The Identity Crisis
Six months after the collapse of a dam full of mud in southeastern Brazil, almost a thousand survivors are living a dilemma: how to adapt to urban life, without almost any item from the past, in a city so dependent of what almost killed them?
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a translated version of the original piece in Portuguese, published in May, 2016. For the best comprehension, by non-brazilians, about the facts below presented, some things was changed, added and/or altered from the original version in Portuguese to, again, put non-brazilians in pair of something that we are overexposed. All the photos was made by the author, too. A shorter version of this long form piece appears in the Brazilian newspaper “Estadao”, of the may 1st, 2016 issue, under the title Identidades Rompidas”, in the pages A1 and E4. For this shorter version, the author also thanks the efforts of Vitor Hugo Brandalise. You can read the original version in Portuguese clicking here)
1. “A sound that I can’t even describe”
Antonio Marcos, Sonia’s husband, open the Whatsapp. He searches here and there and put the device close to the ears. So a voice speaks out of the phone, accusing people like him of opportunism. “These people that didn’t had even a slum house nowadays have all”, scream the voice, himself as a worker from the Brazilian mining company Samarco. “There’s no one unprotected. They’re in a home wtih three or four rooms. They’re fine!”, reaffirm. The house where they lived the whole life was standard as all the brazilian others, with kitchen, two rooms, laundry, a 1996 Fiat Uno on the garage, these things. The house where they live now has the walls uncompleted, high walls, places without the sunlight. The owner lives upstairs, and Antonio’s motorcycle squeezes between the clothes on the line.
Sonia shakes the head after hearing all once again. “They want to put us as a villain of the dam to collapse”, she tells. In the afternoon of November 6th, 2015, she and her son was on home, she watching TV, and Junior, the 16 years-old boy, on the shower preparing to the night-shift school. It was 4:10 p.m. on Bento Rodrigues, a rural settlement on the city of Mariana, state of Minas Gerais, in the southeastern Brazil. Then, she heard the sound of a big explosion — she thought that was a water duct broke; “And suddenly, the light went out, but I didn’t come out of home to see”. Again, she thought the noise of the street as something caused by a hysteric cousin. Thought that the alarm made by the neighbor about the broke of the dam close to the village was strange, but not alarming. She only could ask for the son get out of the shower.
Almost at the same time a 5,5 meter-tall tsunami of mud made of minerals and stones invaded Bento Rodrigues.
Somehow, five minutes later, Sonia was clinched to the wall that fell by the house, her body submerse in mud, her son screaming to she don’t give up, her little nephew begging to don’t die. The 1996 Fiat Uno left in the garage by the husband, who was working in a nearing district, was carried away by the garage, tumbling in the laundry — it is still there, half-buried in the floor. All the closest constructions was vanishing, one by one, taken by a mud so thick that chopped the walls. The home of relatives and friends had gone; the catholic church of years and years had vanished and gone too. In few moments, the wave reached the ceiling and took off the roof — it stopped, almost intact, half kilometer away. Without suspect from nothing, Rosana watered her garden.
The city of Mariana, about 100km away from Belo Horizonte, the Minas Gerais’ capital, it’s one of Brazil historic cities, founded in the 16th century, almost 150 years after Brazilian discovery by portuguese in 1500. In all its history, the money came from the city of the same way: from the ground. It is well-known that 90% of the city’s profit came from mining, and the operation gave fame to Mariana. “Half of the Europe’s gold in the 18th century came from the Mariana’s mine”, explain, with some pride, the Lieutenant Freitas, the city’s House Speaker. The protagonism, that until 1850 was made by gold, until some time ago was replaced by the iron ore. Was this same iron that brought Brazil’s biggest ambiental disaster to the area.
