|Dr. Randas Batista with his daughter Juliana.|
1 December 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazil Diary
I've been thinking about home and all I will miss if I'm here in Brazil through Christmas and the New Year. I will wish I were in my mother country at the moment the year turns to 2000. I will want to know what crazy people will do what. I have a feeling people will do extreme things. I remember Heaven's Gate, and as cults go I think they might have jumped the gun. Everyone who attributes great meaning to the upcoming century will crawl from the woodwork.
I wish I could go out and buy a copy of Time magazine, and the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal as well. I want to be able to turn on the television, and know what just happened. And I want to hear what Conan and Dave and Bill Maher have to say about the headlines. I will miss the buzz. That is something that you don't find outside of the U.S. The feeling that whatever happens, you are plugged in. When the school shootings occur, or O.J. drives off in his Bronco under pursuit, everyone knows. I would rather not know about many of these news events, and their inescapability is perhaps one of the worst things about living in the U.S.
I will miss the sense of connectedness, the way everyone knows the buzz and can share in what's up.
More than all of this, I have been thinking about where I'll be and what I'll be doing when the year changes. It's something I've thought about a lot lately. I think it began on New Year's Eve 1998. I had a decent time, though it was nothing that memorable. I'm not much for loud parties and getting so drunk I don't remember what I did and whose clothing I'm wearing.
When it turned 1999 I stayed up just long enough to hear the fireworks drift across the Charles River to my dad's house in Cambridge. He had already fallen asleep, and Bob the dog lay on the floor next to his bed. I could hear the Boston Pops playing Beethoven's V off in the distance. Then I fell asleep.
I remember thinking how next year it would be so nice to have a girlfriend to share New Year's eve with. It was a sad sort of longing, for I knew it was up to fate, not me. It doesn't seem to matter as much what happened on my birthday, or Thanksgiving, or Christmas. I think that the New Year is symbolic for me. It is about beginnings, and I really thought it would be a very special thing to be roaming about in big crowds with my sweetheart on the eve of the new milennium. It would be a feeling as though time itself were pregnant. We could play, we could have dinner, we could do both or neither. It wouldn't matter. We would be together for the birth of the millenium.
At some time this year I either gave up on the notion or forgot about it. In any case, there's a good chance that I'll be in Brazil for the New Year. I never imagined this would happen, for it was not until April 26, 1999 when I met Dr. Batista in person that my life changed course. We got along well. So now I'm laying on my bed in his house, writing to you. Life takes such amazing unexpected turns when you dive in.
I was talking with Randas the other day before he left for Saudi Arabia. When he returns to Brazil it will be to a part of the country called Belo Horizone, which is far from here. He's going to one of the largest gatherings of cardiac surgeons in the world. He said I should meet him there on December 4 when he returns.
I am honored at the invitation. He showed me the color brochure with the names of the attendees. One of them, Tómas Salerno, I have wanted to meet for a long time. The rest of the people are from Europe, India, and Asia. I'm going to bring my new black suitcase, my suit and album of photos of Dr. Batista at work.
I asked Dr. Batista for the name of the hotel where the convention will be held. I told him I wanted to reserve a room for the same night he'd be there. "You don't have to do that," he said. "You can stay in my room, then you can save the money." He is such a kind, sincere man. I feel so fortunate to have him as a friend.
Dr. Batista's in Pakistan tonight. His wife traveled to her grandmother's house in Foz do Iguaçu (remember that place), a 10 hour drive from here. She just left me here with the kids and said to have a good time. We've been hanging out, eating pasta and watching videos that they made of themselves the last time they went surfing.
I've been having a tough time adjusting to life in Brazil, as you know from your readings. It is very hard to go an entire day without speaking in English. Communication still feels strained. Today I realized how to describe what learning a language is like for me. I picture water rushing over the remnants of an old cement dam. I must put new stones in place to stop the water. The first words I learn are like big rocks. They do most of the work, they get the job done. But there are still many holes in my knowledge of how to express things.
So each day I collect these smaller stones and fit them into place. I wish I could just let some water flow through and forget about it. But that wouldn't be me. I'm always working, asking questions, asking people to repeat themselves more slowly, listening intently, reading signs, reading books. Even though I'm getting along well, my mind feels weary at the end of a day.
Learning this language and longing for my friends and family are the most difficult things to adjust to.
The following are not too difficult to adapt to:
1.) There was this saying when I was younger, if I made a mess and did not clean up after myself. "Who do you think's gonna clean that up, the maid?"
Well, that is not said around here, she does. There are two, and they make the most delicious meals for the family every day. Rice, Beans, Farofa, Eggplant and Pasta dishes, fried bananas, blended papaya drinks. They also clean up the bedrooms, bathrooms and make the beds on a daily basis. They even do my laundry and iron it. Everyday. It's pleasing to walk into my bedroom at the end of the day and find all of my shirts pressed, my pants folded, my socks sorted and rolled into little balls...
2.) Having two labrador retrievers, Buck (black) and Daffney (yellow), who love to play. Anyone who knows how I like dogs will understand.
3.) Realizing that everyday will have sun, and that in Brazil, spring has just begun.
4.) Having a swimming pool at home.
5.) Being able to choose between photographing heart surgery or going to the ranch.
6.) Living with one of the warmest, most welcoming and thoughtful families I know.
So I was trying to remember what it is that I miss about Seattle and the U.S., all of those things that I'm supposed to want to go back to. And I can't think of any.
Except friends. So why don't you all lighten up your workloads,
pack-up, pick-up and head over to Brazil so I won't miss you all so much?
Life is better here, I promise. It really is.
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2 December 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazil Diary
I was putting black & white film into my camera,
Preparing for heart surgery,
When she asked me if I like to read.
She said she likes to read and showed me a book.
I told her I was searching for Eternity.
She asked me what I will do when Dr. Batista goes
to Saudi Arabia, and whether I samba.
I said I don't know, and no.
We're walking around and I'm wearing sunglasses. I feel so proud
that I remembered to bring these from the states. My eyes are happy.
She takes me to see a zoo. There are monkeys. She hates
looking at them,
She says they're ugly.
"Those are our ancestors," I tell her.
I see a duck and reach into my pocket to get a Real (Brazilian currency)
it out for the duck.
The duck looks surprised, but Isabel is more confused.
"Pagar O Pato," I learned last week, is an expression that means "To
pay the duck."
It means having to face the consequences for something bad that happened, whether it's your fault or not.
I realized I'm probably the only person whose offered the ducks money today.
I say I'm paying the duck. She laughs. We walk by the zoo
I stop and admire the Brazilians eating lunch.
"Não alimento os animais," I say softly, recalling the sign at the monkey cage.
I enjoy watching the Brazilians eat.
We walk more. I tell her I'm still looking for Eternity.
It's a Calvin Klein fragrance for men.
I want to know what the stuff smells like, as it comes highly recommended from a friend in the states.
"Do people put on perfume and cologne because they like the smell?" I ask.
"Or do they just want other people to like it?"
She takes me to hear Christmas carols at night.
They have closed off a bunch of city blocks downtown.
They have opened the office building windows
From them many children sing and dance.
Swaying from the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th story windows,
They look like cuckoos poking their heads out,
Singing Portuguese Christmas carols to a samba beat.
I'm wearing a tee shirt and shorts, and it is almost December.
Later Isabel makes a spaghetti dinner and passionfruit juice.
I'm standing on her veranda
And tell her how nice the white lights
Look against the blue Curitibian sky.
"You are different from other people," she says.
She says, "Let's go samba dancing."
I am sleepy, I must go home before it's too late.
I don't want to wake the doctor's family by arriving past midnight.
"It's o.k.," she says, "We can samba another night."
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3 December 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
Last year Dr. Batista was asked to give a presentation to students at the medical school here in Curitiba. After his lecture he toured the medical facility with students to examine patients with heart disease. "I didn't have my stethescope, so I borrowed one from someone at the school," he said. "The tube on the stethescope was very short, it was small and hard to use, but it worked."
I went back to the medical school again this year to give a presentation. All of the students had these short stethescopes. I asked why, and someone said, "When you were here last year, you had a very short stethescope, so we thought they were better."
"I told them it doesn't matter. Next year they can give me a stethescope as long as a garden hose and I will use it," he said.
He was driving us downtown in the pickup truck to get his airline ticket when he looked over at me and said, "I have to be careful what I joke about, because people take me seriously.
"I was at a cardiac surgeons' convention in Frankfurt last year giving a talk on my technique, and I said that the most important concept is dropping the wall tension in the heart. I said it doesn't matter if you cut a piece out of the heart or if you put a condom around the heart, just decrease the wall tension and the heart will contract with more force.
"Well, someone in the audience took me seriously, because when I was in Berlin last week, I was shown a brochure about a condom for the heart which they just developed . It is a white synthetic sheath that slips over the heart and acts as a girdle. I never meant for them to take me seriously. It was just a joke. But it works because they got the concept right and dropped wall tension."
Batista said that when he demonstrates his procedure, surgeons routinely ask him highly technical questions. "They want to know exactly what kind of material I use to suture the heart with. Listen, it doesn't matter if I use a shoelace or dental floss, the important thing is the concept.
"That's why I went to medical school in the U.S. I wanted to learn everything that's out there in heart surgery. I knew that when I came back to Brazil, I wouldn't have the same equipment that we had in the states. I've always liked what your President Roosevelt said: "You have to do the best you can, where you are with what you've got."
When Dr. Batista said that, it reminded me of the summer when I was 12-years-old and attended Boy Scout Camp. At the end of the summer I was sent out into the woods with seven other scouts to test our survival skills. We were supposed to get by for one night with what we were given, and we were not given much. Each scout received:
1 raw, frozen 1/4 lb. hamburger patty
1 sleeping bag
Our scout masters told us to pair up, and once we got into the thick of the forest, my partner and I went running around to find dried leaves, twigs and sticks for the fire. We were so excited to be on our own, and we started to work up an appetite.
Then a raindrop fell. Then a few. Suddenly we realized we had better start building the fire. The head broke off the first match, the second match failed to set the leaves on fire, but the third was our charm. Leaves curled in on themselves as they burst into flame, igniting the dried pine branches. The cones, still attached, crackled and sputtered to life.
