Sunday, July 29, 2007

Just Call Me The Onion Man

They call me the onion man. OK, well, not really, but it’s one of those titles I think I am deserving of. I think I even committed the cardinal sign of trying to nickname myself- that didn’t work.

First, you have to understand, nicknames can be weird down here in Chile. I mean, my name, Patricio, is often abbreviated to Pato, which translated to English is duck. So just imagine walking around and having people call out, “Hey duck, come and check this out?” or something of the sort.

But really, I could perhaps be called the onion man because one day a week while I have been in Chile I have worked in the kitchen of a modern day saint. I think first I hoped the nickname I might earn could be chef-boy-r-me or something of that nature, but it only took a couple weeks to realize one thing that stood in the way of that nickname: if Spanish is a foreign language, cooking (in that foreign language mind you) is even more foreign.

Every Wednesday when I show up to Hermano (Brother) Donald’s kitchen I have this weird mixture of excitement and fear. I carry a little pocket dictionary with me for moments like this:

My first week there, while making the desert, the instructions told me, in regards to the chocolate topping I was making for a pastry, to “hervir a fuego liento”. Confused, I turned to Hermano Donald, to ask what that meant. “Oh, simmer it, that’s all” he told me. I guess my poker face isn’t all I thought it was because two minutes later (I still hadn’t moved an inch) he asked me if I was ok. “Yeah, it’s just, well, uh, Hermano, what does simmer mean?” My first day went down in the books as a complete embarrassment.

And yet, I love it. For you see, in many ways, it is as though I work with a modern day saint, or as the women I work with often call him, un Santo de la tierra. Hermano Donald is a gourmet chef, training and all. Every Monday through Thursday, he comes to the kitchen that he personally built and with a small staff of volunteers, prepares food for 45 elderly people struggling to get by and has it delivered to their house. And again, we aren’t talking your ordinary soup kitchen like operation. I am talking about freshly made bread, delicious soups, fresh and seasoned fish, etc... Everyday Hermano is there, and everyday he puts up with a range of issues, from problems with the people receiving the food to lowly foreign volunteers like me whose conversation usually ranges from “what’s this mean?” to “oops, I really just messed this up.”

But perhaps you are wondering, why on earth would they call me the onion man, at least in my own twisted head? The other day like so many other days I found myself pealing and cutting the onions for the recipe. Again, we serve 45 people and so a typical onion count for a days order can easily turn out to be 30 or 40 large onions. Anyway, I pealed and chopped each one of the 34 onions I had that day and, drum roll please.... Not one tear was shed!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I was on CNN! Call it my 30 seconds of fame... (=

Some get there 15 minutes of fame, and well, in my case, it was more like 30 seconds thanks to the good people at CNN who brought me to TV screens around the nation.

The Democratic presidential candidates are having a debate July 22nd and the questions being used are those submitted by everyday people like you and me, via Youtube. Turning the camera on myself, I asked the candidates to address the issues that concerned me most: poverty. And then July 17th, I got an email. The first email I got said this:

Hey there,

Great video submission for the CNN/YouTube debate!

We are running some pre-debate promotional shows on CNN next week,
starting Monday. CNN wants to be in touch with you about a potential
interview -- could you email or call Alex below if you're interested
in potentially being on the show?

The sooner the better....



Head of News and Politics, YouTube

It peaked my interest, but still, they must send this out to several people I reasoned. Nonetheless I replied and was surprised when mere minutes later, I received this:

Hi Patrick-

I understand you have corresponded with a couple of my colleagues here at CNN. I’m writing to find out a bit more about you. We absolutely loved your submission for the You Tube Debate and would like to see if you are willing and able to join us for a LIVE interview! I first need to know if you are in the States today? What does your week look like?

Thank you very much,

Editorial Producer
CNN-Paula Zahn Now

After I responded I never received a further response, and so, figuring I was not selected to be on the program, I went about my day. And so imagine the shock when I received a call saying that Paula Zahn featured my 30 second question on her nationally broadcast primetime talk show on CNN!

