Thank you for being so enthusiastic about our Motherhood Around the World series. It has been an honor to share these women’s personal stories, and we loved reading all your comments. We hope to do another round next year.
Our thirteenth—and final!—interview features Natasha Ngaiza. She moved from Philadelphia to Santiago, Chile, with her husband, David, and their young daughters, Mia and Sara. Here are 18 things that have surprised her about being a mom in Chile…
Natasha and David met in a graduate film program in Pennsylvania. “He was there on a Fulbright scholarship,” she explains. “After we graduated, David was required to give back two years of work to his home country—Chile—so we moved.” The family has lived in Santiago since 2012 and will return to the U.S. at the end of this year.
On first impressions: The very first thing I noticed were the Andes Mountains—the snow-capped peaks are breathtaking. Our first year, I would yell, “Whoa, the mountains!” or “Oh my god, the mountains!” and wonder how people were not as in awe as I was. Even now, whenever it rains and the smog clears away, I have that same reaction, as does everyone who lives here. There’s something very humbling about being in the presence of such huge mountains.
On a creative culture: Santiago is a very art-friendly city, and you’ll always find creative people—like acrobats—in the parks. If you stop at a traffic light, jugglers will come out to perform—or ballerinas or even people throwing fire. Mainly they’re just artists trying to make a living. It’s so normal to us now that my three-year-old is like, “Oh. Huh. A flame-thrower. That’s nice.”
On food: My older daughter loves “adult” foods like olives, vinegar and capers. Whole artichokes with mayonnaise or oil are very common in Chile, and our daughter absolutely loves the ritual of tearing off the artichoke leaves, eating the little meat at the bottom and getting to the artichoke heart.
The humongous central market, “La Vega,” sells all kinds of fresh food (seafood, meat, legumes, fruit, vegetables, etc.) for incredibly low prices. People eat lots of fresh foods, since the selection of produce is amazing. My favorite food in Chile is manjar, which is Chilean dulce de leche, a sweet, caramel-like substance made from condensed milk and sugar. And they have AM-A-ZING breads! (Ed note: she actually sang this part.) Every supermarket has an actual bakery inside, where they bake fresh Chilean bread all day.
On strangers with candy: Giving treats to children is seen as a sign of affection, so strangers will offer candy to kids on the street. I’ll sometimes turn around and a stranger will be handing my daughter a chocolate bar! Several months ago, we were on a bus, and a woman near us was eating cookies. She saw my daughter Mia and said “Oh, let me give you some cookies.” I said, “No, thank you.” But she kept on insisting. Then, a random stranger, who was not even connected to the first woman, chimed in, “You should give your daughter the cookies!” They were very serious about it! I was frustrated at the time, but after the fact I found it funny.
On having a bilingual daughter: When we arrived here, I didn’t know any Spanish and Mia was only a year-and-a-half, so we started in the same place. Now I’m still struggling to translate things, while she speaks perfect Spanish! Everyday I’m like, “How does she know that?” and then, “How does she know to conjugate that??” We speak to each other in English at home, so it’s the world around her that is enforcing her Spanish. We’re so grateful for that!
At this point, Mia probably knows more Spanish words than she does English ones. She has a few “Spanglish” words when she doesn’t know the English translation. For example, the Spanish word for “to cover” is “tapar,” so she makes that “tap” in English. “Mama, I need a tap for my cup.” Sometimes she forgets how to say “brush” in English so she turns the Spanish word “peinarse”—to brush—into an English one, “pain.” “Mama, can you PAIN my hair?” A very common mistake she makes is, “I want to count a song.” The Spanish word for “sing” is “cantar,” so she just turns that into “count.” It cracks me up every time.
On colorful fashion: People aren’t afraid to wear color, like deep purples, reds and oranges. Fashion here is influenced by traditional native Chilean, Peruvian and Bolivian clothing. Harem pants, like genie pants, are VERY big here. Everyone wears them. I bought a pair! They’re comfortable and look good on most people.
On pregnancy: Being pregnant in Chile is the best. Every time I boarded a crowded bus, I got a seat within seconds! People really want to help and make sure that you’re comfortable. Once, when I was around five months pregnant, I sat in the very back of a bus. Six or seven people moved around and tried to get me to change my seat because from their perspective, the back of the bus wasn’t comfortable enough for the baby.
On birth: When we had our first child in the U.S., we wrote out a “birth plan” and were informed about every medical decision so we could ask questions or refuse it. We had our second daughter in a public hospital here, and while I was overall very happy with the experience, I was shocked by how little the doctors, nurses and midwives explained things to us. (Not because of a language barrier—they didn’t say anything at all.) For example, I didn’t want an epidural and didn’t even feel like I needed one, but suddenly there was an anesthesiologist in the room and they were giving me an epidural. No one told me what was happening. When I had some postpartum bleeding, the room was suddenly filled with worried nurses and midwives; but they wouldn’t tell me anything, even when I asked! We were in a public hospital, but our friends told us that the same thing happens in the fancier, private hospitals.