Then dark clouds started rolling in overheard. We quickly peeled the two frozen meat patties apart --- they were thawed by now and separated by a limp, juicy square of white paper. Then we carved the ends of two sticks to sharp points, stabbed them into the meat patties, and held them over the flame to cook.
A few quick thunderclaps later and the rain started pouring down. Our patties had become warm by this point, but not even the most optimistic scout could say they were cooked. The fire tried fighting the rain, sputtered and went out in a few anemic puffs of smoke. The rain had already soaked our tee shirts and shorts, and we were so hungry by now that we ate the soft, mushy, red burgers. We knew that finding shelter, getting into our sleeping bags and staying dry would be the keys to making it through the night.
As a 12-year-old I felt as though life would last forever, anything was possible, and I could solve any problem. I had been immersed in a camp where all day long I learned about teamwork and loyalty, swimming, hiking, water safety, cooking, first aid, cutting wood with an axe, and wilderness survival. This all-nite ordeal was the chance to put all of these skills into play.
I cannot recall the name of the kid that I was paired with. I do remember that we shared the task of making our shelter. Standing there with hands held up to our eyes to shield them from the pelting rain, we decided that I would find sticks to support our shelter, and he would find big leafy branches to put on top for our roof.
We put our sleeping bags under a big tree to keep them from getting wet, though the tree did a poor job of shielding them from the downpour. About 10 minutes later we gathered with the materials to build our shelter.
Though we hoped that the shelter would keep us dry, we knew that everything in the woods would be soaked tonight. We did our best, but to this day I recall the cold, wet, and clammy sleeping bag lining clinging to my legs. Boys are not very keen on sleeping near each other, but one thing that kicks in under dismal cold and wet is the primal desire to preserve body heat. His sleeping bag and mine were right next to each other during the 8 or 10 times that I woke up. I remember looking up and seeing the rain rolling along the leaves we had so carefully placed atop our shelter, then when a bunch of drops had collected on a leaf overhead they would pour down on our faces, necks, and sleeping bags.
When the sun finally appeared in the morning, it seemed I hadn't slept at all. We dragged our sleeping bags through the dirt back to the main scout camp.
I learned that given just the essential materials: meat, matches, knife and sleeping bag, we could make it through miserable conditions.
We found a way to survive.
In this same fashion, Batista says it does not matter if he uses thread, dental floss or a shoelace to sew the heart together. What is important is that he knows how to reduce the size of the bloated, weakened heart and make it strong.
He has found a way to help his patients survive.
Now and then, people ask me what kind of camera they should buy. They want to know what brand I use, and why. They want to know if they should get an autofocus camera, and which lenses are best. I understand how Batista feels when other surgeons ask him a lot of technical questions.
Today, camera makers sell cameras by advertising many features, functions, bells and whistles. I tell people that to take a picture, it is important to have a camera, a lens, and film. Then you go out and make pictures. Sounds simple, doesn't it?
I was thinking about this boy scout overnight survival experience, then about Dr. Batista emphasizing the importance of understanding the concept, and I decided to make a back-to-basics survival photo assignment.
This assignment is geared toward professional photographers who have become bogged down in the technical details of their work, the fancy $2,000+ autofocus cameras, power packs, strobes, Chimeras, stands, tripods and color correction filters. Anyone who would like to try is welcome to give the assignment a try.
Stan Grossfeld, a friend who won a Pulitzer Prize shooting for the Boston Globe a few years back, said, "The less equipment you bring with you, the more you can concentrate on the job at hand."
This is a survival assignment.
Your equipment is basic.
May your ideas be big.
Date: 21 December 1999
Boeing CEO Phil Condit wants a photograph of his company's new stealth jet. He will have the photos printed on round paper to attach to frisbees which will be given to Boeing family and friends at the upcoming New Year's Party. The jet is flat-black (best for night-time missions and avoiding radar), and you are to photograph it inside Boeing's hangar in Everett, WA.
1 Quaker Oatmeal cardboard cylinder
1 Knitting needle to make pinhold camera
1 Box 4x5 black & white film
1 Pair Scissors to trip film to fit oatmeal cylinder
100 eight-inch taper candles
8 Rolls Reynold Wrap aluminum foil to reflect candle light onto jet.
Date: 22 December 1999
Michele Stephensen, the picture editor at TIME magazine, has seen your portrait portfolio and requested that you photograph Bill Gates for the magazine's first cover for the new milennium. You will have 3 minutes with Mr. Gates (don't be so surprised --- for my first magazine assignment ever, I was told I would have only 1 minute with Mr. Gates...his p.r. people must have felt generous --- they gave me 2 minutes!)
The challenge will be for you to gather enough light in 3 minutes through a pinhole to expose your film. Mr. Gates must not move during this time or your cover photo will be blurry. Please leave space over his head for the TIME masthead.
1 Shoe Box
1 Pin to make pinhole camera
3 4x5 sheets Provia color transparency film
Date: 23 December 1999
Kathy Ryan, the picture editor at the New York Times Magazine, has heard through the grapevine that you're doing the Gates cover for TIME's melennium kickoff issue. There's a debate scheduled tonight between Bill Bradley and Al Gore at the glam New York Four Seasons and she wants you to cover it! She's after that down and dirty, gritty, journalistic feel for the 2-page spread in next Sunday's issue, the last of the century. Kathy warns you that there will probably be between 75 and 100 members of the press in attendance. She asks you to get close-ups!
5 Kodak Shur-Shot cardboard disposable cameras with built-in flash.
1 New York Times Press Credential
$35 Cab Fare
After you've shot the assignments:
Send the TIME film to:
1271 Avenue of the Americas
New York City, NY 10020
Send the New York Times Magazine film to:
New York Times Magazine
231 143rd Avenue W.
New York City, NY 10019
Please send all film FedEx Priority Overnight.
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6 December 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazil Diary
Belo Horizonte, Brazil
I arrived in Belo Horizonte two days before the start of the symposium on heart surgery. Dr. Batista and I had agreed to meet here and I wanted to make sure that I could find this city, get a day of rest and mentally prepare for a meeting of the world’s best heart surgeons.
The hotel that I chose to stay at, The Commodoro, was about six blocks from The Grandville Hotel, where the heart forum would take place. The Commodoro was much less expensive and I figured that I could wake, shower, shave, put on my nice suit, have breakfast and still arrive at the posh Grandville before Dr. Batista, who was flying in from Pakistan.
When I showed up for the start of the symposium, I looked all over but could not find him. I figured that he was on his way from the airport and traffic was thick, or perhaps his plane had been delayed. While waiting I decided to stroll through the exhibits where men hawked heart-lung bypass machines, bovine tissue replacement valves and high-tech plastic containers for collecting blood and other secretions during heart surgery.
I looked anxiously for Dr. Batista so I could say hello and find out how things went in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The trade show lights threw off a lot of heat, I was wearing a suit, as were all the other surgeons that had begun to mill about, and I was very hot.. I was excited, a tad nervous, and because the air conditioning in this hot Brazilian hotel funcioned so poorly, I was sweating. I kept going to the bathroom to pass cold water over my face and dry off with paper towels. A half hour passed and Dr. Batista had not arrived. By now he was late for his presentation on cardiac autotransplantation. A half hour turned to an hour, than two.
Just then I recognized Tómas Salerno, a phenomenal heart surgeon who I have heard a great deal about. He is a Brazilian, and one of Dr. Batista’s best friends in the world of heart surgery. I walked up to him as he descended the staircase toward the main desk and introduced myself. I told him I was a friend of Dr. Batista’s, and asked if he knew where Batista was. Salerno replied, “He is late. He will arrive a 4 o’clock this afternoon.” Then he hurried off.
Since I would have a lot of time to myself before he arrived, I decided to attend the lectures that other cardiac surgeons had begun to deliver.
I spent hours listening and taking notes. I would like to simplify and condense the world of heart surgery so that you will know what the most powerful researchers and surgeons are delving into in this hotel in December of 1999. I was fortunate to be in the presence of these innovators on the brink of the new milennium. From all that I have learned it seems that there are two revolutions taking place simultaneously.
Since the first open-heart surgery was performed in 1955, surgeons have dedicated themselves to developing ways to stop the heart from beating so they can perform delicate cutting and suturing on a still heart. All of that is changing.
The first major revolution in heart surgery is taking place as surgeons have begun to perform surgery on the beating heart. A major departure from the current practice of stopping the heart and circulating the blood with a heart-lung bypass machine during surgery, a new breed of surgeons are convinced that beating heart surgery is the future of heart surgery.
In beating heart surgery, the heart does not stop its natural beating. Research has shown that the bypass machine, or pump, damages red blood cells, platelets and white blood cells, and microscopic clots that form around tiny air bubbles that the machine generates can cause strokes. These bubbles can also prevent blood from flowing to the brain’s memory centers, causing a syndrom referred to as “pump-head,’ in which patients have short-term memory problems.
My father had heart surgery several years ago and his surgeon used the traditional heart-lung bypass machine. For three or four months after surgery he had a very hard time remembering names. This didn’t seem strange to me at first because a lot of people forget names, and he used to as well.
I began to get concerned about my father’s memory problems because sometimes when we were on line at the movies or a grocery store, someone would strike up a conversation with him. After they’d talked for a few minutes, it became apparent that my father had no idea with whom he was talking. His conversation mate would remind him where they had met, and my dad would vaguely recall the encounter, though it had only occurred a week ago. This happened on many occasions, and though there is no way to know whether it was caused by the heart attack, the surgery, the pump, or some other factor, I don’t think he had the problem before his heart attack and surgery.
In order to stop the heart from beating, surgeons have to pump a very cold solution of potassium and other drugs into the heart. Each dose of these chemicals embalm the heart for about 20 minutes, and because all heart surgeries require multiple does of these chemicals, they accumulate in the body. Surgeons, cardiologists and researchers have recently begun to realize that these chemicals cause harmful effects which last an undetermined period of time after surgery.
While heart surgery’s first revolution involves operating on the beating heart, Dr. Batista’s operation to reduce the size of the enlarged hard has ignited the second revolution.
Dr. Batista would be delayed several hours because he had to make an unexpected trip to Nepal to excise a chunk of muscle from a huge heart. As he was on a plane travelling to this symposium, surgeons began citing him in their presentations.
They kept referring to the Batista Procedure, of measuring tension by inserting electrodes in the heart wall before and after performing his technique. They spoke of Batista in the same breath as LaPlace, the famous French physiologist upon whose formula explains many principles of heart surgery.
