30 January 2009
Okay, back to the task at hand. I have been thinking about Amazonian activism and the World Social Forum taking place in Belem right now. As a result, I did a little checking on JSTOR, one of CRC's databases and found some articles that may be helpful in explaining why Indians protest mainstream society's degradation of the rainforest. Here are the citations:
"The Salt of the Montana: Interpreting Indigenous Activism in the Rain Forest."
Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Aug., 1998), pp. 382-413
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
"Indigenous People Incorporated? Culture as Politics, Culture as Property in Pharmaceutical Bioprospecting"
Current Anthropology, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Apr., 2004), pp. 211-237
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research
"Social Conflict and Political Activism in the Brazilian Amazon: A Case Study of Gurupá "
American Ethnologist, Vol. 19, No. 4, Imagining Identities: Nation, Culture, and the Past (Nov., 1992
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
One of the factors that causes this slowness of travel is the traffic. It is bumper to bumper most of the time. There is, however, a very good subway system which operates mostly underground, shuttling the masses of humanity about their daily lives.
As for its geography, Sao Paulo sits at about 2500 feet above sea level on a plateau overlooking the South Atlantic Ocean. The weather today calls for showers and temperatures at about 22 Celsius (73 Fahrenheit).
Early this morning David and Fernando caught a bus headed to Campinas; David had a dental appointment to keep. So Hope and I stayed in bed a few hours longer and will stay close to the pousada until they return.
Probably in large part because of its size, Sao Paulo can be a fairly dangerous city. People are kidnapped for ransom quite frequently; petty theft of cameras and purses is also common for tourists; and car jackings are on the rise. As a security measure to address the car jacking problem the city government recently passed a red light law. Essentially drivers are no longer required to stop at red lights after dark. Rather the driver is encouraged to slow to ensure there is no cross traffic and then proceed through the intersection. Needless to say, when driving in Sao Paulo one is taking one's life in one's hands.
As a consequence, Hope and I will not be driving anywhere today. Nor will we wander too far from the pousada until David and Fernando return. There is comfort in having a body guard for a husband!
29 January 2009
The bus was traveling along at a good clip when suddenly it pulled off to the side of the road. At first I did not take much notice as I thought we were at a brief truck stop, and so I continued practicing my Portuguese by podcast. But after a while I asked David, who was sitting across the aisle from me, what was happening. It was at that point that I learned our bus had been stopped by the federal police and they were even then searching the luggage compartment under the bus. A few moments later one of the officers came on board, located Fernando and sent him off the bus. Oh yes, my heart was pounding and my imagination was racing. Every bad movie and every true documentary I had ever seen about jails in foreign countries came swimming before my eyes. David, on the other hand, was very low key. I tried to model his demeanor but it was very hard to do. This was made all the more challenging when the officer began to question David about the contents of one of the bags in the compartment above his head. I passed the officer our U.S. passports, he examined them for several minutes, and then he exited the bus. Fernando was still not back yet. David suggested we would all get off the bus if the officer did not let Fernando back on. We weren't going anywhere without him.
Thankfully Fernando got on the bus shortly after the officer got off. Apparently Fernando had a lock on his luggage and the feds wanted to look inside. Of course Fernando was clean so once he unlocked it and they checked out his bag they allowed him to get back on the bus.
This was not the fate of some other guy who was pulled over in a private vehicle. Through the bus window we watched a man in handcuffs walking with a wife and small child in her arms toward a police car. Busted. Guilty or innocent, I hope that guy gets religion tonight!
After the bus was rolling again, Fernando reported that a man had shot a police officer in Sao Paulo last night. This might explain the checkpoint and a crack down on highway traffic into the city.
No, I did not take photos of this event.
28 January 2009
A brief search on the internet seems to have yielded some of the answers. Apparently Brasil, like most of the rest of the world, is experiencing an economic slowdown of epic proportions. Here are some of the facts:
- On January 21, the central bank of Brasil lowered the interest rate one full point. This surprised many analysts who expected some lowering of the interest rate but not a full point. After adjusting for inflation Brasil's interest rate now stands at 12.75%, which is the highest in the world. However if you think 12.75% is high, try paying a loan with a 40% interest rate. As recently as 2002, this was the going rate for banks in Brasil. http://articles.latimes.com/2008/nov/26/business/fi-brazhousing26
- Personal and household defaults are on the rise, registering in at 8.1% in December 2008. This is the highest default rate in Brasil since 2002.
