Mummy Diaries: The Truth

  1. First thing first: you will NEVER be as tired as you are with your first newborn. The good news it that they WILL eventually start sleeping, and so will you.
  2. It’s not over once baby is out. You still have to pop out the placenta. And the contractions keep on coming. After-birth contractions are PAINFUL, constant and get worse with each baby. But by day 3 they will be a thing of the past. Massaging your tummy and a hot water bottle really help.
  3. When you breastfeed for the first time it can be pretty different to how you expect. It might not come naturally, be painful or make you feel icky, but honestly not everyone does it like a pro first time – in fact, nearly all of us suffer in the beginning. The trick is to just get your boob in their mouth anyway you can and aim for your whole nipple to be in there. It hurts like a b**** those first few days but there are things you can do to help with the pain. Cabbage leaves for engorgement, soaking nipples in warm water with a little salt if you’re bleeding, lanolin creams (or even olive oil), and nipple shields are a godsend!
  4. When your milk comes in around day 3 or 4, your boobs will swell up to become ginormous, achey rocks and EVERYTHING will get covered in milk. You may even get flu-like symptoms. Don’t panic! Everything will calm down soon (but if it doesn’t check with your doctor or midwife).
  5. Babies love to be with their mummy especially in those first few weeks. Although it feels like you might never get a break I repeat to you that IT DOES GET BETTER!
  6. When you leave the house, bubs will really enjoy emptying his/her bowel. Over everything. And then again. Take a few extra outfits just in case!
  7. When you breastfeed in public it can feel like everyone is watching but trust me, they really aren’t. Just tune out, focus on baby and do what you have to do. Bubs will probably choke, vomit and you may squirt everywhere in a few directions but hey – at least they’re not crying!
  8. When bubs does cry nothing soothes them like cuddles and booby. Seriously, you will never spend so much time sitting down, laying down or even standing up, with your knockers out. Just remember to pop them  back in when the doorbell rings.
  9. You will find yourself eagerly analysing bubs’ poop. The colour, consistency, the smell … Oh my gosh why is it green today? What is THAT?! And what on earth does diarrhea look like in a breastfed baby??? So many questions …
  10. Feeding time. What is the point of spending all of my valuable time preparing deliciously runny baby food concoctions if they just refuse the spoon, spit it out or play with it? Like seriously!
  11. I.am.completely.over.sterilizing.everything.
  12. You’ve just given baby a lovely (not)relaxing bath. They are now all snuggly and clean in their pj’s.  It’s looking good for bedtime. And then the explosion happens. I don’t quite know how something so small and innocent looking can unleash so much poo that it ends up in their HAIR! How does that happen?!
  13. You will eagerly devour mummy blogs, What To Expect books, buy everything the magazine tells you to buy, sing songs to your tummy etc while waiting for your firstborn. Then you will delight in reading your newborn endless stories they are not the slightest bit interested in and probably take too many photos. With your second all of that is a thing of the past. Dirty old hand-me-downs and a couple of snaps will suffice!
  14. You will eagerly fill in the first bits of the Baby Record Book. And then you stop. Who has time to remember to write in it when all they do is CRY?!
  15. Showering becomes a few quick minutes while they watch you from the bouncer chair.
  16. Everyone will love to look at your baby. Touch your baby. Tell you that baby is cold. Or that something is wrong. Get ready to adopt ninja abilities because people will try to randomly take your child from your arms or pushchair.
  17. People have no idea how much time or effort it takes to get baby to go to sleep, hence why they think nothing of waking your baby up once they are FINALLY asleep!
  18. Gone are the days of lunchtime banquets and four course dinners. Lunch is a quick spaghetti bolognese. Every day. Spice it up with different pasta shapes. IF you have the energy, that is.
  19. Your child is a loving, delightful angel it really is true … until the day they start at kindergarten. Yep, those days are long gone.
  20. You think a 2 year old can have a tantrum? Wait until they turn 3! Literally everything you say they will either disagree with, cry over or not want. Henceforth you become a jedi knight, mastering the art of suggestion, until it reaches bedtime, when all hell breaks loose. EMILIO NO MORE IT’S BEDTIME I’M NOT TELLING YOU AGAIN!!!
  21. If you’re pregnant and reading this, I bet you are stressing about the birth and you haven’t even THOUGHT about feeding solids or potty training yet. Well you should! Birth is a piece of pie compared to the sheer stress and panic that these two things cause. Good luck and get ready to learn a whole lot of stuff about your child’s sphincter!
  22. Your toddler WILL amaze you every single day (especially when asleep and inert). It’s just miraculous how they soak everything up like a little sponge. They will amaze you with their stories. Their imaginative games. Their songs. Their ability to remember whole passages from books by heart. And their ability to instinctively know that the F-word is naughty and that they shouldn’t mention it in company, right Emilio? Oh wait ….
  23. We have a saying in NZ and OZ  about things being “shits and giggles”. Life with your children really is a series of alternations between the two. But pooz you can just wipe up and forget about (maybe soak and scrub a bit first) and as for giggles, there really is NOTHING that will prepare you for your baby’s first laugh which is literally like a burst of sunshine. And that is honestly how life will be from now on: a bit shitty at times with bursts of pure happiness. NOTHING will prepare you for the love you will feel for your children whether they are first-born, second-born or number 5 (or even higher!). It is true when they say that once a mother, always a mother and it really is worth every stinky, sticky and wet moment 🙂