There I was, sitting in a room with the world’s greatest heart surgeons, Batista was not in attendance, yet all they could talk about was his procedure and ways that they could apply it. They were speaking of him as astronomers speak of Gallileo and Copernicus, and physicists speak of Einstein.
Every heart surgeon in the world now knows about Batista and his work.
Whether they perform his procedure or not, he has changed long-standing
rules about how to operate because of his ideas. He will likely become
a major figure in the history of heart surgery.
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7 December 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazil Diary
Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Batista finally arrived at the hotel, and after talking with other surgeons and drinking a few “café puros,” he gave his talk on cardiac autotransplantation, the highlight of the symposium.
He began his presentation by showing a minute’s worth of video that he had just shot out the airplane window while flying through Nepal on his way to Brazil.
He said that he looked out the window, and seeing this mountain, he thought the plane must be landing. It was not, however, it was flying at 29,000 feet. He was looking at Mount Everest. It is rare to see a heart surgeon begin a presentation with a video of a mountain, but I think he wanted to share the magnitude of such an impressive sight. The doctrinaire minds of some surgeons do not appreciate such deviations from protocol, but some surgeons have begun to understand that by observing the natural world and asking questions they, like Batista, can find solutions for their patient’s ailing hearts.
After showing the video of Everest, he described cardiac autotransplantation. Although he has performed this operation 176 times during the past 10 years, I have never witnessed it in person. He introduced the concept behind cardiac autotransplantation by showing a photo he had taken of his truck’s engine. He explained that when a mechanic needs to repair an engine, he can either fix it from above, by raising the hood, or raise the car on a lift and work on it from below.
Then Batista showed a picture of the heart. He explained that the heart’s chambers have been misnamed in every science and medical text that exist. “They have lied to everyone when they call this the left atrium,” he said. “It is not on the left of the heart, it is on the back of the heart. Because of where it is located, I cannot open the chest and work from above. I cannot reach it through the patient’s back. I need to remove the heart from the body.”
Batista went on to show a video of the procedure. I have not seen anything like this before. He cut all of the pulmonary arteries and veins, the vena cavae and aorta, lifted the heart out of the body and placed it in a small metal basin. The heart continued to beat.
The patient’s left atrium was enormous, heavily calcified, and full of blood clots that looked like chunks of grape jelly. Batista spent 20 minutes scraping the calcified plaques off the atrial walls (“They feel a lot like potato chips,” he said) and once he had removed all of the debris, he scooped it out of the basin for the video camera. His very large hands were full of “junk,” as he called it.
He cut out a few large swaths of left atrium, put the heart back in the chest, and sewed all of the arteries and veins back together. The heart continued to beat.
“This surgery is very easy to perform if you remove the heart from the
body,” he said. “If you had to remove all of the debris and
make the atrium smaller with the heart in the patient’s body, it would
have been impossible (a word that I’ve never heard him use). It would
have taken hours and been extremely difficult. I’m lazy, so if I
can do this in one hour, why should I spend more time?”
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8 December 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazil Diary
Belo Horizonte, Brazil
After his presentation, Batista walked me to the hotel’s front desk. He told me that I should enjoy Belo Horizonte though he had to leave the next day. He said I should stay in his room, which was paid for by the heart symposium sponsors.
He told the clerk at the front desk that I’d be staying with him and asked him to set up a cot in his room. The clerk said it would cost an extra $10 a night for me to stay, and I said I’d gladly pay.
Then Batista invited me to join him and a small group of surgeons for dinner. We had a delicious meal in a Spanish restaurant with a large marble floor in the center. We watched a flamenco dance during dinner, men and women clicking and clacking their hard black shoes against that marble floor.
I met several cardiac surgeons during dinner. The first surgeon I spoke with asked me where I was from, and after we’d talked for a while, I could tell that he assumed that I was also a heart surgeon. And so it went with each surgeon that I introduced myself to. Each surgeon must have thought that because everyone else around was a surgeon, I must be too. Our conversations gravitated toward surgery, and when I eventually told these people that I was not a surgeon, they didn’t believe me --- they thought I was joking!
With one of the surgeons, I had a strong feeling that we would work well together, so I explained as thoroughly as I could who I am and what I do.
The surgeon’s name is Dr. Borut Gersak. He’s a Slovenian heart surgeon who specializes in replacing aortic and mitral valves in the beating heart. A good friend of Batista’s (though we were not introduced by him), at 39-years-old, he is perhaps one of the best beating-heart surgeons in the world. He asked to see my photos of Dr. Batista.
I showed Borut (we got reached a first name basis quickly!) my black book and he said he would like to hire me to make the photographs for a book he will publish next year. The photos will accompany text describing different procedures that he and the other surgeons in his hospital are developing for the beating heart.
He said the photographs that he currently has were taken by different surgeons, both digitally and on film, and many are of poor quality. He thought that it would be a tremendous asset to have all of the photography done by one photographer. He also asked if I could recommend an artist who would be able to illustrate some surgical procedures in pen and ink.
I also met Dr. Tofy Mussivand, a professor of surgery at the University of Ottowa Heart Institute, and we really hit it off. He invited me to Canada to learn about the work he is doing. He says he wants to pay my way.
Dr. Batista and I arrived at the hotel after dinner, both of us tired. He opened the window for fresh air and turned off the lights. Before we fell asleep I recall talking about the pollution in Pakistan, the World Trade Organization (WTO) rioting in Seattle, and the mars landing. Batista suggested that perhaps martians have taken over the craft, which explains why we have not received any transmissions. He asked me what I thought of his presentation, we talked about Mount Everest, and then we fell asleep.
I vaguely remember him packing his bags at about six the next morning. He was singing that Roy Rogers song, “Happy Trails to You,” and though I was half asleep, I joined in. He said goodbye as he walked out the door on his way to Montevideo, and I wished him well before I fell back to sleep.
I woke up an hour or so later, showered, shaved, dressed and had breakfast. I decided to go to the front desk and confirm that I was going to pay $20 Reals for the two nights that I planned to stay. I thought that it would be better to make sure things were clear ahead of time than have an awful surprise at check-out time. I’m really glad I did.
The hotel clerk made a call to confirm that the heart symposium would pay for Batista’s room and I would pay the additional fee. The man he spoke with at the symposium said no, the symposium would only pay the hotel bill for the day Batista attended the conference. I was out of luck..
I would have to pay $200 Reals to stay for two days, the hotel clerk
told me, or I would have to check out of my room right away. That
is a lot of money, because the Grandville Hotel is a luxury hotel.
One night costs $100 Reals, almost one month’s salary for a Brazilian.
Though I could afford the two nights at full cost, I was trying to keep
my costs down so I could stay in Brazil for a while without running out
I asked to speak with one of the symposium’s coordinators and explained that Dr. Batista had made arrangements the previous day for me to stay. The director told me that I was out of luck because Dr. Batista had not made arrangements with the symposium beforehand.
I wanted to stay at the hotel because the heart surgery symposium was still in progress, and I knew it would be a great chance to meet surgeons and listen in on their presentations.
So I asked to speak with director of the symposium. She told me that the symposium had a budget, and since since this had not been arranged with them before the event began, they would not pay. Case closed.
My clothing, cameras and luggage were in the room I’d shared with Batista the night before, and I would have to move them out in 10 minutes. I had to figure out a way to stay. I was exhausted, having travelled 15 hours with all of my gear. Hot and tired, I just wanted rest. I knew that if Dr. Batista were there he would find a way. I must do the same. I must “dar um jeito.”
In the midst of this unhappy back and forth between the front desk staff and symposium directors, I noticed a surgeon who I had met the day before. He was a good friend of Dr. Batista’s, so I walked up to him, introduced myself, and explained my problem. I told him that Batista and I had already made an arrangement with the hotel staff, and now things looked bad. He walked downstairs with me, put his arm around a white haired man in a black suit, they embraced, talked for a few moments, and then he walked back and told me everything was taken care of. I could stay for two days, no charge.
I was so relieved. Now I would have a place to stay! I thanked this doctor who had come to my aid.
He told me that Batista often leaves things unresolved. I did not know this, and felt slightly comforted in knowing that my hotel problem was not unique. He assured me it was not. “Randas does this kind of thing all the time,” he told me.
Just then I ran into Borut, the heart surgeon from Slovenia. He’s the surgeon who wants me to photograph for his book about heart surgery. He said he needed a photo of himself for Dr. Batista, and asked if I would take it then and there. Apparently Dr. Batista wanted a photo of Borut to use in a presentation, but he had lost a photograph that Borut had given to him earlier.
Borut asked me if after I took the photo I would deliver it to Batista. I told him I’d be pleased to, and found a window next to the elevators with good light. He came with me up to my hotel room and as I dug my camera and a roll of film out of my suitcase, I noticed the light coming through the window near the far wall where Borut waited .
Luscious, diffused, flowing through the curtains and wrapping itself around Borut’s face, it was the most beautiful light I’d seen. “That’s it!” I said. I loaded the black & white film and began photographing. All elements came together beautifully
Borut’s countenance was serious at first, but as I took more photos and we talked a bit, he started to smile, so I captured an assortment of expressions. It gave me great pleasure to help this surgeon, Dr. Batista’s colleague and friend. Borut told me, in his Slovenian-accented English, that he knew why my photos of Dr. Batista looked so good. He said I made him feel at ease.
As we said goodbye and he dashed off to the airport, he asked how he could pay me for my time,film, and photographs. I told him I was happy to do this as a favor, and if I photograph for his book, I will charge him for the assignment.
I keep thinking how glad I am that I found a way to keep that hotel
room. Because if I had given up on staying at the Grandville, if
I’d moved my bags out of that room, I wouldn’t have had the chance to take
those wonderful pictures of Borut.
e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
9 December 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazil Diary
Belo Horizonte, Brazil
I’m checking out of the Grandville Hotel and the front desk clerk presents me with a bill for my room and another bill for room service breakfast.
I tell the man that I did not order room service. He insists that I did, and shows me a slip signed by Batista the morning he left, singing “Happy Trails to You.” I tell him that the symposium was paying for Batista’s expenses.
The clerk telephones some woman at the symposium, and she tells him that she will not pay for the room service breakfast, only regular breakfast.
