Trotsky in the Amazon

We had never been religious in our family, well there was one Uncle and Aunt who we hated visiting as they always dragged us along to Sunday school meetings. But I didn’t mind that in the end as I got off with Julie Clarke, the best looking girl; and she wasn’t religious at all as I found out in the cemetery after class.

In school one of the best lessons we had was Religious Education. And that was saying something as it was a crappy school; full of corporal punishment and depressed teachers, so mostly we just fucked around or fucked off to a mate’s house to wait out the day.

But for a change, in R.E we had a cool guy who taught us about ethics and about different  religions; and when he started the sex class by writing ‘fucking, prick and cunt’ on the board we knew this was something to pay attention to.

He took us on trips to all the local religious centres around our way; Mosques, Synagogues, Hindu temples and even a Quaker meeting house. So, we learnt firsthand about these religions and how they did things. It didn’t make me want to be involved in any religion but it was interesting to know about them.

My mates who went to the Catholic school had a different experience. They had Catholic doctrine beaten into them by nuns and priests. And there were always stories around about fiddlers. So, we got off lightly I think. The Church of England was always a bit of a wimpy religion. All afternoon tea and crumpets and summer jamborees. Pretty harmless really.

When punk came around I was introduced to Anarchism; with its ideas on atheism and its agnostic stand-point. And I wrote anti-religious lyrics for our songs. So, after that I was pretty anti-religion and loved getting into arguments. We used to go to the students’ union in Manchester where there was always some god-botherer spouting fire and brimstone outside the Union building. We wound them up by first arguing about the bible and then by saying stuff like ‘The Romans had the right idea, throw you to the lions!’ and ‘If he comes back we will nail him up again!’ They got pretty red-faced about that one.

Then in 1990 I went to Brazil, I had become disillusioned with the politics I had been involved with for the last ten years or so, so fancied a change. I supposedly went to teach English but I mostly lived a hedonistic existence of booze, drugs, and parties

But two things affected me, both to do with religion.

One day I was walking down the street in Belem a city on the Amazon and saw a big crowd of people piling into a hall. I sauntered over and paid my ten Cruzeiros entrance fee. Inside I saw on stage a madman ranting and raving about Christ. He was American but shouted at the audience in perfect Portuguese, and around the walls stood other Americans looking like CIA agents; they were there to keep the peace. In front of this man was an audience of poor locals                             hanging on his every word and the gist of it was this; ‘You are all bad sinners, and you will all go to hell if you don’t give us your money!’ And unbelievably the people gave what little they had to these fraudsters. I tried to argue with some, telling them not to do it, but got lifted up by the CIA and thrown out the door.

The second religious encounter couldn’t have been more different.

I was teaching a class of some teacher who was sick. After the class this skinny dark-skinned young man came up to me. ‘I found what you said about our country interesting,’ I had been political, talking of the poor and how much I hated the president and that, and he said ‘But, do you know the real Brazil?’ ‘I think so; I’ve been to enough seedy bars in dodgy areas, so I think I know it pretty well.’

‘Do you want to see the real Brazil?’

‘Sure.’

So he gave me an address to go to where there was some gathering and then he promised me a trip or some such thing after.

I bounced up to the address on a late Saturday lunchtime to find that it was a Catholic seminary! After Umming and Arring outside for a bit, I smoked a fag then decided it would be a good experience to see what happens in these places, so rang the bell. Inside there was a party going on, loads of young people were dancing Lambada, the girl’s knickers visible as they twirled. And older , I found out later, teachers, writers and other intellectuals, stood around yapping away whilst swigging back the Caipirinha.

I was introduced to other young trainee priests and got stuck into the booze. They showed me around and in their simple rooms I saw their books; the bible of course, but also, Marx and Gramsci and even Trotsky…I mean Trotsky in the Amazon! Then the music was turned off and people started to give speeches. I understood the gist and Joao my student translated the rest. One after the other the intellectuals and the trainees gave anti government rants. Slagging off the authorities and arguing for action to help the poor and working classes. I was amazed… it was like being back home in a union meeting or a miners’ strike rally. They pointed the mike at me and in my broken Portuguese I said I loved Brazil and the people but hated the president. They cheered and slapped my back and poured me another drink.

But I wondered if this talk was all show by the church, just to gain favour with the poor as the evangelists had with their wrath at the unfaithful method.