The Fundao’s dam is owned by Samarco, a miner controlled by two other companies: the brazilian Vale and the anglo-australian BHP Billiton. Created in 1977, it was designed to storage the extraction’s rejects, normally composed by rocks mixed to the mud. When the structure went down, in that afternoon of November 5Th, nor siren or alarm was buzzed in the village of Bento Rodrigues, the first in the uncontrolled route of the leak, at almost 25km at north of the urban area of the city.
Surprised by 55 million cubic meters of a dark-red wave, the 800 inhabitants of the district could save very few items — almost all of them survived with the clothes of the body. Of Bento, four people died, with other 15 Samarco workers’ and other outsourced companies that operated in Fundao. One outsource worker was not found yet. The mud advanced by the rivers Gualaxo do Norte, Carmo and Piranga, before flow directly to Rio Doce (Sweet River), the main drainage basin in the east of the state, causing the death of all the fishes and the cut of water supply in several cities of Minas Gerais and the neighboring Espirito Santo’s state. The river empties on the Atlantic, and few days after the disaster, the mud invaded the Ocean.
The damages are, until the moment, impossible to calculate — the government settled an all-time record 155 billion of reais fine (US$43, 5 bn) to the companies that own Samarco. Beyond the turbidity of the waters and the lack of fishes in a basin once before rich in trouts, lambaris and tilapias, there is no consensus about the real composition of the mud — that leaks from Fundao until now. The problem, some might say, can last for a century.
But, strangely, a second tide, as destructive as the first, it’s coming just now to the city of Mariana: after six months of the tragedy, the unsheltered accuse the urban part of the city of prejudice about the situation. The miner companies had shrunk the production dramatically. As consequence, the municipal government had predicted a year extremely difficult in the budget.
And the refugees, in most of the cases, flow between the veiled hope and the most pure melancholy. Always relegated to an agenda envolving money values and reparations, the sadness of these men, women and children it’s about what any money in the world can’t buy: all the memory of an almost 300 years-old settlement was carried away in few less than 10 minutes, or was buried over a mud stratum.
Antonio Marcos de Souza is a house constructor of calm modes, a simple man who seems almost never lost the temper in its 43 years of life. Not even in that thursday when he came from the neighboring district and saw the mud wave. “It was from up on the hill that I saw the mud coming back to [the neighboring district of] Camargos, so I’ve decided to come back”, say. Thinking that his wife and her son was already dead, he headed back to Camargos and did what he could to save the people. “I’ve entered inside a kitchen, on a motorcycle. The despair was so high that I’ve entered, and the woman there believed in me, because she knew about the dam’s story”. He convinced many people to run before come back to Bento Rodrigues.
Antonio is one of the many civilians who saved lives during the break of Fundao. Arnaldo, a local man, threw himself in the mud, only in underpants, and saved four people from danger. Police officers from close districts didn’t believed about the range of the leaking. The habitants also say that firemen, maybe seeing that nothing could be done, decided not to take the risk.
But the wave never stopped. It continued during the rest of the day destroying trees and carrying bridges, trees, pigs (only a man lost 90 of it), cows and chickens. All was flowing through the most distant districts of Mariana, in a heavy-forested area. When the news TV coverage showed the first footage of the destruction of that land, Sonia was on a trail, looking for shelter and listening to the buzz of the helicopters over her head. When the first journalist crews began to come around, the mud had already left Bento Rodrigues, in the direction of the world. And in direction of Rosana’s yard.
I’ve found Rosana de Paula Silva in front of her house, in a scene totally common in Brazil’s rural area: she was sit on a wood bench, and there she stood, chatting with a friend, while her husband, a old and very sympathetic black man — took a nap on the corner. It was lunchtime, and they were the only human beings in the Barra Longa’s streets, the first city after Mariana on the destruction path.
Catholic (as most of the people in the region), devoted to Saint Anthony and Our Lady of Aparecida (the brazilian patroness), Rosana lived all her 56 years in the Morro Vermelho area, close to the downtown. After the wave rushed in the Gualaxo do Norte’s river, through some localities in Mariana, it came into Barra Longa destroying the northernmost district, Gesteira. When it reached the Carmo’s river, at less than two kilometers of the city center, it was late night, between 1 a.m. and 4a.m. But, as in Mariana, no one slept there that night.