I ask to speak with her, and it turns out she’s the same woman that I spoke with a couple of days earlier. She tells me that I should pay for his breakfast. She then told me that my two day, $200 Real stay had been paid by that doctor who had come to my aid. Surely I did not want her to call him and ask if he’d also pay for Batista’s breakfast.
I was shocked. I thought the symposium had covered the expense.
Of course I did not expect this doctor to pay. I would never have asked him to pay for me, and I will not ask him to pay for Batista's breakfast. I paid for the meal on the spot.
As soon as I get off the phone with her, the front desk clerk starts telling me that Dr. Batista never checked out of the hotel. “If he had,” he said, “he would have known about the charge to his bill.”
Thinking of how Dr. Batista had travelled to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Nepal and Brazil in the last week, I explained, “He was probably in a hurry and did not remember to check out. He’s a very busy man.”
“That’s what they all say,” the clerk tells me.
“It’s very simple,” he says. “You check into the hotel when you arrive, you check out when you leave.”
He hands me the bill for Dr. Batista’s stay and tells me to sign it to close the account.
All of this negotiating, phone calling and arguing has left me weary. I’m too tired to write anymore.
Tonight I get on a bus for Bahia, a 24 hour ride.
I hope to find rest.
e-mail me: email@example.com
10 December 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazil Diary
Belo Horizonte, Brazil
On the same day that the Mars Lander either landed or crashed, riots descended upon the World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in Seattle.
As these two disparate events unfolded on the screen of my hotel room television, I noticed a connection.
It occurred while watching an interview with one of the scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He said that he really wanted to know whether the spacecraft had landed on mars because he was anxious to start collecting soil samples.
The plan, he said, is for the Mars Lander to collect soil samples using a shovel at the end of its long arm. It will place the soil in an oven where it will be heated. Once heated, scientists will search for traces of water in the soil, a sign that life may have at one time existed on mars.
Millions of miles from mars, as riot police and protesters clashed, politicians offered their spin on the situation which played as background music to accompany the violent video clips.
It seems that the most important issues at stake for both supporters and opponents of free trade were working conditions, human rights issues surrounding the employment of workers in poor countries, and the management and preservation of the earth’s resources.
As these two situations beamed into my hotel room, I kept thinking of that scientist, and all of those technicians nervously waiting for the Mars Lander to communicate with them. They hoped for the chance to search for traces of water in the soil, a sign that life might have existed on mars.
They weren’t even searching for signs of life, just signs of a basic molecule which might support life.
Out of all of the questions that reporters asked the NASA scientists, not one reporter asked if the spacecraft might have crashed, which would have explained why it had not communicated with them..
I was sitting on my bed in my hotel room thinking, “That Mars Lander smashed, crashed, and became part of an asteroid cloud faster than you could ask, “Who stepped on my LegoLand Space Station?”
Mars Lander is probably in pieces, and search as we may for traces of water (not life, just water) that might have existed on a planet billions of years ago and millions of miles away, it probably won’t be of much consequence to people on earth.
Do I think we should scrap future interplanetary travel? No way, I think finding out what’s out there is one of the best games in town. Next to what happens after you die, and whether there really is a God, I’d say life on other planets is one of the big three.
The WTO conflict in Seattle shows that a segment of our world community has focused so fiercely on the tactics and strategies involved in making money and employing people that it has lost a grasp on the larger concept that earth is the only planet that we know of that supports life.
I saw a television news segment on genetically engineered corn. These crops are one of the main issues the WTO had planned to discuss in its meetings. The segment featured a down-and-out farmer in Nebraska who was stuck with an enormous surplus of corn which he had grown from genetically engineered seed. Last year, his farmering organization told him there would be a big demand for the corn, but this year, due to a backlash against genetically grown food, nobody wants to buy the stuff.
The largest buyers of corn, such as the Gerber Baby Food Company, won’t buying genetically altered corn because their customers don’t want it. As other companies also boycott the corn, farmers who grew it are sitting on huge surpluses. Personally, I would not touch the stuff. There’s that saying, “You are what you eat.” I’ll pass on the corn, thanks.
I feel bad for the farmer, he was just doing the best he could with the information he received. He was trying to support his family with the one job he knows how to do, grow food.
We can’t expect to improve earth’s hunger problem by altering nature. Maybe we’ve already spun so far off course, like that Mars Lander, that we’ll never be able to reel ourselves in. We have too many people who need work, and the oversupply is driving down wages and dragging down working conditions along with them.
I hear that by 2005 we’ll have two billion more people on earth. I cannot figure where we’ll find enough food and work for everyone..
With all of the fists, clubs, and tear gas being thrown around in Seattle and talks deeply entrenched, I want to be optimistic about the Mars Lander. I imagine the best scenario.
It has landed, and though out of contact with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs, it has begun dutifully began scooping up soil samples. It put them into its onboard Betty Crocker Mix ‘n’ Bake Oven. As it heated the soil, a thin wisp of water vapor rose, coated an electrode, and set off a signal that recorded the presence of water in a six billion-year-old soil sample.
Soon the craft will transmit to NASA, and when it does, the rocket scientists, geologists, and engineers will cheer. They will hug each other, munch on peanuts and drink Coca-Cola. They will have found that life-sustaining combination of hydrogen and oxygen. Not life, mind you, nothing like it, but something that one day could sustain it.
On another planet people are throwing things in shop windows, writing graffiti on walls and clubbing each other.
I’m out here, trying to figure out what it all means. If you know,
please tell me. You can find me on the beach in Bahia. I’m
sitting on the blue towel. In one hand, I’m holding a walkie talkie,
the volume turned all the way up, antenna pointed toward mars. With
the other hand I’m holding a genetically engineered corn-dog. If
you stop by, please bring a 9-Volt battery and some ketchup. I’m
running a little low.
e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
20 December 1999
This is a life of freedom, yet filled with obstacles and troubles. I don't look for problems, but they find me. My shoulders can only hold so much.
If you have read the diary entries from December 8th and 9th, then you will understand how a simple event, like checking out of a hotel, can be confusing, annoying, and frustrating. It tried my patience, it weakened me in the already fatiguing Brazilian heat.
Dr. Batista had invited me to stay in his room at a fancy hotel during a heart surgery symposium. When the event was over, he told me to explore Belo Horizonte, the city where the symposium was held. He even arranged with the hotel management for me to stay in the room. The management said that they would charge a fee of $10 a day for me to stay in Dr. Batista's room, which was already paid for, and I agreed to this arrangement. However, when it came time to check out, they charged me $200 for the room along with a fee for room service breakfast --- which I had never ordered.
When I returned to Curitiba a few days ago, and first saw Dr. Batista, he did not greet me with "Good Morning," or "How are you doing?" After a two week journey across thousands of kilometers of enticing, hot, and beautiful Brazil , he had one question for me:
He wanted to know about my experience in checking out of the hotel.
The whole torturous experience had been a test. He wanted to see if I could pass.
He told me that he knew that the hotel staff would try to charge me a lot of money for my stay after he had left. Do you recall a story that he told me where Brazilians are depicted as a long line of people, each of them reaching their hands into the pockets of the person in front of them, stealing their money?
I have to tell you that I changed the story a bit, because the version that he shared with me was vulgar. Yet its essence remains the same: People will be mean to you, will take advantage of you, and hurt you here. Dr. Batista wanted me to learn to stand up for myself.
He told me that he knew that the hotel would try to get me to pay an extra $200. He said that when he was ready to leave the hotel very early in the morning (I was still asleep in our room), he thought to confirm our arrangement about the $10 a day. But he thought that even if he had talked with the hotel staff again, even if he paid them an additional $200, they would still try to rip me off. So he left the hotel without checking out. He wanted to see how I would handle things.
So as soon as I had returned from this adventure, he asked if I paid the hotel the big bucks. I said no, and as I prepared to go into the detailed recounting of all of the things that I had gone through, he cut me off, he said the details were not important. All he wanted to know was if I had made it out without getting slammed.
I told him I had made it. His countenance did not change, but he said it was good I did not pay. I was in a state of disbelief when I realized that he had put me up to this. I went through two days of hell at that Grandville Hotel, and he saw it coming. But instead of intervening on my part, he figured he'd let me handle it on my own. I could tell he was pleased with the results.
He told me about how he had sent two of his sons, Lennard and Joubert, off to Australia last week. He said, "I did not send them off with money to buy things. I told them to find work, to clean dishes or scrub floors. They have to learn what life is like in the world, that people will try to [screw] them. They have to learn how to get by on their own without anyone to help them."
He pointed to his yellow laborador retriever, laying down beside the pool. "When she had puppies a few years ago, they were all suckling, drinking milk, and at one point she she pushed them away with her paw, as if to say, 'go take care of yourselves'.
"Both of our dogs live the good life. If we let them out onto the street, they wouldn't live a day. They would wait for food, they wouldn't know how to find it. They'd probably get hit by a car as soon as they tried to cross the street. It's not this way with the stray dogs. They know how to get by on their own. This is what I want for my kids. I have to let them make their own mistakes."
I'm sitting on one sofa, and Batista's sitting on an identical leather sofa on the other side of the marble coffee table. He looks over at me and says, "You came here to have experiences, to learn about Brazil, and this is why I let you figure things out on your own. I knew that one way or the other, you would find a way," he said.
Dr. Batista wants for me to learn to deal with the problems of life just like his sons. He is throwing us out into the water, knowing we will find a way to keep our heads above water.
I feel that this is an honor.
Even though I had a horrible time dealing with the people at the hotel, I learned
how to stand up for myself and not give in. Those people were going to
do whatever they could to defeat me. I asserted myself forcefully in Portuguese
and would not back down. This experience has left me stronger. I'm
glad that Dr. Batista sent me out to fend for myself.
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
21 December 1999
Just the other night, Dr. Batista operated until 2 o'clock in the morning to reduce an enlarged heart and replace three valves.
The next day we visited the patient, who was asleep after the long case. Dr. Batista talked with the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) staff and told them exactly how to care for the patient before and after he awoke. He told them to feed the patient an egg, beaten and administered intravenously, and explained how he wanted to have the patient moved periodically as he slept. He told them what medications to administer, and he asked that a physical therapist massage the patient's back to clear the lungs of congestion and fluids.
