Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Look away now

You can always tell when boys are up to mischief.
The not quite straight faces. The side-eyes.

Now if that is glue, mixed with glass...

...these photos are going straight... the police!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Uneven Economies

Even at recent impressive rates, it will take Brazil another two decades before inequality falls to average world levels.

The Financial Times, 19 July 2010

Monday, July 19, 2010


Well, I understand that all of the paperwork for the permanent visa is now winging its way to Brasilia. That means I can return to Europe for August.

Periodic musings will continue to be posted irregularly.

Her name was Jaqueline

J is progessing incredibly well. But should I say incredibly when we believe in a God for whom "nothing is impossible" (Luke 1:37)?

He is one of two boys in our care from Crackland (in his case, two years) and when we took him in last April he showed clear signs of crack-induced malnutrition, with emaciated limbs and bloated stomach.

Over the past two months he has integrated well into life at the rescue house, asserting a fierce intelligence (he clearly studied, at some point in his young life) and a biting wit. Upon arrival, he insisted on converting the small art room into his personal office and asked that all messages be conveyed through his secretary. When I asked - tongue in cheek - what her name was, he asked me for a pen and paper and carefully wrote the following:

Piecing together these boys' past lives is part of the challenge and appeal of the work. Deciphering the fragmented memories, embellishments and (at times) clear fabrications with patience and grace is a skill one doubtless develops over many years.

J - who are you now?

He has also started family visits (where his mother comes to the office and a supervised meeting is arranged) with the aim of reintegrating him back home by the end of the year. As a precursor to the visits, he asked if he could write a letter, which I have extracted below only to give an indication of the boys' mindsets at this stage:


Mum - sorry

Mum, I'm sorry that you suffered because of me.
I do not know if you will want me home after all the suffering I have caused.
  • I can now swim
  • Play ball
  • I have learned to ride a bike
  • I will start studying
Mum I love you.

Although (of course) there are ups and (seemingly just as many) downs, I continue to urge J not to be distracted from pressing on. It remains a privilege to work with him.

See they look old in photographs compared with what they look now. Only they weren't. They were lads same as you.
And just as grand.

Waiting for the Telegram (Alan Bennett)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Away Game

due to a pitch invasion, we have to resort to kiting

PC Portuguese

We'll have to drive through the favela to get home. Otherwise, we'll have to go all the way into the centre and drive back which takes ages.

They're not called "favelas" anymore. Our teacher has told us to call them "communities".

We'll have to drive through the community which looks a lot like a favela to get home.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Divided loyalties

the car in front made me smile the other day

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Where are you heading?

Barbara Kruger
London Tube Map (2010)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


“Wow! Brazil is big.”

President Bush, 11 June 2005, after being shown a map of Brazil by President Lula da Silva

"Making a difference"

The almost-35-year old Terry Schmidt had very nearly nothing left anymore of the delusion that he differed from the great herd of the common run of men, not even in his despair at not making a difference or in the great hunger to have an impact that in his late twenties he'd clung to as evidence that even though he was emerging as sort of a failure the grand ambitions against which he judged himself a failure were somehow exceptional and superior to the common run's - not anymore - since even the phrase Make a Difference had become a platitude so familiar that it was used as the mnemonic tag in the low-budget Ad Council PSAs for Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the United Way, which used Make a Difference in a Child's Life and Making a Difference in Your Community respectively, with B.B./B.S. even acquiring the telephonic equivalent of DIF-FER-ENCE to serve as their Volunteer Hotline number in the metro area. And Schmidt, then just at the cusp of 30, at first had rallied himself into what he knew was a classic consumer delusion, namely that the B.B./B.S. tagline and telephone number were a meaningful coincidence and directed somehow particularly at him, and had called and volunteered to act as Big Brother for a boy aged 11-15 who lacked significant male mentors and/or positive role models, and had sat through the two three-hour trainings and testimonials with what was the psychological equivalent of a rigid grin, and the first boy he was assigned to as a Big Brother had worn a tiny black leather jacket with fringe hanging from the shoulders' rear and a red handkerchief tied over his head and was on the tilted porch of his low-income home with two other boys also in expensive little jackets, and all three boys had without a word jumped into the back seat of Schmidt's car, and the one whose photo and heartbreaking file identified him as Schmidt's mentorless Little Brother had leaned forward and tersely uttered the name of a large shopping mall in Aurora some distance west of the city proper, and after Schmidt had driven them on the nightmarish I-88 tollway all the way to this mall and been directed to pull over at the curb outside the main entrance the three boys had all jumped out without a word and run inside, and after waiting at the curb for over three hours without their returning – and after two $40 tickets and a tow-warning from the Apex MegaMall Security officer, who was completely indifferent to Schmidt's explanation that he was here in his capacity as a Big Brother and was afraid to move the car for fear that his Little Brother would come out expecting to see Schmidt's car right where he and his friends had left it and would be traumatized if it appeared to have vanished just like so many of the adult male figures in his case file's history – Schmidt had driven home; and subsequent telephone calls to the Little Brother's home were not returned. The second 11-15-year-old boy he was assigned to was not at home either of the times Schmidt had come for his appointment to mentor him, and the woman who answered the apartment door – who purported to be the boy's mother although she was of a completely different race than the boy in the file's photo, and who the second time had appeared intoxicated - claimed to have no knowledge of the appointment or the boy's whereabouts or even the last time she'd seen him, after which Schmidt had finally acknowledged that the delusory nature of the impact that the Ad Council's PSAs had made on him and had – being now 30 and thus older, wiser, more indurant – given up and gone about his business.

