Finally, Ryan went to pick up the keys and on my birthday, we moved into our new apartment. With a Penske truck rental, we loaded up all our furniture from the house on Monmouth and drove the 5 blocks to 7th Street. We unloaded everything and I slowly moved things upstairs while Ryan rushed to take the truck back before we were past our due time. It took several hours, and lots of yelling about how to get mattresses up the narrow staircase, but at the end of the day everything was inside. The cable man came the next day to hook up our wireless router and fancy tv channels. A week later we had put away all the kitchen appliances, and our bedrooms looked like they could be featured in an Urban Outfitters ad. Ryan resumed his usual Friday night activities of drinking a bottle of wine while baking something delicious and using Method products to clean all the common spaces (it’s good to live with a guy that buys nice wine, cooks, cleans, and can fix a car). We had a home, with washer and dryer in the basement and sighed a breath of relief that we were not left homeless. It was a good day (and remained a good home until the bedbugs took over about 6 months later).
Yesterday, we awoke early and set out to find me a place to live. We first went to a primary school run by an old friend of Jaime’s. The friend wasn’t there, but his brother, who co-manages the school was in residence, so we spoke with him instead. In terms of looking for a place to live, we hoped to find a relatively safe neighborhood in a city that is infamous for violence. We were instead directed to Patty, one of the school’s psychologists who had worked in several neighborhoods in the community. She showed us maps and gave lots of advice as to where to base myself. “La Tortuga, pero en un edificio, no en una casa,” she repeated several times.
So Jaime and I thanked her profusely and hopped back in the red Toyota. We drove through a few of the neighborhoods she had mentioned, and eventually made it to La Tortuga [The Turtle], so named because of it’s shape and layout. We saw the edificios [large apartment buildings] she had mentioned, but couldn’t find an office. We stopped at a convenience mart on one corner and went inside to buy two waters ask if the clerk knew of anything available. He didn’t know of anything, but directed us to a slightly larger mart on the other end of the block that had apartments for rent above it. Yet, when we arrived there, we learned they had all been rented.
We were walking to the next block when we encountered three people getting out of a taxi that were walking towards the large buildings. Jaime asked if they knew if there was an office in the building and a younger woman pointed the way. After passing through the secure parking gate, the security man told us to ask the woman in a small booth about rentals. We knocked on the door and Raquel appeared. She told us she might have something, but unfortunately it was fully furnished. “Estamos bien hasta ahora, pero…..???” Jaime asked. She explained it was a complicated situation and her neighbors had left the building with little notice and none of their furniture to move to another region where they own a business. We were still interested so she showed us the apartment, and to be honest, it blew me away. I never thought I’d live in a place so nice in Latin America, and certainly not in this city that’s stigmatized as being poor.
Jaime and I were both thinking the same thing, but there was a catch: I don’t have any sort of legal status here yet. So, with a lot of flashing of Universidad Católica cards and sweet talking by Jaime, we convinced her it was worth the risk. But she still had to call the owners to make sure they would go along with the plan as well. So Jaime and I set off for some Chifa, and she said she’d give us a call. We ordered dinner for two, with chicken and beef and as we were both nearing panchito, Jaime got a call. He looked concerned as he listened, then put his hand to his forehead covering his eyes. I lost hope. But then he smiled and said we would come back after lunch. The owners had accepted! So we paid the bill and drove back to the big buildings where we met Raquel as she finished work.
We drove to the center of town where we had a notary print us a contract for 3 months, and then I took money out of the ATM. But of course, in Chile you can only take out $200,000 (U$400) a day, so Jaime had to lend me a bit as well. We then stopped to buy a new lock, and returned to the apartment. Raquel went across the street where a man she knew lived who could change the lock. But of course the one we had bought wouldn’t fit, so Jaime returned to exchange it, while I looked around to see what I would need to make the place liveable. When he returned my list included: sheets, blankets, curtains, tea kettle. Raquel had already told me she would lend me a few dishes, and there were bath towels still safely stowed in my giant suitcase. We were about to go, when the handyman discovered the second lock had come without a key. So, once again Jaime went to the shop while Raquel and I talked. But when the handyman announced he had to go to work, Raquel looked at her watch and realized she had to leave shortly for class at the university in Iquique. So we stuck the old lock back in the door and locked the deadbolt. It would have to wait until morning to be resolved.
Jaime and I got back in the truck to return to out hotel in Iquique. After leaving the truck in the parking area, we walked to Paris, a big department store. On the top floor we found the cheapest and warmest bed linens. We grabbed a basic electric kettle and some clearance priced curtains, which I paid for with my credit card. Then we went across the street to Ripley to ask about a phone plan. And of course, this was more complicated than I’d hoped. Firstly, because I don’t have residency, I couldn’t get a plan, only pre-paid minutes. For someone studying internet usage and planning to spend a fair amount of time on the internet (plus monthly video calls with all my colleagues, weekly writing meetings, checking in with the folks, etc), that wasn’t really workable. So after checking around and thinking Jaime decided to put me on his plan. But then the helpful Movistar man asked if the phone was blocked. I was fairly certain it was not, but had never had any way to test the theory. And of course, since I let the scheming Verizon man convince me to get an iphone 5 when I walked in totally content with looking at a 4, I needed a nanochip which no one had. But the Movistar guy really was helpful and said we could probably find a nanochip in the market, which he gave us directions to.
This meant that we had to get up super early today. We met at 7:30 and went in search of an internet café. But it turns out we were right about our observations last night (that’s what you get with two social scientists I guess). There were several large parties arriving at Bavaria as we left at 11pm. Some with small children. We joked that if they were eating dinner that late, they wouldn’t wake up until 10 or 11 (I may have been speaking from more experience than Jaime). Movistar didn’t open until 9 and it was only after that we found an internet café.
At movistar we were first in line, but the system was down, so putting me on Jaime’s plan took over an hour. Finally we left with the promise that my phone would have internet in about two hours. We hunted down an internet café (finally open!) and printed three copies of my contract as a visiting scholar for me to sign. Then we high-tailed it back to the hotel, and put my giant suitcase—which by this point had been christened “El Monstro”—and all the bags of apartment goods we bought the night before into the truck. We checked out then headed up the mountain to Alto Hospicio.
As we drove Jaime asked if anthropologist had ever written about a crazy process of defining a fieldsite and finding a place to live. I thought of Daniel Goldstein’s chapter describing introducing himself to the community group. I thought of several old-school ethnographies that described taking a train somewhere to be met by a donkey-drawn cart to get to some village on an impassible road. But no, I couldn’t come up with an ethnography that described the process of renting an apartment in a totally unfamiliar space (Though I would love for anyone who happens to be reading this to clue me in. By all means, please put some in the comments!). But his question also made me think about the processes of renting apartments in other places. The apartment I found on Craigslist with Ryan. The several apartments I learned of by word of mouth in Bolivia. But in Bolivia I always had lots of offers coming in, even when I wasn’t looking for a place to live. By the time I was looking for an apartment there, I was well connected. It occurred to me that as someone studying online social networks, it was very interesting that in Alto Hospicio, word of mouth was the best way to find an apartment (at least in my case), even for someone who didn’t even know the city existed two weeks ago. No Craigslist ads or facebook solicitations here. Good, old-fashioned, asking a stranger on the street good luck.
Around 10:45, we arrived at the apartment to find the lock successfully changed. Jaime helped me carry things up the 5 flights of stairs, then left almost immediately to get the rental truck back before his flight. I cleaned up the apartment and low and behold, two hours later I had internet! This post, brought to you by Movistar!