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!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Damn I'm good!

To begin with: for those of you who haven't had the privilege of visiting the Weaver's home in Bloomington, IN. the "damn I'm good" reference is to a coffee cup that Jo's grandfather frequently used, and that now resides in the Weaver's house.

Now: Damn I'm good! This slightly egotistical characterization is in reference to the sentiment I recurrently felt on Saturday night. Again, here's the context....

So I wanted to do something special for the three families I have been staying with. Originally I thought I would cook a meal for each of them separately. However, as Saturday, my last day in the settlement rolled around, I realized there was no way I was going to pull off cooking three individual "American" meals...

So I improvised, I thought I'd cook one meal for all the families..and then I thought, wait, I can't cook for the families without inviting all the kids from the youth group I've been with. Sooo...as the rapidly growing guest list (now at around 40) started to cause a panic attack (it was already 2 pm for a 7 pm dinner party), I went into overdrive going to the village's very very sparse "comerciales" (grocery stores that basically sell the very basic staples, rice, beans, pasta, oil, and a few vegetables) to try to find ingredients that I could use to cook an "American" meal for 40 people....what I settled on: a fritatta.

So those who know my cooking skills would doubly echo the title of this blog if they say the preparations, and result:

Ingredients: 60 eggs, a bag of onions, bag of peppers, bag of potatoes, kilo of cheese, and huge bag of steak....

Tools: One dull knife that was probably never meant for cutting, several old pots and large cake pans, an oven that just had an "on" switch, much less a temperature gauge, and a rural clay stove that was built out of mud before the settlement had gotten "development", but are still used frequently....

Workers: Two of the mothers of the houses that I stayed with, their daughters, and a silly gringo

The Process: An amazing and absolutely delightful intercultural learning experience! I "billed it" as an integration of Brazillian and American culture: I taught the mothers how to make a fritatta, and they taught me how to cook beef for 40 people! Considering I've never cooked meat before (much less handled it raw) it was definitely a growth opportunity....

Result: An amazing frittata, cooked perfectly i might add (sorry no photos), forty+ well fed people (perhaps the biggest miracle in itself), and all timelessly integrated into the Youth group's own plan for a going away party for Me!

For while I was running around like an absolute nut, going to people's houses to invite them, getting provisions, like said big bag o meat...., etc, the youth group was planning my going away party. All of this, my dinner party for them, and their going away party was fairly spontaneous and just happened to coincide at the Casa de Cultura (their youth space)...well "just happened" sort of...let's just say I had a vision (damn i'm good)....

So at 8 we started carrying the food into the youth group space. They had the place all set up with a LCD data projector and screen, etc. And then they told me i had to leave, so someone escorted me out, and took me on a somewhat arbitrary and random motorcycle ride around the settlement while the group prepared their event. When we returned, someone stepped outside to indicate that I could come in:

It was very much like the event they had planned to welcome me (although I wasn't blindfolded). Everyone (all 40 or so of them) were crammed into the room, sitting on these red cloths, that are a sort of cultural symbol for the MST. They had me sit on my own cloth in the center of the circle of everyone. And then they began their "mistica", they showed this powerpoint which was a combination of some poetry with John Lennon's imagine in the background. Each person read a bit of the poetry...and then many gave a little "speech" or reflection on my time there...it was VERY VERY touching. And then they gave me a bag of very thoughtful gifts....books of poetry and other literature that they had written inscriptions in and tucked little hand written notes in....I got a chance to give my own reflections...the whole experience was so special and hard to put words to. The photos below probably mean and say more to me than they do to you, but they are meant to just give you an idea of what I'm describing.

The first is a photo of Dona Olinda reflecting on my time in her house...and reminding me that the doors are always open for me there...

The second is a somewhat funny photo of Luis (the settlement's leader whose wearing a green shirt) giving his 5 minute reflection (very latin american political leader style....)

The next of me opening one of my presents: a via camponesa flag (an international social movement) ((I also got an MST flag that I'm very proud of and will go very well in our house...it's red!)

And a picture of us sitting....

As a relative of mine would have said: wonderful people, a wonderful place, and wonderful memories. Just wonderful...

Everyone's a cartographer...

Hard to believe it's my last day in the 17 do Abril settlement, and what a doozy it's turning out to be!

But with every story…there’s a back story, so kick back and get the context, because without you’re lost in space….

