Imagine a week long celebration in favor of your school, your country, and all the best aspects of your culture. In a pistachio shell, that is what just transpired at San Lorenzo, San Anselmo, and San Benito--the three schools run by the Manquehue Movement, the religious group with whom I am working and living.
Although I’ve never kept a diary, they seem to be a cinch compared to writing a blog, because one has no readers in a diary (or at least that you know of), so no story must be introduced, prefaced, rationalized, nor explained in any more detail than the writer wishes to give.
Starting out my writing is like riding a bicycle through the mud, struggling to explain the reasons and histories that make my posts pertinent, finding myself bogged down in everything I wish to share; and unfortunately, when I make it out of the mud on my own terms, I’m riding down a hill out of control and with no interest to stop and share the ride.
This is my explanation for a lack of communication. In the beginning I’m too lazy to spend the time making sense for my readers of what I would like to write, and in the end I’m too busy with things that I don’t wish to write them down. That, and I feel it as a type of sacrilege to turn great experiences into a brief note scribbled down in a blog, never quite doing it justice.
Which relates to why I don’t like to take pictures. Why spoil a great moment or series of moments by taking out a camera and snapping a picture? Why alter the course of a moment just for proof of an experience? Sure, pictures are nice to look at years later and reminisce, but they tell so little and capture only one dimension.
And now that I've rationalized my reasons for not writing often, I will do just the opposite. I still can’t make any promises on taking pictures, but every time I think about the bulk of my camera in my jeans or in my coat pocket, I’ll make sure to bring it along.
Which brings me to my task: my experiences from this last week--"school week". And since I remember most of the week as one big day patched together, there will be no chronology to this post, which I am sure makes no difference whatsoever.
San Anselmo smorgasbord:
Monday. We woke up early and were on the road by 7:05 am, arriving at school by 7:30 am. The day began with prayer, lauds, at 7:45 in the chapel. After lauds the tour began. We saw all parts of the school and were introduced to many professors and staff, who all, curiously, seemed glad to meet us and interested in who we were. It was a curiosity at first, but as my time with members of the community continued and I met more people from the movement, I discovered the curiosity to be a genuine interest. The foundation upon which Manquehue was founded is that of true community. They follow the rule of Benedict, and anyone who knows anything about the Rule knows how integral the concept of community is. And it wasn’t just the oblates of the community that welcomed us so exceptionally--the students of the school showed the same hospitality.
So, our day continued as we met more students and staff, and wandered around, occasionally involving ourselves in a game of football or a brief chat with an interested student.
The relationship the students have with the administration and staff at the schools is unique and very different from the United States. In Chile, staff and students are friends. Kids would come up to the principal nonchalantly and say hello, give a handshake, and ask about how he was doing. The normal greeting in Chile between a man and a woman is a kiss on the cheek. Girls would come up to their principal, their dean and give them a kiss and say hello. It wasn’t awkward at all, but I tried to imagine myself approaching my principal at the Catholic grade school I attended, shaking his hand and asking him how he was doing. It never happened… unless I was in the principal’s office, in which case the atmosphere wasn’t relaxed enough to lend itself to this occasion.
When I went to Spain, I remember my host mother asking me about all the lawsuits in the States. That is how we are seen--a nation full of lawsuits, for this reason or that--full of people coldly interacting through lawyers to extract whatever they possibly can for their own benefit.
We are full of fear in the United States, instilled in us by strict laws and taboos. Seldom do we hear about a teacher-mentor that has helped a student overcome adversity; instead the headlines tell about sex scandals and teach us to fear a healthy, active teacher-pupil relationship. In Chile, I saw plenty of kisses, hugs, and interested conversations between students and staff. Rodrigo pointed out that Chile will soon be where the United States is when it comes to school related laws, but for now their sense of community and friendship remains intact.
San Benito skits and Karaoke:
So the next day we were off to San Benito, the most prestigious of the three schools. The morning began with lauds, once again, and then we went off to meet the staff working in the tutoría.
Here I need to start another tangent that will tie some things together. The tutoría. The tutoría is the name the movement gives to the staff-student/ student-student relationship. They are responsible for fostering a sense of community on all levels. Older students mentor younger ones, staff mentors old and young alike, and the result is a school environment rich in friendship and unity. One of the projects Jer and I will be working on at San Lorenzo is the tutoría, fyi. So after meeting the staff in the tutoría, we were invited to the event of the morning: skits put on by the teachers and staff.
This was another thing that surprised me about the schools: teachers had a sense of humor to look silly in front of all the students. I won’t go into detail about the skits, but they ranged from nonsensical and boring to educational and well-planned. Needless to say, everyone seemed to be enjoying the spectacle of their teachers running around in funny outfits.
After the skits there was a break time, at which point we did some more browsing of the campus, and made our way back to the main cloister where there was a very entertaining contest going on-- one I’m sure was much more entertaining for me, the gringo, than for the Chilean students.
Fifteen students sit on chairs, in a straight line, all facing a shoe placed on a mattress, about thirty feet away. A mattress sits behind the first, guarding some concrete steps. Music starts playing and all or a few students bum-rush the shoe, trying to be the first to grab it. Pig piles, body checks, hair pulling--I saw it all… striking. So, the first to reach the shoe gets a special prize: they get to sing Karaoke in front of the whole school. 1,500 students. Now, apart from the bum-rush and rugby scrums, I thoroughly enjoyed this contest because of the singing.
