Notes from Mexico Trip- Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

MONDAY, DECEMBER 13TH, 1999 -- BIOTECH PLACES & DZIBILCHALTUN RUINS (CONT.)

We thank them and walk to a different lab in the same complex. The mud amongst the grass is muddy, like clay.

There's a 15-day school vacation at the end of December.

Jorge, our guide, is wearing a yellow shirt with orange checkered stripes, with a t-shirt underneath. Maybe wearing an undershirt is another way to tell Mexicans from Americans. Also, leather belt, white Dockers, brown shoes, an analog watch, and a cell phone clipped to his belt.

At the next lab, a very young woman helps us. She is short, black hair tied back with a brown clip, stud earrings, very dark brown eyes. Freckles on her pale-brown skin. A denim shirt and faded jeans. She's only been here for a year. She's had confidence in her work colleagues. She was integrated with the lab very quickly and gets along with everyone.

I ask, What's the personality of people who work here? She says that even though they work here, they have a good relation as friends outside of the job. They do parties and birthdays with people from other labs. They just had a Christmas party where they switched gifts. After you finish your social service (required after University graduation), you make a report like a thesis -- she did this here in her job, not during school -- that's part of finishing school. They held a party for her when she finished her thesis.

I ask if she has a funny anecdote for me. She says that once standing here by the lab bench, one of the pipes on the wall start leaking, releasing a gas. At first, they thought it was gas because the pipe was colored yellow! They ran outside and turned off the tap but it turned out it was only oxygen (or compressed air?) being released -- the colors on the pipes had been accidentally switched. Orange instead of yellow.

What's it like to be a woman in science? She knows when she first came here, there were other people who didn't agree that she should come here. Not because she's a woman, but because she's so young. She has a B.S. in Chemical Eng.

I ask, Where would you work if you were too young to work here? She says she made her thesis before she started getting paid... she worked here as part of her "service hours". She got the job because one of the doctors liked her. There was someone else working here, who'd worked here for 6 years, but who was not "on a contract", who did NOT get the job.

Having a contract means you have social security and infoamavit & the 13th month.

They have deep blue cabinets in this lab, which is L-shaped because the room is shared with an office cut off by glass partitions. Orange & yellow pipes on the walls, thin ones, maybe 2 cm across. It's clean and the A/C is humming. They have a gas chromatograph, white fridges, wooden stools, a white-tiled sink with a bunch of lab glasses: beakers, washed and draining in a commonplace plastic dish drainer rack. Computers along the walls. Yellow and metal and blue pipes for gas.

Another anecdote: Some people came from other places in Mexico to do their theses & needed to be taught. There's a new student getting an MS, and professors are having trouble with her. One year ago, a couple of Swedes came here and they were arrogant and thought that Mexicans didn't know anything. She would order people around, but the Mexicans just ignored her and laughed. Mexicans don't get mad -- they just laugh. But in the end, the Mexicans had to show them everything -- how to use the equipment, etc. When the Swedes finally left, here they held a big party! The doctor who invited the Swedes had problems with them, too.

All the bosses have PhD, and almost all the bosses are foreigners. Only 1 or 2 are from Yucatan. Mostly Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina. They have to send out to Mexico City for research on some animals that they're not allowed to have here. The Chamber of Environment is in charge of authorizing animals: lobsters, sunfish. (This is another agricultural-specializing biotech lab.) There are pay categories from A to I. She is a "B" at 1300 pesos/month. One of her friends is an "I" at 5500 pesos/month.

Even though she makes more than minimum wage, the government pays her infoamavit... any professional institution would. She does not make enough to live in north Merida in the rich section. If she wanted to buy a car: impossible! You'd need 5000 pesos a month for that. But her institution might help her. Big companies, for example, give infoamavit credit.

They work 8-5 but have a half hour for lunch. No siesta. Mexican normally eat breakfast 6-8am, lunch 12:30-2, and dinner 7-9pm. Most high-tech or modern companies don't do a siesta. But even professionals may take a siesta if it's convenient, for example, if you live really close to work.

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