Monday, March 05, 2007

Rural community outside Araçuaí

I was in Rio for a few days. I saw friends from the United States and other English-speaking friends who are working/researching in Rio. It felt wonderful to see friends and talk to others who are also foreigners working in Brazil. My throat was sore from talking, laughing, debating…
Now I am back in my semi-illiterate/mute state in this small town.

Everyone calls me emma de boca cheia (Emma full mouth) because I speak as though my mouth is full of food.

I spent last week in the rural area of Araçuaí, working with a staff member from CPCD, Marilia, who leads groups of “mother caretakers” who visit homes of pregnant women and young children. The mother caretakers give massages to mothers and babies, make sure children are well nourished and well treated. They also run community events like the guitar circle, book reading parties, and spontaneous story telling sessions.

I made a video about the work that the women do. It was a one-day shoot that honestly felt quite shallow, however, the caretakers really loved watching themselves do their work on the tiny screen of my laptop.

The town Schnoor is named after a German engineer who constructed the train line that was called the Barria-Minas. The train stopped running about forty years ago, and the station, located towards the center of the town, is now a community center.
I stayed with the family that cares for the evangelical church. There was no novella or television in this household. (Most households have at least one television.) This was a challenge for Marilia, my co-worker who cannot miss an episode---so we had to search for other homes that had televisions so that we could catch, most importantly, Bicho do Mato (wild animal), the novella that shows every evening at 9:30pm. It is an emotional drama that, this week, portrayed extremely wealthy families of Rio fighting over a big diamond. Last night I watched this novella in the home of a mother and a three-year-old child. The three year old was uninterested in the novella, “I want to see cows, quero ver vacas,” he said referring to the rural agriculture channel, “Can we switch to the cow channel? Please please, the cow channel.” I secretly agreed. I’d rather watch cows.

[farinha factory]

[corn growing inside an unfinished home...a common site in Schnoor]
I had the chance to speak with a few mother caretakers of Schnoor about a new project that I will work on with their support in the next few months.
The project will document children’s perspectives of the seasonal migration of laborers from Araçuaí to the sugar cane plantations of the interior of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. This project will be based on a series of creative visual letters that the children of the laborers and their families will make with my help. We will use a process of photographing, writing, drawing, and recording audio to construct these letters, which may take the form of small visual books. We will send the letters to the laborers and keep copies of the letters that will become of this documentary project. This documentary will address issues related to the phenomenon of “Caindo na cana” (falling into the sugar cane) and “viúvas dos maridos vivos” or “esposa de dois meses” (widows of living husbands or two month wives). Although the project may include the collaboration other community members and contextual information that will contribute to a better understanding of issues addressed in the letters, the project will primarily focus on the voices and perspectives of children.
I am probably going to start by making portraits of the laborers (who are still here) with their children. The children will keep these photos, and perhaps a recording of their father´s voices. This is a response to many mothers saying that their children quickly forget what their fathers look like and are afraid of their fathers when they return.
The creative letter writing exercise will become one of CPCD’s permanent literacy and creativity initiatives.
Many of the laborers are illiterate, visual nature of the letters is important.
Many children struggle with reading and writing skills.
Families already communicate via letters with laborers, however, the child’s voice is usually absent.
Laborers are working in the sugar cane fields from the end of March until mid November.