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close this bookCERES No. 058 (FAO Ceres, 1977, 50 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
Open this folder and view contentsWorld report
View the documentThe statistical chickens
View the documentA ''natural'' modernization
View the documentThe eight myths of hunger
View the documentInterview
View the documentThe secret vice
View the documentContrary winds
View the documentTo be poor in Java
View the documentThe school of social life
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Interview

JosI am getting old.
I am 37 - I've got to get things sorted out for my family quickly

Our talk with Josnd his family took place in a rough wooden shack in one of Sao Paulo's most famous favelas (shantytowns), which was optimistically christened Ordem e Progresso {Order and Progress) by government officials While we chatted, rats ran across the wooden beams. A week earlier, a rat had bitten off a child's nose. This favela is being dismantled by the City Council. In what appears to be a shortsighted attempt to reverse a historical trend, the authorities are sending some of the families back to their state of origin. A small number - those that had managed to save up enough money to start buying their own plot of land-are receiving free building materials. No one yet knows what will happen to the remaining 300 families.

The rate of migration to Sao Paulo has slowed down greatly over the last few years. The news has seeped hack to the poor rural areas in the northeast that the roads here are not paved with gold. Although Ado Paulo is undeniably still a city of opportunity for a few, particularly those with some kind of qualification, migrants now arrive knowing that, if they are unable to jump on the bandwagon, they may well end up being worse off than before. Although only 18 months in Sao Paulo, Joss doing much better than most. Thanks to financial help from his elder sister, he and his family managed to move out of the favela a couple of months before we talked to them. The day we met them, they were back visiting friends. Josnd his wife, Alice, have three small children: Sandru, 7 years old; Maria Cristina, 3 years old; and Ana Regina, 2 years old: and they are expecting another. Alice, in fact, has had seven children altogether, four died young while they were still living in the northeast.

ceres: When did you arrive in Sao Paulo?

JosI arrived in Sao Paulo eighteen months ago. I used to live in Caruaru in Pernambuco. I was employed by the town council there. First I worked as a refuse collector, and then as a traffic policeman. But I earned just the same. Only Cr$3 a day. It just wasn't enough. I was never going to solve my problems and get on with those wages. I decided that I must find other work.

But it was difficult. The main problem with Caruaru is unemployment. There is just one industry for a town of 200 000 inhabitants. It is owned by Sanbra and crushes castor beans. But there is only work for six months, during the harvest. And even then, they don't pay well.

Nonetheless, during the harvest, things go fairly well. There's a cobbler's workshop there. From August to November, they sell shoes like hot cakes. They work day and night. People economize on their Christmas candles and buy a new pair of shoes. But then comes January. No one has any money. The workshop closes down.

ceres: How was it that you left Caruaru ?

JosOne day I said to myself: "No, you can't go on like this. You must move on." But I wasn't thinking then of leaving Caruaru, just of finding something better. So I gave in my notice at the town council. I got Cr$535 when I left, with all the extras. I paid a few little debts that I'd accumulated. With the Cr$200 that were left, I bought some small wares: soap, buttons, talcum powder, you know the sort of thing. Then I went off into the hinterland, knocking on doors. I sold a reel of cotton to one, a tape measure to another. And so on.

ceres: Did you manage to make much money this way?

JosA bit, but not much. You know what it's like. When you are always taking out and not putting in, the thing doesn't grow. The business was too small. If I hadn't had my family to support, perhaps it would have prospered. But I always had to spend everything I earned on feeding the family. And then there was the problem of people buying from me on tick. I would arrive at the hut to collect the debt: "Ah, Sr. JosI promise that I'll pay next week. But this week Roberto was ill, and you know how expensive medicines are...." And the following week, "Ah, Sr. JosI'm so sorry. I'll really pay next week. But this week one of the chickens died ..." And so on. It wasn't their fault, the poor devils, they just didn't have any money. Sometimes I got paid in kind. Needles, talcum powder, soap for a dozen eggs. But it wasn't good enough. There was never anything left at the end of the month.

ceres: What did you decide to do ?

JosI made up my mind. The only solution was to come to Sao Paulo. The bus ticket at that time was Cr$192. The only way I could get this amount of money together was by cleaning out lavatories. So at night I started cleaning them. Some were one metre deep, others a metre and a half. I got Cr$60 a night, going to bed at about half past four in the morning. But I had to have someone to help, someone to whom I could hand up the buckets. So I got left with Cr$30 or Cr$40. I'd spend half of this on food for the family and put away the rest for the ticket. Finally, I got together Cr$140.

I went to the bus station. The man said the ticket was Cr$ 192. I said that I knew that, but I wanted him to reserve part of the ticket for me, that I would pay him the rest of the money at the end of the month. Well, I got the money together by the end of the month. And my family and friends passed the hat around and collected Cr$ 150 so that I'd have something to start off with in Sao Paulo.

ceres: Who was going to look after your family while you got things sorted out in Sao Paulo?

JosMy wife and the children stayed with her family.

ceres: Did you know where you'd be living in Sao Paulo?

JosNo. I just had the address of a compadre (close friend) who was living in the Marconi favela. I went there and stayed with him for several months. He got me work with a delivery company. I got on all right with the work, although it was tough at first as I didn't know where any of the streets were. But I often got home so late - one o'clock in the morning or later - that my compadre would get worried. The Marconi favela is in a very isolated spot. And you know what it is like in Sao Paulo with all these armed robberies. Not that I had any money for anyone to steal, but they might have killed me. So I gave up the job.

ceres: What did you do next?

