On my way to save the world

It’s finally decided: I’m spending the summer in Ecuador.

This is not exactly news.  I settled on doing my research on environmental justice movements in Latin America in the fall, narrowed it to the Andes by Christmas, and zeroed in on Yasuní National Park in Ecuador by the beginning of this term.  Still, though, it only really set in today, when I finally had put together the ominous trifecta of a guidebook, a thesis proposal, and—most importantly—a plane ticket.  I’m officially as committed as a non-refundable flight: I really am, in fact, going.

Heck yes.

I have, I dare say, the kind of research site that social scientists dream about.  Yasuní is—supposedly—blessed with the highest biodiversity in the world (purportedly, they found an acre of land that had more species of trees than all of North America).  The park is also home to the Tagaeri people, who have no peaceful contact with the outside world (and, of course, thousands of others whose stories I might actually have a chance to tell).  More recently, Yasuní has become a battleground between global mobilizations against climate change and the oil companies that run the Amazon’s extractive economy.  In short, the Ecuadorian Amazon has all the actors for the perfect development narrative: well-meaning but mis-informed international non-profits, evil multinational corporations, threatened indigenous cultures, and Macaws to boot.

Right now, my imagination is running wild.  I have colonialist visions of me in a Panama hat, trekking off into the rainforest only to “go native” and never return.  Or perhaps I will be an ethnographic dragon-slayer, unearthing the evidence that will save Yasuní for generations to come.  Of course, in reality, these romantic narratives will quickly come crashing down.  My Spanish skills are, at best, questionable, and my knowledge of Ecuador comes exclusively from Oxford’s Social Science Library.  I know the Amazon is a tough place, full of conflict and storing centuries of accumulated injustice.

While I’ve been feeling trepidation about these things for months, at least for today, I’m feeling a bit of giddiness and excitement.  I’ve had no shortage of frustration this year with my course and my advising over the course of this year.  At moments like this, though, it’s nice to step back and realize that I’m spending my summer in an exotic place studying a topic that fascinates me… because it’s my job. Not bad.

Of course, I’m being a bit hazy about what I’m actually doing in my real-life Pandora.  For that, you’ll have to watch this space!

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Jukebox: Operation Ivy – Missionary

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