Volunteering...?

Trip Start Sep 26, 2005
1
7
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Trip End May 05, 2006


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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Right now I'm in Bahia, about an hour's bus and boat ride away from Canoa. Last night was Art Night at Planet Drum here in Bahia, which my Slovenian roommate Stasha refers to as 'a house full of Americans.' (It's just a few reforestation volunteers who invite their friends over once a week.) We made our own movie, Biancanieve y los siete enanitos (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). We changed the story a little bit (prostitute dwarf, anyone?) but it still turned out alright.

The social scene here in general is repetitive and uninspiring. It seems as if everyone who grows up in Canoa is in a huge rush to leave Canoa, and you can't blame them considering the lack of opportunities there. The only people around my age who move to Canoa are the local surfer boys. They're pretty cool, but all they ever do is smoke pot three times a day and go surfing. It's nice when they have campfires but pretty hard to keep a conversation going with them. The foreigners in Canoa are alright but I barely see them, and Stasha's cool friends speak French, not English, and don't like to speak Spanish with me too much. So I've got my burnout surfer boys but not much else. The good nights to go out in Canoa are supposed to be Thursday and Saturday, but that's usually just a bunch of kids buying drinks in the bar and sitting on the curb not doing very much.

Then as far as the actual work goes, I don't know what to think. Marcelo is a really cool guy and knows a ton of interesting stuff, but is flaky and unreliable and damn near impossible to actually work with. He always says that every idea I have is absolutely brilliant and he wants to get on it right away, but nothing ever happens. Another problem is that he usually has his volunteers follow him around the community but not actually working -- which is a great way to learn about local issues and community organizing, but that's not all I'm here to do.

So breakfast is around ten regardless of when I wake up, and Marcelo usually gets started between eleven and noon. (One project of mine is to collect mangrove seeds, so I think I'll just do that between eight and nine so that I get something done before lunch.) Then in the afternoon I think I'll be working on my own project from now on.

My project, which I designed for myself so that I won't have to be dependent on Marcelo, is to promote existing eco- and agrotourism in the area, update the volunteer information, and share the local science with ecologists around the world. I'm making a website for all of this. Right now I'm still in the early design stage. So today I'm visiting two community projects so that I can add them to the site. The great thing is, there are already a number of tourism projects established and there's a ton of ecological projects in the area that other people could learn from -- everyone else has already done their part, and so the website is just up to me. In other words, I won't work my ass off only to have it all be for nothing because other people don't do what they said they would.

The really great thing about all this is that my work could really make a huge difference for a ton of people. There are a few ecotourism projects that no tourists go to because no one knows about them, but the communities have already invested so much time, money, and effort in them. And other local communities are turning to ecotourism because it may very well be the only way to survive, but of course there are too many projects for the amount of tourists in the area as it is. In addition to the website I also want to make promotional flyers and brochures and create a few associations (regional ecotourism projects, regional tourism interests, regional enviros, etc.) so that local groups can help each other. The last thing I want to do is make little customized field guides for each project, with bird illustrations and English explanations of the importance of the site and maybe cute drawings by local kids. Something to help the tourists get more out of each site they visit.

All this means that I have a ton of meaningful work that I'm really excited about doing, and could probably stay here a few months because of that. The town itself is nice, small, cute, and has great weather. (It's always warm enough to wear shorts but never warm enough to break a sweat.) There's nothing wrong with living four blocks from the ocean. I really am happy to stay there. And the total lack of pressure and 30-hour work week are pretty nice for a change. But the place where I'm staying, and the fact that all my friends are on the verge of unemployment, is really not conducive to getting work done. And I may find Marcelo so aggravating that I just have to get out of here. We'll see -- I have no idea if I'll leave in less that three weeks or stay here all six months.
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