- The government has recently announced a 15 year job creation-housing construction investment plan for low income families. This suggests that Brasil is as badly in need of jobs and economic stimulus as the U.S. http://www.khl.com/magazines/international-construction/detail/item30530/Brazil-plans-to-invest-US$-152-billion-in-housing-sector/
Most of the information can be found by doing a simple Google search with the terms "Brazil economy"; and here is a link with some helpful explanation http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601039&refer=columnist_marinis&sid=aeH44ekPr1yY
It is worth noting, however, that Brasil's economy seems to be better poised to withstand the worst of the global economic crisis than other Western nations. There are a variety of reasons to support this optimism. First, because Brasil's interest rate has been so high, very few people actually purchase homes they cannot afford. Another way to say this: there has been very little speculation in the housing market here. Second, because Brasil is almost completely energy independent, its overall economy is quite resilient to price fluctuations in oil and gas. In addition, the Brasilian government holds several billion dollars in reserve in case of currency drops or inflation threats. In other words: Brasil has saved money for a rainy day.
All of these factors serve as buffers for this economy to withstand the global shocks that are sure to come in 2009. Certainly Brasil will be effected but not to the same depth and degree as the U.S., the U.K. and countries in the Euro-zone. http://www.latinbusinesschronicle.com/app/article.aspx?id=3106
Other links include: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2009/01/200912814011816387.html
Alas, the conference in Belem ends February 1 and I am arriving in the region February 4. Alas.
26 January 2009
25 January 2009
Clearly baroque in style, there are several features on the fort worth mentioning. Above the entrance appears the King of Portugal's crest. There are also two gruesome faces placed on each side of the doorway, apparently to ward off evil. In an era of divine right kings and the power of the Catholic Church, this makes some sense. Today they are just grim reminders of a world that no longer exists. Most of the information about the fort came from a this source: http://www.patrimoniocultural.pr.gov.br/arquivos//benstombados/File/BIBLIOGRAFIACPC/ESPIRAIS/prg2.pdf
22 January 2009
Many people of Arabic descent began coming to Brasil in the latter decades of the 19th century. One contemporary author, Milton Hatoum, writes fiction using his experiences being Lebanese-Brasilian in the Amazonian city of Manaus. Hatoum, a recent recipient of Brasil's highest literary prize, is considered one of Brasil's most important living authors Sadly for me, I have not even heard of him before this afternoon, much less read any of his books. Interestingly for the U.S., Hatoum will be in New York in April for the World Voices writer's convention.
According to Larry Luxner and Douglas Engle, authors of the article entitled "The Arabs of Brazil", which was written in 2005 "an estimated nine million, or five percent [of the population of Brasil], can point to roots in the Middle East. Brazil has more citizens of Syrian origin than Damascus, and more inhabitants of Lebanese origin than all of Lebanon. Of the nine million, some 1.5 million are Muslims; the majority are Orthodox Christians and Maronites" (http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200505/the.arabs.of.brazil.htm).
In addition, the Arabic language has found its way into Brasil by way of the Iberian Peninsula and Muslims in Spain. Indeed, over 100 Arabic words in Portuguese—arroz (rice), alface (lettuce) and açucar (sugar) to name just a few - are used by millions of Brasilians everyday.
21 January 2009
After breakfast David, Hope and I walked around town some more. Morretes is a cute colonial town with well kept homes, a meandering river and gorgeous views of Serra do Mar, the mountain range that separates the inland city of Curitiba from the coastal litoral of Paranagua Bay.
As the day progressed, gray storm clouds gathered overhead. By late afternoon we could hear the thunder beginning to rumble over the mountains. And then, very swiftly, it began to rain. And rain. And rain. In fact it rained so much, so fast that the street in front of our pousada was flooded level with the sidewalk within minutes. I was not quick enough to catch it with the camera, but several of those early morning cyclists now rode through the flooded streets steering the bike with one hand and holding an umbrella over their heads with the other. It was a sight to see! Of course, I realized right away that this is normal for them; they live in a tropical rain forest, after all.