Monday, October 16, 2006

jornada: cajón de maipo

Every three months, a new "class" of volunteers arrives in Santiago. After one month of volunteering with VE, the class is invited to participate in an organization-wide retreat. In a nutshell, this is how I might have explained my first month:

Orientation filled the first week, after which we dispersed all over the city to institutions, host families, apartments, and residence halls. In my opinion, my first week at my institution didn't make much sense. I felt constantly confused and overwhelmed, but for me, I think because of the excitement of finally beginning to realize that I made it here, the challenges didn't completely deflate me. The second week I knew a few of the some 25 girls here, and I could ride the Metro, but I still couldn't follow directions in spanish, give directions in spanish, or accept any real responsibility in the hogar. The third week I learned how to take a micro by myself, a gigantic step forward in my relationship with Santiago's public transit system, and I knew over half of the girl's names. Lena and I began to walk a group of 11 girls back to school after lunch, and we successfully ran some tallares, or workshops, as we like to call our activities for the kids. I also met with a printer to discuss the specs for VE's first marketing brochure, and I learned that brillo means the paper is "glossy" and mate means the paper has a "matte" finish. Week four introduced earlier alarm clocks to our mornings, as we take turns accompanying four girls to and from their special school a couple of metro lines away. Not only can I communicate a little better with the girls and the tias, I know everybody's name and am learning much more about their lives and personalities.

We left last Friday in the afternoon for Cajón de Maipo. The busride took about 2.5 hours and probably was gorgeous, but due to the rain, heavy clouds, foggy windows, and leaking roof, I didn't really notice. We arrived in the gloomy, late afternoon and filled ourselves with tea in our beautiful cabin, soon realizing that the rain had turned to snow. The next morning the sun took quite awhile to melt the ice and snow, a strange mix of summer and winter lingering for hours after dawn. Meanwhile our retreat proved incredibly relaxing, giving us the much needed space and time to think, to discuss, to breathe clean mountain air and process the collage of events layered in piles in our minds. While the above description of my first month is true, so many more thoughts, feelings, frustrations, successes, defeats, and questions had been building upon each other that, had they not been addressed in some manner, they could have become larger obstacles to my being a productive volunteer. For this, I am glad we went on the retreat, and I look forward to the next one already. If you'd like to see our weekend in photos, please visit here.

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