I have been in Valparaíso, Chile for three weeks now, and I have spent the majority of that time climbing up and down all of the stairs throughout this city. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but being from Ohio I am used to relatively flat terrain, and for the next few months, while in Chile, I have to totally flip my mindset from horizontal to vertical.
Today, I counted the steps, from the base to the top, of the hill that I live on. There are one hundred fifty-four steps, each of which is beautifully painted with an array of sun-faded colors, entertaining the pedestrians as they drag their dirty feet up the mountainside. It takes anywhere from five to ten minutes to climb the stairs alone. The last stretch to my house consists of a nearly 45° hill through the winding street to the gate of my pensión, home to thirteen Chileans and one other American, most of whom make this trek at least once daily. This workout is an everyday reminder that I am not in Kansas anymore… or rather Ohio.
My physical surroundings aren’t the only thing that has made a somersault and changed direction. When I am in the midst of studies at my home university in the U.S., I have to plan out my day, hour by hour on iCal. If it is not on my to-do list, it does not get done, and I think it would be fair to say that ‘stress’ is my middle name. I walk from class to class as fast as I can, and people pass me with their eyes planted on their iPhones (eye contact is a rare occasion). All of a sudden in Valparaíso, my whole life has been rotated. If you do not greet your friends with a pretty sizable hug and a kiss, they will wonder what is wrong with you. All of my professors are friendly and seem to want me to love Chile as much as they do. Walking slowly, I take my time passing everyone on the sidewalk. What is this strange place where love is everyone’s middle name?
People who know me (I myself am known for being very amorous) would be surprised to hear that I am taken aback by the gestures of love here. I think that I am just not accustomed to everyone being so affectionate and so carefree. They have a different way of thinking about things that I have not yet fully grasped. However, I know that my great-grandparents, grandma, mom, dad, sister, seven brothers, current friends and friends-to-be-made all have a lot to teach me here in Chile.