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Globalization and Development Essays (Brazil Field Journal)

Globalization and Development

Brazil Field Journal


Manaus and the surrounding areas were fantastic places to explore and view global flows of people, ideas, and products.  During my four days in Brazil, I think it best to organize my experiences as ones where I explored the Amazon, participated in service trips, or visited the city of Manaus.  

I explored the Amazon via three field programs over two days.  The first day I went on a guided hike through the rainforest, ate lunch at a village on the bank of the river, and swam with the pink river dolphins.  Later that day, I went on the caiman spotting field program and saw the Amazon and it's wildlife by night.  I had a great time getting to know the guides as well as experiencing intimate interactions with the wildlife.  (Although I did worry if the interactions were harmful to the animals.)  The second day I went on the Amazon explorer field program where I toured some of the offshoots of the Amazon River as well as visited a few interesting natural sites.  I was worried about how I would handle the ruggedness of the rainforest, especially the bugs and heat, but I was pleasantly surprised that both were not as bad as I anticipated.  The natural vistas surpassed any expectation I could have had.  I was amazed how much green there was in the forest!  I would see a vine growing on a tree and fungus growing on the vine.   I was surprised at the lack of wildlife I saw.  A tour guide would later explain to me that this is because the forest is so dense, the animals are easily hidden from view.  Still, I did see some interesting birds, a few monkeys, and even held a small caiman. 

I also took the opportunity to look at what I saw in terms of globalization.  I expected there to be a lot of edible vegetation from the rainforest, but the meals we had actually were not made up of endemic fruit or vegetables.  Some of the fruit and vegetables were imported from other areas of Brazil or, more rarely, grown on local farms from seeds brought from other areas.  The guides explained that it was very difficult to survive on vegetation in the rainforest and that meat, particularly fish, was the main staple of the diet.  The Amazon River offered hundreds of species of fish that were caught and consumed or sold.  Some of the fish were shipped to other areas, but much of the fisherman's catches were sold at the local fish market.  I thought it was interesting that during the dry season when the fish are concentrated in the lower water levels, fish become an extremely cheap product.  It made me wonder how much of the fish caught on the Amazon made it to the U.S.  Have I eaten Amazon fish and not even known it?  I also noted that people moved to and from the more remote areas of the Amazon.  Many of the guides I talked to grew up in more remote places and moved closer to the city in their adult life.  I also learned that people who live in the city often travel into the rainforest for vacations and to take a break from city life. 

Part of the last half of my stay in Brazil was spent doing service field programs.  On the third day I visited an orphanage for kids with disabilities and went with then to the zoo.  On the fourth day, I visited an orphanage.  These trips were rushed and it was difficult to make quality observations.  I did note that many of the school supplies and toys had themes that were American in origin, particularly characters and actors from Disney.  I was happy that one of the orphanages has their own facebook page so I will be able to keep in touch once I get home.  (I learned from one of the guides that facebook is gaining popularity over another social network site that was primarily for Brazilians and run by Google.)

I spent some time learning about the city as we drove though it on the way to the service visits and as I explored the city with some friends.  I probably learned the most by talking with the guides and asking questions about what I saw out of the bus window.  It was in that way that I learned more about the job market in Manaus.  My guide said that logging used to be the biggest source of employment and that with more government restrictions, most logging companies went out of business.  I asked if this had a negative effect for workers and he said it actually had a positive effect.  The people who worked as loggers moved to the tourism industry as guides and drivers.   The tourism industry actually employed more people at much higher salaries and more of the money stayed in the local economy.   For Brazilians lucky enough to attend private schools and move on to Universities, the main jobs were lawyers or doctors.  I found this interesting since at home, a college degree can lead to a much more diverse range of careers.  

From exploring on my own, I was able to observe a whole separate set of globalization.  My friends and I toured the opera house, visited some small museums, and shopped at the market and grocery store.  The opera house was a very interesting building.  While I was on the tour, I felt like I was back in Paris.  (I went there last summer.)  The architecture and decorations were originally supposed to be French Neoclassical and though some things have changed throughout the years, the French influence was still very strong.  There was some of Italy in the decorations as well.  Many of the paintings and murals that decorated the walls and ceilings were done by Italian artists.  Even in a place that has so much foreign influence, there was still homage to Brazil in the building.  For example the floor of one of the rooms had a two toned wood pattern to represent the meeting of the two rivers that happens in Manaus.   The paintings also primarily depicted Brazilian wildlife or folk tales.   I spent some time chatting with the tour leader after we walked through the opera house and talked to one of the workers at the museums we visited next.  I learned that the middle and upper classes of Brazil are traveling more and more.  Both guides, who were also students, had friends from various parts of the world that they were planning to visit in the near future.  Many of their friends they met through school when the foreign students came to study in Brazil.  

From my own observations, I saw a lot of movement of manufactured goods.  As I already mentioned, school supplies and toys were mostly Disney themed.  Much of the clothing I saw also depicted brands that we have at home or (roughly translated) English phrases.   In the shops, these clothes were imported from the same places as home, but the street vendors were selling counterfeit clothes that may have come from any number of sources.   I don't know much about electronic brands, but I would imagine that the cell phones, speakers, and other electronic devices were imported from various other countries.  One good that was a profitable export was Brazilian gems.  The guide who mentioned this never elaborated on what exactly these gems were, but he told me that there was a very strong market for them, especially in Asian countries.  Manus is a port city so there was lots of clear evidence of goods being shipped to and from the area.  Near where out boat was docked, there were huge storage bins shipping many different kinds of goods.  A professor's husband recognized a few tire companies that he had worked for in the U.S.  

I very much enjoyed my time in Brazil and will continue to reflect on the experience for a long time to come.  


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