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Breaking Down

Today was a day of being kicked out.

Andrea prays after her daily shower at Cristolandia.

We started at a rehab center in the suburbs of São Paulo and met Maria, a woman from a smaller city in the north, but she came to São Paulo about 90 days ago to get treatment for her crack addiction. She told us of her husband, her also recovering boyfriend, her children and the chance to meet her granddaughter for the first time. She said she believes deeply in God and is very thankful for the treatment she receives from the Cristolandia operated rehab center. After the interview, we felt great. She was open and honest and she appreciated that we had listened. We were getting ready to take photos of her eating lunch, or doing activities or whatever her daily life there involves and the director pulled aside our translator and said we had to leave. She did not want us taking any photos or coming back another day. We felt awful to leave Maria after she had just opened up so much, but we were clearly not welcome anymore.

After, we went back to the Cristolandia center in Cracolandia. It started as always, with kisses on the cheek, “Bom Dia” and talking to people while they eat lunch, getting to know them.  Then we both started to take some photos of the workers as they served and cleaned and of the people as they ate and talked amongst themselves. But during this, some of the workers came up to our translator and said that we were now marked by many people in the area.  They know we have cameras and they are planning to rob us. They said we were not listening to them and that we were being disrespectful. I still don’t understand how we were not always clear about our intentions and our plans. We only photographed willing people and we listened when they said something was too dangerous.  They made us hand over the “Jesus” shirts that had made us wear for our safety and we were told to go.

A couple smokes crack together in Cracolandia, São Paulo.

I cannot even explain how hurt we both were upon hearing that. We always do everything we can to be honest and open about our work. We are doing this project not because it is easy, but because it is important.  If we didn’t care, we would have dropped the story after the first day and looked for a more straight-forward story.

And I understand that safety is a huge concern in Cracolandia and I am not taking anything lightly. We do our best to watch each others’ backs and always be observant and smart about the situations we are in. But I refuse to believe that everyone in Cracolandia, everyone who is addicted to crack, is an inherently bad person. I think if you give people a chance and you are open and honest with them, many times they will respect that and be open and honest with you. We have run into some people who do not feel right and who we don’t feel are reciprocating the respect, and we have always left those situations. But there are so many people we have met who are really honest people who have had a difficult time and are thankful for someone who is willing to listen and try to understand. A couple have even led us around to meet their friends and they have protected us if something turned out to be unsafe. They are risking their personal relationships to help us.

We plan to continue the story, with or without Cristolandia’s help.

Adriana and Salia noth use crack, but have been clean for a number of days. They led us around Cracolandia on Wednesday and introduced us and protected us if something started to turn unsafe. They say they want to help us, help them.

Categories: Brazil
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