Sunday, November 24, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Dissecting a human body

I jumped the wall and entered the deserted plot of land in search of my mechanic. After a lifetime struggling (together with most of his family) with crack and alcohol addiction, he had relapsed for the umpteenth time and was (I was confidently informed) huddling once again in the mud and living a crack-pipe-to-mouth existence.

It was early evening and the light remained good, but he was nowhere to be found. It was the third or fourth time in as many weeks that I’d taken time out from visiting Enildo and tried to locate him. Like many of the addicts here, it was said that his dad had been seen of many an evening driving the streets of the slum in search of his child. Oh, the humanity.

By all appearances he was doing well last time we met and so this new low serves to remind that recovery is indeed a day-to-day process. Always recovering, they say. I’m not sure if I necessarily sign-up to that one, since we’re all in a daily battle that doesn’t end until The End, but I can see how addiction can so ravish the mind that it seems like one will never be totally liberated. An eternal POW.

I jump the wall once more to the pavement below and a veritable motorcade pulls up, each with a sticker indicating a charitable organization of which I had never heard. There was some variation of a cross in their logo, but it was not readily discernible to me. Ten or so people got out and began anxiously looking over the decrepit wall, then jacked-open their cars - full to the roof with clothes and food - as if to show me what they had brought. I turned and left.

Later that evening I was sitting with Wesley - a street guy who keeps himself to himself - and asked him if he’d like a snack, since I was going to the 24hr market. He nodded enthusiastically. Upon my return, he cradled in his hands an immaculate foil-wrapped dinner plus bottled can of juice, together with what looked like dessert. I bit my top lip and looked down at the rather sad-looking cold slice of pizza that I had bought for my friend and said “Well, just let me know if you’re still hungry after that.”

The motorcade must have passed this way, so I decided to do a little test. “Who were those people?” I asked Wesley. “You got some clothes, too?” I added, looking at the bundle rolled-up under his arm. “I think they’re some sort of cult,” he replied.

My enthusiasm now piqued by the c-word, I walked to where Enildo and some others had gathered (who were clearly also recent recipients of the mysterious benefactors). “Who were those people?” I asked into the crowd. “Satanists!” Diego snarled back. Enildo approached and soberly explained that they were indeed from a cult. Then someone else chipped-in and said it was the Catholics.

Notwithstanding the sub-standard marketing or the kindness (or otherwise) of these particular givers, the experience served to underline for me the importance of relationship in the context of giving. Of spending time (sometimes lots of time) and even (shock!) money getting to know people who you want to serve and love. The identity of the giver is not everything, nor is it about setting out one’s stall or receiving gratitude (because you won’t get that here).

It is about going deep, starting and then continuing a personal dialogue - gradually peeling away the defensive layers of guilt and shame.  It is, I think, about caring for people so much that you know their name and they know your name and then, slowly, they begin to care about what you care about.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Don’t fight it, embrace it

Researchers from Brazil found that morning coffee consumption not only keeps you awake and alert, but also improves performance on cognitively demanding tasks. That is, if you’re already a habitual drinker.
Sources: 1 & 2

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lucky Number 7

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The latest figures released last week show that the number of homicides in Brazil rose steadily between 2011 and 2012, with a 7.8 percent increase in the number of murders registered last year. The Statistics Yearbook, compiled by the nonprofit Brazilian Public Safety Forum, shows that 50,108 people were killed in Brazil in 2012 of which 47,136 were murdered, the highest in five years.

Impunity and low levels of convictions for murders, experts believe, drive criminality in Brazil.

The numbers make Brazil the seventh most violent nation in the world, behind war-torn countries such as Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The data was drawn from police reports made available through the state security secretariats, but, according to Julio Jacobo Waisenfisz from the Latin American University of Social Sciences (FLACSO), the study’s conclusions are “uncertain” and the actual number of homicides may in fact be much higher.

“Registered homicides are probably 10-25 percent higher,” Waisenfisz claims, due to the fact that high numbers of deaths in several states like Rio de Janeiro and Santa Catarina remain classified as ‘unexplained’.

One of the states driving the rise in murders is São Paulo. The study shows that the country’s richest state saw a fourteen percent increase in murders between 2011 and 2012.

Source: Rio Times Online

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Good Cop / Bad Cop

On the day that justice is finally done (or, at least, seen to be done) in the conclusion of what is widely being called a “landmark” corruption trial here in Brazil, I recall an exchange not so long ago.

I smiled at the stoney-faced cop taking his breakfast propped against the counter in the corner of the diner. Largely, I admit, to provoke. I used to do the same thing in New York a while back (where smiling was most definitely optional while Protecting and Serving). He returned the gesture with an expressionless glare. I let my smile fall, but made a somewhat lame second attempt - raising the corners of my lips into an awkward rictus grin. 

