Friday, May 29, 2009

São Jorge

On Friday afternoons I help George and Silvana with their children's work about ten minutes [hair-raising VW combi] drive from Casa Elohim.

Until recently, their work has been confined to São Jorge, a small favela of approximately 20,000 people, where they have been part of the community for 5 years or so. They have now purchased a house which sits between three favelas, but is located in none of them. Strategically so.

The house -- when construction is complete -- will act as a community centre (a rare thing in these parts), drawing children from each of the favelas to escape from their surroundings, do some bible studies, and act as a lending library (books are super expensive in Brazil due to import taxation).

For an hour I joined Silvana on some family visits.

Such poverty of means and of spirit I have never before witnessed. After working our way through a labyrinthine network of alleyways (no mere consequence of ad hoc town planning – I'll post on this some later date) we reached what appeared to be a dead end -- dark and damp despite the bright sunny day – with two lines of washing optimistically strung across the path (my face temporarily snagged by underwear). Two rotting door frames were haphazardly embedded in the wall.

The first lady we visited seemed to bear a heavy burden and there was great sadness in her eyes. I guess she may have been crying when we knocked on her door, but that didn't explain why the appearance remained throughout the twenty minute visit. Her next door neighbour was also clearly disturbed, but in another sense. As we listened carefully to her story, she described how she was convinced that a group of people was invading her house and stealing her food. The last time this happened, they held her down and shaved her head (at which point she switched her unlit cigarette from one fist to the other and slid back her woollen hat to reveal a shaved scalp). She described her life as a horror movie.

The final family consisted of a mother and her two children who lived on top of a sewer. Training the eyes not to wander to the shocking surroundings during conversation is achievable, but as Wilma spoke of her young son's experimentation with drugs and association with local drug dealers (a familiar story) I found it hard not to be overcome by the stench of raw sewage.

When we invited Wilma's son Hudson to a get-together at the new house on Sunday, he immediately declined, fearing that it was in one of the “other” favelas. But then Wilma described the location and he relaxed and said he could come.

I mentioned strategy above. This is how it works. Drugs not only take a physical and psychological stronghold on the individual (through addiction), but the additional spectre of fear is thrown into the mix as the user's life (albeit young and, often, short) is gradually restricted by fear of reprisal by rival dealers. By choosing a location which sits at the juncture of three favelas, the kids need not fear their neighbours.

1 comment:

Susanna Metzger said...

oi vey. so sad. my heart always went out to the people in the favelas I walked through. maybe God encourage you to keep on!

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