Where are we now?

View Where are we now? in a larger map Jo, Annie, Miles and I are living in Northport, Alabama and working at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. We've been glad to be in one place for a bit after what appeared to be semi-permanently traveling (in actuality for a period of 2.5 years).We started this blog to catalogue some of the adventures when Jo and I were sequentially conducting our dissertation research in India and Brazil. While we've fallen off the blogging bandwagon somewhat during recent trips to Brazil, we're trying to pick it up again now that we're back in India!

Monday, May 25, 2009


Just a quick note to say that I found a new place to live (pretty quick turnaround time, eh?). It's in the far south of Delhi, whereas I am now in the far north--a bit far from the metro for my liking, but closer to some of the doctors with whom I'm working, close to a big and famous market, and...drum roll!...it has ac! and wirless! and a kitchen and tv and daily cleaning and unlimited clean water! the landlords are a retired couple who have 3 daughters all living in America. Granted, it's more than twice what I'd be paying at this place, but it's only for two months,and it's still significantly less than I would be paying in the US.

As my wise and wonderful aunty reminded me on the phone the other day, perhaps being kicked out of this place was a blessing in disguise. I hope I won't regret jumping on this other option very quickly, but I wanted to snatch it up before someone else did!


So I realized that when posting various posts i need to post them in reverse. so for today read right to left.....:)

The 3 C´s=context, context, context

“Ladies and Gentleman, hombres o mulheres” A common refrain in the house I’m staying in as the teenage boys repeat the few English phrases they know, such as Ladies and gentleman (which I think they got from WWF) (and I translated into Portuguese…)

Well, it’s hard to believe I’ve been here in the settlement for 5 days already. So much has happended both in terms of daily life events, such as swimming in the river, touring the settlement, hanging out and playing mandolin with my new friends, preparing for a massive festa (party) that they had, struggling with Portuguese, succeeding with Portuguese, and that doesn’t even touch on what has been happening with my research. If I was bom (good) I would have written something each day for the blog, maybe that’s what I’ll shoot for, the days have been so busy though, especially the first few that the thought of trying to recap has been overwhelming.

As I haven’t posted anything about the setttlement and general impressions in the context of my research I’ll do that at the expense of giving y’all a daily play by play, which would probably be boring anyways. I will do a little bit of a play by play though for the first few days though as some interesting and important things happened.

But first some general impressions:

In many ways the settlement has surpassed the few expectations that I had had (it’s very hard not to come to a place, especially when one is laboring with grant applications and trying to come up with such silly things)

Demographics of the settlement:

Approximately 800 families live in the 17th do Abril settlement. The “average” family {based upon simple observations} consists of either a male or female (rarely both) and three or four children. Given the rate of teen pregnancies (it is definetly not uncommon for a 16 year old girl/women to already have had three children, or be pregnant with a fourth) the settlement is growing very rapidly. Estimates are for between 3-4000 people.

Spatial context of the settlement:

There are (from my understanding) two general types of organizations of settlements. One is the agrovilla, (which is the type of settlement t“Ladies and Gentleman, hombres o mulheres” A common refrain in the house I’m staying in as the teenage boys repeat the few English phrases they know, such as Ladies and gentleman (which I think they got from WWF) (and I translated into Portuguese…)

Well, it’s hard to believe I’ve been here in the settlement for 5 days already. So much has happended both in terms of daily life events, such as swimming in the river, touring the settlement, hanging out and playing mandolin with my new friends, preparing for a massive festa (party) that they had, struggling with Portuguese, succeeding with Portuguese, and that doesn’t even touch on what has been happening with my research. If I was bom (good) I would have written something each day for the blog, maybe that’s what I’ll shoot for, the days have been so busy though, especially the first few that the thought of trying to recap has been overwhelming.

As I haven’t posted anything about the setttlement and general impressions in the context of my research I’ll do that at the expense of giving y’all a daily play by play, which would probably be boring anyways. I will do a little bit of a play by play though for the first few days though as some interesting and important things happened.

But first some general impressions:

In many ways the settlement has surpassed the few expectations that I had had (it’s very hard not to come to a place, especially when one is laboring with grant applications and trying to come up with such silly things)

Demographics of the settlement:

Approximately 800 families live in the 17th do Abril settlement. The “average” family {based upon simple observations} consists of either a male or female (rarely both) and three or four children. Given the rate of teen pregnancies (it is definetly not uncommon for a 16 year old girl/women to already have had three children, or be pregnant with a fourth) the settlement is growing very rapidly. Estimates are for between 3-4000 people.

Spatial context of the settlement:

There are (from my understanding) two general types of organizations of settlements. One is the agrovilla, (which is the type of settlement this is); in an agrovilla, the houses are clustered together, like a small town, complete with central park, stores meeting places etc. In this type, the people (all I think?) have their own farm plots that are located on the outskirts of town. Envision a donut….hmmmm…donut, a boston kreme donut….Ok, in the other type (of which I don’t know if there’s a formal name), the houses are spread throughout the countryside, and each is surrounded by its own agricultural land. Maybe this one is more like beans and rice? Ok, you can guess what I’m thinking about, and what I’m about to eat (more on this later).