Only the stoniest of hearts would not reciprocate this gesture, I thought.

I received a cursory nod and he left without paying. I was irritated at the time at how the passive giving and receiving of a bribe creates a double-bind. The owner can say something and be ignored by the police if ever he needed police assistance or he can keep quiet and then be expected to aid the police if called upon for a “favor”, thereby becoming a passive colluder in the corruption. Victim turned perpetrator.

A similar thing happened on the bus the other day. As I got on, a teenager approached and handed a cheap chocolate bar to the driver from the box he cradled in his arm. He climbed on at the back and sat down without paying.

As the bus lurched from side to side and in and out of the bowel-vibrating potholes, we made several stops and soon there were no free seats left and several older ladies were standing. I gave up my seat (of course), but as I held onto the rails my eyes remained fixed on the thief in the back row. As we passed the catholic church he made a sign of the cross and pressed his index finger to his pursed lips in reverance. Maybe he was asking for forgiveness? Pah!

Anyway, as I looked around and saw all those tired and elderly ladies hanging on for dear life, I burned with righteous anger at the thief and the bus driver and all those who think that corruption is victimless. I so want this country to succeed, to progress. It is such people who will always hold it back.

Bonus Ad: Note the near-empty São Paulo tourist bus going over the pothole at the start.

Friday, November 15, 2013


The sound of firecrackers bursts from an alley to the right of the car.
Somebody must have scored in the game, I thought.

The drugs have arrived, my friend says. That’s how they let the small-time dealers know that it’s collection time.

A different kind of scoring, I thought.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tolerate me

I have written before about my many (and varied) cultural faux pas.

Being indignant about something which barely ruffles a native’s feather is - I guess - in the same vein as making a big effort about something of which no one notices. Do you have any idea how much thought went into that?

Glancing across the road at the flower shop makes me wonder: will good presentation (instead of using the back of an old door balanced on a shopping trolley) increase sales? I don’t know. And does anyone really care?

Perhaps this is a culture which has more tolerance and/or grace for others. A society that doesn’t get hot under the collar about things that are just not important. If you don’t like my presentation, someone else will come who doesn’t fuss about such things.

Deal with it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Being Foreign

In the Marine Corps...our troopship carried us...onto Japanese soil...For many of us, it was our first visit to a foreign country. We were surging with excitement...Our company commander called us together...and...said...“Remember, for the first time in your lives, you’re the foreigners. This isn’t your country or your’re the minority. These aren’t your fellow citizens; they don’t speak your language. They know nothing of your homeland except what they see in you...Act in a way that the Japanese people will gain a good impression of your country.”

As Christians...our citizenship is in heaven...We belong to the kingdom of God...We need to be on our best behaviour, otherwise people will get a distorted perception of what our homeland is like...God left us here for a demonstrate what it’s like to be a member of another country, to have a citizenship in another land, that we might create a desire for others to emigrate.

Chuck Swindoll, Hope Again

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In Rehab #2

From the fizzy drinks regimentally lining the table in front of me, I guessed it was to be a dry birthday party and - as the afternoon wore on - I could tell that most of the assembled relatives were gasping for a drink.

To tell the truth, so was I. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

To be a distraction

So I took the afternoon off and went with him to the hospital. By the description he gave over the telephone, the injury to his foot had (for all intents and purposes) caused it to swell to elephantine proportions. Needless to say, it hadn’t, but I went with him to the hospital anyway, since the car at rehab had no driver.

Wesley calls every couple of days. I always answer - day or night. Sometimes he is crying, sometimes he just wants to chew the fat, but sometimes I sense that he is not calling merely to talk. It’s a bit like João and the pool all over again (swimming - no matter how cold the weather - whenever he felt the urge to use crack). A distraction from the feelings of sadness/loneliness/addiction/regret.

I sometimes think about the kind of people that would take me in if I were ill. It happened recently, and although they were kind, I knew I was imposing. I would like to be the kind of person of whom someone thinks in times of need and perhaps (even) of whom it is said “yes, I can go to him. He’s welcoming, won’t have conditions — won’t have judgement.”  Alas, I fear I still remain far from that.

But for how long?

And if I am - at the very least - merely a distraction, then I am more than happy to be just that. To show attention to the details and love, better.

I read James 1:27, but it’s not just that. Wesley knows me better than most. He knows when I get upset or angry (he’s an expert at that!) and I am equally frank with him with regard to my own struggles. Through sharing our respective weaknesses, there is no illusion of superiority or judgmentalism. And it seems often that I am just as far back on the road as him. But the important thing was always to be moving onward.