Saturday, March 30, 2013

Four letter word

A short overweight lady passes wearing a clingy T-shirt emblazoned with the English words LOVE NEVER FAILS. One of my favourite verses. 

I wonder if she knows what the words mean. I wonder if she knows that the four letter word is referring to God.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Suffering, bloodshed, blindness

In a homily, the Pope earlier urged priests to do less “soul-searching” and engage more with parishioners.

“It is not in soul-searching...that we encounter the Lord,” he told hundreds of cardinals, priests and bishops in St Peter’s Basilica. “We need to go the outskirts where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters.”

Source: BBC News (28th March 2013)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A terrible waste of life

“I’ve got you in,” my friend Verna says to me as we begin the arduous entrance and security procedure, “but I can’t guarantee they’ll let you out.”

Clunk, clink. Heavy reinforced gates grinding along rails. Strange areas where doors behind need to be sealed before doors in front are opened. I can’t remember the last experience I had of being locked-in, the last sensation of imprisonment. I guess the nearest equivalent was on the aeroplane, but where was the promise of a distant land to numb the fear of those air-tight doors? Not here. More doors, more locks. At each regimented interval the security personnel were surprisingly courteous. Was that a smile? The only steely face was that of the last gatekeeper - a stern lady of very few words. An hour or so later, she too would be in tears and asking to be prayed for. I guess you dont need to be a prisoner to feel like theres no way out.

With a startling frequency, gleaming white vans with wailing police cars in tow speed up to the entrance and the tall gates are thrown wide to welcome more children into the State’s ever-open arms. This is a unit of Fundação CASA, the pretty-sounding name for the network of childrens prisons dotted in and around the city. A visit I had been wanting to make for several years, but had not had the chance until now.

The boys filed in, looking not unlike concentration camp dwellers with their uniformly shaven heads and matching navy tracksuits. Their clothing had the appearance of pajamas or some Government-issued onesie: a disconcerting scene at first (like when the bad guy in The Matrix multiplies himself a thousand times), but the PJs somehow disarmed them­ — like they were all ready for bed.

The faces were scarred, frowning, troubled. A disproportionate amount showed signs of mental disturbance.  All looked subdued. These were the boys you see on grainy CCTV footage nervously pointing guns in the faces of panicked check-out girls, who were caught dealing or stealing or...worse. A boy in the front row (who looked about 10 years old) perpetually scratched his leg, revealing a twisting contortion of an unfinished tattoo. 

As we prepared the seats, the dining room filled gradually until it reached capacity. 125 boys had chosen to come to hear a simple message of Easter, and while I tried to look relaxed, to give a warm smile as one or two looked up at me, it was difficult to betray the sadness in my eyes as I contemplated that these interns were just part of one unit in a complex of many units in a city of many complexes.

Author Frances Fyfield interviewed on Woman’s Hour
(BBC Radio 4, 11 December, 2012)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sorry, Siri

...but 22º does not a summer make!


Monday, March 25, 2013

Four stages left on the Kübler-Ross model

Apparently this one has been around for a while, but somehow (probably due to my prior monk-like existence in the rescue house) I had missed it until recently when the bus I was riding on passed a sign bearing the slogan.

Dilma’s catchphrase for the country is not quite as blunt as the literal translation in English: A rich country, a country without poverty, but its ambiguities have not gone unnoticed by other domestic bloggers, so that at best it remains wishful thinking and at worst an expression of delusional arrogance.

I heard on the radio one of the many “public service announcements” letting the people know just how wonderful the government is. It’s all very Orwellian. They don’t have the media blackouts (blanket bans on self-aggrandizing publicity and new populist policy announcements by the incumbent ruling party) close to election time which are enforced in other countries, so it’s little surprise that the frequency of such publicity increased in past months and - even though the elections for the state legislature are long over - the soggy posters continue to litter the streets.

Repeat a mantra enough times - it seems - and the people will believe it.
Repetition is used everywhere—advertising, politics and the media—but does it really persuade us?  
It seems too simplistic that just repeating a persuasive message should increase its effect, but that’s exactly what psychological research finds (again and again). Repetition is one of the easiest and most widespread methods of persuasion. In fact it’s so obvious that we sometimes forget how powerful it is.  
People rate statements that have been repeated just once as more valid or true than things they’ve heard for the first time. (…)  
This is what psychologists call the illusion of truth effect and it arises at least partly because familiarity breeds liking. As we are exposed to a message again and again, it becomes more familiar. Because of the way our minds work, what is familiar is also true. Familiar things require less effort to process and that feeling of ease unconsciously signals truth (this is called cognitive fluency). (…)  
Repetition is effective almost across the board when people are paying little attention, but when they are concentrating and the argument is weak, the effect disappears (Moons et al., 2008). In other words, it’s no good repeating a weak argument to people who are listening carefully. 
And so, with an element of truth, this rebranding of the country is simply genius: not only for the mash-up of the words “Federal Government” and “Brasil” in a single logo (the two should, of course, be distinguishable in the mind of the discerning reader), but also for the fact that in certain pockets of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro or any of the other more prosperous cities, the argument for wealth itself (at least, economic wealth as distinct from - say - natural or cultural, etc.) could easily be made: apparently we’re number 6 on the list of cities with the most billionaires (Forbes authoritatively tells me) and home to more billionaires than any city in the Southern Hemisphere.