Major Landmarks within Settlement
There is a central grass plaza that the settlement is centered around (the absolute center of the donut). Around this plaza there is a cement water tower which supplies water to all of the houses (a relatively within 2-year recent development). The water that this tower delivers is not potable, but is used for washing, and toilets etc (for those who have it “properly” connnected, many have the plumbing set up but not really working, i.e. some have a large cisten that they manually take buckets of water out of, as does the house I’m currently staying in. They do have purified water though. I haven’t quite figured out where the central filter is, but people bring litros (used 2 liter bottles) to some central place where they fill them with purified water for drinking.

Other landmarks include the IT center (from which I hope to successfully upload this post). The IT center, and its various equipment (LCD projector, sound system, speakers) are a product of a Brazilian project towards “Digital Integration”. As a result, they have an airconditioned room with 10 nice Dells and all the trimmings (I would have recommended Macs but no one asked me).


Probably one of the longest lasting landmarks (soon to be demolished) is the primary school. This school is full of character, but for those who have been going there for the last 13 years think that its horrible, I guess it’s one of those exotic things, a lunchroom covered by by palmfronds, fence made of rough cut wood….but all of this is soon to change for the students and community as the gigantic new school is about to be finished. This “concrete prison” as Dan refers to it, will likely be like most schools I have seen in Latin America, concrete structures with little character….but it will certianly be much larger.


O centro da Saude (the hospital) is fairly nice per my brief perusal (I have luckily not had to have a significnat visit there, and hope to keep it that way!) Not sure what kind of procedures they are prepared to deal with, but seemed clean and well-equipped.

Aside from these major landmarks around which the settlement spatially revolves, the streets are on a grid structure, with each house (which seem pretty uniform from my few visits) with a small front/backyard. What is amazing about the settlement, from my limited observation, and this is something that I might like to explore in later research, is the degree to which the environmental landscape of the settlement has changed since the MST took over the land from the landowner. As people have told me, and as the yellowing photo on the wall shows, the land on which the settlement now reside was completely devoid of any trees or significant vegetation. But now, it is a fruit-lovers paradise. I haven’t done any sort of formal tally yet, but I’ve counted probably 10-15 different types of well developed fruiting trees, shrubs, and vines. Each family has at least 2 different types of fruiting trees on their property. For the novice gringo, it has been an ABSOLUTE DELIGHT to take walks around the settlement, asking my “guide”, the teenage boy Walderham I’m staying with, what each fruiting tree is. My favorite, I think, that is currently fruiting at least, is called “Inga” with the “a” accented. Coming from a tree the very long bean pod is picked, and twisted to open. Inside, when ripe, are large black seeds, approximately the length of a half-dollar, these seeds are covered in a delicous white fur that one nibbles off, what does it taste like?......Inga of course! Other fruits Capu (pronounced ka-poo), passion fruit, mangoes, oranges, bread fruit, and a number of others for which I need to write down the names.

Name that fruit

Well, that was a very long blog entry devoted to context, but for those of us of the anthropological/cultural geographical bend: what is more evocative than a blink?

First Landing

After our fairly epic journey (I’m under no illusion that it couldn’t have been more epic, as we didn’t end up in the river, a giant pothole, or any other forlorn place), we arrived in 17 do Abril settlement. My first clue that it was more developed than I had expected were the giant stadium sized lights that marked the entrance to the settlement. Upon entering the villa (what the settlement is referred to as), we drove around and found Manoela who had been giving a workshop for teachers during the day. We then went to do culturally/politically appropriate thing: have dinner and introduce me to the leader of the settlement. So we went to the house of Goveio, and had a very nice dinner. The most interesting part was the pre-dinner, where Dan, Goveio, and I sat on the couch, with Goveio literally staring at me and sizing me up, while Dan explained in Portuguese a little bit about me, my research interests, and also the history of social movements and political struggle within the United States, and how I could have insights to share with the youth and the community at large about political struggle and civil rights. It was very interesting, and a little nerve racking, as Dan basically vouched for me, and Goveio stared at me as if I were a strange bird that the cat had drug in, which I guess I am. Everything went well though, I passed whatever screening, we had dinner, and we were off to our next location…..

So a landmark for many of our stories will be the casa de cultura (house of culture) , and house of the Evolucao do Juventud Camponesa (EJC), which is the youth (juventud) group that I have become embedded in (to take a horrible metaphor from the years of he who shall not be named). The EJC was formally organized three years ago as part of the work that Dan and Manoela are doing within the settlement. The idea was to give the youth (of which the number is rapidly growing) a space to make their own, and give them some responsibilities to maintain etc. Approximately 3 months ago the EJC petitioned the “Political Association” (more on this later) of the acampamento, and was given a vacant house to utilize.

