In the usual morning confusion, somewhere between dreams and consciousness, my alarm blared from the nightstand. I sat up, stretched, and shed the covers. Then . . . I crawled back under the covers. The chilly hotel room confirmed it was not only a dream, and yeah, I really did just wake up in the Southern Hemisphere.
We had spent our initial night in a cozy hotel near the heart of Santiago. Here, I got my first taste of three-pronged outlets (read: couldn’t charge anything). I learned expensive central heating often eludes many buildings, and as a result, inside can be a tad bit nippier than out. So, after a shower, I hurriedly dressed in the brisk winter air, grabbed my luggage, and headed down to the lobby for breakfast, and, more importantly to be picked up by my host family.
I waited in the lobby with fifty other Americanos, and I was pumped. I glanced around at the other students who represented the East Coast, West Coast, and scattered parts of central United States. To them, coming from Wyoming seemed just as foreign as traveling to another country. With knees bouncing, time constantly being checked, luggage in hand, and excited laughter, I knew it couldn’t be too much longer before our families started arriving. Not having received any information prior to whom our families were, what they looked like, or what type of family they would be. We were anxious and excited for them to show up, and when they did, it was like the Hunger Games.
Now, I have never watched or read the hunger games. As a result, I could be completely wrong. However, I have heard the term Reaping, and in my mind I am picturing kids getting hauled off and never returning. Right? Who knows, but our families started showing up! One-by-one a name would be called out, a nervous student would grab their luggage, get hauled off, and were never to be heard from again. In truth, everybody’s head would perk up at the sound of a name being called, and we would watch as an eager Chilean family member embraced a newfound addition to their family. I couldn’t wait, and my heart beat faster, waiting to hear my name. Then at last,
I said a short prayer before I lifted my head towards the hotel entrance. There, a taller man met my gaze. He looked younger, maybe in his late twenties. His neck held up an enormous scarf, which led up to a scrappy beard. He had dreads which fell past his waist. To his side stood a shorter, older woman. Short haired and with pearl earrings, she smiled a very motherly smile. Dope! I grabbed my bags, and introduced myself. I gave my mother a kiss past her cheek, which is the custom here, and together we piled into an old stick-shift car headed straight for the huge, looming Andes.
So, I couldn’t have asked for a better family. The man turned out to be mi hermano, and the woman, mi madre. His name is Jose (cote as a nickname), 26 years old, and loves hiking. He’s studying to be a vet. My mother, her name is Rosario. We arrived at a house in a gated little community, with about four bedrooms. It is in a neighborhood, La Reina, that is a bit closer to the Andes. I have three more siblings: Pedro (Pelao) is 28, and is constantly showing me dubstep songs and American music videos. I have two older sisters too, Sofia is 29, and Javiera is 30. All living in the same house. Mi padre is a little older, wiser, and awesome. His name is Pedro as well. With him, I have some great, philosophical conversations, of which I retain about 20%, but they’re sweet nonetheless! Tonight when he sees me, he will say, “Señor Enrique, caballero, como esta?” We have a nana (maid), Violeta, who cooks amazingly. Every day, I take the best lunch to school because of her. Last, but not least, I have a dog named Jako (Yah-ko), and I love him too.
I lucked out, and ended up with an amazing family. At first, our dinners consisted of me staring blankly at them, trying to decipher their rapid Spanish, and overall contributing less than Jako. Now, however, we’re moving forward, and little by little, I’m able to say more and more (like, please pass the bread). Overall though, mi familia esta perfecto.