Thursday, 30 December 2010

The end of 2010

Well Christmas has come and gone quicker than a blink of an eye here in Chile. No frenzied commercial countdown nor extra bank holidays just because 25 December happened to fall on a Saturday. On Monday 27 it was business very much as usual here in Santiago which is maybe just as well, considering our still precarious situation. However things are now looking up and are indeed beginning to move forward at a swift pace. On Monday DH signed the contract for our new apartment which was a moment we thought might never happen at one point. Thus we take possession from 1 January, though of course need to co-ordinate the delivery of our long-awaited container-full of personal effects which have been lying in storage since 5 November. Herein lies a potential problem: the removal company had been slow to respond to our emails and phone calls, originally stating that the earliest date on which they could deliver was 12 January. After another email exchange and phone call to the (very amenable) boss we have now been told they could do it on 5 January after all, two days before the children and I are scheduled to leave for a trip home, thus just giving us enough time to find our winter woollies and pack them ready for the Big Freeze in Europe. Fine, anything at this point would be better than continuing in this limbo of no real home and not being able to get our hands on our things... Oh, and our visas arrived today. Could this be a turning point for us? Out with the old, in with the new...Let's hope so. Happy New Year!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

The night(mare) before Christmas

A week ago things were not looking good. DD2 came down with a bug which manifested itself as a raging fever and lasted four long days and nights. As we were all stuck indoors while the sun shone outside, cabin fever soon took a firm grip. Plenty of shopping still needed to be done plus DD1 was of course climbing the walls, quite literally often. We were still officially homeless in Santiago and we had no idea what we would do for Christmas Day itself...
Then gradually some form of order resumed as DD2 slowly fought off her illness and we received the unexpected but very welcome news that we had been officially chosen as suitable tenants for an apartment we liked. Thus most of our problems seem to be over... Of course, we are still waiting for our visas, residency documents and all-important tax codes but have been assured that these will arrive soon. All in due course, no rush, we've only been here for three months.
After being snowed under with work deadlines, DH finally managed to organise himself such that he could look after the children a little while I got on with the important business of perusing the shops, markets and numerous street-sellers. It has been interesting watching the locals, many of whom seem to have done their Christmas shopping mainly in the last few days. So much more festive... Wrapping the presents in the sun was certainly a novelty. We have a tree at last too, of sorts: actually it's the terrace plant decked out with all DD1's colourful creations, strategically placed by the terrace window so Father Christmas can have easy access. Deciding what to leave out for Father Christmas and his reindeer was a bit of a puzzle at first, since here there are no mince pies or Christmas cake or any of the usual indulgent winter goodies. DD1 suggested an avocado (one of her favourite things and ubiquitous here) for FC, with a glass of chilled white wine and a carrot for the weary animals. Luckily DH managed to persuade her a few cherries might be quicker to grab as FC has a busy night ahead of him...
As for tomorrow, we've been invited to our American friends' for Christmas lunch so at least we'll have company. Though of course it won't be roast turkey so it still doesn't feel quite right. But I'm not complaining... Merry Christmas!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Do they know it's Christmas?

