Brazil 2014, and it’s not about football!

Fortaleza, August / September 2014

Fortaleza from Pirambú

Fortaleza from Pirambú favela

We have come to Fortaleza, Ceará, North East Brazil for a conference, holiday and study tour.

I was here just over two years ago on my post-retirement tour of Latin America, and found the type of community psychology done here very interesting. Now the 5th International Community Psychology Conference is here and we have come to that as well as a pre-conference tour of projects and activities organised by James Ferreira, who visited us in Manchester in April. Although now studying for his PhD in Porto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul, in the far south of the country (a week away by bus and some 5 hrs. by plane) he is still a member of NUCOM, the community psychology hub (nucleo) at the Federal University of Ceará (UFC). It is their work, and that of their community partners that we have come to see.


We arrive, tired as always from a transatlantic flight, although this one, London-Lisbon-Fortaleza was a lot shorter than most, only 7 hours for the second leg. The Hotel Jardim that I’ve picked looks nothing like a hotel, being built around a garden within a walled compound. In the morning we find that there are bougainvillea in flower and some unidentified trees, one of which turns out to be the South American sapote of which more later. There is a pool with unidentified blue fish, various birds including an occasional humming bird, and big butterflies.

First day

In the morning the shortcomings of my Portuguese become apparent as I try to get a key and lock for the safe in the room. The problem is that Adenilson, the receptionist, is losing me in his complicated explanation of the need for a deposit (rather than simply saying that I need to pay a deposit). We walk down to the sea, about 6 blocks, and already at around 9.00 a.m. it’s getting hot. There isn’t much there and we head along the coast to the centre. On the way someone advises us to avoid one road because of the danger of bag snatchers and after we talk briefly and then continue on our way, he comes up to us, almost as an afterthought, to ask for some money to buy anti-epilepsy drugs.

Dragoes do Mar Cultural Centre

Dragoes do Mar Cultural Centre

We arrive at the Dragoes do Mar Cultural Centre, a strange building based in different streets, linked by overhead walkways. Unfortunately the museum of traditional Ceará life that I remember from before is closed for refurbishment. We then get a taxi to the Miereles beach where we lunch on prawns (very nice) and macaxeira (manioc, or cassava, chips).

Investment in arts-based social ‘prevention’.

Later in the afternoon we go to a cultural and educational centre for young people (part of the CUCA Network). A very enthusiastic trio of young women show us around. It is new and very well resourced indeed, with facilities for sport, dance, arts, music,theatre, informatics and so on. It is part of a strategy of the prefeitura (city government) to prevent youngsters drifting into crime and substance abuse. It looks like potentially effective model, still being evaluated, with both in-centre activities and activities outside in the community. But it serves several neighbourhoods, and the distances to travel, time-wise, can be prohibitive. It had a very good atmosphere, but the question arises, who is not using the centre, and what does the local community think of all these resources going here while other social problems, such as housing, don’t get funding? The current administration, a break-away from the centrist Socialist Party (but in alliance with the Workers’ Party, the PT, in power nationally), has less commitment to the model, especially the participative planning that was conducted prior to opening it.

Inside the CUCA

Inside the CUCA

We then meet with colleagues from Barcelona and Fortaleza for a meal – Brazilian tapas. Quite a babel as we mix English, Spanish and Portuguese, depending on who is talking to whom.

Brazilian elections


Going around the city we see groups of people at intersections waving big flags. This is campaigning for the forthcoming elections, for Federal President, State governors, and parliamentary representatives. However, it seems that the flag wavers are for the most part, not activists but people paid to be there. Someone whose brother is standing for a minor party tells us that it isn’t fair, since they can’t afford to pay people in this way. It hardly looks like an effective campaigning method beyond a quasi-subliminal, ‘we are here and this is our name’ tactic. But the election is getting very interesting. After the centrist Socialist Party leader died in a plane crash, his place as presidential candidate was taken by Marina Silva, Lula’s first environment minister, from Amazonas, the daughter of a rubber tapper, and former associate of Chico Mendes. She now leads the “Sustainability Network”, allied with the Socialist Party, but with a refreshing approach to politics. It is looking increasingly likely that she could win, which would mean defeat for the PT, which has increasingly lost its roots in social movements and the left, pursuing policies of extractivism and agro-industry, legitimating the Haiti occupation with its troops, and allying with corrupt politicians and oligarchic interests. As leader of a big country (one of the so-called BRICS), she could facilitate the kind of radical actions needed on climate change – she says Brazil to must reduce its emissions, with clear targets and strategies. The PT and Social Democrats are doing their best to derail her bandwagon. The alliance with the Socialist Party (only socialist in name) is, however, of some concern, since she is thereby allied with some rather unsavoury interests, still wedded to the neoliberal model that was so damaging in Latin America and elsewhere. But then the PT has singularly failed to establish the kind of radical alternative needed, as João Pedro Stédile of the landless workers movement (MST) has explained.