Anyways, so we arrived at the Casa de cultura/EJC and kids (between the ages of 10-23) were kind of rushing around between inside and outside. We got out of the car and I was introduced to various youth; the funniest introduction was the little girl who exclaimed “this is the david!?!” (in portuguese). Anyway, I wasn’t allowed into the building quite yet, but Dan and Mano were as they helped the kids get ready whatever sneaky thing they had in store.

After a little while of hanging out they blindfolded me and then led me in along a line of people, and my guide had me stop at each one and they whispered something in my ear, and then led me to the next one, at the end of the line they sat me down in a chair and took off the blindfold, the room was filled with candles, and nice music was playing, and on their LCD projector they had a presentation prepared of photos documenting the last few years in the settlement. ok comuter kyboar dying.....

Sunday, May 24, 2009

India, the land of no-expectations

Hello far-away neighbors and friends.

I have just returned from a lovely weekend getaway to Jaipur, India's desert-city capital. My rooomate/friend and I went there to visit some of our old Hindi teachers and do a bit of shopping. We did just that--and thoroughly enjoyed our sumptuous hotel room to boot (it was certainly the nicest place I've stayed in India). I am thinking about escaping back there one weekend later in June or July for an intensive writing retreat--my NSF grant is due early August, so I will have to buckle down and set the research aside for a bit. What better place to do it than a beautiful hotel room overlooking a courtyard with a fountain for only $30 a night?

Our return to Delhi was a bit overshadowed by an unexpected visit from my roommate's landlord, who came to inform her that I MAY have to leave when she does in early June. i had been planning to stay on in this apartment and have already installed an air cooler and paid for internet...so now I am feeling at loose ends. This incident made me realize how much of my 'feeling okay' about my routine in Delhi was dependent upon the fact that I have a nice place to come home to in the evening, in a neighborhood I know. Finding another place is going to be a bit of a trick because most renters don't want to rent for only a couple of months, but most hotels are too expensive to stay in for so long. I have made several contacts about furnished apartments but they are all in south Delhi (I am now in north Delhi and like it here very much).

I am trying to remind myself that things work out here, even if not in the way one expects--take the research assistant, for example. the first one fell through, but the one I have now seems much better. I'm hoping the same will be true of the apartment.

Otherwise, things are chugging along as before. I interviewed my first patients on Friday, and that went very well. I will meet a doctor this morning and interview more patients this evening. One particularly intriguing pattern that is already emerging is women's tendency to talk about "tension" (they actually insert the English word when speaking in Hindi). This seems to be an idiom for a full range of mental health problems, but people don't differentiate it much beyond that (perhaps because poor mental health is still stigmatized here?). It's interesting also because almost all the women I've interviewed so far have stated that "tension" is a cause of diabetes. This tells me that locally, even if people don't have much familiarity with the medical side of diabetes, there appears to be a widespread understanding that there is a mental health component to diabetes. More to come on that.

Love to you all!!

Friday, May 22, 2009

1st post from the field

Lying under my mosquitero (mosquito net), well fed, and banheiado (bathed), I have no idea how to go about recounting my impressions of the trip to the 14 de Abril assentamento (the settlement where I am) or my first 24-odd hours here. Like any story, I’ll start at the beginning (or at least where I left off, as the pleistocene is a little far back).

As Dan Baron Cohen (hereafter Dan) ((my primary contact with the movement)) told me when we met in the Belem airport, as part of anthropology is about getting to the fieldsite, I was going to have quite an experience just getting there. And quite an experience I did have. Dan and I have been emailing for the last 8 months or so; he suggested the 14 de Abril assentamento as a potential field site, and because he has been working with the community here for the last ten years, he was able over the last 5 months to begin broaching the subject of my visit and research with the community, develop a basic “plan” for my time here, and basically get things set up for me. As it will become apparent throughout this blog post, there is absolutely no way one could get access into a social movement/community as I have without Dan’s help (and more importantly the trust he has developed with this community over the last decade. But more on this later.

So Dan and I met at the airport in Belem; I had originally been planning on taking an overnight bus to Maraba, and then a van to Eldorado das Carajas, and then a truck to “kilometer 2” and then a motorcycle the 45 minutes on the dirt road to the settlement, but when Manoela (Dan’s partner whom I had had dinner with surrepticiously a couple nights before in Belem) had spelled out for me the steps necessary to reach the settlement, I thought for my first time, arriving at night, in the rainy season, with two fairly large bags and a mandolin on a motorcycle, just a little more stress than I needed…..so I seized the lucky turn of events that had Dan coming through the airport in Belem, and booked a seat on his flight. So Dan and I met at the airport in Belem (you can tell that this is going to be a long entry…) and flew together to Maraba. Let’s just say that taking off, flying over, and landing in the Amazon, even on a rainy day (which every day is in the rainy season in the Amazon) is on par with flying over Patagonia or the glaciers in Alaska; put simply, unbelievable. One truly begins to get a sense of scale seing the many tributaries of the amazon merge and split. Additionally, as it is the rainy season there is extensive flooding in areas, and the villages near the runway were just completely inundated, which was literally breath taking (in a bad way) to fly over at a 100 feet.