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Family Fun: Parque Fluvial Renato Poblete

What is one of the easiest ways to make your child happy, get them to sleep well and that can be done easily with a newborn? 

Easy. A park visit.  And no trip to the park would be complete without a delicious picnic.

Emilio just loves a picnic, thanks to one of my childhood books about picnicking on the moon called “Whatever Next”. There really is nothing simpler or better fun than packing up a blanket, hitting the supermarket for goodies or even baking a few treats, before searching for the perfect spot to unwrap it all and indulge.

Our usual spot is the Parque Bicentenario in Vitacura because it’s only ten minutes away from our house by car, plus it has birds and fish to feed (and Mestizo, one of my favorite restaurants here).  In summer they put out sun umbrellas and loungers that are free to use, which is great because the sun in this city is fierce. However it does have a few down sides, like it can be hard to find a park and the grass always seems to be sodden wet and full of bees (and Mestizo staff can be snobby too).  So when a friend recommended Parque Fluvial Renato Poblete we decided to give it a try.

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This park only opened in January last year but I had never heard of it.  Why is that??  The place is FANTASTIC! My friend described it as “crisp” which I think is a pretty good summation because it still has that nice feel of being new … so crisp in other words.  It’s a big park – some 20 hectares according to Wikipedia – and it’s divided into two sections. The first is focused around a lagoon area where you can rent paddle boats (including life jackets) and the second follows the Mapocho river.

It’s pretty lovely and wonderful to walk around in. It’s filled with bridges that succeed in transporting you out of Santiago and into somewhere much more romantic.

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The downside is that because the park is so new, all the plants have a long way to grow still so shade is scarce.  We did find a spot to linger in and it was glorious just to be so close to the water.  Being from NZ I am used to having the sea in close proximity at all times so I often feel claustrophobic and stifled in Santiago. If you feel like that too then you will definitely enjoy this park, just remember the sunscreen and hat!

The Nitty Gritty

Entry is FREE

Disabled/pushchair access

Sights: 2x football fields, amphitheater, statue/sculptures, fountains

Snacks sold at entrance

For more information visit the Quinta Normal official site here.

Or visit this excellent site (Spanish).

Welcome Baby M!

Luis, Emilio and I are super pleased to announce the arrival of baby M, born Sunday 25th September 2016 in Talagante, Chile.

An intense natural birth with the world-famous in Chile Talagante midwives. I can’t recommend Rosa and Eliana enough. For a holistic approach to birth, please send them a Whatsapp message:

Secretary (for appointments): 56 9 9796 4143

Rosa Maria (lead midwife): 56 9 8428 4658

Eliana (midwife): 56 9 4277 8258

*detailed post coming soon*

Mummy Diaries: When It Doesn´t Work

Tomorrow is Mothers Day! On my street there is a party amosphere in the air and next door Jose’s family have prepared a lavish display of bouquets and ubiquetous roses to sell to our unprepared neighbours.   I have no doubt that the usual empanadas and ceviche delights will make an appearance later, or that they will sell like hot cakes.

