17 June 2015

Amanda in Brazil: Part II


After Jericoacoara we left for Barreirinhas, where the Lencois Maranhenses are located. The trip was pretty wild. We left at 8 am in a 4X4. We drove on the beach for quite awhile, moving through streams that crossed the beach, and then going through a narrow sand road through a mangrove forest. Then we took a ferry over a bay to a town with an asphalt road. The next few hours were pretty tame, easy driving except for the odd horse or donkey that thought about crossing or the many moto drivers who tested their luck. We also had the most amazing shrimp we've ever had. Then we got to a town near to Barreirinhas where we had to pick up a guide to show us the way through the moving sand dunes of Lencois Maranhenses. For the next few hours then, we drove along a sand road that shook us about. I think this part of the trip took about an hour, but it seemed like a lot more. Finally, around four or five we arrived and unpacked.

The next day we kind of hung around town in the morning until our tour of the lencois left in the afternoon. The Lencois are a massive area of white sand, spotted with little clear lakes. It's a remarkable view.

The contrast between the forest below and the lencois is really striking. Walking over the ridge to see the white sand is something I'll never forget.

The lakes are pretty deep. I'm kneeling here. Some lakes also have fish in them that dig down into the wet sand when the lakes dry up and go dormant until the rains start again.

The hike up was relatively hard, there is a rope that you can pull yourself up with. Down was easier, allowing for more glamour shots.

 The day after we had a boat tour that took us along a river to the sea and back again. We saw some massive mangrove forests and had some of the best fish we've ever had.
A boat doing the same boat tour as us.

Most of the monkeys were super friendly, this one was shifty and got really upset when Amanda touched his tree.

This monkey ate like three coconuts.

The best fish I've ever had, really nice.

Amanda in Brazil: Part I

Two and a half weeks ago Amanda made the long flight down to Brazil to spend two weeks in Northeast Brazil. The trip marked about three months into this period of research and 6 months (halfway) through my entire dissertation research. It was Amanda's first time in Brazil, but for me it was very new too, since I hadn't been to the real northeast before and it's culturally and ecologically very distinct from where I've been spending most of my time, in the Cerrado.

We were able to meet first in Brasilia, oddly enough our flights both had connections there around the same time. We were able to have breakfast together, Amanda had her first pao de queijo (a very popular Brazilian breakfast pastry, like cheesebread), and we spent a few hours talking before our next flights to Fortaleza.


We only had one night in Fortaleza before leaving by bus the next day for Jericoacoara. We had a nice long walk on the beach and had a dinner of seafood and caipirinha. Caipirinha is the national cocktail of Brazil:
  • Muddle one lime with a teaspoon of sugar
  •  Fill the glass half full of ice
  • Pour over with cacha├ža (a liquor made from sugar cane)
Mostly in Fortaleza we just relaxed after our long journeys.

The Fortaleza beach. There were two main sections, this is the area with a lot of fishing boats, a few shabby seafood restaurants, and a fish market. To the North was a more recreational area with nicer restaurants, lots of people walking and running, and some active volleyball games. I don't know about the water, but the beach was surprisingly clean for a big city.

Amanda's first caipirinha, we managed to have one per day (let's say at least one) during the trip. You can also see the more recreational side of the beach here in the background.

A sunset viewed from a Fortaleza boardwalk.

The next morning we set off early for a bus to take us to Jericoacoara. The bus took us through a few communities, but mostly the countryside. We stopped in a weird story book land restaurant that was set up to look like a snow white palace, odd place. It was all mostly uneventful until we arrived at a town called Jijoca where we all dismbarked from the bus. We filed off, took our luggage, and then walked to a kind of buggy-bus where we loaded the luggage onto the roof and then jumped aboard. The buggy trip was maybe an hour and took us through a countryside that began as heavily vegetated and slowly transitioned to a very wide beach, it was very bumpy the whole way. We also passed through a few small towns, fishing villages really.

