A Mother’s Wisdom

January 13, 2020

Today’s blog post comes to us from University of Arkansas Little Rock student & API blogger Christopher Davis. He’s studying abroad with us in Valparaiso, Chile.

I’m back guys! With another story (really two stories) concerning my adventures in Chile.

This time I’m talking about visiting a place called El Museo a cielos abierto.  This story, from the jump, gets a huge shout out to my host mother who always always always encouraged me to go out and explore the city (“para conocer” (so that I can get to know it more) so I wouldn’t regret not having gone out at the end of my stay. I can say that I appreciate this wisdom a lot, as I’ll show in this little account.

In my first weeks in Chile, my guest mother showed me different places in downtown Valparaiso so that I could learn how to navigate the city a little better. During these “tours”, she pointed out different places that would be nice to explore. One time, while we were walking near a street called Blanco in downtown, she directed my attention toward a stairway that led up a hill where there was a small yellow house.  She told me that near that house I would find this “Museo a cielo abierto”, and that it in my free time I should take the chance to walk through it.

To be frank, at a sort of instinctive level,  wandering through the hills didn’t seem like a good idea. At all. My thoughts were this: I am already a foreigner and a stranger to the neighborhoods in particular; I could run the risk if I “explore” these neighborhoods (especially if I’m alone). A thief or a group could assault me if I look lost, right? Or maybe I’ll look suspicious to the neighbors and I could find myself in some problems and get kicked out of a place.  For this apprehension (and the fact that I didn’t walk around downtown Valparaiso), I wasn’t really up to taking a lot detours in my day.

A tentative detour

Well, I remember one day, the 10th of September (which would be my first day visiting the Museum), I passed that stairwell my guest mother told me about (probably after a failed attempt at heading to Western Union or something). It was my intention to go back home immediately, but the advice of my guest mother came into my head. I thought “what if I take a detour?” It was the middle of the day and maybe I could take a little time for myself before going straight to my house.  At the same time I was a bit scared because the thought crept into my mind “What if something happens–I should go back.”

I decided to be a bit adventurous and I went up the stairs. For this part of my “journey” there was still a little bit of apprehension in the back of mind, harboring a bit of suspicion of each person I passed. I remember while I was going up the stairs  making a turn around a corner and seeing a group of people sitting down. I was thinking “Oh no, someone is going to rob me” or “Someone is going to think I’m a thief!”. I continued walking, without looking at these people but also without letting my gaze fall to the ground. Nothing happened.

From nervousness to wide eyes

I continued walking up, up, and up until I reached the top of the hill.  While walking up the stairs I could see graffiti on either of my sides, and after, at the top of the stairs I stepped on a large and really pretty balcony in front of a cute little neighborhood. At my left were two girls with big sketchbooks drawing the city of Valparaiso from above.. At my left and on various walls, I could see beautiful pictures–really impressive street art.  There was also an old man selling his own work.

I started to walk through the neighborhood, looking at the different works of art. It was almost magical and really really quaint. There weren’t a lot of people in the streets. Everything was calm.  There were small stores for tourists and really fancy restaurants. I took the time to experiment with the camera settings on my phone, and spent time taking photo after photo.

Ending with a meal

After walking for awhile, I was a little hungry, but I still didn’t want to go back home. So, I looked for a restaurant in the hill, and I stumbled on a fish place called “Tres Peces”.  From the outside, it looked a little old–like one of the fish markets in my country, but I still wanted to take a look.

I swear, when I entered the building, the ambience was amazing.  The designers really capitalized on an old-fashioned aesthetic (there were little things like old scales (for weighing out fish I’m assuming), with something that felt really chic (e.g. a really fancy looking bar and simple but really nice looking tables).  I came in with a huge backpack and a thick black jacket. I felt a little bit underdressed and a bit embarrassed.

All the same, I tried to shake off this other inhibition in order to actually enjoy myself. My effort to relax wasn’t exactly perfect (for instance, I asked the waiter if I was eating my food correctly, i.e. directly from the wooden dish he had given me), but I did manage to enjoy myself (and the food). For my entree, I ordered a bit of rice with fish and egg (it reminded me of a Ramen dish that I had eaten with a friend). After this I ordered dessert: A chocolate lava cake. Apart from loving chocolate, my reason for ordering this was because the menu mentioned that the chocolate was made from cocoa imported from Madagascar and I have ancestry from Madagascar.  All of the food looked so good and the taste was even better.

Now full, I decided, at last, to go back home. I was really happy for having this experience and I was proud of myself to.

So of course, I wanted to come back.

Excursion: The Sequel

On September 15th I planned a day at the museum again. I remember my guest brother had visited that day, and he commented that I was going out a lot (this was a good thing). I felt proud of myself for that.

This time I wasn’t as scared. I went straight to the museum, but I went through a different entrance.  Instead of going up the aforementioned stairwell, I found an entrance that I could access via a lift. I guess this was the more “official”  because there was a sign with “El museo a cielo abierto” written in big letters.

I walked more through the neighborhood and took more photos. In the neighborhood there are so many passages and walkways, and I would be worried about not taking the best route. However, I tried to calm down and let myself wander. Of course I wasn’t going to see all the museum in one day, so there was no “best” route–all I could do was walk and absorb.

Getting lost… kind of

Well, I turned down different streets until I didn’t know exactly where I was. The atmosphere looked a bit more residential, so I had the feeling that maybe I wasn’t in the museum. But I didn’t let myself feel so much fear; I just kept walking.

Soon, I could smell something — it was so, so good, but I didn’t know where it was coming from. While I was walking, a group of people called to me.  I looked to my left and I saw them, maybe 10 or 11 with kids around the grill. There was a bit of music playing and food.

They called me to come over, and before I knew it, I was invited to a party.  They passed me meat and vegetables on skewers, drinks–everything tasted great, and it was so much fun.

A memory from my childhood

However, the best part of the experience was when I saw one man signing to another woman at the party.  Later I saw more people doing the same: They were deaf!

This made me really excited because my mom is a sign language interpreter. As a result, I’ve been in contact with the deaf community since I was little. I don’t know much of the language, but I know enough for some conversation (or finger spell if need be). Normally I get nervous when I sign with other deaf people, and in this moment i felt the same feeling, but I decided to communicate.

It wasn’t perfect, but the sign systems between Chile and Arkansas are similar enough that we could understand each other. It was sick! I introduced myself and so did the other deaf man there. He told me a little bit about his wife and mom. His mom being the one who invited me!

We ate, we danced, I took lots of photos of the group to send to one of the women there.  After everything, they also gave me a book: the history of their hill (Florida Hill, so, I in fact was not in el museo a cielos abiertos) written by the neighbors.

Afterwards, I spent some more time with the family in the house of the deaf man who I met.  Later that evening I finally called an Uber to take me home. This experience really made me happy – once again the day transformed beyond my initial expectations.

A happy risk

I’m really proud of these memories especially because even though I was a little scared (at least for the first go around), I challenged myself in a small way to shake of my nervousness and to explore. I don’t want to encourage you to take every and any kind of risk (there are experiences I decided to not take advantage of in the interest of my own well being). But in this case, applying the advice of my host mother (who had an interest in my care and of course wouldn’t want to give me bad advice) turned out really fun. I am really grateful now that I took advantage of my time. I also have a special interest in taking up learning sign language more when I come back to the states.


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