Ute Craemer


Chapter 2


Londrina, 1 October

The stream of visitors has ceased. It is raining. The terra-roxa dust, which normally covers the land, furniture and people like a cloud, has been transformed into clay-like, slippery sludge. We are as good as cut off from the outside world; no automobile dares to penetrate this mud. It began last night with an electrical storm. This morning we viewed the mess: water in the kitchen and living-room.

Yesterday evening we sat on the stairs with a record player. Right away we were surrounded by a flock of children with whom we danced the Hava Naguila, laughed and "politicized". On Sunday the governor will be elected from two candidates. Even the children are ardent supporters of one or the other. Suddenly a twelve-year-old boy stood on the fence and gave a classical election speech. It was hilarious, especially when he graciously acknowledged our enthusiastic applause. It is the age when they never tire of asking such things as: Is there a Castelo Branco (the president) in Germany too? Is there war in Germany now? Are there blacks in Germany too? etc.

Londrina, October 9

When I look out the window I see a wedding tent. Cido's eldest sister is getting married. It will be the favela wedding of the year. The bride seems to belong to one of the best families. She even owns a radio-phonograph, which stands as a show-piece on a podium in the tent. On the porch are three rococo chairs. A special sign of wealth is that she lives in a stone house. Her father is a piece-worker who carries coffee sacks. The groom is an industrious electrician who lives in one of the new wooden houses. They have been preparing the bride's house for days now: painting, hammering, sawing, even the eternal lamp over the front door has been polished. It is the event. Often more money is spent on a wedding than the family's meager budget can stand. The girls of the favela make themselves beautiful. Their hairdos are veritable towers.

The wedding became a real festival, very gay for us but a torment for the bride and groom who only danced once and otherwise could only let themselves be admired by their relatives, many of whom had come from far away. The day was sweltering like a greenhouse, so I could only pity the bride in her tight fitting dress and long white gloves. We had never been in such demand -- by the children. A flock of them constantly hung onto us: "Now it's my turn", "Danca comigo." Finally we organized a dance line.

Since our paramedic once cured a boy's earache, more and more mothers come to us with their sick children. The word spread like lightning that there is a "medico" here. Most of the children have dysentery, probably caused by the impure water, and parasites. Schistosomiasis, caused by a parasite which spends the days in the intestines and nights in the liver and penetrates the intestinal wall each time, leads to serious liver damage. There is still no cure for Chagas disease, caused by the bite of an insect. One dies a long drawn-out death. Now and then the government launches a campaign against parasites, but as long as the greater part of the population lives in houses without running water and toilets, they are useless. The people are always infected anew. Bloated bellies, lack of appetite, listlessness and apathy are the results. Many parts of the favela are incubators of pestilence. City sewers empty into the favela and the filth pours into a ditch and oozes alongside the water spring. During Pablo Pimentel's election campaign the sewers were lengthened by ten yards. Most likely the remaining pipes will have to wait for the next election. The stench when the west wind blows is bestial. The men wash themselves in the spring and the women do their laundry there. They also wash the laundry of the wealthy. If they only knew what kind of water is used!

This afternoon we watched a fight over twenty cruzeiros that a woman underpaid the iceman. Cooking-pots, clumps of earth and finally knives were used. The word briga (fight) brings everyone running like nothing else. Jos‚ the fight addict gave this one a miss though; It was only an unworthy women's battle.

A letter from the Vila da Boa Esperanca (Town of Good Hope) Here is a loose translation:

Senhorita Ruti, (me!)

By means of this poorly written letter I come to ask if, through goodness and kindness, you could accept this little girl in the school. She doesn't go to school, has no mother and lives with her sister. She would like to learn embroidery. I can't come myself because I am about to give birth. And if possible could you send milk for two children until my husband is released from the hospital. He has been there a long time. I am without work and ill. If you can do anything I thank you in advance.

Londrina, October 12

Yesterday we delivered our first favela child. All day it was unbearably hot until a thunderstorm finally broke in the evening. We were outside enjoying the patter of raindrops when the excited father came running up. Armed with a midwife kit, a bottle of alcohol, rubber gloves, towels and a flashlight, we tramped hurriedly through the mud, equally excited. The room was very dark, the bed full of lumps, rain dripped through the roof, you could hardly hear your own words over the thunder. We didn't know how to say "push" in Brazilian, the dictionary apparently being incompetent in such cases. We therefore kept calling for mais forca, (more force) and finally the baby came. We were deliriously happy when it began to scream. The afterbirth was carefully laid aside and afterwards the mother buried it, for the child's protection.

