This diary excerpt gives an account of Soper's making travel arrangements and traveling in Brazil. It gives a vivid picture
of the conditions Soper had to cope with as a public health worker in the 1920s.
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4 (352,137 Bytes)
15 May-25 June 1920
Soper, Fred L.
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Learning the Ropes: Hookworm Disease in South America, 1920-1927
To one accustomed to travel in the United States by railway, where the only requirement for travel, is the purchase price
of a ticket, the difficulties experienced by the would-be traveller in Brazil are almost insurmountable.
On May 15, 1920, I was ordered to make an inspection trip to Maranhao, 5 days sail from Pernambuco, sometime during the month
of June. Going to the office of the line running boats to the north. I sought to arrange passage but was assured there was
a boat every week and that I might leave Recife any Wednesday or Thursday.
So complacent in the information I had received, I made all arrangements in my work to leave the 16th or 17th of June. On
the 14th in attempting to reserve passage, I was told that only on the 15th would the Joao Alfredo leave Rio de Janeiro, 5
days journey to the south. Nothing to do but wait. Paciencia! (Patience)
Leaving my card for reservation of accommodation, I proceed to enjoy the next few days in luxurious idleness. (The only idle
days that a busy man may really enjoy are those which he can make idle with a clear conscience. And only those who have attempted
to speed up transportation south of the equator, can know how clear my conscience was those 5 days - 2 dinner parties, 2 evenings
printing pictures, and a snow white conscience.) I was told to pay for my passage the morning the boat arrived. 7:30 a.m.
Sunday morning, we were rudely awakened by Jack - my American negro scape grace cut throat, pounding on our window saying
the Joao Alfredo was ready to enter the harbor. Secure in my reservation, I arose leisurely, had coffee packed my suitcases
and went to the office of the Line. 10:30 a.m. the clerk who speaks no English and always has a sad, apologetic face meets
me with a soft "Demais tarde." (Too Late) He only had 5 or 6 beds and they have already been sold. The fact that
he has had my reservation for a week seems to have no bearing on the situation. Paciencia! There will be another boat this
week. (Also probably 4 or 5 days late.) I remonstrate but all I get is a sad apologetic smile - and I have seen all too
little of Juliet since we have been in Brazil.
In desperation I ask him to call a taxi for me - he politely tells me where the telephone is. When I expostulate that I do
not know his language well enough for the telephone he asks me to be seated. I am. He too sits down. I read the immigration
regulations of the United States of America in Portuguese on the wall. I learn just what ills bodily and mental are considered
a bar to entrance to my native land. I read with interest the amount of money one must have now - about enough to support
a man 10 days in the land of the free and look around to find my clerk no nearer the telephone than before. I return to the
immigration law -- it is interesting to know that the alien must be able to read between 30 and 40 words that are submitted
to him in his own language - but I am more interested in the telephone and the taxi. I turn to the beautiful lithographed
poster advertising the annual stock show in Rio de Janeiro noting the offer of the government to furnish free transportation
for animals and caretakers and my mind returns to those mammoth exhibitions of live stock at the International Live Stock
Shows of Chicago and the visits I made there in company of Dr. L. Kiel, Dr. E. Davis and other medicos with agricultural tendencies.
At last! A black servant returns and the clerk asks him to call a taxi for me. So that was it - I am of a complacent disposition.
The taxi carries me to the docks, on board the Joao Alfredo I find the Commissario, a kindly-faced pleasant intelligent individual
- if somewhat helpless. In rotten Portuguese I tell my troubles - he is sorry! I do not know whether he is sorry I have
no cabin or sorry I speak his beautiful mother tongue so poorly.
I am up against it - shall I offer him 20$000? Is he holding out on me or is he really sorry for me? (And one time a man
in a semi-public position refused l0$000 I offered him).
So I decide to first take him into my confidence. I tell him who I am and my mission here. I must go on this boat. He immediately
says he can furnish me a cabin in cabedello, which means I must spend the first night on deck - well and good.
I embrace him like a long lost brother and return to the office.
The sad apologetic clerk sells me a passage "sem cama" (without bed). His slip shows 153$000, mine shows l63$000
- I tip him 2$000 making 12$000 for him.
My taxi I have had just one hour. When asked "How much" my driver says, "Vingte milreis." The legal rate
is "Quinze milreis". I tell him I have been robbed enough for one morning and gave him the "quinze" and at
7:30 p.m. I am giving the fishes my undigested dinner, from the top deck of the Joao Alfredo, headed north.
Cabedello sprawled along a sandy beach - Mr. O'Grady, born in Natal, educated in Chicago, and I wander about in search
of latrines. We find but one -- the River. Dr. Acacia Pires meets the boat - he expects to return to Rio on the Bahia.
Natal - O'Grady introduces me to Dr. Romeiro of the Federal Commissao - the Governor here expects to do Prophylactic Service
here next year. If possible, I shall see him when I return.
Ceara - Land in a heavy sea. Buy 2 Redes and some laces - also a cane of ox horn and 2 combs which are made of tortoise shell.
Tutoyia - nothing at the place the boat stops - absolutemente. Sand and heat.
Maranhao - The city of Sao Luiz is located on a large island at the mouth of several rivers. There is at present no connection
with the mainland although one hundred and 50 cantos has been spent in a survey to determine the best location for a bridge
and the money for this purpose is available. 15000 cantos (mais ou menos) is to be spent on the bridge. Sao Luiz boasts
of 50,000 to 60000 inhabitants and is the largest city and the capital of the state of Maranhao. The state of Maranhao has
but-one railroad - a short interior line 8 or 10 days journey by boat away from the coast and has no trolley lines. The city
of Sao Luiz has a traction system employing burros for power. (It is to laugh.)
However, the rivers are all navigable (mais ou menos) and where boats cannot go, ox carts can. Between Anil and Sao Luiz
- 10 or 12 kilometers, an auto bus (Ford) does a rushing business. And it might also be said a bouncing business. Had I
not long since lost all fear of sudden death through riding on railways in Brazil, I should have been frightened on that wild
ride from Anil to Sao Luiz. The wildness of the ride, the speed acquired, and the amazement of their friends are the main
attractions of this bus to the native population.
Sundays the bus is crowded by a laughing joyous crowd of young folks who might well be compared to young America enjoying
the railway or the "shoot the chute" of the White City in Chicago.
Horseback or burro back is the most satisfactory method of transportation here, both for people and material.
Arrive Sao Luiz, June 25.
Meet Dr. Attico on board
Meet Dr. Rodrigues who now directs service for State and Federal government.
Secure the following information from Dr. Attica - Seabra
No work here against Hookworm prior to March 1919.
Agora tem seis postos
Rosario - Estado 1/2 Fed. Govt. 1/2
Alcantara - Estado 1/2 Fed. Govt. 1/2
Guimaraes - Estado 1/2 Fed. Govt. 1/2
Sao Luiz - Estado 1/2 Fed. Govt. 1/2
Anil - Estado 1/2 Fed. Govt. 1/2
Mayoba - Commissao Rockefeller
The 5 posts of the State and Federal service are in reality Polyclinic posts where all chronic diseases are treated with also
a systematic service against hookworm but employing only 3 to 5 guardas. The post of the C. R. treats only Hookworm - and
some cases of malaria.