In Santiago, any cause for celebration (and sales) are clutched at with fervour. Easter is the same, so was Dia del Nino, a holiday followed with gusto and which I’d never even heard about before coming here.

I don’t like the forced and commercial aspects of manufactured days such as Mothers Day, but I do like the idea of taking a moment to thank and honour loved ones.  Particularly mothers who, thanks to ridiculous societal expectations, often feel like they do 1001 things without much notice. Men have an equal role in the household of course, but it’s safe to say that their a difference between the male and female modus operandi.

Luis avoids birthdays, dreads Christmas and shuns all other “special days”. He really doesn’t have to – saying thank you does not have to come with expensive gifts or a diminished bank balance. Although this day is dedicated to all the hardworking mamas out there (YOU!), I’m about to break protocol and say gracias to the daddy in our household. It is thanks to Luis’ business-savvy ideas and hard slogs at night in the taxi that I have been fortunate enough to work part-time over the past year and be at home with Emilio after my studies concluded.  This is the same hardworking individual who has been robbed at knifepoint and threatened in front of the barrel of a gun over the years – driving a taxi is not a picnic. Thanks to Luis we own two houses and I have been able to discover areas of Chile that are rarely seen by expats, let alone tourists.

The last three months have been a time of unbearable tension in our home, and not really through any fault of ours, either. In a nutshell, we bought a car to rent out as a taxi (as we have done three other times before), of which we needed to buy the rights seperately. Thanks to Santiago’s congestion and pollution problem, there is now a limit to how many taxis can be officially on the road so it is now no longer possible to buy new taxi permission. The normal practice now is to thus buy the papers secondhand.  Luis took out a bank loan to do this, of CLP$9 million. This seems like a lot, but once rented out the taxi basically pays for itself and creates quite a good income (or it did before Uber!). Luis found rights that matched our model of car , met with the owner and went with her to the notaria in San Miguel.  Once there, the notary checked all the documents, said all was hunky dory and cleared Luis to pay the woman. Luis did so. But one month later the notary had gone silent and nothing had been processed. Luis was livid and concerned as that meant that nothing had been transferred into his name and so therefore the car was sitting in the yard … and still a car. The bank loan still needed to be paid.  A lawyer advised us to speak to the head notary himself and demand compensation for our loss of business but, while the man admitted the mistake, he laughed at the thought of handing out money. Another months laters and Luis was positively shitting himself, especially as the police called to say that actually the ID and some of the documents were as fake as Kim Kardashians face  and that he was actually number 5 on the list of taxistas previously scammed.  Thanks to the ridiculous delay in transferring titles, all camera footage at the notary and the bank had been deleted and the notary worker who had authorised the documents had up and vanished.  All the while this was happening the bank was hounding us to make repayments on the loan that we now couldn’t possibly afford …

Luis has since been in and out of the police, hassling them and making statements. An investigation has been launched and the police are finally taking it seriously, particularly due to the grave implications the notary’s involvement infers.  Around the same time two of our cars needed to have extensive repairs done after being crashed by careless drivers, while all our other bills mounted. It’s been a time of unprecedented stress, especially as it came at the same time as 1) my recovery from last year’s attack 2) the quiet time for my work and 3) the awful sickness that my finally falling pregnant heralded (think vomiting blood every ten minutes). To add further difficulty, Luis had just started university as well.

We have fought and cried and despaired and hated the sight of each other and had long absences … but still we survive. We have been together only five years but in that time we have lived through two long distance relationships, travelled together, lived apart, lived together, and also suffered together when our son became gravely ill.  We are together still because we genuinely enjoy each others company and balance the other’s faults out. There’s no-one else I want to be with and I am so thankful that he is the father of my children. I honestly respect and love him, and it breaks my heart to see him struggle.

We are not going to stay in Chile, in fact once we are able we will head out on a new adventure. But through it all and no matter what I will stand by Luis during successes and mistakes, through happiness and hardships. No importa that tomorrow is the Dia de la Mama, I would not be a mother without Luis and I am thankful for every moment that we have.

