About a month ago, when my homesick meter was at an all-time high, I didn’t think this day would come. Now I’m surprised how fast the time has gone. My bags are mostly packed, and just a few gifts left to pick up for family and friends. Our host family threw us a joint Festa Junina/going away party that was so much fun. Festa Junina celebrates the beginning of harvest season. People wear traditional bright costumes and, of course, and prepare a feast (mostly corn-based).
We danced the quadrilha, drank mulled cachaça, ate a ton of food, and sang bad karaoke. It was a great time and I’m glad we got a chance to celebrate with the many people that helped to make our work here so enjoyable.
What I have enjoyed most about this internship in Brazil is having time to just think and focus on what I’ve learned in my wildlife and ecology classes, as well as mull on questions that might be interesting to research. My time in school has always been chaotic – a full schedule of classes combined with a full-time work schedule and trying to cram lab and field experience into the margins. Having two months to focus just on wildlife research, read scientific papers, and make linkages to potential research has been a great luxury.
In between dreaming of Squirrel’s burgers and microbrews and spicy Thai food, you think about the forest around you and see how the systems work and how disturbance can change everything. You think about how when you’re sitting comfortably in America, it’s easy to say that countries like Brazil should conserve their forests. When you’re actually here, you see how desperate poverty can be, and how economic growth is an imperative to improve these citizens’ lives, and how balancing that with conservation is extremely difficult.
I was astounded at the amount of wildlife that we saw on the edges of fragmented forest. Based on what I’ve learned in my classes, I expected these areas would be ghost towns. Perhaps more wildlife thrive here than would be expected (and if so, why?). Perhaps the relative abundance I see is a small portion of what used to live here. And, of course, as an American living in a pretty developed area, seeing wild mammals larger than a squirrel just doesn’t happen on a regular basis, so my perception of what’s normal probably isn’t a great measure.
It has been an incredibly interesting time to be in Brazil. The country is in the midst of a devastating economic recession and shattering corruption allegations as Brazil’s first female President, Dilma Rousseff, awaits an impeachment trial. I found Brazilians’ political apathy to be similar to Americans’. They feel the corruption is so entrenched that they feel helpless to stop it. So they move forward as best as they can. They attend college in hopes of making a better life. They work hard in hopes that it will gain them financial security one day. They go home to their families, and hope that their children will be prosperous. Just like Americans.
To wrap up – I am so grateful that I had the chance to do field work here, in a biodiversity hotspot that is undergoing rapid land use change. I am excited to see what our data shows us and the questions that it might answer about the linkage between deforestation and disease, as well as what is living in these forests.
My sincere gratitude goes to Roberta and Domingos Bronzoni for allowing us to stay in their beautiful home while we did our research. Without the financial support of the Oregon State University CAS Global Experience Fund, the Fisheries and Wildlife Department International Experience Scholarship, and the Izma Bailey Conser Memorial Scholarship, this internship would not have been possible. Finally, a huge thanks to Aimee Massey for taking me under her wing and being an awesome science mentor, and Taal Levi for extending me so many great opportunities and being such a responsive, helpful advisor.