The iron rejects was accumulating all that found in fifty kilometers. Vilma Carneiro, who keeps a little store close to the city’s main square, remembers that, in the middle of the night, some inhabitants had mounted watch shifts. “The people there in Gesteira believed that the wave was coming to the central area, so they called and urged us to protect the things that were in hand”.
It was almost 10 p.m. and everybody was on the streets, in wake, some believing, others not so. The sergeant in charge of the Police office tried to convince everybody to go back to sleep, under the pretext that even he had received some kind of alert in the radio.
But the the noise that scared Sonia, there in Bento Rodrigues, reappeared, according to almost all in Barra Longa, as something “unspeakable”. Edivania de Oliveira, who lives with the husband and three daughters close to the rivers’ confluence, identify the noise as “[something] grinding everything”. Elaine Carneiro, a retired teacher that lives in a centenary house in the main street, speaks in something that “I can’t even describe”. Others risk themselves: a high pitch of bamboos breaking, wood, stuff crashing. A chainsaw. Something scary.
The mud invaded the waterfront of the city and destroyed the Barra Longa’s main square, once a traditional point after the catholic mass, a date place from the youth, carrying one of the few trees that existed there. It invaded a restaurant, dozens of houses, the Vilma’s grocery store, the Edivania’s sport devices store. In the walls of the houses a hundred meters away from the river, the brown mark appears at 1,5m from the ground.
The wave of things came its way down the Carmo river, muddy, sticky, pasty. In few minutes, Rosana was taking all that she could from the yard — that ends in the riverbank — and tried to save her granddaughter. “She uses a wheelchair, so she was screaming, “Hey daddy, I don’t want to die”, she tells. “You could see car, truck, all going down in the middle of the river, and that mud coming and covering all”. The bamboos that protected and shadowed the houses where she lived broke in some points. In others, the mud was up to 2,5m — the marks are there until now, even with rain season past months ago.
No one died in Barra Longa due to the mud. Vilma escaped to relatives houses in uptown. Edivania hid herself and her daughters in the upper floors of their house, while the ground floor was seized. Rosana watched all from the road, while saw her garden, main source of the house’s income, be covered by something she didn’t knew exactly what it was. At the same time, Sonia and others from Bento Rodrigues came to an arena in the urban area of Mariana, already equipped with mattresses and tents for the unsheltered people spend the night. All had just change for good and forever, but that was just the start.
II. The Identity Crisis
As we were talking, the only fun that Monica dos Santos had was knock the fingers on the glass of a little fishbowl, over the dinner table. Her two year-old cousin had travelled and left the aquarium there, so Monica started to take care of the pet. The night was falling over Mariana and that 30-years old lady, as decided and strong as the Guimaraes Rosa’s Diadorim (from the book “The Devil to pay in the backlands”) was hypnotized by the prosaic task of have the attention of a dark-blue Betta, one of these little fishes you can buy in street markets. The Betta was going here and there — that’s all what a fish inside a tiny glass could do.
Once used to the starry nights and the uncle’s animals, now Monica came back from work and, as millions of brazilians, lock herself in an apartment to watch TV and chat on a cell phone. From some days on, it included in the tasks to take care of Bento, how the girl dubbed the little fish.
Bento Rodrigues, where Monica was born and lived there the whole life (and the borough that probably inspired the cousin’s choice) was one of the oldest settlements in the state of Minas Gerais. It was a stop of the Estrada Real, a centenary road that connects the cities of Diamantina and Rio de Janeiro, and served as route to carry the gold and even diamonds to Europe. Bento grew until it became part of Mariana, the first capital of the state. According to Maria das Graças Quintao, Monica’s mother, the tradition of the neighborhood was present in everything, including the Nossa Senhora das Merces’ church, in the district center: before the disaster, there was a board with the names of all fathers that served there. The first had came around 1717.
