Brazil – Diary of a Tearfund Trip
Thursday 18th June
Got to Rio airport very early. This was lucky as check in on airport computer took a while. It printed out boarding cards which resembled the crunchy variety of toilet paper – lots of perforations. Ken’s machine had run out of paper, so he had to fetch someone to refill it. It then spat out all the last few boarding cards and half of his.
Flight okay. Landed in Recife. Raining hard. Lots of aggressive people in airport offering taxis, which you just knew would turn out to be an expensive ‘limo’ service. Found official taxi rank. By the time the taxi arrived at hotel it had stopped raining but was so humid my glasses steamed up!
Area is very mixed. We saw some expensive cars and very nice housing. Also saw a family sharing a bike, small roadside stalls selling fruit, lots of concrete.
When we stopped at red lights, people walked amongst the cars selling stuff ( like steering wheel covers) and there was a man juggling in the road.
Staying at Cult Hotel. Has some interesting art – mainly phallic in style. It’s clean but basic. No mirror in room but a massive tele. They seem to favour beige a lot. And it smells of mould (am guessing humidity a problem here.)
Met the other people on our trip and had dinner in nice restaurant next to sea. Seem to eat a lot of carbs here – every meal comes with potato plus either rice or couscous. Better go now, have to meet everyone in lobby. We’re going to Instituto Solidare. Main info we’ve been given is the high murder rate. Super.
Fri 19th June
Just got back from visiting the slums. I just want to give you a splurge of words so you understand something of the day’s experience.
We started off going to Instituto Solidare. This was on the edge of the city and was a concrete building with big gates that locked. We could see teenagers playing football in a large covered area.
We were taken upstairs, shown into a classroom and joined by about six of the workers. We all introduced ourselves – I got to use my Portuguese, very exciting!
We then learned a little of their work. They began by having different projects, run by the church but then realised that actually there was a disconnect between what they believed and what they were doing. They needed to be part of the community, not just doing the odd project, they wanted the projects to BE the church. They see their worship as what they are doing. They began with working with children, this extended to teenagers, then whole families and then the community.
There is a huge problem with prostitution, drugs and the violent crime that goes with it. They aim to remove the kids from the streets, to occupy their time with lessons, sports, a proper meal, then they go to school in the afternoon and spend the evening with their parents. They are then hopefully, too tired to get into trouble.
We looked around the institute, then walked around the community.
The houses were small, unmade roads, lots of dogs. The river was where all the toilets empty. In the rainy season ( June and July) the river floods, taking the sewage into the houses. Many of the houses had moved all their furniture upstairs. It was hot, lots of flies, lots of dogs wandering around.
We saw young men strutting, with hard faces, appraising eyes.
There were children, cute, smiling, wanting to be in photographs.
Then the other teenagers, the ones with thin faces, dead eyes, wasted bodies. As a mother, it broke my heart to see them. They have mothers, somewhere. They are feeding their lives into hungry addictions, dead before they have known what it is to live. I wanted to take them home, hated leaving them there.
We went to another favela. This one seemed much poorer, it felt unsafe walking around ( we were told to leave all our bags and cameras in the car. We just took our phones for pictures.)The homes were made of cardboard, hardboard, odd bits of wood and scaffold. It smelt, litter was everywhere.
I photographed beautiful children sharing bags of crisps, giggling. They lived in the equivalent of a shack. Their father thanked us profusely for coming, was keen for us to take photos, smiled his gappy toothed smile, seemed pleased we were there. Then he returned to moving all his furniture onto the flat roof, waiting for the river and sewage to seep into their home.
There were women playing a game with scraps of paper and stones in an empty water bottle – it looked like Bingo. I later learned they were the main drug pushers in the community, waiting until later to make their sales. If they listen to what the church is telling them, become christians, want their lives to change, then they will lose their livelihood. This is why the church is also offering the chance to learn new skills, new occupations so they can still earn money.
It felt hopeless. Yet there was hope. Tearfund are working with their partners to educate the people, to teach them about flood control, clearing up litter. They are teaching them skills so they can find work, things like making jewelry from discarded stuff, metal work. They are lobbying the government, trying to get better housing, more respect for the people.
It wasn’t a horrid day, though I feel exhausted by all we have seen. We laughed with children who were playing a game with David.
Some teenaged girls had done a play about clearing up litter, which they had performed to their neighbours in the favela. They were so proud of it, wanted to take us to where they had done it, sang us some of the songs. We chatted a bit and they laughed when I told them I have chickens and ducks. I wanted to scoop them up, bring them out of the favela to somewhere safe, somewhere that they wont probably end up as sex workers. I cant.
All I can do is pray, support the work that Tearfund is doing. And tell you about it.
Showered, breakfast then left Cult Hotel in Recife. Was glad to survive shower, which has electrical wires coming out the top, was hard to relax when using it.
Also left the room with some added duct tape, which David had used to seal the massive gap around the aircon unit. It worked – we got no mosquitoes ( which was important as they carry dengue fever here) but I’m not sure the bright red tape blended very well with the dingy brown decor. Apparently all the electricity is slightly weird in Brazil. Was certainly a challenge to bring the correct power adaptors, as the plugs seem to change from region to region. ( If you plan to visit, bring a range!)