On breastfeeding: Breastfeeding is incredibly common. I’ve seen so many women breastfeeding in public or at parties, with no hesitation and no covers. People—from little kids to adult men—will even peek over women’s shoulders while they’re breastfeeding to coo at their babies. When I asked my midwife at the hospital if there were any lactation consultants, she kind of scoffed at the idea and said, “We don’t need help for something that comes naturally.” I was surprised by that response because obviously there are many issues that can come with latching, milk supply, etc. But her response, I think, was indicative of the straightforward, accepting perspective many Chileans have about breastfeeding.
On an active culture: There are lots of “sporty” people here. People climb and ski on the Andes Mountains. Joggers are everywhere, and biking is getting big. For kids, balance bikes are huge, and an organization called Macleta helps women learn how to ride bikes. My friend is in her 50’s and was nervous she’d be the oldest woman there. But there were women in their 20’s all the way to their 70’s!
On playgrounds: Playgrounds are everywhere! Often there’s a vendor with a musical cart who sells bubbles, candy and balloons. Playgrounds have less safety restrictions here than in the U.S. It’s rare to see rubber flooring, and in many parks the equipment can be very old, rusty or just scary-looking. Rickety seesaws go very high without any harnesses or protection, and slides can be VERY steep with very big spaces between each step and the platform.
On quiet: In Santiago, I’ve noticed that people are generally quiet in terms of volume. If you’re riding public transportation in New York or Philly, people speak openly, but here, people are hushed. You don’t hear people yelling or listening to loud music. Even kids don’t need to be told to be quiet in public; I guess they pick it up from their parents and the culture around them.
On celebrations: Our Chileans friends love to celebrate, especially in the summertime with barbecues, concerts and drinking. I’ve never been to concerts where people are SO enthusiastic. We went to see Stevie Wonder last year and everyone was getting up, singing, dancing, having a blast. They were going crazy, jumping up and down with enthusiasm. I was like, “WOW, they really love Stevie Wonder!” Although I’ve seen people here get just as excited at a jazz show.
On birthday parties: Birthday parties are huge here, for toddlers through eleven- and twelve-year-olds. In the warmer months, parties typically take place outside, and parents rent huge inflatable bouncy castles. The rest of the year, you’d rent a party house, which is an entire, multi-story house dedicated to kids having fun. One floor might be filled with games, the next floor would have spreads of food. You’re expected to invite all your friends and extended family. Some party houses are expensive, but others end up being pretty reasonable since you rent them by the hour.
On typical meals: The average workday is 9am to 7pm (and with traffic, people can get home much later), so weekday family dinners aren’t really a thing. But on weekends, family meals are a huge deal. We go to my mother-in-law’s house every Sunday for a big lunch. We’ll eat rice, chicken, potatoes, salad—a giant meal. It’s always followed by dessert and coffee or tea.
On tightly knit families: Families are generally very close in Chile. My daughter goes to her grandma’s house three days a week and sees her aunt every Friday. Every weekend, there will be some sort of family gathering, birthday party or dinner at someone’s house. Thankfully, my husband’s family is amazing; otherwise it could be pretty tough! As with any family, you have to navigate all the nuanced relationships within the group. But my favorite thing about parenting in Chile has been the support we get. There are always extra hands to help out when needed.
On doctors: Like a number of kids we know here, my daughter sees an anthroposophic pediatrician, who treats both the body and the mind. Our doctor practices modern medicine, but she doesn’t just ask, “What are your symptoms?” she’ll also ask, “What’s going on in your family right now?” Depending on the issue, she might tell you to change your diet or prescribe homeopathic drops; or, if it’s more serious, she’ll pursue standard tests and antibiotics. I believe in modern medicine and think it’s good; but I like how our doctor here treats the whole person, not just the symptoms.
On moving back: When we move back to the U.S. next year, we will be moving to a very small town, so I will miss all of the wonderful things that come with living in a big city—access to concerts, performances, etc. I’ll really miss the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables and seafood we have here! What do I miss about the U.S.? Brunch! Also: Target and Trader Joe’s. :)
(Interview by Caroline Donofrio; teenagers on the street photo via Conde Nast Traveler; skyline photos via Budget Travel; juggler photo via BBC; musicians in the park photo from Dave Schumacher; public art photo by AFAR, market photos by Brooke Warren and MGarciago and The Daily Meal; all other photos courtesy of Natasha Ngaiza)