Maria spent all her 59 years there, as her family too: her father bought the house of an old lieutenant; her sister Sandra sold the famous empanadas in a restaurant. The church, that she frequented, was crossing the street, and after this she did her favorite thing in the world — lay down in a bank, made of stone, by the house. There she spent her best times. Down there, by the riverside, lived Sonia, her husband Antonio Marcos and Juninho, their 1,85 meter-tall son. Sonia worked close, and Antonio’s house was about less than 100-meters of distance. All of them knew each other. Almost all of them grew gardens at home. Almost all of them gone to the church. And almost all of them had all the memories connected to that now distant village, of about 10 blocks.
They also saw 300 years of stories and memories vanish in naked eye, as the flood was passing on a clear, cloudless day. All was carried. And, out of the blue, they lost what belongs to them.
But on the Easter’s Friday, when many families stay at home (7 in each 10 families in Mariana are catholic), Jefferson Inacio rushed his Chevrolet Kadett 1990, the windshield cracked and the speedometer stuck at 0 km/h. The road that goes out of the highway, after a landfill, becomes a sequence of windy curves in the dirt, an up and downs of mountains that he does very calmly, listening to country music in the DVD. He did these curves endless times, by car and bike too. At the end of these curves, where the mountains become a lowland, one day Bento Rodrigues existed, the place where the guy has born and lived until the disaster.
The old Bento will no longer exist. The ruins keeps on there and form something as a mud memorial, a whole village covered by a brilliant strain, without any schedule to be demolished — it’s still needed to stop the mud that still leaks from the dam. The company says that what flows now are just iron rejects carried by the rainwater — but that had constructed three flood walls to break the influx.
But it’s a mistake to think that the mud can stop this scaffold technician to visit his old area. Nothing stops him. Today, to enter in the ghost town of Bento, one may need authorizations of Samarco and Civil Defense. In that holiday afternoon, without any warning, the former inhabitant parked the car, took his shoes off and, suddenly, put the feet on the muddy river. With the water knee-high, he walked to the other margin.
Despite the company’s position, the rejects are still flowing and make the river rogue, dense and turve where before, say the natives, it was possible to see the pebble stones on the riverbed. On the other side of margin, recalls Jefferson, there was some thicket where today lays wood trunks, things with ten meters tall. It’s possible to find that pebbles in the Bento’s streets and in the living rooms of some of the few houses that remained.
Jefferson can’t ever remember how many times he came back to Bento. With the calm of the mineiros, the people from Minas, he recalls: “one of these days we came back here, brought a cooler full of beer and stayed here, we sat and chatted”. By the illegality of our visit, I ask about the security guards of Samarco and about that men who stare us uphill, about one or two hundred meters away, while they operate a bulldozer in another dike constructed by the miner company. He says that, at any moment, some company car should reach us and, as always, ask politely for leave the place.
I ask if he had already left voluntarily and, with the denial, comes an emotive explanation: “How can they take me out of a place where I lived my entire life? And why they want to take me out just know, after they almost killed me?”, says, ending the sentence with the traditional “sô” that mineiros got in the accent. In one single occasion, the police appeared there. Now the company car parks, and the serenity of the conversation gives the impression that they already know each other. It’s possible to hear something like “you know, it’s my job. Help us with my boss”.
Some minutes later, the pickup truck leaves, the driver seems upset. Once more he couldn’t convince Jefferson to leave the district
It’s like the brazilian song Travessia, from Milton Nascimento: when Bento Rodrigues was gone, there was night in the life of the strong women who lived there. Sonia says that it didn’t have courage to come back to her old neighborhood to see how the things are: strong she is, but there’s no way, she had to cry. Monica and her mother, Maria das Graças, get out of home to work in Mariana in the morning of November 5th — and just was allowed to came back 20 days later, with the firemen and a local TV crew. Now they are allocated in a brand-new and totally-paid-by-the-company apartment, but they don’t feel themselves there. That house isn’t theirs, and isn’t theirs that place. Distant from relatives and friends, somehow they are lonely and don’t resist — had a lot to speak.
