2018 may well go down in history as the year of the mango! Remember that scene in the movie Antichrist, the one where all the acorns are falling? Now instead of acorns, picture ripe pink and salmon and yellow mangoes, all plump and sugary and sticky! The road beside my house is so full of mangoes it is difficult to drive through on my motorcycle. Every breath is sweet mango air.
I should make vinegar. Some people gather them to make mango pulp for juice, filling bag after plastic freezer bag with the pulp. I can’t do that here. One power outage and I’d lose everything. So I should make vinegar. I keep telling myself I’ll make vinegar.
So far, all I’ve done is talk about it.
It’s not that I’ve been too busy. I HAVE been busy, but not enough to justify the fact that I haven’t started making vinegar. Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to work (and live) in bursts. I’ll suddenly get it in my head to start a project and I’ll throw myself into it, working nonstop until I’m exhausted, and I’ll stop, whether I’ve finished or not. Then I find it difficult to pick up where I left off.
A lot calls for my attention. It’s occasionally overwhelming. My house is FAR (far far far) from where I’d like it to be. My garden grows by only a few feet a year – my soil has been so abused and depleted that half the battle has been to set up some system that allows me to feed it, a system which is then linked into some other project, such as my biodigestor/methane producer, a system I am just now finishing up.
Lack of money/lack of materials can leave me stalled for weeks or searching frantically for some kind of substitute. For example, I’ve been looking for about 10 feet of that light spongy rubber used in cars to seal doors and such. No one has it around here. No one. And no one knows where I could find any. So I’ve decided to cut strips from old rubber inner-tubes and find some way of gluing them to the bottom and top lids of the biodigestor so that I can more efficiently seal it. I’ve got the inner tubes. I just haven’t yet gotten around to it because the stem valve on my shower broke and nobody has a replacement (it’s been ordered but when will it arrive, well, maybe next week). And the problems with my water source silting up has forced me to redesign my entire water system which I had to split into two, half direct from the spring the other half diverted through a tank which I can’t close very well so I decided to filter the water organically with tons of plants which unfortunately are hard to come by here so I’m improvising while planning to look for them in Piúma. My motorcycle has had to have a ton of work done in repairs thanks to a horrible road, I’m exhausted from the stress of driving up and down this rock strewn pot hole filled mud trench called a road, my body hurts from falling while driving this road. I want to work on my ceiling but I need to buy more material and I need to spend my money on more productive things, like repairing my motorcycle and food. I need to eat and to eat means I need to cook and to cook means I need the time and time it seems I never have or when I do I’m just to tired to think about cooking or washing dishes because the last thing I want to do when I get home at 11at night after classes is wash dishes or cook, so I eat popcorn and drink coffee and I am always tired, too tired to make vinegar.
In other words, life happens.
But my battle with the environmental abusers also happens.
I haven’t written about any of my legal battles since 2016 because I wanted some kind of resolution before saying anything.
Well, things are resolved, sort of. So I’ve decided to update everybody.
2014 and 2015 were both fairly destructive years in terms of environmental damage in Tapuio. In late 2014 I came home to find someone had completely removed almost all the vegetation (trees, bananas, and undergrowth) from the road up to the spring. My line had been cut and was covered by piles and piles of cut banana trunks. It took me almost half an hour to find the spring because I couldn’t figure out where I was, despite the area not being very big (think three municipal lots). Only juçara palms and a couple avocado trees were spared. With no cover, the spring was at risk of drying up. It is illegal to clearcut in the area around springs and watercourses.
In early 2015, while showing the area to a couple friends who had come to see the area, I found that a road had been cut through the brush and bananas above the area of the spring. It was simply cut, the land scraped, no provisions made to reduce runoff, no dry drains to stop water and sediment rushing down off the road, nothing planted on the edge of the road to absorb runoff. It was just cut through, cutting across the incline. It was a little more than 50 meters above the spring. As people do here, a few drainage ruts were cut into the road, one of them draining the road directly above the spring.