So I believe that I’ve mentioned before on the blog my efforts to secure a good accurate map of the 17 de Abril settlement. If you missed that entry, the purpose is to get an “accurate” base map of the settlement (which is pretty large, about 15 miles on a side, with 6000 people, so a little large for me to map on my own); this map will be an integral base (literally) upon which I anticipate overlaying all sorts of other data, additionally having a good basemap as part of an integrated geographic informations system (GIS) database will allow me to make “queries” of the map. For example, if I can obtain data on fire prevalence and forest cover, I can ask the GIS program to indicate which of the 1200+ land lots fit certain criteria, such as X number of fires, with Y % of forest cover….so that’s the background idea.

The background context is that I asked the settlement’s leader, and found out that they do have some maps. He first showed me the giant one which was in pretty significant disrepair (photo); thinking this would be my only copy and chance to see it I took about 70 high res photos that I anticipated laboriously stitching together. Later that day he came by the house with a much cleaner and manageable copy, of which I only took 15 pictures.

Now at this juncture, I thought I was pretty set. I have enough training (I thought) to do what’s called “georeferencing”; the objective of georeferencing is basically to take an image (such as a photo of a map) and place it correctly in geographical space (imagine taking a map of your street and pinning it to a very large map of your town, with the point being to have it match up exactly perfectly so that your house is right where it should be..if that makes sense). What is needed to do this is for one to take between 4-7 GPS points (or waypoints) at known locations on the map. In my case, I thought this would be fairly simple, because on the large map the goverenment showed that there were numbered markers between the land lots…easy…..

Or so I thought! First problem: getting out into the country without transportation (solution: take the school bus out to the roca and walk along the hot dirt roads); Second problem: those “markers” might have been there 13 years ago (or people might have known where they were), but they’re no longer (solution: assume that where the fences (that seperate the lots) intersect the road is where one of the land markers is…and yes, I know what “assume” stands for: something that makes an “ass out of u and me”; third problem: people are sure they know the number of their lot, but it according to the label on the map, they’re wrong (solution: think spatially about the extent of their land in relation to other plots and determine who is actually correct); problem four: the map was made in a hurry and just isn’t correct, i.e. roads do not cross rivers where they “should”, solution tough shit-deal with it. All of this is part of what we call in social science an “adaptive methodology”!

So that’s the fairly long context, to this morning’s doozy. I went to the “associao” (basically the town hall), to have a look at the official big map with the names, prior to trying to head out to the roca for the last time to get a few more GPS points. When I arrived at the associao, I told one of the women who works there that I wanted to see the big map (no big deal, I do this fairly frequently)…so we go in, and as I’m unrolling the map this guy walks in and says “GPS”….and I’m like huh? A) who are you?; B) how do you know what a GPS is?, C) what do you want from me, D) how drunk are you (considering there was a big party the night before and the individual not only smells, but still appears inebriated (aka bebo).

So, I assume at first (remember what that stands for) that it must be someone that’s heard I’m doing something with maps, and that involves something called a “GPS”, which he’s managed to remember and repeat in his inebriated state…and then he goes away…and comes back with his own GPS unit, and starts explaining that he is a free-lance cartographer, that made the maps, and has all of the data digitally!

So my head’s spinning….and it turns out he doesn’t have the data with him on this GPS device (i.e all of the coordinates for the land lots, rivers, roads, everything-which if I could get would save me at least two months of manual work) but on a pen drive about an hour away….so for those of you who know my scheming ways I went into overdrive, trying to figure out a way to rent a motorcycle to get him to his pen drive to my computer….but oh no, he had a better idea…..of course what that idea was I’m still trying to figure out….

So I think in retrospect is that he was trying to help me do what I was trying to do anyway, i.e. georefernce the basemap….and to do this he unearths a stack of several thousand maps of each individual land lot (that were in some random filing cabinet the whole time, of course no one mentioned this to me, which would have saved hours of walking the hot dusty roads), and we start combing through them, trying to find 19 or so known points on the map (the individual maps have coordinates). Needle in a haystack comes to mind…as does the words cluster fhjk!

Now, I’m going to spare you a lot of the other details, like when a political meeting starts in the room, and everyone becomes a cartographer and very interested in finding their lot, and then arguments ensue as the map is supposedly “not correct”, and then we get asked to leave “just for a minute, as it’s going to be a very fast meeting”, go to sit in the small anteroom and get locked in for the approximately 3 hour duration of the fast meeting (rappidigm my ass!).

However, when 4 hours later, when we had finally found our 19 needles, and the strange inebriated man had input “them” into my GPS device…I did a very silly thing. I checked it….

Now this might be another one of those culturally relative things, but in my mind sometimes there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. Not labelling GPS points would be the wrong way. Especially when the 19 sheets that have the numbers are now somewhere in the middle of that several thousand pages maelstrom of papers….so now I have 19 GPS points and no idea what they REALLY represent.

