“Vale, ahora estas linda pasar a la presente forma de participio de verbos….WHAH WHAH WHAH-WHAH WHAAAAAAAAAH….” Remember that teacher from Charlie Brown? When my brain gets overloaded during one of my daily one-on-one Spanish lessons, my instructor turns into the poor whah-whah teacher from the Peanuts cartoons. Sorry there, Felipe. Can you repeat those last thirteen or fourteen sentences? You kind of lost me for a minute.
In all seriousness, our Spanish courses at Language Pucón are proving to be a really good thing for us. The girls have a very fun teacher named Karin who has them giggling and playing games. I think they’re overjoyed in having a teacher that’s not also their parent. Brian is getting a good introduction to the language, and I’m seeing a definite improvement to the skills I gained from Spanish I and II back at Effingham High School. (Thanks, Mrs. Tuman!) We all walk to school each day and then make our way home to our little house in town. It’s kind of like our college days, except with 3 kids.
We have a cute place here. A little cabin heated with a wood-burning stove. The fenced-in yard lets the girls explore a bit and play with the neighborhood animals. This is one of our bigger houses of this trip with its three bedrooms, yet we only use two of them because, despite having the extra space, the girls still prefer to sleep together in one room. Pucón is a great town and we’re catching it at a time of year when it’s not overrun with tourists. However, that also means it’s the rainy season, so we’re hauling around umbrellas most days when we’re out and curling up by the fire when it comes down in buckets. The main street is packed with shops, restaurants and adventure tourism offices set against the backdrop of the Villarrica volcano. We can stroll down to the lake bordering the town to watch the sunset and then pop into a cozy restaurant for dinner. At night a foggy haze envelopes Pucón as wood-burning stoves, the primary form of residential heating, pump out smoke from every rooftop.
We’ve done a bit of exploring around this Los Lagos region of Chile. We’ve seen waterfalls and lakes in both rain and shine. We’ve stacked stones into cairns on the shores of Lake Caburgua. We’ve seen the sky above the volcano turn red at night and puff out smoke during the day. Colorful birds weigh down tree branches while pecking at seeds. It’s a pretty interesting place to call our temporary home.
While we’ve had some good experiences here, I’d be lying if I said Chile wasn’t a bit of an adjustment. It might be the language barrier or the head congestion I’ve developed from all the nighttime smoke or maybe having to designate a significant portion of my brain power to the process of learning Spanish. Whatever it is, Chile seems to be turning me into a bit of a bumbling idiot. Seemingly simple things like picking out items in the grocery store, using my credit card, and pulling coins from my wallet can turn me into a fumbling fool. The fact that we stick out like sore thumbs here with our blonde hair and tall frames doesn’t help matters because I feel like people remember me better. “Oh yeah, here comes that lady that doesn’t know how to count out 80 pesos in change” or “That woman stood in front of the shampoo section for like 20 minutes the other day. No joke, dude. Es loco.”
The icing on the cake came the other day when I was walking home from the store in the rain laden with multiple bags. As I crossed the street the wind popped my umbrella inside out, which I tried to correct only to have another gust of wind come along and pop it back into my face. Somehow the umbrella’s frame caught my hair and instantaneously created a massive rat’s nest of a tangle. There I was, in the middle of a busy road hunched over almost in a squat position attempting to keep from dropping my bags in the puddles. At the same time I had to hold onto the umbrella, now firmly rooted in a mass of my crazy hair, with both hands as it whipped around my head in the wind. As I approached the other sidewalk, the wide eyes and slightly horrified expression of a little old Chilean woman confirmed what I already knew to be true. I looked like an absolute nut job. The whole thing was painful – both physically and emotionally. Although it couldn’t have been all that bad because when I told the story to my family less than 10 minutes later I almost peed my pants laughing about it. (Truth: I actually did pee my pants a little. Three babies, people! No shame!)
What’s the saying? “Laugh and the world laughs with you”? Well, my friends, here in Pucon we’re all laughing…at me. However, it seems everything about our travels has been teaching us important things lately. This kaleidoscope of experiences we’ve had over the past year is coalescing into a beautiful, swirly, mural of lessons learned, each blending into the next to create a new way of looking at the world and ourselves. These bumbles and fumbles of the past couple weeks will serve as reminders the next time I see someone else stumbling with uncertainty, not sure how to handle a situation. I’ll look at a mom struggling with her mid-tantrum two-year-old or an elderly woman trying to read the labels on products in the grocery store, and I’ll see myself…crouching in that street all tangled up in an umbrella. I’ll remember and I’ll stop and I’ll help in some way. Because that’s what we humans are supposed to do for each other. No matter how loco we might be.