Yesterday, I was asked to write a post about a typical day in my life studying abroad. This sounded like a great idea, but soon I realized that there really aren’t any typical days here. There are especially fun days when I go to the beach or el centro (downtown) after class; there are chill days when I just go to class and then do my homework outside and have wonderful conversations with my Chilean mom while she cooks lunch for everyone and sings to our pet wiener dog; and there are salsa days where my friends and I go dancing at night. But every day is different, especially because excursions are a large part of my program, which is focused on Public Health, Traditional Medicine and Community Empowerment. Tomorrow, for example, we’re flying to Temuco to learn about the traditional medicinal practices of the Mapuche, a group of people that have been living in South America since before Columbus. We’ll be there for 12 days before returning to Arica, but after that we also have excursions to Putre, Chile up in the mountains and Tacna, Peru. So I chose today to write about not because it was a typical day in the sense that it’s boring and everyday, but in the sense that it was typically atypical and spontaneous.
This morning, I had my last Spanish class (tomorrow we’ll start the “excursions” part of the trip where we have a more irregular and hands-on learning). I live about a 20 minute walk from the church where we have our classes, and I leave around 7:30 each morning. Although it’s early, it’s nice because the sun is just rising while I walk and it’s not unbearably hot like it will be later in the day.
Since it was the last day, I had to give a ten minute presentation to the class (in Spanish) about the Special Education System in Chile. Then after everyone had presented, we had a going away party to say bye to our teachers with fruit and cake. (Which is a huge theme around here, we’re always eating fruit and cake for birthdays or other celebrations.)
Between 12:00 and 3:00, we usually have a break to go home and have lunch with our host families. My mom happened to be driving by as I was walking home, so I got a ride with her (which was super great because at that point it was super hot). I packed my bag for Temuco, and then ate lunch with her before going back to lecture in the afternoon. Today we learned about the laws and programs that are in place to protect the rights of the indigenous people who live in Chile in preparation for our trip.
After class, we had plans with some friends to spend the afternoon (defined as 6:00 – 9:00 pm-ish here) on the beach together. Before they came to my house to pick up me and my friends, I went to the grocery store to get snacks for the flight tomorrow. I also bought a fresh mango just for fun because the mangos of Chile (and Peru since I’m only 11km away from the border and I think they’re imported) are incredible.
Then at 6:00, our friends (a couple from the Salsatec we go to on Monday and Wednesday nights) came to pick us up. They have a car and drive us everywhere, and also have an adorable 5 year old daughter who called us “tía,” or “aunt.” We’ve had quite a few adventures together.
After watching the sunset, we went swimming one more time in the ocean under the stars, and then decided it was time to go home. As our friend drove us away from the beach, he suddenly stopped the car in the middle of the road and asked us if we wanted to go to the top of el Morro to see the city lights of Arica at night. The Morro is a huge rock that overlooks the harbor and the city, and it is also where Chile won an important battle in the War of the Pacific between Chile, Peru and Bolivia. As we drove up the mountain, the bright lights of the city got smaller and smaller. When we finally got to the top, we looked out over the city and enjoyed the company of our awesome new friends.
After hanging out on the top of the world for a while, it was time to go home for real. It was hard because we really didn’t want to leave them, but we’ll come back to Arica after we go to Temuco and see them again.
As we drove down the side of the mountain / sand dune, all of a sudden all of the lights in the east side of the city went out. It was actually pretty cool to watch because we were still overlooking the city, if not a little unnerving. Then five seconds later the other half of the lights went out. Now the only lights in the city were from cars driving on the streets, and the sight was totally different. It turns out that there was a blackout in both Arica and Iquique (about four hours south of me), and we just happened to be the only ones on el Morro to see it.
When I got home, my mom had lit candles all around the house so that we could see. I had to eat a cold “once” (a word for the small dinner people in Chile eat. Typically people eat a big lunch around 1 or 2 and a small “once” between 7 and 10.), but in all of the excitement of the blackout and telling everyone who would listen about my morro story, it was great. Then I showered by candlelight, finished packing my backpack for Temuco with the flashlight I brought from home that I thought I would never use, and then wrote my blog post with the juice left in my computer until now.
So there you have it, a typical day in the life of Megan Gray. I would say today falls into the category of especially fun, exciting and spontaneous. I’m going to miss my friends and host family in Arica, but I’m also very excited to go down south. I’m excited to see the color green, to feel rain again, and to maybe even feel cold at some point. And I’m really excited to start learning about the traditional medicine part of the program. I leave you with my backpack tied up, my passport ready and my hiking boots ready to throw on as I run out the door to the airport (I’m always late, I’m pretty much just planning on it at this point).