We also left the rather sexual art displays at the hotel. On the first evening the team leader led us in a time of prayer. It is the first time I have ever prayed next to a large statue of an erect phallus, while sitting below a painting of a naked woman ( who definitely had not had ‘a Brazilian’!) Tearfund trips are always unexpected.
Drove for a couple of hours to Coqueral. Interesting drive, passed lots of small communities, people driving horse and carts, big lorries. Rained hard a few times. Coqueral is a small farming town (1,500 people.) The area did not really support that many farmers, the town was off a track beyond a track, most people were unemployed and on benefits. The pastor told us they were ” less poor in money” than the people we saw yesterday but ” more poor in the mind”. I don’t think he meant they all had ‘special educational needs’, more that a sense of hopelessness pervaded the town.
They had a lot of knife crime and alcohol addiction. We didn’t see any teenaged drug addicts though, which is good as I found it very difficult to just walk past them yesterday and leave them in their mess ( and I just know my family would be cross if I arrive home with a selection of drug addicted boys – never mind that I wouldn’t have the first idea how to help them.)
It is St John’s festival time ( seemed like our harvest festival but is cultural, not religious.) The children at the mission hall had decorated the hall with plaited banana leaves and dressed in costumes and make up. They danced for us, a bit like a barn dance. I certainly didn’t feel the display was too short.
We then joined in, which they thought was hilarious, especially as most of us were wearing the ‘aid worker’ sensible outfit of long sleeved shirts, long trousers and massive walking boots ( look really ugly and no good for dancing in but when you’re wading through raw sewage in the slums, fashion doesn’t seem so important.)
We had lunch there, which was a bit unusual. They seem to eat a lot of carbs here ( I had spagetti and rice for my lunch, as salad might be washed in local water and I didn’t feel like eating meat.) They also have a fizzy drink, which is everywhere and has a picture of something like cherries on it but isn’t cherry. Was comfortingly synthetic. Barbie stuck with coke.
Drove for about 5 more hours. Someone put a religious CD on. David ranted at length about the quality of the music ( for the length of the song in fact.)
Arrived in Afogados. Staying at Hotel Brotas, which is quite like a motel. Room full of mosquitoes and ants ( will use lots of deet while here.) D busy rigging up a mosquito net to sleep under. Am hoping it doesn’t involve anything too structural.
Monday 22nd June
Yesterday was a day off, which was good. Had hotel breakfast: melon, cake and something like a set egg custard. Not unpleasant. Saw a capuchin monkey in a tree in hotel garden. Very cute. Then had lazy day.
Drove around town, did very little. Didn’t go to a church as they were all a distance away and started at 7pm and Tearfund has a policy that you shouldn’t drive at night in developing countries for safety reasons.
It gets dark really fast here. Dawn is 5am, dusk is about 5pm and it’s pitch black by 5:30. Same all year round. No seasons, except that June and July have more rain.
Today we drove to see three rural projects. The charity tends to work with women and teenagers. This is partly because there is a lot of domestic abuse and it helps to empower the women and girls if they have a trade, are not at home all day completely dependent. It helps them have a sense of self worth, have rights ( at the very least the right to not be abused.)
They have also found that when a woman earns money, she tends to use it to improve the whole family. If men earn money, they tend to get distracted and spend it on alcohol, gambling, etc.
The first project was a small farm. Originally it had provided food for just the family, sustenance farming. This left no safety net if crops failed, more money needed for improvements, etc. The charity provided knowledge and tools. The women now produce enough to provide for their families and also sell some.
We saw a warehouse where they were preparing the food – fruits, bread, honey – for sale. Some goes to market, some is sold to the government for schools and hospitals and the proceeds then ploughed back into more charity work in the community.
We went to see Rosa We sat on brightly coloured furniture in her little sitting room. The walls were bright red, strewn with pictures of Jesus and photos of her grandchildren. There was a large tele with a statue of Father Christmas on top (I wondered if her grandsons have the same sense of humour as my boys and they were ‘gifts’ or if she had chosen it.)
The internal doorways had no doors, just curtains. There was no ceiling and you could see up to the roof tiles ( which had big gaps in them.) It wasn’t a bad house – as long as it didn’t rain. Not quite sure what happened to the tele when it did.
We went off round her garden. Saw lots of the normal crops ( onions, marrows) and also bananas, cashew nuts, medicinal herbs. Her kitchen had huge freezer where the produce could be crushed, bagged and frozen ( the charity had given her the crushing and bagging machines and helped sort out the irrigation system. It was a really dry area.)
Drove to next project. Saw big expanses of arid land with a few shrubs and tall spindly palm trees. Also saw lots of donkeys pulling carts of stuff and even two oxen pulling a cart of logs. Would be SUCH a cool photo. I have lots of blurry ones. Mainly of trees.
