It hit me today that I only have about 3 weeks left in La Paz!
At first it felt like I had so much time here, but now I’m realizing how much work I have left to do in order to reach all the goals that I set for myself at the beginning of this project! Working in a National Institution (on both fronts, MNA & the Embassy) is different from working in an average cultural institution, in that maybe more bureaucracy goes on, and not just behind closed doors.
It’s been an exhausting ride so far, but also an eye-opening one. I’ve learned a lot of Spanish vocabulary that was never taught in the classroom – little colloquial-isms, phrases, and cut-off words :) I’ve even begun to recall things that I did learn, but forgot somewhere along the road. I speak in a weird amalgum of Spanish, Italian, and English (spitanglish?) all the time, and I don’t even realize I’m doing it. But I think the people I’m work with are even getting used to it. I always say ‘ma’ instead of ‘pero’ – subbing the Italian word for ‘but’ into every sentence…oops. Andrea and Leo are so used it now, that they just laugh and accept it. Thank goodness for them, they’re awesome :)
Even though the economy here is really struggling, half the buildings are run down or deserted, smog fills the air, and I have a difficult time running every time I get out the door, I’ve met some really wonderful people, been a part of a passionate and rich culture, and had the ability to be immersed in one of my favorite things (art!) in a completely new country. Some of the most famous artists here are people I had never even heard of before coming here, despite an undergrad degree in art history.
I’ve seen how much we marginalize third world countries in the U.S., and just how wrong my conceptions of the government and President here were before I came. The truth is, you can never really understand the life or essence of any place unless you live there yourself. Not that short travel and trips aren’t great experiences too, and I recommend international travel to everyone, but they aren’t enough to absorb the way a new place really operates. Two months here is minimal, but it’s been a tiny peek into a lot of the cultural, economic, and political inner-workings of Bolivia, and that’s something I’ll never forget!
Being here is a lesson in patience and adjustment, as things happen much slower. I think I’ve become a much better technological problem solver during this two month stint – every issue that comes up requires a creative and off-the-wall solution...the logical solution never works. And that’s okay. At first it was frustrating, because I had to mold my hopes and grand ambitions for this project around the unexpected stumbles and pitfalls that I naively approached everyday, without even knowing it. Now having spent some time really getting to know this computer, the network connection at the museum, the relationships between staff here at MNA, and the body of records they hope to eventually have digitized completely, there are some things I focus on more than others, and some things I’ve learned to let go entirely.
My scanner isn’t a masterpiece machine, it’s a canon hook-up that an average student in the U.S. might get for free with a standard laptop purchase at best buy, or wherever. File Maker Pro is already running at a tenth the pace it once was, and I have only uploaded around 400 of what will eventually be around 10-15,000 records. It will be molasses by then. But I can’t help that. I have a certain amount of resources to work with. Rather than fret about how sub-par it might be compared to the high-processing machines we have back in the states, I’ve come to realize that the effort to create an archive at all is a great ambition, and I need to give MNA credit for that. They’ve given me the best computer in the office, the only scanner, and completely let me go everyday. There’s no micro-managing, no snide looks or questions about my efforts. They all know that I’m doing something that they didn’t have the manpower or capability to start themselves, and have been remarkably warm and kind-hearted in every moment of my experience here so far.
In my next three weeks, I really really really hope and pray that no more issues come up with the database software crashing on me (but they probably will). I also really hope that a back-up hard drive eventually arrives…but it’s very possible that it won’t. I would like to completely archive at least a few years of MNA history in the archive, but so far I only have 5 months digitized. We’ll have to wait and see what actually gets done – I adjust my goals every week as unexpected things get thrown into the picture. But that’s a part of the job, and one I’ve been very fortunate to have. Although it’s crunch time and I feel like I have hardly any time left, I’m gonna work my hiney off to take care of as much as I can before that last week arrives! Wish me luck!