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, April 29, 2012


The ten days between April 8th-17th 2012 were not a complete blur, because I diligently documented them through interviews, video clips, and field notes, but they were an incredibly hectic, yet rewarding set of experiences. It has taken four, ok now ten, days to recover to the point where I could write this post. So as they say in The Mighty Wind: “What happened?” (it sounds much funnier in the movie, I promise) On April 8th, approximately 200 MST youth, ranging in ages from 12-30, and traveling from as far as 12 hours away, converged at a curve on a remote Brazilian highway known as the “S-curve” (Curva do S).

This place was chosen as the site for their annual 'pedagogical encampment' (more on this soon) because it is the location where the massacre of Eldorado dos Carajas occurred, which occurred in 1996 when 19 MST members were killed by paramilitary forces while encampment on the side of the highway. 

That this area holds symbolic importance is obvious to even the passing tourist because of the monument, consisting of 19 massive burned Brazil nut trees interred in a circle, which the movement constructed following the massacre. 

Beginning on April 8th, the MST youth transformed the space once again into one of informal and formal learning. Over the next 10 days, plenaries were held each day where members learned about pertinent topics such as gender relations, agrarian land tenure, agroecology, and critical cartography. The event was a key part of my research on education within this social movement. 

Plenary on rural education

 Discussion group on the side of the highway

  Discussion group with monument in background

 Speaker on agrotoxics

The pen is mightier than the sword

It was also very tiring for a number of reasons. Jo, Annie, and I had arrived at the settlement, our home for the next year, just two days before the encampment started. As a result we were all just getting settled, pun not intended, when the encampment began. Additionally, while it was a very welcoming atmosphere, the encampment, which was located on the side of a rural highway wasn't necessarily the best locale for Jo and Annie to get acclimatized to Brazilian life. As a result, I commuted in an hour on a motorcycle to the encampment from our settlement every day. Jo and Annie came in several days during the day, and I stayed over two nights to get a taste of the full encampment experience.

 My lodgings

 BBQ for 200, Brazilian style

 Coffee for 200, Brazilian style (that's equal parts sugar to coffee by the way)

 The encampment was an incredible experience for me, both personally and professionally. Personally, it was a great joy to have Annie and Jo there with me. Annie in particular was a star, and stole the show, being passed around during the plenary session.

 Several times Jo and I looked at each other and each stood up looking around to see where Annie had “wandered” off to. As we were among a group of incredibly caring friends, though, we never were worried, and were just happy to see her having a good time. As it was soooo hot, when Annie and Jo were at the encampment Annie basically spent a fair chunk of the day sitting in a little basin, getting bathed in water. 

She loved it, and as it kept her cool, we loved it as well. Aside from the personal satisfaction of having my family with me at the encampment, the experience was incredibly professionally rewarding because it was a great opportunity to do what anthropologists do, namely participant observation. Participant observation is a method that might be considered the bread-and-butter of ethnographic research, at least it was in the early days of anthropology. What it basically means, is participating in the daily life of your research community, and observing. Participant observation in this context meant me observing the plenary talks, participating in the discussion groups that followed, posing questions along with the MST youth. 

 Everyday there was a ceremonial protest where the youth closed the highway for 19 minutes in honor of the deceased.
Closing the road 1

Closing the road 2

Closing the road 3

Closing the road 4

But the spirit was incredibly festive and inspiring in general; not one focused on death, but on hope.


More songs than a religious summer camp

                                          Of course, all the songs were revolutionary

Performance art

In the end, I think we were all smiles. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Travels, Travails, and Triumphs: 1

It’s amazing how fast life can change. Last week, I was wearing business casual and attending an academic conference in a big hotel. This week, I’m starting life in rural Brazil, where nothing seems to come easy, but where one really appreciates the good things. It’s been a jarring transition, but I can envision in my mind a point where life here will seem entirely normal.

The trip to Brazil was fairly uneventful. Annie was a trooper on the flight; it helped immensely that the crew sympathized with me and cleared out a 3-seat row for us to stretch out in. I even got some sleep!

 I hope never to travel with that much luggage again, and I don’t think I will have to. Much of what I brought is clever stuff to make our very basic house a little more comfortable, like those fabric hanging shelves people put in their closets. When we arrived in Sao Paulo, Dave was there with a smile on his face and camera in hand. 

