An Unexpectedly Splendiferous Day Trip and other Happenings

…I’d like to start this blog post off with a Happy Father’s day to my Dad back home…I tried calling yesterday…but the internet in Santarém…is the internet in Santarém…see you and Mom in little more than five weeks!

Seeing what school life is really like:

Every so often Maria Luiza comes through in the clutch.  Such was the case this past Thursday when she took Donovan and I on an unexpectedly fun and interesting day trip to a couple of public schools in communities outside of Santarém.  For the past few weeks Luiza had been saying how much she wanted to bring us to schools outside of Santarém to show us “what real school life is like here.”  As always with situations like these, I’ve learned not to hold my breath, as more often than not it seems people here talk about doing things that they seldom actually do.  Thus, despite Luiza’s apparent desire to make the visit a reality, I gave the trip about a 10% chance of happening (I know Santareno empty talk ALL TO WELL at this point).  To my extreme surprise, however, Thursday morning rolled around and Luiza actually called us up to confirm…shockus maximus.

On Thursday afternoon Luiza picked Donovan and I up at UFOPA and we headed out on our little adventure.  The first school, named “Escola de Ensino Fudamental São Pedro,” was a small elementary school located about 50 KMs from Santarém in one of the area’s Quilombo settlements.  Quilombos, which exist throughout northern and northeastern Brazil, are fairly isolated communities that are traditionally inhabited by the descendants of former slaves (up until slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888 slaves often would escape and form Quilombo settlements deep in the Brazilian interior). Throughout the school there were various posters and murals encouraging the students to be proud of their heritage and embrace their unique cultural traditions…pretty fascinating stuff indeed.  Anyways, after we arrived, the head of the school got all 30-40 students together and asked us to say a few words to them.  Despite the initial awkwardness (we were kind of put on the spot), we settled in and had a nice little cultural exchange/question and answer session with the students.

After taking a few pictures with the students at the first school, we got back in Luiza’s car and drove up a rather treacherous dirt road (we almost bottomed out in pot holes twice) to our next destination.  The second school, a middle school, located in a different community, had a distinctly different feel to it.  Unlike the first school, it was not in a Quilombo settlement and thus was a general public school.  When we arrived, we were taken into a math classroom to talk to a group of students.  We proceeded to do a similar question and answer session with the students and it was interesting (and slightly terrifying) to hear the various ideas (and misconceptions) about the U.S that the students (and teachers) had.  One of the teachers even went so far as to ask, “Doesn’t everybody in America think that people in Brazil are a bunch of primitive Indians? That’s what I’ve been told.” I’ll let that sink in for a moment…

My experience at the two schools was thought provoking in that it raised a lot of interesting issues.  For one, it was hard not to see the extreme lack of resources in both schools.  The classrooms, with decades old desks and deteriorating walls, were crammed full of students and totally deficient of any sort of the supplementary materials (i.e books, projectors, ect.) that are so essential to the learning process.  It seemed that class basically consisted of a professor writing on a chalkboard…and that was about it.  Secondly, the difference in the way that Donovan and I were respectively received at each school was rather stark (the students interacted with us in very different ways).  It was pretty obvious that our skin colors probably had something to do with it (more on that in our experiential race paper…hopefully).

All told, going to the schools was definitely an important experience for me to have.  Moreover, if nothing else, it was just fun to meet the kids and have a nice little exchange with them.  Thumbs up Luiza…and check pluses all around.

What are we doing to the Amazon?

During my day trip outside of Santarém, humanity’s detrimental impact on the magnificent and invaluable Amazon finally and fully came into view.  During the trip I saw two things that really made me shake my head and wonder just what exactly we are doing to this amazing place…

First, I was immediately struck by the fact that as we exited Santarém and started driving into more rural areas the land appeared more like the grassland of Kansas than the world’s largest rainforest.  Indeed, for as far as the eye could see stretched miles upon miles of fields (particularly soy farms).  The extent of deforestation in the region, principally a result of soy farming (Cargill, a giant American multi-national, has a relative monopoly on soy in the area), is hard to grasp until you really look out and realize that where dense jungle should be there is only farmland.  I am all for development if it enhances human lives, but there is something truly awful about destroying the place that houses 1 in 10 of the world’s known biological species and supplies over 20% of the oxygen that we breathe.

The second and equally troubling thing that I saw on Thursday was the Curuá-Una dam.  After traveling another 50 KMs from the second school we arrived at the dam that supplies 100% of Santarém’s electricity.  Built more than 40 years ago, Curuá-Una is the primary reason that the electricity cuts out in Santarém with such frequency (it can’t meet the city’s demand).  When we arrived at Curuá-Una, we met one of the dam’s superintendents who spent a solid 10 minutes telling us why the dam’s horrendous environmental impact (including extensive deforestation and species-loss) isn’t that big of a deal.  “Apparently”, in 1973, when they were building the dam, “the environment wasn’t at the front of people’s minds” and thus the negative environmental effects of the dam are “fine.” (just about the most half-baked logic I’ve ever heard).  Given the fact that the Brazilian government is planning on building the largest dam in the western hemisphere some six hours away in Belo Monte (which will have massive environmental and human costs…more on that in the next few weeks)…it’s pretty obvious that attitudes haven’t much changed.

Both the humanitarian and environmentalist in me give big, fat thumbs down to the whole situation…

Other happenings:

  • Last couple classes of the semester this week…WOAH…how did that happen?
  • Santarém’s 351st birthday is this Friday.  Word on the street is that it’s going to be one big, giant party out on the riverfront…should be fun.
  • Things have been closing up early at UFOPA recently because of the strike…apparently the professors are expected to continue striking until August.  Schweet. Credit to Valdenildo for standing up to the students and telling them that if they want to keep boycotting his class…they’re going to fail.  I talked to him last week and he said “you know…wouldn’t it be a much better message to send to the powers that be if the students were actually going to class and demanding to be taught?” Spot on Val.
  • Watching the Euros has been a joy.  Now that my tournament pick (Holland) is out…I’m pumped about the Greece-Germany game…how deliciously ironic, eh? I’m just disappointed Merkel won’t get to sit next to the yet-to-be-elected Greek Prime Minister…now that would make for good television.
  • Trying to get my election ballot sent to me this week.  Apparently it takes 4-5 weeks to deliver…and another 7-8 weeks to get back to the U.S…wamp.  I love voting…so it saddens me that I won’t be home for the election.  That said, I’m going to make my voice heard!
  • I had a fascinating conversation with a friend of a friend (who is a geography professor) this past Sunday about Brazil, the Sim Tapajós movement, development, culture, and soccer…I’ll probably incorporate much of the conversation in my next few blog posts.

I woke up this morning with ant bites all over my left armpit…a great start to my Monday! Hopefully your week is off to a better start than mine…have a great week!

Amazonically,

Andy

P.S I seriously promise to put up photos from my Amazon expedition on the FB in the next couple of days…I’m seriously serious!

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One thought on “An Unexpectedly Splendiferous Day Trip and other Happenings

  1. Breanna

    Andy, I’m so proud of you. You seem so happy, and are doing great things! Keep up the good work =)

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