The Chilean school year will be starting soon, so I’m taking this opportunity to post an excerpt from my memoir, A Million Sticky Kisses. It’s about my first day at school in Santiago, Chile.
From A Million Sticky Kisses:
“Peter, who had picked me up at the airport, dropped me off at my host’s home at 11:00am. I barely had time to greet her, much less settle into the house, before he picked me up again to show me the route I would be taking to school every day. From the house, we walked 15 minutes to the Metro train and then rode three trains to get to the school where I would be teaching English.
The next morning, I followed Peter’s instructions and arrived at the school, which was surrounded by a tall, iron fence. I approached the security guard at the heavy metal gate. He looked at me quizzically as I explained, in my bad Spanish, why I was there. When I stopped talking, he said nothing, just motioned for me to follow him as he led me into the office of an Assistant Director.
Her name was Rosa and she was polite, but when I gave her the same speech, I received the same bewildered look. I knew my Spanish wasn’t the best, but though she gave me a blank stare, I thought she must have understood something. After all, I wasn’t the first volunteer this school had ever had. She said nothing, but like the security guard, motioned for me to follow her.
I dutifully trailed behind her, across a large concrete playground, to the back of a quadrangle of buildings. We climbed up two flights of stairs before she knocked on a classroom door.
A mature woman with a stubby, blonde ponytail opened the door and stepped outside. She looked first at Rosa, then at me, without any sign of recognition.
Rosa nodded her head at me. So I started all over again. ‘Hi. I’m Sally Rose. Big World sent me to volunteer here.’
This got no response, so I tried again. ‘I’m here from the United States to help in your English classes.’
Wide-eyed, the teacher Marisol, glanced at Rosa, who only shrugged. Then, she looked back at me again. We stared at each other for a few seconds before I finally realized the truth. ‘You didn’t know I was coming, did you?’
She shook her head and said in heavily accented English, ‘No, no one told me that you were coming.’
I was 6,000 miles away from home in a country where I could barely communicate and the nonprofit that I had paid handsomely to send me had neglected to tell the school that I was coming? Without thinking, I threw my arms out wide at my sides and said, ‘Surprise!’
At that, Marisol started laughing. She nodded to Rosa as she grabbed my hand and pulled me with her into the classroom where I suddenly stood in front of a sea of startled faces. Forty sets of mostly brown eyes, all looking at me as if they’d never seen a gringa before.
There was a very brief moment of total silence before the classroom erupted in chaos, all of them talking at once.
Overwhelming and deafening, I thought Marisol would never be able to restore order. After a few minutes of shushing, which had no effect at all, she finally ended up yelling at them, which produced another moment of semi-calm.
‘We have a visitor. She is from the United States. She is a surprise for us because I didn’t know she was coming.’
As I’d done outside, I held my arms up and said, ‘Surprise!’ This time, while mugging a silly face. I didn’t realize that it would create the chaos all over again. We had lost control completely.”