I am beginning to feel as if someone is cheating me out of a proper Christmas this year. Actually I was fine about the good weather until I realised that it just doesn't feel like Christmas or even December for that matter. Three years ago DD2 arrived three weeks before Christmas as an early and wonderful present for us all and since then we have always begun our festive season the day afterwards, putting up the tree and singing carols and so on. Here however Christmas decorations seem to be few and far between, which probably has something to do with the fact that it's summer. The days are so long that there is hardly time to switch on and admire lights as the sky glows even as I write with red and yellow sunsets well after sundown. In the supermarket the Christmas section is a small rectangular area next to the buckets and spades. Out and about one sees the odd fake tree adorning windows with a few baubles and sometimes some tinsel, but nothing on the scale of what one remembers back in the northern hemisphere. Although we haven't yet got a tree (partly because our decorations are still in storage and are thus inaccessible until we have somewhere to move into) we have tried to get into the spirit of things but with limited success. The children are busy colouring in the numbered stars on their Advent calendars which we printed off from the computer. We are still listening to carols even though it feels incongruous with the climatic conditions outside. Last week we even saw a rather hot-looking Father Christmas in full traditional costume posing for photos with children under the huge (fake) tree based at the busy marketplace of Estacion Central. We had been wondering if the Chilean version of Father Christmas might be clad in lighter gear but apparently not: the same kindly old man with a white beard and dressed for a harsh winter smiles down, his image omnipresent in the bigger and better-organised shopping malls. If anything what is most notable is that like many other areas of life Christmas in Chile has been directly imported from the USA, albeit without the glitz. Last Sunday one of the major department stores organised a festive parade down the Alameda, Santiago's main thoroughfare, to herald the last couple of weeks before Christmas. Like everyone else we went along to jostle for a fleeting glimpse of what was promised to be an amazing spectacle. After a long wait in blazing sunshine we were treated to a series of inflatable characters making their way down the street, including Father Christmas, King Kong, Godzilla, Popeye, a Smurf, Spongebob and Elmo from Sesame Street. Oh, and a turkey in Thanksgiving garb. At least those were the ones we recognised... Didn't matter to the girls though, they loved it.

Monday, 6 December 2010

A show and a party, all in one day

Strangely enough I am now feeling much more philosophical about our current lack of a permanent home. Of course I would be delighted if we were to find the right place and move this side of Christmas but am no longer tearing my hair out about it. Two of the deadlines for doing so have come and gone (1 December and DD2's birthday two days later) so now it's just a question of whenever...
Last week DD2's birthday happened to coincide with DD1's end-of-term show for the parents. Oddly this was scheduled for 8am, apparently to enable those who work to catch it before clocking in for the day but it was a rude awakening for some of us, especially considering the bun fight on the metro one has to contend with to travel across Santiago at 7am (DH has kindly been shouldering the morning leg of the school run thus far). DD2 quite enjoyed the novelty of getting up early for the first hour or two; by the time the show was over and we still had to haul ourselves back across town on unbelievably busy metros and pick up her birthday cake before going home, she was beginning to lose her cool. Luckily she had a nap while I rushed around getting things organised for her party later that day and of course it had all been worth it to watch DD1 cavorting around a stage holding an enormous toffee warning everyone of the detrimental effects of eating too many sweets... Not quite the traditional nativity play or carol service but it was never going to be.
Throwing a party, even that of a three-year-old, is always exciting, fun, stressful and exhausting in equal measure, and this was no exception. Househunting in fact had had to take a backseat for a few days as I did all the frantic preparations for this huge social event and milestone in DD2's life. In the end once the food was done and laid out it was plain sailing as three-year-olds do not need much to keep themselves amused. If anything I was busier making sure DD1 and the other older child there didn't get too fed up as the average age was between two and three... I still can't believe DD2 is three already and thus in theory past the first phase of development. However she herself told me with some surprise that in fact she is still a baby, for now, although also a big girl...

Monday, 29 November 2010

Housing update (yawn)

Just in case anyone else was wondering here's a very brief update on our housing situation (apologies if any readers are getting slightly tired of this subject; same here). Just under a week ago we were poised to sign the contract for the aforementioned apartment with our passports, having passed muster under whatever intense scrutiny had taken place. Then on the morning of the signing I received a call from our otherwise helpful estate agent with a rather sombre note to her voice, informing me that the current tenants were not actually moving out after all so the apartment was no longer available. Shame they waited so long to decide, but wonders will never cease. Thus we are back to square one and are now back on the frenzied trail of the holy grail of Santiago's rental market. How hard can it be?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Still waiting, with bated breath...