But for the 192,999,974 people remaining one can only assume that the rebranding is meant to bolster the self-esteem of the middle classes (and encourage them to spend more) while keeping the rest in denial. And is not denial merely the first stage of grieving?

Good Grief glasses: drink your way to acceptance

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Un-immaculate Conception

One of the sadder pieces of information gleaned from my many conversations with Enildo over these past few weeks is the fact that the second oldest of the four brothers in our care was conceived in prison while their mother was visiting.

Often it takes months (if not years) to begin to discern something of the causal origins of a child’s behavioral issues. Sometimes it just needs a coffee and some honesty.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why wasn’t he me?

A thin boy approaches nonchalantly and pauses momentarily before extending his hand in the direction of where I am sitting on the floor. It’s the second time I’ve seen him here and a faint look of recognition passes over his otherwise expressionless face.  

Good, I thought. You’ll be seeing a lot more of me here. Like it or not, I’m on your case.

“Mateus?” I say and shake his hand firmly. Any tighter and I would have crunched the bones. 

The arrival creates a natural break in my conversation with Everton - a rambling, paranoid young man just desperate for a way out. Every time he gets up to leave, the dual chains of crack and booze tighten and yank him back down to the ground again. We both take a moment to look at the new arrival and as Mateus surveyed our company, his eyes seem bulbous and luminescent against the tone of his dark skin - like one of those horror movie posters of a human skull with eyeballs.

The young drifter crouches down and accepts the proffered pipe which the two girls to my left had prepared moments before. I am used to seeing kids smoke, toke, drink and sniff, but the immediacy of the event takes me aback for a moment and I get up to go - to separate myself from this present reality which is punching me in guts. By just being there I felt like I was somehow condoning the tragic inevitability of it all. 

Maybe I felt winded because of the sudden realization that if I was born on this part of the world, on this side of the proverbial town, maybe I...would be he. 

Interview with Jackie Pullinger, July 4, 2011

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Monday, March 4, 2013

Panettones are not just for Christmas

I spent most of the morning with Enildo. Due to the generosity of my friend Sue, I had a box of old panettones to give away, and thought he may want to help me distribute them to some of the community of which he (sadly) now forms part. 

A scrawny, filthy boy at the first set of lights we reach and I give an awkward smile-but-with-concerned-eyes. I sit upright in the car and am reminded of how much I dislike hand-outs. Worse still was the separation and the ease-of-escape that sitting at the wheel of a car communicates.

So, in a bizarre twist of Acts 3, I say: “Loose change I have not, but what I do have I give you: a slightly out-of-date but nonetheless delicious chocolate panettones!”. Well, I thought of saying it.

“You use crack here with the others, right?” I ask with a little resignation.

He responds with a bewildered look and then glances at the driver behind me in the hope of a more fruitful response before the lights turn. Enildo reaches into the box in the back and hands him a panettone.

“You can’t say that,” Enildo says to me as we drive away. “It’s It goes straight to the point.”

“Well, that was the point,” I say. “Why not go straight to it?” I think it’s important to show that I am concerned, but not naive, I explained.

But really what is there to say in such cold encounters, such drive-by hands-length give-aways? How many other well-wishers pass by and blurt out a well-meaning but misdirected platitude at such easy recipients of our charity? How many invitations to rehab are handed out to these kids day-in/day-out? I don’t want to be just another do-gooder not doing any good at all.

In such short and awkward dialogues I usually fumble phrases like there is hope for you or something similar, but in the absence of relationship, there really is not much to say. Addicts (child or adult) don’t need another person to tell them to clean-up, they need a power encounter that changes their heart as well as their will and then someone to walk with them every day of their new lives.

“He’s from the church,” Enildo leans over and says matter-of-factly to the next one at the lights. I sink down in my seat.

“I can’t see how that is any better,” I replied after we’d given away another cake. “It conjures up all sorts of mischief in people’s minds. Boredom, dusty pews, a creepy priest. Some of these girls’ clients may well be drawn from the laity. Do you actually think it is more helpful to put me into that box?”

“Well, I guess not,” he concedes.

Only one panettones left. That one’s for Enildo.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The girl and her partner were sitting in the early morning sun outside the bakery. Both had the glazed look of a drunk, sharing a word from time to time not with a twist of the head but with a slow lean from the waist.

She cradled a sleeping child in her arms. The left hand with which she supported her daughter’s frail head also clasped a small glass of beer and (as if to complete the balancing act) between the fingers of the same hand she pinched a dying cigarette.

Breakfast of Champions.