Greater yet, my question still might be used in the upcoming debates. Who knows, maybe the candidates will be asked to answer my question, which, call it conceited, but I’d like to think would be pretty damn cool! But if not, I’d still say getting my 30 seconds of national TV fame was more than fun!

I am trying to get a copy of it as it appeared on CNN and hopefully someday in the next month can post that for fun!


Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Dogs Are Taking Over

Dogs are everywhere in Santiago. They run the streets...

My favorite, is the ones that stroll through the super market doors, just watching the people go through the check out counters...

Walking by the Presidential Palace (La Moneda) promises a sight for sure... A beautiful color guard, a lush water fountain, sometimes a motorcade and, always, the local stray dogs can be found camping out and watching the political news of the day pass in and out of those doors...

And the only thing better, at least in my opinion... The aniamls are reclaiming the sea, one oily ship at a time in Valparaiso!

Friday, July 06, 2007

I make what Bill Gates Makes...

I make $2,796. The reality hit me the other day when I was asked on a survey what my annual income was. Fluctuations aside, I am in the ballpark of $2,800. We are not talking a monthly salary here folks, this is what I make in a year! And of that, only about $60 a month is money I can use for personal spending. The rest is what we call community funding- groceries, repairs (and God there are many of those), water, gas, etc... Can anyone figure out how long it takes Bill Gates to make my yearly salary? My guess is less than a minute. If you have the answer to that, I’d really be interested.

Given our financial constraints, I had to recreate the notion of “going to the gym” a necessity for my mental health more than any physical health. Pictured below is “my gym.”

An old mattress off the top bunk of my broken bunk bed can be taken down and placed on the floor for push ups and sit ups.

The two ONE GALLON water jugs comprise the free weights section.

The wall becomes the inverse squat machine.

The cardio section features a jump rope and running shoes and well, if we ever find a way to fix the house bicycle the real life spinning class will be up and running. And as for the juice bar, compliments of my mother, we have the best Lemon Lime powdered Gatorade a man can find!

Oh, and God place Santiago for being a somewhat progressive city, because this much I have to be thankful for: running trails. Now mind you, they are in the midst of heavy traffic and incredible smog, but nonetheless, it is space to run, which, if you remember anything about my experience running in Bolivia (think dog bites and cows), is a blessing indeed!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What It´s Like To Be a Teacher

I don’t know. It’s those three little words I have repeated again and again since beginning to teach English. The students I work with are absolutely great, almost too great. When I was in high school, I loathed Spanish. Perhaps it is something in our culture, but I could not wait until my two year requirement passed and I could at last stop taking foreign language classes. But these kids are in my class because, in addition to the required English classes, they want more English.

And so day by day, their fascination creates both wonder and confusion in my own struggling mind. Often, as perhaps anyone who has taught a second language might identify with, knowing how to speak it is one thing- teaching, quite a different thing.

Day after day, questions like this come in. “Profe, would I say he is a person that is nice OR he is a person who is nice?” Usually my answer leaves them looking confused, the smarter ones on to the game I am playing... Either works I tell them. Then I quickly scramble to a computer to review English language laws.

But perhaps the greatest trick the English language has played on me as a professor comes in the textbook I have to use.

On my first day of class when I had yet to even see the book we were using (I got thrown right in), I wrote an example sentence on the board. “It is an honor to meet you Mr...” and before I could finish, one of my most intelligent students interrupted me. “Profe, you spelled honor wrong.” I did a double take, spelled it in my head, and disagreed. “No, profe, really, you spelled it wrong. If you don’t believe me, look at page 20 in the book.” I flipped open the book to see the word honor spelled HONOUR. Reading on, academe and other flippant words popped out at me. I was horrified.

I befriended a wonderful priest named Martin Hardy during my time in Bolivia, and we used to go back and forth between the languages, English vs. American as he might say. I have to believe this is God’s way of siding with Martin.

It is a struggle to teach your own language because what comes so natural for one is so hard for the other. But day by day goes by and more and more I get comfortable in the classroom, sensing when my students understand and when, in the universal world of high school culture, they are utterly lost but much too afraid to raise their hand and admit it.

The questions ring on, the answers come stuttering out, and I find myself learning as much about English as I am Spanish anymore. (=