As we enter the last few weeks of my time in Maria Elena, I am reflecting on what I have enjoyed about my experience here so far. Something I have been very grateful for is that Chileans are THE perfect hosts. I have been constantly impressed by the little ways people check in on me or show that they care. I enjoy being invited to go to lunch, or tea, or an asado and I try to join people for meals as much as possible (but sometimes its just too late on a school night for me – Chileans like to eat late). During fiestas patrias I missed an asado at the school (I was not feeling well – too many empanadas and completos) and multiple people at the school, including the principal, came up to me later to ensure I felt welcome at school events and invite me to the next one.
One of the things I enjoy the most is the constant sharing of food. I love food, and probably anyone who has ever eaten a meal with me knows that I love to try and sample as many things as possible. I would much rather us get two plates to split than I eat my meal and you eat yours. Fortunately for me, a lot food is shared here. Big platters of meat come off the grill at asados, and you can choose whatever you want! At restaurants, often a number of dishes will be ordered and shared family style. And students enjoy sharing their snacks with me, just to see how I will react to the different (and sometimes bizarre – e.g. pickled onions) food.
Since there is not always much to do or see IN town, I am fortunate that some folks here are interested in taking me places nearby. There have been some days where I have nothing to do, so I will just go for a walk. Next thing you know I run into people that I know in town, we start chatting, and before long I have an invitation to tea or to go out for a ride in the desert to see something. A lot of people were born and raised either here in Maria Elena or nearby, and they are so knowledgeable and proud of the surrounding area and eager to share it.
Some people have really gone above and beyond. I am of course living with a host family, and they have taken me in as one of their own, making me feel welcome and comfortable, helping me with anything I need, and introducing me to others around town. For example I mentioned that I liked avocados, so there is always a mountain of avocados available at the house. I have been extremely fortunate to have them, especially my host mom Rosa, as a support system here.
And I was welcomed graciously as a member of the family over the fiestas patrias holidays by my friend Yari’s family in Antofagasta. Everyone is really interested in where I plan to travel after my teaching is up and how they can help me as I go along.
While it is still a struggle to express myself fully and create deep relationships without a full grasp of the language, I can only appreciate the beauty of this culture of sharing. Even if at times I feel like an outsider (because, really, I am an outsider), I also feel welcome and comfortable. As we enter my last few weeks here in Maria Elena, my excitement to start exploring other parts of this country – like Patagonia! – is only increasing.