Next day, we decide to explore the city centre and get a bus into town. We go to the central market, a lot of which is stores for products of local manufacture: leather work, embroidery and local cotton, and we buy some shirts. There is a tourist office in the basement. They first suggest beach resorts and are delighted when we ask about inland destinations, in the mountains and the Sertão, but the distances are great, and we aren’t keen on 6 or 7 hour bus rides. Then we buy stuff for a picnic lunch in the hotel garden. This includes mango and sapote, the latter is not ripe, and very fibrous – apparently the fruit is very variable, with little selection having been done to produce improved varieties.

Bom Jardim – Community Mental Health Movement

Bom Jardim, community mental health centre

The community mental health centre – the rougher build to the left is the property of the Community Mental Health Movement while the newer build to the right is part of the government funded mental health clinic.

Then to Bom Jardim, community mental health movement. I wrote about this two years ago and then got a more comprehensive picture, which included meeting with the founder, Padre Rino, who is also a psychiatrist. This time the emphasis was on systemic community therapy, and we participated in an exercise in a large group with members, some of whom identified themselves as ‘patients’, although the movement uses the term ‘users’. We didn’t hear much about the other activities of the movement, for example the music work with young people, the medicinal herb garden, and the social action dimension beyond the centre. This was shame, since the other visitors left with perhaps a rather skewed picture.  In practice there is a close connection between the centre that was first established by the Community Mental Health Movement, and the government run, and staffed mental health centre which is adjacent on the same site (although the mental health movement also has other sites nearby).  There is overlap in activities and personnel and the movement has influenced the practices in State provision.  It was in part the activity of the movement that led to the government service being established on this site.  We did wonder, however, in what sense this was a social movement, rather than a community run service organisation. Here, and elsewhere, the emphasis on ‘affectivity’ as a central element of the work (and hence the use of dance, movement, drama and art, as well as talk) was striking. This runs through Brazilian social and community psychology,for example in the work of the early pioneers, Bader Sawaia and Silvia Lane, as well as the UFC’s own Cezar Góis. It is also vital to the connection made between the professionals and the poor sectors (for example in the favelas), which embodies the liberatory premise of positive engagement with the excluded “Other”, which is found in the work of Paulo Freire, and the other key thinkers and practitioners of Latin American critical/liberatory praxis.

For the evening we met our friends Moises and Ruben from Barcelona for a meal and discussion about what we’d seen so far.

The first trip to the Rodoviaria

We decide to plan our weekend by going to the bus station, the Rodoviária. We go by bus, first picking a bus towards the city centre with the idea of changing to one out to the Rodoviária. However, the bus veers off that course, towards the Rodoviária, before taking another road. We get of to change and ask which one to take there. The young man I ask speaks English, he’s a Mormon, and before the bus comes we have a chat about life in the city, education and so on. We are about to miss our stop (it isn’t obvious) but the conductor kindly comes along to tell us where the bus station is. At the Rodoviária, we realise that neither of us has brought the list of possible places to visit. There are no maps or other information (not even at the information desk), and each company has its own ticket office, with no apparent coordination. We get some limited information and decide to come back having done further research. We get a taxi back to the hotel and have another picnic, this time with a very large, and sharp, yellow passion fruit (maracujá).

yellow bird

A visitor to the hotel garden


Housing in Pirambú


The afternoon visit is to Pirambú. This is another favela, this time on the coast, at the Western end of the city. It has a reputation for severe social problems, but also for its community projects, including community therapy, started there by the psychiatrist Adelberto Barreto. We drive along the new esplanade, planned and built by this fishing community with government aid, passing the community therapy centre with its distinctive, but traditional, round thatched therapy space. Sadly we don’t go in as we’d really like to know more of the origins of community therapy there and also how the NUCOM use of it has diverged from the original Barreto model.