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Our Miles & Smiles venture has helped enormously as we have been able to do something with the car, so I would like to take this moment to personally thank each and every customer who has booked with us, recommended us or shared our information, particularly the community of English Speaking Mum’s who have so far been our biggest client group.  We have also been overwhelmed by the generosity shown by friends, Facebook acquaintances and certain family members who have reached out during this tumultous time. Another GRACIAS goes to all those English Speaking Mums (them again!) who have helped me on the job hunt, either by taking a chance on me, referring me or continuously booking my services in childcare. Much appreciated everyone!! I’d also like to point out that we are still so very, very fortunate compared to many in Santiago and, although Ojos Abiertos has not been active so far this year, any opportunities that you can think of that we can get involved with to give back please don’t be silent and we will do our bit to do our bit, even if that’s rallying the troops or blogging about a cause.

Family Fun: Museo Artequin & Ferroviario

After finding out that I was actually 18 weeks pregnant (not 13!) and that we are expecting a boy (also in September!), we decided to splurge on a family fun day.  It’s been the longest time since we have been out as a family, what with Luis spending all his time either working or waiting in police stations. We decided to have lunch at New Horizons near metro Bellas Artes, not because its delicious or anything but because it is close, cheap, filling and spicy. We all enjoyed it but lets be honest – it ain’t got nothing on Pardeshi Tadka!!  The price each was $3,900 which included a drink, salad, rice, naan bread and curry (same sauce, meat or veg).

We then decided to visit the Artequin Museum. It’s hard to find much information about what exactly this place IS on it’s website but it looked geared towards children so we checked it out. First off the building, made in France, is like a giant ice cream, much like the Kremlin in Russia. The view from in front of it alone was worth walking to see and it made Emilio really excited for some reason. Inside, our tickets cost $1000 each and we were guided to watch a short documentary about the paintings in the museum. The museum basically houses replicas of the world’s greatest artworks.

This museum is great if you have kids interested in art and expression. There are fun guided tours for groups and upstairs you can take part in art workshops. Emilio coloured in a bag and enjoyed himself, but this was definately for above his age group.

Next we walked across the road and into Quinta Normal park to visit the Museo Ferroviario.  Tickets cost only $800 pesos each and, considering how excited Emilio got, they were a bargain well spent. The museum is set entirely outdoors and consists of real, stationary trains from Chile’s past. Some of them you can even climb up into.  A visit won’t take long but if you have a train-mad child like we do then this is a place worth visiting!  Seriously, it didn’t matter that these trains lacked faces or sported the wrong colours, to Emilio he was seeing the real Percy, Gordon, Thomas and even Bertie the bus!

Verdict: highly recommended delight set in a park that becomes just GORGEOUS in autumn!

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The Secret to Speaking Spanish

And so we have entered 2016!

Did you don your yellow knickers? Regardless, I am sure if you try to keep smiling then 2016 will be … full of smiles!!

Have you made any resolutions? Here is mine: speak Spanish! I think I speak ok but [the embarassing truth is that] I have a degree in Spanish  and I’m nowhere near fluent!

Gahh but speaking another language is not like how I’d imagined. I never picked it up on my first day here like I thought I would, and I don’t wake up every morning with the words flying off my tongue like a freckled Salma Hayek. In fact, most days its the exact opposite! Sometimes my suegra speaks to me and it feels like my head is underwater – are they words she’s using? It’s nothing to do with the fact we’re in Chile – land of the terrible Spanish (or  so everyone likes to point out) – but more to do with the fact that I’m just not that linguistically gifted. In other words – I ain’t got no skills.

The fault is no-one’s but my own. I will not go blaming Chile for having a dialect of Castellano that is so rapidly spoken and poetic that half of us just don’t get it. Most of the time a good “si pero porque piensas eso?” works well in most situations or, failing that, a quick subject change, but darn it there are times when you just need to understand the conversation. Like when someone is actually asking you to pass the salt and your asking why starts an even bigger conversation! Scratch that – you are highly unlikely to ever confuse the word sal because it’s such a staple item in the Chilean diet!

So my New Years Resolution is to speak only Spanish.  It’s really difficult to change the language of your relationship once it’s set, but now that I’m no longer working in Spanish I am pretty much living in Chile but speaking English every day! It’s just really hard telling the Mr. to do his blimmin dishes every half an hour in Spanish – I’m already frustrated let alone including grammatical conjugations in there!