What was the result of this road? Extreme sedimentation of the spring. After every rain, I would have to dig the spring out so that water could again flow. My water supply was basically mud. I complained and was told that this was normal, that the road would soon quite “washing” and would stabilize. People laughed at me, silly American doesn’t understand how things work in the country. It’s now 2018 and the road still hasn’t quit “washing” because this doesn’t exist. I’ve already had to replace two faucets and still after every heavy rain I have to go up to the spring and dig out the silt. A few years ago a guy built a water capture area about 2 meters across by 1 meter deep to catch the overflow from the spring I use. It was built about 20 feet below the spring. This water he used for a garden. It completely filled in and you can now walk on it.
The road was cut in one day by the municipal government. There were no environmental impact studies which are required by law. There was no concern about what would happen to the spring or my water supply. No provisions were made to divert or contain the runoff, as is required by law. They just went up with machinery and cut away.
Dealing with this has been a nightmare. My complaints to the “authorities” were dismissed. I’ve had to completely redesign my water supply system, all at my own cost, of course.
All throughout 2015 a landowner (actually his son, who will inherit the land) slashed, burned, and poisoned his way through the mountainside. During this same period, hunting pressures increased considerably. I won’t say the landowner (his son) was bringing the hunters, who are always from out of town (he swears alternately that he has stopped hunting and that he has never hunted but he has been caught not only by me but by IBAMA), but the hunters are always friends and acquaintances of his. I suspect there is a kind of hunt-and-pay arrangement, but whether that is true or not, I can’t say.
In December of 2015, I returned permanently to Tapuio. No more staying away working and teaching during the week only to spend the weekend here. I moved back permanently. Home every day. I was dealing with the hunters and the slash/burn/poison agriculture and the silted spring on a daily basis, laughed at by everybody as someone from outside who doesn’t “understand.”
One of my students at the time was an employee of the municipal court and was a friend of the public prosecutor. Once he found out what was going on, he set up a meeting between me and the prosecutor. It wasn’t the first time I’d gone to the public prosecutor’s office, called Ministério Público here in Brazil. I’d gone a few years earlier after receiving death threats along with some other unpleasant incidents at my house. I’d recounted my entire story to someone who took my complaint, only to have it disappear in the bottom of some drawer somewhere. So I wasn’t expecting much from this meeting.
My student assured me things had changed and this time they would act.
My meeting with the prosecutor took about two hours and this time, they acted. It was the first of many meetings. The meeting resulted in a formal investigation into the road. this investigation broadened into an investigation into the burning and poisoning taking place in Tapuio.
During this period, a few more burning and poisoning incidents took place. One of the poisoning incidents resulted in my falling ill. IDAF (a sort of EPA for the forest) was dispatched to investigate the burnings, poisonings, and the road, and they went directly to the sources of trouble.
During this time, a second road was put in, much closer to the spring. the road went nowhere. It was just cut into the forest and suddenly stopped after about 50 feet. It was only a few meters from the spring. It was ordered closed by IDAF.
The municipal government was found to have acted illegally in the construction of the road, fined, and ordered to construct some kind of drainage runoff capture. I was told they appealed. They have yet to comply with any of the decisions. I’ll find out next week the exact decision and where that particular case stands.
The case against the landowner turned sinister. The poisoning resulted in a police investigation. He was called in to the police station to make a statement in which he stated I was lazy, vindictive, that I “had it in” for his family, that I am despised by everybody, that he never used poison, although maybe one of his workers might have, unknown to him, of course (of course). He told them in his statement that he was always extremely concerned with me, all alone up here on the mountain, so concerned in fact that he would often come by to check on me, helping me any time I needed help. In fact, he told them, he had buried my waterline for me since I was too lazy to do it myself (the same waterline which my neighbor and I buried one afternoon). At the end of his statement, he asked the police if he would be a suspect should anything happen to me.
The containers for the poison were located about 10 feet from the spring. They are still there today.
He appeared at my house one afternoon, a big robust mean-looking companion in tow, to try to intimidate me. He explained to me, none too kindly, that I was hated by everybody, that I understand nothing about living out here, that I should never have come here. “I was born here,” he shouted as he lit a cigarette, throwing both match and smashed cigarette pack onto the ground, his companion glaring at me. I guess I was supposed to be shaking at this point. “Yes,” I said, “you were born here. And you left as soon as you could.”