Instead we arrive at a centre for the fishermen. They fish using the traditional jangada, a sailing boat that on first site looks a bit like (and sometimes not much bigger than) a windsurfer (and of which more later). After a while we walk along the shore with two fisherman and our psychologist host, Ana Maria, who in one of her roles works with the community. We met under a thatched wooden shelter on the beach, which is for a jangada and hear about the struggles of the community and something about the way the psychologists work. There are various issues that have been worked on, principally the construction of a harbour wall to improve the access to the sea and protect the boats, the construction of the esplanade and sea defences to protect the houses, and the vicissitudes of local government that after the change of party control had ceased funding for the next phase of the later project and an associated community centre. Ana’s role is one of facilitation, advice, research and help with relations with officialdom, as in most of the other projects, working in support of community-led initiatives. Sadly we see nothing really of the favela, except for the housing on the sea-front. We are told it is notorious for its problems, and that housing is worse in the middle of the community.

jangada boats, Pirambú

Jangadas in the protected harbour constructed by community and government. The picturesque setting contrasts with the poverty.


The catch

We go back to our hotels and the last ones in the bus go for a further discussion with her, which allows us to discus more widely what they do. She confirms that theory is constructed from practice upwards in accordance with the requirements of lived social reality, as envisaged by Martín Baró and also talks about her work using the arts, on which she has written books, and gives us one on arts based practice and ethics. These conversations are always very useful in helping clarify issues and also to build connections, across linguistic, cultural and geographic boundaries.

We (the people from the tour and some of our hosts) go to a bar where a form of samba is played live for the evening meal, and various drinks. As we sit on the pavement, we witness (military) police harassment of street food vendors. Nothing violent, the turn up in their jeep, asking questions, taking notes, and then get served with food for which they do not pay. However, we do learn that the violent removal, and sometimes killing of homeless people still takes place, contracted by building owners who don’t want people sleeping in their vicinity. I knew this happened in the past but not that it still goes on (if less frequently), one of the dark undersides of this society. There have been changes since the Workers’ Party came to power, in particular the eradication of malnutrition under the Cero Fome (Zero Hunger) programme that guarantees two meals a day to those on low incomes (not the three meals originally envisaged). Ana Maria had told us that when she first worked in Pirambú, signs of malnutrition like those familiar from television coverage of Africa where common, and this has gone.


Friday afternoon and we go to the UFC (after another trip to the Rodaviaria, see below) for a meeting with the NUCOM, the Nucleo da Psicologia Comunitaria – which translates as Community Psychology Centre, or Hub. It is coordinated by Verônica Ximenes who hosted my previous visit. The psychology department has several of these Nucleos, and all students are members of one, but there is selection. Postgraduates, staff, and post-docs are also members. The NUCOM organises the practical activity of CP with the community partners, and also offers additional experience to its members. Students are paid for this demanding extra activity, mostly from University extension funds. It was a very different model for us – at MMU, students studying CP are more self directed, having to make their own community connections, and teaching is mostly by exploration rather than formal didactic input. But the idea of a CP hub, to draw people together, and offer support for what are counter-hegemonic journeys in psychology, in what can be an indifferent or even hostile wider context, is one that could, with adaptation to our context, be borrowed. I probably missed some things, as the noisy air conditioning made following not just the Portuguese, but also the helpful, whispered English translations, difficult, although it did quieten for the discussion. There is some material on the overall Ceará / NUCOM model of CP here.

Community eco-tourism, a fishing village.

I had done a little research about community and eco-tourism in Ceará and discovered Prainha do Canto Verde, a village 120 km down the coast where they do community tourism. It looks like a very interesting place and I phone the community tourism network to make a booking. I manage to say what I’m interested in, and then ask if there is anyone who speaks English or Spanish. Luckily someone speaks Spanish and they agree to see if there are vacancies. We continue by email and a booking is made at a small Pousada (Inn) in Prainha do Canto Verde. So we head back to the bus station to get the tickets. This we do, although it is difficult conducting business in shouted (and later written) Portuguese through a glass window in a noisy hall. The woman can neither sell us a return ticket nor tell us return times (except from the nearby large town) so we get singles for the 9.30 bus in the morning, trusting to luck we can get back on Sunday.

general view of Prainha do Canto Verde and sea

A view of the village

Two and a half hours later, having driven parallel with the coast, through small settlements, we arrive at the turn-off for the village. There are two small bars in the ‘middle of nowhere’ but Joāo is waiting for us. We arrive at the inn in the sandy village and get a choice of room, on a balcony overlooking the sea.

wind pump and view

View from the Pousada verandah whith water pump.

