08/2006

Jose, João, and Carlos

When we heard about the work in New Orleans, it seemed like a fantasy. We were recruited to come here, and we were told we would work ten to twelve hours a day and get paid well. We were promised a hotel and food -- even Brazilian food! The truth is, in the end, we didn't get what we were promised.

In early October, we traveled two days from Florida to New Orleans and arrived before 6:00 a.m. When we arrived, we couldn't go into the city because it was closed. We were waiting, driving around on the bus, and then we went straight to work -- after two days of traveling. The city wasn't flooded anymore, but in the basement of all the houses and buildings, it was still flooded. It smelled really bad.

We first stayed in a parking area with some mattresses, without bathrooms and without showers. At first we were taking baths in the Mississippi River. After a while, showers were installed. But there wasn't enough water for everyone, so some showered, and others couldn't. One day, the food I was given by my employer had gone bad. One woman complained about the food, and our supervisor told her "go to a restaurant or bring food from your house." He talked to us like we are dogs, but we are not. How are you going to a restaurant when there are no restaurants and everything in the city is closed?

The work in the basement of the hospital was the worst because of the stench. It was still flooded. I was in contact with contaminated materials -- syringes, dead monkeys, medical waste. We took all the filth out of the building with our own hands.

We had protective equipment for work, but during the lunch time, when there was a break, we took off all that equipment. We had lunch outside sitting on the chairs that had been inside of the building, eating in the mud and dust, around all the contaminated things. Why were we provided all this equipment inside to work, but we had to eat close to the contamination?

They gave us masks with filters, and they changed the filters in the first and second weeks, but after a couple of weeks, the company didn't change them anymore. The masks were only good for seven days. If a worker lost his mask, he couldn't get a new one. He had to work without one until the end of the seven days. There wasn't anyone to ensure that everyone had a mask -- no one from the government, from the public health agency, or anyone, to take care of us.