After nine months of indecision and anxiety, planning and detours, delays and anticipation, I left Miami, FL, United States for Santiago, Chile. You can never truly imagine beforehand how an experience is going to pan out, and after building up a detailed ”possible scenario” in your head, the actual journey is rarely ever exactly what you expected. The thing about my trip to Chile was that I knew so few details about my trip before embarking that I hardly had enough ammunition to build a substantial Scenario A. And even as I’m here at the program orientation, I still know so little. I’m participating in English Opens Doors, a [soon-to-be-defunct] volunteer program run through the Chilean Ministry of Education. I know I purchased a one-way ticket to Santiago. I know I’ll be living somewhere in Región Metropolitana, teaching English in a Chilean middle or high school, and living with a host family of some sort, at least until the end of July, but that’s it.
I woke up at 5:30am on Wednesday morning. My flight wasn’t until 10:30am and the Miami International Airport is only an hour from my house, but a poorly timed gynecologist appointment necessitated an early drop off by my mother. We got to the airport just in time to be among the first to check in for my flight and saw others standing in line to have their luggage professionally wrapped in bright yellow saran wrap. We shrugged this off, my mom snapped a photo of me holding up my ticket and passport and, after a cool fist bump, I was on my way.
I got to the near-empty gate at the very end of the terminal and sat down. Naturally for South Florida, smooth jazz was playing over the terminal’s sound system. It was a cover of Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be,” and I felt it was somehow overtly, fatefully, spiritually fitting for my current pre-departure status. Yes, this was God’s work. I have a very distinct memory of this song being featured in a performance I saw at day camp when I was 6. At the time, I was severely intimidated by the older (looking back, probably middle school aged) girls who were dancing along to the song with such enthusiasm and confidence. But now when I heard the song, I chuckled. “You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser. You gotta be hard, you gotta be tough, you gotta be stronger. You gotta be cool, you gotta be calm, you gotta stay together.” At this point in my trip, I had not yet experienced that awful sinking feeling of “What have I gotten myself into?”* and I almost felt as empowered as those day camp girls must have felt when they flexed their biceps in the Pine Crest gymnasium that summer.
-I am obviously the only non-Brazilian on this flight. Announcements are made only in Portuguese and I’m the last to know everything.
-I don’t want any of these Brazilian women to sit next to me on the plane. I have a very serious rule that I need to be the most beautiful person in my row when flying, and such proximity to these ladies simply would not comply.
-People who put on neck pillows before they even step foot on the plane are a very specific breed of human.
-Empty seats abound at the gate but a middle aged Brazilian man chooses to sit right behind me and rub his bald head in my personal space.
-“Girl’s got snacks,” is what I imagine the Brazilians were whispering about me as I transferred my cookies, Luna bars, Nutri-Grain bars, and pretzels from my carry-on bag to my more easily accessible tote bag. What good are snacks if they’re chillin’ in the overhead compartment?**
-Each Brazilian carried at least 3 shopping bags from Victoria’s Secret. How many layers of lingerie can one wear, and is no underwear sold in Sao Paolo?
Despite the myriad of new releases available, I watched 27 Dresses for the 37th time. Between the frequent meals (1 chicken and brownie, 1 empanada y cheesecake, since you asked), Benadryl-induced naps, and turbulence-induced deep-breathing sessions, it took me the entire flight to finish the film. WoRth It <3 Katherine Heigl+James Marsden<33
A New Hemisphere:
I’ll spare you the details of my layover in Sao Paolo. Just imagine 1 hr, 50 minutes of stress in a foreign language, no subtitles, opening to poor reviews.
Woo! I’m on the plane! Window seat=more nap time. Yay the couple sitting next to me is holding hands. Yay the couple in front of me is feeding each other airplane steak. What, another meal? Why am I alone? Lights out, wake up, see stars over mountains. Land and deplane.
I make my way through initial customs and down to baggage claim. There’s always that moment at baggage claim when you see other people happily walking away with all their luggage and you’re left waiting, hoping yours shows up like the last kid at carpool waiting for his mom. I got my first bag after not too much time and saw my second bag coming down the conveyer belt. Wait, is that my bag? It looks like my bag. But why is it wrapped in duct tape? Uhhh. I grabbed my suitcase off the conveyer belt to see that it had busted open at the zipper and had been taped shut (with rather large gaps) by airport security. I was too worried to even check to see if there was anything missing but, given the gaping whole at the bottom of my suitcase, there was no way I could roll it out to a taxi without leaving a trail of clothes behind me. I squatted down to try to fix the zipper, hoping the Chileans around me couldn’t hear my cathartic “Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.” Oh, how I wished I’d had my luggage professionally wrapped in Saran!
I was able to temporarily fix the zipper and got in my cab to the hostel. I had no idea how long the ride from the airport to city center was supposed to be and the roads to Santiago were absolutely silent. The taxi I had gotten into was an unmarked green Honda Civic and I was overly trusting at 2am in a strange city, but I was so exhausted and exasperated that I thought to myself, “If this cab driver takes me elsewhere and kidnaps me and this is the end, so be it.” He dropped me off right in front of the hostel and helped carry my wounded bags to the door.
Exhausted from the 21 hour journey, I lugged my suitcases up to the second floor of the hostel in anticipation of BEDTIME. I try to roll my broken suitcase under my bed, but for some reason it won’t fit. It’s bulkier than I remember it being. I try to push down on the top and notice it won’t budge. I unzip the front pocket and see two iPad boxes inside. I don’t remember having even one iPad! After lifting the boxes and realizing that they’re too light to contain iPads, my disappointment over my lack of a consolation prize for my broken luggage and possible missing items turns to fear that I’ve been involuntarily involved in drug trafficking! I slowly open the boxes, wincing at the thought of what I might find and see only 4 sets of Apple headphones and USB cords. Rolling in the riches, I go to bed, somehow even more in the dark on my first night in Santiago than I had been on the other side of the Equator.
*I have still not panicked, but I’m betting it will be day 1 of teaching.
**My snacks were nearly taken from me at customs as a violation of the ban on foreign animal and vegetable products. I kindly explained to the customs officer that there were neither animal nor vegetable nor anything else natural in my snacks and that they contained only preservatives, and I was allowed to keep them. A happy ending for all!