Saturday, August 18, 2012

Living the Chilean lifestyle

It had been 9 months since I’d left Santiago, and while I knew that things would seem much more familiar than when I’d first arrived in the city in June of 2011, I hadn’t expected that it would be so easy to get back into a comfortable routine. I suppose everything is easier the second time- this year I had a better idea of what supplies I should bring down with me and what items would be easy to purchase in Santiago. Finding stores, speaking in Spanish, and navigating the subway were a lot easier than I remembered. I was worried that it would take some time to refresh my stick-shift driving skills, but thankfully it seems those skills are more akin to riding a bicycle. Running errands and getting things organized went so smoothly that I was ready to head out to the field after only two days in the city. 
Shopping at "Jumbo," the Chilean version of Costco.
Of course, having helpful Chilean friends also made it easier to get back into the swing of things. When I arrived in Santiago, I took a taxi to the university where my good friend Juan met me and helped me store my supplies in the lab. Juan then promptly took me to his apartment where he and my other friend, Paola, cooked me lunch. My friend Cecilia then picked me up and took me to her house, where I will be living for duration of my field season.

Cecilia and her family live in the community of La Reina, which is one of 37 different communities (comunas) in Santiago. La Reina is an upper-middle class neighborhood that is East of the city center.

Cecila's family's house
One thing I’ve noticed about Santiago is that people tend to be concerned about security. Most apartment buildings have someone controlling the main doors 24 hours a day. At the university, I need to pass by a guard outside the university, pass by another guard to get into the Departamento de Ecología, and then use a keycard to enter the third floor of the building before I can finally access the lab. As for the neighborhood I’m currently living in, most houses have bars on the windows and are surrounded by walls and electronic gates. So why is security such a high priority in Santiago? I don’t think the crime rate is particularly high in Santiago, so I think it may be more due to the fact that Chile is proud to be the most prosperous country in South America and thus tries to emulate other wealthy nations. This may also explain why there’s so much bureaucracy in Chile. For example: when I renewed my visa last year I had to wait in line to get a number, then wait till my number was called, and then fill out a form that I had to take downstairs for photocopies. Then I had to go back upstairs to get a bill, take my bill to a bank that was a block away, pay the fee, and then bring that receipt back so they could finally stamp my visa.

Although there’s lots of security and bureaucracy in Chile, the people here are really quite warm and friendly. Most Chileans are very patient with me as I speak in garbled Spanish and wildly gesture around. One of the other things I really like about Chile is that the “machismo” culture, which is still very prevalent in many other South American countries, seems to be absent here (except for construction workers). 

The best part of this field season, though, is that I get to live with a Chilean family. My host family consists of my friend Cecilia and her father, mother, and younger sister. Cecilia is a veterinarian and has been working with wild and captive degus for many years. Both of Cecilia’s parents are now retired, and her younger sister is currently finishing law school. Cecilia’s family also has a golden retriever named Canela (the Spanish word for cinnamon) and black cat named Cuchipipi (which is a nonsense word).

Me, Cuchipipi, and Canela
The whole family sits down for dinner every evening, usually around 8:00pm. Dinner fare is pretty similar to what you find in the United States, and I’ve eaten several tasty meals like chicken with mashed potatoes, fish and rice, and ground beef casserole. I’ve also had some dishes that are more unique to Chile like empanadas, pureed garbanzo beans with a fried egg and hotdog, and jello with sweetened, condensed milk. Dinner conversation is always a lot of fun and we often spend time comparing English and Spanish words and phrases. My Spanish is slowly getting better, or at least it seems like I can talk a lot faster than I used to!
I’ve included some picture of my host family and their house. Check back next week for a post on the natural history of the mattoral!

My bedroom

The living/dining room

My host father (Jorge) and mother (Sylvia)

My friend Cecilia. This picture was taken at a restaurant called "Fuente Alemana," which serves sandwiches piled high with meat, mayonnaise, and other tasty things.
I had a "lomito italiano." This pork sandwich is called an "italiano" because the mayonnaise, tomato, and avocado represent the colors of the Italian flag.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Chile 2012!

Watch out, degus. I'm coming back.

It's true, I'm returning to Chile for more delightfully degu-dominated field research! When I left Chile at the end of October in 2011, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to return to finish some of my projects. Luckily, my grant writing paid off and I now have sufficient funds to pursue another awesome field season! I am so thankful for the grants I've been awarded, and I'd like to thank these organizations; the Tufts University Graduate School, Sigma Xi, the National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Program, the Animal Behavior Society, the American Mammalogist Society, and the Tufts International Research Program. In addition to these funding sources, my continuing field research is also made possible by the support of my collaborators; Dr. Loren Hayes (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) and Dr. Luis Ebensperger (Pontificia Catolica Universidad de Chile).

I'm arriving in Santiago on August 7th, and then I'll be spending the next four months trapping, sampling, and observing degus at the same field site I used last year. I've spent the last few weeks ordering supplies, drafting up research schedules, and figuring out how I'm going to pack everything. I'm almost ready to go, and I'm especially looking forward to seeing my Chilean friends. I should also mention that I'll be living with a Chilean family during the next four months; my good friend Cecilia has offered to let me live with her family, and I'm looking forward to improving my Spanish, eating delicious Chilean dishes, and getting more exposure to Chilean culture.

Stay tuned for more posts!

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