Of course, I have his email and phone number, and he “promises” to send me all the data…let’s just say I’m not not holding my breath just for the lack of an alcohol smell.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Last sights...

Well, I've been in Belem for three days now, and figured before too much time passed I should post some last images from my time in 17 de Abril settlement.

The first is a picture of Bernard on the hunt (yes, we went again, this time in the daylight, we caught nothing, but he went back out later that night ((I stayed at home!)) and did catch an armadillo...tasty)

(Un)fortunately there are a lot of photos, and to save you/and i the trouble of writing a 1000 words about each one..I'll just put a few words to go with the photos...


A photo of the mother, son and grandson of the last family I stayed with


A photo of the father and the grandson

A photo of me and the son doing some mental mapping using natural objects of what the landscape of the settlement looked like 15 years ago, at present, and what it will look like in the future.

A photo of me conducting an interview with Bernard

A photo of me taking GPS points

A photo of me doing a focus group with teachers

A photo of a meeting of the youthgroup at the casa de cultura

The circus comes to town!

Pretty cacau...

Bernard maintaining his hunting forest

A photo of Bernard, Dona Olinda, and their granddaughter

Some Macaws sitting in a tree

Altomiro standing beside some of the trees he planted 4 years ago! (yes, things grow VERY fast here)

And a parting shot, Altomiro with his cacau seedlings...the future of his forest

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

the little things

Being in India--or, I would imagine, in any faraway place for an extended period of time--makes me appreciate strange things that I would typically overlook in the states, viz. my new-found obsession with X-Men.

Ya, Hugh, that's just about how I feel when I go outside into the blistering heat (requisite weather complaint: see

nuff said)

So, after seeing the most recent X-Men movie on the big screen last weekend, I have been downloading bits and pieces of the other 3 movies on the internet all week. And I will admit, with some chagrin, that I already have plans to see the film again this coming weekend. I don't even like action films! Or sci-fi films! Or whatever you'd call X-Men.

I had a similar experience recently with a culinary delight called "Suddenly Pasta Salad".

My dear former roommate was kind enough to leave me a year-and-a-half dusty old box of this stuff when she left India. Someone had sent/brought it to her from the US, and she had never gotten around to using it. I thought to myself, "What the hell am I going to do with this?!"...and a week later, it was gone. The entire, mushy, just-add-mayonnaise bacon-bit-flavored box of it. Devoured, with glee.

I recall a similar incident during my year as a student in Banaras involving five people and an entire log of Velveeta "cheese" that had been sent by one of my compatriots' moms.

All of which is to say, India makes you appreciate the little things. This is, in fact, one thing I love about India. Take my new roommate, for instance:

He has been wandering around my kitchen for several days now. This morning I found him moored in the sink, an undoubtedly traumatic experience for him, but it gave me the opportunity to pick him up and feel his sticky little feet clinging onto my hand. He's currently excaped the heat of the kitchen and is hiding under my bureau.

One of these days I'll get around to writing a blog post about my actual research, which is coming along quite well. In the telling it's not very exciting, so I have been trying to think of more interesting things to write about. Basically, I just go to a different clinic every day and wait around for patients to show up. In between, I am doing some networking with professors, professionals, and doctors. The hard part was locating doctors and getting their permission. Now that I have done so with about 13 docs, the research practically runs itself. Sort of.

I will leave you with a parting photo. This was the view from our hotel in Goa:

The Phases of Research

For a while now I’ve been meaning to write a blog post illustrating some of the stages of the research process (I’m going to wait on my more artistically oriented friends, you know who you are Charrow, to illustrate this post, and for you Joao to write music to accompany it….perhaps if (when) my research flops we can turn it into a broadway show)….

Well here are some of them:

1) The absolute B.S. phase
In my experiences to date, before one goes “to the field” it doesn’t matter how prepared (theoretically) you think you are, how much you’ve read on the topic etc. Everything changes when the proverbial bus pulls away and you’re there “alone” with “the natives”(satirical anthropological humor). But that’s the point of pilot research, right? Anyway, as part of this phase the young intrepid researcher must write numerous grant applications, for which s/he must pull together disparate theories, random factoids, and find some pressing global/local issue that ties them all together…..and make it sound like only s/he is omniscient enough to see the relationship between these issues, and that only s/he can conduct the research…absolute B.S.

2) The Staring into the Crystal Ball Phase

Then there’s that strange and nebulous time that follows arrival at the field site. I would say this time period usually lasts about a month, but will likely return with periodically smaller episodes. “The Staring into the Crystal Ball Phase” is just that: one is struggling with a language barrier, a foreign culture, and an issue that s/he though existed and important while several thousand miles away, but upon touchdown has realized that perhaps things aren’t quite how one pictured them, as a result one is staring through the fog of reality, trying to see the outline of a phenomenon that s/he is “certain” exists somewhere out there….if only the fog would just dissipate. There are many other metaphors one could apply to this phase, “the needle in the haystack phase”, “the trying to put together a puzzle and then having someone take away half the pieces and give you different ones phase”, you take your pick.

