Spanish since more often then not, the songs on Chilean radio are not from hit Latino Artists, but American hits and American has been hits. But never tell a Chilean that Guns N’ Roses and A-ha (think the song Take On Me) are not popular. And With the Starbucks and McDonald’s, infiltration of American movies and duplication of American reality TV, Chile has, in many aspects, really proven to me just how successful globalization, particularly at the hands of the American economy has been and will continue to be, both for better and worse. But now I am educated in the Journal of Popular Science, and as my favorite Chilean-English expression would say, that is SUPER Bien!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Comparing Poverty: A Trivial Task

I live in Chile. I live in a rich country. It has been hard to admit that. I mean, yeah, technically Chile is no United States, but compared to my experience in Bolivia, Chileans might as well be the Spanish word for “lots of money.” Name a major United States corporation and they are probably here and doing business in Santiago. I take a metro subway system to many of my work sites and have witnessed a commercialized Christmas come and go.

At times it has been a struggle to find myself a volunteer in a fairly wealthy country. You try not to do it, but invariably you start to question the work, your place in the scheme of things, and how you ended up trying to be a soldier of justice in a rich country, when so many countries with a higher measure of poverty might well have needed your time and efforts.

And yet, I am beginning to realize that service in Chile is maybe not that far out of place. Because like LA I am seeing the sad reality of development and growth… with great richness and exuberate wealth comes benefits indeed, but more important and less focused upon, a widening gap between those who have and those who don’t.

The experience is not only something to be looked upon and commented upon, but now, it has a direct impact on my life as well, a valuable lesson in real solidarity, a word I used so much before hand and am just now beginning to get a tiny dose of… Living a lifestyle of simple living in a country that offers so many of the commercialized benefits of the United States becomes a bigger challenge then I ever expected. It is one thing to make $60 in a country where a good Argentenian steak costs $3.50 (Bolivia), quite another to make the same amount but have the same steak cost $25 (Chile). Simple living has been a much greater challenge in Chile because everything costs so much more!

In the end, what I am really learning from my experience is that poverty manifests itself in many ways and often times a measure of a countries Gross Domestic Product or whatever general wealth measuring standard we are tempted to use in the classroom is not a fair evaluation of what poverty is. No matter how hard you try, I do not think you can find a standard of measurement that will tell me the 15 year old mothers, and there are a lot of them, that walk around my neighborhood are not victims of poverty just because the structure they call a house is a better construction then what they would find in a neighboring Latin American country.

I work in Santiago, Chile. I work with a people who suffered under the brutal dictatorship of Pinochet. I work with a people who have watched massive development sweep through their country, development praised by politicians and economists alike, development that developed now what seems nothing more than the grand ability to hide the real poverty of Chile. Hidden above the state of the art subway system, behind the growth, the NY Times raving review and the beautiful town center.

Or perhaps, behind the baby strollers pushed by babies themselves this is where we quietly search for God. Rich thriving city or not, poverty is poverty, and it is here I find my calling to work.

“To take an ‘option for the poor’ does not mean to direct oneself toward one part of the whole in order to ignore the rest, but rather to direct oneself toward the whole from the standpoint of one part.” –Jon Sobrino, S.J.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Jack: The Life and Times of a Three Legged Dog

Jack, my dog has three legs. Cute as hell, but in a “three legged I smile as I hobble” kind of way. I have only known him for a couple weeks, and yet I feel an allegiance to this dog. It is amazing what adrenaline does to the human body, all the way from the analytical mind to the feelings in your heart. Running into my yard screaming for my dog, the brain shut off and the heart kicked it up a gear.

Roy, my roommate and fellow community member told me about a time where he was walking Jack when another dog tried to attack Jack. Not knowing what to do, Roy scooped down and picked Jack up and then held him over his head. I laughed and laughed at this story for the first couple weeks, partly because the image it would illicit but also because I couldn’t help but think, how stupid on Roy’s part. Adrenaline switches the brain off, and turns the heart on, something I didn’t understand until a few nights back.

And so back to the story, I came running outside to the cacophony of three dogs barking in my front yard. Only one belonged in that yard, but sure enough two others had somehow gotten in. And there was old Jack hobbling and growling with the might of the 12 pound, 10 year old three legged beast that he was. God bless the dog, I mean he has provided volunteer Associates for many years love and support and he has many strengths, but I was not ready to find out if one of them was fighting a dog three times his size, add to that a leg up on Jack. And so sizing up the situation I did the only thing that made sense: a complete betrayal of the brain and a tribute to the place this dog already occupies in my heart: I yelled and shouted whatever words came to me in Spanish and at the same time placed myself between this street dog and my dog, and assuring I can never make fun of Roy again, picked him up above my head, safe from the reaches of any dog that wished to take away his third leg while walking away shouting strongly at the dog and bringing Jack into our house.

And so it goes, I love my dog. The next night I sat outside with him, picking ticks out of his skin, a process that is disgusting and unnerving, but necessary to keep old Jack healthy. If you have never had a dog, you’d think everything I have said is crazy. But then you wouldn’t know what it feels like to have an old dog beaten by age and bad luck hobble up to you and jump onto the couch to cuddle while you are reading a book or watching a movie.

When I talk to Jack, I always tell him to just give me two more years because with all the knocks this life provides, I can’t afford to lose the one thing that I think will always make me smile in this community: a three legged dog that hasn’t lost his own will to smile (he really smiles, I wish you could see it). Jack’s smile makes me smile, his silly goofball moments like when he tries to get off the couch and slips on the wood paneling and then gets back up smiling and craving attention makes me laugh. It’s those little heartwarming moments that give you the love of heart and stupidity of mind to pick a dog out of the middle of a dog fight and do the only thing that comes to mind: hold him high above your head, far out of reach of any danger.