Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Imposter Syndrome

I’ve got a secret. Please don’t tell anyone.
I don’t know what I’m doing.
I know it may come as a shock seeing as how I’ve spent 2 months in Chile and completed 18 interviews. The first one was terrible. The last one was better than terrible. Yes, it got progressively easier to ask the questions, refine the conversation and seek out what I thought I wanted to know. Now, I have hours of recordings and a hard drive full of material to sift through but I can’t shake the feeling that I am missing something. I want to collect it all but I don’t know what will be useful and what will just take up space in my suitcase. Thankfully, in this digital age a lot of information will be available to me once I return to Canada even if I can’t locate it here in Chile but I don’t want to look back on my time here and worry that I missed something important.
I thought that as I moved through the interviews I would have a better idea of what I was asking, what it was I really wanted to know. I suppose that in a way, I do have a better idea of where I am going with my research than I did when I first got here. To begin, I expected (foolishly) the women I interviewed to think the same way I do. Put that blatantly in writing it seems ridiculous to say such a thing but I think that deep down I thought the women would tell me how hard it is to be a Mapuche women leader and how much resistance they had encountered along the way. Of course, they shared with me some of the challenges but in their voice and with their worldview, not mine. I think that if I have learned anything up to this point, it is that the experience really does trump the theoretical knowledge.
I don’t feel any smarter. In fact, I almost feel like I know less in some ways.
My friends will be here in less than 2 weeks and my husband will arrive shortly after, marking the end of my period of solitary reflection and investigation. Strangely, I feel much the same now as I did before leaving Canada to come here- full of anticipation, anxiety and a little fear. I want to look back on this time and feel proud about my efforts and my accomplishments. I don’t want to regret anything. Is that impossible?
There is always going to be something that could have been different, something else that I could have done. I suppose, it’s all in the way you look at it. It’s a choice.
Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc play---wait, I got carried away there.
Choose your future. I choose to be successful at this thing that I’m doing right now. Punto.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fieldwork vs. Real Life

Now that I’m approaching the goals that I set for myself as part of my fieldwork experience, I find myself starting to think more about what is going to happen when I return to Calgary to begin writing my thesis. Of course, I need to remind myself that there is still plenty of work to be done here, but as the decorations go up in the shopping centres and the temperature plummets in the northern hemisphere my thoughts turn to winter, teaching commitments, data analysis and deadlines. I caught myself today, wondering what it was going to be like to return to my ‘real life’ after this sojourn in Chile.
What does that mean - my ‘real life’? Does that imply that what I’m doing here is not real life? That I’m just playing, or wasting time? Taking this view suggests that my time here is some sort of anomaly and that once I come back to Canada, it will be ‘business as usual’ with no excitement or adventure. And heaven knows, I love excitement and adventure (didn’t you read my facebook quiz results?).
Perhaps it would be better described as my ‘regular’ life? But then, what is my ‘regular’ life? I’ve been through so many changes in the last several years- leaving a career, returning to university, buying a house, gaining a nieces and nephews (congrats Shani and Jeff on the arrival of little Logan!), deciding to go to grad school, getting married, that I don’t think my life (or anyone else’s for that matter) could be considered ‘regular’. My life is unique, just as anyone’s is, and I don’t consider it to be ‘regular’. Not to mention, suggesting that my life in Calgary is ‘regular’ implies that this experience in Chile is just an interlude, an interruption to be taken in isolation and not integrated into a regular (read: boring) existence. The problem with this approach is that if I continue to keep thinking this way I will not be able to fully appreciate the experiences that I have when I travel or take on an extraordinary challenge, such as this.
So, in keeping with my life philosophy (which is more of a theoretical construct that I try to live and breath daily, to varying degrees of success), I have decided to consider this my ‘real’ life, as well as all of the challenges that I undertake in Calgary or any other place. My ‘real’ life is what is going on around me, with me, to me, and instigated by me, RIGHT NOW. Life (regular or otherwise) does not happen when you reach the next milestone. It will not happen when I return to Calgary, when I publish my first paper, when I defend my thesis, when I get that amazing job I’ve always dreamed of (*wink). It is happening to me as I write this, sitting in the garden of an amazing family who has helped me so much here in Temuco, Chile (thank you Marcela, Adrian and Beatriz!).
When I think of my life in this way, I am not only more proud of myself when I consider the challenges that I have faced head on, sought out and risen to, but I am also more proud of my friends and family who are also facing challenges of their own and succeeding every day! So everyone raise a glass (whether filled with Chilean Malbec or Canadian rye) and toast ‘real life’ and all the amazing things that come with it!
The back garden in Temuco