All of them had troubles to sleep, and some of them still dream with the tragedy. One might hear the sound, others feel the fury of the mud on the body. Monica dreams with her mother, who passed away before the events. “And I have to pretend that I’m strong to my family. If I show any feelings, I don’t now what could happen”, points Maria.
This occurs in some families. In most of them, prevails the melancholy, a feeling of an irreparable lack of parents, be they dead or now living away. Somehow, a lost of itself. Juninho, the Antonio Marcos and Sonia’s son, don’t like to go to the church no more — an activity he did in Bento almost his entire life.
Between the elders, the shock it’s even heavier — there was people who didn’t had time to release it own dog, and a old lady who lost the granddaughter it’s inconsolable and hopeless from months — two cases concerning some of the younger survivors. The Monica’s uncle was a bird owner that today, without his collection, almost don’t speak and walk grumbling around. She recalls that days after the disaster, when it was needed to ask for new documents, he enter in a notary hall full of birds. He freaked out and fainted, waking after some hours in the hospital.
Most of them came to this six-month mark with new documents and living in houses paid by company and with some comfort standards, but the once-paradise can’t be redone. In the day that the local representatives approved a bill to pass the money received by donations, R$800k (US$230k), to Bento’s people, the migrants filled the seats of the tiny local parliament, a 305 years-old building in downtown.
In the door, one survivor speaks out: “one of these days I saw a beautiful lemon tree, filled with lemons, and I’ve asked to the woman who owned the tree to gimme some of them to me. There in Bento we passed in the street and asked, it was just fruits, everybody gave to anyone. So them the woman took a bag and began to retain the lemons. Then she got away, giving me none. They must see us as thieves”.
What seems to be an unlikely gossip in the first days proved in a bizarre fact: some of the people who live in the urban area or Mariana treat the unsheltered not as thieves, but as opportunists. They blame their pairs of dwell a place under the dam, and take advantage of the tragedy to have some money.
The audio that Antonio heard there in the beginning, leaked through Whatsapp, it’s one example. In January, an article ran on the local newspaper, wrote by an urban area inhabitant, accused them of live in houses “bad and without furniture”. Monica, the combative one, couldn’t stand it: she wrote herself a reply, in the same publication, with the title “We aren’t beggars peasants and dishonest ones”.
Antonio Marcos, who was the vice-president of the neighborhood association, believes that the jealousy people really exists in the group. “There are some people who are really taking advantage, who thinks that the company should pay them all”, reflects, but he recompose himself again. “Obvious that this represents a minor part. But we are talking about real humble people, and some of them really think they became rich. Bus, as the prosecutor once told me, ‘alert these people that illegal enrichment is also a crime’”.
We climbed, Jefferson and I, the stairs of a house in the downtown of Bento, filled with pebbles of the riverbed, and then we are on one of the few houses that remained. The view is clear to the whole borough. Few meters away, a house appears to us as a model — it is possible to see over the walls a bench in the living room, a rice cooking machine in the corridor, a towel still hanging on in the bathroom hanger, full of mud. All have different tones of the same color, as the water came by the house, was up to the ceiling and, as in Antonio’s house, ripped the roof off. The mud had dried after all this time, and made a new floor almost in the half of the wall. Not so far away it is possible to see the old municipal school, their walls destroyed by the mud, the rooms without chairs, boards with the dirty ground. Mattresses are on the street, junk are everywhere and a stairway now ups to nothing — the whole house is gone. Two vultures hunts for something in the ground, by the skeleton of an old house. By far, two blocks away, some houses remain untouched by the mud, but was robbed after the evacuation. A snooker table lies on the door of one of them — the thieves probably could not pass it thru the door. All the constructions remaining are painted with the brown color. The ground is brown. The river, the bamboos, the trees that stand still and the trees that was tore down, all is brown. The machines constructing the dike in the other side stopped by one instant.
