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A Brazilian Diary

 

Ute Craemer

 

 

April 1980

 

Recently someone asked me: "Why do you keep this diary?" I was taken aback, because I have been writing for so long about how I live. "To vindicate yourself?" he asked. No. "To attest to your work?" No. - Why? Yes, Why?

 

            Much of it I wrote as letters, to my mother, so that she could participate in my life with the favela children. Then I often wrote about the children themselves. Often they were difficult children, who had been severely buffeted by life. In daily activity we often rub against each other the wrong way. So I wrote in order to maintain a distance so I would not be seeing them only superficially; to have an insight into what really lives under that crust of revolt, the rebellion of the spirit which tries to realize itself.

 

And I wrote about the destiny of individual families. I sat in their huts and suddenly a mother would start to tell me about her life on the land: too little food, no doctor, no school, giving birth without assistance, the move to Sao Paulo, etc. I had the feeling that all these destinies which are lived out in Brazil in the thousands and probably in the whole world in a similar way, that such destinies shouldn't be left to expire unheard, that they should somehow be preserved, because it is the destiny of thousands who can't make themselves heard in the tumult of world events. Only when someone breaks out violently in robbery or murder do they make the headlines.

 

            Human beings who are driven from the land to the cities. Children. Wherever you go -- on the streets, at the market, in parks, in museums, in schools -- the hoards of children are everywhere. (What a contrast to Germany with its many vigorous, active elderly people.) What kind of souls are these who incarnate in such weak bodies and in such squalid conditions? What meaning is behind the fact that they must preserve their human dignity through all this misery, or lose it?

 

            I wrote what I saw, also to clarify to myself the reason for our work and the spirit from which such activity springs. Later, when we inaugurated the escolinha, and more and more volunteers came to help us, I found that these diary sketches helped them understand the children and adults in the favela. Therefore the sketches made the rounds amongst the co-workers. Someone asked me if I had thought about publishing them. No, not really. But perhaps it would make sense, perhaps it would encourage some to make their own problems less important and open themselves to others. But then it is also necessary to see how you must wrestle with yourself, how one has doubts and overcomes these doubts. It's not enough to see only the visible side of the work, but also one's own development. It costs something to admit this.

 

            During the past few months some young people, experienced in development work, approached us offering to help. A girl came and taught some children to weave. It was a great success. We had always intended to do this, but never had the time nor the courage to start. Then she came and started the ball rolling. At the moment weave-itis has broken out, from kindergarten to the older boys -- everybody weaves. Shortly before she traveled to Germany we had a longer conversation.

 

            "Why do you do social work, and since when?" she asked. "When I realized that all these people, all these children and youths want self-realization, exactly as we want it. Previously I saw only the poverty and its side effects: filth, sickness, hovels, etc. At a certain moment I understood that they are also human beings who, like me, are looking for a path in life, who want to fulfil their destiny -- and not merely survive, not merely stay alive. Mostly this seeking for the meaning of life is suffocated by the need to earn money, already in childhood. When I really felt this in my inner being, not only theoretically but through and through, I began to put my own life in the background in order to concern myself with these people, not only outwardly, but inwardly as well."

           

            "I'm happy that I could work here, and I now know better what I will do later on." I thought: perhaps we should tell many people, especially young people, what we can do in life.

 

            Another said: "I admire your patience." That embarrassed me, for I may have patience in the long run, but how often have I lost my patience where the little things are concerned.

            And yet another: "What about your own feelings, sex, your wish to have your own children?"

           

            Gradually it dawned on me, and I should also write it, that I have exactly the same needs, the same despairs, the same wish to find myself as all the others. That the temptation always exists to live for myself, that I also love, live, suffer, with the only difference that I realize I have no right to place these doubts and feelings of hopelessness in the center of my life as long as there are children who live in slums, as long as there are children who work in mines and practically never see the light of day. 