3) The I know Everything Phase
No, this wasn’t my childhood, or teenage years (although some might disagree, at which point I’d disagree with them). Rather, this is the “something is finally starting to make sense”, aka “I think I’ve found what I came for”, aka “I’m putting all my eggs in this basket regardless of the fact my basket has a whole in it (recurring theme song)” sentiment. This “thing” is what we graduate students basically sell ourselves (literally and metaphorically) on. It can be an observation, a nascent theory, a hair-brained idea…or more than likely all three. However, silly, the exuberance that is part of this phase erases the fuzzy-navel gazing (to quote Dr. Dan) uncertainty of the previous phase.

4) The I Think I know Enough to Reenter the B.S. Phase
Whether it’s the consistency of your BM (please excuse the poddy humor, but to conduct research in a “developing” country, one must become intimate and as comfortable as possible with such topics), sun stroke, or reality just setting in, this phase is characterized by a decrease in the omnipotence of the previous phase, and a slight touch of reality. However, the not-so-bright-or-bushy-tailed researcher knows s/he is in this phase when s/he thinks that they just might have a topic that they can re-enter the B.S. phase with….

And that topic is….


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dave's most recent faux pas

No...it's not using your left hand to eat with in India....

So for those who weren’t aware of my internet situation, it was as follows:
There’s a room in the village town hall equivalent that has 15 or so computers, some more functional then others. For the last few weeks here I’ve been bringing my laptop (which I heartily recommend to any in the market for something cheap, tiny, and powerful, even if it isn’t a mac) there and plugging in to their ethernet cord (at the top of my list of things to bring to brazil: my own ethernet cord, as every one in this “casa digital” has to be massaged like the most delicate and perfunctory rabbit ear antenna…seriously, like holding the cord in the air at just such an angle). Anyways, so I’ve done what any addicted-to-communicating-with-friends-and-mainting-some semblance-of-contact-with-the-outside-world person would do: I befriended the gatekeeper (literally, not in the anthropological sense) to the internet center. As a result of this relationship, I’ve been trusted with the key to the internet room on the weekends, and when the room was closed. This was great, as some readers can attest, because when the center was closed it meant I had the bandwidth all to myself (which actually enabled some halfway decent conversations of late). It also created some “issues” as I was asked to lock the door from the inside, pull the curtains, and not let anyone in-under any circumstances. Of course, in a relatively small village nothing is secret for long. Ever time I entered children saw me (and likely heard me turn the blessed air conditioner on), and then proceeded to knock obnoxiously on the door incessantly for hours at a time….
Special. Very special.

Well you’re all probably wondering where this faux pas story is going and when exactly I’m going to make a fool out of myself…well, you’re wait is over!

So this entire door/lock system was completely ridiculous before I arrived (the omnipotent of you might be able to tell where this is going…). One has to lift one side of the glass door, while holding the other side down and turning the miniature key in the lock at the same time (while singing the Brazilian national anthem, which one must learn b4 travelling down here, seriously it’s a visa requirement) Anyways, so I’m done gchatting after two hours with Jo, and I go to leave…and somewhere in the two-step dance of trying to unlock the door….I break the key in the lock!

Now this is a windowless room. And there’s only one other copy of this key….and there’s a village wide party going on, which means everyone’s all over the place….and guess at what point the proverbial tables turned and I became the person knocking on the window….

Boy did that get around the village fast!

Monday, June 22, 2009


Well….you know you’re popular when people write you complaining about your lack of blogging. So for all those who have been hanging on our words (you should probably put on a safety harness…)

NOTE: Mothers, mother's-in-laws, and all other concerned parties should read with caution

Here it goes:

So I went back to the roca (pronounced “jhosa”) (or farm) to give back some data, in the form of printed maps, that I had made based upon mapping exercises at several people’s farms (see previous blog postings).

Due to the nature of this post, it will take narrative form. Consider it an oral history entry…

So I’m on the farm (this is the context mind you) ((and NO it was not a dark stormy night!)) rather, it was a beautiful starry night, the kind we never see in the states unless we happen to be on a mountain or out in the desert….and I’m lying in the hammock, working on the computer….and Bernard (the father of the house that I’m staying in) tells me he’s going to go for a “walk in the woods”, and I’m thinking, ok he needs to hit the older not-so-little-boys room….and then he grabs his rifle…..and I’m like, well u never know what’s lurking in the “bathroom”…and then he’s like, “I’m going hunting”, and me being the silly starry eyed gringo is like, Cool! Hunting in the amazon! I want to go, hand me some war paint and a spear!