Almost thirty years after, Brazil has its own Chernobyl.
Jefferson faces the portrait very quietly. And begin to talk about the construction that we are. “Here in the front there was a part that goes on to the street” — it isn’t there anymore. “Here downstairs there was a wood cooker and there as the kitchen and there my mother made a storage to some clothes she sells in the front of the house. Where there is that little bench it was a living room. A bathroom and there was another room”.
“And here, upstairs, you know what used to be?”, I ask.
“Well, here was my bedroom, and there was another room I made for me too. I slept there”, he points to where should be the furniture and walls, but where today only parts of other houses can be seen, far away.
III. The dilemma
Through a long statement, the press relations of the mining company declared that “since the first moment, had mobilized all the human and financial resources available to assist the emergencies, and seek solutions to minimize the social and environmental consequences produced by the accident”, and that “the families that had their income harmed had also received a magnetic card with financial help, and these families had been accompanied for return for work or activities of income”. But, between some of the 60,000 inhabitants of Mariana and Barra Longa, nothing is so clear as Samarco said.
A walk through the streets of the urban area it’s a chance to get contact with signs against and pro-Samarco in almost every region. The banners against the permanence of the company are, in majority, signed by the Metabase Union, that represents the mining workers in the city — but the accusations made by the group have few connections with the catastrophe per se. In Mariana downtown it’s possible to find invitations, in the stores, to sign a petition favorable to the company. Two weeks after the disaster, a group of dwellers articulated the “Justiça Sim, Desemprego Não” movement (“Justice Yes, Unemployment No”) that, in late march, presented 15,236 signatures of supporters.
Samarco was nominated the best of its sector in the country, and one of 500 best companies in the Brazil, according to a ranking made by Exame magazine. The last prize, the fifth received by the joint venture, occurred just months before the dams get into crossfire. The same feeling of respect it’s shared by the majority of the urban population in Mariana, always thankful for the jobs and support given by the company to public and private projects in the city. “I can’t say the same of Vale, but Samarco always have a closer relationship with the city”, affirmed the Lieutenant Freitas, in his Cabinet in the City’s parliament.
This relationship becomes more visible in the city budget: Mariana, despite its neighboring cities as Congonhas and Ouro Preto, has few tourist spots and the commerce it’s domestic in its majority. The miners working in the city — Vale and Samarco — contribute with more than 9 in each 10 reais of the city income, by royalties of the ore extractions. With the operations of Vale reduced by less than half, and the second halted, the amount made by the municipality, that reached R$30m (US$ 8,39m) in december, fell to R$28m (US$ 7,83m) in February. In march, the down of 48% in the tax revenues made the GDP of Mariana sunk to R$15m (US$ 4,19m).
This harsh down can be worse, once the royalties still sustain, even with lesser money, the amount made by the municipality. In 2016, the government will have to find alternatives to move on. Without a consistent tourism, the City’s House Speaker understands that the budget will get on black only with a restitution paid by Vale, of almost R$30m (US$ 8,39m), fined by the non-payment of a tax in the last few years. How this money can help a 1193 square-kilometers city with 23 boroughs, districts, sub-districts and localities to don’t close on red, nobody knows exactly.
Four days after the collapse it was found a girl’s body on the middle of that square at Barra Longa. After some days, the album of photos of the Sonia’s family was found by friends that roamed by the still muddy streets of the district, some of the poses already burned and solved in water. The life and memories of a marriage and of the first years of a son was items that indemnities, donations and cost helpings can’t refund, because it escape to the power of the money.