When we returned to the hospital the next day, the patient was awake. He was about 38-years-old with a big belly and red in the face. He was thrashing about with his legs, but not his arms, which were tied to the bedposts with white bandages. As Dr. Batista and I approached the patient, he closed his eyes and stopped kicking. "Open your eyes," Batista said, but the patient would not. "Amigo, open your eyes," Dr. Batista said again. When Batista asked how he was doing,the patient made a vulgar signal, one that does not exist in the U.S., with one of his tied-down hands.
The patient was clearly in distress. In the next seven minutes we would learn why his situation was unbearable, and why he was so angry. Batista looked at all of the monitoring equipment, then at the patient, and began to figure out what was wrong. The patient wanted to talk to us, but he could not because of the tube in his throat. "How many times do I have to tell you not to tie the patients hands down?" Batista demanded. He loosened the bandages which restrained the patient, and immediately his hands went to his mouth. He wanted the tube out.
Batista decided at that moment that it was time to remove the tube. He needed to have oxygen on hand, because once the tube is taken out and the patient is given the chance to breath on his own, you want them to have oxygen-rich air. He asked asked for the oxygen to be connected and a mask readied for the patient.
He pulled out the tube and was disgusted at the sight. It was clogged with blood and lung secretions. That is why the patient was so frustrated and angry. He had been unable to receive air. With his hands tied, he could not remove the tube on his own. As soon as the tube was removed, he could not breathe. His airway was still obstructed. "Cough, cough," Batista shouted at him, and when he did, Dr. Batista caught the phlegm and bloody secretions in a towel. "You can breathe now," Batista said, and told the patient to say, "Graças á Deus," which the patient bellowed over and over again, his chest expanding and contracting as he filled his lungs and his shouts of, "Graças á Deus" filled the ICU.
Batista was furious at the hospital staff who was supposed to be monitoring this patient. They should never have let this patient alone as they had. "They had him attached to a bunch of monitors, and there they are sitting around playing cards," he said. "They think that these devices will tell them everything about the patient, but they are not a substitute for going over to the patient and figuring out what he needs. This patient is smarter than all of these monitors, he is smarter than you. He knows what he needs, but if you tie his arms down, how can he tell you?"
Dr. Batista ordered a cup of water for the patient. He asked why the egg had not been fed to him at the time he had specified. He demanded all of the monitoring equipment removed from the patient's room. "If you don't get it out of here right now, I'm going to throw it out of this window," he shouted. The patient apologized to Batista for giving him the vulgar sign earlier, he said he did not know it was the doctor talking to him. "Don't apologize to me," Dr. Batista said, "I understand how you must have felt. I would be angry at them too if I were you."
The patient apologized to Dr. Batista for defecating in his bed. "Don't worry about this," Batista said. "They can clean your sheets, they're good at that, they just don't know how to think!"
With the patient now breathing on his own, Dr. Batista began to place an oxygen mask over his face. The oxygen travelled out of a tube in the wall, which snapped onto a "T" shaped piece of plastic, which in turn led to the mask. As Dr. Batista tried to connect the tubes to the the "T" shaped plastic, he realized that the fit was all wrong. A nurse began to wrap white adhesive tape around the gap to compenstate for the clumsy interface. Batista was outraged. "Why don't we have a part that fits?" he cried. One of the nurses said that she had been searching for the correct piece for two years, with no luck.
Dr. Batista said he was going to make one phone call, and in five minutes he would find a plastic piece that fit. He did, and in less than an hour, three men from a medical device company arrived with a piece that worked perfectly. The cost was one Real, about 50 cents in American money.
He told me later that he was furious at the nurses incompetence. "Why did she tell me she had been looking for that part for two years?" he asked. "She makes herself look like an idiot. I would have been so happy, delighted if she had said, 'I noticed that the part did not fit correctly, so I made a few calls to the company and they will deliver the part today.' But instead all she tells me is how hard she has tried to find it. If that's the best she can do, that's pretty bad."
Batista was very angry because he had told the ICU staff many times not to tie the patient's hands down, because the patient's breathing tube was clogged, and because no one had made an effort to try and find the proper plastic part.
These situations happen every month, and he explodes, because the staff keeps making the same mistakes. He feels as though his own hands are tied, because he can't hire or fire staff, nor can he assemble his own surgical team. For years he has worked at a different hospital, but when he and other doctors spoke out against an administration that had been stealing money from the government, things got bad. A group of doctors they left for the hospital where he now works.
At this new hospital, he does not have the power to hire and fire. He says that because much of the staff has worked there longer than he has, he is not in a position to call the shots. If he wanted to fire someone, he would have to go explain his reasons with the hospital's administrators. At his old hospital, he could make these decisions by himself.
During a recent conversation, he said he wants this hospital, which is called VITA, to be purchased by a Japanese investment group. He already knows some of these investors, whose specialty is investing in hospitals. He feels that under their ownership, he would have the power to run the hospital.
VITA is owned by the Phillips Electronics Corporation. Last year it was on the market for $60 million, and required $250,000 a month to operate...it was running at a deficit. Due to the devaluation of the Real, the Brazilian currency, the hospital is selling for $15 million. Dr. Batista says that the hospital has dramatically improved its operations, and is currently earning about $50,000 a month. He says that from now on he expects profits to increase every year.
Batista said that his presence validates the quality of the hospital, and goes on to tell me that he has turned every hospital that he has worked at into a profitable institution. People will go to the hospital that I work at even if they don't have a heart problem. They say, 'Oh, Batista works there, it must be a good hospital.' It's like if Bill Gates buys a lot of a stock, you probably won't ask a lot about it, you will trust his judgement and buy it too. Well, the same thing happens at the hospitals where I work.
The Japanese investors are not looking to make a profit on their next investments, he says, they are looking to make socially responsible investments. In this hospital, Dr. Batista says, they will be able to make a socially responsible choice and turn a profit at the same time.
As we talked, it became clear to me that any investor who looks at the situation will see that Dr. Batista is a risk. If anything happens to him, or if he leaves the hospital, they have lost their investment. In other words, I told Dr. Batista, he brings value to the equation. If anyone is going to put money into VITA, they are going to want to know that he will stay.
Dr. Batista considered this for a moment, and then he said that he would be willing to buy the hospital himself, if these investors will loan him the $15 million. He said the hospital will be profitable,and then he will pay them back later. Or he will offer to invest as partners with them. He will sign a document that lets them out of the deal if he leaves the hospital. He is willing to do whatever it takes to get VITA into the hands of these Japanese investors.
His dream, he says, is to turn VITA into the most powerful and profitable heart center in the region. He needs the power to hire capable surgeons, nurses and staff.
My goal is to help him to make this happen.
22 December 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
As soon as I arrive in a Brazilian town after long days on the road, I look for a clean café with good light. I have liked the concept of such a place since I first read about it in Ernest Hemingway's short story, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place."
Here in Brazil, I don't merely like the concept, I need the place. More than a hotel, bank, or bar, I need a place to find calm, to think, to write.
Hemingway wrote that the place must not have music. How curious, I thought, when I first read the story, because I like music. But now I understand the problem with music. In its absence, you can clear your mind and relax. As I go from town to town in Brazil, every café has a blaring stereo or a television tuned to soccer or soap operas. The owners must think customers like the distractions.
But after a long bus ride or a day carrying my clothes and cameras across town, I wish I could sit down to a little silence with my rice & beans.
I wonder if Hemingway ever found such a place, or if he simply craved it as I do.
Hemingway's short story takes place in a café during the night. One of the characters, an old man who is deaf, sits alone in one corner of the café. He has been drinking one shot of whiskey after another, and it is closing time. One of the two waiters in the café dislikes the old man and wants him to go home so they can close for the night. The other waiter admires the way that the old man, though drunk, brings each "copita" to his lips without spilling a drop. This waiter seems to understand the old man's lonliness, and says that because he has no one to go home to, they should let him stay and drink.
* * *
It's the middle of the night. I just woke to go to the bathroom
and get a drink of water.
Crawling back into the bed in this cramped hotel room, I lay on my back trying to fall asleep. I wish I had somewhere to go. I can't fall back to sleep, but I am comforted by the familiar sound of crickets, which drift in through the open window. I switch on the overhead light and I've begun to write this diary entry on a scrap of paper that wrapped the three books that I bought in Belo Horizonte.
I imagine Hemingway traipsing from town to town during the Spanish Civil War, a soldier in search of calm and quiet, a place to think and write. Maybe he also longed for a place to go in the middle of the night when he could not sleep. He might sit up in bed, pull on his boots, and find a clean, well-lighted place to calm the guns and soldiers crashing through his head.
This is where I want to go tonight.
I imagine that I push open the café's front door and I see a man in the far corner with a week's worth of stubble. He's wearing a baseball cap and writing in a notebook. Without looking up from his paper, he reaches out with his left hand and lifts a shot glass off the table. He tosses the drink back while his other hand continues across the page.
And I wonder, is this Ernest?
23 December 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazil Diary
Minas Gerais, Brazil
It was very dark out and everyone in Dr. Batista's house was getting ready for bed. Even the dogs had curled up and gone to sleep. That's when he asked me, "Are you ready to go?"
I had known for a few days that Randas and I would take a trip to visit his friend, Tomas, in Minas Gerais, but I had no idea how we'd get there. I figured we would take a plane, because Minas is far away. His wife, Odessa, said, "just pack a few things...you'll only be gone for a day."
It was past midnight when we climbed into the truck. The green digital clock on the dashboard read "1:05" as we pulled out of the driveway. Randas didn't take the road to the airport, and that's when I realized that we would drive all the way to Minas.
He told me to tilt my seat back if I wanted to sleep, so I gave it a try. At first I thought I'd actually have a chance to fall asleep, but I soon found out how hard that would be.
Randas drove until we reached the mountain road which the locals call "the highway of death." I'd heard the talk about cars, busses, and trucks colliding on these roads at night. Randas drove fast. Every now and then a sign appeared at the edge of the road, heavily overgrown with thick green leaves, "Devagar, Curva Perigoso" (Slow Down, Dangerous Curve).
Randas ignored the signs. He kept going fast, and though I don't know what it converts to in M.P.H., I can tell you that the 115 Km/H that we were driving on those roads was too fast considering all of the curves. While midway through some of these treacherous turns, sometimes Randas hit the breaks when it seemed that the truck would flip over if he didn't.
