Wow. What a strange, crazy trip it has been. I left for Brazil on March 27. The weeks leading up to departure where absolutely insane with the preparation of the Katoomba conference in Cuiaba, Mato Grosso. There were agendas to be made and changed, flights to arrange, hotel rooms to reserve, speakers to prepare, and so many more things that I can’t even remember now, but at the time, they seemed like the most important things in the world. There were many late nights at work, and early mornings that I woke up early thinking about the preparations that needed to be made. I arrived in Cuiaba almost 24 hours after I had departed DC with Fiona, my partner in all of this nonsense.
We were met at the airport by Colonel Maia, the second in command in Mato Grosso, his assistant Karim, and a policewoman, Fernanda. Karim and Fernanda took us to Sesc Pantanal – a hotel about 2.5 hours away that was the site of the private meeting. We were there to meet with Marco, the general manager of the hotel and discuss details about the private meeting. It was great to finally sit down and talk concretely about logistics with someone.
The Sesc Pantanal is on the Pantanal – the world’s largest wetland. While we were unable to see the sites during this short trip, we were able to do so during the private meeting. There are more than 500 species of birds (there are only 350 in the US), caimans, capybaras, jaguars, anacondas, small deer-like animals, and who knows what else! We didn’t get to see jaguars or anacondas, but we did see a lot of birds, one caiman, a few capybaras, and some other animals.
Monday and Tuesday were spent back in Cuiaba making the final preparations for the meeting. Cuiaba is the capital city of Mato Grosso. The governor of Mato Grosso is Blairo Maggi. Blairo Maggi is the President/CEO of Amaggi corporation. Amaggi Corporation produces about 5% of the world’s soy. Most of that soy is produced on land that was deforested. Avoiding deforestation was the theme for the meeting. That’s the logic behind having the meeting in Mato Grosso. Also, National Geographic did an article on Maggi one or two years ago, and he didn’t exactly come out smelling like roses because of these facts I just presented. Because of the article, he decided he needed to start to clean up his image. Last year, he came to the Katoomba meeting in DC and gave a keynote speech and he decided to partner with us to hold this meeting in Brazil this year.
The meeting was HUGE – three times the size we expected. Over 1500 people came as speakers, organizers and attendees. If I thought the weeks leading up to the meeting were intense, these two days were even more intense because everything needed to be done immediately. People needing plane tickets (still), changes in the agenda (again), have you seen so and so, they need the list of private meeting attendees, can xyz share a room with uts, what time is the bus coming, where can we find the documents…wow! I’m not going to say that there weren’t problems, because there were more than I needed, but everyone seemed pleased with the event. Several people came up to me to thank me and congratulate us, so that was great. 6 governors, the Minister of the Environment, and a lot of other really big names showed up, so we were in all of the local newspapers, on the television, radio, everything. Pretty darn cool, if you ask me.
Thursday evening we left Cuiaba to return to Sesc for the private event. The private event was supposed to be much smaller, but since we were working with the government, it ended up being over 125 people. It was still okay, but it would have been nice to work with a smaller, more initimate group. Of course, upon arrival, the agenda that we had just printed that afternoon needed to be retyped and printed (always make sure you save copies of everything on your flash drive when using other people’s computers), someone didn’t have his plane ticket yet, and I didn’t get a chance to relax (unless you count a 2 hour bus ride “relaxing”).
The private meeting was only slightly less crazy than the public meeting – had to sign people up for field trips and make sure that everyone paid for what they needed to paid for, people needed to make return travel plans, *sigh*.
All of a sudden, it was Saturday afternoon and the meeting was over! Fiona and I spent the next 7 hours vegging in our room watching tv, talking with family and relaxing – finally! I had almost forgotten what it felt like!
Sunday began another journey. After a 2 hour flight and a 9 hour bus ride, we arrived in Cacoal, a city in the state of Rondonia which borders Bolivia. A small group of 12 of us came here to meet with the Surui tribe. They live about 2 hours from Cacoal and we are working on a carbon project with them. Monday we visited the site for the first time. The Surui tribe was first contacted by white men in 1969. At that time, there were 5000 people. Like the history of the native Americans, contact with white men brought new diseases and many other problems. Only 1 out of every 20 people survived. The population plummeted to 250 people. Now, they number about 1500 (their population doubles every 15 years).
When we were arrived, we couldn’t just start discussing the project, but there was a ceremonial procedure of meeting all of their leaders and introducing ourselves which took 3 times longer than normal because it had to be translated from Tupi-Monde to Portuguese to English for everyone present to understand what was being said. We moved from the ceremonial house to the school to talk more about the project. First, however, we were told about their first contact with white men and Beto, my boss, talked about the first time me had visited the Surui 15 years ago. Finally we were able to talk about the project. I’m not sure that they really understand the concept of carbon, but they understand the importance of the forest. Their understanding, however, I think is more related to their cosmovision – their history, beliefs and traditions – than the world and carbon, but they understand something. After a lunch of the most delicious fish I have ever eaten (catfish cooked over a fire), we visited the part where they are reforesting. They have already begun this part of their project (though not for carbon reasons) in several of their villages. The Surui are composed of 4 clans which are also divided into smaller groupings of houses (they call them villages). I’m not sure that their reforestation is really working, however. One of the trees they planted is mahogany. There’s a moth that comes at night and eats the tops of the trees, killing them. This is why it is impossible to plant plantations of mahogany. This reforestation was only a track about 10 feet wide in the forest, but they had planted the mahogany trees too close together, and the moths were already destroying the trees. So we have a lot of work ahead of us.
Yesterday, the village leaders came to a meeting in town, and we discussed with them everything from the concept of what carbon is, to what international law will and will not permit them to do. (Indian reservations in Brazil have a very long list of restrictions for the use of their land.)
The meetings were very productive, however, and we are now in full swing working on the next steps to bring this project to market. As I am writing this, I am on a bus to the airport, to go on the next stage of this expedition. In ways, it feels as though I have been in Brazil for 3 months and in others, 3 days. It has been a crazy journey, but also an unforgettable one.