 

 

 

May 1980

 

I am reading Rudolf Steiner's "Knowledge of the Higher Worlds".  So high-sounding, but it was written for daily life. I realize how important it is now, when I am no longer surrounded only by children, and when the escolinha is becoming a larger organism in which adults work and must understand each other. Adults from various countries with differing social and educational backgrounds, black, brown, white. They are all here to do something in the favela. The motives which bring them also differ: compassion for the children, an escape from their own problems, the need to do something beyond the merely personal. All justifiable motives. And all these people must be brought under one umbrella so that they can put their personal affairs in the background.

 

            By occult training one imagines something very mysterious. But it is really quite normal, something through which you can deal better with daily life. "I must develop in myself the ability to let the impressions of the outside world affect me in a manner which only I determine." For example, to remove the wounding barb from angry words; to transform impatience into useful observation during waiting times, etc.

 

            "Especially important for the occult student is the way in which he listens to another person." Silencing his own being, absorbing what the other has to say, without sympathetic or antipathetic comments. Dominating his own feelings, willing, even, to rethink his thoughts in the interest of objectivity. To let the other speak out, listening carefully, understanding why he is as he is, fighting one's own prejudices in respect to so-called national characteristics or educational levels. That means to take someone inwardly seriously, who only went to primary school, who perhaps only learned to read as an adult and is black to boot.

 

            Surely it's hard to discover the human core under all those layers. That's why I was so glad when a volunteer recently told me: "I don't even notice anymore if someone is black or white. You can see through the outer appearances."

 

            Is it an exaggeration if we don't only try to find work for a young person, but also try to see that it's a humane activity? Shouldn't we limit ourselves to insuring that the basic conditions for survival are met, without worrying about whether or not they correspond to human needs? The eternal question: Should we help a few children as much as possible, or help many children a little? Quality or quantity. In any case, I'm not in favor of quick courses of 40 to 50 hours in which the young are taught sewing, fabric coloring, knitting, carpentry, etc. This accomplishes practical proficiency, but the children aren't really educated. After a few months it may all be forgotten. I always must think of St. Exupéry's words: "Seul l'esprit qui souffle sur la glaise peut créer l'Homme." (Only the spirit which breathes over the clay can create man.)             

 

            Maybe you can get used to filth and poverty in the course of life, because you have no choice and you can't get excited about it every day anew. When we go into the favela as neophytes, it's what immediately attracts our attention and awakens our compassion or our disgust: the rivulets of indefinable water, the outhouses, the rats that scurry by and whose bite-marks you sometimes see on small children's' ears; or the smell of the earth evenings, when all smells become stronger and when the good smell of damp earth no longer rises, but one of filth and excrement. One wants to change all that because it seems impossible to live that way. But the more you occupy yourself with the people and the favela in general, the more it seems that something else is more important: the impossibility of developing into a real human being under such conditions, or at least the terrible difficulty of developing what has been implanted in us as potentiality and ability. When I see a child, who with shining eyes for the first time reverently digs up a beautiful stone, I ask myself: What happened to this brilliance and reverence in the men who only drink, beat their wives and play pool? Where did this coarseness come from? I know that it's not only a favela problem and isn't necessarily related only to rich and poor, rather with education and values. But I believe that it's especially difficult under the favela conditions to preserve the human essence under the crusts of hardening and truncation.

 

            What depresses me most is that these people are also born with rich possibilities and that this wealth of life crumbles away year by year. They are so limited, so one-sided, that hardly anything remains of what Juracy, Arnaldo, Mario and others might have become.

 

            In Germany you see many pictures of slum areas, you read articles with statistics about the difference between rich and poor countries. But the pictures and statistics touch us only superficially until we inwardly realize that they are human beings like us. That they don't only want to survive, but they need to realize themselves just as we do. That they are singular individuals, beings who want to live out their personal destinies. Once you really feel this, that these people are seeking a way, just as we are, in their work, in love, in life in general, then the fact that they are impeded by the extremely difficult circumstances in which they grow up doesn't leave you in peace.  Now I see more clearly that the material circumstances must change, for they are the basis of human dignity, but they are only the prerequisite for what is essential: the path to becoming truly human. Somehow we must try to work on two levels: to improve the material conditions and, at the same time, to think how to awaken the spiritual element in the people. I believe it is wrong to think that we should first occupy ourselves with improving the material circumstances, and only afterwards worry about the spiritual, the human element. I think about the well dressed, well situated, sated people in Europe. But fulfilment as human beings isn't achieved there either. I never before had such a feeling of compassion as during my last trip to Europe for those well dressed people who have everything a favelado could desire -- but they read only the trashiest newspaper. And what is accomplished? The basis has been achieved, but how is it used? 

