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Assistance June 15, 2014

Posted by stinawp in Uncategorized.

On May 29th, my field assistant arrived at Palo Verde. I met her when she was working here last year for the station director, and I knew we had two things in common. Neither one of us is Costa Rican (she’s Nicaraguan) and neither one of us is anywhere near bilingual.


These two facts create a few logistical problems. The simplest way for a biologist to enter Costa Rica is on a tourist visa. For US citizens, that lasts 90 days, but for Nicaraguans, it’s only 30 days. So she will stay here for 30 days, leave the country for two or three days, and then come back to work with me for another month. This is definitely harder on her—taking two eight or nine hour bus rides to get back to where you needed be in the first place is no fun. But while she’s gone, I’ll have to do both our work.


Next, the language barrier. This has been ably addressed by the bilingual graduate student/station naturalist and by Google Translate. Both of us have improved our language skills a bit already, but when there’s so little shared language, that’s much easier to do when there is an unambiguous reference (e.g., a numerical display). So both of us know our numbers very well now, as well as some project-specific terms, but we’re a long way from chatting.


In some ways, the difficulty with explaining how to assist me wasn’t translation, it was articulating all the procedures and systems I worked out last year. Despite what I thought, I hadn’t listed out every single one of the many, many steps to be performed once a caterpillar was found. Or mentioned that I record dates MM/DD/YY instead of the Latin American (and admittedly saner) DD/MM/YY. Or planned how to divvy up the lab work as well as the field work. Those were just some of the many details I hadn’t thought about when I said “oh, I’ll hire a field assistant for this summer”.


But after a couple of days of working together in the field and the lab, with the graduate student going with us into the field so she could figure out what she needed to explain, we were able to start working separately. We’re being extremely productive (we’re getting more than twice as much done as I did last year), and I’m glad we’ve been able to go our own ways more, especially in the field. While I consider being alone with my thoughts in the field one of the great things about field work, being alone with my thoughts and another person I’m not having a conversation with is just stressful. When you work with someone else, the conversations and companionship are usually another great thing about field work. Silence enforced by a lack of language doesn’t feel companionable, it feels pent-up.



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