So we arrived in Maraba (an airport of smaller stature than Bozeman for those in the Boze-know). Dan rented a car, and after a few wrong turns (there are literally no signs) we were off. It was about an hour drive on a paved road to El dorado das carajas. The drive was truly unforgettable; aside from having Dan ( a truly wonderful human being) to talk with, the landscape and the road kept my attention riveted. The road first: it was “paved” although approximately every 20 seconds there was either a pothole that looked like it had just eaten a car (and was still hungry) or the side of the road had washed away in the rain. Dan was literally racing against the impending nightfall, as he instructed me that this was the easy part of the trip, and we still had 45 minutes on a mud road awaiting us….Now the landscape; breathtaking would be one word, although not necessarily, at all, in a good way; basically an hour or so of driving by battle pastures, and secondary growth, with the very occasional giant lone rainforest tree still standing. Truly breathtaking and very depressing, basically to think that 100 years ago the entire area would have been continuous rainforest.

But perhaps more than the landscape (and the amazing rainbow that we tracked for quite a while) what was really amazing was seeing the acampamentos of the MST on the side of the road and in fields. We probably passed 4 or so of these acampamentos on our way down to Eldorado (to remind the reader, within the context of the MST, an acampamento (or encampment) is both spatially and temporally primary, it is the first type of :”settlement” that the MST makes when they try to expropriate land. An encampment becomes a settlement when it becomes legally recognized by the government and landowners (which can take upwards of 5 years). During this time, the people are living in makeshift shelters of whatever materials are around, such as plastic tarps or palm fronds. It was extremely powerful to be travelling towards this settlement (where I knew I was going to be living and forming relationships with the people there) and passing by encampments of people who were struggling for the exact thing that “my” settlement had achieved, namely land.

However, no community should have to experience what it “took” for this community to “win” the land. April 17th is a holiday of resistance of sorts, it is known as Dia do Via Campesina. As the story goes, on this day in 1996 the settlers were beginning an encampment of the side of the road, pressing the government to expropriate and release the land that they were claiming was being unused. What happened next there are many different stories for: the basic story is that the police confronted, and massacred 19 of the settlers encamped on the road side. As one drives towards Eldorado das Carajas, one comes across the site of, and memorial to the massacre. The memorial is quite impressive, it’s a series of 19 castanehda trees that were burnt and then planted in the ground in the shape of Brazil. As one can see by this photo, the trees simply tower over the landscape. Quite an impressive memorial to say the least.

Once we reached Eldorado we got off on a dirt (mud) road and to make a long story shorter, basically battled innumerable potholes to reach our destination…..
O Assentamento 17 de Abril.

Monday, May 18, 2009

aspiring to stardom

Well, my talented blogger-husband has really hit the ball out of the park. I am far behind. This will just be a quick post; having read his, perhaps I will start improving upon my own by adding some photos etc.

In a few moments I have to run off to downtown Delhi to pick up bus tickets for my and my roommate's impending (weekend) trip to Jaipur. We're going to visit there briefly because we both spent some time doing language study (me in the summer of 2007, her in the academic year 2007-08). The best part? An ac hotel room! Two nights of good sleep!

Speaking of the ac front, looks like it's going to be impossible to get it in my place. The alternative would be an "air cooler", basically a big fan that blows air over a pan of water and cools it (sort of) as the water evaporates. This might be better than nothing, or it might send my room into a jungle fever of sorts (ie, humidity). Possibly not worth it. Now that the weather is really hot, they've started doing power cuts around the city. Ours was out for a couple hours in the middle of the day yesterday, and then on and off all night. When the power goes out, of course, the fans turn off. This makes for a very, very sweaty time. My sheets have a sweat stain in the shape of my body. Ewww.

But there's more to India than ac (and the lack thereof)! ...My research is progressing well. I'm meeting with diabetologists all over the city, and last weekend I interviewed two potential research assistants. They were both great, but the one who was available during the week is a man (the other is only available on the weekend). He's extremely qualified for the job, however, so I am considering hiring him, even though I'm a bit concerned about the gender thing. I'll be working solely with female patients and asking them some very personal questions, so I worry that they may not be as forthcoming if there is a man around. Sigh. I am keeping my fingers crossed that someone else may emerge from the tangled web of contacts through which I've been trying to find an RA. We'll see.

Last night I had dinner at Subway. I never eat Subway in America, but it tasted so amazingly good. I felt guilty somehow, though--like I was copping out of the 'real' India. Then again, I have to remind myself that 'real' Delhiites eat Subway all the time....

