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Manaus, a Metropolis on the Amazon
A hub of economic development in the heart of the rainforest
Antonio Carlos Rix (carlosrix)     Print Article 
  Published 2006-09-15 15:45 (KST)   
The city of Manaus takes its name from the ancient tribe of the Manaos, found in the area by the first explorers from Portugal. Those born in the city now are called Manauaras.

The construction of Manaus has brought to its people the same great challenges as those faced by all developing cities and countries of the world today. These are to promote the politics of self-supported development and economic growth and integration in such a way that the environment will not be damaged.

The location of Manaus
©2006 Google Earth

Manaus has between 1.5 and 2 million inhabitants. It is host to more than 600 big companies, and it is one of the biggest isolated metropolitan areas in the world. There are two major ways to get to Manaus, by boat or plane.

Most of all, one interesting fact about Manaus is how little people know about it at all.

Kaukoranta Mikko visiting a river.
©2006 Antonio Carlos Rix

"I have been here for three months already and I haven't seen a fly, a butterfly, whatever! Actually, I had very little time to prepare for the trip. I wanted a challenging place, some adventure, turns out I am in a big city. Of course, I read it was a big city, but the image in my mind was that of the forest, that was a strong image. One thing is true, you will only see the jungle, the forest, if you go for it," says Kaukoranta Mikko, an engineer from Finland, working here as general manager at Salcomp, a Finnish multinational.

"I am waiting for my wife to move here, and then we will go together to visit some of the rainforest, the rivers, etc. I don't want to spoil it for her, you know," he added.

This is so common, even Brazilians from the south have this kind of perspective, or strong preconception. I work here for a software company, we produce software for foreign trade. I read a lot about Manaus before coming the first time, but at the same time I was surprised. People back home in Sao Paulo are always sorry for me. "Poor you, there in the jungle." I laugh -- it's incredible, you tell people it is not like this, but they don't seem to let it sink in. Well, that is one of the reasons why I wrote this article.

Now don't get me wrong, the forest is here, no doubt, but Manaus is so big you won't see any of it if you don't want to. As the forest is so big, the animals have plenty of space to stay away from the town.

Let me explain: in Sao Paulo, the biggest city of Brazil, you will probably see more birds downtown than you will see here, where you hardly ever see one -- why? Because in Sao Paulo they have no place else to go. In the middle of the Amazon they don't have to put up with the city, you see, so no birds (almost), no monkeys, no animals. Do you want to see animals in Manaus? Go to their fine zoo!

As I have already hinted, the industrial park is amazing, with more than 600 companies, including names like Siemens, Honda, Philips, Nokia, Yamaha, Essilor, Visteon, Kodak, Diebold, Samsung, Gradiente, among many others, all benefiting from the Manaus Free Trade Zone laws.

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These companies employ lots of people from all over the country and abroad.

This fact gives Manaus a cosmopolitan flavor, as an international, multiracial city. Korean, Japanese, European, North American, you name it, people from all over the planet live and work here. Let me tell you about the internationalization of the Amazon -- it is already a fact!

Brazilians are responsible for the forest, or their share of it, but we are not alone in making the good and the bad of it.

Note: You want to save the forest? Don't buy solid wood furniture! It's that simple!

Now the whole world is here. All the NGOs are here working. The city is known nowadays as the city that invests more in conservation, sustainable development, and the like than all the other countries in the region, namely, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela. Together with Brazil, these countries are part of the region. Manaus, in the middle of the Amazon, is a reflection of the world. Clearly, the need is to preserve versus the need to grow sustainably.

"I work teaching a short course in biology at the University of Amazon State. As far as knowing Manaus before I came, I was pretty lucky, as I had two friends who were here before me, and they told me about the city. I was well prepared. Now, the thing that impresses me most, and this is my third visit now, is how much mixing has happened among the races in Brazil and the fact that everybody is simply Brazilian. That is great. I know there are race problems, too, but it is nothing compared to many other countries, including the U.S., for example. What I like the most in Manaus is the theater. Let me say how well they make it work for the community, how it is active and proactive. The last time my kids were here we loved to participate in the activities promoted," said U.S. Professor Julie Grossman from Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in Ithaca, NY. "I like Manaus," she concluded.

Ms Grossman and her family on a boat on the Black river
©2006 Antonio Carlos Rix

From Asia, more specifically China, Ms. Rosa Ge (her adopted name in Brazil) was also well prepared, and she's been in Manaus for three years now. She works for a Chinese company. She had studied Portuguese in Portugal, so she had to get used to Brazilian Portuguese and its accent. But I'll tell you what, she does speak it very well. "I specially admire the way Brazilians know how to enjoy life, themselves, and their free time. On the other side, I work with importation and exportation, and there are too many customs strikes for my taste here, it does make our lives more difficult as far as our operations are concerned," she said. "Manaus is a nice place, and it is very hot, too."

So as you see, be ready for diversity if your next stop is Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon.

Ms Rosa Ge
©2006 Antonio Carlos Rix

- Short interview with Professor Julie Grossman from Cornell University. (1:43, MP3) 
- Manaus, by Carlos Rix. Read by J. Lebedev 

©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Antonio Carlos Rix

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