So we head out on the warpath into the forest. And yes, it’s a clear starry night…and we’re walking, and walking. And every once in a while Bernard stops to whisper something to me and point at the ground….and then all of a sudden he just ducks into the forest proper (we were on a pretty open trail before) ((just goes to show that language skills help, i.e. he probably had told me in that last whisper that he was going to go off on the track of a “tatu” (armadillo-see previous posts on breakfast foods to avoid, unless ur on the Amazon diet).

So he dips out (that’s colloquial for exited) into the forest, and I follow him….and we’re weaving around in the dark, he’s using his flashlight occasionally, and I’m using a cell phone…and then he stops…..

I know the suspense is so thick you could cut it with a spoon (they don’t use knives here, except…)

Anyways, so he bends down to the ground and points at this trail… and then he turns on his flashlight, and he’s kneeling, staring at the ground, but from the illumination of his flashlight I can see that there a giant snake curled on a branch about a foot from his face…!

And so I’m like….Bernard, um Bernard…Bernard COBRA!!!! (The word for snake I learned early on, as in are there any here?) COBRA!!!! COBRA!!!!! And he’s like “huh…oh!” and takes his machete out of its scabbard (not sure if that’s the technical term?) and promptly does an interpretation of texas chainsaw massacre meets Amazonian peasant….

Let’s just say the Amazonian peasant farmer (thankfully!!!) won!

Because as he then told me (when I asked) you only see poisonous ones at night!

Now, aren’t you glad I asked!

And next time you probably won’t be asking for a blog update will u?

Oh well, the next one’s good too, much more research oriented though…

Boring times I know…

(p.s. I went back the next day...and the snake was gone!) (ok so my tracking skills aren't the greatest, but YOU try finding where you were in the forest in the middle of the night..yes it was a clear night, but still!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Breakthrough X 2

Another breakthrough! This one of a different sort (also known as the next embarrassing thing Dave did):

So I'm eating dinner last night, and watching TV...nothing special. Beans and rice. And then I look down at my lap, and about half of my dinner is on my lap! Now I'm thinking, ok, I'm a messy eater (as some can attest), but I'm not that messy! So I'm thinking as I continue eating, trying to deduce the culprit....(I'm not the sharped crayon in the box), and then i get to the bottom of the metal bowl...and guess who's bowl has a hole in the bottom of it?!? (if you can, there's the melody of that children's song in the background here). Ahhah! the culprit! So, I carefully get up, shake myself off outside, get some more food and hold my palm under the hole in the bottom of the bowl! After more thinking, I've determined that this fairly sturdy metal bowl has a sizable whole in it because it's a DIY "do it yourself" pot lid, and the hole is meant to let air escape.....other suggestions?

The other breakthrough (and perhaps more substantial from a research perspective): In my first formal interview with a farmer yesterday, he told me (without any prompting) that "he planted (more than a hundred fruit) trees to preserve/create nature". This sentiment, and the way it was freely expressed at the beginning of the interview, is pretty important (I feel) because it indicates that there is something deeper than just planting the trees for sustenance, but is part of a conscious process of landscape transformation. All of which says to me that this IS a good dissertation site, and my recent thoughts about studying land use/land cover change vis a vis reforrestation are probably on track! But that all pales in comparison to the hole in my bucket, dear liza, dear liza...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

And the road continues...

An update on my constantly evolving plans:

(Taken from a previous email, so obrigado and excuses to the original recipients)

Anyways, it’s hard to believe, I guess, that I’ve been in Brazil for a month, and this settlement for a little over 3 weeks. I’ll be here in this settlement for about two more weeks, which is really good, because I’m just getting to the point where I’m feeling prepared to get the work that I need to done. After that point, I’ll be heading from Eldorado das Carajas (get on google earth/map you fools!) to Maraba by bus, and then am going to opt for the 8 hour bus from Maraba back to Belem, as I flew last time, want to save some $$, and figure it’s a good way to see the country side-although I might cave in and fly after all (I’m basically just telling myself that if I take the bus I can rationalize treating myself to a sweet hotel on the beach for three days before I leave to process and get my shit together (in addition to writing more grant applications for next year! Before I come home…). Once I get to Belem, I’m going to try to rest for a day or two, while hitting some museums I didn’t get to last time, and then am going to meet with some scientist peeps at some research institutions in the city, and then go check out this other MST settlement, called Mosquero, which is on the coast near Belem. Belem is one of the main locations that people take boats down the Amazon from (Belem is where the Amazon empties into the ocean); it’s a 6 day trip down the Amazon from Belem to Manaus, from what I hear it’s pretty boring though, as you’re kinda confined to your hammock along with everyone else for six days…and honestly after five weeks of sleeping, typing, and playing mandolin I’ve had about enough hammock, so although originally, I had wanted to take a little vacation after my time in the settlement and take a trip down the might A…I’m going to have to pass this voyage.