Okay, off to get those tickets and meet with a couple of doctors. More soon!

Dave's not in right now

We think he's somewhere in here.....

but more likely is hanging with his new friends in a setting more akin to this

He's informed us he'll update the blog with first hand breaking news and photos at his earliest convenience, but people shouldn't expect anything for at the very least one week.

Ate logo,
Dave's computer

The offending "pudding"

Now, to be fair (to me), it looked much more pudding like yesterday (see a few posts ago).....perhaps it was that yesterday's was more melted in consistency...VOMIT!

When in Amazonia...

Do as the Amazonians do, or did, at least a few of the very rich ones did(in the late 19/early 20th centuries){wow, talk about some caveats}. Starting tomorrow I'll be doing what the many more of them (the landless and generally poorer peasants) are doing these days, and have been doing since the Amazon was characterized as "A Land without Men for Men without Land" (sic) ((a great future paper title)) by the Brazilian Agriculture and Colonization organization in the 1970s (((remember I told you this blog would be somewhat educational))).

Anyways, per that tangential introduction, I am staying, currently, in the renovated mansion of an Amazonian rubber baron (Amazonia was the epicenter of the rubber book prior to World War 2, when Malaysia took over as a cheap source)

It's a beautiful house, as one might get an idea from these not so great photos...

it's a little hard to get a sense of the scale here, but the ceiling is probably close to 25 feet high (those things in the right are knee high trash cans). It's really an amazing place with gorgeous wood floors (no doubt carved out of what was an even closer Amazonian forest a hundred plus years ago. The place has all sorts of interesting details, such as these wooden windows:

but there are some pretty shady characters here, such as this one individual, who is pretty sad that his female hostel companion is on a far distant shore...

So enough about the hostel, the city it's in, Belem, is quite interesting: founding in the 1600's, it has a mix of colonial and very decrepit modern architecture, actually most of it is decrepit regardless of whether it's 400 or 4 years old, which I'm not sure bodes well...but one thing that is looking quite vivacious is the greenery.

These are giant mango trees that line the road in front of the hostel (no, unfortunately there are no mangoes on them now, although if they were ripe they'd be falling on me, which is a liability, so it's good I guess their not)

The trees here are just, well, what one (might) imagine of the Amazon, covered in bromeliads and lianas (a fancy word for vines).

Aside from the greenery, the city itself is quite nice; for those of us not so geographically inclined, Belem is located on the mouth of the Amazon (i.e. where it flows out into the ocean, not where it starts). Here's a photo of me by the river with the daily storm a-brewing in the background (do I really look this ridiculous, or is it a function of the lens...)

also, there's always time for a dip in ye ole amazon (for those who are braver {read younger and stupider than yours truly)

Aside from the riverfront which has "benefited" from a massive redevelopment scheme, and of which I have benefited from its fine new restaurants...

there are also the beautiful colonial buildings I mentioned earlier....

anyways, well i think that's it for today's blog entry, i hope that wasn't too many photos, i thought it easier for the reader to have them embedded in the blog rather than putting a link to snapfish/picassa where they'd be decontextualized, if you don't like it like this, however, just let me know! I aim to please. Ok, so off to visit a "zoological park" and then to a meeting with remote sensing folks from EMBRAPA! Ate logo!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ooops I did it again!

No, I'm not Britney, although some say I do play her on international soap operas. I seem to have a tendency to make incredible faux-paxs while (trying to) dine in foreign restaurants...some may remember my experience in India three years ago, for those that don't I'll recount it: Eating at a fairly fine dining restaurant with Jade, we finished our sumptuous meal; the waiter brought us out each a little dessert glass of water with a slice of lemon in it, "Oh, thinks I, this must be a fine water beverage for which I can cleanse my palate...." Oh no, it was the hand washing water. Whether or not that contributed to my GI misery only my stomach flora can tell, and boy were they talking.

So this morning, I get up to have breakfast (I'm in a "french" hotel now, whatever that means-((in Belem for those who are googlemapping my "progress" or "downfall"))). Anyways, so I'm having breakfast, eating my sandwich, drinking my coffee and juice, and I go up to the buffet table for some dessert.

I see cakes of various types, and a tray of small pudding dishes. Next to the pudding dishes is another dish that says dolce de leche (which is like a very sweet topping), so me thinks "hmm...some dolce de leche on top of what looks like tapioca pudding, not a bad end to the meal". I sit down to sample this fine pudding and load up a big spoonful, only to determine after putting the airplane in the hanger---that it's butter, which promptly landed in my napkin as I spit it's warm nastiness out (we are talking about butter that has the consistency of tapioca pudding mind you).

All of which is to say, you need to be able to laugh at yourself sometimes, or else you'll be eating butter for breakfast. And no one wants that. Not even the guy who was probably biting his tongue while eating breakfast next to me.

Friday, May 15, 2009

First Contact...