...for some kind of conclusion to the ongoing saga of househunting. A week ago we finally saw somewhere we liked which ticked all the boxes and which was walking distance from DD1's school (one of the most important criteria) and have begun the long procedure of making an offer, leaving a holding deposit as well as a list as long as your arm of the necessary documents to prove who we are, what we're doing here and why we need permanent accommodation. However despite all this there has been a sticking point with the fact that as non-Chileans still waiting for our visas we are not in possession of an all-important tax code which seems to be the crucial key to being recognised as serious people (as opposed to mere tourists) in a country where red tape surrounds one's every move. Exhausting, demoralising, stressful but all part of the experience I suppose, especially as we are not in the advantageous position of having huge corporate backing. Having said all that, there does now seem to be chink of light at the end of the tunnel as we may be able to sign a temporary contract using our passports until we are awarded our visas, residency permits and of course tax codes. Just hope it's not too much longer as I was hoping to be unpacked by Christmas...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Coming home

Last week marked our first foray out of the city and to the coast as we tagged along with DH for a conference. Not quite as glamorous as it sounds as it wasn't exactly the five-star treatment and golden sands. Rather it entailed the children and myself wandering around the vibrant though ramshackle port town of Valparaiso, trying to find our bearings and keep warm in the cool, cloudy mornings while also being prepared to peel off our layers like onions once the sun came out later in the day. Valparaiso itself is an interesting destination for grown-ups: a picturesque UNESCO site of world heritage for its colourful houses perched on its 45 hills and once the principal port in South America until the opening of the Panama Canal, it is now teeming with tourists from far-flung places while also apparently a hang-out for hippies of all ages and persuasions. The children enjoyed climbing up and down the steps, watching the boats and of course were desperate to get their shoes and socks off and play in the sand. Trying to avoid losing anything either in the steep winding streets of the hills or in the hustle and bustle of the busy flat area near the port with two children, plenty of snacks and drinks and all those jackets and jumpers was always going to be difficult. Dipsy (DD2's favoured soft toy) was the first casualty, coming a cropper on the way to our bohemian boarding house (run by an enigmatic Frenchman with flowing locks), but by the end of our stay we had also managed to mislay a purple sock, a sun hat and some Chilean pesos. Highlights of the stay included getting close to swimming and resting sea-lions on a boat trip and watching seagulls and pelicans flying over the rugged waves of the Pacific Ocean while the children had their afternoon of frolicking on the beach. It was good to have a change of scene and coming back to Santiago afterwards for the first time felt like coming home.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Remember remember... Guy who?

Up until very recently one could have been forgiven for forgetting one was in the southern hemisphere where the seasons are back-to-front, as the weather has been quite variable and although it is actually spring it almost seemed like a very fine autumn but without the leaves rustling underfoot. Last week however things changed, practically overnight, as the temperature rocketed and we found ourselves completely overdressed. Changing one's wardrobe from winter to summer in one day is always a shock; doing so on 1 November seemed downright wrong. But the clocks have gone forward, the trees are in blossom and the air is visibly thick with pollen, so spring it is, whatever the calendar may say. Try as I might I found it hard to imagine bonfires being lit on Friday as the sun refused to set until the children's bedtime. I tried to explain to them that back in Britain all children their age would have been pulling on woollies to go out and watch the cold night sky glow and sparkle with fireworks but they gazed back at me blankly, totally unaware of who Guy Fawkes was and more intent on getting their hands on a bucket and spade for imminent trips to the seaside...