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On sharing armrests and Feminism

I know I’ve complained about this before, but after the 10-hour bus ride between Santiago and Temuco I just feel the need to bring it up one more time. Why is it that when a man sits down in some sort of public space that he feels the god-given right to use both armrests (regardless of whether or not one is already occupied) and spread his legs as wide as possible so as not to crowd the family jewels? I paid the same amount for my space on that bus as did the man beside me, but somehow he felt entitled to take up as much room as necessary so as to be as completely relaxed and comfortable as one might be on a public bus for 10 hours. Now, if this was an isolated incident I might not feel the need to rant about it but the fact of the matter is that this is so common in EVERY place in the world that I have had the privilege of visiting that there must be something to it.
It’s not only buses, but airplanes and movie theatres as well. I’ve even observed men crowding their wives/girlfriends/daughters/mothers out of comfortable sitting space with little regard for her having to slouch down in her seat because of the random man sitting on the other side of her. I don’t think it takes a feminist to see that this is just unfair. Why do women have to sit quietly and take up as little space as possible so that the men around them, strangers or kin, can be more comfortable for the duration of the journey or event? Of course, I believe that this is a symptom of a more generalized inequality between the genders with men feeling a sense of authority over all public space and the domination of this space being a message to women about who is really in charge, but even if you don’t agree with me on this you must be able to see the injustice.
Why then, don’t I just force my arm onto the armrest and physically take the space myself? A decent question; somehow I just can’t bring myself to do it! I don’t know if it’s my Canadian politeness or if on some level I understand that a bigger human being just needs more space (although, I have had the opportunity to sit beside more diminutive men who still take up as much room as a 250 pound brute). Usually, I sulk for a while and the depending on the length of the journey I slowly start to take back a little space, one centimetre at a time. The thing I need to get over is instinctively removing my arm from the armrest when a man sits down next to me. Perhaps, if I have already claimed the space the battle will be set before it begins.
This may seem like a small matter but I can’t help but believe it is symbolic of women’s ongoing fight for equality. Chant with me:
Hey, hey! Ho, ho!
Armrest hogging has got to go!
What do we want? Leg- room!
When do we want it? Now!

