Vanessa Sequeira's net

Words for Vanessa

Vanessa's backpack...

Marianne Schmink first posted this to the Reservas Extrativistas Blog on Sept. 9, 2006

I first met Vanessa in 2004, I think, on her first trip to Acre in search of a Ph.D. project. She came to talk to me at the “UF House,” rented through our research grant funds to give expatriate researchers a place to stay when in Rio Branco, especially those affiliated with the University of Florida. Vanessa had sought me out because she knew of my many years of research experience and as advisor for dozens of students carrying out research in the Amazon. She wanted to get feedback on her ideas and possible sites of research, and I was very interested in helping her find the right approach.

Although new to Acre, Vanessa had significant previous professional experience in the Peruvian Amazon region, and was dazzlingly clear headed when she asked me: "After all these years, what policy impact has your work had?" This was a direct, and difficult question, and typical of her sharp mind and committed thoughtfulness. The question still hangs there as a challenge for me. But Vanessa was also a lot of fun – incredibly witty, very open and friendly.

This year I met up with Vanessa again in July, when I returned to Rio Branco, and she has already been there several months carrying out her Ph.D. research. She was thoroughly integrated into the UF+ social group that included UF professors and their children, UF graduate students, other outside researchers (such as Vanessa) and our friends and research partners in Brazil. I saw Vanessa again at the UF House, along with Lee, for the big July 4th party with the red-white-and-blue tortillas. Everyone had a good time. After that, Vanessa went back to Portugal for a family visit (thank god), so I did not see her until mid-August when she came to a talk I was giving at the university. We had a very interesting exchange about our research findings, since I was studying migration of rural peoples to the city, and she was studying rural people who had decided NOT to move to the city. It was one of those conversations that ends with the idea that you should sit down and talk about this in more detail one of these days.

The little wooden house Vanessa rented in Rio Branco was right down the street from the UF house, and from other close friends’ apartments. The next day, Friday, August 24, Vanessa called and came by the house to drop off her backpack containing her laptop, documents and other valuables – for safety while she went to the field. We embraced, because I was flying back to the States before she returned from the field. I stowed the backpack in my bedroom and glanced at it every day as I moved through my life, until I left for the U.S. on August 31.

The forlorn image of that backpack, waiting uselessly in my bedroom, epitomizes the empty absence of Vanessa.

Marianne Schmink, Director
Tropical Conservation and Development Program (TCD)
University of Florida

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