Hard goodbyes

Andreía crochets while watching the news in her bedroom.

It was my last day with the Emboava family and it wasn’t easy to leave. It’s only been a week and half since we met, but I know I’ll miss every member of this family. With tears in her eyes, Andreía told me not to book a hotel if I ever return to São Paulo — she’d rather have me stay with them.

Arivaldo loads a van with recyclables from a public health center.

Arivaldo loads a van with recyclables from a public health center.

Andreía sorts a variety of materials, including plastic, paper and cardboard, among other items.

Andreía sorts a variety of materials, including plastic, paper and cardboard, among other items.

Workers throw bags of recyclable materials over Cooper Glicério's front wall.

Workers throw bags of recyclable materials over Cooper Glicério’s front wall.

Agatha and Andreía laugh at a coworker's joke.

Agatha and Andreía laugh at a coworker’s joke. Sometimes Agatha helps at the cooperative, so Andreía and Arivaldo don’t have to work as long. 

After everything they did for me, I wanted to give the Emboavas a proper goodbye. I printed photos and wrote a letter, which I’ll share with you here:

Andreía, Edinaldo, Arivaldo, Agatha, Ruan and Marjorye,

You’re an amazing family. I feel so blessed for the time I got to spend with you and everything you’ve taught me. My experience in São Paulo was incredible and I have your family to thank.

You’re each special in a different way and I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to see that. Andreía – your generosity and hospitality has inspired me to give more and be open with others, as you’ve been with me. Edinaldo – your smile lights up a room and makes me smile every time I see it. Arivaldo – you’re such a hard worker and you were always looking for ways to help me and make my project better. Agatha – your laugh is absolutely beautiful! I enjoyed spending time with you, your friends and your boyfriend because I got to see you take a break from all the hard work you do at home. Ruan – you’re silly and goofy, always joking around, and you’re pretty good with a camera too! Marjorye – you’re the cutest little girl I’ve ever met. I couldn’t stop taking photos of you, even when I knew I had too many for my story.

Again, I can’t say thank you enough. You represent your country well by showing me what a loving, caring Brazilian family looks like. And you’ve proven to me that you don’t need tons of extra money to be happy.

If I’m ever in São Paulo again, I’ll look you up. I’ll always be grateful for the time we spent together.

Love always,

Cara Wilwerding

Edinaldo and Marjorye watch cartoons before starting their day.

Edinaldo and Marjorye watch cartoons before starting their day.

Agatha loads a bin full of dirty dishes.

Agatha loads a bin full of dirty dishes.

Andreía and Edinaldo have a conversation from separate rooms.

Andreía and Edinaldo have a conversation from separate rooms.

Andreía tries to convince Marjorye to brush her teeth in the shower.

Andreía tries to convince Marjorye to brush her teeth in the shower.

Edinaldo listens while Andreía and Ruan have an argument.

Edinaldo listens while Andreía and Ruan have an argument.

Ruan and Marjorye play with blown up latex gloves.

Ruan and Marjorye play with blown up latex gloves.

Ruan and Agatha laugh at their uncle's joke.

Ruan and Agatha laugh at their uncle’s joke.

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“We have to work for things to get better.”

I’m growing closer and closer to the Emboava family, as I continue to visit them at work and home. The past couple days have been full of happy and sad moments, stressful situations and hard work. I couldn’t imagine living like this every day. But the Emboavas seem to take it all in stride.

Andreía sorts paper in a dumpster.

Andreía wipes her face after sorting paper.

Before heading home for lunch, Andreíá observes a wound on her father's face.

Before heading home for lunch, Andreíá observes a wound on her father’s face.

I interviewed Andreía, Arivaldo and Sergio, the leader of Cooper Glicério. Arivaldo was extremely optimistic while explaining their difficulties and struggles, saying, “we have to work for things to get better.” He talked of a better future for his family, specifically for his grandchildren.

Arivaldo holds three-year-old Marjorye's hand after dancing around the entryway.

Arivaldo holds three-year-old Marjorye’s hand after dancing around the entryway.

Like her father, Andreía also dreams of a better future. She would like to move to a new house within this year, to escape the violence of downtown São Paulo. “I have children and teenagers at home and I don’t want them to grow up here,” Andreía said.

Andreía smokes a cigarette out her front door.

Andreía smokes a cigarette out her front door.

Bruce Thorson watches neighborhood children play across the street from the Emboava household.

Bruce Thorson watches neighborhood children play across the street from the Emboava household.