    

   

 

Raimundo

 

I don't know much about Raimundo. He's about 35, lives in the favela, is unmarried, has two wives, one in the favela and the other somewhere else. He has no children though, because he has a serious case of syphilis. He spent several years in jail because he killed someone. He is valente, as his father says. Proud, obstinate, brave -- there is no German word to correctly express valente.

           

            His grandfather was a real Indio who hunted in the jungle and ate the animals raw. His look is sinister, dark, he doesn't smile, speaks in one-syllable words, pulls his cap far down over his forehead, likes to be well dressed, usually in black, takes no notice of others. When he's not in the mood, he simply isn't in the mood. He's his own master, but a master who isn't free. He gives the impression of a caged predator who has been denied the freedom of the steppes. Gloomy, taciturn, as though there was a wall around him.

           

            But he sings. When he speaks he has a breaking voice, but when he sings it becomes full. It isn't the tone of his voice that makes such an impression however, but the expression he puts into his songs. Perhaps it's sentimental, but it seems as if his soul is breaking out of him, out of his body and his failure of a life.

           

            I would like to understand what goes on in such a human soul. Recently I saw him in his hut, alone. We spoke about prison and his life on the land; he told me about it. I wasn't at all afraid, it didn't occur to me that I was sitting with a murderer. It was all normal, nothing evil.

           

            What happens in a human life, inside a man, that he can kill another? Somehow such people are out of place in the city. In the jungle, on the land, they can live out their wildness; they can hunt or go to war. In the right place they could be brave, valente. What can he do with his savagery in the city, on the assembly line, or as a day-laborer?

 

            A short while ago Raimundo planted the grass at the escolinha. I told him: Be careful, these flowers mustn't be harmed. He said: o lirio de Sao Joao, the St. John lily. I was astonished because it was the first time a Brazilian had named a Brazilian plant to me. I told him so. He looked up at me and smiled, a ray of sunshine through thunderclouds. A small break in the wall. The wall is ugly, stained with robberies and other crimes; but behind it something is hidden that flashes and shines as it does in other people -- his soul, his destiny. It reminds me of the fairy tale Snow White and Red Rose -- gold flashes through the shaggy bear's coat. The bear is redeemed. Who will free this man?

 

Serginho

 

Serginho is five years old. Since he was three he has played in the curve of a paved road and only his guardian angel can have prevented his being run over.

He's blond, though neither his father nor his mother is blond. He mostly goes about naked or in pieces of clothing that are much too big for him and that he drags behind him. His father is dead and his mother and older sister work in a factory. A nine year-old girl looks after the little ones. Two brothers of fourteen and thirteen years of age are in reform school.

           

Sergio senses when it's time to prepare himself for kindergarten. He washes superficially at the common water faucet, hangs on some clothes and moves off in the direction of the kindergarten. Usually he's one of the first to arrive. On the way he steals a large flower and gives it to Renate.

 

            Recently he has been terribly weak with sores all over and a huge boil on his forehead. I decided to bring him to our ambulatorio. It was Easter and all the children had received an Easter basket. He gave me one hand and with the other held tightly onto his Easter basket. We walked slowly - slowly - down the street to the favela. It was quite pleasant to walk so calmly. Then I thought: What good will it do if we give him medication from the ambulatorio if no one is there to see that he takes it regularly. A kind of sanitarium is needed for such rundown children who have no one at home to care for them, a place where they can recuperate for a week or so and gain new strength.

 

            The idea has been born. Now we must see how it can be realized.


The above is a an excerpt from Ute Craemer’s book, Favela Children, which may be obtained free of charge from Southern Cross Review’s Ebook Library.