11/28/09

Time has absolutely flown by with bright colors and beautiful sounds. Just the fact that it has taken me this long to update should be somewhat of an indicator. I have been incredibly busy as a few big things have become prominent aspects of my life here in Belem.

The first of these was the end to our formal classes and our finals period which basically occurred from November 4th-11th. It was by far the most actual work I had done during my entire time here. In each of our classes – Portuguese, Environmental Studies Field Seminar, and Thematic Seminar on Amazon Resource Management and Human Ecology – we had a final test as well as other assignments so I was basically just running around trying to finish everything. Not the most fun that I have had since being here, but I was extremely relieved to be done with it all and felt incredibly freed to not have class to attend every day.

The next is by far the biggest thing on my plate right now – ISP or Independent Study Project. A whole 4 credits in and of itself, the ISP is a month long period where each student on my program completes some type of independent research project and writes a 20 – 30 pg academic paper about the study and results. To my surprise this has proven to be extremely challenging for me as I have faced many road blocks along the way and have been helped very little throughout the process. My ISP is essentially to identify and analyze the impacts that the creation of the Mae Grande Extractive Reserve in Curuca, Para (about 3 hours northeast of Belem) has had on the local communities living within the reserve’s boundaries. Just as a bit of background extractive reserves are areas of forest (in this specific case mangrove forest) which have been set aside by the government as protected areas but allow traditional communities to continue to live their sustainably extracting fruits and the like from the forest. This is considered to be a very exciting type of conservation strategy but is also controversial as it is unknown if this livelihood can truly be sustainable or produce a viable economic alternative for communities to cutting down the forest for cattle or agriculture. For my ISP I created a questionnaire to be given to community leaders living in the extractive reserve asking questions about how various aspects of life have changed for their communities based on the regulations, etc. that came along with the creation of the extractive reserve. I hoped that by asking community leaders I would gain an understanding of the social impacts that the communities themselves had felt from the creation of the reserve in order to better understand and add to the conversation of the successes and downfalls of extractive reserves as a conservation strategy for the Amazon. Upon arriving in Curuca for the first time it quickly became clear that the organization which I was supposed to be working with had much less infrastructure to support my project than had been made known to me. I was told that I could not have access to a car with which to travel to the various communities, and therefore I was forced to change my original idea of meeting and interviewing the community leaders into a questionnaire which I would make copies of and give to Liliana, the community leader which has the best relationship with the organization, who would then distribute them to other community leaders at a meeting the following week. In a way this made my job easier not having to worry about the language barrier nor the time commitment, but at the same time I did feel a lack of connection with the people I was trying to gain information from. It also left much of the process out of my own hands is always rather nerve-wracking. I am headed to Curuca tomorrow morning to pick up the surveys and attempt to journey to another one or two communities in order to try and expand my data a bit, but it is very hard to say what I will be met with upon my arrival. It is unfortunate that I haven’t yet gained a great deal out of the ISP process but I am not giving up yet. I still believe that I have the opportunity to learn a great deal from the responses I receive from community leaders – and I still have a 20-30 page paper to write!

Last week was a very exciting time for me as my boyfriend, Chris, came from New York to visit me in Belem. I had a great time introducing him to the many aspects of my experience here in Belem and found it very interesting to see the way in which he reacted to the language, the people, the food, and all of the things that we encountered. We stayed in a hotel downtown in the bairro Sao Braz which was nice because we had greater access to the city than we would’ve had we stayed with my host family. The first night as we were walking around we came to the Mercado de Sao Braz, a historic building in the city, and stumbled upon a hip hop and carimbo festival. It was a great environment to welcome him into Para’s vibrant music culture. We met up with Madi, a friend of mine from the program and together we embarked on a crazy adventure through the city involving new friends, a reggae bar, and about an hour and a half of walking. While we were very tired the next morning Chris and I woke ourselves up and traveled to Benevides, a more rural city about an hour from Belem. There we met up with a Brazilian friend of mine who had offered to let us pass the day with him and his friends who had a sitio out in the forest. Our brigade of seven mounted two motor cycles – one of which had a small wagon in tow and rode for an hour or so through the dirt roads out to the rainforest. This place was truly my vision of paradise. It had substantial forest both primary forest and very old secondary forest, and additionally the houses which existed few and far between were surrounded with lush undergrowth as opposed to the usual barren land which remains after it is cleared. The sitio was actually located inside of a type of landless people’s settlement which, after talking at length to the owner of the house, I learned had the primary goal of preserving the forest inside of their settlement. I thought this was extremely poignant to hear an average rural Brazilian man tell me how important he felt it was to save the rainforest and that his group was actually doing something about it. I have vowed to return to this piece of paradise and I also to learn more about the morals of this group of landless workers. It was also wonderful that Chris had the opportunity to experience another reality of Brazil as well as a substantial part of my experience here. Throughout the rest of the week we visited the Museu Emilio Goeldi – an area of forest within the city that has been turned into a type of zoo boasting an impressive array of animals native to the Amazon – the place where Chris finally got to see monkeys in Brazil, Ver-O-Peso – the largest outdoor market in South America – to do some shopping and learn about the many local Amazonian goods for sale, and many other places as well. We were able to relax and pass nights at local bars near our hotel and Chris definitely got his fair share of Portuguese, street food, and the crazy Brazilian bus system. All in all it was wonderful to spend time together and I really enjoyed showing him what my life has been like here in Brazil and I feel that he learned a lot and gained a more realistic picture of what life is actually like here.

Otherwise, like always, I have been greatly enjoying every minute that I get to spend with my Brazilian family, journeying to birthday parties, movies, supermarkets, and more. It is so hard to come to grips with the fact that I will be leaving them in just over two weeks – I am literally already thinking about when I might be able to return to Brazil. I truly feel like I have created a life here and I have developed a great love for the Amazon, Para, and Brazil as a whole.

Ate mais! (Until later)

And trust me I will be updating again once or twice before I leave – there is still so much to say!

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Kathee McCormack said,

    Thanks for sharing, Carra. As usual we enjoy your descriptions and insights. Love Mom


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