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!


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