Lots of animals as we drove: goats, hens, cats and dogs everywhere we go. Went to San Jose do Egypt, which translates as ” Saint Joseph from Egypt”. They had never heard of the Technicolour Dream-coat musical and were somewhat bemused when Barbie started singing it to them (so were we.)
Went to cafe for lunch. Everywhere much cleaner than I was expecting it to be. We were advised to not eat the salads, which was a shame as they looked fabulous.
Went to a bakery. Charity had again provided equipment and education. It was MILES. From anywhere. Was so glad they had a toilet ( very bumpy track to get there.) We got out the van and the heat from the sun was boiling, so hurried into the bakery. Then we nearly melted. Was like entering a furnace.
They keep the door shut so the flies stay out but opened them when we arrived ( so it immediately filled up with flies. Glad they don’t make currant bread.) Two girls and a teenaged boy worked there. They showed us how all the machines work, made some bread and cooked some rolls in the wood fuelled oven.
We then ate warm loaves and coffee. The best coffee ever, even in a disposable plastic cup that burnt your fingers. Hot, black and sweet.
Luiz translated for us. We asked him to ask them what they had for lunch. Not bread. Bread is for dinner, pasta is for lunch ( was not the silly question we had all assumed.)
Drove to a bee farm. Luiz now censoring our questions. When David asked him to ask the rockstar look alike farmer what instrument he played, he checked with me first if that was a serious question ( it wasn’t.)
Looked around the farm. Tearfund had provided funding for wells to be dug so production could increase ( it’s a semi arid area, lots of cacti) Saw the bees. Saw turkeys ( which really do ‘gobble’!)
Tearfund had again provided some tools and some knowledge. They had also helped to provide wells (again, it was a very arid area.) The farmer told us that the farm had grown, from basically providing just enough for his family (assuming there were no disasters) to having enough to sell (hence providing a buffer when problems arise.)
Then had one of those horribly awkward moments when the granny on the farm called us all into her house and sat us down for drinks and snacks. She had prepared vats of juice for us, all prepared with local water which would have made us ill. Luiz had disappeared, she had gone to a lot of effort, we didn’t want to offend her nor be ill all night. I used my best Portuguese and apologised that we couldn’t drink it because….. had to mime last bit, my Duolingo app never taught me how to say that! Thankfully Luiz came back and explained a bit better. Felt bad. Difficult situation. Escaped to car.
We drove for miles on unmade tracks. Passed lots of small farms. They have no address, no street names. Also the area is about to be flooded as they are building a huge dam. All the farmers will have to be rehoused. (Our bee farmer and fruit juice granny will be okay, are out of range.) Drove back to Ant Hotel.
Spent day in car, driving from Afogados to Recife. Six hours. Tried hard to not need washroom at the service stops, when finally relented it was the cleanest public washroom ever! Decided I need to start a ” World Wide Washroom” website, get people to grade toilets around the world. Will give it some thought.
Went to restaurant for lunch. Was a buffet. Unlike yesterday, this time I knew that I had to weigh the food BEFORE I started eating it, as it’s paid for by weight. ( Don’t ask about yesterday….)
Dropped some of the team at the airport. Rather sad the team is breaking up, it has been an intense few days but we all seemed to get along, no obvious tensions and lots of laughs.
Checked in at Cult hotel. Same room, duct tape still safely in place.
Walked along beach front. Despite the warnings everywhere, even behind every room door in the hotel, we did not see any sharks. There was even a man swimming and I waited for a few minutes, camera poised, but nothing, not even a fin.
Went to a market. Was either setting up or closing down. Bit naff. Didn’t buy a cushion cover. Ken didn’t buy a hammock. Walked back along front. It was getting dark but Luiz said in a lit area, a group would be fine.
Started to rain, then poured. Very warm, so rather nice. Until we remembered were travelling the next day and had no way to dry clothing.
Ate pizza, then said goodbye to Luiz. Was sad saying goodbye, hope to see him again some day. He’s eighteen, has learnt English to a level whereby he can earn money translating. He lives in the favela with his family. When he left us, if the rain continued for more than a day, he would need to help move all their belongings onto tables to escape the flooding. His bit of the world is very different to ours, yet when he was joking with David, showing us round, discussing music, you realised that he was the same, was no different to our boys.
People like him are working hard to improve their lives, to live in communities that have a decent infra structure and less crime. The church is helping with the community – he told me that now, during daylight, there was no fear where he lives, they don’t have much stuff but they work together, growing up he has been surrounded by friends. Tearfund is helping with the infra structure, lobbying the government to improve flood control and provide amenities.
Early flight to Rio. When we landed in Recife a few days ago, my bag was squashed and the zip damaged ( with tyre marks on it.) When we left, with the same airline, they made us sign a disclaimer, saying that said bag ( now secured with duct tape) would not be their responsibility if duct tape should fail. So wished my Portuguese was good enough to have explained that THEY caused the damage in the first place! Shall compose a letter when I am home. Cannot really recommend TAM airlines, not for customer service anyhow. Bag arrived in one piece ( did not have to pick single items of clothing from conveyor belt.
Taxi to Caesar Park Hotel. A few days holiday now. Am really tired.