Well....drumroll...first contact has been made! Quite an exciting afternoon. I had tried to set up a meeting with an individual from the Landless Workers' Movement (MST), which has it's national headquarters here in Sao Paulo. I spoke with someone on Tuesday, and sent them a copy of my research proposal. However, I kinda got put on the back burner, and never heard back. As I'm leaving tomorrow for Belem (in the North), from where I'll travel down to Maraba where I'll be staying at the Eldorado das Carajas settlement (I know it's confusing), I needed (really wanted) to meet with someone today. So I called again, and although the guy I originally spoke with wasn't there, someone else was......and so I downed some coffee, grabbed my equivalent of a physician's bag (complete with GPS, digital audio recorder, waterproof field book, and consent forms) and headed off into the rain and onto the metro....

Across town, I walked to the proper address (and actually found it!). The MST have a very beautiful old house in the city as their headquarters. There is nothing from the exterior that gives the building away. But when one enters there is incredible MST related artworks, art that captures the nature of the movement, and the struggle of the settlers for land (I'll try to grab some pictures next time). What followed was very intense: I met with a young woman, who basically interviewed me for about 45 minutes about the nature of my research and all sorts of stuff. Luckily, she spoke Spanish, as I would have done an even more abominable job in Portuguese. It was an interesting discussion, that I won't go into too much, but the upshot is that I think I passed...the first gauntlet. She gave me the go ahead, and from a critical anthropological perspective gave me some meaty bones to chew on, namely that I couldn't compare settlements that are using agroecological education curricula with those that are not (my original plan) because they are all using such curricula; that's the kind of meaty theoretical bone that I was kinda waiting for as it obfuscates more than it illuminates; with settlements spread throughout the country, and in a wide variety of ecological and sociopolitical conditions, it seems clear that the ubiquity of agroecological curricula is if anything a discursive and political phenomenon, and one that I doubt is having as widespread on the ground impact as one lets on....ok well that's kinda letting the cat out of the bag. (Un)fortunately, that meaty bone is also a monkey wrench in the gears of my proposed research, because it will make it essentially impossible to investigate changes in soil fertility as a proxy for the effectiveness of an agroecological program (if all settlements are ostensibly using such curricula); yes, I still could use remote sensing images and look at vegetation changes over time as an ecological proxy for effectiveness of these programs (i.e. charting the changes in vegetation over the last tweny years using aerial/satellite photos, examining the changes as one moves from a non-agroecological curricula to an agroecological one)...but whether that type of analysis will actually work is a completely different story. Ok, well if you made it to the end of that soliloquy...congrats! Now you have a better idea of what doing anthropological research feels like....on the metro home I surmised it as such: waking up from a nap in the middle of the day (when you shouldn't be napping) and then having someone waterboard you, and then letting you go and giving you a double shot of espresso, followed by a giant slurpee that gives you a brain freeze that makes the world starts to spin, and then makes you do a handstand.....all fun and games right.....

and that's not even broaching the subject of what happens when you forget to tell your credit card company that you're leaving the country for a few months and not to block your card....but that's another brain freeze....

Thursday, May 14, 2009

caving in

Alright, after many requests from dear friends and family, I am going to try to make a post every now and then...although I'm afraid that I've never been much of a blogger. I much prefer to actually correspond with people, but I will try this.

Anyway, things are going alright here in India. It's very hot, as you might imagine, and my apartment (like most apartments) has no AC...at the moment. I am looking into renting a unit for the summer, but I need my landlord's permission, and I would also probably have to get an electrician in here to add a new switch to the circuit breaker. Seems like a big deal, but in India's service economy it wouldn't cost much and would probably be worth it. We'll see if that pans out. Other than the AC issue, the apartment is great. A friend of mine from a previous study abroad program in India has been living here teaching English for the past year, so she has already done all the legwork of finding the place and getting it outfitted with the basic necessities. She unfortunately leaves the country in early June, but I'm going to stay on in the apartment thereafter. This has made for a very easy transition; I tried looking for a place of my own, but I had no luck.

The first few days here were really, really hard. I had made very few contacts, my roommate was traveling, and I had nothing much to do yet. I also got a bit sick from a bad lassi at a very reputable restaurant. However, things have been looking up. Every day I have at least one meeting with a doctor or a researcher who's doing something related to diabetes, and I've started taking detailed field notes in the mornings like a good anthropologist. Today I'll start translating my questionnaires into Hindi with a friend of my roommate who's going to work for me on a paid basis. I have gotten at least four diabetologists in Delhi to agree to participate in my research at this point. I will call them all to follow up today, and hopefully I will soon be able to start interviewing patients. Before this happens, however, I need to find a research assistant. This has proven to be the biggest obstacle to my research so far. I have literally more than 10 people in Delhi helping me look for someone, but nothing has worked out as of yet.

