Laurie Hermans is no was an anthropology student from the Utrecht University in the Netherlands when she first contacted me nearly a year ago about coming to Chile. She was interested in doing research on animitas and had found a piece I wrote about them here in Cachando Chile (see: Animitas: Chile’s Popular Saints ).
She arrived in late January and we got together periodically to bounce ideas around, work up new leads, explore possible contacts, and just to have some fun once and a while… In fact, she was one of the participants in the great Cuasimodo hunt.
I was impressed by her independence and adaptability as she proceeded from contact to contact, comuna to comuna, in search of people who could tell her more about animitas. It wasn’t easy, but she did a great job. She’s back in the Netherlands, her thesis is done (great work Laurie!), and should have her diploma in hand by now.
I asked her to write a bit about her experience here in Chile, and this is her response:
Guest Post by Laurie Hermans, Dutch Anthropologist:
So here I am, in the bathroom of my mother’s house in Den Dolder, a little town in the middle of Holland, and thinking about my time in Chile that just passed by. Now it seems unnatural to flush toilet paper, and I still find myself doubting whether or not to throw it into a little basket, as we always did in Chile. When I think of it, those three months were awesome at some points, and terrible and full of homesickness at others, but definitely worth the trouble. The brain is a funny organ; it makes you forget all the bad moments in the past, which in the case of my time in Santiago, is not that hard to do.
But how did I end up in Santiago in the first place? I hear you guys asking.
Well, I chose animitas—the little shrines built in remembrance of somebody who died tragically—as my research topic for my BA thesis in Cultural Anthropology, so that’s why!
I tried to find out how aspects of everyday life prevail in the animitas, an expression of popular religion. To be able to do so, I had to find people who actually went to animitas. After learning Spanish…
In more or less four months, I tried to learn Chilean (which is different from ordinary Castellano) well enough to conduct interviews and to find enough information about my topic. I went to libraries, book stores, churches, universities, houses of people I had interviews with and of course, I went to the animitas.
Catching people for interviews was harder than I thought it would be though. Especially after the earthquake, when everybody (including me) had their eyes glued to the images of what remained of Concepción, and nobody was eager to go out into the streets any longer than necessary. It amazed me nevertheless, to see how helpful and friendly people were. They had their hands full of more important things, but they still wanted to help me with my thesis! Without their help, I wouldn’t have succeeded. I still haven’t handed in my thesis, so I can’t guarantee 100% that I succeeded, but I’m pretty sure that it will be good.
Besides studying, Santiago is a perfect place for partying. My house was even situated on Santiago’s party street (Pio Nono in Bellavista), where I lived with two great Chilean students and a fantastic Colombian guy. Of course, the temptation to drink pisco sours (there’s raw egg inside!) and terremotos (liquor with pineapple ice cream—how strange, but how delicious it is for one’s taste buds!) was endlessly hard to bear and therefore, something done regularly.
After working hard on the animitas I travelled with an Australian companion to the north of Chile for some serious adventure: sand boarding, paragliding, road tripping and surfing! But now I’m back in Holland again, in the bathroom in Den Dolder, bored to death and with some serious typing on the program. God, it would be marvelous to go back in Chile…after my financial limitations are erased—and Chile likes the Dutch again. We aren’t all like Joran!
¡Que te vaya bien, Chile!
** I asked Laurie to mention some of the things that impressed her most during her stay here in Chile:
- The earthquake
- Daily culture (such as the little conversations at the supermarket, happy people in the street, getting squeezed in on the subway)
- People always say “¡que te vaya bien!”
- Street dogs
- Relaxed bus “schedule'”