An Ominous Day - but not only...

Ute Craemer


Theme: violence

Just as I got up in the morning my glasses fell and broke! It was a strange day in other ways as well. Instead of going directly to the favela or to the office as usual, I had been invited to a television studio downtown. A podium discussion about violence in Sao Paulo was planned. As the representative of a "grass roots project" - our social project in the favela Monte Azul(1) - I was to express ideas about causes of violence and how to avoid it at the round table.

The theme of violence by young people is being discussed everywhere, because brutality and cruelty in schools, on the streets, in "reform" schools and youth prisons is on the increase. On the bus to work violence is subject number one: everyone has a story to tell, how he or she was assaulted, how drugs are sold openly in schools, how young people in prison revolt and cut off another prisoner's head, how someone goes to the bank to pick up his salary and is mugged on leaving, how another has his running shoes ripped off - all of course accompanied by threats with guns, usually by drug addicts.

During the podium discussion, I noticed that the talk about violence has begun to change: whereas previously it was felt that more police were necessary - even that the death penalty be introduced - now most people, even the Military Police in some cities, have come to the conclusion that only a good education, which includes culture and art as well as training for a trade, can diminish violence in the long run. This of course doesn't exclude the need for police intervention in acute cases - an uncorrupt, efficient police - in order to insure adequate protection. As a concrete example of the prevention of violence and misuse of drugs, Monte Azul was cited, because by means of cultural and artistic activities and practical-ethical educational methods, criminal activity has been negligible there. My contribution was: The prevention of violence must begin at the crawling stage - or even earlier, namely, before and during birth.

I returned from the television studio by taxi - on arrival the favela people asked: "Where are you coming from, so well dressed?" - "From television, the favela must be well represented, with high-heeled shoes and a dress if necessary."

That afternoon I gave a course for the teachers of the curative education school in Monte Azul. And in the evening we had our reunião, our regular meeting of about 40 longtime co-workers. We wanted to talk about Monte Azul's future, what we imagine the 21st century will be like and how to organize our work. We can't simply continue as we have been doing, but must have a sense for what new steps the future demands.

This vision of the future had an abrupt end when I arrived home after the meeting. Someone banged on my door. I opened the window and saw a masked figure who held a revolver to the neck of Stefan - a Swiss volunteer - and yelled for me open the door immediately. I had no choice, the bandits stormed into the house; one was drunk and fearful, and yelled continuously: "Where's the safe? Where's the money?" He waved a revolver around while the other one stuck his gun in Stefan's back. "Don't scream so much, I'll give you all I have," I said, and we ran upstairs. 200 dollars were found. "That's too little, it's nothing! Where's the safe?" - "You can search all you want as far as I'm concerned, but there is no more, only papers and books." We were locked in the bathroom and after a while an ex-volunteer with her child were also pushed in as hostages. So we sat there for hours through the night, though a few pillows, blankets and jackets were thrown in to us. We tried to think of something. Gradually we realized that there were only two bandits who rummaged around the house and now and then came into the bathroom and screamed at me, where my damned money was. Then there was the one guarding us, who said that the most dangerous members of their gang were waiting outside on the street. They kept running outside for instructions because they couldn't find anything and were more and more afraid because they wouldn't be able to carry out their "mission", for which they could pay with their lives. We could hear them yelling outside the bathroom door: "vamos matar, vamos matar!" (Let's Kill them!)

Thank God we kept calm. The child with its shock of blonde hair shone like the sun. We negotiated with the bandits and made suggestions: checks, or we could call someone to bring money. But they insisted doggedly on the non-existent safe. Well, I thought, whatever happens will happen, and I reminded myself of my morning verse: "..that today be an image of your destiny's ordering will." I did not want to lose my presence of mind, because you can get used even to such unnatural situations and miss the right moment when a solution could come.

Sometime after midnight the redeeming words occurred to me: "Vamos fazer um acordo!" (Let's make a deal!) The deal was that I was to leave the ransom money in a public telephone booth at 11 o'clock the next morning. They needed the money to buy a fellow crook out of prison - that is, the money was to go to a lawyer!

After the money transfer the gang leader telephoned me. I took advantage of this to explain what we, "the hostages in the bathroom", together with 170 co-workers in the favelas are trying to do: we want to avoid that people must live such terrible lives as they, the bandits, do. He agreed with me, wanted to return to his home in northern Brazil anyway. There, however, is where the great drought area is, where a hidden but not less brutal violence reigns, namely that of the large land-owners. They put the aid money into their own pockets instead of into the well-digging projects. Therefore the poor country people have no choice but to migrate to the over-populated cities. Within the past fifty years the relation city-country population has reversed - today 70% of all Brazilians live in the cities, and mostly in favelas and other unworthy housing. Or they dedicate themselves to the cultivation of drugs by which, thanks to the international mafia and the worldwide consumers, a modest existence is financed. The gang leader went on: "There are ten of us and with the help of the stolen money we're going back to my hometown where jobs have been promised us." Somehow I didn't regret the lose of my money, because I was comforted by the thought that there would be ten fewer gangsters in Sao Paulo. And perhaps they could really begin anew in the North...And we're all still alive, thank God!

The Gray Circle

When it was over, I began to consider what it all meant - especially in my life. I suddenly saw myself in a gray circle in the middle of which was my heart. Somehow this cloud, the center of which was me, had attracted the aggression. In the past months I had the feeling that nothing was going right for me in Monte Azul - except for my artistic experiments, various religious theater performances and the courses for co-workers, especially favelas dwellers. Many tasks such as administration and fund raising had become professionalized; others tasks had long since been taken over by others, such as the educational work with children and many other projects for which I had given the original impulse, had worked at or helped with in emergency situations. This was all clear to me, and it was right that it should be so, we had spoken about it at length in our meetings - but even so I was in this melancholy mood.

