Wednesday, November 28, 2012


     A documentary that aired recently stirred memories that I have been unable to put out of mind.
     The HBO series Witness, that chronicles the work of photo journalists in troubled spots, dredged up scraps of my past.  The piece on Eros Hoagland in the slums, "favelas," of Rio jarred me back to the time I too was there.
      My assignments took me to slums around the globe and I had conveniently pushed those realities to the back of my mind, until seeing how unchanged those bleak realities are.        I am particularly haunted by a slum in the south of Brazil.  It is an island in the Guaiba River, made mostly of trash, hauled out of Porto Alegre and the city of Guaiba.  
           Trash and refuse were scattered everywhere.  The homes were built with what ever the people could re-use.
       Pigs, dogs and chickens, roaming free, fed on the offal of the cities up river.  Each morning men and boys took carts up river to haul away the trash and garbage which they brought to their island favela where it became food, building material or where it rotted. The smell is unimaginable. 

    As bad as it was, there was less violence here than in the urban slums.  In that was a small blessing.
     It was just as the military dictatorship had given up decades of rule and turned the government back over to an elected civilian control.
     The currency was in crisis and sustained repeated devaluations during our assignment.

    What haunts me now are the kids. What has become of them? There were so many.  One of those is the boy in the frame below.  His name was Marcos and he trailed photographer Steve Starnes and me all day.
    Steve helped him look into the camera on play-back, to see himself and his family. The smile of fascination he wore
   moved me to tears.  We told him if he was a good boy, and studied at school, maybe he too could someday become a photo journalist.
     A Belgian nun who had worked with the people of those slums for more than 60 years, told us we have given Marcos a gift, that of hope.  She had devoted her life to doing that.
Teaching hygiene, training children of the favela to become teachers for their brothers and sisters, teaching men carpentry skills, instructing women how to weave.  I wonder  about Sister Marie Eve, Marcos and if anything ever gets better for the residents of the slums.  And I wonder why I could easily filter away that reality.  And though it seems there is little that I can do, I appreciate that HBO stirred these ghosts to life.  And I appreciate the generation of journalists who are in the slums, refugee camps and battle zones of the world today.  
     There is a cautionary note.  Hoagland wondered aloud about how he could fly away and return to a clean, safe world while those he caught on film stayed behind.  I remember that conversation with myself, many times. How easily I forgot.  Shame on me.
    See you down the trail.


  1. I absolutely love the picture of Starnes. He was the best at his craft, as were/are you. I have always maintained: journalism is an incredibly honorable profession.

  2. What you describe is tragic, but maybe the seeds of hope you guys planted will grow and flourish. I hope so.

  3. True. The Short Time I had in Beirut in 1984 JANUARY haunts me, too. Often I remember a young boy about ten or twelve years old who made every effort to shadow some of my work. His father was maintenance chief in the Hotel Internationale where most of the foreign reporters were ensconced. So there he was every day. Each day he tried to speak English to me.

    The Hotel thought I was with the CBS Contingent so my phone call bill was paid.

    Reading old scripts I realize now that U=S troops were re-deployed from their airport bivouac to ships in the Mediterranean Sea. And another Civil War began. I wonder what might have happened to the young boy/man who took an interest in this journalist. He told me goodbye after taking a week to learn: "Ameri-kah is Goot. Very Good." -w-

  4. I watched a film in the past year or so about a garbage dump and I thought it was near Rio. Can't remember the name of it but the film was excellent. I believe the makers of it had the same regrets you express.

  5. Ah, I just found it on the Google. "Waste Land". It's the story of the people who daily scour the dump for items they can use.