Sunday, 31 October 2010

The mystery of the disappearing mountains

It's been a week of mixed fortunes: getting used to the school run and making some friends, but also three out of the four of us going down with savage colds as the weather veers between powerful sunshine and cold winds... All this has taken place amid increasingly frantic househunting, pretty much done single-handedly so far while DH has been busy with a conference. At least my Spanish is coming along in leaps and bounds, especially the vocabulary associated with houses, buildings, apartments and rooms as I sift through the classifieds, sending off emails and making faltering telephone calls to various baffled estate agents around Santiago. Squeezing in the viewings into the slim margin of time after school and before we have headed back to our current location has required some careful planning and negotiating, but after taking both children backwards and forwards across town and back twice in one day I decided not to repeat the mistake. DH has been kind enough to try and make it along to the viewings in between his important work commitments so that as well as getting the benefit of his opinion I can actually have a good look around myself without running after DD2 all the time on unfamiliar territory, a particularly important point when faced with low balconies on the twelfth floor and other unexpected delights... It has been a steep learning curve and in less than a week I have narrowed down the area, description and orientation to an ideal, though whether we shall actually find it or not is another matter...
Today also saw DD1 attend her first children's party, something we'd all been looking forward to more than usual given the novelty of the situation. I don't think I'll be feeling the same next time, though the children thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the pandemonium, chaos, din and amusements on offer at Chuck E Cheese, a US import with machines apparently offering all sorts of entertainment but which in reality only issued paper tickets with which you could then "buy" something of your choice from the shop. Still, it was worth it to socialise with DD1's new classmates and of course meet their parents who were very friendly, welcoming and hospitable with as much pizza and soft drinks on offer as one could stomach... Even more appealing than this was the location of the venue, obviously on the outskirts of town nearer the better-heeled communities and set amongst a literally breathtaking spectacle of snowcapped mountains looming larger than ever after the rain of yesterday had cleared away some of the omnipresent city smog.

Monday, 25 October 2010

New girl again

Despite some initial reservations on my part the new school seems to be working for us so far. DD1 loves it and has already begun to settle in amongst her mainly Chilean classmates. On her first day she was treated like a celebrity as the other children marvelled at how well she spoke English (she is one of the very few native English speakers in a bilingual Spanish/English school). The advantage for her of course is that she should be able to pick up Spanish easily and quickly from her peers. She was most excited about the uniform, a colourful and very practical tracksuit for this age group, though from the beginning of the next school year she'll have to wear a more formal and traditional outfit including a shirt and tie... Only downsides are an absurdly early start (07.45) and fighting our way there and back on two metros each way during rush hour with DD2 in tow. However we are trying to live with it for now as we are only here in the centre for another couple of weeks... if we manage to find somewhere to move to which is in the vicinity of the school... Next task, and not an easy one.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

One month in

Well the buoyant mood has certainly been helping those of us new to these parts as we have had a good few days, though I'm beginning to sense a slight comedown effect. Last Friday DD1 had her evaluation at her prospective new school which went well and we were offered a place. Today after meeting the head and spending some more time at the school we have now met her new teacher, seen her classmates and procured her new school uniform, ready for her to start tomorrow morning...DD2 wants to know when she'll be going too. I am now experiencing very mixed feelings: I am delighted DD1 will finally be back in an exciting school environment, surrounded by children her age and engaging in stimulating, fun-filled activities rather than accompanying me on whatever errands I need to get done. However, DD2 and I will miss her great company and forever interesting observations as we have spent the last three months as an inseparable unit, first in our previous home then on this wonderful adventure. Also, being here means that we have had to choose an educational path that we hadn't planned to take back home, which leads to the inevitable questions about whether we have done the right thing, whether we are depriving our children of being in a more familiar environment and whether they'll thank us for this or not in the long run. At the moment even though the one month mark has passed and Chile seems less alien than it did a few weeks ago, I still cannot possibly imagine living here forever... Time will tell, DH assures me, it's too early to say, just enjoy being here and don't worry too much about what lies ahead. I wish it were that easy...

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Witnessing history

It was just past midnight last night when Concerned Husband summoned me back to the living room to witness the first of the trapped Chilean miners being lifted to safety in the scarily narrow but evidently robust rescue capsule. For a moment there was the usual silence one would associate with that time on a Tuesday night, then suddenly a roar emerged, first low then growing louder, not from the television we were watching but from outside our windows. This was followed by cheering, whooping, whistling, car horn beeping, bell-ringing and more...a nation rejoiced, under the scrutiny of the entire world. Now tonight the last miner has been rescued and the jubilation continues on the streets outside. Not that I've had the chance to join in, though, as of course the children are asleep in their beds, but at least one gets a sense of what is going on by the intermittent cheers.
A month has not passed since our arrival in Chile yet we have already celebrated two singular events: the bicentenary of Chile's independence on 18 September and now the release of the miners who had been trapped for over two months 700m underground and who had previously not been expected to be freed this side of Christmas. Quite a feat by anyone's standards. I did catch sight of a newspaper headline today accusing President PiƱera of creating a reality show of the miners' plight but I think that's a little unkind. The world media has seen to that. I have never seen or experienced such national pride manifested with such just cause. I feel optimistic to be in this country.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Is there anyone out there?