Once in Jericoacoara we settled in pretty quickly. It's an surfing town with no paved roads, just sand everywhere. All roads leading to it are sand. Twenty years ago it was a small fishing village, then a few surfers, wind surfers, and kite surfers discovered it was a perfect place for them because of its high winds and big waves. They hiked five hours from the nearest town to get there, their gear on the back of donkeys. Today those donkeys have been replaced by buggies and motorcycles so they room free in the town and in the countryside.

We spend our days in Jericoacoara eating delicious seafood, drinking caipirinhas, and lounging or swimming on the beach. We also made a few excursions on a buggy to see the areas around, including some fishing villages, a few fresh-water lakes, and a lot of sand dunes.

The donkeys in town were super tame. Amanda made a friend out of this one.

A few nights we came up to this dune to see the sunset. One time I got stung by a nasty wasp. Mostly it was nice though.

These donkeys in the countryside are much more wild, and wouldn't let us come close.

There are fishing villages all around Jericoacoara.

Amanda under the Pedra Furada

We think our buggy driver was a professional photographer, he took better photos than we did.

Amanda looking like a rockstar.

A fish market in a fishing village. As fresh as you like.

The fishermen helped each other out a lot, any time a boat was coming in, a dozen or so people would come out to help pull it in.

This photo is deceptive. We didn't actually start a highly successful fishing fleet.

Amanda in Brazil: Part III

Sao Luis

The last stop of our trip was Sao Luis. The drive there was filled with a lot of animals about to walk into the road, a lot of motorcyclists who had no need for helmets or lights, and one very unfortunate bat that met our windshield.

Sao Luis is an old colonial city and a UNESCO world heritage site. A lot of its buildings are incredible and it has some top-notch museums, however a lot of the city is also quite run-down and showing its age.

The city is famous for its tiles, which were installed to protect buildings from the heavy tropical rains.

Pope John Paul II and Amanda both stood on this pedestal.

Brazilians LOVE selfies, so here we gave it a shot. We saw more selfie sticks than ever before. Not ironically.

This is our trip. I started off in the lower left corner marker, we met in Brasilia. Then flew to Fortaleza and followed the path up to Sao Luis at the top before coming back to Fortaleza for our flights home.

07 April 2015

Grileiros and grilagem

Copyright WWF/Claudio Maretti
Copyright WWF/Claudio Maretti
Think, for a moment, of a classic Western in which a community of hardworking farmer/settlers comes under threat of a ne'er do well bent on taking what he can get at any cost. It might be a cattle rustler or a horse thief stealing at will or an oil driller/ mining company that takes ownership of the land. You know the story. This character is alive and well in pioneer regions of Brazil in the form of grileiros.

Grileiros are infamous throughout pioneer regions of Brazil for land theft and land fraud, for example in the 1970s they were active in Goias, but now are more active in Piaui, Maranhao and other frontier regions. A typical griliero will create a land title for a piece of land, often a large piece of land, which is usually un-cultivated. These un-cultivated lands, especially in areas that are not fully incorporated into the agricultural production system, are often ambiguous in terms of land ownership. Often someone years ago demarkated an area for ownership using natural landmarks such as trees, streams, and hills and these demarcations may have overlapped with others. However these conflicts did not much matter because there was little economic interest. Here enter grileiros. They find lands that have ambiguous ownership and create their own titles. They are known for using crickets to age these documents (this is where the terms grileiro and grilagem come from) to make them look authentic. They then act as real estate agents and sell these fake land titles to prospective farmers who are often coming from outside of the region, and sometimes outside of the country.

The new owner will then clear the land, begin producing, and then discover that another person or multiple people have claims on the same piece of land. This could be the original owner or another new owner who the grileiro (or another grileiro) sold to. Thus begins a long and arduous legal process to determine the true owner of the land, during which time the land is usually left to fallow. The grileiro is usually disappeared by this time.

Grileiros also are known to create titles for reserve land. Reserve land is a legal requirement in Brazil. If a farmer buys land, they then have to buy a piece of natural reserve to be left uncultivated. The amount depends on the state, and can range from 20% to 80%. Grileiros' role in this is to create multiple titles for the same piece of land so that a single piece of reserve can be used by multiple farmers. The farmers are sometimes complicit and sometimes not.