Unfortunately, the nasty story with the gangsters wasn't over. After a few days I received another telephone call, then in the following nights many anonymous calls came; sinister figures on motorcycles, sometimes masked, rode around my house. They threatened to destroy my house - and me as well. These extortions continued for three weeks, until I began to stay in a different place every night. A valued co-worker, gifted with clairvoyance, urged me to really disappear, that my life was in real danger. Furthermore, many other co-workers had agitated dreams about me after the robbery. I had hesitated to leave for fear that then another German colleague would be the next target for extortion. But when I realized that it was a matter of life or death, I had my knapsack packed in three minutes and lay low in a hiding place, first in the Anthroposophical Society, then thanks to a helpful Brazilian couple, in a nice villa, for four weeks, with only a cell phone to connect me with the "outer world". In such situations it is useless to count on the help of the police, because they are usually in collusion with the criminals.

I had a lot of time to think. In great haste I had taken a few books, paper, pencil and a thermos with me. I went back over my almost 33 years in Brazil. At 27/28 I went as a social worker to a favela in the interior; when I was 33 I began working as a class and language teacher in the Sao Paulo Waldorf School, which lasted for nine years. At 37 (second moon node) I began the favela work together with pupils of the Sao Paulo Waldorf School; at 56 (third moon node) I became a member of the executive committee of the Anthroposophical Society in Brazil; since then I have been advisor to and have helped found various small social initiatives.

And now at 62? Naturally all the co-workers and I found it extreme that I could no longer return to my own house - which, by the way, is not a rare occurrence. I'd just have to make the best of it. Despite the shock and sadness, all the co-workers were determined to take more responsibility for the favela work.

Here are examples of letters I received from the co-workers during that difficult time:

Dear Ute, when you left last week, the air seemed to congeal. It was strange. And even I, who never cry, couldn't hold back the stream of tears during the meeting. Yet that reunião had something "light" to it, because in some of us suddenly a force seemed to work, that will simply only go forward. [...] Because of this whole story many people have taken a giant step forward. Although the opposing forces will also be there - but that will only give the scales new movement, and Monte Azul seems to have become mature." Or, in another letter: "I think after 30 years of work, also considering the end of the millennium, that this is a trial. This separation has a meaning, and surely you will return different than when you left. And also in Monte Azul the people will be more alert in their work."

A step towards humanity in general

I had previously expressed the intention of working more outside Brazil, For example the idea of organizing a Multicultural Congress of all anthroposophical social initiatives. It would bring together the initiators, wherever in the world they are on the social front.

Then there was the experience of the Pan-American Congress, where it became clear to me how important the global civil society and all NGOs can be in connection with the anthroposophical movement, if all sides are willing to learn from each other. I also consider the founding of the "Alliance for Childhood" very important. This group works for cooperation of various pedagogical movements and advocates the defense of childhood. I would like to cooperate more with all these initiatives, also improve my English as well as intensify my study of Goetheanistic investigation methods. All these things have been living in me for a long time, but until now I simply couldn't imagine being separated from Monte Azul, separated from all the people with whom I have experienced the growth of Monte Azul - in joy and suffering - during the past thirty years. Now, however, I had to make this step. Therefore I went to Germany shortly before Christmas and made the transition into the new millennium not with the people who had become a part of me, but with new, marvelous, unbelievably engaged people from the whole world at the "Northern Conference" in Göteborg, Sweden - for example Nicanor Perlas and Ben Aharon. I also met some people there who are involved in Manichaeism. It occurred to me - in all modesty - that we in Monte Azul might have something to do with that. I quote from Wolgang Garvelmann's article "Manichaeism - only a slogan?" (Lazarus, January 1999): "Our present task in the conflict with Sorat [a name used by Rudolf Steiner to describe an evil spiritual being: trans.] cannot be won as a battle but only with the courage necessary to endure his presence and with love for his victims, who we are to accompany as well as possible. But the task is so difficult that we can't accomplish it as individuals. It can only be fulfilled when individuals mutually support each other in genuine communities, thereby increasing their strength and letting their courage converge." We tried to form such communities in Monte Azul. Garvelmann went on to describe how the opposing powers try to destroy these communities by taking advantage of human weaknesses and egoism. This was really the case with me before the robbery. Perhaps it was meant to wake me up - with one shove - making it easier for me to take a more radical decision concerning new tasks. And in Monte Azul a new strength of the "spirit-self" of the Monte-Azul-Community has awakened or become newly conscious.

What was the result of this "story" for me personally?

1. To live with complete confidence in the ever present, destiny-ordering Higher "I".

2. To really forgive the thieves and to empathize with the tragedy of their lives - and to pray for them.

3. To divine the light in all darkness, as Gesa (the mother who was locked in with me) said after we were freed: "I don't know what you did, but I was always praying, and in spite of our extreme duress, I sensed much light."

4. To know that it is only possible to transform the earth's destiny when you don't only consider the earthly.

The story told here is taken from life and - as they say in Brazil: "So Deus sabe como vai terminar" (Only God knows how it will end...). It is only an example of the innumerable untold stories in the world.

Translation: Frank Thomas Smith

(1) Monte Azul is the name of the favela in Sao Paulo where Ute Craemer began her work on a shoestring in her own home. The project has since grown to include many co-workers who care for and educate children and adults from various favelas. "Monte Azul" is the generic name for the entire project. Read her autobiographical book, "Favela Children".


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