sábado, 22 de dezembro de 2007

On the land of the landless

We spent Mon-Thu at my sister-in-law's in the landless movement's village called Lamarca. It took us some hours on a noisy but still somewhat comfortable bus to get there and the kids were really good during the trip. They slept half of the way and were really patient the rest of the time.

We were received by relatives (my two brothers-in-law also have houses there) and were immediately shown around the premises (ie my sister-in-law's tiny house and the garden). The boy wanted to go to the toilet and as we were getting out of there he looked at a man that had been cleaning the bushes behind the house and said: "that's my daddy." I laughed and explained that daddy had stayed at home. But as I looked up it really was "daddy". My husband had left the city at the same time with our bus and got there roughly an hour before us. They had dressed him with some old rags and he pretended to be a worker as we got there. What a great surprise!

I got to visit the tiny school where my sister-in-law is the teacher (and cleaner, principal, cook, secretary and anything else that might be needed). The kids are aged between 8 and 16 and most are on second or third grade. I showed them a book with loads of pictures of Finland and taught them how to make some Finnish Christmas decorations. Then they had the last Portuguese exam of the school year and as my sister-in-law was marking the exams she asked me to check their reading. Everyone picked a poem or a short story and read it to me. They were all able to read although some just about. There's a challenge for the teacher; kids come and go during the year, some have never gone to school before and she also has a special student who follows a customised study plan. The school is a small wooden house with earth floor and it rains inside quite often.

Otherwise we just stayed at home and let the kids enjoy the countryside. They mainly made mudcakes with their cousin, ran with the hens and played with the dog. At night everyone was really tired and literally passed out.

My sister-in-law also took me to visit some of the neighbours. It was really interesting to see the difference between people's houses. Some were really simple with earth floor, homemade wood burning stove and oven and little lanterns made with old tins. Then there were some houses that were painted and had a concrete floor. Some people had refrigerators that worked with gas or a generator, TVs (with 30 channels), stereos etc. My sister-in-law's family have a house somewhere between these two examples. They have a concrete floor, gas cooker and a small 12-volt-lamp that works with solar energy.

Lamarca was taken over some six years ago from the government. At first it was a camp (acampamento) where everyone lived together literally camping in small palm-leave huts. Later on the land was divided and now they're all settled (assentados) each with their own little house and plot of land. No one has any documents to prove land ownership but everything's considered more or less organised by now. Apparently it's a bit less complicated to invade government land than private lands.

My sister-in-law and her husband have now cut and burned half of the forests they have. On Wednesday they took me to the "forest" (that is now a huge area filled with burned and fallen trees) to look for some Brazil nuts. It was somehow weird as just next to us there was the green rainforest packed with life and we were walking in the middle of a destroyed piece of land. I somehow felt I was part of the destruction of the Amazon whether I wanted to or not. I guess it's enough that one lives over here to make one is a part of it.

I asked them a lot of questions about the land and the forests. They told me that legally they could cut and burn 20% of their forests but that's usually not enough for a small farm to survive. Now they're still able to do whatever they want with the land as there's no legal ownership. Even if someone came to check the use of land they couldn't prove that a certain person has cut too many trees as nothing is documented. There's also no control of the wood that is sold although legally it's prohibited to sell certain wood.

I just kept my mouth shut and didn't utter a single opinion on any matter. I just kept on asking. Then again, what could I have said; most of the people live there simply because they don't have anywhere else to go.

The trip was really interesting. It opened my eyes to yet another reality that I didn't know before. It also awoke loads of new questions to which answers might no even exist.

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