Even so, one sensible part of the affected in both cities, Mariana and Barra Longa, affirm almost in unison that the helping provided by the company it’s good. Samarco had received an all-time-high amount of critics since november — not just about the collapse, but about the lack of effective actions in the environment and the incapacity of refund all the damage. The company did not cleared too the composition of the mud and it’s until now unclear what he exposition to it can cause to human body. It’s, somehow, the same excuse of the 1984’s Bhopal disaster.
This is the second dilemma faced by who ran of the mud wave: support or not the company that almost killed them and erased all their memories?
Watching some of the photos found in the mud, Antonio Marcos remembers their marriage, in 1999. “Man, I married drunk”, speaks out. When I ask why get drunk in that moment, he explains himself. “Ah, I drank some beers, and was that heat, I was wearing a tuxedo, and that had gone up to my head and I was kinda dizzy” — and fell into a laughter, looking what remained of the photo, destroyed in the corners by the mud.
When asked about the assistance promoted by Samarco for him, a positive answer. The house used by them are rent and paid integrally by the company, and they really have the card with the value of a minimum wage (R$880, or US$246), the money for a basic selection of foods and 20% of the wage to each relative who is less than 18 or invalid, monthly. Psychologists hired by Samarco are also available to affected — but people alert that the examination asked about the exposition to mud was never made.
In Barra Longa, Rosana shows some of the houses that was already rebuilt by the company, and how the back parts of her house had become an point for operation and how builders, truck drivers and engineers frequently appears in her house and help her to sell 120 popsicles every day. She alerted that the outsource workers hired to rebuild the houses are very polite and just once one high-class engineer had mocked of her icon of Our Lady that she preserve over the fridge. She treated to kick the woman out of the house, herself.
She also use the psychologist’s services once a week, and says that return to sleep, thanks to the medications distributed by them. “We receive it, it’s already diluted in a glass like this”, she try to explain herself, referring to the floral essences prescribed by the health agents. “We don’t feel nervous. She asked me to drink just one dose, but I take two. And then I sleep very fine”. And fell into a laughter.
But they are not unanimity. In the other side of the city, Edivania and her husband Jose Eduardo says that the area, once a calm and rural location, now it’s a huge construction site, and that the constant presence of dust made by mud and the trucks it’s the cause of pulmonary problems in the family. The ducts in the house’s door was blocked until weeks ago with the drought of mud on the inside, what cause flood on the house during the rain season in the summer, on the beginning of the year. “It was myself who had to clean this”, explains Jose, that work as a constructor in Brumadinho, close to the state capital, Belo Horizonte. Their youngest daughter also it’s one of the patients of the psych assistance there. When she need doctors, mainly at weekends, the alternative is to remove her to Ponte Nova, a city almost 50 km away — what goes against the long Samarco’s statement send to this reportage, which concludes that, “(In Barra Longa) the company hired medical doctors to act in 24h duties at weekends”.
In the central street, Elaine is one of the 53 families of Barra Longa to hang protest banners in the front of the house. The number it’s told by her, but not all houses hold the sign. The paper informs: ““Fomos atingidos pela lama e esquecidos pela SAMARCO” — We were affected by the mud and forgotten by SAMARCO.
Her complaint it’s about, in fact, to the treatment made by the company’s workers. “It (the company) created an uneasiness with us. What they made wasn’t a criteria (to refund the inhabitants), but something unfair”, reaffirm. “I would like they were more sincere, and that they have more affect with us”. Elaine arguments that fences and walls of her yards, altogether with a small garden was destroyed by the tide — but didn’t authorize to see the real damage.
Still bored and kidding with Bento, Monica wanted to clear the things up: “I HATE Samarco. Hate”. Her mother still recalls how both had to stay more than a month booked in a hotel, and how they just spent the Christmas in the apartment after a judicial order obligated the company to provide a house. “How should I receive 15 people in Christmas, cook to all these peoples in a dinner table like this?” Maria enrages herself, pointing to a little square table in the kitchen’s corner. “That’s why I went to the store and bought myself this bigger table, to serve everybody”, affirms, now talking about a bigger device in the dining room.
