You don’t have to go far in Sao Luís to encounter the stark reality and scale of poverty and corruption which co-exist in this city, like all others in Brazil. Just in this past week, we have witnessed a few incidences which would shock most of us in the West, but, sadly, are routine occurrences for many Brazilians.
Daniel’s niece, Maria Vitória, had a wee accident on her skateboard and ended up breaking her wrist. The medical treatment she was given was decidedly substandard, even for Brazil. She and her mum, Lú, went to the biggest public hospital in the city and, after waiting to be taken, she was told her she would need an x-ray but that the x-ray machine was not working and she would need to return early the next morning. Only after her mother’s questioning, did a doctor bandage up her arm in the meantime before sending her on her way without any pain relief. One might question whether or not the x-ray machine was really broken. If it was broken late at night, how would it be fixed early the next morning? Is there really only 1 x-ray machine in the whole hospital? If there is only 1 machine that was genuinely broken, then that is a poor state of affairs in a state capital. Patients here sadly have to accept that how and when they are treated is at the discretion of the staff and, if you have money, or know someone, you’re on to a winner. If not, you’re at the bottom of the pile.
The next day, the x-ray machine was still not working so Maria Vitória and her mum had to get on their way to another hospital further away where they had to do a bit more waiting and eventually encountered a doctor who was less than pleased at having to leave the staff room, and forsake social media on his phone, to do some work. He was openly annoyed that he had to treat a child who should have been treated at the first hospital. Nevertheless, Maria Vitória’s broken wrist was hopefully correctly diagnosed and put in a cast.
But that’s not the end of the story for poor Maria Vitória. Having told the doctor that her daughter is allergic to some medications, mum was assured that everything he prescribed for the pain was safe for her to take. On Saturday, Maria Vitoria’s eye was up life a golf ball and she’d had an allergic reaction. In theory, all she needed was to go to the local equivalent of minor ailments and get an anti-allergy injection. We were at their house that day and Daniel offered a lift to see the doctor only for them to be told that there was only 1 doctor in that day and that he was on his lunch. They would have to wait an hour and a half to be seen, despite the fact that the hospital treats emergency cases.
In the midday heat in a car which they’d borrowed with no air conditioning, they had to go to a different clinic further away where Maria Vitória was treated quickly but still had to wait in the hospital for a few hours to be observed. As they were waiting, Lú bought some food for herself which she gave away to a mum and child who had been waiting hours to be treated and who had asked for a share of it. You have to be pretty desperate to ask for food from a stranger, including here in Brazil.
Maria Vitória will hopefully do an allergy test soon to find out which medications she has to avoid (expensive business if she doesn’t want to wait months on state care and ensure decent treatment). A wrist break is a fairly routine occurrence and, yet, the state of basic healthcare and negligence by medical professionals, resulted in delays and poor treatment. You can see why many people opt for private healthcare if they can.
The mission team from Niddrie who visited Sao Luis in 2013 remember fondly the number of holes, or perhaps craters (!), in the roads of this city. The division between rich and poor is apparent in that the rich, tourist areas of the city are accessible and have good roads, while out of the business centre, and around mixed and poor neighbourhoods, many roads are simply unpassable.
Last weekend, one of the councillors was in the area of Sao Bernardo (where much of our work is based) because there was a celebration for the opening of a few roads that had just been asphalted. They are now passable for the first time in many years, so improving access and reducing congestion; all sounds super but the residents have been campaigning for this for over 20 years. The job took less than an afternoon to complete. Unfortunately, the quality of the materials used in the work is such that after a few tropical showers, the road will have eroded back to its pre-asphalted, muddy, breeding-place-for-diseases condition. Such poor materials are used because the company that wins the contract with the council, lowers its price so much to get the job, that they don’t have enough money to pay their outgoings and intentionally save on raw materials, using inferior products. There is also the sad truth that corruption and theft is rife. It is a high probability that the politicians, businessmen or workers involved in such public works have a hand in fraud, such as keeping some of the materials for themselves or selling them on instead of using them for the project in hand. As Daniel always says, we cannot blame the government when the average man on the street is just as guilty of dodgy dealings. (The batteries from the tractors used in the project were stolen at night).
Locals suggest the new roads will last a maximum of 6 months. And yet, it was still exciting enough to let off fireworks and have a party. This is also Brazil: spirited and ever-optimistic.
The Car Industry
We have taken a few weeks to purchase a vehicle as we have been looking at different options. One source of frustration for Daniel is enquiring about second-hand cars. After the usual chat with a seller, Daniel gets to the point of the conversation and it inevitably comes out that there is something not above board with the car. Either there is some fine against the car which hasn’t been paid, or there has been a previous accident the owner has been dishonest about, or the car is registered in someone else’s name and it will cost an arm and a leg (and a few trips to a registry office and Department of Transport) to transfer the car to the seller’s name. One seller confessed to not paying road tax for 4 years and running up over £500 of fines. There was also a broken window on the car and 4 years of maintenance to be done. We are ok with some work as there are several mechanics in the family but you would think the price should reflect that! New cars are pricey here so we’re hoping something suitable will come up.
One of the hardest things for us is coming across people who claim to be Christians but are guilty of accepting bribes, bending the rules, not quite obeying the law etc. This happens at all levels from Christians who drive without driving licences, to those who open up a business without pay tax, or others who are offered jobs without meeting the criteria because they know someone. There is a well-known scrapyard owner here whose scrapyard is known as “the brother’s scrapyard” as he always professed to being a Christian. He may well know his bible inside out and attend services but he was found guilty this week of selling on stolen car parts. There is a huge challenge in this culture of people who don’t take faith seriously. While Christianity is seen as irrelevant in the UK, here it is still regarded highly but there are many people who don’t truly value and live by what God has said is important. Our challenge continues!
We’ll post some project news in the next few days. Apologies for the side-step into a cultural insight.
Here are a few links to other articles for anyone who is super interested in the state of affairs in Brazil.