Like I said, the problem is me. I just don’t like hearing myself speak Spanish. I don’t like the confusion when I misunderstand, or the constant corrections. I hate the completely blank look or the “no entendi” (with compulsory giggle) that accompanies each drawn out paragraph I utter – I deflate like a forgotten balloon at a birthday party each time. I have a very good accent it’s true, but only when I sing. I just can’t sing my way through Registro Civil, unfortunately.

I tell my English students that there is no secret to speaking another language except … speaking it. You must speak it to learn it. You can write perfect grammar to your heart’s content but if someone asks you something and you freeze up then you’re not really speaking it, are you? So my New Year’s Resolution is exactly that: to open my mouth and SPEAK SPANISH!!

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Me before I came to Chile: “speaking Spanish is a walk in the park!”

P.S.  Nearly forgot – Happy new year and Feliz Anio Nuevo!

What It’s Really Like To Be An Expat

Before you become an expat you have a million thoughts. What will it be like? Will I make friends? Will it be safe? You might even think it will be amazing (much better than where you currently live), that you will master a second language in a day and quickly fill your Facebook feed with photos of you surrounded by exotic friends, each photo filled with outrageous smiles. You hear that it is very easy to live in Chile, so you arm yourself with a TEFL and think “yup, I’m good to go.” Then you head off into the sunset amidst family who think your an equal mixture of crazy and brave, especially when you tell them “See you but I won’t be back for a while!”

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Moving back to Chile … with everything I own!

Until you’re on the plane and you realize that Spanish spoken in real time is a lot different from those one-on-one classes you’d taken before you left. And then you get off and realize you have no clue what the signs are saying let alone what the customs official is bleating on about. And when you finally meet those hilarious, exotic friends you find that singing a few hundred Shakira or Daddy Yankee tunes won’t actually help the conversation progress very far.

Lets face reality: moving to any new country can feel like a slap in the gonads (or so I can imagine). The euphoria quickly depletes until all your left with is a suitcase filled with all the wrong things and an inability to use even the supermarket correctly (“I have to weigh the veges BEFORE I get to the checkout? I have to pay the packer? But what do I DO with all these plastic bags?!!”). You find that the amazing job you’d envisioned is actually quite demanding and filled with long commutes, rush hour rides and students that never do their homework. The shops are filled with things way to expensive to buy and only God can help you if you don’t want salt on your food.

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Me: having a bad day outside Registro Civil (jokes!)

There’s a cycle that all expats follow that can make you appear alot like you are in need of medication to friends and relatives who’ve never travelled. Your emotions will change like the wind, racing from overwhelming happiness to the worst depression known to mankind. One minute you will be skipping along, marvelling at mountains that they don’t make quite the same anywhere else, and the next you will be crying in the middle of Lider holding three different types of warm, boxed milk that you don’t quite understand the difference between but it must surely be important to warrant taking up a whole aisle!

The language will also take you on a rollercoaster ride. You may find that one day you speak perfectly only to discover that on the next you can’t even process greetings properly. New acquaintances will test you on your ability by speaking really fast nonsense to try catch you out in order to grandly state: “a ha! Chilean Spanish is SO [insert adjectives here]”.  But you will master the Spanish in Chile,  until the day you decide to visit the rest of Latin America and find they speak funny.

No matter how bleak it all seems to get, trust me you will not always be stuck watching How I Met Your Mother reruns accompanied by chocolate biscuits. That’s not to say that there won’t be things that will drive you absolutely bonkers (such as every single time you need to deal with beauracracy in Chile) but you will eventually settle into your new life comfortably, thinking less and less about all the things you miss until eventually they will be only an occasional thought. Through the good stuff and the bad, reach out to the expat community because they are going, or have gone, through the same.  English-speakers can join The Chile Experience while mums can use English Speaking Mums in Chile. Both have been invaluable to me during my several years here, especially the latter because there is nothing harder than being a first-time mother in a foreign culture. All the playdates for Emilio or friendships with expats that I have made, are via this amazing network.  While not everyone has the same experiences, there is an overwhelming sense of comraderie and support that can be especially helpful when you are struggling, whether with homesickness or with health.

