Chileans love their holidays: for Halloween and All Saints Day, they get a long weekend every year, Thursday to Sunday. This past week, I spent prepping for my final oral exam and spending time with my host family and friends. I’m going to be starting my final independent study project, which will last a month, next Wednesday. I am traveling back to Temuco to look at Mapuche perceptions of patient rights. I’m going to be staying with a Mapuche host family for 2 weeks, and I’m not going to have internet everyday for about 2 weeks, so my posts will be a little more spaced out. I’m really excited to finally get started on this final project, which will culminate in a 20-25 page research paper written in Spanish.
I went to my first San Marcos de Arica soccer game today with my host dad, and we won 3-2!
The past four days, I spent without wifi or a computer, in the rural area of the XV region of Chile, Parinacota, in the “city” of Putre. In this entire region, there are only about 1,300 people, mostly living in the main pueblo of Putre, others in smaller, farther out communities of 30-40 people. Health care in this region is not only complicated by the geography (the huge rolling desert hills of the Altiplano make for very treacherous windy roads) but is also enriched by the influence of the Aymara traditional healing practices (Aymara are another indigenous group in Chile; they inhabit northern Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, and Peru). This half of the region of Chile is 90% Aymara.
Despite feeling a little dizzy from the lack of oxygen (Putre sits at about 3,000 meters above sea level), I really enjoyed the excursion. The first day, we toured the public family health center in the city, and talked to the doctors, nurses, nutritionists, techs etc. there. The next day, we learned about the herbs and medicines of the Aymara, ate lunch with some locals and discussed community empowerment with them (Side note: lunch was alpaca meat, actually pretty good!). We got a chance to go to one of the smaller pueblos, Socoroma, to visit the primary school and play with the children. Also in Socoroma, we learned about the monthly rounds the health team in Putre makes to the smaller surrounding villages, to do check ups and lab work for patients who can’t travel to the center in Putre. Some of these villages are 3 hours away from Putre. In cases of emergencies, these villages have radios, from which they can call an ambulance, but if you live 3 hours from Putre, you’ll need to wait, and the center there is only a primary care center: barely equipped to handle the most basic emergencies. The closest secondary or tertiary (more serious) care hospital is in Arica, which can be an additional 3 hours away, on a good day.
On the last day, we took a trip up to one of the highest lakes in the world, lake Chungara, which sits up there at 4,500 meters or 14763.8 feet above sea level. There were a lot of llamas hanging out, this is probably my favorite shot of the day.
After a grueling 14 hour bus trip from Temuco, Chile to the lovely little city of Bariloche, Argentina, I couldn’t have asked for a better, sunnier, more beautiful day to follow. I woke up in my tiny awkwardly-L-shaped hotel room, and looking out the window at the view in the daylight brought me back to my short trip in 2010 to the Austrian Alps. A sparkling and vast blue lake cradled in a bowl of snow-capped giants (these mountains were bigger and more impressive than the ones I saw in the Alps) met my eyes, and the buildings of Bariloche were strangely reminiscent of Fachwerkhäuse (Bariloche has a heavy German influence; it boasts the largest population of German speakers in South America. No, I didn’t speak one word of German the entire time I was there (except when I ordered Goulash at dinner one night, the waiter complemented me on my pronunciation of the dish)).
After breakfast, we took a bus about 20 minutes outside the city to a Mapuche Lof (community), where we were led into their land by a man on horseback. We were met in a clearing by about 8 Mapuche men and women, who welcomed us with hugs and the Argentinian greeting of kissing us on both cheeks (I’m used to just one kiss in Chile). The Longko, or leader, of this community, Jose, would lead us on a walk around the farms of the families, but not before everyone pitched in to start cooking lunch…
When we got back from our walk, we ate. And, I have to say, this was hands down the best meal I’ve ever eaten. In my life. For one thing, I was eating in the most beautiful place I’d ever been on earth (I’d highly recommend a trip to Patagonian Andes at some point, if you can). I was eating food that was all fresh, perfectly cooked by a method perfected through thousands of years, with a flavor entirely new and interesting to me. Finally, I was experiencing a deeply moving (emotionally and intellectually) moment of sharing cultures. I consider myself infinitely lucky to have spent the day with this community, and infinitely humbled by their hospitality and openness and honesty with sharing their history and personal stories.
For more information on the history of the Mapuche in Argentina, I found this link pretty helpful: http://www.minorityrights.org/?lid=4095
More photos of the Andes to come later, I got some great shots. Also, shout out to my Grandma and Aunt Shelly, miss you two and can’t wait to see you in December!!
Today, we drove out of the city of Temuco to Hospital Makewe, run by the Mapuche. The Mapuche are one of the indigenous populations in Chile; there are 1,442,214 people in Chile as of the 2002 census that claim Mapuche ancestry. The history with their relationship to the government is long and complicated. I was introduced to this history by a Chilean friend, who told me about how they were the last group of native South Americans to resist the Spanish conquest.
We arrived at the hospital and entered a Raku, or house. The Raku was one room, with a fire pit in the middle (It’s pretty cold here and the Rakus are heated only by the fires). Our first lecture was about the cosmovision of the Mapuche and their spirituality, taught by our Mapuche leaders/guides/friends. The Mapuche’s spiritual beliefs are not separate from their everyday lives. The word Mapuche literally translates into “People of the earth/land” but this translation lacks a lot of special connotations and additional meanings of the word Mapu (it means not only earth and land, but also space, physical and spiritual). A lot of words don’t translate well from Mapuzugun (language of the Mapuche) to Spanish, and then, of course, it’s going through another translation into English right now. I won’t get too into my limited understanding of the cosmovision, though, considering the fact that I took a single 2 hour class on the topic.
With a green face and chunky hair, I’m currently discovering the many uses of palta (avocado) which is absurdly cheap and unsurprisingly delicious here in Chile. Procrastinating on research and reading, the joys of sharing a hotel room with a friend!
This morning, we left Arica for the south of the country, to Temuco. Tomorrow starts our programs with the Mapuche indegenous groups that live down here; we’ll be learning about Medical Anthropology and traditional healing and medicine. Needless to say, I’m really excited to learn all about it. The first flight began without any events, but as we were coming into land at the Santiago Airport (for a layover) the plane was coming in way too fast, the wheels hit the ground, we bounced and went back up into the air. At first I felt surprise, then I felt nausea; our re-ascent and re-decent were pretty bumpy. We landed safely and eventually made it to Temuco. As soon as we could see the ground in Temuco, everyone starting gawking. Compared to the desert we’ve been staying in Arica, it seemed like Eden. It reminded me a lot of the pacific north west, really lush and dark green, with a few massive snow-capped volcanoes off in the background. When we stepped off the plane, the air smelled like burning wood, and the air was beautifully cool and crisp.
I’m going to need to start my research for my final project, so that’s all for now!