As tired as I was, I could not fall asleep. The adrenaline kept my eyes open and my stomach taut. I felt it would be out of line to ask Randas to slow down because he had invited me along on this trip. He didn't say anything during the drive. While there are times he wants to talk, there are times that I sense that he doesn't.
I knew that the purpose of our trip was to visit Tomas
Salerno, a Brazilian cardiac surgeon. Tomas was about to leave his
home in Brazil for his hospital in Buffalo, New York. Randas wanted
to spend time with Tomás before he left Brazil. The two met
in Toronto 15 years ago as cardiac surgery students and have been friends
After Randas had been at the wheel for a few hours I told him I'd be glad to help with the driving. He said thanks, he was fine. I finally fell into an uncomfortable sleep. My eyes had been closed for less than 20 minutes when the car lurched upwards with a big "SMASH!" We had hit a big turtle. No, not the living kind, one of the asphalt ones that are made to slow you down. We had entered a small town, and Randas had hit that speed bump going really fast.
This happened again and again, at every several small towns in the night. I would fall asleep during the highway driving, the twisting mountain roads, and when we got to the small towns, those big speed turtles slammed into our truck. It hurt so much to be jarred from sleep in this way. It felt like my whole spinal column was wrenched out of place. Randas didn't seem to mind the big jolts, at least not enough to slow down in the next town. Looking back on this horrible drive, I should have asked him to drive more slowly on the dangerous mountain roads, and especially going through the small towns.
After we had hit a few of those bumps at high speeds, I could no longer fall asleep. I knew that there would be another town and another bump off in the distance. It was worth not sleeping to know I would not be woken with the horrible smash. So now I would sit wide awake watching the road. As we entered a small town, I would now watch us approach each speed turtle. At times he saw the signs that alerted him to the bump 100 meters ahead, but since he was immersed in thought, he often didn't notice the signs warning him to slow down. We were going so fast that I did not have enough time to alert him until it was too late.
After we'd been driving for several hours, I asked if he'd stop so I could drain water from my knee, as they say here in Brazil ("Tirar agua do joelo"), and as I did by the side of the highway, he stayed in the truck. It was our only stop all night, except for a few minutes to refuel and scrape bugs off the windshield. Somewhere around 5 a.m. I fell asleep for real, and I didn't wake up until I felt the sun pushing its way into my eyelids. It must have been just after sunrise. A little while later we stopped for breakfast, then hit the road again. By early afternoon we were closing in on Tomás's town. By 4 p.m --- thirteen hours later --- we had finally arrived.
Tomas greeted us as soon as we reached the end of the dirt road. He is a short, stout, ramrod of a man, with a dark mustache that extends to either side of his face like airplane wings. Just behind the mustache lies a very serious countenance. He seems like Randas's opposite. While Randas is tall, relaxed and philosophical, Tomas is short, nervous and concerned with details.
It took him a moment to realize that we had not flown in an airplane, we had just driven all the way from Curitiba. "Are you crazy?" he blurted. "That's 1000 Kilometers!" Then he looked at me and asked if I shared with the driving. I told him that I offered, but Randas refused. Tomas rolled his eyes, as if to say, "After knowing Randas this long, I should have known he would do this."
Within minutes, Tomas brought us a clear lake at one end of his farm. Randas dove in. I walked in slowly, feeling the cool lake water surround my ankles, my calves, my thighs. It was such a comfort after the jarring drive. The bottom of the lake was soft mud, and my feet sunk with each step. Then I started to swim. After a while we returned to the farmhouse for the beginning of a festive night.
The house filled with Tomas's family and friends. People scurried about cutting fruit and cooking meat, rice and beans. Some drank beer as the late day sun disappeared beyond the leaves of the palm trees, and I went for a drive with a man who had a machete. He chopped down two small palm trees. These are the special palm trees which contain hearts of palm. The entire feast came from this land.
Everything about the farm spoke of the beauty of nature and the wealth of Brazilian soil. If Brazil --- known for its abundance of coffee, bananas, oranges, mangoes, papaya and passionfruit --- is the mother land, then Minas Gerais is her womb. The combination of heat, humidity and sunshine found in this area will grow anything.
Tomas's family had owned this coffee farm for years. When he began working as a heart surgeon 15 years ago, he gave his family money to build a house on the farm. It is one large, rectangular, wooden room with doorways leading to four bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. The windows open to a beautiful expanse of palm trees and coffee beans.
It was not the coffee that brought Tomas joy, it was the tall, broad, mango trees, or "Mangueiras." These trees once surrounded the house. Just last year his family chopped them all down while he was in Buffalo. They needed wood to burn to make bricks in their brick factory. There was other wood they could have used, but the mango wood was nearby. They did not call Tomas to ask his permission, and in three days, a few men with chainsaws felled the 30 majestic trees.
Tomas is devastated. He told me that he does not even want to visit the farm anymore. The two trees that remain are unpleasant reminders of the grove the once surrounded his home. It would take another 30 years to grow those trees again, Tomas told me. He would probably not be around to enjoy them.
We shared a wonderful evening of friends, conversation, food and drink. Randas smoked a cigar on the porch outside, and a group of people gathered around in the smoke to share stories. Around midnight, everyone went home. Then Randas and I fell asleep.
The next morning we woke around the same time. He said he wanted to pick some mangoes to bring home. When Tomas's mother learned of his plan, she gave him a small cardboard box to package the fruit. Randas smiled and told me, "I don't need this box. We will just drive the truck under the tree, shake it, and fill up the back of the truck."
We drove off to one of the two remaining mango trees. There were mangoes on the ground beneath the tree, and the buzz of bees and flies feasting on the fallen fruits filled the air. We could tell easily which would be the perfect mangoes; they were the one's that, once ripe, had fallen during the night. We picked them off the ground and put them in the truck. There were only about 12. I considered climbing the tree for more, but then decided it was not worth falling out of a mango tree and breaking an arm or leg for the sake of a few pieces of fruit.
I heard some rustling overhead, looked up, and it was Randas. He had already climbed the tree, and was shaking the branches. Mangoes rained down to the ground. I gathered them and put them in the back of the truck.
After a while we left the mango tree for grove of papaya trees. I stood under one tree, looked up and saw a ripe fruit. I shook the tree slightly, and when the papaya fell from the tree I caught it before it hit ground. Randas did the same. He sat by the side of the road, eating a breakfast of fresh papaya.
While he sat, I walked from tree to tree, looking for ripe fruit. I shook each tall trunk, and as a papaya fell into my hands, I pulled it apart with my fingers and devoured it's juicy orange pulp. It was the perfect start to the day, one I will never forget.
Later that afternoon it was time to head back to Curitiba. We drove a different highway, one that had fewer curves. At São Paulo we had a lunch of pineapple, bread filled with cheese, and a cornmeal delicacy which Randas adores, called "Palmonha." Randas also had chicken on a stick. Then he told me, "If you want to go to the bathroom, go now. We are not going to stop until we get home." And he kept his word, driving six hours straight without saying a thing. Though our elbows were just inches apart, in thought we were worlds apart.
The one-day trip to Tomas's farm was pure joy, capped off on
both ends with torturous 13 hour drives. I tried to understand why it
had to be so, but trying to understand doesn't work with Randas. As Tomas
explained to me, "He is crazy. He has energy like no one else."
I met some other people on the farm who know Randas, and they agreed on one
thing. You never know what he might do, and you should never be surprised.
He is not like other people.
24 December 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
As you may have read in a recent entry, I am going to try to help Randas sell the hospital where he works to a group of Japanese investors. In an effort to learn more about the Japanese business mentality, I have begun to read about the most successful Japanese businessman ever, Akio Morita, the CEO of Sony.
I would like to share a few excerpts from Sony: The Private Life, by Japan Scholar John Nathan. The book describes how Morita, who died two years ago, had to struggle with his deeply traditional Japanese instincts, while creating a persona that would appeal to American businessmen.
Here are a few sections which I enjoyed. They gave me insight into his character:
Peter Peterson, an investment banker and Sony board member, said, "When it came time for Akio to do business in the U.S., whether it was joint ventures or licensing or whatever, he could pick up the phone and talk to almost any businessman in America. And instead of its being 'Who is this again?' and interpreters and all that sort of thing, Akio knew these people at the human level, at the personal level. And let's be honest: To many American businessmen, the Japansese business culture is foreign; they don't feel comfortable with Japanese businessmen, and they don't know them to a large extent as human beings. But they did know Akio in that way, and therefore when he called, people listened."
Henry Kissenger was more theoretical: "First of all, the Japanese in my experience are not great communicators. They tend to operate within their consensus, and when they get dropped out of the consensus and get into a dialogue with other cultures, it's tough because they don't feel they have the authority to make independent decisions. So even for many of us who have Japanese friends whom we value, the problem of communication is very difficult. Morita could conduct a dialog, and while he was a very patriotic Japanese and a firm defender of the Japanese point of view, he could communicate it in a way that was meaningful to non-Japanese....He was probably the single most effective Japanese spokesman I ever met."
...I find his last section fascinating. It is part of an interview between Morita and Saburo Shiroyama, a well-known Japanese commentator. The two discuss the differences between Japanese and American management style.
Morita: Grammar and pronunciation aren't as important as expressing yourself in a way that matches the way Westerners think, which is very different from our thought process. You have to switch off your Japanese way of seeing things, or they will never understand what you are saying. First of all, they want to hear the conclusion right away; in English sentence structure, the conclusion comes first.
Shiroyama: I've heard that one of our Prime Ministers was on his way to the U.S. for the first time and asked you for advice, and you suggested the critical thing was to start right out with a "yes" or "no" followed by a brief explanation.
Morita: When they ask questions or express an opinion, they want to know right away whether the other party agrees or opposes them. So in English, "yes" or "no" comes first. We Japanese prefer to save the "yes" or "no" for last. Particularly when the answer is "no," we put off saying that as long as possible, and they find that exasperating.
Shiroyama: But in Japan, as you explained, we don't come out with "yes" or "no" but prefer expressions like "I'll take this under consideration." Our feeling is that vagueness in these cases is less offensive. So when you're in America, you must be clear; and when you return to Japan, you must be vague. Is it hard to switch back and forth?
Morita: It's more difficult than you can imagine.
So there you have it...a few short excerpts from some recent reading. I have been diving in and immersing myself in all materials that will help me to work with the Japanese. I think it is very likely that I will help Japanese investors to purchase the hospital where Randas works.
