Saturday, July 11, 2009

This could have been me

My PhD work involved fieldwork in East-central Brazil. After about a year of correspondence with a geologist at the Bahia state survey who was an expert on the stratigraphy, the plan was for me to accompany him into the field. As someone who had worked in the area for decades, he was in charge of the logistics, while I, the student from the top notch analytical school, was in charge of all geochemical and geochronological analyses.

That was the plan.

My flight into Salvador arrived at 12:30 am. When my collaborator met me at the airport, he informed me that he would no longer be taking part in the project, and that I was basically on my own. That I eventually managed to get samples and results (the writing up of which is the reason this blog is on autopilot) was a miracle. But it was pure luck that I didn’t end up like these guys.

For those of you who don’t read All my Faults are Stress Related, or Arizona Geology, five students, three American and two Brazilian, were recently arrested for geological sampling without the proper paperwork. The Americans are required to stay in Brazil until legal proceedings are finished.

Brazil is a country with complicated bureaucracy and spastic enforcement. Unlike these guys, I had a proper multiple entry business visa, as I was going to Guyana for a related project before starting my fieldwork. Upon my return, the border guard slashed the expiry date on my visa by two months, to the day BEFORE my outgoing flight, just because he was cranky his soccer team was losing on the television. Had a similar cop asked why the guy named in our permits was 400 km away from the sample site, I would have been in an even worse situation than these folks. So please spare a thought for people caught in a system where, even if you do manage to navigate the Byzantine labyrinth of regulations, sadistically capricious enforcement can still screw you over.

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