JosI went to work for another delivery company, with better hours. And then I met my sister. She'd come to Sao Paulo 18 years earlier and we'd lost contact. I just knew that she went to a certain bank each month to collect her pension. Her husband's dead. I went to this bank every lunchtime to try and meet her. Then the girl in the bank suggested that I leave a message for her, telling her to phone the delivery company. So I did, and one day she phoned. It was such a shock talking to her on the phone We arranged to meet. I was so nervous the day before. Of course, neither of us recognized the other. It was very strange. My sister helped me a lot. I stayed with her and she found me a better job in a factory. In this way I was able to send the money up to Pernambuco for the bus tickets for my wife and children.

ceres: How many children had you then?

Alice: We had three alive. Four had died. The first died when it was seven days old. It died because it was so big when it was born. It weighed 7 kg. The second was also born ill and died in hospital. They both died with a baby's illness. You know, that disease when the baby goes all purple, and the lips crack open. There is a remedy for it, but then the child becomes mentally retarded or crippled. So I thought-it's not worth it. It's better the baby dies. The third died when it was three months old. I went to vote in an election and it got too much sun. It had a very high temperature. I took it to an emergency hospital. It was interned but died after three days. Even when we took the poor little thing to be buried, its body was still burning hot.

ceres: Where did you live when you first arrived with the three children ?

Alice: We went to live with Jos sister. But it didn't work out. She has four children and, what with one thing and another, they were always fighting.

ceres: Where did you go then?

JosI went to see about renting a room. But the cheapest I could find was Cr$600 a month, plus water and electricity, plus three months' deposit. I went to see the City Council to see if they could find me a piece of land on which I could build a hut. But they just replied: "The City Council doesn't give land away free." Then a colleague of mine at work told me that there were some huts for sale in this favela. You can get them for all prices, from Cr$600 to Cr$800 and even over Cr$ l000. I went back to the City Council and, to get rid of me, they finally gave me Cr$600 to buy a hut. So finally we moved in here.

ceres: How long did you live here ?

JosEleven months.

ceres Did you get used to it?

Alice: We certainly did. I liked it a lot here. We made so many friends. And I liked going to Mass. It was so convenient with the little church right next to our hut. When we left, I was crying because I was leaving so many friends behind.

ceres: Did you like it here too?

JosYes, I did. A lot. You know, there are a lot of rough people here, people who have gone wrong in their lives. But there are many ordinary, decent people too. The main problem is that, for the police, no one here has any value. They think that we are all the same, all bandits. Whenever there's a crime, they say: "Ah, I know, it's someone from the favela." And in they move. Anyone who happens not to have his identity card on him is arrested. If you go to a nearby bar and the police arrive, they just have to know that you're from the favela and they arrest you. And then they give you a really rough beating.

Alice: And when they come into the favela they don't respect anything. They come into your house, they poke around everywhere and steal anything they can find.

JosYes, they are real thieves. They are the real reason why I'm pleased that we moved out.

Alice: Sometimes, they even kill people, as happened to one of our neighbours.

JosYes. I was at home that day when the police appeared. They were looking for a petty criminal. Well, it so happened that my neighbour had the same name. They marched into his hut, grabbed hold of him, asking his name. When he answered, they shot him down with a machine gun.

ceres: And no one complained to the authorities?

JosNo one dared to. And if someone had, who was going to take the word against that of the police? It was this kind of thing that revolted me. We had to get out. I couldn't bring up the children in this atmosphere of fear and violence. I'm getting old. I'm 37. I've got to get things sorted out for my family quickly. So we took up my sister's offer-a bit against our will-and we built a little hut beside her house. We left the favela about two months ago.

ceres: Are most of the people here in the favela unemployed?

JosOh no. Most work. In factories or, more frequently, on building sites. Or in sawmills, and things like that. But most of them earn so little that they can't possibly buy a plot of land or rent a house. Many of them are migrants who arrived several years ago from the northeast and other areas and still haven't got properly established. It's not difficult to find work in Sao Paulo. But it's difficult to find work where you get paid decent wages. Many of them dream of going back to the northeast. But the more realistic know that that wouldn't solve anything as there's so little work back there.

ceres: Would you like to go back to Caruaru?

JosAh yes. If I could find work there, I'd go back tomorrow.

ceres: Why ?

JosAh, it's the land where I was born - you have to love that place. But it's not really that. It's that there, life is freer, more relaxed. And there you have a plot of land to cultivate - rice, beans, fruit. And, even if you don't, things are cheaper. A dozen bananas cost Cr$7 here in Sao Paulo. There you can get 100 bananas for that price.

ceres: What would you say to someone in Caruaru who asked you if it is worth coming to Sao Paulo ?

JosI'd rather not answer the person's question, not give advice so as not to have to say -don't come. But all I know is that, if the person comes, he's going to suffer, just as I suffered. Because if the person comes here, he is going to have to pay rent for his house, pay electricity bills, pay bus fares -and thus he is going to suffer. He'll earn the minimum wage or just a bit more-and the money won't go round. He'll end up in a favela. And then there's all the problems here. He'll suffer like me. And, I tell you, I've suffered a lot here in Sao Paulo. Now things are a bit better for me. Because I'm reaming a profession. Finally, I've managed to get into a course to become a properly trained bricklayer. Things are getting a bit easier because of this. But, for someone who arrives here without any training, then it's really difficult. And it's not easy to get trained. They're very fussy about whom they accept in their courses. I'd warn people-it'll be difficult for you in Sao Paulo.

*This interview was made for ceres in April 1977 by Sue Branford, an English journalist working in Sao Paulo.