Los Lavadores: Discovering Place in the Andes

By Allen, Casey D. | The Geographical Review, July 2012 | Go to article overview

Los Lavadores: Discovering Place in the Andes


Allen, Casey D., The Geographical Review


Nearly two decades have passed since my first professional experience, and upon reflection--and with more time and advanced study--I have reasoned that gaining a deeper understanding of our own, individual sense of place remains paramount to our well-being as individuals and groups as well as to our discipline. This train of thought aligns well with tenets of humanistic geography, for it is through individual eyes that we make sense of the world, of our place in it. A major component of humanistic geography focuses on individual perception of place and space, of our being in the environment (Tuan 1976). In fact, regardless of location and scale, people are, without fail, invariably linked to place via the space--and time--they occupy (Massey 1997, 1999b, 2005; Murdoch 1997; Thrift 2000a, 2000b; Thrift and Dewsbury 2000; Kirsch and Mitchell 2004; Allen 2011). Yet, although studying the landscape via its inherent actors is repeatedly seen as a "humanist" endeavor, the practice actually transcends geography's traditional disciplinary divide and can infuse new life into physical geography theory as well (for specific examples, see Inkpen 2005; Inkpen, Collier, and Riley 2007; Allen and Lukinbeal 2011). In short, instead of being relegated to a purely humanist enterprise, a humanistic geographical framework could be better utilized (and expressed) by all geographers--and all people who study place and/or landscape--regardless of specialty (Massey 1999a, 1999b; Allen 2011). In humanistic style, I present the following personal anecdote as an illustration of place's power to shape our being in space (and time), culminating with connections between the experiences outlined herein and the classic hallmark of geography: fieldwork.

PROLOGUE

Armed with a Bachelor of Science degree in geography, I set out to find "meaningful" employment. After sending out more than four dozen applications in four months, I had secured exactly three interviews for three different types of positions, none of which was related to my degree and none that amounted to more than a thanks-but-no-thanks response (what job seekers call a "bullet," because that is what such a response sometimes feel like). But a little more than a week after my last bullet I answered a classified advertisement in the newspaper for a "Survey Engineer" position who, the advertisement said, would be working in Latin America and staying in company housing, sometimes in tents. The company focused on "mining exploration" and was based in the United States, but it had major expeditions in Chile, Mexico, and Peru. Thinking of this position's potential excitement and the chance to utilize my physical geography skills--I immediately faxed the company my resume.

Two days later--on a Tuesday--a company representative telephoned to schedule an interview the next afternoon. Scrambling, I arrived at the company's "shop" and met with the only other survey engineer. He outlined the job's requirements, asking specifically how my Spanish was and if I had visited South America. My Spanish was near-fluent, I told him, and I had spent time in both Chile and Peru, among other South American countries. We then headed to a bar for lunch where he suggested--I thought jokingly--that we shoot a game of pool for the position. After I sank the last ball in the corner pocket, he said, "Well, it looks like the job is yours." I was ecstatic not just to have a job but to have one that gave me exactly what I wanted at the time: decent pay, adventure, travel, and use of my noggin. By that Friday I was in Santiago, Chile, awaiting the arrival of the company's CEO to train me in using the equipment he designed and built.

After a week of intense training with the CEO, he left me alone to complete the tasks, noting that he was impressed with my work ethic (thank you, rural farm life) and ability to use trigonometric functions to interpret and analyze data (thank you, aerial photography class)--two things he said never came to mind when he thought of geography. …

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