Many of the early North American farmers in Bahia who I have either spoken with or heard about through secondary sources had serious problems with grileiros. Many had land taken out from under them, with little option but to return empty handed to the United States. One was actually killed in a dispute with grileiros. The same happened to many Brazilian farmers in the region and is happening now in new frontier regions of soy. I haven't heard much about this here in Goias, perhaps because the Mennonites were here long before anyone saw any value in the farmland here.

This is what people are talking about when they say that Brazil's soy frontier region is the Wild West. To some extent the representations of Brazil as a lawless place are based on stereotypes and pre-conceived notions, but the threat of grileiros is a real threat; both in terms of economics and personal safety for farmers.

01 April 2015

Fieldwork and Dengue don't mix

I've done a lot of traveling. I went to Peru and West Africa while I was a student at South Dakota State University. Then I studied in Holland for a year during which time I traveled around Europe, going as far as Istanbul. Then I researched in Bolivia for seven months and made short trips to Argentina, Peru, and Chile shortly after. Since then I've been to Brazil three times for dissertation and pre-dissertation research. In that time I've been attempted mugged, rode my bike down the world's most dangerous road, hitchhiked through the Salt Flats of Uyuni, and rode in the back of a cargo truck to the Colca Canyon (with Amanda). Although I've had my spells with bad water and food poisoning (one time being almost magically cured with an awful tasting tea), during this whole time I've avoided any tropical diseases that anthropologists and travelers are known to get. This past week that changed. Here's the story of my experience with Dengue Fever.

Day 1
Last Monday I woke up feeling great. I had a normal breakfast, read the online New York Times, and did a long and relatively intense yoga session. After yoga I took a shower and started to feel awfully tired. I rested in my room until lunch. At lunch I felt fine, still tired, but never had an appetite. I ate as much as I could, but started to feel nauseous and even more tired. After getting back to the apartment I retired to my room and rested the rest of the day. Mostly I felt nausea, a headache, and general exhaustion. I only had a juice for dinner.

Day 2
Tuesday I woke up feeling the same symptoms as Monday night, but now with a pain behind my eyes and pain in my muscles and joints. I spent the day mostly resting in bed. Feeling flu-like symptoms with the addition of the pain behind my eyes and in my muscles and joints. It was Tuesday that I realized, and had confirmed that I had Dengue. A neighbor tested my blood pressure and temperature and found them to be normal. I mostly drank sugar water and juice.

Day 3
Wednesday I ate solid foods again, taking pao de queijo for breakfast. Although I had some intense pain behind my eyes Wednesday night and nausea and a headache all day, my symptoms took a massive turn for the better. I was able to get out of bed much easier and generally felt myself improving a lot.

Day 4
Thursday I ate solids for breakfast and lunch, though small quantities, and continued the progress from Wednesday. Mostly I just felt exhausted. My headache was lingering a little, but definitely in the background. Nausea and the pain behind my eyes was gone. Muscle pain was gone, feeling much better.

Day 5
I think Friday I was effectively symptomless. The disappointing thing, however, was a lingering exhaustion. As of today I am still feeling this exhaustion, even if it is less and less everyday.

This illness came at a bad time for me, as I had gotten a lot done in the week prior and had some interviews set up. The lost week erased some of that progress and cancelled a trip I had planned for this week. I had hoped to travel to Tocantins to visit two American farmers there, but I had to cancel the trip due to exhaustion. This week I'll be contacting some potential interviewees, probably to set up interview next week. I hope to focus on writing and ticking off some lingering to-do's this week, and rest up to get back to normal for next week. The week after next is the "Comigo TechnoShow" which should be a highlight of my research. It's a farm show put on by the regional farmers' cooperative, and should be an excellent space to see competing models of progress and change, as well as the role of Mennonites in this big regional farm show.

18 March 2015

Rio Verde, Goias

It's been about two weeks that I'm in Rio Verde and things are coming together really well.

