Photo diary: visit to a Brazilian flour mill, 10-17-12

October 17, 2012

The project I’m here in Brazil working with Habitat for Humanity on is building the 66th of a projected 100 houses meant to be occupied by women who work in a nearby flour mill. Today, the third of a five-day building experience, before we started working we visited the mill.

Obviously, it’s not just women who work at the mill.

But apparently the women especially don’t have much financial independence in this community, and they would like more. Their job consists of peeling cassava all day long, often from midnight until 11 am, with a break for a meal around 6 am. They get paid $10 for peeling a ton of cassava, which takes about a day for a skilled worker.

Cassava is a staple of Brazilian diets, and we’ve eaten it in several forms — polenta-like chucks of Generic Starch, consumed with stew, for instance; fried in tiny strips like shoestring potatoes; a millet-like grain served as a garnish sprinkled over virtually anything you might eat. This mill processes cassava in two ways that we might label dry and wet. In this section of the mill, the peeled cassava is shoveled into a chopper that grinds it up, and this guy loads the result into a low-tech system that squeezes the liquid out of it.

Then this machine sifts and stirs the dry stuff til it becomes the flour known as manioc.

I love the contrast between this shop with its hard-working barefoot dark-skinned laborers and the poster of shiny white fashion models. What I’ve left out of this picture, of course, is the sight of a dozen gringos with cameras taking pictures of everything.

The other side of the mill processes cassava in very different ways. First, the peeled tubers soak in vat until they soften.

After the liquid has been extracted from them, the remainder gets processed into fine flour used to make cakes and tapioca (a word which to Brazilians means NOT pudding or custard but a quickly fried ingredient-vehicle that’s like a cross between a tortilla and a crepe). One step involves these boys stomping on tied-up bags of mushed up manioc.

This guy was a knockout.

This woman manages the second section of the mill.

The compound also includes farm animals — cattle, horses — and, you know, a parakeet.

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