montevideo 1

Now I know I am acclimating to being in Latin America, because it does not feel at all like 4:30 in the morning. I just got back to the hotel, and most people are still out at another club. I was with Caryn and Danny and two uruguayas, Melu and Lili, and when we left the club El Pony Pisador, we decided against paying a cover charge for an overcrowded club, so we went to McDonald’s (elegant and gorgeous and really nice here!) and hung out, speaking in Spanglish.

I feel very immersed in Spanish already, and I’ve only been here since Monday afternoon. Oh, I guess that’s a week already. I really like it here. I don’t feel entirely comfortable, but I think that’s a good thing. Many of the participants don’t speak much Spanish, so we’ve been divided into two groups. Thankfully, my group doesn’t have to sit around learning grammar, since I feel like every class I take “teaches” me the same thing over and over again. Instead, we are learning about Uruguayan culture, politics, and slang. We’ve learned a few things, like formal phrases for letters, and much more vocabulary, but mostly we just get to practice conversing by talking about things that are actually interesting. I love it. I’m just not a huge fan of having class at 8:30 in the morning, because it lasts for four hours.

After class we eat out, and then I go to my internship at Un Techo Para Mi País. It’s like the Habitat for Humanity of Latin America, except they actually do a whole lot more. Thursday I went to a shanty town, which was a really, really powerful experience. We have poverty in the US, but it does not look like this. Or smell like this. At the risk of sounding really cheesy, I felt extremely humbled. And then afterwards, I left and met everyone at the hotel, and we went to Teatro Solís to see the opera “Nabucco.” So it was a day of highs and lows. The opera was pretty good, and the theatre is absolutely beautiful.

Since I am here on a Jewish program, we are required to go to Shabbat services each Friday. So last night I went with most of the group (there are 9 girls and 2 boys) to the Orthodox synagogue. I did not like it.

More than that. I felt pretty offended by it.

I won’t say that I know everything or even a lot about Judaism. My family has always been more culturally Jewish than religiously so, but it’s not like I don’t know anything. And never having experienced Orthodox Judaism aside from here, I can’t say how common this is. But first of all, this separating men and women thing is a tradition that I think needs to go. Everyone has an equal right to enjoy and participate in a religious activity. After the service, people asked if I liked it, and I wanted to say, “How could I? It wasn’t meant for me to enjoy.” The women were put into a small part of the room, and we had a glass partition up that had lines across it so we couldn’t see much. We were perpendicular to the podium, and we were crammed. The partition was a two-way mirror so that the men just saw themselves. But they were in the main part of the synagogue, and they had room to dance and move around and greet each other.

This, to me, seems like an anti-religious practice. Religion is meant to bring people together, and I didn’t feel like any part of the service was for me.

I will say, though, that the book they used for the service was great. I really appreciate transliterations of Hebrew, because I can’t read it. I do want to learn, so it actually helps to have a transliteration written under the Hebrew, so that you can match the sounds together. And they also had a paragraph on each page explaining the significance and meaning of the prayer, along with the direct translation. That actually feels very Jewish, because I think a lot of what makes this religion wonderful is that you aren’t expected to blindly follow things; instead it is about asking questions and thinking about things and discussing issues. So I really liked that.

After the service we were all assigned Uruguayan families for dinner. Jessica and I went with a man and his 11-year-old son, and when we arrived at their gorgeous penthouse overlooking the Rio de la Plata, we met his older son and wife. They had a daughter who was in Rio de Janeiro for a wedding.

I messed up the ritual of handwashing, and I felt bad, but I tried. We sang songs together which I knew, and then the father said the other prayers for the challah and the wine. The dinner was amazing. So many meals have three courses here; I am going to come back home in five weeks weighing at least 10 pounds more.

There’s so much to say about my experiences that I don’t know how to write it all. That’s the problem with traveling. I have barely been journaling at all, because I just don’t know where to begin. This is why novels written as journals are implausible; it’s impossible to remember your entire day and have time to write it all. When I travel, I like to be drenched with the experience, so I don’t usually remember that I should go get away from it and write it down. It’ll stick in my head, I’m sure. But I’ll also try to write about it here.

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