Monday, November 23, 2009

Casa de Recuperação

Yesterday I went to church on the back of a tractor with six recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. I accepted my good friend Berto's offer to take the weekend off and travel three hours out of the city and into the depths of the countryside or “interior”. I love the way the locals describe the city as “centro” and the rest of the huge state simply as the interior.

You may remember Berto from here or here. My age - give or take a few months. He's what you might call an overcomer. He's overcome depression and addiction to crack cocaine. He is one of the most joy-filled people I have ever known.

Health & Safety look away now

The facility, established by my Irish missionary friend Glen, can take up to 20 men who are struggling with addiction. Many come directly from the streets and vary in age from 18 to 70. All of them want desperately to be well. They live full time at the house for a minimum of 9 months (symbolic of rebirth) and work the extensive surrounding land. After cleaning-up, each has the opportunity to join Glen's construction team, which in turn (and rather neatly) works primarily with projects like Casa Elohim.

not looking to the left or to the right, just forward

On the first day we took a tour of the grounds on said tractor and I had my first experience of driving it up and down the muddy lanes. Incredible fun, but I managed to fluff a gear change at a rather critical moment (the top of a steep hill) - knocking it from nice steady first to crazy neutral and sending the tractor careering out of control, with Berto unable to reach the controls because I was in the way. When we reached an abrupt halt at the base of the hill, I could hear the blood racing through my head. Shaken, and only a little stirred.

Donna Maria - at a spritely 85 years - has been like a mother to many of the men who have passed through the doors of the Rehabilitation House. We dropped by to see her and her sons in the impossibly small but incredibly cozy collection of rooms they call home.

Donna Maria and her sons

Friday, November 20, 2009

A better day

W cracks a joke

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Babies, Bankruptcies and Bereavements

Broadcasting House
BBC Radio 4, Sunday 15th November, 2009.

Nearly 70 years ago, psychologists at Harvard University began a study which has become one of the longest and most comprehensive scientific studies ever undertaken: The Grant Study. They sought an answer to the perennial question about what makes people happy. In a blow to those sharing last week's £90m lottery win, the answer is not to "wait for fate".

Through it all: the battles survived, the babies born, the bankruptcies and the bereavements, the researchers have doggedly followed the Grant subjects. And their conclusion? Paraphrasing 68 years of work here...but essentially, being rich doesn't make you happy. Being nice, does.

"What makes people feel joy. What makes people feel glad that they lived their life, has to do with their relationships." Professor George Valiant is in charge of the study and therefore in charge of dispelling any lingering illusions that happiness is about pills and liquor...or sports cars and second homes. "Someone who has a fantastic naughty weekend is picking up the pieces all week. Whereas someone who has devoted themselves to other people - rather than happiness - when they are 80 has both a loving spouse and children and grandchildren who are fond of him. The way the brain is wired is that winning the lottery doesn't stimulate that part of the brain that heroin stimulates. Whereas attachment does."

The shelves of American bookshops are groaning with self-help books whose titles hint at the anxieties of this edgy nation. From How to Survive a Robot Uprising to Dog Sense: 99 relationship tips to get the most from your canine companion.

"The path to happiness is easy to identify, it's just hard to follow in real life. There's nothing more wonderful in time present than a great bottle of wine. The trouble is that once you've drunk the bottle, it's got no sticking power."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My week so far

this picture seems to perfectly encapsulate it

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Crack and The Favelas

A recent conversation has thrown some light on why we have had so much unwanted attention at the rescue house these past few weeks. Each person you speak to tends to have their own pet theory about the origin of the threats and (even more entertainingly) their suggested method of dealing with the problem. Recent suspects have ranged from mischievous kids (ladrinhos - "little thieves") to frustrated pimps (your average homeless prostitute wandering the marshlands behind the house is no Julia Roberts), depending on the level of paranoia of the person asked.

The rescue house has the appearance of a large family residence. It has a wide frontage and large automated gate - to the average thief (or humble, if nosy, neighbour) - an understandably attractive proposition. If only they knew the chaos behind those walls!

I have suggested "Kids Beware"-style signage. It would make a refreshing change to the "Beware of the Dog" posters which scream (bark?) from every frontage in the 'hood. Others have suggested a plaque proclaiming that we are an Association which helped children, but this has been poo-poo'd (IMHO, rightly so) since the concept of the rescue house is modelled on the family home - not some sort of society or orphanage (we do not want the children to believe that they have "special needs" or, contrarily, are in some sort of temporary utopia).

Recently, I have suspected (probably prejudicially) folk from the little favela (favelinha) which appears to have sprung-up at the bottom of the road. There's one man (a photo of which I will post at some later point) who is terribly nice, but there are others there who are not so friendly.

Yes, the postman does deliver if you paint a number on some wood

Although it's more of an illegal settlement than a full-blown favela, the dangers remain. It is widely known that living inside a favela is the safest place to be. The drug dealers control all aspects of habitation: everything from granting permission to live (rent or buy) to whether it is OK to start a Sunday school for the local children. They also decide which crimes can be committed and where. It is those that live just outside the favelas who face the greater risk of crime, since it is the police who control such areas (and around these parts at least, the police don't count for much).

In any event, the recent discussion that took place centred on the marshlands backing on to the vegetable patch. The supply of crack has recently dried-up in the neighbouring favela, so the junkies have been visiting the local dealers who have set up camp (together with the aforementioned prostitutes) in the largely uninhabitable area out back. This explains the recent spate of murders, armed robberies, burglaries and sundry assaults in the locale. Addicts needing to finance their fix - at any cost.

they are out there...somewhere

That is why I am concerned - but not unduly alarmed - by the 'banging at the door'. A serious intruder would not be announcing his arrival. We've strengthened the lock on the back gate and added some barbed wire and a security light for now. Finances don't stretch so far as an electric fence (and my view is that this would attract even more unwelcome attention).

Bolts, locks or bright lights -- ultimately, we can trust in only one impenetrable refuge.

He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

Still Ill

d + v for last few days - I can't think why...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Random Observations #5

My 'to do' list remains totally undone.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Random Observations #4

Shopping das Telhas: the mall that never was (and never will be)

The wonders of skype

W meets my nephew, L

L: how old are you?
W: 13
L: Korrrrrr!