Monday, June 28, 2010

Lessons from La Yaya

My fellow exchange student (and host cousin) Sarah, grandmother Yaya and I at Yaya's birthday fiesta

Sometimes in life you are lucky enough to come across those rare, beautiful people, who affect your very core with their kindness and their tranquil spirit that radiates from their mere presence in a room. During my time in Chile, my life has been graced with the special aura of such a person in the form of my Chilean grandmother, la Yayita. Her name is Sonya, which I think is beautiful and fits her lovely demeanor well, but everyone and their cousin refers to her as la Yayita. La Yaya has spent the majority of her life teaching English in a British school here in Viña del Mar and at times throws in an expression or command in English (with a touch of a proper British accent) just to mix things up a bit. One of my favorite Yaya moments, for example, happened during a big family lunch one Sunday afternoon. As we all sat around the table talking and laughing, she suddenly exclaimed "Gee whiz!" in response to a funny story. My friend and I exchanged amused glances and burst out laughing. She is just that precious. So, when Sarah and I learned last week that we'd be having a big party at my house in honor of La Yaya's 76th birthday, we decided to make her a little something sweet.

After some thinking, Sarah suggested we make homemade Nutella truffles! We decided on a recipe by what we knew we could find at the grocery store close to my house. Don't get me wrong, Chileans do love their sugar and desserts, but people don't make brownies or fudge pies here, and chocolate chips are about $4 or $5 for a small bag of cheap chocolate. Yes, that means they don't do chocolate chip cookies. Ever. Only if corporate America is selling them in a shiny packaged sleeve in the supermarket. So as you can imagine, the baking aisle as you know it certainly doesn't exist. They do have roasted hazelnuts, cream, nutella, butter and chocolate here though...which is basically what this recipe required! So Sarah and I had a truffle-making and movie night the day before the party :)

Although these babies required several steps and hours, there is alot of down time inbetween stirring and cooling that you can use to do other things, such as watch a good movie on your laptop, and eat a Nutella sandwich with the leftover Nutella, of course. If you're curious, the recipe is here. We used milk chocolate bars for the filling and the coating because it's the popular choice here, but I plan on repeating this soon with dark for the coating. Highly reccommended! We alternated with shredded unsweetened coconut, chopped hazelnuts and sifted cocoa powder as toppings.

Yaya's party started at 8 PM Sunday night in the usual Chilean manner, the staggered arrival of 30 or so relatives, the cheek-kissing and greeting of everyone, and the mingling and drinking of pisco and mango sours. Appetizers included cheese and crackers, peanuts and golden raisins, olives and crackers with various mayonnaises. They loooove mayonnaise here, which is unfortunate since I've never been a fan, but the mayo we eat for parties is homemade and typically garlicky or flavored nicely with cilantro, so I've become accustomed to spreading it on my crackers, tortilla chips, and lays... yep!

Eventually the main course was brought out-lots of meat, some baked potato balls, rice, salad and tomato slices. So I ate salad and rice and potatoes, accompanied with a couple glasses of Chilean wine-a Cabernet and a Carmeñere (Chile's unique grape). After much more social time, the cake came out at about midnight and we all sang Feliz Cumples. The touching toasts that Yaya's daughters did as the night went on made me smile gratefully that Yaya is my grandmother. A few people left at 1:30 AM or so after presents, but most stayed until 4 AM. We spent the wee hours of the morning singing karaoke to various Latino hits as people drank Coke and pisco and then topped off the night with Pisco cream-which after one sip I decided was better than Bailey's. I found out that singing along to karaoke with the rest of the room was an excellent way to improve my pronunciation and work on the rolling of my r's. At 4:30 when I finally went to bed I laughed at the fact that yes, that crazy party was for my 76 year old grandmother! Chile knows how to have a good time, no one can deny that!

After Yaya tried a truffle, she told Sarah and I we had the "manos de las monjas" -the hands of nuns :)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Chile

What's a girl to do?
This is me, in my bed, dressed for the weather in the casa. If I go outside, its warmer. Not by a lot right now because it is nighttime, but during the day yes it is significantly warmer, outside, than in the house. I'm sorry that I'm talking about this again, the fact that it is cold, but it is on my mind and I have trouble concentrating and so here I am writing about it instead of doing my homework.woops! And I'm also documenting my cold weather gear for you too, apparently. Please don't judge me too harshly.

This is another outfit I like to sport in the casa. Down vest with hood with my fleece pants. And then I get in my bed, and stay there until my butt hurts from sitting in one spot, at which point I stand up and hang upside down for a few minutes and then get back in my bed with my laptop.

