Mari mari lamgen

Our week in rural Chile was full of so many activities and seminars and whole new realities that I’m not sure I can do it justice in one post… but I’m going to try, because I have a paper due tomorrow and then we leave for Buenos Aires on Friday! Numbered lists are always good ways to break things down, right?

1) El campo

Throughout the program, we’d been referring to our rural excursion as the trip to Temuco, but that was a major misnomer. Temuco is a city. We were not living in a city. Our host families actually live in Chapod, which is a farming/subsistence agriculture community about 45 minutes outside of Temuco, and believe me, it is definitely the countryside. None of the roads are paved; not many people even have cars, I saw at least one horse-drawn cart. There are animals roaming around everywhere — you couldn’t walk ten yards without spooking at least a few chickens, or having a dog bark at you. My first morning walking to the community’s escuela básica (our meeting point all our activities), I had to edge carefully around a cow that had wandered out of its pasture and was grazing on the side of the road. Not quite as difficult as navigating morning traffic on the metro, but challenging in its own way.

2) La familia

My host family in Chapod consisted of my host mom Angelica, my host dad Iván, my 17-year-old host brother Exiquel (Xique for short), and my 14-year-old host sister Fabiola (Faby). My host siblings both go to school in Temuco — there’s no high school in Chapod — and Faby boards at a house for students at her school during the week, so Angelica gave me her bedroom and she got to sleep in the spare room for the nights when she was home. I didn’t see her much, since she was only home a couple of days out of the week we were there; I also didn’t see too much of Iván, who spent a ton of time working, doing whatever job happened to come along. Angelica was almost always home, though, cooking and taking care of the animals and the house and watching telenovelas. I helped her shell beans and watched her bake bread, and, on one particularly memorable occasion, temporarily held a live chicken for her. I also taught her how to make an apple pie, because we had extra apples and I had told her I like to cook. The whole family was very appreciative of the results.

The other person who was usually around was Xique, who is an incredibly sweet kid with a sense of humor that reminds of me a lot of my real brothers. Picking up on sarcasm is extra hard in a second language, but I had gotten pretty good at it by the end of my stay in Chapod thanks to Xique. He’s in his last year of high school, and while I was there he and Angelica were constantly looking for all the pieces of documentation he needs to apply to a preuniversitario — an institution that does the Chilean equivalent of SAT tutoring/college app coaching. His high school is a technical-professional high school, so he’s mostly learning how to be a mechanic (I think), and has fewer hours of math and language than he would get at a scientific-humanistic high school… but he wants to go to university, which means he has to take the PSU (Prueba de Selección Universitaria/University Selection Test). Having looked both at technical high schools and at the higher education system on my program, I’m really impressed with his ambition, and kind of irrationally proud that he’s trying so hard to get to university. I hope he does well enough on the test to get into a good school — the good universities are cheaper than the bad ones, here, and the test is the only selection criteria they use. It’s a really unfortunate system for kids from poor families, but I think Xique can make the most of it.

3) El fútbol

I quit organized soccer in fourth grade after realizing that I have exactly zero stamina and cannot run to save my life. In Chapod, there’s no such thing as organized soccer. There doesn’t have to be, because when there’s a pick-up game, everyone in the vicinity comes down to the cancha (field) to play. I played probably four out of the seven days I was there, and would have played on the 5th day too if Xique hadn’t gotten impatient and driven us home before everyone else could get to the field.

Playing fútbol with Chileans is a learning experience, to be sure. There are ten-year-old kids in Chapod that can outrun and outshoot without even breaking a sweat, not to mention all the fancy don’t-let-the-other-team-steal-the-ball footwork. There are 60-year-old grandparents who are even better than the kids are. Us gringas were hopelessly outclassed, except for a couple who played sports in high school or are on teams at college. It was lots of fun, though — when you play with people who are about as good as you are or maybe a bit worse, there’s no motivation to try and improve. When you play with people who are miles beyond your level, there’s a ton of motivation to improve, especially when those people are mostly in fifth grade. By my last game I was running faster, keeping control of the ball better, and passing to people who were actually on my team at least 85% of the time. Progress!

