Spotlight: My Chilean Familia

After a long night of vino, dancing, pisco sours, and more dancing, waking up Saturday morning was next to impossible. But, I was so excited to meet my host family and finally unpack that I somehow crawled out of bed, washed the night’s make up off, and downed a litro of water in hopes to freshen up. I may or may not have called my host family when I was a little tipsy after the Terremoto, so I was anticipating a second chance at a first impression. I was just so excited to finally get our host family information that I wanted to say hello! Friday was a day/night of poor judgment overall, so it seemed to fit with the theme of the day.

After an hour bus ride from Santiago to Rancagua, we pulled into the station and saw a group of about twenty people awaiting our arrival. I was the first to step off the bus and everyone waited patiently to see whose hija americana I would be. When I said my name was Kate, my mamita embraced me with tears in her eyes and muchos besos. She had a huge bouquet of flowers for me, a chocolate bar, and kept calling me “mi amor, mi amor.” She is a very pretty older woman, tiene 58 años, and she is tiny, probably about 5 feet tall. Her son, Niko, was there too and he was such a gentleman. He insisted on carrying all of my luggage and my mamita wouldn’t even let me carry my purse. Patricia, my host teacher, was there as well, and after the excitement waned, she gave me a warning about my school. I am teaching 5th to 8th grade at El Colegio Aurora de Chile, and she said the kids had a lot of social problems and learning disabilities. I am glad she warned me, but la información no me molesta, because those are the kinds of kids who need the extra help.

When we got to the house, I was so happy to unpack and get settled. The house has a huge stove that keeps the place warm, a lovely back porch area, and a perfect dormitorio for me. The walls are bright blue and the bed spread is orange, yellow, and blue. I learned a few things about my host family immediately…my mamita is so kind and generous, constantly asking if I am okay or if I need anything. She cooked a wonderful lunch that had three courses: ensalada mezcla, carne con champiñones y papas fritas, y postre. I sat with my new mother and brother, trying to converse in Spanish for a long time.

Above is a map of Rancagua. The city is small, but we are más o menos in the suburbs, so we often use the “collectivos.” A collectivo is a type of taxi that has a specific route and picks up more than one person.

Conversations are funny here, because there are usually about five misunderstandings until we agree on the meaning. Since sometimes I think my mamita is trying to tell me something important, I try to repeat it back to her in my own limited vocabulary. Other times, like when she was carrying on about how attractive Chris is and saying that we look like Barbie and Ken, I can get the gist without too much effort. It also helps that Niko speaks a bit of English, but usually he can’t translate the meaning exactly.

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Niko is a sweet boy and will be a wonderful brother. He is 19 years old, just like Gray, and has an incredible musical talent. They have a large keyboard in their living room and he can just listen to a song and play by ear, augmenting it with his own ideas. He has written many of his own songs and can play the classics without struggling. Every time he sits down to the piano to practice, something beautiful follows, and I am in awe of his ability, especially since I took lessons for ten years and was only ever able to read music.

They even have a tiny dog, who reminds me very much of little Louie, but is allowed on the beds and wears a cute little sweater every day.

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After unpacking, a shower, and a large lunch, we met many of the neighbors, close friends, and went to visit Isabelle and Felipe, Niko’s aunt and cousin. At their house, we had sopaipillas (traditional fried zucchini that taste like pancakes and nothing like vegetables), and watched the fútbol game entre Chile and Paraguay. Chile won with two points and the familia exploded with applause. Felipe was the most excited—he is a sweet kid who loves to dance and sing to music, and has an ear for it like Niko.

After family time, we came back to the house and more friends came over to say hello. My mamita made us “once,” which is a very small dinner usually consisting of tea and a snack. Last night, she made me a completo, because I mentioned earlier that I like them. Later, I was exhausted, so I read for a little bit and then we watched The Devil Wears Prada. most of the action in the Chilean household takes place in the master bedroom, so everyone piled on the bed and watched the movie together. I don’t think I’ve ever been that close in proximity to my own family, but it seemed so normal to them that it didn’t bother me at all. I actually kinda liked it.

Sunday morning, I slept in until around ten thirty, but thought it was a lot earlier because my room is so dark. I was embarrassed at first that I slept so late, but Niko was seemingly just waking up and my mamita was still in her pajamas, so I don’t think it mattered. My mamita asked me if I wanted breakfast and I said sí, sí a few times without really knowing what I was getting. She then told me that I should get back in bed.

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I was really confused, but I thought maybe she thought I was cold or something, because she always tries to put more clothes and blankets on me. It is not that cold here, about 50 degrees, but she is so cute and worried that she even went out and bought me stockings. About five minutes later, she carried breakfast into my room on a tray and I didn’t know what to say. I’ve never had breakfast in bed before, at least that I can remember. When I tried to get up and help her, she made me sit back down. Again, when I tried to carry my tray to the kitchen, she took it from me and told me to relax.

So…there I was, eating toast and drinking coffee in bed. I was confused for a while, but later in the evening the meals in bed began to seem pretty normal. Just minutes ago, many hours after another large lunch of ensalada, pescado and papas púre, y una manzana, my mamita brought a piece of home made pizza on a tray into the bedroom where Niko and I were working on our computers. The pizza was piled with tiny sweet sausages,ham, mushrooms, cheese, and fresh tomatoes, and was obviously delicious, just like all of the food she has made so far. Later in the day we visited la Plaza de Los Heroés, where there is a huge statue of the liberator, Bernardo O’Higgens, a beautiful, yellow cathedral, and huge pedestrian shopping center.

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I really couldn’t have imagined a more loving and generous family and I am so happy to be here. Anytime I ask to help, to do my laundry, or to clean my dishes, my mamita tells me “soy la mama, soy la mama,” and not to worry, to be “tranquila,” and to relax. They want me to feel at home, but that’s funny, because while my homes in the United States have many amenities that I am thankful for, they certainly do not include breakfast in bed!

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Published by

Kate Springer

Freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong. Contributor at CNN, Forbes Travel Guide, BBC Travel, Fodor's Travel Guide, superfuture, Tatler, and more.

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