We agree to lunch of prawns (camarāo) but first go for a walk. A young man says hello in English. He’s an English teacher and he tells us there is a meeting that afternoon where the history of the village’s struggle will be told, so we agree to meet him at 2.30 (as he says, Brazilian approximate time). Over lunch, Aila, who with her husband Joāo, runs the Pousada, tells us about the history of the community. Luckily she speaks slowly and clearly and I don’t have to much trouble following her Portuguese – we ask questions in a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish. We subsequently, over this weekend and our return visit later, have several conversations with Aila, and with others, so here I’ll summarise what we learned from them together.

houses and sandy street

Street in seriously sandy Prainha do Canto Verde

There is a history of struggle going back some 30 years, in which the community resisted powerful entrepreneurs who were trying to take the land off them, using invalid title deeds and other underhand methods. Eventually, after a long legal process, going right up to the supreme court in Brasilia, the village, and its extension into the coastal waters, was declared an ‘extractive reserve’. This sounds a little contradictory maybe, but it is a Brazilian provision, arising from the struggle of Chico Mendes and the rubber tappers in the Amazon forest. It gives the local people the right to live on and use the land, and here the sea, so long as they use it sustainably. This means regulations on new construction, to reduce environmental damage, on what can be extracted and how, on the number of tourists, and so on. There have also been campaigns and projects on health (starting with infant mortality), education (to provide and improve the local primary school), water and sanitation, fishing and employment. The community association manages the community in partnership with the Federal government (which owns the land), and experts from the Chico Mendes Foundation and others, including the geography department at the UFC campus in nearby Aracatí. Unfortunately there is a split in the community. One of the biggest businessmen in Ceará State (Tales) has been persuading people to sign documents saying he owns some of the land, with the promise of more ‘development’. He has funded a rival community organisation and provided some benefits including a community garage and some prizes for the school and families. We saw some teeshirts with “Natureza Sim, Reserva Nāo” (Yes to Nature, No to the [Extractive] Reserve). If Tales were to be successful, more construction would take place, just as in other locations along the coast, such as Canoa Quebrada, and Jericoacoara, once little fishing villages but now busy resorts with beach buggy riding and kite surfing among the attractions. While Tales has many friends in high places, it is unlikely that the designation of the Reserve, made by former President Lula himself, could now be overturned, and there was some suggestion that residents who signed his documents are now beginning to realise this.

Aila thought the split was very sad, where people were attracted by money, when actually the life in the village is now good, with no significant poverty, good levels of education and health, and an unspoiled environment – a ‘viable economy‘ in fact. This view of the community was confirmed through our observations and discussions with others. While people are not rich, they are comfortable: houses are small, but so are families and we were surprised to see that most people seemed to have smart phones, and most houses have satellite dishes. Income comes from fishing, almost exclusively from the traditional jangadas of various sizes, from tourism (and the money is retained in the community, rather than going as profit to companies based elsewhere, with the resulting local multiplier effects) from work outside the village and from government subsidies (such as not fishing during the close season).  A refutation of the Tales / ‘Independent Association’ case can be found in Portuguese (with machine translation options) here.

Alex, the English teacher, collects us and we go to the community association’s building where we join a circle of people. It turns out to be an inter-parochial ‘missionary’ visit from other communities, and in between people sharing their reflections, there are songs and a prayer. While these people are Roman Catholics (there is an evangelical congregation, as all over Brazil, here too) the style is that lively one that elsewhere might be dismissed as ‘happy clappy’. People from other communities are impressed by the degree of collective action and identity in comparison with their own settings.