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ESM playdate

It’s not always a picnic when you move to a new country, but it is a banquet! A delicious, diverse, overwhelming and (at times) scary feast that works all five senses like no other.  Travel is the best education but also the best medicine, just sometimes it has to get a little worse in order to get better.  You can do it!!

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Valparaiso

Dear Chile: A Xmas Message

Dear Chile,
 
Today I was asked how I am, living in Santiago. Am I happy?
So I considered some of the negatives I’ve encountered here: the delincuents, the self-constructed houses that offer no warmth during winter, the rushhour commute on the metro, the pain caused by harsh drugs, the huge difference between public/private education, the lack of trust …
 
But then I thought about all the good things I’ve seen. Like the overwhelming sense of community in my neighborhood during Dieciocho. The support from people I didn’t know when my son was hospitalized. The beautifully painted houses, lovingly watered patches of grass and well-tended gardens – even on apartment balconies. The long lunches with family who accepted me instantly and embrace me as one of their own even though my opinions are sometimes a bit odd for them. The incredible art everywhere, from graffitti to buskers on the metro. All the teachers I have met going the extra mile for their students and offering them a light during dark times (Liceo Almirante Riveros!). The feria where you can find everything you need and where wrapping up the eggs is artistry. The tune the truck delivering gas makes as it goes up and down the roads …
 
And that’s just Santiago. I came to Chile for love but it’s not love with a man that keeps me here – it’s love with a land. Out of all the countries I have lived and travelled in, this one is more my home than any other – including my own. So thank you Chile – Chilenos and extranjeros – this whole community for propping me up when I needed it and for always supporting my blog. Have a merry Christmas/feliz navidad!
 
Kind regards,
Helen
 
 

State Schools: The Truth

Half a year later and Ojos Abiertos comes to the end of it’s work in Conchali. Last night we went for a group meal at one of my favorite, reliably good restaurants, Tiramisu (Metro El Golf). Ojos Abiertos began after I posted a message looking for people who shared my passion for righting social wrongs, namely the huge gulf in educational equality. Since then we have not only become firm friends, but we have both opened the eyes of students and had our own eyes opened as we worked in a Santiago state school.

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To reiterate your memory, Carolina ran weekly dance classes incorporating English, literacy and numerous dance styles with any high school student interested in participating. Hoda and Georgina held back to back classes with pre-kinder and kinder aged pupils known as “Art Expression” –  a fabulous initiative born from Hoda Madi, one of Chile’s premier artists. These workshops involved a theme – discussed and then expressed in any form before being put to paper as artwork. The themes were Happiness, Love, Gratitute, Bad Feelings and The Hero Inside. Finally there were art classes held by Lina, Mariana and resident art teacher Amaro, which aimed at utlizing both English and recycling how-to’s. Meanwhile, Zoe tk up a position as an assistant to the English teacher, volunteering twice a week during the morning. We received numerous donations utilized in our classes, from the phenomenal English books donated by Expat Legend Sally Rose, to art and party supplies that the kids loved using. I also must stress that these projects were all lead by passion and a desire to help – no-one paid a fee to join as a volunteer or participant, and no-one was excluded from the classes. These were discrimination-free zones where the children forged real relationships with the teachers … and vice versa. It also wasn’t always easy, from volunteers who we never heard from again to the tireless dedication of Georgina in particular, whose persistence and hardwork really got the Organizacion off the ground.

Here we take a look back over the past few months at our time at Liceo Almirante Riveros:


 

Hoda: This has been the best experience of my life!

Georgina: There is no feeling like when you open the door and the kids just come running …

Helen: tell me about your first class. What happened?

Hoda: our first class was with the pre-kinder and the teacher had no idea we were coming!

Georgina: She didn’t know because she never attends meetings. She doesn’t agree with the art-based methods at the school. This isn’t to say she is a bad teacher. She was a bit wary at first but after the first class she jumped right on board. She started asking us for our opinions and for help and what she could do … once we told her there were loads of English books at the school she ran straight away to get them!

Hoda: The school accomodated us right away. For example in the first class the room only had a cassette player so we couldn’t play ur music. We told Gerhard and for the second class we had a speaker and could play the music off our phones.

Helen: How did the class go?

