Friday, May 18, 2007

"…In the silence of the night I sit imagining me being with you. I shut my eyes and see you arrive and I feel the touches of your hands, I feel you hugging me, and I feel your lips join with mine. Look love, look toward the sky of thousands and thousands of stars disappearing into the darkness…"

A letter written by Thelma, 25 years old, my co-worker of on the project Cidade Criança. She sent this letter to São Paulo to her husband who can’t read. I wonder if letters like these are passed on to a close, literate friend to read aloud privately with the recipient, or if these letters become the subject of a more public reading performance for the residents of the sugar cane lodgings.

Pieces of my work with various families:

My husband is crazy about this bird. When he is here, he lets it out of the cage and it hops on his shoulder and sometimes flies out the window into that tree. But when my husband is gone, the bird stays in the cage. I am afraid that if I let it out, it will fly away and never come back.

The child was born the week he left. I was glad that he was here to know the child. But now he growing and time is passing and the father doesnt see this.
This is my pet chick, dad. My neighbor gave it to me and I carry him around in a small cage.

We played the recording of voice of Gustavo’s father that we made before he left for São Paulo. Gustavo, a four year old, sat on the couch looking at the CD player as if he had seen a ghost. When the father’s voice asked Gustavo if he missed him, Gustavo nodded and said, ‘Yes, I do.’ By the end of the recording Gustavo was dripping with tears and everyone just sat silent. It was almost more than I could bear to watch this. I don’t really know what to think of these sound recordings. Maybe it was good for Gustavo to remember that his father really loves him a lot but it scared me to think that this child might think that his father can talk to him from the radio, no matter how many times the process of recording a voice was explained to him. This concept might be beyond the reach of the four year old. I am not sure. Amoung my co-workers this started a discussion of wether or not memory, and the act of remembering is worth the pain it brings. Is it just better for a child to forget the voice of his father? Is this use of media too deceptive?

We think he is going to be blind in one eye.

We are all trying to be strong without dad. My mother went to the city today to see the doctor because she has a new baby coming. I am here with grandpa and grandma waiting for her to come back.

This is one of the verses that women sing when they play circle dance games in the rural areas.

O dinheiro de São Paulo
É um dinheiro escumungado.
Foi o dinheiro de São Paulo
Que robou meu normorado.

The money of São Paulo
Is scummy money.
It was the money of São Paulo
That stole my boyfriend.

I am finding that the structure that I have given myself to work with is much too rigid to make photographs that I think are effective in telling stories about these families. For example, the mothers are much too worried that their husbands will be angry at them if they receive a photograph of their with dirt on his hands or with a t-shirt that has a hole in it. This makes picture making into an ordeal that includes bathing, putting on make-up, posing with toys that clean, unbroken, and never-been-played-with. I want these images to become more than this, so I am in the process of changing my approach. I think that in the next few weeks photographs are going to not just be made for the sake of sending but also just for the sake of being and the families will choose if they want to send them, keep them, or throw them away.

A Bus Roles Over In the Sugar Cane Field:
Two women standing near the pay phone on the steep incline of the road of loose pebbles and food wrappers. It is starting to get dark and they are speaking in unusual hushed voices. A small child runs down the hill following a tumbling toy car. “Look,” He said pointing at the toy, “Its dad rolling in the bus!”
One woman says to the other, “That boy’s father was in the accident at the sugar cane plantation this weekend. I think his father was on the same bus as my son and your husband. His mother and his grandfather have been waiting by the phone all afternoon waiting for the call."
"Oh, he is coming toward us---shhhh, don’t say anything to make him worried.” The other woman says,“Just tell him that daddy chipped his tooth and everything is OK.”

“You mean lie?” She says nervously. “All I can say is that if my son is hurt at all, I am getting on the next bust to Rio.”
Its six o´clock. The men have returned from the fields. It is time to recieve their call. The phone rings.
The mother answers the phone but it keeps ringing with the receiver in her hand. A teenager passing by the group sitting around the phone says,
“You know, that phone is broken. You have to let it ring at least three times before you answer it.”
“Ok,” The mother says. She hangs up and returns to her waiting spot on the road by the side of the telephone.