I also discovered that it’s incredibly difficult to take good photos of people playing soccer when you have a basic point-and-shoot camera and don’t want to get too close (because if you do someone’s going to take your head off with a soccer ball). Didn’t stop me from trying, though:

4) Los mapuche

All our academic work during our week in Chapod was about the mapuche people, an indigenous group native to the southern part of Chile. In the 1500s when the conquistadors arrived in Chile, the mapuche were not super thrilled with the invasion of their lands (understandably), and fought to push the spaniards back — and won. They held the border at the Biobio River, which is roughly near the middle of present-day Chile, until the early 1800s. At that point the newly-formed Chilean state came in, defeated their warriors with their shiny new guns, and took all their land for the state of Chile. Before the conquistadors arrived, the mapuche had around thirty million hectares of land; as of 1800 they had ten million. Today they have 480 thousand, and a large segment of the population has moved to the cities (Santiago in particular) to escape the crushing poverty and state-sponsored violence that occur far too often in their territory.

Perhaps the most interesting/eye-opening thing I learned about the mapuche point of view is that they don’t consider themselves Chilean. Once I had thought it about that for a second, it made complete sense: they had their own society — and still do to varying degrees, depending on the community — and they certainly didn’t choose to have their lands suddenly be declared a part of some other country. Why would they identify with a country that sprang violently up around them without their consent? It wasn’t a perspective I had heard before, though, and it really made me think.

The Chilean government considers them to be Chilean, of course, because it’s in their interest to build a unified national identity. And how, one might ask, does the state create this identity? Why, in the schools, of course! History, political science, civics, any kind of moral or values-based education, is all going to center around the idea of Chile as a unified country with one kind of people: Chileans. Sure, some of those Chileans may be of a different “ethnicity,” with their own history and political system and culture and set of values, but generally the national curriculum just sort of brushes over all of that. The state does have a program of bilingual intercultural education (EIB is the acronym in Spanish), which is legally required to be implemented in places with a large proportion of indigenous students (not just mapuches, but ayamara, rapa nui, or any of the other indigenous groups in Chile)… but because the government’s most important project is cementing this unified national identity, they’ve pretty much half-assed the EIB program out of existence. Resources are few and far between, trained teachers are pretty much non-existent, and schools still need to devote enough time to the subjects in the national curriculum to do well on the standardized tests if they want any funding at all. The EIB program in the municipal school we saw had some language (in mapudungun, the mapuche language), some history, some culture… but there wasn’t much time devoted to any of these things, and there was a ton of folklorization of the history and culture bits. Not an ideal program by anyone’s standards.

Which brings me to a point at which I have to eat my words a little: I have found a subsidized private school I actually support! It’s an escuela básica in Lago Budi, Región de la Araucania, and it uses a program of mapuche education (not intercultural, but actually mapuche) to teach almost 70 kids in grades 1º-8º básico. Six years ago, the community in Lago Budi (which is overwhelmingly mapuche) managed to take control of the school away from an organization affiliated with the catholic church that was making them pay through the nose for a substandard, not-at-all-intercultural education. Now the school is run entirely by the community and solely on the federal subsidies they get per student — they don’t charge the families anything. They still use a lot of the national curriculum, because they take the same tests as everyone else, but alongside that they teach the same subjects from a purely mapuche point of view, and are very clear and intentional about the distinction between mapuche ways of thinking and “western” ways of thinking. Their goal is for their students to be able to live successfully in modern Chilean society, understanding and making good use of western culture and thought, but to be proud of their culture, to understand their philosophy, to speak mapudungun (they have five first-language speakers who are also credentialed teachers working in the school), and to work for their people and their community. It’s a really great and important project, and I kind of want to spend some time there during my ISP, looking more closely at how their program works. We’ll see, though. I still don’t know exactly what I want to do.

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