Monday, November 8, 2010

On the difference between being a tourist and a researcher in a foreign country

I’ve been trying to put my finger on what has been eating at me for the past week and with the help of friends, I think I’ve come to a pretty obvious answer: homesickness. Now, I have done a few trips lasting more than a month (although 2 months has previously been my limit) and I always figured that my eagerness to come home in the end had more to do with living out of a suitcase or constantly being a guest in someone else’s home. But now, at just over a month in Chile, I realize that it's starting to sink in how out of my element I really am.
Emotionally, I have been swinging back and forth between jubilation and near euphoria every time I successfully complete another interview (9/15 done, by the way), and utter defeat and desolation. I worry that I have no idea what I am doing and question daily my decision to conduct fieldwork in another country and in a foreign language, of which I only had a tenuous grasp in the first place. Today, I resorted to cracking a bottle of red at 5 pm, which I considered an acceptable time to start drinking alone in my apartment, and sending forlorn and desperate facebook messages to friends.
The role of researcher, rather than tourist, means that I have forsaken the tried and true ways to meet people while travelling. Being alone, I’m not all that keen on hitting up the bars or taking the metro after 10 pm to attend cultural or social events in far flung regions of the city. This has meant that I spend a lot of time alone: sending emails, travelling to and from interviews, walking uninvited into government and NGO offices and in transit to and from the grocery store. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty good at spending time alone, and when in Calgary I actually tend to be more of an introvert, at least when it comes to unwinding after a long day. But there is something different about this forced exile.
Oh, I meet people, here and there: waiting at the bus stop- they like to warn me about how dangerous Santiago is for a single woman travelling alone and try to scare me into not leaving my apartment; eating ice cream in the park- these are generally crazy people or people asking for money; at the Spanish school where I’m taking some private lessons- they are often travelling in groups and not really interesting in meeting other foreigners. Not to mention, the purpose of my visit here is not to go out drinking into all hours of the night with random backpackers.
Perhaps the most trying aspect is that I feel like I’m floating around, with no measure of what I should be accomplishing and when. How am I supposed to know if I’m doing ok if I have no point of comparison? After an afternoon of contemplation on this matter (when I was supposed to be writing an abstract for a conference), I have come to the conclusion that what this is, is an opportunity for personal growth; if I can only measure my satisfaction in my own work by measuring it against that of someone else, than I have failed at the ultimate objective.  I only need to be satisfied that I have approached this challenge with my best effort given the resources that I have, and with an open mind to be able to absorb what it is I need from my time in Chile.
Really, if I say I'm doing a good job, then I am. So there.
The museum calls this a sculpture of a 'cocalero' or someone chewing coca leaves, but I thought it looked a lot like someone taking a crap. I just thought I'd throw it in here for some comic relief since this blog was a bit heavier than the last few!

Monday, November 1, 2010

No hablo español...

It’s beginning to dawn on me that all the things I had worried about undermining my credibility as a researcher in a foreign country: language, inexperience, cultural ignorance, complete naivety, are actually the characteristics that appear to be opening more doors that I had anticipated. First, not understanding the protocol allows me to march into any office I think might be useful to me or approach any person who I think might have contacts to share with me. Second, my tenuous grasp on the language combined with my Canadian efficiency means that rather than beating around the bush and colouring my speech with niceties I just steamroller on and ask directly for what it is I am looking for. Third, also a result of my Spanish language proficiency, sometimes I can’t tell if people are making fun of me, offended, excited or just annoyed so I have no choice but to be persistent and apologetic at the same time. 
View from my balcony in Santiago
Perhaps it’s just that these qualities make me somewhat endearing in a bumbling, non-threatening kind of way but I’d like to think that it’s more that people can see the value of my project and are genuinely interested in talking to me. Maybe I’ve overstepped my boundaries a couple of times but I can claim ignorance (really!) here and while I’m certain the fact that I’m a novice is evident, I hope that people can tell I am trying my hardest to be honest, open, genuine and polite. Whatever it is I’m doing, it has managed to get me half way through my interviews in four different cities in Chile and I’ve only been here a month!
I had the chance this past week to travel south to the city of Temuco, where I stayed with a very generous family who connected me with many interesting and helpful people. One of whom is the head of the Social Work program at the University Autonoma and who happened to conduct a study last year on Mapuche Women’s Leadership. (What luck!) There is nothing like the validation that comes from an academic telling you that your project is important because the existing literature on Mapuche women is sadly lacking and an invitation to share your finished thesis with their university library. At least, I think that’s what she said. The truth is that she spoke the fastest of all the people I have met so far and despite my asking several times for her to slow down it seemed to be impossible for her! At any rate, I’m going to assume the best, keep my chin up and roll with the positivity!
 There is something comfortable and familiar about Chile. The area around Temuco feels a lot like the interior of B.C. with lush vegetation, lakes and mountains. I was fortunate to spend one day in Villarica, a playground of the rich (from what I hear) in the summer months. There is something tranquil, welcoming and moderately commercial about this lovely town; think Canmore but with the climate of Penticton. And on my last day in Temuco, my host family was gracious enough to teach me how to make empanadas pinos- with a stuffing of beef, onion, spices and the requisite piece of boiled egg and an olive. A lovely and successful trip all around- here’s hoping the next two weeks can be as productive as the last!
 Watch me make empanadas with Marcela, Adrian and Beatriz in Temuco!


