Class, Politics and the Beach

Hey all,

I’m a little sick, and I’ve taken the last couple of days off from school, so I figure I may as well try to do something productive while I’m laid up and update this thing. Luz and Andrea have been fantastic, reinforcing that a mom is a mom, wherever you go. Luz has been taking my temperature and otherwise taking great care of me, and has been very comforting in what could otherwise be really hard: being sick and away from everything I know.

The last couple weeks have been pretty interesting, as we’re two weeks into the Intensive Language Program. The students were split up into 5 classes, split between three levels: intermediate, intermediate/advanced and advanced, and have class for about 4-4.5 hours per day. Typically on Mondays and Wednesdays we watch something as a group for the second half of the day, and we’ve seen a couple of really good movies (in Spanish, but thankfully with English subtitles).

I’m in the middle class, intermediate/advanced, and I’m really enjoying it. Our teacher is a professor in the school of letters at La Católica, Lésmer Montecino, and while we do our fair share of mind-numbing grammar, we also just spend a lot of time talking about Chile and various things to practice our conversational skills.


Darth Lésmer at his finest.

Lésmer is an interesting man, and has a deep, resonating voice that is both and comforting and incredibly imposing at the same time, in a James Earl Jones/Carl Kasell crossover, that makes you both want to do well, both because you want him to be proud and the consistent fear he may pick you up and throw you out the window if you forget where the accent is on “estaremos.”

The Spanish classes, which specifically teach us a number of “chilenismos,” or Chilean slang, also bring up an interesting debate for me: the Chilean accent. The accent, to generalize ridiculously, basically relies on dropping most of the Ss from words, particularly at the end. And while a bunch of students have taken to speaking that way, it doesn’t quite make sense for me to try to do intentionally. I find myself doing it from time to time, but let’s think about this for a second. If you consider the Spanish language, in which so much hinges on conjugation, the lack of an “s” could dramatically change the meaning of a phrase. For those who do it unintentionally, fine, but at this point in my Spanish career, I think I’m going to try to learn as neutral Spanish as possible: something that can be spoken anywhere in the Hispanohablante world. I’m already the size of 1.5 Chileans, so if I stand out a little bit more because I have more of a Mexican accent than Chilean, or something… so be it.

The politics in Chile are fascinating, not a big surprise if you know me and politics or the history of Chilean craziness. To summarize: Salvador Allende came into power as the Socialist president of Chile in 1970. In his three years in power, the country saw dramatic losses economically, including the disappearance of several food staples and a drop in copper and other export values. On September 11, 1973 he was deposed and killed in a coup d’état by Augusto Pinochet, ushering in 26 years of dictatorship, under which thousands of Chileans were “disappeared,” tens of thousands incarcerated and tortured without trial, and hundreds of thousands exiled.

This, of course, has since been cited as the quintessential CIA-rigged coup, including the conditions that led to his deposing.

Under Pinochet economic conditions improved a bit, under certain measures, primarily through neoliberal practices, though of course those are always controversial.

So to an American like me, raised on the value of democracy and all that, it sounds like the Chilean people should hate Pinochet and love the new democracy, Michelle Bachelet and their newfound freedom, right?

Kind of.

The Chilean people are split, basically right down the middle, on Pinochet. And while most of them would be more than happy to tell you why, be prepared. Pinochet’s supporters are likely to cite the economic improvements, the lack of food and jobs under Allende, and how much more access there was to necessary goods after the dictatorship. Opposers will call these facts simple propaganda carefully spun during the dictatorship, and will lament the loss of friends of their who simply disappeared one day, never to return. Make your own choices.

The other part in the mix is the Concertación, the voting bloc organized to defeat Pinochet’s stranglehold on the Congress, which has reliably won every election since 1988, almost as long as Pinochet was in power. While there is no comparison between the human rights abuses in the two terms, there is a growing Chilean group that is dissatisfied with the Concertación, especially its mishandling of the economic crisis and lack of financial support for the people. Sound familiar?

In about an hour I’m headed out to Papudo, a beach town to the North, for our “cultural project,” where my group will get to know everything about the city and present it all in a presentation to the rest of the program. I expect to be without Internet access for the next few days, so I’ll see you all on Sunday night, when I get back. At that point I’ll try to post our project, or at least our pics and videos from Papudo for y’all at home.

Oh! Speaking of Internet, I finally have it at home, though in a bit of a strange form. It’s a modem stick from Claro, a cell phone company here, and gives me a pretty good internet connection. Though Andrea won’t tell me how much she paid for it, I think it costs about $30/month, which seems pretty good for access anywhere. However, I’m going to have to use it a little better in the future, as I got a message from them saying that I had exceeded my bandwidth limit and that my speed would be reduced to 256 kb/sec until the next billing cycle, which I can only assume is next month. Whoops, there goes the streaming video.

Sorry for the long post, and props to anyone who’s still here. I finally Google Analytics working, so now I can honestly say I KNOW WHO YOU ARE, bwahahaha.



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