Friday, September 24, 2010

The doctor will see you now

Sitting in the waiting room with L. I am reminded of mother at work. Hospital, the most barren of places. And I am not even ill. I have fond memories of mother there (those few times that I visited) when she was in uniform, her official guise. I know what she'd say in this context. I know how she'd act with the upmost compassion. More than at any time before, I am struggling to empathize. Struggling to find a unifying sentiment, a shared emotion, between me and those in my care. I cannot imagine - even for a moment - what it must be like to have no memories of mother. Or just brief, painful ones.

top row, third from the left

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Neighbourhood Watch

delusions of grandeur?

Things are what they used to be

Red eyes on the bumpy ride home.
Mothers who shouldn't have to be here, now.
A hopeless poverty that keeps them excluded from the mainstream.
The end of the night never comes too quickly for me.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The kiting season is over

"Lack of experience is costly. Our greatest ignorance is not of what we have yet to learn, but of how little we really know. Harry Golden remarked, 'The arrogance of the young is a direct result of not having known enough consequences. The turkey that every day greedily approaches the farmer who tosses him grain is not wrong. It's just that no one has ever told him about Thanksgiving.' You can't avoid making mistakes but you can limit them, grow through them, and not keep making the same ones."

The Word For Today
, 29 April 2010


"Por l'amor de deus!" my hairdresser exclaimed after giving a long sigh, before turning on her heels and putting the TV out of its misery. She was halfway through my customary #1 (back 'n' sides) and #1.5 (top) and the sigh - and silencing - was due to the silly season here in Brazil. Otherwise known as Election Season.

The television had been streaming back-to-back extremely tedious party political broadcasts all in the form of Chavez-style addresses to the nation (ie a middle-aged white man intoning a string of clearly unattainable promises).

we pledge to...clear up this rubbish? Fat chance.

The most tedious thing about democracies is the participation, or at least in some sense the feeling of being obliged to so participate. Here, voting is obligatory and this means that - despite the citywide ban on advertising hoardings a few years back - all are exposed to the following assault on the eyeballs:

walking along the road this morning

last man grinning standing

vote for 'im or you gets the next one

Aw, rats (continued)

Woken unexpectedly at 4.15am by a scurrying in the rafters. Houston, we have a rat problem. I had spotted a tiny poo on the sofa in the meeting room on Thursday. They (the poos, not the rats) must be mounting up by now in the roof and spilling through the gaps in the ceiling. Goodness knows how many (rats, not poos) there must be up there now. And, if one were to be frank (but still Luke), I'd say they were pretty fat from the sound of this morning's rude awakening. More like a lumbering than a scurrying, really. Scurrying suggests a certain lightness of foot.

hey, I'm famous! Today's Estado (click to enlarge)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


The urban regeneration of Crackland presses ahead at quite a pace. A "cultural space" is promised, although no luxury apartments just yet, thankyouverymuch. News came today from Folha de São Paulo that the displaced (and crack-addled) masses invaded the demolition site, which has recently been vacated due to various legal wranglings.

The site of men, women and children huddled together in desperation in the middle of the razed and rubble-strewn block looks faintly post-apocalyptic.

"an army of human rags" - Folha

Language Learning

"I marshalled the words and opened my mouth, thinking I would hear them. But all I heard was a kind of rattle, unintelligible even to me who knew what was intended."

Samuel Beckett, The Calmative (1946)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Look who came home today

W unexpectedly - but delightfully - returned to the house today. Regular readers will remember his story and recent history with the house. He has been on the street ever since he ran away, but recently became very ill and was admitted to hospital for treatment. From there he was transferred (as is the protocol) to a children's home run by São Paulo state. We know the home well - they call us most weeks to see if we have room for any of their boys.

W is what you might call a complicated child, but he remains a joy to be with.

I don't know how long he'll be with us, but that just makes every moment more special.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

It's true

The sound of barking dogs pierces the night. During the day it provides a near-constant backdrop. A suburban tinnitus. Stereophonic barking from behind protective walls. Snarling noises and a nose protruded between bars.
Dogs are meant to be more than this.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Promotions & Demotions

The epic snoring coming down the corridor from Phase 3 is unmistakably J. He has been elevated from Phase 2 after being at the house for over four months.

dirty feet on clean sheets, but who cares?

I should at this point (after having somewhat negligently omitted to previously) explain that the rescue house has four distinct phases which are central to its function. The phases represent more than mere sleeping accommodation. They are designed (and work, for the most part) as targets for the boys to aspire to and around which revolve various privileges.

The boys, when they come off the street, initially sleep in Phase 1 which is a rather austere space occupied by a quadruple bunk bed and toilet/shower area with bare concrete walls and hooks for clothes. The rawness of the accommodation is designed to make the boys feel more “at home” and forms a crucial first step in helping the kids acclimatise to the new environment. There is a mandatory two week stay in Phase 1. Although boys sometimes yo-yo between Phases 1 and 2 due to disciplinary issues (G was the last to make a habit of this, which became almost comic in its predictability), it is unusual for them to remain in Phase 1.

Phase 2 (shown below) forms a somewhat mediocre middle ground for most of the boys. A mandatory two month period can result in promotion to Phase 3 (as for J), demotion, or stagnation.

Phase 2 - somewhat crowded of late

Phase 3 is a more private space on the upper level of the house, with fitted wardrobes and ancillary perks such as the ability to earn money for performing jobs around the house. W was, sadly, demoted last month for various adolescent pranks which went a bit too far.

Phase 4, the highest phase, has its own bathroom and additional privileges (such as staying up late) and is for those who display leadership and responsibility over and above a child in Phase 3. Suffice to say, I've never seen any of the boys yet reach P4...but here's hoping!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

It took a child to notice

I had been meeting various people most of the afternoon after lunch. Some meetings brief, others longer. No one had said anything until much later when J told me I still had food around my mouth.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back To The Old House

"All roads lead home," says Julia
"All roads lead away from home," Jackson replied

Kate Atkinson, Started Early, Took My Dog

Friday, September 3, 2010

Club Med

"That the world's fifth-largest country (by population) and eighth largest economy (in real terms) is often perceived by foreigners as a giant Club Med resort is partly thanks to foreign correspondents reporting on Brazil, who often feel they have to start with what readers back home know about the place and go from there."
The Economist
, 21 August 2010

Yes, a Club Med where there's typhoid and rabies and HIV.

Permanent visa in hand, I return to the rescue house next Tuesday night. I am (as the Americans like to say) psyched about resuming my work. Thank you to all (not least my own dear family who have been suffering my presence this last month) for your unabated kindness and continued expressions of support.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Presenter: Isn't there a risk that people will blame themselves? I mean, if it's all up to them?
Author: Well, it is a self-help book.

The Today Programme, BBC Radio 4