I go to the toilet in a break after all this, and miss being introduced to the Bishop of Fortaleza who is visiting. He speaks to Carolyn in English. He gives a sort of homily to the assembled people. He speaks slowly and I should be able to follow him but he has a very deep voice that reverberates with the PA system making it hard (for me) to pick out the words. We then have a powerpoint presentation, delivered by a young woman who lives in the village but works in marketing at the UFC. We’d been introduced to her as one of Alex’s English students and her confident delivery contrasts with her shyness in trying a few words of English (she’s only just started lessons). This traces the story of the community, its campaigns and projects, which has also informed the account in the previous paragraphs.

With all this talk, the afternoon is nearly over and we’ve yet to explore the village. Alex takes us next the meet ‘the English woman’, Claire who is married to a fisherman. She adds to our understanding of life and politics in the village. We talk sitting in a kind of gazebo in the garden, on hammocks, which are ubiquitous in Brazil. They aren’t in Britain though, and my first attempt to sit in one leaves me unceremoniously in a heap on the floor! Claire is very generous with her time, covering many things. One issue is the increasing drought in the region. This means the water table is dropping. Water is extracted, by wind pump from wells some 5 metres deep. Toilets mostly drain into soak-aways in the sand. The diminishing water is becoming more concentrated, with the resulting risk of contamination. The attempt to introduce the ‘Vietnamese’ dry model of compost toilet has not met with success, because people associate flush toilets, which they now have, with modernity and progress. The solution is the ‘banana toilet’, a kind of modified septic tank only some two metres square, into which grow the roots of banana trees, which thrive on the nutrients while aiding evaporation of the liquid. It is a bit like a reed-bed system, but much more compact. We saw several of these systems as we walked around the village.

It is already dark as we walk back to the Pousada. The food is really excellent, this time we have fish, a kind of giant mackerel, with rice, cassava (mandioca), and vegetables. Ingredients don’t change a lot, but there are lots of different variations, with interesting and tasty sauces based on the fish stock, cashew fruit and coconut, in particular.

The wind from the sea has got up and as we sit on the veranda of the Pousada, for the first time we put on long-sleeved shirts.

The following morning we are joined at breakfast by the next door neighbour, René. He is Swiss, and has lived here for 22 years, being married to a local woman. He is a great source of information about the village, its struggles and history. He has clearly been a great resource to people here, using his contacts and high level management experience to help with the political and legislative dimensions, as well as gaining international and federal support for things like controls on the lobster fishery, where due to predatory and illegal overfishing, the population is on the point of collapsing. However, he is clear that the community was already organised in its ‘lucha com consciencia’ as Aila described it. He had looked up the websites in my email signature following some preliminary email contact, and had explored the Steady State Manchester site. We coincided on a lot of issues, a nice surprise so far from home.

We then go for a walk along the beach, and also have a swim in the rough waves.

After a lunch of the mackerel, cooked a different way, we make a booking to come back for three nights after the conference and then we get a lift back to the main road to catch the bus back.

We sit at the bar with some others waiting for the bus. When it is already 25 minutes late I ask someone if it is often so late but I have difficulty understanding his answer which seems to be ‘yes’. Then the bus appears but it drives past. After another anxious 35 minutes a small local bus for Beberibe comes along and it stops. The eight of us pile on, just squeezing in. A family sitting on the gearbox by the driver take our bags for us. We are standing but the jolly young woman conductor gets someone to stand up for Carolyn. I’m asked if I want to sit to but decline on the basis that it’s only a short distance to Beberibe.

We continue along the road, picking up and dropping people off, it getting even more packed if that’s possible. I learn a new word, “cheio”, “full”. At what I think is Beberibe, not everyone gets of, so I check where we are going “Onde vamos?”, “Beberibe”, so I assume this is another small town. She asks where I’m going, “Fortaleza” and she comments that the buses are “muitos cheios” The bus continues, with a succession of small Brazilians sheltering under my armpit as I edge backwards from the windscreen. I think, its taking “a long time to get to Beberibe”, we must be going a different way. I’m really puzzled, it’s been nearly 2 hours and when we get there I still have to find out how to get back to Fortaleza. As we go I keep an eye that our bag-minders are still there. As the crush begins to thin out I look out and recognise the central cycle track on the dual carriageway out of Fortaleza, and then we are in the outskirts of the city. That’s a stroke of luck. The conductor must have thought I said “Onde estamos”, “Where are we?”. I get a seat, and we retrieve the bags, the aisle now being clear, and ride into the bus station in comfort. Out of curiosity I look again at the front of the bus. An electronic sign says “Fortaleza”, but the driver is changing a metal sign at the bottom of the dashboard for the first destination back out of the city – it was this “next stop” sign that I’d seen as we got on! Anyway the journey out cost less each than the taxi fare from hotel to Rodaviaria, and the return journey was even cheaper at £3 each for about 50 miles.