DD1's 6th birthday last week was a strange affair. Of course, we still don't really know anyone so couldn't organise a party after only being here for two weeks. To compensate for the lack of family and friends around to make a fuss of the birthday girl we went rather over the top with presents, which certainly put a few smiles on her face and ours. However the problem remained of how to celebrate the occasion in a new country, without really speaking the language and without knowing our way around the city... Dear Husband was working until late in the evening but was kind enough to take the morning off to spend with us. After skyping both sets of grandparents at breakfast and cafe con leche with tiny croissants, we set off for a walk around the centre, stumbling upon an English bookshop and watching the Chilean people get on with their daily business in and around Plaza de Armas. DD1 was sporting her new alpaca jumper while DD2 was grumpily refusing to walk anywhere...thank goodness we kept the trusty pushchair, without which the ample distances in Santiago would be impossible to cover. After more wandering and observing (what else does one do in a foreign city?) we ended up in Crazy Pollo, the eatery on the corner of our road which Dear Husband apparently adopted as his own while we were still on the other side of the world. After initially raising their eyebrows on our arrival (the presence of two young children meant the restaurant was a no-go area for any smokers among their potential clients) we were ushered in as long as it would be "rapido". Of course, we agreed, hungry for whatever was on offer and oblivious to the fact that DD2 would of course take forever over every mouthful of her sausages...
The celebrations continued the next day after Dear Husband got home from work (early) and I had managed to locate where to find a chocolate cake, candles and some balloons. DD1 is already looking forward to her 7th birthday when she'll be speaking fluent Spanish and will be surrounded by Spanish-speaking and maybe some English-speaking friends...

Monday, 4 October 2010

Chilly in Chile

It's amazing what a difference a week can make when one has moved to a new country. Everything which seemed so new has now become reassuringly familiar and the children and I find ourselves referring to our temporary accommodation and neighbourhood as "home", though in reality it still feels like nothing of the sort. However we've certainly made progress as we now know where to turn for basic household needs and can even venture further afield if we feel like it without getting lost (though that's happened too).
DD2 is well and truly over her bug and back to her usual loveable self (tantrums included). We have found a school we like for DD1 and have begun the formal admissions process so await being called in to the school for interviews and evaluation (parents too apparently). Last week we even made it along to an English playgroup run by a remarkably kind and welcoming group of women at Santiago Community Church in Providencia. It was like suddenly watching television or listening to the radio in one's own language again after having had one's reception disturbed or interrupted. If anything the time was too short and I had a thousand more questions to ask but will just have to wait until the next meeting. It was comforting to know I wasn't alone and that lots of others had passed this way before...and had come out the other side.
As for the weather, it has been lovely and is now a tiny bit grey again. Not that that's a problem, we're used to plenty of grey. Gives you the chance to imagine life back home and again appreciate the incredible light quality here. All in all then, a positive verdict with lots of things to marvel at, though I do feel very far away from home.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

We're here. Now what?

Just arrived in Chile with two children...and I am experiencing a whole maelstrom of emotions. Most are those of excitement and wonder at setting foot in a new city, new country and indeed new continent but some are also of awe and trepidation. What exactly have we let ourselves in for by leaving behind our beloved Europe and starting a new life following husband's career on the other side of the world from everyone and everything that we know and love? DD1 is about to turn 6 and is in need of a good primary education as well as all the fun associated with being a child. DD2 is 2 and a half and has already succumbed to her first bug since arriving in the southern hemisphere...The weather, initially warm and welcoming, has become cooler and greyer. The presence of constant sunshine and beautiful light was (and still is) a reason to be glad to be in Chile, with the prospect of skipping a winter and going straight on to another spring and summer. Let's hope this is just a wobbly moment and that things will get better (along with DD2's malaise). Deep breath...