Hoda: At first the kids were shy but as each class progressed they came out of their shells. The first class was Happiness so we asked them what made them happy. All of them said being at the school, with their friends. At first they were very unsure and nervous about what to do with the painting – how to express their emotion – and always asking if they could do a line or a colour. But by the second class they were more confident and what they drew was amazing!

Georgina: We asked what they loved about each other in the next class. One boy needed a bit of prompting but when asked about a girl in his class he said, “her eyes.” It was the sweetest thing.

Hoda: A lot of them have never had the opportunity to express these things before. When we asked what they were grateful for, again all of them said the school and their friends. We talked about Bad Feelings next. They all spoke about sadness and family problems.

Georgina: One said he knew to just turn on the TV when the arguing starts. Another – who was four years old – said he would take his little sister’s hand, take her upstairs and cover her ears. Someone drew a person with a black face and said that it was his father leaving the house, because he always jumps in the car after a fight. Our final session was about The Hero Inside. What do they want to do? Some of them said doctors and nurses, but mostly they said carabineros [police], which says a lot about how active the police are.

Hoda: One girl who was 5 said she wanted to be an artist – to make people happy through her art. I really believe that art is something that anyone can do – it can save your from bad feelings and give you a way to let emotions out, without turning to drugs.

Helen: Carolina, how did you find your experience?

Carolina: It was amazing. There was a bit of a problem with people not turning up, but there was talent and people had fun. The teachers were really helpful and when there was a problem they did what they could to solve it.

Helen: Could you pinpoint any issues at the school, like where it is lacking?

Carolina: I was teaching teenagers in or nearing their final year, so around 17 years old. But many of them had no idea about basic literacy things like metaphors or similies. There also didn’t speak to be much cohesion between teachers – no collobarative learning. It seemed like they were learning not to respect adults or peers but to respect just the Head teacher when it should be towards anyone.

Helen: Zoe, you were 4th basico – so aged 10 to 11- and alongside their regular English teacher. How did you find it?

Zoe: I had a very mixed experience. The teacher had absolutely no presence in the class. She told me right away she wanted to leave and was looking for other jobs, and when we entered the class she would just sit down and start making notes – no greeting to the class, nothing. She didn’t speak English at all in the classroom – in fact when I finally got her to say something one of the students asked “Miss why are you speaking English?” She taught the same curriculum for all her classes from years 1-4 and no-one knew even the basics like what “how are you” meant. Instead of English she’d do lots of arts and crafts, and after a while I was like “use me – I’m here to help!” So she copied a long poem on the board without translating it and told the kids to write it down. They had no idea what they were writing and were so bored. I asked if I should explain and she said to the class “Zoe will say it out aloud and you all copy it!” She didn’t know the kids names, she didn’t know why certain kids were taken out every class, she cancelled classes every week and she never had a plan for classes. One time I told her I had some ideas, she said no they would make Christmas stockings instead, but when we got there we found the kids had finished them all at home. So the kids spent the whole class with nothing to do.

Georgina: But that is not completely normal. She’s not their regular teacher, only takes them for English, and she told us this was her first job. She was not experienced.

Zoe: I saw that the students were very good at sharing and that a few were really interested and tried hard. But without the teacher taking charge or explaining, they didn’t understand what they were doing. They did have textbooks, but they had never been used before I went there.

Helen: I don’t understand why there are teachers like this? Can’t they be fired?

Mariana: I think they are on a one-year contract and funding is tight with state schools.

Helen: Mariana, how was your experience there with Lina?

Mariana: We worked alongside Amaro, who was really respected by the students. He was incredibly well-spoken, knew all the terminology and explained everything to the kids.

Lina: All the kids were helping each other, asking opinions, and looking after one another.

Mariana: Amaro was taught by Gerhard, the principal, and took the job because of him. There is a lot of loyality between the staff and many aren’t there for the pay but because they want to be there.

Georgina: It all comes down to the teacher. If they are not happy with their salary, they won’t be happy.  There was good and bad at the school: the majority were really dedicated but there were some who were not so. We were left for two hours once by the teacher who was meant to stay with us. Most of the kids just ran away. We were only meant to be there 40 minutes.

Helen: Is that the guy who was yawning through our meeting?

Zoe: I saw him always sleeping in the staff room!


