First Timers

When I first arrived in Chile, I remember walking out to a party with some new friends I made at the hostel.  It was then that I first heard of Chile’s biggest social political issue, education. As it turns out, this country has one of the highest tuition fees in the world in relation to its GDP and general cost of living. The average Chilean brings in about 600 USD a month, with the average monthly college fee standing at about 770 USD. Upon graduating, some Chilean students will find themselves in $63 000 of debt. (Working in this currency suits my international blog followers, you see). I’m trying to make an effort to better understand the history of this situation which includes learning more about the dictatorship under Pinochet that ended twenty years ago. But back to my walk; my answer to, ‘have you ever been around tear gas?’ was ‘no’ and his answer to that was, ‘oh, you will’.

And how right he was. It was just another Thursday morning after the Wednesday night before (note the hint towards certain feelings of hungover-ness). Upon trying to leave the building for some much needed food, I found myself in yet another normal situation complicated by the ever-present language barrier. The doorman, as it turns out, was trying to warn me not to go outside. One foot out the door and I immediately realised what was going on. Youngsters running around with T-shirts wrapped around their heads looking a lot like ninjas, big tank-like vehicles with a rather powerful hose spraying water at said ninjas, and a definite smokey look to the area.

I was at least 150 meters from where the action was taking place but I was surrounded by many a coughing and gagging youngster who had run in my direction to escape the tear gas and continue supporting the cause from a distance. I found myself edging a little closer trying to get a better look, fascinated by the situation that I had heard I was inevitably going to experience but had never really considered happening. After about five minutes I felt a definite burning sensation in my nose and headed back inside where the doorman stood waiting for me!

Living abroad offers many a new experience. The tear gas thing, encountering earthquakes, volcanoes, rivers and lakes so turquoise you’d think you were in the Caribbean. Other things I am exposed to; constant sub-titling of any and all TV programs, except for the ones that are lip-synced (at which point I’m really screwed). A new outlook on how to approach punctuality, that is to say ‘let’s meet at 4’ really means, any time between 4 and two hours after that.

Some things which were new experiences are now turning into everyday occurrences, and depending on the situation this could be both good and bad. ‘I’m from South Africa’, ‘yes really’, ‘two months’, ‘English teacher’, ‘one year I think’, ‘Ya, I think Morgan Freeman played a pretty good Mandela’, ‘Yes, I know I have to learn Spanish’; are all phrases I’m starting to sound rehearsed while saying. There’s a downside to everything I suppose.

One thing that’s old news to me and a complete mind f*ck for others is the fact that I drink vodka with coke. The horrified reaction I get is starting to bore me so I tell them ‘Piscola’, a Chilean type of brandy mixed with coke that if I do drink in excess, has me glued to the couch the whole next day.

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