I am continually blown away by the kindness and appreciation the Chilean people shower us with. From the man at the tiny lavanderia, who said "God bless you" to me when I picked up my clothes, to the people on the bus who helped us get off on the right stop when we thought we were completely lost. On Tuesday night some friends and I were invited into the home of Tania, a girl who is studying video art and works at the hostel. Her family welcomed us with open arms, huge hugs, and big kisses. Her mom stir-fried fresh veggies and chicken for us in a huge wok and it was the best meal I´ve had thus far in Chile. (She was kind enough to make plain veggies for me!) Their house is filled with Tania´s art - paintings, light fixtures, and drawings she has made throughout the years.
Today we were welcomed into two schools. The first school prepared a huge welcoming ceremony for us. Students sang, danced traditional dances, played guitar, and read Pablo Neruda. Many of us got tears in our eyes at times. After the ceremony we were mobbed by kids, signing autographs and posing for photos. They are like the paparazzi with their little camera phones! The second school was home to the winning team of the national debate competition. An initiative of the English Opens Doors Program is to create English debate teams in schools all over Chile. They performed a debate for us today, and the subject was whether cell phones should be banned from school. The arguments were intelligent, eloquent, and convincingly delivered. They were on par with what you might hear in a high school in America, if not better. This school is one of the best in the nation, so their English fluency is not representative of most students in Chile. It is an example of what they are working towards. Nonetheless, these kids were impressive. They are the future leaders of Chile, and they are ready for the job.
It is worth noting that today is National Youth Combatants Day in Chile, so students are taking to the streets all over Santiago. Two students were killed by policemen on this day in 1985, protesting the current regime. Today they will also be directing a lot of energy to TranSantiago, the public transit system which is basically a mess. In attempt to get more people on the subway, many of the bus lines in the central city were shut down, resulting in crazy congestion on the subway. Some people now have to ride a bus, take the subway, and then take another bus to get to work. During rush hour it can take an hour and a half to cross the city, and it ain´t pretty. Since many students take public transit to school, they are protesting these new changes.
Two final notes: You can find me in the above picture, top left corner. Those are all the volunteers after the welcoming at the UN. Secondly, more volunteers are needed for a 6 month program starting in May, so if you are wondering what to do with your life check out the Volunteer Center link to the left!