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Valparaiso and Performance Anxiety

Interview #1: complete.
It is remarkable how this process can move so quickly at times and so painfully slowly at others. After hitting the pavement, struggling through phone conversations (admittedly few) and sending countless emails, a completely happenstance meeting on Friday resulted in an interview in the beautiful seaside town of Valparaiso on Saturday. I don’t know how many people have not responded at all to my email inquiries for referrals and interviews but one lovely woman almost instantaneously answered my query and invited me to come meet her at an expo of indigenous entrepreneurs and artisans in Valpo. I was practically giddy with excitement and nerves as I knew that the short notice would mean I would be on my own, without a translator and not having tested my interview questions yet.
Stairs everywhere!
 I caught the bus early Saturday morning from the central terminal and enjoyed a comfortable, if not anxious ride in one of the nicest buses I have had the opportunity to travel in. (Not as nice as Mexico- which had these amazing reclining seats and provided all passengers with a sandwich and drink; and a million times nicer than Bolivia- where there were more people than seats and the drivers all seem to be chewing coca and speeding out of control.) Arriving in Valpo and after a jilted and confusing phonecall with a friend there, I managed to take a micro (city bus) and walk up Cerro Alegre to a lovely little hostel where I stayed for one night. I didn’t know what time or where I was to meet the participant and our phonecall didn’t really clear that much up as I didn’t understand most of what she said other than “around 3 or 4 in the afternoon”. So, I decided to just show up at the expo with my digital recorder in hand and hope for the best.

I will spare everyone the details but the overall outcome was that I have an hour and a half of recording and I’m not sure what’s in it. My nerves were horrible and my Spanish suffered as a result. My questions were untested and therefore some were not well understood. And most frustratingly, I clearly did not have the fluency necessary to understand her mile-a-minute, slang filled answers and I was too timid to ask her to slow down. In the end, I was flustered, tired and in a hurry to get the hell out of there and I fear I may have been ungracious and impolite. Honestly, I can’t remember what I said- something to the effect of “I really appreciate you sharing your time and thoughts with me…we’ll be in touch,” but it may have come out more like a stammer of, “Umm….thanks….I appreciate it….bye.” (Head smack)
Expo Fería de Emprendedores Indígenas
I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. It was my first research interview….ever, in Spanish, in Chile, in the middle of an expo. How well can I expect it to have gone? I’m sure there is something in that recording that will be useful to me. What strikes me about the entire process is how it is possible to know something theoretically but when you experience it in reality it is still surprising. All the things I had thought about before beginning this process: about being an outsider, about being white, middle-class and educated, about trying to understand the benefit of participation to the women and not just to me, came into play in that one, short interview. And all of it surprised me in some way. I’m surprised to be surprised. All I know is that even if there is nothing useful in that recording, I learned a lot from the experience.
Now all I have to do is get over it and take what I’ve learned to the next interview.