I would really like to learn more about Japanese culture before
this deal takes place, but to go to Japan and learn their language, and a whole
new alphabet with different characters, that would take months...and I have
a lot to focus on right here, right now, in Brazil.
25 December 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
I never told you this, but when my suitcase finally arrived in Brazil after being lost by my airline for five days, my razors were gone.
Razor blades are not the worst things to lose. I could have lost things that would be much more difficult to replace. I am a bit confused why razor blades were the only thing missing from my suitcase, and my best guess is that they fell out when the airline brought my bags through customs.
Of all the things to lose, razor blades might seem like a pretty minor detail. But out here in Brazil, I have not been able to find a replacement. You see, now I just have the handle (not the blades) to a great razor, the "MACH 3", by Gillette. It is, in my opinion, the best razor the company has ever made. It shaves off my whiskers and leaves my face smooth like a baby's face. And it doesn't hurt, which is most important.
The story of the safety razor goes back to 1903 when King Camp Gillette was working at the Crown Cork company. A friend of his, a man who was like a mentor to him, offered some advice. "Why don't you try to invent something like [a cork], which, when used once, is thrown away, and the customer comes back for more?" One day while he was shaving, back in 1895, Gillette had a moment of inspiration. Maybe he could make a razor with a disposable blade.
After spending eight years to design the razor, Gillette finally began production. The product became immensely popular. During World War I, Gillette supplied 3.5 million razors and 36 million blades to American soldiers, creating a customer base that kept buying razor blades long after the war ended.
My personal war with the airline ended about two months ago when they finally returned my suitcase, but every morning since, I have battled with a horrible Brazilian razor. Since they don't sell the MACH 3 in Brazil --- and I've looked in about nine drugstores --- I bought the best they have, which is made by Gillette. But it is an bad razor, and when I looked at the box to see where it was made, it was not manufactured in Boston, like other Gillette products, but in Manaus, a city in the Amazon. So I start every morning with a shave from a cheap blade made by indians in the rainforest. It's no wonder I have these little nicks and owees on my chin.
The irony of this whole story is that the MACH 3, the Rolls-Royce of razors, should be available in Brazil. Do you know why I say this? It is not just because I want a good shave, it is because when I began my quest for a razor, I had to learn to word for the device in Portuguese. The Brazilian word for razor is, "Gillette." So here is the one country in the world that uses the Gillette brand name for the noun, and they don't even have the latest model.
The Gillette company has been struggling lately. The new CEO, Michael Hawley, has recently brought in a team of six executives to turn the company around.
I'm going to write him a letter. I think he should introduce
the MACH 3 to Brazil. Not just so I can get a good shave in the morning,
but because every morning, millions of Brazilian men shave with their "Gillettes."
And I think if they had the choice, they just might reach for the best.
26 December 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
Randas's utilitarian value to you resides in what he can do to provide you with introductions to other movers and shakers. Or, secondarily, what his name can do to open doors for you in Brazil. It would be reasonable to ask him for introductions after you have established your credibility as a person who can perform well. Meaning after you finish his web site.)
If you could gain a reputation as a web site creator, you might find yourself with a gold mine. Remember, there is a big difference between Jose Morales, a fellow who cobbles together web sites at the Cafe Internet, and Jeffrey Luke, who possesses a seal of approval from the famed international surgeon Randas Batista.
With two months of hard study, you can make yourself a practical expert on anything from sewage treatment plants to arthritis treatments to stereo sound reproduction to web sites. You've already put in about 3 weeks effort. So you are well on your way to expert status.
I am sending you a recent article from the Wall Street Journal about a Brazilian Internet entrepreneur named Marcos Moraes, founder of Zip.net. "With the Web, the difference is that with relatively little money, you can build very large valuations, which you can't do in traditional Brazilian businesses," says Pedro Moreira Salles, chairman of banking group Unibanco SA, the source of the recent $10 million investment in Zip.net."
How about this: "Here's our window-let's go," says Martin Escobari, a 28-year old Bolivian and Submarino.com director. He says he managed to persuade one of his Harvard Business School professors to pony up more than $50,000 at the nadir of Brazil's recession." If he, a young foreigner in Brazil, can do it, why not you? All it takes is will, discipline, and all the stuff we've been talking about for the past year or so.
Find this guy Marcos de Moraes. Again, Randas seal of approval should get you an interview, of this I feel certain. Here's what the article says about him: "Marcos de Moraes...went to Japan to study Japanese for six months. He returned, he says, 'bitten by the high tech bug.' At the time, Brazil's government was considering the sale of private cellular concessions. McCaw Cellular was talking to Itamarati and other potential local partners. Marcos visited McCaw in Seattle and was drawn to the company's informal, entrepreneurial culture. 'I just loved it,' he says."
He sounds like your kind of person.
You've got savvy. You've got freedom. You've got taste in artistic matters. You've got insights into economic matters. You know America. You're understanding Brazil. How many people like yourself do you think there are in Brazil? The answer is, exactly one. Make use of this opportunity now.
I've been reading Paul Johnson's book called Modern Times. He makes clear again and again, how crucial timing was to the early success of the fascist leaders and how ignoring timing got Britain and France into the pickle they were in at the start of WWII. Time is the one commodity equally available to all. If you're in the right place at the right time, you can catapult yourself to rapid success. Otherwise you have to do it the incremental, hard slogging way.
Bill Gates would have been a great success no matter what. But his ability to pounce on the IBM opportunity and to create the DOS operating system catapulted Microsoft to a whole new level beyond anything he could have hoped for. (Remember, at one point he was eager to sell out to IBM for $100 million.) Barbara Streisand's hairdresser became an enormously wealthy producer based on his native intelligence and connection to her. (But he had to become her lover, yecch!)
Unknown little guys without PhD's can make it big if they are aware of what is going on and know how to take advantage of it. I say check out Marcos. Consolidate your worth to Randas. Regard your life as a nation on the move. Make the right moves. Be politically savvy. For all you know, Marcos may be desperate to have someone like you on staff right now. Get to work on Randas web page. Make it the most effective page on record. Exceed yourself. Pay your dues and pay them quickly. The time is ripe.
Wouldn't it be better to be intimately involved in a vital business that is growing by the tens of millions every month, than to have to fret about whether someone's 5x7 photos are ready? Don't get me wrong Jeff, I do admire your artistic talents. That's not the point. You can be a wealthy internet maven with artistic talents if you please. You can use your artistic talents to make wise decisions in hiring graphic designers to work for you. You can use your artistic talents when you take a sabbatical to do a photographic study of motel life in middle America. But wouldn't it be nice to have something profitable from which to take that sabbatical instead of having to worry about where your next thousand dollars is coming from? Wouldn't it be nice to be able to indulge your interests in cardiac surgery without worrrying about whether some snot nosed art director at Life Magazine thought your photos were worth a $1500 check? Wouldn't it be nice to retire at 40 and do whatever you pleased with your camera and notebook?
Here I am at the age of 50+ wondering where my income for the year will come from. Sure I have a busy January ahead of me, but after that what? Who owes me anything? I'm on the firing line to pay for life as I go. If you have capital, life pays you. Think about it. See if it arouses you.
See if it makes sense to you.
I'm going to be out of town for just about the entire month of January, so whatever discussion you may wish to have will have to be done in the next week. I've been spending a lot of time thinking about you and wondering how to encourage you to make the most of your opportunity. It would greatly delight me to see you achieve success beyond your expectations. I see no reason why you can't.
26b December 1999
Thanks for the inspiring letter. I will act on your suggestions.
Yesterday was the day that Randas finally told me he wanted to go ahead with the web page. I taught him everything he needed to know to make the page (he really wanted to know how do do it himself). I sat by his side and gave instructions all afternoon. We worked on it for more than 5 hours straight.
You learn a lot about a person when you work so closely. I will share stories when time permits.
We developed a really beautiful page...then he got on the computer after I'd gone to sleep and made many changes, in an effort to improve, and I think it was messing with a good thing. He did not save the page we had made, so much of our work is lost. I am not eager to tell him I don't like his design...this is a situation where tact is very important. I will try to offer guidance when I can, but I don't want to tell him that I don't like his idea.
I'm off to continue work on Randas's web page. Just wanted to say hi.
27 December 1999
I finally was able to read your recent web postings. Randas's driving habits are a dead ringer for those of my own father. When he was dying of bowel cancer, he drove out to Portland to help me build adarkroom. He was most proud of the fact that he was able to make the drive from Ohio to Oregon in 36 hours, stopping only once for a two hour nap. He was filled with glee about the times he was able to average 80 to 90 miles an hour on deserted stretches of the freeway. (None of those left anymore.)
Based on what you have revealed, I think I hit the mark
when I described Randas as a feudal baron. He appears to be a true egocentric.
Geniuses often are. It's the only way they can keep their programs on track.
Unfortunately, it also means that personal relationships with them can
be difficult to impossible. Sitting in a car for six hours of silence does
not sound like much fun to me. It strikes me not only as a waste of your
time, but a waste of his. One would think that he might have learned
valuable or just interesting things from discussing them with you. One would think that talking over the web page or the hospital purchase might have provided jumping off points for conversation. Clearly, you're dealing with a man who keeps his own counsel.
His eagerness to tinker with the web page you designed sounds exactly like my father (also Hitler and Stalin). These people could not brook the idea of others knowing more than they thought they did. Hitler in particular was a noted micro manager, often issuing orders directly to tiny army groups during his disastrous Russian campaign. It's not a good sign. If after five hours of close labor he could not see your talent, when will he see it?
So now you have to pussyfoot around the web page hoping that he will catch the hint that it needs help. If you criticize something that he is proud of, will he get angry? If so, you are in the position of one of Hitler's generals trying to explain to him that the Eastern Front will collapse. I hope, for your sake, that my analogy is exaggerated and inappropriate. What you would like to gain out of the web page experience is a great design which you can use as a portfolio piece. Randas should be in complete agreement with this goal and should be willing to take expert advice on how to attain it. I presume that you're not often advising him on where to make incisions in the heart and what sort of stitches to use in sewing it up. Why should he presume to tinker with things he knows little of?
28 December 1999
You got it exactly right. It is as though you were here with your own eyes and ears. How did you know?
