“My facial expression has even changed, I don’t smile as I do here anymore,” says Suely while she shows me the cover of a 2014 tourism magazine she featured because of her restaurant at the “Córrego do Feijão”.
Today, the Casa Velha restaurant is rented out to Vale and the wood-fired oven and the smell of homemade food is just one distant memory. The place now only bears the sadness and nostalgia of what it could have been if there was no disaster.
I met Suely at Brumadinho City Hall. She carried a sad look, a tired face and a heavy walk. The four walls of the administrative environment didn’t have any resemblance at all to the rural ambience of “Córrego do Feijão”. She seemed almost out of context in that place.
She didn’t want to talk to me the first time I went there. She felt a lot of pain, both physical and emotional, and told me that she couldn’t talk about the tragedy without crying.
I came back the next day. And I asked her about her passions, in an attempt to soften the melancholy that surrounded her. “I’ve always been a nature lover, and that I inherited from my father. Everything was good for him. If he had rice, beans, pumpkins, everything from the backyard, in his plate, for him this was the most delicious food,” she recalls with affection.
Born and raised in “Córrego do Feijão”, Suely had her neighbourhood as “a corner of heaven”, where she cultivated her father’s love for nature. Where she dreamed of having her own house and her garden to cook homemade food for the community.
After 25 January, this dream was dragged along with the mud of the dam that collapsed. And the future became uncertainty. “So, what my father left for me to finish and what I liked to do, I can’t accomplish anymore. And I can’t help but thinking ‘will I be able to live where I grew up?”.
These are Suely’s dilemmas today, in the face of the uncertainty left by the tragedy, especially in relation to the environmental consequences of the disaster, like soil contamination.
“This uncertainty has definitely aged me about 5 years from January until now. I’m sure I have aged. Because I’m in much more pain than before. And sadness, so much sadness. Living with it is very harmful to my health and it has certainly reduced my years of life,” she tells me with the hopelessness of those who were marked by tragedy.
For her, there is nothing to make the dam collapse be forgotten and, like many of the residents of the “Córrego”, Suely is only moving on with the help of medication.
“The longest stretch that the mud has covered, I see it every day when I come to work and to return home. So, it seems that it will never end. I’ve never taken medicine before and today I take it to sleep,” she says. “This sadness, in my opinion, will never leave Brumadinho, never again. It’s something that will never get out of my memory. I didn’t expect to die with this in my mind.”
The images of the days that followed the disaster still follow her, in a nightmare from which it is not possible to wake up. “I saw scenes worse than war. Helicopters arriving with bodies in those baskets, dripping with mud, 15 meters from my eyes. And we wonder: ‘who will it be? Will it be my friend? Is it someone’s mother? Is it someone’s son?’ These are scenes that will never fade from my memory,” she tells with the vivacity of those who are now haunted by the chaos of the mud.
In the end, she cannot contain the tears and leaves one last message. “What I would like to say is that all this should have been spared if it had not been the greed for money. There is no need to earn so much, to so much evil. That should have been spared. That’s all for me. Greed for money caused all this. For me, nothing will ever pay this cowardice,” Suely concludes.