Friday, September 25, 2015

Culture Filters Reality by Masha Toulokhonova

La Selva Research Station
A clamor of iPhone alarms went off, resonating around the Iguana Residence. Instantaneously and with a lack of coordination, I press snooze. I press my face back into my pillow, satisfied with the 10 more minutes of sleep I’ll enjoy. Less than a minute into my peaceful slumber, echoes of roars surround me. Howler monkeys are an incredibly efficient wake-up call. I really relate to howler monkeys. I, too, would make similar sounds if I were getting rained on every few hours. It’s 5:45 AM, breakfast will be served in 15 minutes, and we’ll depart on a long day of fieldwork at 6:30 AM for our faculty-led research projects.  
The project I was assigned to involved live-trapping wild rodents over a large property, measuring, and inspecting these rodents for ectoparasites (fleas, ticks, lice). Then, inspecting domestic dogs and cats from properties in the area for ectoparasites to see if rodents and domestic animals are possible reservoir hosts for a couple of emerging zoonotic infections in Costa Rica. As a self-proclaimed crazy dog lady, I was highly enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with animals, even if we weren’t allowed to touch them (our professor did all the inspecting and tick collecting as seen below).

Although I loved being around the animals, the most intriguing part of the process for me was visiting the homes and observing different lifestyles. What might be unusual to me could be considered typical in Costa Rica or another place. For example, the role of domestic animals in households greatly differs between my neck of the woods and the few households I observed in rural Costa Rica. While I was definitely surprised at those differences, I realized that my judgment was unwarranted. It is clear that from different cultures arise different practices, lifestyles, and traditions. As we learned in our Ethnobiology class, culture is a filter of reality. This statement may sound simple and obvious, but it is an incredibly important lesson to keep in mind. While our different cultures add color, innovation, and diversity to our world, they can also blind us from realizing that we are all the same at our core.    

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