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Greetings from the Sertão in Bahia, Brazil

August 2006

On our way back from a tour of the enormous hydro-electric dam here in Paulo Alfonso this afternoon, Saulo Araujo and I stopped at a small pond covered with water lilies and what looked to my North-American eyes like duckweed. I was delighted to see dozens of Jacanas and gallinules feeding in the weeds and just as we were about to leave an Amazon Kingfisher flew out from the trees on the edge and dove into the pond for a fish.

A few families were enjoying the pond at the same time we were there–small children poking the lily pads with sticks, a young couple sitting by their car enjoying a picnic in the shade, while nearby another family stood outside their make-shift home, occasionally stirring a smoldering pile of garbage. There were a few soda bottles floating in the pond along with the flowers.

We all live with these contradictions in our lives, but here in the interior of Brazil, they’re a little harder to ignore.

On the road here through the semi-arid region, we passed irrigated banana plantations and shrimp-farming ponds across the highway from fields of parched corn (just a few weeks after the end of the winter rains) and pastures full of cactus, grown so livestock will have something to eat in the long dry-season and in the inevitable event of the multi-year droughts that occur several times each decade.

The semi-arid region is the mot densely populated dry area in the world, with more than 25 million people, so even the most desolate stretch of road is within sight of a few small houses, and the road is lined with foraging goats and people walking and riding bicycles and horse and mule-drawn carts.

Saulo and I are here visiting our partners (who are doing amazing work to improve the lives of the people of the semi-arid region, by demanding agrarian reform, creating local, sustainable solutions to the seasonal and cyclical lack of water, and fighting for the social, cultural, economic and civil rights of the people of Brazil). We’re also taking in a few of the Pharaonic projects that various governments of Brazil have executed (often with the encouragement of multi-national corporations and international financial organizations like the World Bank), which more often than not result in broken promises, more help for the rich and more hurt for the poor (including families driven into the dry areas from their former homes on the banks of rivers that were dammed to produce electricity for big cities and big industries).

We will post more details and photos as soon as we can.

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