Antonio’s opinion comes even more surprisingly, having in mind that November afternoon faced by him and his family. When asked if he eventually endorse the Samarco’s return to Mariana, he answer positively, with a restriction. “Just don’t ask me to me to demonstrate. Am I going to demonstrate for a cause that it’s mine but harmed me? That almost killed my family? I am favorable to the return, mostly because of economics”.
IV. “The New Bento”
But it is needed to have slyness, it is needed to have grace, it is needed to have dream, always — once again Milton Nascimento said, in Maria Maria. One day the Samarco’s help will be over — and everybody not just acknowledge this, as they wait with anxiety for this day. Who had their house damaged has the faith that the repairs will be done. Those who watch with apprehension the environmental cataclysm caused by the flow of twenty-two thousand olympic pools filled with something still unkown wait more bold moves from the government, not just against Vale and BHP Billiton, but acts that could prevents future disasters like this.
To the affected that lost all their past almost completely, there’s no much hope beyond what they call “Novo Bento”, or the new settlement of Bento Rodrigues. In the rural road, as we’re going to the land sweeped by the mud, Jefferson slow down her Chevy and points to the right, a big land taken by slim trees, 300-meters wide. “We want the ‘New Bento’ to be here”. According to Antonio Marcos, that place, 10 kilometers from the old spot, was the chose one by most of the old residents. “Now we have just requested the soil tests to Samarco”. The construction and house project is of entire responsibility of the company. The idea of construct equal houses to everybody still have bad visions of the Antonio’s pals, but he believes in the quick solving of this soon.
Despite the terrain are still untouched, the residents started to gather themselves again, using other ways. The district farmers association, famous by the production of a jam made by pout pepper, returned the operations recently, in a place in the urban area. Sonia is one of the key people to run the business.
Every day 5th, at 4 p.m., the old residents of Bento gather in the ground zero of Mariana and promote an act where, for a minute, a siren buzz — the same siren that could have avoided four fatalities and so many damage. Of this project, powered by local journalists, the dwellers created their own newspaper, that run recently the fourth issue. “A Sirene” — The Siren — was born as escape task for the unsheltered, where they could freely express what they thought. In the second issue, Monica wrote pieces with Maria, her mother, and still risked herself as a photojournalist. “I really liked. A lot”, punctuated.
In the new village, Maria want the old stone bench in the square and Monica wants the cemetery, to remember of a large part of her family, buried in the old district. There isn’t any dates for the moving, but that’s the only way that the unsheltered of Bento Rodrigues could feel in peace again. Antonio Marcos keeps the faith in this future. “And I had already subscribed my name there, for anything. I don’t want to get out of there, even for a second.
And the synthesis of all these faces is Maria who, as say that Milton’s music with her name it’s “The stronger and slower dose/of the people that laugh when should have cry/that don’t live, just bears up”. But Maria also have the strange faith of have faith in life. That’s why she keeps a piggy bank in the table in the living room. These ones made of porcelain. Almost filled with coins of a quarter, half and R$1, Maria das Graças made a promise to break it just when she is about to move to New Bento — she will use the money to buy some fireworks.
“I will light it all and I will put fire in the sky of such happiness”. And falls into a rare laughter.
The author would like to thank to the affect of all the Barra Longa and Mariana residents, and all of the people interviewed that had demonstrated an essential sincerity for the practice of the good journalism. Specially to Sonia, Antonio Carlos and Rosana, which, beyond receive unknown journalists at home, had made them lunch and proved that few peoples can be at the same time so brave and receptive.
The author travelled by the company of Débora Komukai Mayumi, of the Brazilian site UOL, at which also extends the thank you notes for have stand him for so long.