Thursday, March 29, 2012

My brother’s keeper

It has been a month since C Jnr (the younger of the two brothers) chose the street instead of the house. Three times he felt remorse and returned, but I fear that there will not be a fourth. We have already received reports of a return to the old ways. Such sadness, especially as he was integrating so well with the other boys.

Although ostensibly very different characters, it is not hard to find similarities with his older brother, C Snr. A desire to please, an ability to make friends easily and a cheerful demeanour. Unfortunately, in the wrong context such qualities can also lead a naïve boy to the wrong kind of company.

C Snr shares a class at school with our resident Wild Child - E - and often after school he’d lean into my ear to share the latest public behavioural issue (“he made a scandal in class today, again”). Often I will retort with a plea to rein-in E’s wilder excesses at school, if he can. “Help me in this.”

C Snr serving the little ones

I found myself saying the same thing - but in a different context - to him the other day. In the rush and tumble of the house, it is surprisingly difficult to grab time to talk one-to-one, but during one such moment recently I asked him for his thoughts about his brother, and the future. Was he aware of the probable necessity of looking out for his younger brother later in life, to take on that role? He was, he said, staring at the floor. I desperately wanted to add “But it’s not meant to be this way! You’re not meant to be playing the role of Dad. Not now. Not with your brother.

I sometimes find it hard to contain my anger when I think about how many of the boys have been robbed of their dads. By their dads. Abandoned, or (more often than not) never there in the first place, they are forced prematurely into adulthood by having to provide for the needs of their younger siblings and their mother. Needs which can only properly be met by a father and a husband.

I was at my dear Auntie’s house over Christmas, and there - poking out of an old cabinet in the kitchen, nestled among some memorabilia and photos labelled “some family and friends” - was a picture of C Jnr when he first came to the house. A self-consciously defiant look, with eyes pointing away from the camera’s lense and lips pursed. I miss that awkward smile. I miss C Jnr.

not to be forgotten

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

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I had to check that last one on Google Images (always fun for an impromptu translation). I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say that it involved larvae.

Meeting Mother #2

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rat kill

My furry friends have been most disruptive of late. A frenzy of activity since some broken tiles were replaced (them and I rather unromantically share the same roof), followed by exaggerated squeaks that go back and forth above my head as I lie awake at night. Full blown conversations

Living in the rescue house is testing enough, but when the day is done and the boys finally go to sleep downstairs, I don’t expect new disturbances upstairs. I guess it makes a change from the clumsy lumbering noises I heard a few months back (in hindsight, was that the mum before giving birth? The mind does wander).

And now there is strange smell (it’s been warm of late) and a reddy-brown stain has appeared down the wall by my bed. I dread to think what they dragged up there, but I think it’s seepage from some sort of predatory kill.

Meeting Mother #1


Friday, March 23, 2012

We don’t need no education

no mention of parent-child relations!

“In Brazil [teachers] have the right to take 40 days off a year - out of 200 working days - without giving an explanation or losing a centavo of pay.” The Economist (January 6, 2011)

For $700,000, maybe they could get some microchips sewn into the teachers’ clothes too?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Monday, March 19, 2012

What’s the problem to which this is a solution?

E has flu, asthma, bronchitis, asthmatic bronchitis. Well, the good doctor can’t quite decide. All we do know is that the little man is not at all well and that – thanks to those crazy Brazilian laws which allow cheap generic copies to be made of super expensive patented drugs, every time I return from the surgery the house is stocked up with a bucket-load of complicated new medication and assorted paraphernalia: nebulizers, inhalers, cranial suppositories (I made that last one up). All for free and all faster than you can say d-r-u-g r-e-s-i-s-t-a-n-t s-u-p-e-r-b-u-g.

He had been in a funk since the last doctor's visit a week ago, when he was told that:
  1. He’ll have to use an inhaler for the rest of his life (“FOR-EVER?” I mouthed silently back at the doctor, incredulously).
  2. He won’t be able to play football until the asthma calms down.
I glanced across as the doctor delivered the prognosis with all the authority of Moses descending Mount Sinai with the freshly-carved stone tablets in hand, and could almost read the expression on E’s face: kill me now.

It was with some anxiety therefore that we returned this morning. What fun would he prohibit now in the interests of good health? PlayStation? UNO cards? After more listening and probing it was decided that he could now return to the pitch as long as he had a session with the breathing apparatus before and after.

E jumped to his feet and clutched my right arm with both hands, his face beaming with the widest smile.

Hope, restored.

Oh, and if you were wondering, he was prescribed a further dose of antibiotics (no visit to any self-respecting doctor’s surgery around here would be complete without it) - “just to deal with any infection that might be present.”
multi-tasking (with sibling assistance)

I sometimes watch an argument or (more usually) a fight from a short distance away to see how it will run its course – only intervening if there is a risk of harm more serious than a scratch or perhaps a bruise.  It doesn’t happen very often (Brazilians are generally not big fighters, unlike the English), but sometimes it’s the only way a child will mature: by experience. It’s the fastest way for them to discover their limits and (hopefully) they learn to make wiser decisions as a result - something that would not be possible if I were to jump in and intervene at the first whiff of trouble. It would also make me a nervous wreck.

