Monday, July 23, 2007

embora para São Paulo

I went to thank Maria for the party she hosted for me in Nova Esperança last night and to bring the kids chocolate chip cookies. I told Maria how I felt sincerely grateful to be able to celebrate with so many of the kids that I worked with in the neighborhood. I was really impressed by the party. There was an enormous cake and about twenty children. The kids went crazy, and, as usual, pulled my camera out of my hands and photographed each other dancing to loud axé music (this is the DVD you love to dance to, right Emma?) licking the last bits of cake icing off their napkins, crying, screaming, kicking each other, and playing with fire. All of my 4-7 year old friends have mastered the basic functions of a Cannon 20D. Good luck to any other photographer who tries to photograph in this neighborhood in the future. The kids will surely expect to be in charge of the camera.

“Did you get home all right last night? We were worried about you leaving late.”

“Don’t worry, it was fine, I am used to leaving here in the dark. “

It’s the truth, at this point I know the roads, I know every gaping hole that could puncture my bike tire, even in spots where the dim streetlights don’t reach. I know which roads to avoid, which houses have dogs that bark at me. I know who lives in every house and everyone knows me.

Ricke ran outside to grab my knapsack and search for my camera. He pulled my back out of the basket, knocked over my bike and then came running back into the house. Maria said that she wants to know where my city is.

“I have a map in my kitchen, lets go look.” But it is only a map of Latin America. I point to a space on the blue wall way up above the map. That’s where my city is.

We sit for a while talking about how difficult it would be to get there from here by bus, and why an airplane is scary but much more efficient.

I eventually turn back to the children who are making at least 20 photographs a minute with my digital camera.

“I want to let you know that I am leaving for my home in the United States and that I will never forget you.” I said to Ricke and his little three-year-old sister, Iba.

“Iba doesn’t really understand what you mean.” Maria says, “She just doesn’t get it that you wont be visiting us anymore.”

Maria stoops down to the eye level of her daughter and says,

“Iba, Emma is going far away. Emma is going to São Paulo. Go give her a hug.”

Iba comes out from her hiding place under the bed, hops onto my lap and gives me a hug.

“Iba doesn’t understand what it means to go home to the United States, but she understands what it means, ‘to go to São Paulo.’ For her São Paulo means the distance between her and her father. São Paulo is where people go and don’t come back for a really long time. In fact this morning she asked me if her father was coming back tomorrow. She is young, but she knows what São Paulo means.”

Friday, July 13, 2007


when you step on the road a cloud of dust puffs up around your foot. The air is dry. There is no moisture to keep dirt firmly on the ground.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I woke up this morning to the sound of loud voises. something exciting.
I turn over, feeling particularly peaceful. I will stay in bed ten more minutes.
a pear and a few crackers for breakfast,
I looked outside, There were about 30 horses in front of my house.
Emma would you like to mount? Today is the church service for cowboys?
Umm no thanks, I am scared to fall. I prefer my horse with two wheels.
These are the horses from the farm. Oh, didn’t know you had so many.
Yeah there will be about a thousand people on horseback today in the city.
I packed my backpack and put it in the basket of my bike.
Off to the neighborhood, with sun glasses
Just opened an icecream store. Here, try some, we make it here right in the store.
And also why don’t you dance in the square dance with us this Saturday. There is practice tonight. Ok.
I pass by Deborah doing the nails of the old woman next door and drinking a beer.
Emma you work on Saturdays? Do you want a beer? Do you drink?
My child is asleep can you come back later to take her photo? Sure.
Let me play your father’s voice for you.
I noticed that it wasn’t her father’s voice before she did. I still felt really embarrassed.
I will return later today with the correct cd.
Arrived at the house of the two sisters-in-law, whose husbands are both cutting sugar.
Just wait a few minutes while we make ourselves pretty. Emma, I want to show my legs this time.
I sit in their living room, a framed portrait painting of grandparents. A telivision tv globo.
Race cars, the pista, car number two is winning. Cars arrive in the ditch and little men with hlepmets race out to change the wheels.
I want to send one to my mother too. Who lives far away. I am not taking advantage of you am I?
And one alone like this? Just my face?
L, she was with her mom. Her mom quit her job. She was getting home too late at night.
This cat appeared today. All of the others died, so we thought we would take this skinny one in.
Pulled l’s hair tight into a braid. She didn’t even cry. A bright orange dress. One picture with the cat, the other in front of the bush.
Return. Look go to the praça and you will see all the horses from the front
a stampeed of cowboys drinking pinga. Lunch by the pool
Emma you speak like an Indian. me eu. eu me eu me eu. thanks.
Return to the neighborhood. Amabole was taking a bath
You left your lense cap here two weeks ago. It was underneath the covers of the bed.
Glad you kept it for me.
Pass by lu’s house, a man at the bar with bear feat toes completely turned outward. you dont think that´s funny? Everyone having a laugh about him. He didn’t care. he was too drunk.
Burning trash at in n´s front yard. b swinging on the knot that she tied all by herself. a dance party, monica and jeje show up. All six kids bath in glicinias house, she heats the water while the rest of us dance to extremely loud video of a show that was in aracuai a few months ago. i cant dance, my back is killing me. they did the exams at the hospital and then the doctor left before he could anylze the results. i´ll have to go back next week.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A piece online at Folha de São Paulo

The newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, put an audio/photo piece of my work online at the following link:

Ouça mensagem de pai a filho, antes de ir à usina de cana-de-açúcar passar oito meses. Pelo menos um em cada cinco homens deixa todos os anos Araçuaí para trabalhar como cortador de cana.

And an article about my work at the following link:


Monday, July 02, 2007


duas cartas de Schnoor para São Paulo

minha bisicleta sumiu.
um cortador de cana que me gostou.

ela estava cansada.

Monday, June 18, 2007

the machine

We met a sugar cane cutting machine by the side of the road. The driver was changing its blades.

A sharp blade becomes blunt within twelve hours of cutting sugar cane. Dry sugar cane eats the iron blades faster then wet sugar cane.

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.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

ants in the sugar sample

These are images from this morning. Perhaps i am looking for emotion in the cana itself....
A migrant worker wrote a book, actually a dailing journal to send to his family. i visited baracks. six men in a small room. who cooks? i asked. they laughed. no one has chairs, they sit on water bottles that they take with them to the fields. they offered me a water bottle and covered it with a towel. one worker remained standing as we talked. it was really dark and i was scared even though i knew i was safe with elias, my friend a big strong man and my teammate in this expedition. i didnt know it but yesterady was valintines day here. the recordings of the migrant workers express their love for those quem ficou lá.
yesterday I visited a sugar-alcohol plant called São Marino. They had ants in the sugar samples that they offered us. They wouldnt let me take photographs. The woman who i am staying with calls me irma because she thinks i am a nun. a nun with a lot of interesting digital equipment...a nun who left her rosary beads at home...i met one of those men in those white trucks today who said, do you have permission to be taking those photographs. permission from who?
my vision from the motor cycle helmet was poor. scratches on the plexi glass. a blur of sugar green, stench of manure and the rising sun.

my face is covered with a thin layer of dirt.

Archives of the Pastoral dos Migrantes

These are images from the archives of the Pastoral dos Migrantes in Guariva, São Paulo. 1980-1995.