After an hour or so they said ‘You ready to see the real Brazil now?’ Shit, I thought this was it!

‘Sure lead on!’

We got a lift in an old ford and pulled up outside a make-shift bar; corrugated iron walls and roof and various old tables and chairs and a freezer and football photos behind a wooden table kind of thing nailed onto two oil drums. We were near the edge of a Favela near the river. The place looked and felt dangerous and all talk stopped when we drew up. But as soon as the topless drinkers saw the two Trainee priests their spirits and friendliness rose. Backs were slapped, hands were shaken, and cold Antarctica beers were pulled from the freezer and plonked down in front of us on a hastily wiped Formica table. I was introduced and everyone shook my hand, from the druggy looking teenager to the pot-bellied guys in Bermudas. Even the dodgiest looking guys with moustaches who looked like guns for hire ventured over and shook my hand.

I could see these guys were respected and wondered why?

After a few beers we bid our farewells and were told to come back later for a farewell one. We ventured into the labyrinth of the Favela. Because of the river all the buildings were on stilts, built high in case of flooding. The two guys were welcomed at every turn. Some old women kissing their hands. We were welcomed into homes that had little in the way of furniture or anything else for that matter but were given cakes or bread and of course drink; beer or moonshine. The families and the guys chatted and I was questioned about the UK and what the hell was I doing here in Brazil? They really couldn’t understand why I would come here from Europe, I tried to tell them about the poverty and the fights of working people in Europe but they dismissed my stories with a wave of their hands.

We were shown a big wooden building and this I found out was a community workshop, where the locals made excellent furniture that was sold collectively. This had been set up by the trainees. The people showed me other projects with pride. Organic toilet blocks that had replaced the shed at the end of the plank from your hut where you shat from a great height into the street. The trainees had introduced compost toilets at ground level and this was helping to keep the place hygienic. I was impressed. I was introduced to a very dangerous looking man, with a 4-inch scar down his face and a pistol at his waist. He told me that the Trainees were welcome here, the police never came and if I hadn’t been with them I would have been stripped and running naked trying to escape by now. I grinned and said ‘Well, thanks for that, I suppose.’ We said our goodbyes and had a last farewell drink in the bar and left.

This was no religion as such, no preaching or asking for cash. The guys role they felt as priests was to fight for the poor. And that was why they were so respected by the people and hated by the hierarchy of the church. I found out more about these Marxist priests and found they had a long history in South America. Had been persecuted and hunted and murdered and often thrown out of the church.

I left Brazil but kept up a correspondence with Joao. He sent me a picture of a reed hut where he now lived after graduating. He was in the forest helping the Indians fight against the ranchers burning down the forest.

After two years I got no more correspondence.

Nick Gerrard is originally from Birmingham but now living in Olomouc where he writes, proof-reads and edits, (Abridged versions of the classics; like Hemingway and Orwell) and in between looking after his son Joe, edits and designs Jotters United Lit-zine. Nick has been at one time or another a Chef, activist, union organiser, punk rocker, teacher, traveller and Eco-lodge owner in Malawi and Czech.

His short stories, flash, poetry and essays have appeared in various magazines and books  in print and online. Nick has three books published available on Amazon. His latest short novel, Punk Novelette is all about a group of friends growing up with punk in the 70s in the UK and the effect the movement had on their lives.

https://www.facebook.com/NickGerrardwriter/    https://twitter.com/nickcgerrard  https://www.instagram.com/nickgerrardwriter/  https://www.amazon.com/Nick-Gerrard/e/B00CO434XK/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1

Nick Gerrard is originally from Birmingham but now living in Olomouc where he writes, proof-reads and edits, (Abridged versions of the classics; like Hemingway and Orwell) and in between looking after his son Joe, edits and designs Jotters United Lit-zine. Nick has been at one time or another a Chef, activist, union organiser, punk rocker, teacher, traveller and Eco-lodge owner in Malawi and Czech.

His short stories, flash, poetry and essays have appeared in various magazines and books  in print and online. Nick has three books published available on Amazon. His latest short novel, Punk Novelette is all about a group of friends growing up with punk in the 70s in the UK and the effect the movement had on their lives.

https://www.facebook.com/NickGerrardwriter/    https://twitter.com/nickcgerrard  https://www.instagram.com/nickgerrardwriter/  https://www.amazon.com/Nick-Gerrard/e/B00CO434XK/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1

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