There’s an analogy here with medication.  Perhaps the doctor should pay the house a visit.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

School’s Out (again)

So the boys have been told by the schools to take three days off (conveniently the last three days of the week). The justification given by the educational powers this time is that it is for “planning” purposes.

At first, I was impressed by the diligence and foresight. Then I realised it was planning for 2012.

Better three months late than never, I suppose.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tomorrow, remember yesterday

James Corden interviewed on Desert Island Discs, 17th February 2012 

“Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.

The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, ‘Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?’ And they went out to see for themselves.”

(John 4:27-30 The Message)

Dead Babies

After hatching, they spend the entire night struggling to get through the mosquito net in my window...and eventually die trying. Like little fallen angels they lie dead on my window sill every morning. 
Don't cry for them! They are blood suckers (well, they were, potentially).

Friday, March 9, 2012

You love the song, but not the singer

Standing in line is a sport of which the Brazilians will surely champion at the forthcoming Olympic Games in London - followed up a close second by the host nation (although it will officially be called Queuing, to the bafflement of the world).

Lines begin to form outside banks and lottery shops before sunrise and soon start to spiral round city blocks. Mothers with small babies in arm, older folk who really should not be forced to waste their golden years staring at the back of someone’s head. It’s surely one of the sadder characteristics of a developing nation: just as a love of paperwork marks any good bureaucracy, more paperwork means more waiting in line (even in the internet age). It’s a scene only witnessed perhaps in the First World upon the release of a new consumer product by Apple.

So many people are cutting the line in front of me that I find myself shuffling backwards. Standing in line anywhere here is an exercise of patience and grace.

“I’ve got grey hairs,” I lean and whisper to the lady behind me, “Does that mean I can join the express line for old folks?” She smiles, wearily. 

Another lady joins the line a few positions behind me, her mobile phone blasting us all with what they call “Happy” music (the English word is used) - a kind of Brazilian style of rap. A distinctly unhappy word for her sprung to mind, which I reinforced with a withering stare in her direction. It was another one of those moments when I got annoyed with myself for getting annoyed (when no-one else seemed to bat an eyelid).

São Paulo is a city of mobile phones with sprightly-sounding carriers such as Oi! and Vivo! but nobody ever seems to use them for their intended purpose*. Even the poor have the latest (i.e. knock-off) models, but use them solely for music and gaming. Nobody ever seems to actually make or receive a call. I can’t remember the last time I heard a cell phone ring in a public place.

The early morning sun was already searing my face and a young girl and an old lady take shelter in the shade of a parked truck. A man appears and begins to hand out leaflets to those trapped in line. When he gets to me I don’t even look up and he just stands there, holding the pithy leaflet out like a demented ticket machine. He then pushed the paper further forward, blocking the screen of my Kindle. I look up and he says cheerily God bless you!”. “My blessing is here, I reply, tapping the screen with my finger (I was re-reading Surprised by the Voice of God by Jack Deere - a brilliant work).

At that moment I thought: what would speak more to these people about God’s love and his provision? A cool cup of water, a sheltering canopy that was paid for by the local church or a wordy tract. I suppose the man was well meaning, but I know which one I’d have preferred.

*I think there’s a metaphor to be exploited there somewhere, but I’m too tired from waiting in line.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Oh, America

Auntie tells me this morning that US spending on pets past $50 billion in 2011. 

A wide range of pet clothes are available from US retailers, from polo shirts to wigs and fancy dress costumes.” (BBC News, 4 March 2012)

Why does this news make me feel so sad on such a beautiful morning?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Take and Give

“The story is told that when a friend heard that C.S. Lewis had given money to a beggar in Oxford, the friend remarked that he shouldn’t have done so because the beggar would only spend the money on alcoholic drink. Lewis replied, ‘If I kept the money, I would only have spent it on drink!’”

T.R. Malloch, Being Generous (2009)

Like father, like son(s)

I have always said that this work is not simply one of “rescue”, or one that pertains only to street kids. It is a broader one of restructuring - of putting families that have self-imploded back together. When we make contact with the family (or with what family) the street boys have, it is more often than not with the mother. Dealing with dads is rare. The drunk and drugged man living in the whole under the bridge three hours away from the rescue house (but a stone’s throw from his own mother’s) was Enildo – the biological father of our four precious brothers W, V, R and E.

He was visited over a period of weeks and a story began to be told. A complicated family history if ever there was one, riddled with multiple suicides, mental illness, addiction and premature death. Of his many siblings, Enildo was not left untouched by personal tragedy, and grace (it seems) had not played a role in his torrid family tale – until now.

No need to explain why he ended up sharing a common fate as the four sons we rescued nine months previously. Suffice to say that he got distracted by a crack pipe at some point during the long pilgrimage to find his sons. It’s probably somewhere in the price/kick ratio, but it seems like there’s crack and then there’s every other vice. A bit like the difference between bugs that land on your skin so clumsily that you get a chance to swat them before they bite and the mosquito, whose bite you feel only after it’s extracted the blood and is buzzing off to its next victim.

Needless to say, he was anxious to see his sons when we explained how they came to be in our care (he hadn’t seen three of them in over four years), and the moment was only equalled by the time we reunited the four brothers the previous year. A father (washed and shaven for the occasion) once again got to hug his sons close, cry and ask them for forgiveness for walking out of the family home.