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From under the Pont de Limoeiro

Attila Clemann (30/10/02)

The traffic rumbles along the scarred roads of Recife incessantly coughing up black clouds of exhaust. The roads are never given much rest nor much attention from the city planners and cars and trucks are constantly forced to maneuver around large holes and cracks in the pavement. And as this steady flow of vehicles presses over the Limoeiro bridge, there are some eighteen families eating, sleeping and going about their daily lives right underneath. They are another part of the large section of poor in Brazil’s cities that have been forced to find some way to survive without money or a home. They live in a series of make-shift homes built between the concrete structure of the Limoeiro bridge. Their roof is the road and each home is no bigger than most of the cars that drive directly over their heads. It is an M.C. Escher nightmare of crudely built ladders that lead into the belly of the bridge from the sand below. Here, families of 3, 4 and 5 people have been surviving for anywhere from 3 to 6 years. Flee ridden dogs and fragile boney cats run between the ladders. A chicken sits on some broken planks of wood beside a pile of rubble. There are boats nearby on which some of the people work to gather food from the ocean and perhaps sell shrimp or crabs or whatever else they might find. Children wearing next to nothing play in the sand with whatever is handy that can be played with. For some this has been their only home.

In each home there sits a jumble of possessions; an odd combination of treasures found over the years. Electricity is hot-wired into some of the homes so that fans and lights can work. One family even manages a fridge. There are old stereo systems, furniture, propane tanks and all manner of bits and pieces. Holy pictures are plastered on the cement windowless walls of one home, another has a Christmas card tacked up.

And today, the day when I saw these people and was able to visit their homes, is in fact a very special day. It is the day they are being moved, at the expense of the city, into new homes built for them in a nearby neighbourhood. There is an army of blue clad city workers who are helping move the piles of belongings into massive trucks. City politicians, journalists, police and photographers mingle with the inhabitants as a band trumpets joyful music to celebrate. The children of this little community wander in awe of all the excitement. Never has so much interest been paid to them and in this moment of fame these people speak candidly of their lives and show with open arms how they lived for the past several years.

Then, after a series of speeches by various city suits and some of the inhabitants, a caravan of people and their belongings moves on to the new homes. The new homes are in a favelas and while for most people being in a favelas is by no means luxurious, for these families it is a major improvement. Now they have a key to a door for a home they can call their own. Upon arriving, one man immediately places his sport trophy, framed and all, on the wall. He has arrived and his family of five now has a tiny two room home with a toilet and they are all very proud.

I was given the privilege of witnessing this event because of a friendly photographer who is a student at Pro-Criança. He and his teacher at Pro-Criança were part of a project to photograph these people living under the Limoeiro bridge two years ago which went on to be exhibited publicly. Pro-Criança and other associations worked over a these past two years to convince the city of the need to help these people.