Monday, October 10, 2016

Half-year reflections

Already six months has passed in the never-ending heat of Puerto Rico. I could say the time has passed flying but in some way it feels like six years – not months. Don't get me wrong, I've been anything but bored. But a lot has happened, and I've felt that I've positively changed in a short time.

It didn't take me a long time to settle in mentally, mostly because I already knew most of the people who are super kind and welcoming in any case, and there really hasn't been as many practical problems as there could have been considering it's Puerto Rico in a greatest debt of all time. Also the big change in a style of living, from three-room apartment just for myself to a big six-room house with three dogs and a cat, is one of the things that makes the change tangible.

Most events I've been reporting in the blog as time has passed, although lately very infrequently. For the last month, the most memorable events were having some visitors over: first a group of three Finnish friends (two of whom I met the first time) and then one friend from Brazil, and "el Apagón", the power out caused by a fire in a power plant causing the whole island to lose electricity for a short while for those who had generators, and up to 4-5 days for the more unfortunate people. For me, it took 53 hours, including some 45 hours without water. Fortunately, I have a bathtub that I could fill with water before the pumps shut down and the observatory has its own generators (to charge any electric devices with batteries) and drinking water resources.

Unfortunately for my Finnish friends, the power out hit right in the middle of the week of their visit here. More feeling of adventure, for sure, but many sightseeing places were closed and the shower didn't work. For me it was good luck to have them here because sitting in the dark alone would have sucked much more than playing cards in a candle/torch light did. They also helped me to get a travel gas stove and made great breakfast with it! Awesome people! Also, I'm REALLY happy we avoided hurricane Matthew, which would have hit us only a few days after el Apagón had its path been only 300 km more North.

Torch against a water bottle works well to get more diffuse light than the regular bright beam.

Cooking breakfast during the power out: bacon and eggs on a travel gas stove and coffee by scooping the hot water (boiled on the gas stove before the bacon) into the coffee maker.

Ramses depicting my feelings after the power out.
Sleeping without a fan or A/C in 27 ˚C (80 ˚F) really doesn't work for everyone...

Before they arrived, a local friend of mine was wondering how can I be so trustful about people I don't know well to let them into my house for a week. It wasn't the first time for me to do so; I've had complete strangers over at my apartment in Helsinki from different European countries. And never has any real trouble followed. On the contrary, I've got new friends and the warm and fuzzy feeling inside for helping people out. I guess that in a country like Finland the general feeling of safety makes people naturally more trustful toward other people compared to most other countries where things aren't that well, like here in Puerto Rico.

One of the major things I've missed here has been dancing. Ironically, I did much more latin dancing in Finland than what I've done here. I've had a few (precious!) chances for dancing in one salsa congress and a few social events but I'm still trying to get courage to climb over the language barrier and go to a local dance school to make it regular. In six months, I've been trying to get a hang of the local accent but still can't understand most of the locals who only speak Spanish muy rapidamente with the Rican accent.

Also observing hasn't been as frequent as I would have assumed it to be, mostly due to technical problems, but also due to a lack of possible objects. During the last six months we have observed tens of objects, but the numbers compared to the last year may be slightly lower for this year. Nevertheless, it's been a great privilege to be a part of our planet-defensing team and always exciting to go observing, especially during the survey nights when we try to ping objects that have been detected very recently (as a reminder, we don't look for new objects, we post-characterize them and refine the orbit information).

Next weekend, I'll fly to Pasadena, CA, to attend the biggest planetary science meeting of the year, the best part of which is meeting friends that I usually only see in conferences.

To sum up my feelings from the last six months, I feel myself stronger and more self-confident than before I came here. As I wrote in one of the earlier posts, I used to feel often socially insecure. I'm still quiet and introverted, but I've felt a lot of that social insecurity to have faded with time, new skills and friendships. More and more easily I accept myself, my needs, strengths and weaknesses as they are.

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