After arrival at the hotel we go to the local supermarket to buy some food, and walking back someone shouts at us “Olá, boa noite!” from a car window. People here are friendly, saying Bom Día, Boa Tarde or Boa Noite as you pass in the street, both in the country and the city, but this is actually our bus conductor who happens to be passing.

As we sit in the garden eating our supper, the friendly, English speaking proprietor comes by, with Scott, a colleague from MMU who has just flown in.

Pentecoste, and the Sertão.

street and view Pentecoste


Early the following morning we are off again, this time to the Sertão, the semi-arid and hot hinterland (featured in the film Centro do Brasil – Central Station), as the educational as the tour of community projects continues. Our party has grown, with people from Brazil, Spain (Catalonia), Turkey, Italy, Puerto Rico and the UK. Some we already know while others are new to us.

Sertão landscape

The Sertão

The drive into the hinterland takes a couple of hours, and after passing through a chain of low hills the country gets very dry. Climate change is leading to longer and longer droughts, with the ‘winter’ rains having failed for several years now. Some people are dependent on water deliveries, and there has been hardship as animals have died in this cattle-ranching region.  This area could easily become uninhabitable with further climate change, leading to a wave of climate refugees to other parts of Brasil.  Indeed it is arguable that such migration has already been in progress for years.

In Pentecoste we visit the Adel project. I leave my notebook and pen in the bus, so this is from memory. The project, like many we’ve seen was started on a voluntary basis, but has since received funding from a variety of charitable foundations. It works mostly on micro-entrepreneurship, providing training and know-how for establishing viable small businesses. They have an impressive success rate, above 80%, far higher than that for loans from the banks. These businesses include agriculturally orientated ones (we met three bee-keepers) but there are also others, including those based on IT. The community psychologists again have a supportive role, helping on training methods, organisational processes, and some communication issues. They are there at the invitation of Adel who seem to think there input is (now) more necessary than do the psychologists. Impact evaluation has not been developed much – I was interested in the wider impacts on the local economy, but in addition to the business success rate, there were some accounts of the impact on perceptions and expectations. One campaign has been on the image of the region, trying, with some apparent success to implant an alternative one to that of poverty, depopulation and rurality.

We then have lunch at our hotel in Pentecoste, before going to the local college (a bit like our technical and sixth form colleges) for a presentation on the cooperative learning approach developed, by the PRECE organisation, to help young people from the region get to university. Among other things, they dealt with problems of poor diet and lacking family support. Now some 500 students from poor backgrounds have attended University, and 30 or so have done higher degrees. Those attending UFC in Fortaleza returned home to help others study, developing a cell structure. While the methods are similar to those developed by Freire, Veira Pinto and others (from a similar basis in social reality), PRECE developed its approach independently, learning later about Freire, Vygotsky and others as they systematised their practice.

The following day we travel over unpaved roads, through dried up countryside, reminiscent of the outback of central and northern Australia, to the former flour mill in Cipo, where the original group of seven high school students first met in 1994 to help one another with their learning, with the aid of another Sertãoan who had graduated from the UFC. It was from this initiative that the cooperative learning movement spread, with other such centres and adoption by the State as an approach within the schools.

Road through the Sertao

The road to Cipo – water tanker in the distance.


Homestead in the Sertao

I wondered to what extent this dialogic approach to education engendered a critical, reflexive stance with contestable knowledges, as encountered at University (and it seems that Brazilian Universities do not do a lot of reflexive, self-directed learning at undergraduate level). There was some suggestion that this happens, although understandably, an underpinning goal is also the acquisition of useful knowledge for application in the Sertão. As in all such cases where high educational attainment is promoted and achieved, there is also something of a drift of people not returning to the region, but staying in Fortaleza, or other big cities, particularly if they have studied something with few openings in Pentecoste and the Sertão.

students studying under tree

Picture of students studying together.