I mentioned a few days ago that we had spent hours working together on the web page. It required a lot of patience on my part because he wanted to learn to do everything himself ("If I learn how to do it myself, I will never need someone to help me"). He thinks in a logical way and picked things up quickly.
Nonetheless, there I was, perched behind his left shoulder for several hours, and every time there was a problem with the computer or program (and this is part of the process), I had to solve it without touching the computer. I actually had to guide him to each window and tell him where to click. A few times I actually reached out to do a few quick keystrokes with my own hand and he told me not to touch.
Toward the end of the 5 hours we hit a few big problems which we didn't know how to solve. So he lit up a cigar, lay back on the couch, and smoked while I continued working on my own until I figured things out.
When the page was finally in order, I got up from my chair, a little dizzy after having been sitting for a while, and my head spinning from total immersion in the computer. It was not easy to try and teach him to design a web page, from soup to nuts in one day. I said something like, "Gosh, that was hard work."
He looked at me with distain. He was truly disappointed. "That's all you can do? That's your limit?," he said. "You should never let anyone know your limits. You are as bad as that nurse at the hospital who showed us how stupid she was." [Do you recall, she said that she had been looking for a plastic part for two years, with no success, then he made a call and located the piece in a few minutes?]
He said, "You are as bad as she." I pointed out that she claimed to have worked for two years and had no results. I had worked with him for one day and we had actually created a web page --- it was almost finished.
That didn't matter to him.
He went on to say that successful people never show you their limits. When they finish working on something, they act like it was a piece of cake. This makes other (normal) people think that they could goon and do much more. He said that geniuses are geniuses because of what people think of them.
"Which would you rather, to be a [jerk] and have everyone think you're a great guy, or to be a great guy and have everyone think you're a [jerk]?"
He told me that a lot of people think he's a Ph.D., but he's not. "I travel around the world, and people address me as 'Professor Batista,' but I never got a Ph.D. People treat you differently based on how they perceive you. And a lot of that has to do with what you say."
Then he asked me, "Which would you rather, to own a beat-up old car to drive around town, you can lend it to your family or your friends, or have a really nice Mercedes to drive, but it's not yours? The Mercedes, of course. It doesn't matter if it's yours or it belongs to someone else. The fact is, it's a Mercedes, and you're driving it."
That was all during our first day of work. Yesterday we put in more hours. After we were done, I said I was going out for a walk, and asked which key I should bring to get back into the house (there are about 5 fancy infra-red keys which open the front gate. Only 3 of them work, so it's important to make sure I have the right one).
It was about four in the afternoon...and after hours of web page help, he tells me, "You better bring the key, because I'm not getting up from bed for the doorbell...you'll have to climb the wall or something, but I'm not letting you in."
I believe you were accurate in your assessment. He is a driven man. When we began his web page, just as when he did that long drive, or when he does surgeries, he is the same way. He does not smile, nor does he offer encouragement or commendation. Perhaps in offering his idea about never showing your limits, he is offering me a piece of wisdom which, if I use correctly, will help me a lot in life. (I should tell you, I made the same mistake of telling him another problem I had worked through on the web page was really complex. He told me "You sound like that pathetic nurse. You mean it was a piece of cake...it was easy!"
29 December 1999
Thanks for taking the time to send me a lengthy and probing response. I can sense that you've been under pressure and have not had either the leisure or the mood to respond in this way till now. But I'm glad you finally did.
You must accept Randas as he is. Period. He is willing to have you live with him. In exchange, you must do as he expects and thank him for every insult he heaps on you. There is no room for negotiation and any attempt at such will find you out on the street with your expensive suitcase. Do not attempt to point out character flaws or flaws of any sort. You must think of yourself as an apprentice to a master. The master can ask you to do anything (other than immoral things) and you must do them. The master has the right to punish you as he sees fit and you must accept it. You are not in a democracy. You have no rights.
All that you have is a wonderful opportunity to learn. Randas is giving you a most valuable political education. If you paid $40,000 to study political science at Princeton, you would not get such a profound education as you are now getting. The lessons he is teaching you are pragmatic, Machiavellian, and deeply insightful. Study them carefully. Study them minutely. Study his interactions even with newspaper boys and waitresses. Study him in every way possible. If you master these lessons, you will be able to use them as needed in your life. Even more important, you will know when to use them.
Think: How would Randas have dealt with the street beggar? How would Randas have responded to Annahas? Why?
So, do not expend any energy on being offended or feeling hurt. All that emotional stuff is beside the point. Think of yourself as a scientist who is privileged to study a remarkable alien life form. It is a dangerous task but a rewarding one. When you have learned as much as you can learn, it is time to move on. Randas will never be a great friend. He will only be a great influence.
30 December 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
I have included the correspondence between Louis and myself as the diary entries for the past few days because they explain what's going on down here better than anything. I enjoy Louis's insights and his advice; he really puts a lot of thought into everything he does, whether it's his photographic assignments or the help he gives to his friends. That said, I have to be careful not to listen to everything he says; sometimes he's off-target. If I followed all of his advice, I might be in trouble. Just last week he suggested that I immediately talk with Randas about getting paid for helping him design his web page. This would have been a gigantic mistake, and for this reason I never broached the issue with Randas. If I had, it would have had disastrous implications. I would most likely be out on the street right now.
The other thing about Louis is that he loves to exaggerate. This is a wonderful part of his character. You should hear him tell the story about the time some con men tried to dupe him in Cleveland, or his story about his father's antics. He goes overboard in his descriptions, and this is something you have to keep in mind when he compares Randas Batista to Hitler and Stalin. He likes extremes, he loves hyperbole.
In the preceding entry he wrote "Randas will never be a great friend. He will only be a great influence."
Louis understands Randas only through my descriptions, and I can see where it would seem like Randas could never be a great friend. Randas is not a "nice" guy. He would probably agree to that himself. I think that Randas really is a great friend. I do not mean that in the way that we go to the zoo or have ice cream together. But he has welcomed me into his home for a long stay, and he has taught me some lessons that I will carry with me for life.
He could have shared his lessons only with his sons, he could have saved his breath and his time. But I think he cares about me, and in his own harsh way he has taught me what he thinks is important to know about life. I think he's trying to thicken my skin and toughen me up. He does this for my own good, not his own. The more that I accept him on his own terms, the more I value him.
Even in this web design process, I have learned from him. At first I did not like the changes he made the web page that I designed, but as he explained his reasons, I could see could see the logic behind his decisions. What I decided to do is develop a web page the way I think it should look while Randas works on his own. Every night I show him the writing, design and organization that I think works best. He can tell when he sees good work, and he's been incorporating my changes into his page. So without telling him to change his page, I present him with options. We have put together a great web site with our two minds working independently, then coming together to share and merge our best ideas into one site.
I consider Randas a great friend, whether Louis does or not.
I trust Randas, and I don't think he'd do anything intentionally to harm me.
I think he trusts me as well. He communicates directly; he tells me when
he's angry, and I can tell when things are good. He puts me to tests,
he criticizes my errors, and he teaches me how to solve problems on my own.
Randas shares what he thinks is most important in life. For this I am
grateful, and consider him among the best friends and influences that
I've ever had.
31 December 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazillian Diary
When we arrived at this seaside town around noon on New Year's Eve, it was sunny and beautiful. People were swimming, soaking up the rays, and deepening their tans. Ice cream, beer, and coconut vendors weaved their way around beach blankets and kids playing soccer on the sand. Everything was glorious until the rain came.
It poured and poured and poured. People gathered their belongings and dispersed like frightened mice, leaving the beach deserted. As afternoon turned to evening, I looked out the large sliding-glass window of our beach house at the rain-soaked sky. It blended perfectly with the grey ocean. There was no evidence of a horizon. All I could make out was one big sheet of rain.
As midnight approached, people who had run from the beach hours earlier with the first downpour emerged with fireworks, matches and beer in hand. They were determined to celebrate. It was the start of the millenium.
One man held an umbrella and another a firecracker while a third tried to light a soggy match, which broke. The whole night was one giant conflict between thousands of Brazilians waiting to dance, sing, eat and set off fireworks, and nature, oblivious to everything.
A few people said it looked like the end of the world was well on its way. I was looking for an arc and lots of animals walking two by two.
The New Year arrived with a few splutters and bangs. The biggest noise came from some guy who had backed their cars up on the beach, opened the tailgates, and blasted samba music from their car stereos so that everyone could dance. I could see that the owner of that tiny Fiat had covered his big speakers with trash bags to prevent them from getting wet.
I shared champagne with Randas and his family, and each person ate 12 delicious red grapes, which represented happiness, peace, and love for every month of the upcoming year. Then I walked to the beach wearing only shorts.
Everyone else on the beach was dressed likewise. It did not matter whether you were wearing swim trunks, t-shirts or shorts, you would soon be drenched. I walked the beach while finishing off my grapes. People danced and drank beer. A little rain was not going to steal their celebration.
I stayed awake until 3 a.m., long after the last people had deserted the beach. I wanted to watch that silly ball drop in New York. I usually avoid that t.v. show when I'm in the U.S., but I felt homesick. When the ball finally fell, I felt lucky to celebrate the New Year twice in one night. Even better, Dick Clark did not host the ceremony on Brazilian television.
I felt patriotic seeing those Americans sprawled across Times Square. I missed my mother land, and it was comforting to look at that 12 inch color t.v. I wished that it was really cold here so that I could bundle up in a jacket, hat, and mittens and endure all 32 degrees.
Many of the people that I meet here are extrememly curious about what life is like in the United States. Their curiousity is not simply a polite way of showing interest in me and my country, but a strong desire to know if the U.S. is really like what they see on television, in movies, on MTV and in magazines. Most people here have never been to the U.S., and many will never have the chance. I'd estimate that less than 1 out of 100 Brazilians will ever make the trip. If I'm wrong, that number is as likely to be less than more.
If I were to encapsulate my view of what makes it good to be an American, I would say it could be explained by looking out on the rain soaked sand of that Brazillian beach at midnight. All of the determination and perserverance that I could see in their celebration will not benefit them anywhere else in Brazil.
Unlike their counterparts in chilly New York, most Brazillians will never have the chance to make earn more money, educate themselves, and improve their lots in life. They have been deprived of these gifts because of a corrupt, greedy and inefficient government. No matter what we may say about our highly imperfect government in the U.S., my time in Brazil has taught me to value one truth.
Every American has the opportunity to succeed.