For purposes of my research, which I can explain in more detail later, I’m then going to fly down to the far south of Brazil, to the state of Santa Catarina, where I’m going to spend about a week at a different MST settlement. The basic reason is as follows: so I’m generally interested in looking at the relationship between the MST’s educational program and changing agricultural practices, and the changes in landscapes (both cultural and natural) that occur as result of education and those changing practices; specifically, I’m interested in looking at the MST’s relatively recent emphasis on “agroecology” and how that is or is not affecting educational practices. All of which is a long introduction to the fact that in the South of the country, where the MST is based, and originated, and is the strongest, the agroecological curricula is supposedly very strong. In the North, where I am, which is apparently a locus of land conflict and much more frontier-like (yeee haw cowboy!) the educational program (in general) is much more diluted. To clarify, what I’m talking about is that the MST basically runs its own schools, although it much more complicated that that, as the government provides the majority of the funding and materials etc, but it’s the MST that gains the land, and starts the school and then the govt. comes in later and legitimizes it through resources (perhaps, that’s at least my thought), so there’s this conflict between teachers who are loyal to the MST (about 4 of them) and those who are just normal teachers trying to earn a living. Anyways, from my perspective this division between the teachers is much more emblematic of larger issues the settlement (and likely the movement as a whole) are facing in terms of basically maintaining allegiance after the members win their land rights.

Anyhoooo, y’all are probably sick of reading about my poop if you’ve even made it this far, but as that’s all I eat, sleep, and breathe around here, when I’m not playing the mandolin that is….I don’t have a whole lot more interesting things to say! Except that Brazil is a nice country, although very expensive in comparison with other Latin American countries-probably the most expensive actually, a little cheaper than the states, but not much. But the people are really friendly, and the fruit is great, and I’m really hoping to get some chance to explore all the great places that I know are hiding here….so get your asses settled, and then come on down here!

Outdone...I think not!

Well, to my happy surprise I seem to have been outdone! For the moment at least...
My wonderful wife has updated the blog with all sorts of nice photos, and even a video...now I gotta figure that out...
Anyways, so I've posted a number of small tidbits and a larger rumination for y'all to nibble on (much like I try to get the remaining meat off the bone in the stew pot...which you wouldn't believe without a picture...and I don't have one...yet). Anyways, so enjoy!


Well, a relative one at least (I'll take whatever kind of forward steps I can get, actually I take whatever steps and try to see them as forward in the long term, but this was already 'pre-formatted' as really positive)

So for those who don't know, part of my research is geographic in nature. Specifically, I'll be using mapping technologies (such as Geographic Information Systems, or GIS) to look at how the landscape has changed within the settlement over the last
50 or so years (although these MST settlers have only lived on the land for 13, I'll be using aerial photographs and other remotely sensed data, such as from satellites, to understand the state of the landscape prior to when they arrived). As I'm anticipating, combining these various mapping technologies will help me assess whether forest cover has actually increased or decreased within this landscape as a function of the land management practices of these settlers (i.e. see former posts about tree planting). My basic hypothesis is that as opposed to conventional scientific and anecdotal wisdom, deforestation is not a unilinear process that is associated with migrant settlement, rather, it is much more complex, and is often tied to other land management practices, such as reforestation. Anyways, that's the slightly longer end of it...