While we all found the projects impressive and inspirational, we did reflect that the presentation had been something of a “sales-pitch”, with little use, or demonstration, of a collaborative learning approach, nor interaction with the young people involved. However, the linguistic challenge we as a group presented would have militated against this, and we did enjoy an interesting discussion with the presenters which clarified some questions.

view of dry landscape

The view from the old mill

We drive back to Fortaleza and then stroll down to the coast for an evening meal. Who should walk into the restaurant but half a dozen people from the tour and conference – but then Fortaleza will now have some 1,500 CP conference people, about 1,000 of them Brazilians, so perhaps, notwithstanding the number of restaurants, this isn’t surprising. It does give us a further opportunity to exchange impressions of the trip.

I didn’t mention our stay in the little town of Pentecoste, other than the formal visits. The hotel was friendly if a little chaotic at times. The sink in our bathroom wouldn’t drain, so the workman unblocked it with his key – he thought my observation that “Eu tambén tenho esa  ferramenta” (I’ve got that tool too) very amusing.

We explored the town, everyone very friendly. The taxi rank was three motorbikes with riders waiting. We all go to a small restaurant (the Spaniards think they can get bigger bottles of beer there – they are now known as the “British contingent”). The menu consists mainly of rice and one type of meat, rice and two types of meat, rice and three types of meat. We settle for macaroni cheese, which is very tasty. The Brazilians drink Guaraná – a fizzy drink made with the extract of the Guaraná fruit, a rainforest product. It has the effect of caffeine, but with a longer half-life, like ginseng, and kept me awake manically writing into the early hours in Manaus last time. But the Brazilians say there is no drug in the bottled drink – something I verify later with great self-sacrificial scientific spirit. The restaurant staff, seeing the empty beer bottles offer to drive us back to where we are staying! But as it’s just 50 yards round the corner we decline.

An interesting taxi ride.

We take a trip to the Futuro beach, a 20 minute taxi drive away. We are told that it is “more organised” than the city centre beaches, and also clean enough to swim. What does organised” mean, we wonder. We’ve seen collective jumping and other exercises at the other beaches, but it seems instead to refer to cafés and bars, whose sunshades we use. It is pleasant enough. On the way back I’m getting into an interesting conversation with the taxi driver about politics in our countries (my Portuguese / ‘Portunhol’ is sometimes good enough to be understood and understand, sometimes not) when the engine splutters and dies. So I add pushing taxis along a busy sea front to my portfolio of experience (please endorse me on LinkedIn). We are nearly back so we walk the remainder.

The conference

University of Fortaleza

University of Fortaleza

The conference starts with an evening opening ceremony. The sound quality is great, and the Portuguese and Spanish very clear (you mostly know what people are going to say at these events anyway) so I dispense with the rather poor simultaneous translation. Sadly, due to cost problems, this is the only session (apart from some 8.00 a.m. keynotes – where again we’ve mostly heard people before) where this takes place. That means that it is pretty much going to be three parallel conferences in Portuguese, Spanish and English. I’m mostly OK in the Spanish sessions (depending on the air conditioning which makes it impossible for me to hear while freezing us all), but Portuguese depends on the speaker and the quality of their AV materials to follow. Spanish and Portuguese native speakers are in a better position, generally able to follow each others’ languages – indeed I previously gave talks in Brazil in Spanish.

The conference logo – the design is based on the local craft of lace-making (constuction rather than unwravelling!).

We meet an number of old friends and colleagues, some of whom we haven’t seen for years, at the rather crowded buffet reception. Not much to eat though, so when we get home we raid our iron rations. First though we get a lift to a shopping centre for a taxi. It is probably unnecessary but we are told it isn’t very safe to stand on the road hear tot stop a taxi – this seems probably untrue, as is the warning not to walk home a few blocks after dark to our hotel. There are muggings here as in most cities, but most violence is in the favelas, and as in many countries perception of danger doesn’t necessarily accord with the reality. The conference though is at the private “University of Fortaleza”, a leafy campus 45 minutes by taxi (when busy) from where we are all staying. This time we aren’t invited dignitaries so we can’t go on the organised bus. The next days we come in by public bus, which is easy – one of the young Italians staying at our hotel braves the motorbike taxi service.

