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).