This past weekend I had to actually stay in the house the entire weekend to write an 8 page research paper for my social psych class. This was less than desirable. I missed out on some good international kids fun and sunset on the beach time. The result is that now it is monday, but I feel like surely it should be thursday night already!
Let me tell you about my day today. First I woke up and got ready, quickly, so that I could put all my clothes on and my jacket of course. I made my usual breakfast-banana, yogurt, and quaker instant oats. I bought myself some flax seed too so me being me always puts a healthy scoop of that on my cereal, followed by a liberal sprinkle of cinnamon. When I have walnuts in my room, I crush a few of those up and throw them in. In Spanish, walnuts are called "mariposas," which also means butterflies. The butterfly nut! Fun Spanish fact of the day.
Anyways, after I got ready and ate breakfast I called Peru to make some train ticket reservations for my sister and I in July. We're going to Machu Picchu and the website wasn't working so I called and had a nice chat with Jorge at Perurail. Then it was time for film class! It is one of my favorites because it is actually entertaining. The professor is really nice too, and my friend Sarah and I refer to him as the silver fox, so yes, I enjoy that class. From the beginning of the semester the class was set up as such: 6 movies, 6 discussion classes, which would alternate as one movie followed by one discussion, etc. with three tests, each one over two movies. Well, recently this has become a problem, so we didn't watch a movie today. The discussion went something like this: "Okay students we have a problem with our schedule. It appears we will have to wrap up earlier than I originally thought. The situation is that we got behind a class when I was out of town, and the last Monday of the semester is a public holiday (Latin America LOVES their public holidays), and the Monday before that is the Chile-Honduras world cup game...and the university has officially suspended classes during that hour of course so looks like we'll have to cut out a movie and a test. And today we don't have time to watch a movie as planned because we're going to get kicked out of the room early since today is the celebration of the inauguration of this building and the faculty is screening The Wave in this classroom. So we'll do our discussion on the movie today and then watch it next week."
Hahaha so we casually cut out 20-30% of the material of the class. And the discussion he presented this morning was stopped mid-thought by celebration set-up. But the profe seemed pretty cool with it, really.
What made the class even more interesting today was that a Chilean classmate had found me and sent me a message on facebook asking if he could have a copy of my notes from a class he had missed. He sent me the message in English, which was slightly insulting, but thoughtful I suppose. After I stopped giggling about the fact that he would choose one of three foreign students to ask for notes when he had about 20 Chileans to choose from...I responded in Spanish! haha and told him he could have a copy of my notes but they were far from perfect. Ironic that he thought it best to ask me in English for notes that I had to take in class in Spanish from a professor talking a million miles an hour about High Noon and "old westerns" filming techniques. So after class I did the cheek kiss meet and greet with my new film friend and his friend and awkwardly exchanged notes and padded on my merry way home.
I arrived home to the vacuuming of our new nana, Maria Jesus, nana number four. Number three, who made amazing lentil soup and I miss dearly, just stopped showing up last week. I'm starting to detect a trend. Is it possible my family here is a bit difficult to keep up with for the dear nanas?
Next I victoriously emailed my 8 page paper and my partner paper to my social psych professor. check! Then it was time to down my lunch at the very early lunching hour of 1:00 (this weekend we ate lunch at 3:45 saturday and sunday...why do they even have a word for hurry in the spanish language?). Lunch, by the way, was surprisingly delicious. When the nana asked me how she should make a soy burger out of the soy meat my mom had left soaking, I was a little concerned. She threw it together beautifully though and served it on white rice with some leftover stir fried veggies. I had salad(which comes after the main course-iceberg and peeled tomatoes, as always, and ran to catch a bus to class.
I showed up to psychology as I had been told I should, to talk to my profe about my essay. The Chileans in the class were taking an exam but us exchange students write the essays in place of exams. So, he told us to write our names on the list and then we could leave. Wow, glad I took a 30 minute bus ride for that...
So I got back on the bus and went home. It was cool out but nice and sunny so I got off the bus a stop early (the public health freak in me does this often) and walked a while. I ate the Reese's cup my friend Julie from psych gave me (she had received a package from her US mom, and the chocolate-pb lover in me was in heaven). I arrived back to the house and started working on emails and various things and haven't left my room too much since. Heaven knows what I've been doing, because I honestly haven't accomplished much. My only explanation for all this is the Chile. I have the Chile. The symptoms are cold-like, but are accompanied with difficulty concentrating, desire to dance, tendency to stay out all night and sleep all day(culturally, you really are viewed as depressed or something if you don't "salir" aka go out on thursday, friday and saturday. This weekend when I didn't, my mom was offering me wine and pisco as I was trying to do my homework. social time is sacred!) and occassionally eat cake for breakfast. I'm kind of kidding, but then again I'm kind of not. The good news is, I think my Spanish is reallly improving, and I have learned so many general culture and life and people lessons here I can't even begin to explain, so I'm feeling like the objectives are being met! Happy June everyone :)