I’ve had another exciting week where I have too many things I want to write about. But I won’t bombard you all with the crazy adventures I’ve been having. Instead I’m going to talk about my host family this week. This past week was my host mom’s birthday and because of this there were some festivities in the house. And while I have definitely felt apart of the family before this, I feel like my participation in these festivities solidified my spot amongst them.
My host family’s history is a bit confusing but here is some background. I live with primarily my host mom and her 14-year-old son, Pablo. My host mom, Gladys, also has another son, Juel, who is in his early 30s and has a 7-year-old daughter who I absolutely adore, Julieta. Juel and Julieta live in another apartment in the city but they come over frequently to share meals. Juel and Pablo have different dads both of whom Gladys married and then divorced. I’ve never met Juel’s dad but I’m very acquainted with Pablo’s dad, Ignacio, because even though Gladys and him divorced earlier, they are now dating again. Ignacio comes over for dinner about every night and thus I would say I have a good relationship with him. A bit complicated, I know, but what family isn’t complicated these days.
Anyway this past Thursday was my host mom’s birthday and I had no idea what to get her. My two default gifts—wine and flowers—I knew I couldn’t buy for her because she has told me she doesn’t like either one of these. I felt like chocolate was too small, but with no other ideas I ended up buying her some Tobelrone and making a card for her. I thought my Spanish writing in the card was abominable but when I gave it to her, she couldn’t stop saying, “Qué linda, qué linda” which translates to “How beautiful.”
I woke up early that Thursday because I had class at nine. I expected to find Gladys asleep and Pablo getting ready for school but as I opened my door to the hallway I saw wrapping paper littering the floor. It was only 7 am and already the celebration had begun. When I came into the kitchen to give Gladys my gift, I found that she had already received a laptop from Pablo and Ignacio. My chocolate bar didn’t look too appealing after this, but what could I do? She was obviously very happy with the small gift I bought her, though, as she kept my card on her dresser the whole day and showed everyone who came through the house that day what I had written her. I felt honored that she liked the card so much, especially since I knew my Spanish grammar had definitely not been perfect and my words probably not quite right for the moment.
When I got back from class that afternoon, champagne glasses were set on a tray and Gladys was in the kitchen cooking for what looked like a lot of people. She told me that we were having 16 people over that night, all members of the extended family, to celebrate her birthday. I immediately got nervous. While I’d met and talked with Juel and Julieta and even the siblings of my host mom—Sergio and Pati—I didn’t know how I would survive with 16 people conversing all at once in a language I still hadn’t quite mastered. The few times we’ve had big lunches with about 6 or 7 people I’d been totally lost in the conversation and had literally no idea what was going on.
People started filing in. Champagne glasses were filled. Kisses were exchanged. I learned too many names to remember. And the festivities began. Julieta brought balloons from her dance class and I helped her blow them up as other people hung them up around the dining room. As the party continued, I became more and more confident as I realized I understood everything that people were saying around me. I was participating in the conversation and actually enjoying myself. Gladys turned on some music and she started to dance, trying to pull people in to join her. Ignacio and Sergio ended up dancing with her a little and I really enjoyed seeing the whole family interact with another. I felt so honored to be apart of this obviously very intimate family gathering. They all welcomed me in like a regular member of the family, including me in the pictures and making sure I was apart of the conversation.
Dinner was served—chicken sandwiches with avocado, mayonnaise, and tomatoes, a typical plate here called Completos. The music continued to blare in the background and the chitter-chatter got louder and louder with each glass of champagne that was refilled. After the plates were cleared, the cake was prepared. Candles were placed on top and the lights were turned off as we sung “Feliz Cumpleaños” to Gladys. Gladys held Julieta in her arms and they blew out the candles together after everyone had finished singing. I helped Pati cut the cake and we handed out the pieces to everyone.
The party dwindled late into the night—by American standards anyway. Here it was a very early ending to a party as it ended before midnight. However this being a school night and all of us having to get up by 7 am the next day, I thought it was a late celebration. As the apartment emptied and only me, Pablo, Gladys, and Ignacio remained at the table, I felt that I had truly been incorporated into the family. They had not only invited me to this intimate family gathering, but had included me and made me feel like one of their own. I felt like I was starting to become Chilean—a real Chilean. I had conversed fluently, more or less, with all of the family, leaving me feeling not only confident about the progress I had made with my Spanish but also included in this close family circle.
As I went to bed that night, I thought about how I really only have about 2 months left in Santiago and how hard it’s going to be when I have to leave my host family. They have been such a big part of my life down here and because of them I feel I am integrating myself more and more into the Chilean culture. They have supported as I take this scary and incredible journey abroad. They have truly become my home and family down here. Not everyone feels like their host family becomes their real family but I as I lay in bed that night I knew I had been blessed. I can honestly say I am apart of this family and have someplace to call home here in Santiago.