Depto once dieciseis, or ‘apartment eleven sixteen’, was my home for the whole of 2012. When I moved to Chile for a year of teaching English it was hard to imagine what life would be like. Now looking back, it’s hard to imagine what it would have been like if it hadn’t gone the way it did. If I hadn’t moved into 1116.
Today’s Someone I Once Met is about the people I lived with who became my family away from home and who I continue to learn from two years down the line.
A week after arriving on Chilean soil I had already been robbed of all my important possessions, including passport, phone and all my bank cards. Shortly thereafter I stood in front of the door to my new home, ringing the door bell, waiting for what seemed like forever for someone to answer. I had already hit rock bottom, it could only be up from here.
Finally a tall, handsome Frenchman opened the door. I had clearly woken him up at the ungodly hour of 1pm- I based this on his appearance and the time it took him to answer the door. Sam would become a brotherly figure, a guy who I loved in a platonic way and hated every now and again. Reasons varied from his French-ness to stubborn and bossy-ness.
Sam was a student and later an intern, an occasion that was important enough for a tailored suit. As you would imagine, he had a huge soft spot for cheese and wine and spoke with a strong French accent that could be detected in every language he spoke. The day I left we shed a tear and an embrace for the year that we had spent together and for the high likelihood of never seeing each other again. Luckily, my leaving overlapped with him meeting his future wife who I met briefly. Unfortunately, her understanding (or misunderstanding) of what our friendship was (and wasn’t) is the reason why Sam and I are no longer friends. Cest la vie, it was fun while it lasted.
Yannek, dear Yannek. My American brother of Swiss decent, fluent in French and Spanish. His ability to switch between three languages in one conversation always blew my mind. I always wished Yannek hadn’t left halfway through my stay in Chile. If there was ever an individual to have on your side it was him. Annoyingly politically correct and frustratingly positive about all the people around him, it didn’t take long to realise that Yannek was one of life’s special people.
An alliance with him meant a constant look on the lighter side of life. It also meant a good meal in your belly, albeit deep fried. While he knew how to cook up a storm, cleaning up seemed foreign to him. I suppose between being the master of languages, the resident chef and guitar maestro, there wasn’t much time left for cleaning.
The third inhabitant of 1116 was Mariela of Costa Rica. She was the only native Spanish speaker in the house and spoke the most beautiful, fluent English. Her petite figure and perfect hair seemed to attract the French men, which annoyed her since she wasn’t particularly fond of them herself. If I remember correctly she actually made the French of all sexes weak at the knees.
But as was the nature of 1116, roommates came and went, equilibriums upset and dimensions changed. Soon Mariela and Yanek were gone and Sam and I remained as the original roomies.
I soon convinced my Chilean friend Jeimy to move in with us. 1116 was a far cry from the neat new apartment she had to leave behind. After one too many police-involved house parties, 1116 was all but collapsed. The walls needed painting, the couch needed throwing away and the carpets upstairs, well, they gave poor Jeimy a nasty rash.
I’d feel worse about having encouraged Jeimy to move in but she was in desperate need of removing herself from the apartment she’d shared with her previous boyfriend. I moved out of my room which was way to big for me and my lack of possessions and into the downstairs room big enough for a only bed. this suited me perfectly and simply took myself up to my old room that Jeimy had turned into an oasis. Decorating wasn’t her only talent- another area in which she excelled was eating for four and still maintaining her figure.
But hang on! I skipped the part between Mariela’s leaving and Jeimy’s arrival where the biggest Chilean in all the land moved in. Fernando was the one new arrival that we had no say in and moved in as a friend of the apartment’s manager. Fernando loved whiskey so much he would have had no problem drinking it in the place of morning tea. Unfortunately this is not socially acceptable nor is it healthy, especially for this poor dude who suffered from the worst alcohol induced gout. I remember him crippled at times, hobbling down the stairs in pain.
Almost as much as he loved whiskey, Fernando loved women. It isn’t completely uncommon in Chile to be outspoken about your feelings (read urges) about a woman. A good looking woman in Chile is, more often than not, made aware of what men around her are thinking. Anything from a grunt of approval to a whistle or a comment.
For some reason Fernando thought it ok to let me know whenever he saw someone who made him feel alive in his loins. Based on this fact, his having fathered a child years before, his relationship with a crazy woman, his love for strip clubs and his friend who carried around a gun, it took a while to warm to Fernando. But I learned to love him in my own way.
The final addition to 1116 was our very own Mexican chef, Désirée. Désirée arrived on our doorstep with all her energy and cooking knowledge about midway through my year in Chile. Not long after that she’d befriended every other Mexican exchange student- and that was the end of any peace and quiet for 1116. At any one time there were between 3 and 7 Mexicans eating quesadillas and speaking in slang in our apartment.
This was probably the best thing that could have happened to me and my Spanish language acquisition. Without the presence of Désirée and her entourage, my Spanish would not have been able to progress to the level it did. Even though most of the time I was too self conscious to utter much, the mere exposure to a daily dose of Mexico was priceless.
Thanks to Désirée I now have a humungous urge to visit Mexico. Thanks to her, my sneaking suspicion that all Mexican dishes are made from the same 3 ingredients was confirmed. And lastly, thank you Desi for filling up my room with balloons and sticky notes for my birthday after knowing me for just a few weeks.
Gracias a mi familia Chilena! Thank you to my Chilean family! I couldn’t imagine 2012 without you.