So the "breakthrough" is that for my research I really need a pretty decent quality map of the settlement, so that I can digitize it, and overlay other data that I will collect later back in the states, such as aerial photographs, satellite images etc. Anyways, before coming down to Brazil I had no idea how big the settlement was, and was under the delusion that I could map it. Well, at 15 km on its side, and with between 6000 and 8000 residents, mapping this very rural area (complete with lots of barbed wire and not-so-friendly cows!) would be practically impossible. So I realized that I needed a map that was already prepared. Dan (see previous posts) informed me that the settlement's leadership almost certainly had to have a map for governmental purposes, so...I finally got up the kutzpa and asked the settlement leader (who talks with a very strong accent that makes him sound like Marlon Brando (sp?) in the Godfather, which to me is just perfect!) Anyways, he was more than happy to oblige and so showed me the maps that the government had prepared at the time of settlement. Without a photocopier I took approximately 100 different photos of the maps, to ensure that I got all the best combinations of the data, and now have what I need to begin the lengthy process of creating a digital base map of the settlement. This will be a fairly long, and time intensive process. First, I need to collect 4 GPS points that I can use to "georeference" the images (i.e. the locations of things like bridges that I can find on the map and also find in person). By taking these 4 GPS points I can basically take the photo and then underlay that on a map of brazil, and all of the features, i.e. rivers, houses etc, will be in the exactly correct location (assuming the original map was done well). That's the quick and easy part. The much longer part is creating by hand the 1200 or so "feature classes" or polygons, or basically shapes around each individuals home, the roads etc. If only there were a macro (or automated way of doing this...thoughts my GIS/programming audience?). The whole purpose of digitizing all these features of the original map image, is that once i have them digitized and integrated into a database I can overlay other data, such as forest cover in 1950, 60, 70,80,90,2000,2010, and then "query" certain locations, i.e. to look at someone's property (which might be covered with over 300 fruit trees that they've planted) and to be able to say that looking at specific landscape units, i.e. an individual's backyard, which I can now find easily because it is part of the new database, one can see that "X" occurs, or does not occur....anyways that's the long of it...

So below is a blurry image of a small section of the map.....

Pretty things

Pretty things abound if one keeps one's eye (and camera lens) open! This is a flower of the Inga tree (try finding that anywhere outside of the Amazon!). I think I included a photo of it's delicious fruit before, but if not I'll attach another one below (after all one can never have too much Inga).

The Next "Brazilian Idol"

When I get tired of listening to myself (unbelievable, I know, but it does happen)...I like to support local talent. This is one of the children of the house I'm staying at (I think...as there are nine of them about the same age I tend to get them confused with the neighbor's children!). It's always fun to watch the kids "play" most have never really seen, much less held, a musical instrument, so they get really excited. I tried teaching one of the older kids a simply song, but they were much more content to "jam" on it until it was woefully out of tune...lucky for all of us I have a tuner! (which they're perhaps even more interested in!-look it can hear me from 3 feet away, now 5 feet, now 10 feet!)

Now I know where it got it's name...

I'm not sure if there is a word for when an item's name is also it's function...but if so, "pick" would certainly be it! I refer those with the little raised bumps (the picks, not my arm! for which their functionally superior at alleviating the itching) ((# 1 thing on my list of "to bring to Brazil next time"=anti-itch cream)

Friday, June 12, 2009

then and now

Well, by now most of you have heard of the wonders of my new apartment. "Apartment" is rather generous--it has the feel more of a hotel room with a kitchenette in its size, shape, and amenities than an actual apartment--but who needs space or windows? I am just grateful to have a/c, internet, and, yes, TV (a luxury to which I am unaccustomed in the US). The place I was previously living was much more basic, but quite charming in its own way. Here's a little before-and-after comparison for you:

quite a difference, eh?

The aformentioned kitchenette leaves some things to be desired, but it has allowed me to cultivate some splendid new cooking skills. It has a microwave, a malfunctioning hot plate, and an electric tea kettle. Last week when the hot plate blew one of the household's main breakers twice, it was sent out for repairs. In the interim, I learned how to cook eggs in the microwave and "steam" veggies by pouring boiling water over them. This evening I drained a pot of pasta with a tea strainer.

On an unrelated note, I successfully made my first batch of homemade yogurt overnight last night. This is a very simple skill, but one I've never had any luck mastering in India. All you have to do is boil the milk to kill whatever microbes are in there, cool it to a lukewarm temperature (but, as I've discovered through multiple failed attempts, it must be the RIGHT lukewarm temperature), stir in a spoonful of yogurt, and leave it somewhere warm overnight so the yogurt cultures can multiply. The climate here is ideal for it; in the US you have to use a special little machine that maintains a warm temperature.

The research has taken a turn away from what I was doing before. Having finished a round of interviews, I am now doing some analysis and compilation for the next phase while my research assistant is out of town visiting her family. In all, there will be about a week of downtime. As someone who thrives on staying busy, I am already getting a little antsy. Luckily for yours truly, there is a veritable parade of friends coming through Delhi this week. It's true what they say about India--once you've come here, you always end up returning...

Sunday, June 7, 2009


...and even more!

Well, as they say, when it rains, it pours. I wanted to get the remainder of my photos loaded before I head off to Goa tomorrow morning, and my PIC (that's short for partner in crime) beat me to it!

I guess it's time to upload the "things I've eaten" section. This one is kinda short. First, green coconuts: the only source of human growth factor besides breast milk, full of natural electrolytes, including potassium, and a day's worth of vitamin c! there were 3 guys outside my old house who sold them...none in the swanky new neighborhood. I have no idea why this is the case, but I miss my daily dose of growth factor.