A delivery in the Santa Casa, a Catholic hospital, costs about seven dollars, half a month's wages for a housemaid. So they go there only in emergencies and otherwise trust in the help of an experienced mother.

Londrina, October 14

This evening I was again with the old Macumba priestess, Dona Jacinta. She is of imposing appearance, vital, strong, tolerant and unwavering. One can imagine that she would be honored in heathen Africa as a symbol of the Earth Mother. You feel well in her presence, she exudes calmness.

She led me into her Macumba-room. On one side are wooden benches, in the opposite corner stands her altar with its countless holy figures. Many gods have Christian as well as heathen names. For example St. George is Ogún, the god of war in the African religion. St. Michael corresponds to Xangó, the god of thunder and lightning. Yemanjá, the sea-goddess, is the Virgin Mary. Exú is the Devil and Oxalá, the god of life and fertility, corresponds to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Dona Jacinta offered to read the cards for me. From a pocket in her wide gown she took out a deck of well-thumbed cards on which I caught fleeting glimpses of plants, houses, the moon and stars. She laid them down on the table with a slow gesture and crossed herself and the cards. I had to cut them ("No, with the left hand"), and she began.

"You have many protective gods, especially the sun. Soon you will make an important decision and, later on, not live in Germany. You will have a very troubled life, put much in order, much in disorder, minha filha".

When I told her that I often have headaches, she offered to "push my head right". So I will soon put myself under her care. She has a thriving medical practice, even people from the wealthy neighborhoods visit her. I asked her how long she had been doing this "work".

"Minha Filha, I began in Bahia. I lived in the country where my parents had a tiny piece of land to grow sugarcane. I was strong, wild and unruly (braba). I loved to ride wild horses all day long. Now and then I had a namorado (boyfriend). Suddenly I became very ill. A doctor treated me but he couldn't help. Then someone told me, "Go to the Macumbeiro! I went and the spirit came over me and shook off the illness. But the most important thing was that my nature changed. I became gentle (mansa), tolerant, calm. Octal ordered me to work, so I became a Macumbeira."

"And what does the Catholic Church say to this?"

"The Church does not like it. But what can she do against it? There will always be Macumba in the favela. The poor receive comfort and support from me which the impersonal machinery of the Catholic Church cannot give them. I bless each one personally, whereas the Catholic priest only does mass blessings. All find in me an open ear for their troubles, while the Catholic Church is a church for the rich only."

"I am a Catholic myself. One can do both. Macumba is a way to experience faith physically. Each should come to God in the way He is most visible. The sea-goddess Yemanjá and the Virgin Mary, the spirit Xangó and St. Hieronymous: are they not the same gods who have descended to earth in different forms? Just as Catholics have their saints we also have them, often Black and Indian martyrs from the slavery time. Only God knows the truth, men must be tolerant".

Londrina, Oct. 26

We have just returned from a Fazenda, a real cattle ranch, the house airily built, the birds flying in one side and out the other. The eye ranges over the extensive hilly land and the cleared jungle with burnt-out tree stumps. We met the owner, a former agriculture minister and Prefect of Londrina, as he was inoculating his cattle against a skin disease. The Dona da casa brought us creamy milk, finally undiluted with water. She greeted us cordially, but apparently goes through Brazil with her eyes closed, because we had to tell her about favelas in detail as she has yet to see one.

One can hardly imagine how rich these people are. Fray Nereu told us recently that a rancher he knows earned $160,000 this year alone - while there are favela children who have never played with a doll. Brazilians also think almost exclusively in terms of these extreme contrasts. They often don't know how they should classify us. I realized this when the son of the owner of the Funganti department store, made uncertain by our living in the favela and at the same time frequenting the country club, asked: "Are you rich or poor?"

Londrina, Nov. 6

Four days leave from the favela! A jeep from the prefecture picked us up and we drove over hard-packed red earth roads to a storage lake in the middle of the jungle where the prefecture owns a holiday house for city employees and "other important persons".

The weather was cool, sunny, clear air like in the mountains, wonderful for hiking, walking and physical exertion. In the morning we walked on narrow paths hacked through the jungle to a huge waterfall. In the afternoon I went off alone. It's somehow uncanny the cracking of twigs by unseen animals in the underbrush, the birds' warning cries becoming increasingly shrill as you draw nearer. You feel lost amidst this exuberant growth of upward striving, thorny brush, bamboo cane swaying in the wind, ninety feet high pinhieros (pines) and coconut palms, especially when the midday heat weighs so crushingly on the earth. Once we got up at 4 a.m. and explored the lake shore and its side-streams in a boat. They were often so narrow that the jungle closed in again behind us, over us a steep wall of green. Steering the boat was an artistic feat that won me the title "King of Helmsmen". We navigated thus for almost seven hours. In between hunger drove us to land and luckily I recognized a sugar-cane field from a distance; chewing sugar-cane and quite full we went on.