Ah, what a view!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Marcha Mapuche

This week I was fortunate enough to attend the annual Mapuche March here in Santiago. This year’s march took on an even greater significance considering the situation between a group of Mapuche political prisoners and the Chilean government. A group of 34 Mapuche prisoners had been on a hunger strike for nearly 3 months and only days before had the last remaining strikers decided to call an end to their protest. The prisoners had all been charged under the Pinochet-era anti-terrorism laws, designed to facilitate the eradication of the opposition, which have remained in place and untouched by subsequent governments. 
Over the last three decades, several Mapuche activists have been imprisoned as “terrorists” for acts of arson and destruction of private property in their attempts to protest the presence of the numerous natural resource extraction companies (forestry, hydroelectric) that are exploiting what the Mapuche consider to be their ancestral lands. At least five young Mapuche people have been killed in altercations with the carabineros (police) and many of the hunger strikers were feared to be near death as well.
Unfortunately, the disaster at the northern mine had the effect of overshadowing the hunger strike. Media attention that may have illuminated the Mapuche struggle was diverted to the plight of the trapped miners and the rescue operation, which had much more of an international appeal. I was unable to find any news in the mainstream conservative media about the end of the hunger strike, only in left wing and Mapuche online news sources.
I, like many, am disappointed with the outcome of the strike. The Piñera government has agreed to change the charges against the prisoners to less serious crimes of destruction of private property and endangerment, dropping the charges of terrorism, but has not agreed to revisit or alter the laws themselves. These laws allow the government to charge and hold people with limited proof and use anonymous witnesses in their trials, among other things. Apparently, these laws have just been too convenient for the government to use despite their origins in an authoritarian and oppressive regime that had no respect for human rights.
In any case, the march seemed to be a success with somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people in attendance (depending on which news source you look at). I would guess that the number was somewhere in the middle, with the ranks swelled by a number of other indigenous, communist and anarchist groups. Emotions ran high but despite a strong police presence the mood was a positive one. After the march, the group convened in a plaza for food (sopapillas-yum!), music and fundraising through sales of art, jewellery, books and movies. I bought a Mapudungun/Spanish dictionary so that I can at least say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ to my research participants (assuming they speak Mapudungun, which many Mapuche people do not).

It felt really great to be able to be part of something so large, something that seemed so powerful. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that year after year, this march attracts the same groups with diverse interests who cannot manage to work together at a higher level. But, I say that if it promotes solidarity even only for one day a year, it’s doing something.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

On public displays of affection and other Chileanismos

When I decided to write a blog I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It is surprisingly difficult to chronicle my time in Santiago without descending into a play-by-play description of the mundane aspects of each day, not to mention my complete lack of discipline in recording my thoughts and observations on a regular basis. So then, I have decided to take another tack altogether: stream of consciousness. We’ll see how it goes.
I feel I cannot go any further without mentioning the one thing that has for some reason taken up a great deal of my thoughts: the staggering number of kissing couples in public spaces. They are everywhere! Leaning up against stairwells, snuggling on benches, tucked away among the trees, lying side by side wrapped up in each other on the grass in any space that is not wet, muddy or being landscaped. 

I took a lovely stroll through Cerro Santa Lucia, a park on a hill right in central Santiago, and it seemed that around every corner there was another amorous pair. Being alone, I started to feel a bit like a third wheel. It got somewhat tiresome having to avert my eyes around each turn so I actually started walking with my head down to avoid the inevitable.
At first, I was surprised. Chile is a pretty conservative, religious country and I’m fairly certain that pre-marital sex is a no-no here. But then, after thinking about it for a while, it occurred to me that most of these people probably live with their parents and don’t own a car which seriously limits your options for make-out spots. Secondly, what better way to demonstrate that you are just having some ‘good, clean fun’ with your partner than being right out in the public eye? How far are you really going to be able to go? So, while it still makes me a little uncomfortable to be writing in my journal while a pair is lying on the grass beside me with a jacket over their heads, I’ve decided to let go of my puritan roots and embrace the romance of it all.
Santiago is a really big city. There are around 6 million people living here as this sea of high rises attests to. All the same, it is a very navigable urban space with lots of parks, pathways and places to escape the city noise. This afternoon, I took a trip to Cerro San Cristóbal, a large park across the river from my apartment. I walked for nearly 4 hours and I barely saw a portion of the space (although I did see plenty of kissing couples). The park was buzzing with weekend warrior types, all running or cycling up the hill to the summit for a mote con huesillos (wheat kernels with peaches in a sweet peach juice- it’s actually pretty good) or an ice cream. 
The Chilean people seem to be just as concerned with their personal appearance as we are in North America, if not more so. People dress smartly if they are out in public so you’re never going to see someone wandering to the Tim Hortons in their pajama bottoms. Perhaps it is because your personal appearance can actually have a tangible impact on your quality of life. One woman explained to me that you are much less likely to get hired if you are ‘unattractive’ or fat (or indigenous, but that’s a whole other can of worms).  I was shocked to hear that if you don’t include the information in your CV, the interviewer will be sure to ask you your religion, your marital status, whether you live with your parents or cohabitate with your boyfriend and how many children you have (or why you don’t have any).
This weekend is also a long weekend here in Chile, so while you’re enjoying your turkey and stuffing I’ll be chowing down an empanada with some red wine on the roof top terrace and enjoying a(nother) day off. 
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Welcome to Santiago