I arrived two weeks ago. I stayed in a hotel for a week and I've been couch surfing since then. If you don't know couch surfing it's exactly what it sounds like, except sometimes there's a real bed. I couch surfed for a month during my pre-dissertation research in Brazil in 2012 and enjoyed it a lot. This has been nice too. It's easy in a hotel to be caged away from the real world, but couch surfing is a much better way to  meet people and get a feel for the area and the country. It's also so much homeyer and just feels more comfortable than a hotel. I'll be moving into a more permanent apartment next week where I will stay with a young professor here.

The town has felt a lot more comfortable than Luis Eduardo did in that there are more paved roads, more coffee shops for me to work at, more plazas, parks, and trees. It just feels more like a real city.

I've been spending most of my time arranging lodging, getting registered as a resident, and finding a motorbike. Arranging interviews has been a low priority at this point. I have been able to get lodging mostly settled and more recently I have come to an agreement to buy a moto, hopefully picking it up later today. Registering has been less successful, I traveled to Jatai (about an hour by bus) to register and they told me I needed additional documentation so I will return later this week. It was honestly expected that I wouldn't get this settled in one trip. It's only frustrating because I have to leave town and it becomes a day long endeavor. I'm relatively confident I'll get it squared away on my next trip, probably Friday this week.

Besides that, I've been able to meet a lot of people who have connections with Mennonites or with other contacts who are of interest to the study. It's been a lot easier to find interviewees in Rio Verde than in Luis Eduardo. Only problem is I need a moto to do much. I was invited to a friend's fazenda just yesterday and it was really quite interesting. The difference between his farm and what I'm used to seeing in Luis Eduardo is striking. Farms are much smaller here, more diverse (having livestock, pasture), and are much hillier. Farmers also seem to have less expensive machinery or rent machinery altogether. I'll be digging into these difference, the reasons for the differences, and their effects on U.S. migrant farmers here over the next few months.

In summary, everything's fine here, don't worry.

09 March 2015

Back in Brazil

I just passed the two week point in my stay in Brazil and it's past time to post something here. I've been posting some on my more academic-minded blog (andresdelipez.wordpress.com) but neglected this little space. So what have I been doing for two weeks? Where am I? Where will I be going?

On the 23rd of March I arrived in an airport about an hour outside of Sao Paolo. It took me awhile to figure out, with the help of a kind stranger, but I managed to put together a bus and taxi to get myself to Sao Paolo and the hotel. That week the Brasil Fulbright Foundation put together an informative and fun orientation for me and the 29 other Fulbright Research Fellows. I spent a lot of time in the hotel where the orientation was held, but we also had a city tour and I also managed to get out on the town for awhile to see the city. It's very different from anywhere I'd been in Brazil before. Very much more European than Brasilia or Western Bahia.

After Sao Paolo I flew to Brasilia. I had two primary objectives in Brasilia: find single malt scotch and go climbing. I did both. I really used my three days in Brasilia just to relax a little before coming down to do my research. Brasilia is an odd city, it's far from perfect, but I think it's interesting and for that reason I never miss a chance to spend a few days there. I also got to visit my favorite pizza place where you stand at a bar and eat slice after slice until you're done. You let them know how much you ate, pay, and you're on your way. Fantastic.

Next, I took a bus to Goiania. Goiania is the capital of Goias and a few hours North of Rio Verde where my research is. I had to stop by for an orientation for foreign students. The orientation itself wasn't so interesting because I'm not really a student and the information didn't pertain to me. But, like Brasilia, Goiania is a nice place to stop over. There's plenty to do and it's a fun place. I will be going back there  I think when I need to consult with a professor there who has done research with the Mennonite colony here. It's also a nice place to escape to and write. 

I had two fun travel experiences in Goiania. First, on the way there we had to stop at a  trucker blockade. Truckers are protesting throughout the country (mostly in the South though). The government has been keeping gasoline prices artificially high and that's more than a little upsetting for the truckers. So, we were waiting for at least an hour when the bus driver turned to a group of military personnel in the back of the bus, and asked what they were going to do about this. They jumped out of the bus and disappeared. Fifteen minutes later we were moving. 