Another time a ranch owner's son, an ex-boy scout, took us out. He was an interesting mixture of Portuguese, African and Brazilian Indian blood (his facial characteristics seemed pure southern India). He led us through once cleared but now heavily overgrown jungle and showed us Indian medicinal herbs against rheumatism, colds, boils.

I often visit the black Macumba lady which, unfortunately, usually includes food. Can you imagine how much gagging you have to do to get dry manioca meal down? Her healing practice is apparently flourishing. Recently an alcoholic of German descent from Rio Grande do Sul went to her to be cured. Dona Jacinta has a caixa postal (post office box) to receive letters of thanks, although she can't read.

This evening we were elegant again. An invitation to the opening of an antique furniture shop. The problem of how to get from the dripping, muddy favela to the city was solved in the classic manner: the prefect happened to be visiting and he drove us in. How unnatural you act when you want to be elegant. We had to laugh at the affected fussing and twittering of the heavily powdered and dazzlingly painted ladies (lilac tinted hair to match a lilac dress), the fashionably pursed lips, the bare traces of smiles. We moved about in the crowd and now and then retreated to a corner to laugh our heads off. The German pastor's reproachful look (raised eyebrow, severe lines around his mouth) is worth mentioning, and his words: "But I've never seen you in my church." Deus me livre (God forbid).

Londrina, Christmas 1965

We were invited to spend Christmas with a Brazilian family from Guarpava (South Paraná). We went via Apucarana, Ponta Grossa. The asphalt ends there and the route continues over the terra roxa, "roads" so bumpy, muddy and full of holes that the bus often listed like a ship; then came another strip of asphalt; our speed seemed that of an airplane on the runway. The monotonous landscape is relieved in Paranoia by pasture land with scattered cows and occasional jungle.

After a fourteen hour drive we reached Guarapava. How rich our hosts were we couldn't have imagined. When we learned through snatches of conversation that half the city (electricity and water works, fertilizer factory, sawmill, cattle and pig raising) belongs to them we put aside our humbleness and abandoned ourselves to gluttony. We paid no attention to ordinary stomach-fillers such as rice and potatoes; only fruit, vegetables, nuts, cake and meat, meat, meat did we eat. Meals were taken in a special wooden building, a dining-house, so to speak, in which the churrasco, (roast meat) was cooked on spits over an open fire. The spits with half a pig, goats and oxen were stuck into the wooden table at which we were all seated and each cut off as much as he wanted. What a treat for our stomachs so used to rice and beans!

We spent one afternoon at the German colony Entre rios. The landscape was transformed with a stroke -- waving wheat fields, orderly juicy green pastures with black and white cows -- a piece of Germany. The contrast with the barely cultivated land we were used to was so great that we began to vehemently debate about why Brazilians don't manage to do the same. I think that the Brazilian fazendeiro's relationship to the earth is different from a German's. The German farmer cherishes and cultivates his land, which becomes the embodiment of his home. The fazendeiro is more an administrator of property, from which he exacts the greatest profit with the least effort, than a farmer. The intensive cultivation of a small piece of land doesn't interest him. He operates an extensive cattle business or plants one crop over a huge area until the land is exhausted (sugarcane, tobacco, coffee). Historically this is understandable. The Portuguese came as adventurers and merchants and not as land-hungry farmers. Their strength lay in exploring the interior, not in cultivating the discovered. Nor did the nomadic Indian tribes contribute to the creation of the farming ethic. They lived from hunting and fishing, burned out clearings here and there in the jungle in order to plant manioca, corn and tobacco, then abandoned the exhausted land. The present day jungle burning and the lack of fertilizer is reminiscent of those methods.

But back to the German colonists. The majority of them came from Banat (Yugoslavia), the so-called Danube Germans. After the Second World War they fled and the Swiss foreign aid organizations gave them a few acres of land in Brazil, some cows and a little money. They started with practically nothing, planted wheat (rare in Brazil) and many have become so rich that they are overwhelmed by their steadily growing lands and income. These Danube Germans hold Brazilian citizenship but speak faltering Portuguese and are very anxious to preserve the heritage of their forefathers.

As with so many German immigrants they identify with a Germany which no longer exists, sing folk-songs which we would call sentimental and talk about a Germany in which it is impossible to be free. The Germany of the nineteenth century and the world depression have been spiritually mummified here.

© 1999 Ute Craemer  © 1999 English translation Frank Thomas Smith

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