Andreía and Arivaldo work relentlessly day after day, and that’s inspirational. Not only to me, but to Andreía’s entire family. The children pitch in without being asked, a concept completely foreign to kids in the U.S.

Fourteen-year-old Agatha leads the household when her mother’s not around, cooking meals, taking care of the younger children and assisting her paraplegic father. While I haven’t gotten to know her very well yet, I hope to spend much more time with Agatha before I leave. Strength and perseverance obviously run in the family.

Until next time,

Cara Wilwerding

Superwoman

Yesterday, I went to work again with Andreía and her father, Arivaldo. I learned that while hundreds of people collect throughout Sáo Paulo, members of various cooperatives have an easier time gathering materials and make more money than most. Cooper Glicério was even able to afford a mechanical cart this year, giving employees a break from hauling such a heavy bundle.

Controlling Cooper Glicério's mechanical cart, Arivaldo passes a fellow collector. Sergio Bispo, founder of Cooper Glicério, said the cart is worth 4.000 reals (2,000 U.S. dollars).

Controlling Cooper Glicério’s mechanical cart, Arivaldo passes a fellow collector. Sergio Bispo, founder of Cooper Glicério, said the cart is worth 4.000 reals (2,000 U.S. dollars).

Arivaldo loads recyclables into an old Volkswagen van.

Arivaldo loads recyclables into an old Volkswagen van.

Andreía kisses her 10-year-old son, Ruan.

Andreía kisses her 10-year-old son, Ruan.

Arivaldo and Andreía joke around as they head home for lunch.

Arivaldo and Andreía joke around as they head home for lunch.

Only a short walk from the cooperative is Andreía’s home, where she lives with her father, husband and three children. But along with this large group, two other families also live in the small, run-down building.

Andreía's husband Edinaldo, fills a water bottle. Edinaldo used to work at the cooperative too, until he was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident two years ago. He's currently searching for work online.

Andreía’s husband Edinaldo, fills a water bottle. Edinaldo used to work at the cooperative too, until he was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident two years ago. He’s currently searching for work online.

Three-year-old Marjorye tries on her mother's shoes.

Three-year-old Marjorye tries on her mother’s shoes.

Arivaldo wires electricity from the street, exhibiting just one way that the family saves on living costs.

Arivaldo wires electricity from the street, exhibiting just one way that the family saves on living costs.

During her lunch break, Andreía plays with Marjorye.

During her lunch break, Andreía plays with Marjorye.

I stayed the night with the Emboava’s to see what their daily life is really like. Their sleeping arrangements were like nothing I’d ever seen before. Plywood boards lay across concrete wall structures (without nails or screws attaching them). They climbed ladders to get to these quarters, where small beds or cots were arranged.

If a house like this existed in the United States, it would be condemned.

I was surprised to see such a cramped living area, after I’ve seen how hard both Andreía and Arivaldo work. While I spent time with the family Friday night, they went out to collect yet again.

Edinaldo and brother,  Cleiton talk as Andreía and Arivaldo leave to collect more recyclables.

Edinaldo talks with Andreía’s brother, Ailton, as Andreía and Arivaldo leave to collect more recyclables.

Waiting for her mother and grandfather to return from collecting, Marjorye plays with other girls who live in her building.

Waiting for her mother and grandfather to return from collecting, Marjorye plays with other girls who live in her building.

Her work seems exhausting, but Andreía keeps going when she gets home. She made sure I got a shower and a hot meal, cleaned a cut on her father’s face and put the kids to bed, before thinking about herself. I’m convinced she’s superwoman.

Andreía smokes a cigarette while waking up Saturday morning.

Andreía smokes a cigarette while waking up Saturday morning.

After only one day, I’ve become attached to the Emboava family. I’m going to church with them tomorrow and hope to spend as much time with them as possible during my last week in Brazil.

Until next time,

Cara Wilwerding

Antônio

Today I met Antônio Luiz, a 64-year-old worker at Cooper Glicério. He’s been working here for four months, making about 1000 reals (500 U.S. dollars) per month.

Aparecido Berges Rodrigo sorts and compacts boxes in a dumpster.

Aparecido Berges Rodrigo sorts and compacts boxes in a dumpster.

I had hoped to spend more time with Andreía and her father today, but decided to focus on other employees when I learned they were gone. Andreía’s mother had a stroke recently, so they both traveled to a nearby city to visit her. Luckily, I’ll be able to meet with her tonight, spend some time with her family and get better aquainted. Thanks for reading.

Until next time,

Cara Wilwerding