Monday, June 18, 2007

ash on the ceiling

A message from a sugar cane worker in São Paulo for his children in Northeast Brazil.

Hi Francisco, Washington, and Stefanie. This is your father here speaking. I want to say that I miss you very much. I hope you miss me too. I can see and feel the moment when I am going to return and hug you. Washington and Stefanie, you are at an age when it is difficult to understand, but I want to explain to you that I am here working towards an objective for you. My greatest dream is to be able to give you what you need. I want to give to my children what I never had when I was little. I know that the dream of a father is to give the best to his children. But my father is not able to give things because he doesn’t have the financial conditions to give. But if he were able to give, he would give. So, I am going to do everything to give the best to you.

Department of Sanitation, São Paulo:
[Our role] is to observe their living conditions. We look at the places where they live to see if it is adequate, if it offers the minimum conditions of hygienic health for them, if they have treated water to drink, water to take a bath, bed to sleep in, refrigerator, these things. Because they are very [pause for lack of words] because their hygiene is minimal. They lack hygiene. You know, the objective for them is to work and make money.

…. there is a lot of exhaustion, heart attacks, …this happens to many of them because the time for rest that they have does not make up for the energy that they exert in their work…for example they rest for one hour and work for 8 or 9 hours…in reality, they are athletes, but an athlete has a balanced diet. [Athletes] visit nutritionists. They use a lot of energy but their diet is adequate for their activities. A sugar cane cutter from the rural area, who comes from outside this city to work during the sugar cane harvest, does the same work as an athlete, but the rice and beans that they eat is not balanced and is not adequate for the type of work that they do.

Department of Mental Health, São Paulo:
What I can observe here is that many end up getting involved with other women and leave children here, I’d like to say, make families here and then leave. This is a really big distructive social patern. Drinking alcohol too. (eles bebem por disadaptação). They drink because of their inability to adapt to the changes here. They live badly, in bad living conditions. (disagradavidade). Sometimes when we see an entire family that comes from a poor region, many don’t do prenatal check-ups, we see a lot of malnutrition, children come with learning disabilities, many with really severe cognitive deficiencies…. Sometimes we start a treatment without being able to finish because the family goes away again.

I think that cutting sugar cane is really heavy, tough work, …they live a long way from their families, in a place totally different. I think the mental suffering must be enormous. But they don’t come to the health post, they (da um conta) they take care of this with (comprimentos) pills/medicine of drink and finding relationships with other women. This is the way that they reduce the loneliness…. They medicate themselves in this way…

Department of Basic Health, São Paulo:
The most common accidents are cuts with the knife, you know, the one that they use as a tool. The cuts happen mostly in the inferior parts of the body, limbs, on the foot, or the hand. Sometimes the leaves of the sugar cane cut a worker’s eye. Now, with the regulations about the equipment that they use, the incidents have been significantly reduced. About 5 years ago, we saw many more accidents, many more severe cuts and breaks of limbs. …Recently one worker I attended had a leaf cut his eye. He was wearing protective glasses but somehow the leaf cut his eye anyway and he lost his vision….

“But does is make our food sweeter?” I ask.

Lunch with the three priests

the old pensive one
the one with tight lips
the active one, beaming with warmth.

Beans, sweet potatoes, soup,
Chicken, bread, and fish.

Stories of this morning’s deaths
Stories of this morning’s births.
Stories of this morning’s hopes and prayers.

The caged birds singing,
Ash began to fall from the ceiling
peppering the white rice.

I remember India and the cremation ground.
Ash pouring through the windows of the professor’s home.
“Is it a barbeque?” my little spaceman asked.

It makes the air thicker like our soup.
It makes our lungs weaker, our breaths shallow
It is the burning sugar cane makes the ash, the first priest explains.

The second priest says, It ruins the soil
It destroys all other species
that hide in the rows of sugar cane.

It lines our ceiling during the harvest,
darkens the sky, adds the third priest.
It enters the chapel, leaving a dark shadow
On the face of nossa senora.