 

What have we learnt? That volunteering is not just out helping those in need. Its incredibly rewarding for both sides because everyone learns. We didn’t go in there with guns blazing thinking we knew better, instead we listened to the teachers, asked what they wanted and needed, and tried to work beside them in the classroom. We tried to provide a friend and a mentor, learning while having fun in an environment that is safe. We gave the kids an outlet to be themselves, be creative and learn something that was perhaps a little bit strange. Not all of us will be continuing next year due to various commitments (immigration! Work!) but we welcome new members and new projects. If you would like to be involved, have an idea or a school to nominate, please send me a PM to hlcordery@gmail.com. We also welcome donations for educational or play purposes.  If you are interested in the four week programme run by Hoda Madi, please contact her directly to see if she is interested in visiting your school.

 

 

 

It´s Rush Hour & I´m On The Metro

It’s 7pm and the platform is packed. People are waiting anxiously, inching forward alarmingly close to the edge with eyes peeled to the left. The train sounds in the near distance and they ready themselves at the same time as the metro guards spread their arms and shout to stay back. There is only one word to describe what comes next: battle.  The doors open and there is a swarm of commuters descending from the carriage … while fighting the ferocious onslaught of those trying to get on. There’s pushing and shoving, people shouting “weon” and once inside (if you make it that is) there is no room to even lift a finger and all manner of things pressed into your bottom.

The metro has a bad reputation amongst locals and foreigners here but it’s fair to say that in (most) countries travel during rush hour is a hectic and trying time. It’s true that the above picture is commonplace and it’s also true that it’s near impossible to find a space if you are disabled, with children or with a pushchair. People are already stressed by the time they arrive on the platform thanks to Santiago’s long working day, and just waiting to use your ticket/Bip card can take half an hour in some stations (looking at you Tobalaba!).

Last night we had to use the metro at exactly that time –  and with Emilio. Sometimes there is just no other option. The yellow line was extraordinarily busy. No-one offered us a seat, which is rare because someone usually does.  In their defense they probably couldn’t see us over the sea of bobbing heads … and also because they were all taken by middle aged ladies (the WORST culprits for doing the usual eye-avoiding/I’m asleep/I-can-see-you-but-don’t-care-trick). Some people motioned for us to sit down when one of the not-that-old ladies vacated but by then we were getting off at the next stop. At Santa Ana the swarm pushed into Emilio so much that he got very scared but the people around us pushed back to move everyone away from us. When we arrived at Los Heroes it would have been impossible for us to disembark if it hadn’t been for all the people who helped part a path for us and shouted to be careful of the guagua. On the platform it was madness but everyone that saw us gave us a wide berth.

This is something that I think often goes overlooked. For every person pushing, there are five more who will try and help and this goes for the buses and taxis too!. I have found the men to be more helpful than the women (generally), that people nearly always give me a seat without prompting outside of the rush hour, and that often the most helpful people to Luis or myself are the most unsavoury looking men. I also have to point out there has been immense improvement since I was here in 2012. During rush hour there are trains every minute, there are lots of people working to help you, and the Ruta Verde/Roja help make the trip a lot faster. It’s also worth pointing out that in a country where (most) things are privatized, the metro line is state-run – I’m sure TranSantiago would love to have a piece of that pie too because it must be a goldmine of income! The lines are constantly being repaired, lifts are being put in, carriages have been designated as preferential, and drivers are well-trained (its no easy feat to get the job either). A week or so ago, I lost my balance on the metro (darn dizziness!) and then had a full-blown panic attack.  I cannot speak highly enough of the young guard  who calmed me down, offered to call me an ambulance and then walked me across the station to wait for Luis to rescue me – and he spoke English! I dread to think how much worse it would have been if he wasn’t there, or not as easy to find.

The pressure on the metro during rush hour is intense and I really hope that that improves with all the new lines being put in. Do you know what I wish you could get here? Those badges that show if you need a seat or extra help – there are alot of disabilities that make no outward change to your appearance. For me, it’s very difficult for me to stand on something that is moving or even using stairs – made doubly worse if I’m holding Emilio! It really makes me feel for those amongst us who really need assistence. I don’t think Santiago provides well for the disabled (or am I wrong) and the ultimate day would be when they set aside a whole carriage for those of us with pushchairs or wheelchairs. Sure would help me avoid dirty looks when I have to use the lift!