Next up, the cutest little watermelon in the world. I should be holding a mango, as it's mango season here and they are truly phenomenal. Like bananas, there are hundreds of varieties of mangoes, but we only get a couple of them in the US. The ones here aren't fibrous at all, but are melt-in-your-mouth smooshy and super-sweet. People here go crazy over them. There are mango festivals, and more than one of my patients has waxed poetic about how much they've missed eating mangoes since they got diabetes (they're so sweet that diabetics aren't supposed to eat them).

Okay, I guess that's kind of it for the things I've eaten. Don't get me wrong; I'm eating a lot more than fruit and green coconuts, but not so many pictures. The food here is diverse, clean, and VERY tasty (and fattening!). I've eaten everything from Subway to Thai, and of course lots of North and South Indian food. Now that I'm in my new place I've started cooking more. I'm looking forward to having access to healthier food that I can prepare myself.

Finally, cool things I've done. The first (and perhaps coolest) was my and my roommate's stint as "voice-over artists" for a language instruction CD that the language instition for which she worked was producing. We are immortalized doing dialogues such as: "It was cold in Ladakh, and we had a lot of luggage." "But what about the yak?" etc. It was a lot of fun. Probably the first and last time I'll see the inside of an Indian recording studio.

In other news, bought some rad shoes in Jaipur (guess which ones are mine!).

...and hung out with a lot of cows.

That's about it for the pictures today. More to come, including a comparative piece tentatively titled "Apartment: Past and Present". Stay tuned.

Back from the farm!

Hey y'all (said in my best faux-southern drawlll)

Well after six days I'm back from the farm. It was a lot of very relaxing fun, and now i have a better idea of how many of the families sustain themselves, and

The first photo is of me in my office. Working. Hard. Playing mandolin that is...this is where I would spend three or four hours every afternoon after the morning's activities, when it was too hot, usually, i'd take a nap after lunch, and then play mandolin for an hour or two and then work on the computer for about the same amount of time, typing up notes, working on interview protocols etc...

ok, here's a serious photo of me working...something i didn't learn at home: how to dekernel corn for the frangos (chickens). Hint use a cob or you'll get wicked blisters!

and here's the one of me doing the work that is in my genes!

which wouldn't be helpful without my young assistant "Edennias", who has been very helpful in spelling out plant names and identifying trees, and laughing at my pronunciation...

It was very beautiful out there on the farm (photo taking this morning at sunrise, which one sees when one goes to "hammock" at 8:30)

So...the other question i get from y'all is how's the research coming...well as my adviser says "It's complicated". I'm finding some very interesting stuff related to selective fire practices, tree plantings, forest preservation/deforestation, livelihood strategies, and identity production...all of which is to say it's complicated....for example (they say a picture is worth a thousand words) below is a photo of a castanhera stump in the midst of a banana grove...a relic of forest clearing at some point (it's been very difficult to figure out what burning occured where, and what effect each burning cycle had...a subject for later research)

anyways, these trees are massive and particularly striking over the generally deforested landscape. But what they tell me, their existence within this semi-deforested/secondary forest growth mosaic, is that living trees such as the one below were/are purposefully protected during burning cycles (they use burning to clear the secondary growth selectively so that they can plant the grass seed that the cattle feeds on)

However, it's not just isolated trees, there are pretty significant sections of "natural" forest. However X 2, as us environmental anthropologists tend to point out, "nature" is a cultural production, and forest fragments like this are a product of specific cultural practices, i.e burning or not burning, or burning selectively...

Although fragments in a mosaic, these sections of forest do harbor significant biodiversity, as evidenced by this photo I took of some scarlet macaw and some toucans below (the monkey was too quick for my camera, and unfortuntately the wild cat wasn't quick enough for the gun of the owner of the chickens it had eaten!)

besides the "ecological" import of harboring biodiversity, these forest fragments are also important as they provide land cover, and play a role in carbon sequestration...and providing yummy fruit, such as this birimba

So it was an interesting trip....although I'm not sure I'd agree we're in the dry season....but I guess cultural relativism...right?

Speaking of cultural relativism...anyone hungry for dinner? How about some fresh piranha?

Din din was caught on a little fishin trip we took down to the rio...here's a photo inside the casa of the troops getting ready.Anyone know that old time blue grass tune, goes a little something like..."you gotta line I gotta pole darling...." well, here it is

on the way down to the rio...

and Andre proud of his catch (let's just say it was a good thing I wasn't solely responsible for catching dinner; gringo=0, locals=many)

and a parting shot...papaya with rainbow