we’ve seen some momentum over the past several months. the youth retreat in january had a better turnout and the kids had fun and hopefully also learned something! the middle schoolers especially interact really well together despite being very different, and we are fortunate not to have any bullies or kids who alienate others. there’s a lot of diversity in upbringing and family structure which can make things interesting and sometimes challenging.
we’ve hit the potential halfway mark in our time here, and already staying or moving on will be a tough decision. i am trying to be content, instead of waiting impatiently for the next bigger, better thing. in just a year and a half much has changed. we really love this community and this part of the world. we’ve learned how to respond internally and practically to disappointments, uphill battles and apathy, how to appreciate people that are different from us. we’ve been so blessed, seeing God provide in many situations.
we found a preschool where emi feels safe, with educators we trust. we were told not to expect much or even put her in school here but amazingly, the director and teachers seem to truly care for the kids’ physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual needs. i’ve never seen a more thorough end-of-the-year “report card” for a four-year old. baby M is now 6 months old and growing rapidly. for the most part he is cheerful and happy. he adores his sister and spends most of his day watching her run around and dissolves into laughter when she jumps or talks to him.
our church is very similar to the ones i grew up in, with many people who live across oceans from family, who don’t speak the local language and are unable to articulate intelligibly, who stick out in a crowd, who learn to adapt constantly. i feel so at home here and in a weird way more comfortable not fitting in than having assumptions made about how i should fit in. unfortunately, maybe part of what makes it easier in a sense is not developing very deep friendships, with many conversations never progressing past comparing travel tips and collecting great anecdotes.
the hardest part of this expat life is missing weddings, births, major events and life. part of you always wishes you were somewhere else, and it’s hard not to feel like you have to choose where your loyalties lie, always at the expense of someone else. some of these kids struggle with homesickness, cultural identity and wanting to belong but recognized for your differences. i wish i could reassure them that all the goodbyes and spending half of your life flying back and forth is not without its sorrows but there are advantages, it just may not be apparent until much later.
we’ve made it three months, during which malachi has gained a pound each month, learned to prop himself up on his elbows, flown internationally twice and turned out to be a smiley and friendly baby. thankfully, emi has grown into her role as big sister, and it is awesome to see how wide he smiles when he sees her or hears her voice.
it’s hard not to focus on the number of kids in the youth group since it’s smaller than it used to be. we get comments about how we’ll have to work to add numbers, or they’ll talk about its heyday when there were a ton of kids. part of the challenge is there aren’t many families that are seriously involved. some fathers don’t attend, which means the kids eventually opt out. some families are typical expats: transient, long work hours, frequent business trips, so weekends are strictly family time. another factor is that we don’t have children at the international school, so there isn’t the same level of connection with families in that community; nate is meeting kids but their parents have no idea who he is.
part of me wants to be “successful” during our time here so that we aren’t wasting resources, wanting badly to be able to say we came and conquered in the face of these challenges. every week nate and i discuss whether we should change the model, how to more effectively reach kids, how to push them to think about the bigger picture beyond daily needs. i hope that at the end of the day, we are faithful in our efforts to invest in the kids that show up no matter how things turn out.
schools in chile end around mid-december and don’t start again until march, which means it’s summer break over here. i’m still surprised when i see posts on social media about snow because we’re sitting around in shorts and slathering on sunscreen. nate took the youth group on a service project and we’ll do things like watch movies and go bowling, but we’ve had a break from the weekly activities which has been much needed. since august, our schedules have been full with figuring out how to do life here, getting adjusted to a new job, meeting new people and running youth programs every weekend. for an extrovert like nate i think it energizes him and causes him to process methods of outreach, the role of the church in communities, how to improve church community, how to drive spiritual growth, etc. i’ve had a much harder time finding the energy to engage mumbling adolescents and figuring out how to prolong dead-end conversations. while most of the parents are supportive, few are actively involved or able to help with hosting or providing food which means we are also cooking for about 25 kids every week in a tiny kitchen with a stove that can barely boil water.
my parents have been visiting for the past couple months, which has made it much easier to be at this corner of the globe over the holidays. we’re benefitting from home cooked meals, a cleaner apartment and an extra set of hands. emi loves to go into their room and chat with them, dragging her toys back and forth. my brother arrived this week, and she’s been over the moon about him being here. my grandparents were older when i was growing up and there were major language and cultural barriers to communication, so it’s been fun to see how clementine is able to interact with my parents.
these first couple months have been a period of letting go and adjusting to the new normal, as nate calls it. one stark difference has been the lack of community here. i keep forgetting that it takes a while when you move to a new place, but sometimes the social potential seems so bleak here. everyone is welcoming and happy to offer tips, we’ve had dinner with a handful of people which has been fun, but we haven’t really found anyone that we click with. a lot of the locals spend most weekends with extended family, having barbecues and escaping to their seaside condos on the weekends. someone once mentioned that there is also a lot of residual distrust from the pinochet era so that people tend to be more closed off.
the youth group is on the small side, which has its advantages in terms of logistics, but when i look at the obstacles to growing the group sometimes it seems discouraging. we aren’t part of the international school community, the kids in the youth group don’t have wide networks of friends, the dynamics of the group sometimes falls a little flat because the kids don’t go to school together or have a ton in common, there aren’t a lot of families that are really involved in the youth group, etc. for a youth group to thrive, i think there has to be an existing momentum, big personalities and something attractive, which makes it hard when the existing group is small and sometimes stilted. i think nate looks at a situation like this and rises to the challenge, while sometimes it feels like pulling teeth to me.
we are slowly adjusting and learning more about this city. it’s a funny mix of first-world comforts; chains like starbucks, dunkin’ donuts, applebee’s combined with rampant petty theft, crowded buses and shanty towns. some restaurants and stores are located at malls, which are easier to access, cleaner and more familiar. there are nicer parts of the city, and other parts that are clearly the more “developing” part of developing nation. certain neighborhoods seem to be dedicated to a specific type of commerce; clothes along one street, auto parts along another. suburban flight also still seems to be a trend here, with urban areas made up largely of blue-collar neighborhoods, old buildings and foot traffic.
some minor victories include figuring out how to get hot water from the taps, trying to combat the endless amount of dust that accumulates overnight, the dryer fixing itself, learning what a gorro de baño is and realizing that the cashier is asking for a rewards card after scanning all our groceries. i’ve found the municipal recycling bins, and discovered that most of the trash bags here are biodegradable! very exciting if you’ve ever witnessed my steadfast efforts to recycle and compost.