Not being an avid reader of blogs (actually, I really never read them) it feels funny to be starting one myself. It just seems to be a great way to be able to keep everyone up to date on my adventures here in Chile, although I must admit to having twinges of anxiety about posting my thoughts online. Some might argue it's no different from sharing everything on facebook but somehow the illusion of a privacy policy reassures me. Who knew?
For my inaugural blog I thought I would keep it simple. Just a quick “welcome to my blog” and some small, funny details about the trip here. So, here it goes!
The flight down was relatively uneventful, just a few small hiccups like being delayed an hour and a half after boarding in Toronto while the ground crew ‘repacked’ a crate of medical supplies and spilling my entire plastic cup of red wine on my gray pants about 2 hours into the 11 hour flight. I did manage to watch half of the latest Twilight installment on the flight to Toronto, but sadly the flight to Santiago didn’t have the same movie selection and so I’ve been left hanging. Will Bella become a vampire? Or will she choose to remain human and ‘imprint’ on Jake? Or perhaps she’ll figure out that she’s way too young to be getting married to anyone and go to college. Oh, the suspense.
I’m happily installed in my apartment right on Avenida Providencia, a busy street that runs along the riverfront from central Santiago all the way to Las Condes. It looks just like the pictures, just a little smaller and less shiny and my landlord is a darling. As I write this he is waiting in his office for the vtf (internet and cable service provider) rep to set up my internet connection. Unfortunately, I can’t understand most of what he says to me. 
I have had no trouble negotiating in Spanish here; from recharging my borrowed cell phone, to putting credit on my metro pass, to searching out plug converters (which apparently are required here, something I should have noted before leaving Canada), but for some reason I have serious troubles with Claudio’s dialect. I’m not sure if it is the speed at which he talks or if he is using all kinds of colloquialisms that I’m just not familiar with. Whatever the case, we manage to communicate the basics and I’m pretty sure he’s setting up my internet right now (if you’re reading this, then all was successful!).
Santiago is a bustling, modern city and unlike Bolivia, where I stood out as a foreigner, I feel I can really blend in here. In fact, today someone on the street asked me for directions and a lady in the metro asked me about the fares. Of course, as soon as I opened my mouth they both knew I wasn’t from Santiago but that’s beside the point. It’s good knowing I can ‘pass’.

As for my research, I’m still feeling the euphoria of the newness of everything and haven’t had the chance to really get into anything serious yet. All in good time, I say. I’m about to attempt cooking a real meal (spaghetti and meat sauce) with the limited provisions I managed to eke out at the grocery store. I didn’t realize how many spices and condiments I generally use until faced with the prospect of cooking without any of them. I’m interested in how the tomato sauce in a bag is going to taste without any real doctoring. Look forward to my chronicling of the 5 ingredient dinner next time!
¡Hablemos pronto, amigos!
P.S. The pasta dinner looks great (tastes ok too).