Our own round table on Liberation Psychology in English, goes quite well, although I don’t get any helpful suggestions in response to my question “how can we develop a strong and effective network for Liberation Psychology with people who use English?” [link to notes for paper and link to slides]. It is an opportunity to correct some misconceptions. Carolyn gives one of the papers, a critique of the ‘competency’ approach in education, with a liberatory alternative. The third paper is by Deanne Bell from Jamaica via the USA on the bystander phenomenon in the face of violent oppression.

I also give a short paper called “Economy and planet: a blind spot for community psychology?”  [PaperSlides.]

Perhaps the best session I attend is one where Eduardo Almeida (Puebla Mexico) and his wife Ana Eugenia Sánchez Díaz de Rivera, a sociologist, together with María Fátima de Quintal Freitas (Curitiba, Brazil) (for whom we’ve just written an article on culture and consumerism) present three papers on “Reconfiguración de los lazos comunitarios ante el actual parteaguas civilizatorio” (Reconfiguring community ties in the context of the current watershed in civilization), which brings together a number of themes about the nature of social participation with diverse groups and communities, social policy, domination, technocracy and so on. It has a distinct relevance to our own situation of welfare in crisis where a double struggle is necessary against neoliberalism and bureaucratic, paternalist former conceptions of welfare. It is a pleasure to make contact again with Eduardo and Fátima, and meet Ana Eugenia for the first time. Eduardo is perhaps the most courteous person at the conference, but despite his highly respectable appearance, he is one of the most radical too. He is given a kind of long service award at the opening ceremony, with the citation beautifully read by Irene Moulas from Barcelona.

Eduardo Almeida receiving his award. Photo, courtesy of Catarina Arcidionoco.

Eduardo Almeida receiving his award.

Our friend Jorge Mario Flores, also from Mexico gives an interesting talk, based on his work with Maya communities in Guatemala, asking what community psychology could mean in a social context where community is the fundamental principal of social organisation.

We get given a present, for our work as reviewers of proposals for papers prior to the conference – it is a basket full of Cearan delicacies, various kinds of cashew nut and cashew fruit products.  Cashews are an important crop here, the fruit used in many ways, as desert, for juice, in salads, cooked, raw.  They have a curious form with the nut, in its extremely hard shell, borne below the fruit.  You need a lot of trees to get a good crop – hence the price.

dancing couple

There they go – in inimitable Anglo-Latin style (?!)

Cashew (cajú) fruit and nuts.

Cashew (cajú) fruit and nuts.

On the final evening we go to the closing party where a foro band plays. This is the local dance music, OK for dancing but very repetitive and not very interesting musically. It reminds me of Colombian cumbia, which really began to irritate me with its predictable formula on the buses there. However, the dancing is fun, and we join in, to the surprise (and amusement) of some – well someone has to “show how it is done”…..

Back to the village

The lake in the dunes

The lake in the dunes

We return to Prainha do Canto Verde, again on the bus, and this time with Caterina from Naples. It’s nice to be back. While there is little to do (that’s the point of staying there really), we do go on a walk along the ‘ecological trail’ with a guide, Luis. Again, I’m glad I did the Portuguese lessons because we are able to communicate reasonably well. We learn about the encroachments of the sand dunes on former cultivated land and the lagoons as well as about some of the plants and other wildlife. We do the walk at 7.00 am, and when we finish at 9.00 it is already getting hot, although the sea breeze moderates it.

jangada on the sea

The jangada sets off

Caterina then goes for a trip on a jangada. I’m not a strong swimmer, so don’t, but I do make a film of the launch. René tells us later that the jangada design has its origin in southern India, brought back by the Portuguese trader-colonists. And they do remind me of the fragile-looking fishing boats on the beach in Madras. Despite appearances, they are very stable and the hull design has been adopted by competitive yachtsmen. The catches we see look small though, maybe enough for 3 or 4 families.

Hauling the jangada back up the beach.

Hauling the jangada back up the beach.

The rest of the time is spent strolling on the long beach, swimming – or rather bobbing about in the surf, reading and chatting with people. I don’t manage so well with the drunk in the supermarket who seems rather disturbed that I have two women with me.


One of the many vultures along the coast.

And then it’s over, this time we’ve arranged for a car to take us to the airport, and off we go. It’s been great, perhaps not the most interesting city in Brazil, but I got to like Fortaleza. The friendliness and helpfulness of the people helped a lot, as did the excellent organisation by James of the pre-conference tour.

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