Remember William Hung or whatever his name was from American Idol? Now think of listening to Chilean boys singing Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber and Chilean girls singing Daddy Yankee. For those of you who do not get my references I would recommend at least listening to a few seconds of William Hung on YouTube. I applaud you if you can endure more than that.
I don’t sing. I’ve never been proud of my voice. Few are the souls that have heard me sing a song solo, although I once rapped a Ludacris song to the whole Saint John’s cross-country team. I’m in no way suggesting that I would do better than these students at their task. All I’m saying is that they were the unlucky ones to grab the shoe and sing like William Hung. What started out as entertainment devolved into a William Hung festival--between several serenades and a few contestants that had no idea what they had to sing, my sympathies were exhausted by the end. Call me old fashioned, but later that day several jock straps were added to the lost and found by the San Benito janitorial staff; they were found lying on the ground near the competition area.
Sports day at San Lorenzo:
I had planned to conveniently skip a certain event that took place on this day, but since I can make a good story out of it and really everything else that happened on this day was just me watching sports, I decided it was necessary to insert.
Knowing it was sports day at San Lorenzo, I brought some shorts and a t-shirt, in hopes that I would have the opportunity to get schooled on the art of South American fútbol. I had no idea I would be running in a race.
It was the morning and we had just finished lauds. We were walking around and Rodrigo was inquiring about the schedule:
“What’s going on this morning?”
“El maratón.” (“The marathon”--Chilean for a long-run--American for a short race).
“Ayaaa, ¿a qué hora?!” (Oh! What time?)
“Andrew, you’ve gotta run.”
(Me thinking) Mhmmm, I don’t want to change out of my warm clothes and run a race.
“Eh, I think I’ll just watch.”
Five minutes later a group of students approaches me:
“Hey, will you run in the race for our team, we need to get the points for our alliance?!”
“Well, I can’t turn down a group of persistent students… yeah, I guess.”
“You better win it for us.”
“Hmm, I can’t promise anything.”
Five minutes later I’m on the starting line cold with goose bumps, staring at the gates to the front of the school wondering how all of us are going to squeeze through such a small area. But this wasn’t my first rodeo....
I thought the crowd at Cross Country Nationals was loud. They don’t hold a candle to the kids at San Lorenzo. I’ve never before gotten an adrenaline rush from the beat of a bass drum or from the sight of a crowd packed around a starting line, but with all honesty and no artistic hyperbole whatsoever, I stood on that starting line amidst the throng of roaring voices and drums and had the most exhilarating start to a race in my life.
And like almost all amateur races I’ve ever been in, someone tried to be a hero in the first 200 meters. Bolt and Johnson would have been proud, but not Bowerman or Lydiard. Needless to say our hero was accosted by the silent killer, Lactic Acid, before the first turn, and I saw his honey-buns dragging him over the finish line some time later. No guts no glory, right? Or was it no brains no glory? I forget.
So we had to make three laps of the blocks around the school and then turn back into school and finish in the main cloister. My strategy was to stick with the front pack until we had made one full lap and I was sure of the route; at which point I would turn on the burners--if they were functioning.
Unfortunately, my strategy was garbage after the first quarter mile. I started out at a modest pace, but it was soon apparent that there were no heavy hitters in the field. There were professors and young adults running this thing, but I was pulling away without effort. Well, I thought, they’ll follow me. But they didn’t.
It was sort of bittersweet. I was in the mood to have to grit out a tough race and get outrun by some young prodigy and help make him the hero of the school. Girls would gossip:
“Oh yeah Paco is so awesome he beat the gringo who everyone thought would win.”
I had this hidden desire that Paco would catch up with me at the final turn and outkick me in front of all his peers and teachers.
I never look behind me in a race. I think it’s bad sportsmanship. That and I’ve never been good enough to look back so as to slow down and win a race. I looked back before the final turn, hoping my phantom runner would be on my heels. I knew I wouldn’t see anyone, but I wanted to.
Once I knew Paco wasn’t going to make it a blockbuster, I settled for some self-satisfaction. I started to pick it up and look over at the police car that had been escorting me around the course. Let’s go, piggy.
I’d like to think he couldn’t keep up with me, but I’m guessing the reason I beat him down that last stretch of road had more to do with the potholes and large crowd than my junior-high kick.
I turned the corner and headed into the gates. The same roaring voices and beating drums greeted me as I crossed the threshold of the school, and I soaked it up, throwing up a fist in celebration. Had I thought of it in time I would have pulled out the smoking guns in honor of Señor Kilkus himself, but I’m not that quick with the six-shooters.
I didn’t give it any thought at the time, but when I crossed the crepe paper banner it was on the ground. Rodrigo would tell me later that the kids at the finish line hadn’t expected my arrival so promptly.
So, ego stroking aside, the race was great fun and I think the students enjoyed the spectacle and cheering.
The day continued with an obstacle course, soccer all day, and lots of unorganized kite flying mixed in (kite flying is extremely popular in Chile).
Well, that's going to have to be all for now!
Guasos (wahsos), Cuenca, Chilean Mass, and the House Cup:
To be continued… since this post is getting lengthy I’m going to save it for another day.
And the day after I wrote my first post Cristóbal Valdés arrived, the head of the house. He’s a bigwig at San Anselmo, holding the principal type position, but just like all the others his humility and kindness are the only characteristics one can see. He’s just one more guy that’s a great person to be around.