Thursday, January 18, 2007

mud and letters

I have been traveling by bike to talk to sugar cane migrant workers and their families. I often end up carrying my bike more than my bike carries rained last week.

Most of them are home in the neighborhoods in the outskirts of the city nicknamed, Nova Esperança (New Hope), Barrio dos Escravos (the neighborhood of the slaves), and Pipoca (Popcorn). The migrant workers leave again in April when the new sugar cane crop in São Paulo is ready to cut.

I have been talking to the families about the adjustments they have to make when they are separated from their fathers, brothers, and uncles for 8 months each year. I am curious to see how they maintain relationships with men who leave. Yesterday one family gave me a stack of letters that they saved… A record of 10 years of correspondence between the family who lived on a farm without a telephone and the father who was working in the sugarcane fields. At first, the mother was embarrassed to show me the letters. “I don’t know how to write correctly. I only studied until sixth grade.” Her fourteen year old son said, “But mom, the letters are sufficient for communicating.”
The letters were practical discussions about money and resources, expressions of longing, reports about the wellbeing of the chickens, births, deaths, sicknesses. There were even love letters, saved from when the couple was courting. Small drawings of hearts on the outside of the envelopes and yellow mangos on the inside.