Mari Mari

Trip Start Jan 20, 2010
Trip End Aug 08, 2010

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Flag of Chile  , Araucanía,
Friday, May 14, 2010

Hmmm… I think I have fleas. Okay, maybe I don't have fleas.  Maybe they’re bed bugs.  I’m not really sure what is eating me, literally, but I do know I’m hanging out for the next couple hours in the baby changing station in the Arica airport.  It’s 3AM, my friend, the night maintenance man, directed me to his favorite place to sleep in the airport and now that I’ve fully bathed myself in hydrocortisone cream to combat my fleas, I’m having a rigorous debate with myself.  My airport friend tells me he can arrange a ride for me to my bus to Putre, but it would bring me there two hours earlier than I need to.  I’m thinking it’s a universal thing to have bus stations in the worst parts of town.  I’m also thinking bus stations that only have one company will not be open that early.  So, should I hang out here in leaning on my backpack on the baby changing table until I can call a taxi and pay about two weeks ' worth of food or should I risk going to the station and hanging out on the street?  I think the maintenance man is fartinga song while cleaning the men’s bathroom next door; I really make great friends during my travels.

All right, I’m tired and will probably not sleep tonight, but I’m shaking myself clean of my own snide commentary.  I have three weeks incredible life to try to summarize.  I left Andrea, Alejandro, Mercedes, Nicolas, and Michelle in Arica to head down to Temuco, Chile in the South of Chile with my group.  I think it is equivalent to Washington while the Patagonia is like the Alaska of Chile.  With its lush forests, towering mountains, active volcanoes, rural life, and comically gracious hospitality, the 9th region of Chile was my oasis after months in the desert.  This was my group’s chance to submerse ourselves in the Mapuche (Mapu in Mapundungun means Land, Che means People.  Mapuche means people of the land) culture and for ten days we had classes outside amongst the cows and crowded around smoldering fires in the rukas.  I still have a rich smell of smoky eucalyptus trees emanating from my clothes and bags.  Chile is attempting to preserve and celebrate the Mapuche culture and in the 9th region three intercultural health centers exist.  How integrated they truly are appears to be a bit more talk than reality.  Mapuche medicine revolves around their cosmovision; which for space’s sake I will describe as a balance between four different worlds in which the spirits revolve. To care for health that evolves from a balance amongst these worlds, a machi who cares for the spiritual aspects of the "che," a lawentuchefe who collects herbs for remedies, a puñeñelchefe who cares for expecting mothers, and angütamchefe who cares for bones exist.  All learn their practice from the spiritual force, sometimes in the form of dreams, and from their grandparents.  I’ll stop my rambling; I’m just extremely fascinated by it all.

Starting in early May, I finally departed from my fourteen dear English speaking friends and started up my individual research project.  What this really means is I was flung out practically naked into a new region knocking on doors asking for help.  I opted to live in the village of CholChol for a few days and woke up my first day to see my breath in puff out of the warmth of my sleeping bag.  I wandered down the stairs, all my short term brothers had already left for school, grabbed some pansito and amazing fresh jam made from the berries in the field next to the house, and headed to the boarding school.  In the United States, a foreigner could never walk up to a school and ask to give a survey on the knowledge of contraceptives and sexual practices of their students.  In Chile, you can.  You might even be asked to give an impromptu sex ed lesson or an English class.  I got to do both and never in my dreams would I have expected to draw fallopian tubes, a uterus, and an IUD and explain how it works in Spanish.   Also never in my dreams would I have expected to get on a bus, go to a different village, and immediately get invited to lunch with a poet who travels around the world…and for her to help me with my research project and invite me to spend the night when I missed my bus (which I think was her plan all along)…and to be fed amazing fresh produce and deep fried picarones (squash donuts) for six hours.  This all happened in day one of my ISP and as I drifted off to sleep that night watching Martin Rivas, the worst most dramatic Chilean soap opera of all time, I thought “I love research in Chile. This is incredible!”

12 hours later that changed completely to completely frustrating as I embarked on the first of my research frustrations that would continue for the next 9 days.  My friends who are studying down in the South and I decided to break up our “rigorous studies” with a camping trip into the spectacular land that surrounded us.  With hastily gathered camping gear, we hopped on a bus to Pucón to camp out in what would be equivalent to November in the states.  Yeah, a dumb move, but we were just extremely driven to camp in Chile.  We ended up missing our bus to the National Park we planned on backpacking in and decided to climb a volcano instead.  I hope my exasperated nonchalant voice carried through these blog pixels; climbing El VolcanVillarica was the first big hike my knee’s had since surgery in December.  The 6000+ft in 4 ½ hours with breathtaking views and bubbling lava that made me question the origins of the earth were worth every limpy gimpy step I had the next day.  The National Park Huerquehue that we ended up camping in was equally spectacular and we hiked through mountains adorned with autumn leaves and Araucania trees (Monkey Puzzle trees) that make me think of 10 little monkeys on a bed.

Coming back into my world of frustration, my study is the uses and perceptions of contraceptives in two distinct indigenous populations in rural areas.  I’m conducting surveys in rural schools and interviewing occidental doctors and traditional practitioners such as the puñeñelechefe and lawentuchefe.  Actually I’m attempted to do those latter interviews, but walked in circles and into closed doors day after day.  Finally today, after waiting three hours to interview the subdirector of a hospital/obstetrician, I finally got a chance to interview a lawentuchefe and it was the most fascinating two hours of my time in Chile.  Completely enraptured in our conversation about the loss of traditional contraceptives, I came out of the interview with 9 pages of furiously written notes and finally a peek inside into the Mapuche culture.  I had a couple hours to rush onto a bus back into the city to get to the airport.  I sat on the bus, my feet going numb from the vibrations of the road, my mind scrambling for new words to describe the beautiful sunset, and finally a feeling of fulfillment easing into my stomach. What made this moment completely Chilean?  Bryan Adams’ love ballads from the 80s?Yes.  Sung in Spanish?  Hell yes. 
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