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The Sertão or Backlands – Northeast Brazil

Source: “Northeast Brazil reels from worst drought in 30 years


The sertão or backlands of Northeast Brazil, with an average temperature of 84ºF, is a semi-arid region of scrubby caatinga vegetation of low thorny bushes. Frequent and prolonged drought in the region has forced thousands of impoverished Nordestinos to migrate to major coastal cities in the Northeast and to metropolitan areas in Southeast Brazil.

Francisco* was among those who migrated to São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, in search of a better life. He did well and returned to Ceará to get married and raise a family. I met him when he started working at Ceará Importers Ltda.* He was an amiable person, short and stocky, with a spring in his lopsided gait.

He loved his trade as electrical technician, installing and maintaining piping, cables, and wiring that connected and powered our computers and cash registers. On the wall behind his desk in his tiny office, he proudly displayed his technical certificates earned during on-the-job training in São Paulo.

With the rapid expansion of the company, he began working long hours beyond midnight. The alcohol shared among late-night workers made the job appear less onerous. When he started showing up late for work or not showing up at all, I knew that something was wrong. The male warehouse staff snickered about his plight. His wife had left him for another man and had taken their children. He was drowning himself in alcohol.

I could not watch him lose all that he had worked hard to achieve for himself and his family. I had to do something to help him get his life back. After learning that his boss had failed to get him to stop drinking, I got him to attend an Alcoholic Anonymous general assembly in his neighborhood. It was a new experience for me. There were over 500 people, alcoholics and their family, gathered in the sports auditorium that evening. He was not alone in his struggle.

After he started attending the group meetings, his wife agreed to return home with their children. But she did not want him to continue working late nights. Losing them was a great blow. Getting them back meant letting go of a job that demanded putting them in second place. He chose to give up his job.

During a period of high unemployment, as was the case at that time, finding another job was not easy. When I heard from Francisco a month later, he had moved to another state where he had received a job offer. He and his family were doing fine, he told me on the phone.

When our job threatens our marriage, we must make a choice. It may not be a simple choice as it was for Francisco. As we move up in a company, we have more to lose and more options. It becomes much easier to walk away from our marriage and family.

* Fictitious name