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the trip from Maraba, the closest airport, to the settlement. A relatively comfortable air-conditioned bus dropped us and all our stuff by a dusty roadside gas station in the mid-day heat and intense humidity of Eldorado de Carajais, the closest town to the settlement. We immediately found the pickup truck that makes three trips a day to and from the settlement and loaded our luggage in the metal cage that had been constructed over its top to carry big stuff (such as the 200 lbs of crap we had with us). The truck left for just 5 minutes to pick up a big item someone else had bought in town, and returned half an hour later to find us sweaty and dripping. Annie’s curls were, by this time, wet corkscrews. We eagerly got into the truck, only to wait another half hour for some lady’s daughter to come. Finally—when we were moving out of town at a snail’s pace, dodging pot holes right and left as the luggage creaked over our heads—we had to make one more stop for some more cargo. It was maddeningly hot, Annie cried, I got sunburned, I almost cried.  Dave apologized profusely for his stupidity in not hiring a taxi to take us the 45 minutes up the dirt road to the settlement, but so it goes—a learning lesson.

But finally we made it! Life here is hard but pleasant so far. Dave and I have both remarked on how much time it takes to simply keep the house going when one has to cook everything from scratch, wipe or sweep the concrete floors daily, do the laundry semi-by-hand, take care of Annie, etc. This makes it obvious why, historically, one or more household member’s time has been devoted to such work.  We could both spend all day every day on it.

The first 3 days have been a steep learning curve. I figured out how to gut a fish and succeeded in doing so, after a stiff drink.

A great reward each day is the late-afternoon thunder storm, which cools the weather down wonderfully. Another is taking a swim in the river, which Annie experienced for the first time today.

 Yet another is the fact that most of the food we’re eating here is whole, unprocessed, and (relatively) locally-sourced. The last—and perhaps most gratifying—is spending time with Dave’s friends here, who are so welcoming and kind, despite the fact that I mostly just nod my head and smile at them. No doubt, having a cute fat baby along with me makes the interaction easier. People here think she’s great.

  I also conquered the mighty cupuacu fruit, which must be cracked open, scooped out, and then have the mucilage around the seeds painstakingly trimmed off with a pair of scissors. The reward is a slimy, so-tangy-it-makes-your-salivary-glands-go-into-overdrive substance that tastes like a cross between a mango, a banana, and tamarind. I understand people here either adore or hate it. I’ve never met a fruit I don’t like, but I’m still on the fence about this one. Another one I’m not so sure about is the star fruit, which is normally watery and tasty but turns vinegar-y when it’s over-ripe. We discovered this the hard way today.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sao Paulo Redux: Ibirapuera on a Sunday afternoon

While Sao Paulo might be a mega-city of mind blowing proportions, there is a wonderful green oasis in the middle. Ibirapuera park is the equivalent in many ways to Central Park in New York, with more than a dash of the Mall in Washington D.C.

You have the area with the kids doing crazy tricks on bicycles:

You have some neat museums, such as the Modern Art Museum. And then you have an amazing. Mind-blowing museum. The Afro-Brazilian Museum.

I can't even begin to describe the museum, in part because it was just so amazing I rushed through it! I felt like I could either spent a significant amount of time in one exhibit, or get a basic feeling for the whole place. And so quick tour I did. Below are some pieces that I really liked.

  The above photo is not a product of photoshop, but rather was simply shot through a really neat screen that had printed on it a large-scale historic photo of downtown Sao Paulo buildings.

Early 20th century Carnival attire

 Really neat 3-dimensional diorama of the sertao (interior where the cowboys lived)

 Great gallery filled with sculptures that were 'playful' (as the sign above illustrates)

 Really amazing pictures of Brazilian cowboys

 Black market

After the museums, it was a pleasure to laze around the park, playing harmonica, working on an article, and just watching Sunday life in Sao Paulo.

 A little Sunday afternoon balancing practice

Tree Texture 1

 Tree Texture 2

 Never too old for a water gun fight

 Nothing like a mist machine on a warm afternoon

 Playing it cool

Pretty flowers

Pretty flowers 2