Archive for May, 2011


Where Brooklyn at?

I am literally at the heart of the deforestation problem here in the Brazilian Amazon. As part of a 4 week independent study project, I am interviewing farmers on the alternative systems of production they have to cattle ranching in Sao Felix do Xingu (SFX). SFX is a municipality larger than the size of Panama in the southern part of Para state. 90% of deforestation here is a result of cattle ranching on private lands.

Its pretty cool to be in a town situated on the Xingu River. Now I have officially floated on 4 Amazon river tibutaries – The Napo (Ecuador), Trombetas (Brazil), Amazon (Brazil), and Xingu. A lot of people in this small city of 48,000+ cannot tell that I am from the United States even with my messed up Portuguese. They think I am from a nearby indigenous tribe. Its all in the eyes I think.

So here I am, very far from Brooklyn, and in a pretty difficult place to get to. Today I spent a large part of the day on a motorcycle cruising through the Amazonian countryside with cattle and deforestation everywhere. It was actually kinda pretty but at the same time sad. Sad because I know it was a rich biodiverse rainforest once and pretty because it looked like a relaxing country side when I did not think about the cattle. Its not the peoples fault that most of the rainforest is gone. Theyre just doing what they gotta do to feed themselves and their families.

From Brooklyn to the Amazon…never even thought about it happening.

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I have never identified as “American.” I have always identified myself as a New Yorker, someone from the Crooklyn, Ecuadorian, a sneakerhead…but never as an American. Part of the reason, I think, is because I grew up in a very diverse neighborhood then went to college and faced what I thought was “American culture” aka white culture. I don’t know why I thought this given that I have always recognized how diverse the USA is.  I recently read a book on American culture that explained how Americans love to identify themselves from the region where they are and go on about how each part of the country is different. For example, the West is more laid back then the busy East Coast. The truth is, as I have come to realize through my interactions with Brazilians,  no matter what background you come from in the United States, some things we share are universal (for the most part).

“Americans don’t shower too much, they have a problem with time and need to know what they are doing, they don’t use perfume, and they are very direct.” These were the words of my Brazilian host mom as we laughed about it over lunch today. So many things that we do seem normal to us because we’ve done it repeatedly our whole lives. Living in another culture that is very different from your own helps you learn about yourself because what you once thought was normal back home isn’t here.  One of my most rewarding experiences in Ecuador and Brazil has been thinking about time in a radically different way. I no longer find myself needing to always be punctual or disappointed when an event doesn’t occur (Back at UVM, the calendar on my iphone dictated everything I did). Brazilians just aren’t slaves to time the way we are in America.

It’s all about living in the present and enjoying what you have now…take it easy mayne.