I informed both the Ministério Público and the police about his visit and it was added to the complaints against him. He was ultimately fined for the poisoning and burnings. The fines were not too steep. He still faced civil and criminal charges.
I contracted a lawyer to represent me in all these matters and she did her work. In the civil case, part of the process is an attempt to come to some kind of agreement, a settlement, rather than going on to trial. This is a meeting set up between the parties. I don’t think the process is any different in the US. Part of this agreement was to award me exclusive use of the spring.
A preliminary decision was handed down by the judge in my favor and he was ordered to cease and desist in his activities until after the meeting, at which time we would either come to an agreement about his activities or move on to trial.
The date of the meeting was set. And when the day came, I showed up nervous but ready. He opened by telling everybody how lazy I am, how I don’t understand anything, how he does everything for me, and how I am universally hated. My response to him was that none of that was true, but even if it were, it had nothing to do with why we were there that day.
He played the part of the indignant wrongly accused. He said his only concern was ensuring everything and everybody could live in harmony. He was suddenly very concerned about the spring, stating that my use was causing the streams below to dry up, which is of course a lie. He requested that I renounce use of the spring, relying on a smaller one further away for my water, a spring that feeds my other house. My immediate response was that the two springs fed the two houses and that I would not renounce use of the first spring as a source of water for the first house.
He then stated that he should be allowed to build a better water capture system which would hold more water, mainly because it would stop all overflow, a concept which contradicts his earlier argument that my use of the water resulted in dry streams below.
Negative. Not going to happen.
He then stated that my waterline is weak, that they aren’t cutting it but that cows are stepping on it and motorcyclists are cutting it. If I had a better line, buried, I wouldn’t have this problem. He offered to put the line in himself, feeding the idea that I don’t know how to do anything.
My response was that if he wants to supply me with a better line, that’s fine, but I would install it, not him, and that it would not be buried. A buried line is impossible to find should it break for some reason. Furthermore, he needs to stop piling banana trunks and brush on top of my line.
Granted. In all, I was granted seven points and protections. Any infraction would result in an immediate fine of 5,000 reais and a per diem fine. He had 30 days to deliver the new line.
He delivered the line on the 29th day.
During the proceeding, the possibility of dropping criminal charges against him was mentioned, ending the entire process against him at that point. The judge came in during this discussion to check on how things were going and rejected this possibility. He would still have to pay all fines and still face criminal charges, for which he could see jail time. These charges are brought by the state. I am not a party to them and will not know the outcome unless I try to find out. I’ll check into it next week.
In the last few months, I’ve been able to set up a kind of hunter warning system. I call someone if I hear a gunshot, or they call me, and we coordinate our efforts to catch the hunters. IBAMA came by and gave me a private number that I can call at any hour and if they are able, they will respond. We’ve already caught two hunters. Hunting hasn’t been stopped, but it has been reduced considerably.
Area landowners are scaling back on destructive practices, opting for ecologically sound and sustainable practices instead.
People are exploring new possibilities, rather than relying on cattle coffee and bananas. Cattle production has been drastically reduced here in Tapuio.
Maybe I’m just optimistic, but it looks a little like a turn for the better. It seems every time it looks like things are getting better, something horrible happens. So let’s just say I’m hesitantly optimistic.
The other evening, right around sunset, someone rode up on their motorcycle. I didn’t see who it was but whenever anyone rides up at that hour, it usually means hunter. So I activated the network and took out after them to see who it was and what they were up to. While walking up the hill, he came riding down. It was the landowner with whom I’d had all my problems. When I saw him, I turned and started walking away. He stopped and called out after me. “Let’s let bygones be bygones,” he said.
“Let’s leave things just as they are,” I responded.
“I might have been right, I might have been wrong. But it’s past. I know how hard it is here. If you need any help, you can count on me.”
Do I believe him sincere? Not for a second.
I started to walk away. “You’re saving Tapuio,” he called out.
You know, people always get that wrong. We can’t save anything. Our ego is what destroys. Caring about Tapuio, caring about the world, that’s what saves us.
Tapuio saves us.