My Heart Stayed on Jatobá Street

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On my first visit to Morro da Providência I met a man with several names including Seu Mangará, Mango do Forró, Manga Verde and finally José Pedro. He proceeded to begin a conversation with me about his grief over the cards which life had dealt him. He was referring to a specific time, 11 years, 5 months and 21 days ago, when his wife passed away.

José Pedro, or Mangará as he is better known, has enjoyed playing forró and attending barbeques with members of his community, even when there were drug traffickers controlling the community. He explained to me that he arrived in Rio de Janeiro on May 21st, 1974 and lived for 11 months with his brother in the house beside the one he lives in today. Though this first house still has not been targeted for removal, his current home has been marked by the Municipal Housing Secretary (SMH). At the time, this first house was being rented by Mangará’s brother, Antõnio Pedro, who today owns his own property in the community. When I interviewed Mangará, his brother was not home because his jobs are based on contract work and so he was currently working in Macaé in Rio’s Lakes Region.

Originally from Ceará, where his four sisters still live, Mangará has in Rio de Janeiro the company of his brother, a construction supervisor, and his own children. Seu Mangará’s son lives in the Providência community and his daughter resides in Vila Canoas, a community in São Conrado, in Rio’s South Zone.

Seu Mangará suffers from diabetes, which he believes is the result of the excessive use of medication he needed to take after an accident in 2001 that left him blind in his left eye. Mangará says: “diabetes is a degenerative disease” and he explained to me that everything in his body, from head to foot, has grown. Today, he can no longer walk and so depends on the community’s children to help him buy bread, meat, etc.

“It’s great to have friends”, he says about the children and young people who know and respect him. But ultimately, his desire is to return to his hometown to die close to his sisters whom he has not seen since the 1970s. “I do not want to be a burden for anyone, I just want to rest.” concluded seu Mangará.

During our visit to Providência, a man stopped by and asked if Mangará could fix his fan. He responded yes but as he looked at the state of the fan continued, “you can take it. This one is gone.” The guy laughed at Mangará’s joke, mentioned the fan’s brand and then offered it to seu Mangará as a donation. Mangará thanked the guy and then he left.

I proceeded to ask him for how long he has been fixing fans and he replied: “I don’t fix them, I just make them work”, as he pointed to a pile of fan grids. He continued: “This pile is made out of fans that were thrown away because they didn’t work anymore. He also showed me an electric racquet used to kill mosquitoes that he had fixed for a guy once who then, in return, gave it to Seu Mangará.

Seu Mangará continued to tell me: “I want to leave this house, I wasted a lot of money on this home buying brick for it. I paid for this entire slab and it is not even pre-cast, I spent all of my money there. This slab is 17 meters and 51 square meters from top to bottom, more than 100 square meters in all. The floor was also purchased by my wife, my old lady.”

Asked if he needed the deed to his house in order to receive compensation from the city, seu Mangará responded: “no, because the people here have nothing and they want to remove our homes but the thing is we are a democratic country so if they want to kick me out of my home they will have to give me money or, give me a place to live. But this is not what I want. What I want is money so that I can return to my home”.

“I had already bought a house there, but my sister wasn’t doing well so I gave her the home at 571 Jatoba Street”, he told us.

“I’m eager to return to my home
To see once again the sierra and the people that I left there
There is no remedy that can end my pain
My heart stayed in Jatoba Street.”