David Foster Wallace, Oblivion (p47-48)

The way things were?

Numerous images have illustrated the rich/poor divide over the years. Most have been doctored, framed or (even) staged in some way to accentuate the obvious. All seem invariably hackneyed.

Jimmy Sime, Eton-Harrow cricket match, 1937

Stuart Franklin, Kenya 1988

Tuca Vieira, Paraisópolis, 2009

The last picture is not photoshopped, not doctored. It was taken about fifteen minutes' drive from the rescue house. This is São Paulo.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Random Observations #15

I receive a text message (here called, rather dramatically, a "torpedo") from a Brazilian friend that had the flavor of an automatically generated wish-you-well. Like those emails you get sometimes that you just know are cut-and-pasted from a reply to someone else, from some other time - or like a present whose name tag has been torn off and hurriedly replaced with your own.

It was probably generated by some ghastly social networking site I forgot to remove myself from. Don't get me wrong, half the time I forget even my nearest-and-dearest's important dates, and I know people are terribly busy, but I can't help thinking that these computer-aided reminders smack of disingenuity.

Auto-replies, auto-signatures, auto-emotions.

Friday, July 9, 2010

If all you have to do today is get peace of, you can have a piece of mine

Hemingway said that one goes broke slowly, then suddenly. If the truth be told, the same applies to the psyche.

I am not broken, just exhausted. Very, very exhausted. I should have seen it coming: nights merging into days merging into nights. Days off left untaken.

My birthday passes and I treat myself to a week away from the rescue house. Far away from the filth and confusion of Copacabana and Ipanema, I find myself on a stretch of beach frequented only by locals. It is reassuring to discover that here, even Brazilians observe the unwritten rule about personal space. There are just a few people where I am writing this, but there is an almost scientific precision in the way that we are evenly distributed on the sand.

The beaches in Rio remain unremittingly egalitarian spaces. Tourists shelling out R$3000 per night for a room at the Fasano will be sharing the same sand as the boy or girl from the favela on the hill.

Towering over the city to my right is Christ The Redeemer and to my left two huge rocks - known locally as dois irmaos (two brothers) - look as if they have been shaped by the very hands of God. An endless loop of lycra (and less) clad joggers underscore the cliché of a people entirely at ease with their appearance. An appearance universally lean and tanned.

Someone give that guy a cigarette.
Somebody feed that girl a burger.

Paradise is abruptly broken by the clak-clack-clack of a low flying military helicopter swooping round the rocky crag at the edge of the beach, officers hanging out of the open sides carrying automatic weapons like something out of Rambo. They must be returning from surveillance at Rocinha, the notorious favela just over the hill. As regular readers (yes, both of them) of this blog will already know: where there is immense wealth, there is almost invariably immense poverty.

Today I realized that the sunscreen I have been using for the last 15 months is actually just moisturizer.