So that's the play-by-play on the research end. In other news, I have several friends who will be traveling through Delhi over the course of the summer, so I'll get to see people here and there. My roommate and I are planning a short trip up to the mountains just before she leaves the country. The other night, we went out to Subway (yes, there is Subway here, and it's right around the corner from my house, no less!), and tonight we're going to her friend's wedding reception.

...and I'm monopolizing her computer, so I should go. How was that for a first blog post?

Baby steps....

In my experience, "baby steps" are the perfect metaphor for fieldwork. Part of the reason is because you're learning (a lot from the culture(s) {both ethnic and organizational) of the area and issue to the language and so many other things) and you'll inevitably fall on your face and start crying...(will someone hand me a tissue?). However, also like baby steps, when someone isn't there to pick you up you have to do it for yourself, and that leads to a beaming smile, which is a sign of accomplishment and growth. Wow, that was incredibly cheesy and a ridiculous sentiment.

So my baby step for today: I had asked my contact within the MST if there was anything (supplies or what not) that I could bring with me to the settlement, as a sort of thank you/welcome gift. I was thinking rice, or oil, perhaps pencils and paper, but oh no...apparently their hot for radical American protest music, posters, signs or other forms of propaganda. Goes to show that functionality is in the eye of the beholder. Anyways, so i consulted the list of radical bookstores that's listed on Slingshot, and found that there is one in Sao Paolo. After determining how on earth to get there via the metro and foot, I strapped on my murse, that's code for man-purse (seen below) ((I went for the leather thinking I would fit in....I think that works better than the straw hat that I've jettisoned to under the bed...we'll save that for when I'm in the campo proper))

Anyways, murse strapped on, I took about an hour metro ride, then braved the streets of Sao Paolo only to find that this radical bookstore was either a)no longer in existence, b)closed, or c) planning something radical and couldn't be bothered to open the door {Those anarchists can't trust them...no structure}. So it looks like my future comrades in the north will have to do with some downloaded from the internet protest music. Luckily, I know where to look http://www.davidrovics.com/

So, feeling a little discouraged (Although I did actually find the place, which is always a small "baby step" {see there's a theme here}, I got back on the metro and headed back to the Osa hostel. One small rumination, a tangent, if you will, is that it is always interesting to compare cities. No, I'm not saying that Sao Paolo is objectively better than Atlanta, although it's public transport system certainly is, and well it's public art is as well (see the sculpture below from the metro)

and well, literature has beat out coke for a primary place in the Metro's "snack machines"

Yes, that's right, they sell books from vending machines at approximately a dollar a pop...anyone want to read up on MLK or perhaps Excel? Probably a cultural/political/material vestige of when Paulo Freire served as the Cities minister of education from 1987 to 1993 (and you thought this blog was just for shits and giggles, no you will get educated here!)

Of course, like any good story, today's blog entry will end on a good note (it has to by definition, right?). Upon returning to the Oca I played mandolin for nearly an hour and a half, oh no that is just the apertif, although the neighbors probably wished it was the dessert. No, the real upshot of the day was that I got an email response back from a networked query I had earlier sent out. A friend of mine, Sergio Bernardes, who is a doctoral student in UGA's Geography department, is Brazilian and has worked for a number of years with remote sensing applications (think fancy mapping from space). He provided me with the email contacts (and perhaps more importantly proof-read my Portuguese email!) of individuals working within EMBRAPA (Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária) r/ , which is the equivalent of our....hmmm...maybe the USDA plus the EPA plus our USGS? Not quite sure, but it's a major Brazilian research arm of the government, and I've got a meeting with their research team for Monday (fingers crossed) in Belem, where we will be talking about potential areas for collaboration! Very exciting indeed. They are working on a project using remote sensing to monitor land change in the northeastern Amazon, wait as second...so am I! Anyways, so I'm really excited about this baby step and hope the meeting turns out well. If nothing else, you gotta crawl before you can walk, and you gotta fall before you can crawl. Someone hand me a bucket so I can vomit, I disgust myself....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


No, I'm not a cow, although, yes I did eat (part of) one for lunch today. Yes, it's true, I've gone completely over to the dark side, i've had meat during each meal I've been south of the equator....who knows where it'll all end....mmm my arm is looking tasty! No! There's bug spray on it, not for eating!

So, as you the blog reader might surmise, these are random ruminations. But beware, you might get something out of them.....

Rumination 1) It is imperative that one have a musical instrument in the field. This serves not only as an ice breaker, and a time-killer, but is instrumental (OMG that is too funny) in warding off marauding tropical plants (see previous post).

Rumination 2) It is imperative that one have a computer...Ok, maybe not, I'm sure our anthropological forefathers somehow survived...but how I don't know. Seriously though, when one has internet access it makes maintaining communication with friends and loved ones, not to mention potential research collaborators and interviewees, much easier.

Rumination 3) It constantly astonishes me how much literature is out there in other languages (namely that of the country you're working in-yes they do read and write down here!) I came across a bibliography of MST related scholarship at http://www.landless-voices.org (which is a great sight for those interested in finding out what this MST thing is really about.

