YVONNE.

In the nineteen sixties Sao Paulo was said to be the fastest growing City in the World. Brazil was changing from a rural society when President Kubachek took the decision to introduce a crash programme of industrialisation.

Migrants from all around Brazil headed for the centre of activities where work was available and were met at bus or rail terminals by small entrepreneurs needing labour. There was no available infrastructure for any of these migrants’ needs and so they headed for unused land on the outskirts of Sao Paulo to put up their shacks or lean-to’s using corrugated sheets, tar paper, wood taken from building sites and whatever else that can be scavenged.

Earlier arrivals with wealth had built their villas on the high lying areas outside the town and soon the odd development occurred whereby as the the encircling land was built on, shanty towns lay within areas with fine houses lying on the higher ground.

Our three storey sobrado (free-standing house) on the Rua Volta Redonda lay a few hundred metres from one such favela (shanty town) down a track to a valley. The lives of the different inhabitants seldom interacted. We were aware of its existence but that was all. When there is work for all in any society trouble is minimised.

It is a custom in Brazil that any unwanted items in a household could be left outside the house and this was a sign that whoever wanted the item just took it away. This is what happened when Ursula wanted to dispose of a mattress and a young woman asked if she could have it. She knew of course that she could but she wanted someone to carry the heavy mattress for her as she was pregnant.

Ursula said she would arrange this and so  Cliffie and his friend Jorge and I I took the mattress along the road, down into the heart of this favela with the mattress’s new owner showing us the way. We walked carefully on pieces of boarded wood lying over the deep mud and open sewer run-offs into a small foetid den with small children lying on scraps of cloth. We lay the mattress down in the place the woman indicated and left this deprived place.

I told Ursula about the conditions there  and when the woman came back later with a small, shivering, feverish child to say that she was sick, Ursula went to the chemist to buy the medicine prescribed. After this Ursula went frequently to visit the family taking food and other items.

When it was time for the birth I was recruited by Ursula to take her by car to the only Free Hospital in Sao Paulo. This was in the centre and I accompanied the woman who we now called Yvonne to reception. Ursula had given her money to return with her baby by other transport.

There was no further communication with Yvonne until one day, some weeks later, she appeared at our gateway clapping, which is the only procedure in Brazil for calling a householders attention. There were no bells and never, never, never is it permitted for a caller to enter into the front garden or area of a Brazilian house. People had been shot for so doing and the householder would never be prosecuted.

Yvonne was carrying her baby and wanted to thank Ursula. As they stood there talking the baby’s mother spontaneously held out the little bundle saying, ‘please take the baby and bring her up, she will have a better chance in life with you.’ There was nothing Ursula could say in this heart-rending episode than she could not do what Yvonne asked.

1966