The other thing, when I arrived in Goiania I purchased a ticket for Rio Verde. The worker looked at my passport, saw that I was American, and had a good laugh. He showed his friend the passport and told him I was going to Rio Verde. The other guy laughed harder. So, it's not exactly a tourist destination...

So that brings us to Rio Verde. I'll post on this later this week. Suffice to say now, I've arranged lodging, started the process of gaining residency, and become much better oriented with the town. There is a lot more to do here than Luis Eduardo and that makes me happy. More later...

30 November 2014

Fieldwork accomplishments

Well, tomorrow night, a few minutes before midnight, I'll be leaving for Atlanta, then Baltimore, then home. It will be the end of my first three months of research. It's pretty typical to hear that ethnographic projects only really start to get going after three months and I think my work here has reflected that somewhat. It takes a long time to get contacts, more time to convince people to talk to you, and more time yet to find people you never even thought to look for. Nonetheless, I feel comfortable saying that I made some good progress in my first three months and it certainly wasn't wasted time.

So, here's a brief summary of what I've done.

  • 10 sit-down, formal interviews with farmers and investors
  • 5 farm visits, usually lasting about a day
  • About 50 pictures for my "Photography of Change" project, plus notes on each one
  • A visit with my next research subjects, that generally went quite well and is very encouraging
  • A new research project - https://andresdelipez.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/goiania-shopping-middlewomen/
  • An improvement in my Portuguese (it's becoming less Spanish and much less English)
  • A much improved understanding of the most important things for research - lodging, food, transportation
  • A (hopefully) improved repertoire with my existing research subjects
  • And a bit more confidence on moving forward than I had before.
Over the next few months in Carrboro I'll be going over each of these interviews, farm visits, etc to code them to make analysis more efficient later on. I'll also be transcribing the interviews I recorded and conducting a few Skype interviews as well. Mostly, though, I'll be getting back in touch with friends and family I've missed here and finding a bit of balance that I've lost by being away.

This blog will be on a kind of hiatus until I come back to Brazil in late February. I'll still be posting at my more academic-focused blog in the meantime. https://andresdelipez.wordpress.com/

Thanks for reading. 

26 November 2014

Last week in Brazil

Hello all,

It's my last week in Brazil before coming back to North Carolina for a few months. Before continuing on the post, I wanted to mention that lately I've been pretty active on my other, more academic minded blog, if you're interested check out my latest posts at https://andresdelipez.wordpress.com/ There are a lot of posts about quinoa and my research on soy.

So, my last week. After doing a lot of work in my hotel room in Luis Eduardo, I'm spending this week really focusing on writing up field notes, transcribing interviews, and doing a little analysis from the comforts and academic athmosphere of the Federal University of Brasilia (UnB). It's been fine to work from the hotel, but it's so much nicer and so much easier to focus in a proper library. There's also something to be said for being sorrounded by other people who are busy at work. It can be hard to motivate yourself in a hotel room.

Not only is it nice to get some of this work done now, just for the sake of gettting it done, it's nice to be able to have a shorter list of ToDos when I get back home. If I remember coming back from my previous research correctly, I will most likely not be productive for a week or two when I get back as I re-adjust to a more or less normal life.

These next three pictures are of the UnB library. The first is from the front, the second from the back, and third is inside the building.

During my week I'm also taking time to do fun things. Yesterday I went to the radio tower where you can take an elevator to the top and see some gorgeous views. I've also made a few visits to a famous pizza place that was founded just a few years after the city was founded. You stand at the bar and ask for um mais (one more) slice of pizza until you're full. When you leave you go the the cashier, tell him how many pieces you had, pay, and go. I've also found a climbing gym near the UnB campus. I've gone once two days ago and I'm still sore. Maybe I'll go again tomorrow if I'm feeling more recovered.

So, my last week is mostly studying, writing, and touring. It's been really productive so far, but more than that, a really nice way to decompress and consider some of my own thoughts from the field before I come back to the States.