Rumination 4) One must eat and drink (not just coffee). It is too easy to keep doing whatever one is doing (walking all over the city, fighting figs with a mandolin, deep hanging out) without stopping for an actual meal...now where did that meandering cow go to.......

Day 2-Deep Hanging Out

Dispatch 2 from Sao Paulo

It's funny, when I arrived I thought "Great, there's only an hour time difference from the East coast, so I'm not jet lagged!". Only thing I didn't realize is that it gets dark here at 5:30 because it's winter in the Southern hemisphere! I don't know if I've ever experienced a "day light change" like this before, but it's quite strange, because the time hasn't really changed (like it does when you arrive in India thinking it's breakfast when in fact it's dinner) but my body feels confused (yes, more than normal) because I left the states with it getting dark around 9. Ok, enough cursing the oscillations of the sun and its effects on our wonderful little planet.

Today I took care of some more logistics related to my research. Unfortunately, this involved what we in the field of anthropology refer to as "deep hanging out". As you can see from the photos below, taken at the unbelievable Parque Ibapuera (the equivalent of central park on steroids for Sao Paolo), deep hanging out can be very tough...

What this green oasis doesn't show is that I was forced to battle plants, yes, that's right, wild plants, such as this strangler fig!

Which for those of you aren't familiar with Latin American botany, was a harrowing experience that I barely escaped from...

Aside from battling strangler figs with my mandolin, which might be all it's good for, I've been working on setting up the framework for a collaborative research protocol. What this means, is that unlike our anthropological forefathers, who went and observed the "natives" taking their "data" back to the "first world" (ok, enough quotation marks) I'm interested in having my research be more ethically guided, and thus collaborative with the organization that I am interested in working with and studying. For those of you not familiar with the field of "deep hanging out", this move towards collaborative ethnography (ethnography being the methodological bread and butter, or steak if you will, of the discipline. What this entails is a longer process than most research/researchers would take in terms of laying the groundwork and working to determine in collaboration with one's traditional research "subjects" what the goals of the research should be, from each entities perspective, what benefits as well as potential threats could arise from it (no, no lobotomies scheduled yet), and how data will be used, repatriated, etc. All of which requires some very deep hanging out......

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Saudações do Brazil!

Greetings all!

Hard to believe it's been going on two years since this blog has been updated. Much has changed, and much has stayed the same. Following on my last entry (from 2007), I'm down in the big south, no, not Atlanta this time, but Sao Paulo, Brazil. For those of you who don't know, I'm here for the summer doing pilot research for my anthropology doctorate at UGA. For my research, I'm studying the role of education within a social movement known as the Landless Workers' Movement. That's the one sentence cocktail party version. I'll try to figure out how to upload a document where those interested can get a clearer understanding of what in the world I'm doing traipsing around the Amazon.

First impressions: wow! Sao Paulo is a BIG city. Ok, that's an understatement, it's apparently the biggest city in the Western hemisphere, and I can believe it. Between flying over the waves of skyscrapers to taking an hour and a half public transport voyage involving buses and various metro lines (beat that ATL!), and then walking to the hostel, I've realized that Sao Paulo is a city of superlatives. The hostel I'm staying at is absolutely perfect. I will take some photos, but it's in a quiet neighborhood, near a huge park (my goal for this afternoon), it has an amazing breakfast of fruit and assorted goodies, wifi, friendly service, and all for about $16 USD (so not too bad)...did I mention that there's always a carafe of coffee full? And, no, we're not talking nescafe here.

What additionally was really nice about the trip, was that Sao Paulo is only 1 hour ahead of the east coast, so even though I've had an insane few days of traveling to get here, from driving from ATL to DE, running around, then flying down here etc etc. I'm not in that surreal state of exhaustion that hangs over me for a week when I go to India. In terms of what everyone at home was asking me b4 I left, the Portuguese is going....tudo bem! I feel like my mind is like a sieve (although sometimes it feels like as much is leaving as entering); taking the public transport to the hostel I was reading all the posters and signs, asking directions, and I made it without getting lost (partially due to the detailed instructions I had gotten in English from the hostel prior to traveling!) So, yeah, the trip is off to a great start. I brought my mandolin and was sitting here serenading the unfortunate passerbys earlier as I drank my coffee, after this I'm going to get to "work" translating some questions courtesy of google translate (the most amazing app I've run into recently) and then (fingers crossed) I'm going to call the headquarters of the Landless Workers Movement and try to schedule a meeting for tomorrow (meeting with these people is why I'm in Sao Paulo to begin with, and they don't "do" email, so I wasn't able to organize it from the states). This meeting is a pretty big deal in terms of my research, and so I'll be really happy if I can actually orchestrate it, and get a few questions that I'll have translated answered. Aside from that.....it's time for some "deep hanging out"
Ate logo!