MIRA MICHELS-GUALTIERI | VIÑA DEL MAR, CHILE | POST 4

MIRA MICHELS-GUALTIERI | VIÑA DEL MAR, CHILE | POST 4

Featured image: It is ridiculous that nature creates things this beautiful: Laguna Verde @ Cerro Castillo.

In eight days, I will have lived in Chile for five months. FIVE ENTIRE MONTHS! I think part of what makes living in a different country so special is how quickly the things you believed about yourself can shift. For example, before leaving for Chile, I could not imagine going abroad for an entire year. I had a couple of friends who were, and I respected their decision and was extremely excited for them, but the thought of being away from Vassar for so long felt impossible. College is only four years… why sacrifice an entire year of that experience when there are so many ways to travel post-graduation? What would I miss while away for so long? How would I finish pre-med and major requirements? How would I survive for so long without the intense structure of academia that has guided the majority of my life?

Now that I have almost completed my study abroad experience, it is effortless to think about staying for the whole year. Surprisingly, it is hard to imagine how difficult the transition home will be when I leave. When I leave, come January 1, I will be sobbing when I have to say goodbye to my host family, to my Chilean friends, and to Omar and his family. I am extremely grateful not only that in such little time, I have developed the kinds of special relationships here that I wanted, but also that I’ll have my mom by my side throughout the entire process—perhaps not understanding the individual Spanish words spoken but understanding perfectly the mixture of sadness and gratitude. She will be coming to Chile on December 24 to spend the holidays with me and the people I love most here.

I think perhaps to give me a break for how difficult many aspects of the past two months of civil unrest have been, the universe has rewarded me with one of the most beautiful months of my life.

To start, in hopes to show our appreciation, me and five of my program friends organized a Chilean Thanksgiving for our incredible host families, where each one of us cooked a traditional dish. I am talking the whole nine yards: an entire turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, my homemade mac n’ cheese (for the price in Chile, you would think cheddar cheese is a delicacy), and oh-so-many delicious pies. We hosted the event in a local park and some 40 invitees came! It was an afternoon of food, sunshine, meeting the people who had been featured in each other’s stories, frisbee, and heart-shattering bliss. One of my friends made a point to acknowledge the problematic history of the holiday and it led to some really incredible conversations. The fact that the pecan pie was so popular was also validating, considering we could not find deshelled nuts and had to crack open and clean some 200 pecans for our pies.

Look! At! This! Professional! Pie! Baked apples with cinnamon pecan crumble. I love how this photo looks like a stock image .
From the most wonderful Thanksgiving gathering I could’ve asked for, featuring host families and friends.

In terms of my internship, though my family health center was on strike for the majority of the unrest, I have made great progress on my protocol that allows people who qualify for the three circumstances where abortion is now legal—to save the mother’s life, fetal diseases incompatible with life, and sexual assault—to be cared for and transported to a higher level of care. I had a really difficult time getting started (have I ever written a protocol? how about in Spanish???) but after hours of research and some tough love from my mom, I began to write. In the past week, I’ve had several meetings to collect feedback and am hoping to get a solid protocol turned in before I leave. If the higher-ups like it, there is a good chance it will be implemented in all the other family health centers in the region!

Partially because of the fact that I am working on said protocol, I have landed a summer internship with my hero(!), reproductive health services accessibility champion, Dr. Rebecca Gomperts. Dr. Gomperts is the founder of Women on Waves, an organization that visits nations with restrictive abortion laws and sails individuals in need into international waters, where abortions and other health services are legal. What started with a cold email detailing my experiences related to reproductive rights/justice and ways I would like to contribute to her work eventually led to her inviting me to intern with her organization in Amsterdam this summer. Just typing that makes me giddy.

Just a few days ago, I returned from a weeklong trip to the Patagonia (I know I know) with Omar, in addition to two program friends who joined us for parts of the trip. Not only did I complete the hardest hike of my life summitting Cerro Castillo to see the Laguna Verde (14 km round trip of which 5 of those km were up the side of a steep mountain with a path of slippery stones and snow patches), but I stole a man’s nuts! I really do feel terrible about it. While hitchhiking with Omar and Benji, our driver, who I am convinced is the nicest man in the Patagonia, offered us a bag of walnuts and dates. We ate a couple but insisted he keep them for his long drive. When he dropped us off, seconds after he pulled away, we realized his nuts were accidentally packed in one of our bags.

An amazing view! The marble caves are also really pretty 😉
Benji looking at a map with the nicest man ever who we hitchhiked with; this was taken pre-nut stealing.

I want to close my last post by sharing some of the things that I love and will miss:

  • One of my favorite things about my host family and Chile is how intentional people are about eating meals together. Nearly every day, we sit down to eat a delicious meal my grandma cooks, share the escapades of our day, and contemplate the rarities of life (for example, in Spanish, the direct translation of peacock is “real turkey”—does that mean regular turkeys are fake?). I am really going to miss this built-in quality time with loved ones; it is something I want to integrate more into my life when I return.
  • When people in Chile arrive late to a meeting or event, instead of being lowkey and trying to not make a scene, upon entering the room, they announce their presence with a “¡BUENAS!” and everyone pauses the event to respond, “¡BUENAS!”
  • One evening recently on my way home from a café, me and a crowd of protesters were confronted by a huge squad of police officers and tear gas trucks. From where I was standing, I had no idea how to make it past the impending standoff to get to the bus stop, about three blocks away. Seemingly reading my mind, a woman my age tapped on my shoulder and asked if I was also hoping to get to the buses. When I nodded, she suggested to go together and with her help, we navigated the scene and made it to my bus. I think her kindness and willingness to help is exemplary of why I love Chile and especially love my cities (Viña and Valpo).
  • The chaos of micros (public transport buses) home to aggressive salespeople, occasionally unrequited musicians serenading you, drivers blasting reggaeton, while giving you your change and driving a manual bus all at the same time without issue.
  • Seafood and cheese empanadas.
  • Random dogs roaming the streets who have more confidence in their front paws than some of us will ever experience .

Yes, I know this post is long, but here’s a few more things/moments that make my corazón feliz:   

  • My host family adopted an abandoned kitten and she is PRECIOUS. Her name is Lana (my suggestion), which means yarn in Spanish—perfect because she loves to chase string and because my host sister loves to crochet and knit.        
  • I recently was hanging out with my Middlebury friend and her amazing host family. They were doing some weeding in the yard while me and my friend were cooking pasta for dinner. For context, I am notorious for mixing up how Spanish words end—is the palabra with a or o or e? I asked if they had made a lot of progress cutting the grass (“pasto”) but inadvertently said “pasta.” One her host brothers laughingly responded, “What type of pasta? Noodles or ravioli?”
  • A few days ago, me and one of my Chilean friends were singing and playing the ukulele together. I started strumming the song, “I Lava You” from the Pixar short, but I only knew the lyrics in English and she only knew them in Spanish. When we got to the end of the chorus, the cutest thing happened: both of our versions ended with the word “Lava” (the same in both languages) and we belted that word like there was no tomorrow.

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