Jeffrey Luke's Brazil Diary
November 1, 1999
Foz do Iguacu, Brazil
I've been typing and uploading the Brazilian Diary from this Internet Cafe since I arrived in this small frontier town 5 days ago. As I've mentioned, I decided to find a place to stay for a week or two as Dr. Randas has left for India to perform his surgery, and he suggested that I go see the waterfalls in Igucu; they were exceptional, he said.
Cafe Pizza Internet is neither a cafe nor a pizza place, but it does offer an internet connection. Many of the computers in this place are ancient; it is clear that they were pulled out of the trash, recycle bins, or purchased at a discount. They work, however, and with one program which I have carried with me through Brazil, I'm able to upload to the web.
While writing the Brazil Diary and uploading it the other day, I forgot to eat lunch. It was about 3 pm., and all of the "lanchonetes" had closed. A girl who works at this place asked me if I wanted to have pizza, which her friend, Sergio, had just brought to share with her at work. I was very grateful, and as we ate, she told me --- in Portuguese --- a lot about the difficulties of life in Brazil.
Lilian (pronounced Lee-lee-ahn) is 25-years-old and very kind. She is good at troubleshooting computer problems when the internet connection fails. She also works as a cashier and makes long distance calls and photocopies for customers. I had seen her at Cafe Trigo, a nearby bakery/cafe a few evenings ago, taking her boss's daugher out for a Coke and cookies. I told her that I'd been having breakfast there lately and asked if she goes there as well in the morning. "Never," she replied, and I asked her why.
Her explanation gave me a powerful and efficient explanation of some of the difficulties of life in Brazil.
She said that her salary is $210 Reals, and I asked her if that was per week, and she said no, it was per month. Two Reals equal one U.S. Dollar, so she makes the equivalent of $105 per month. I did not know how she could pay for rent, food, clothing, etc., with that salary, so I asked how she does it. She said that rent is too much for her to pay, so as is the case with many Brazilians, she has pooled what she earns with her family and squeaks by. She lives at her boyfriend's house with his sister, mother and father. The father receives about $200 Reals in retirement benefits, and her boyfriend earns about $200 Reals per month.
Lilian combines her $210 with the father's $200 and boyfriend's $200 and they let her stay at their house. The total of $610 Reals gets divided by the five family members, so each person gets by on about $122 Reals per month. That gives Lilian about $30 Reals a week for anything she needs to buy. That's $4.35 Reals that she can spend each day, the equivalent of $2.15 U.S.
I can eat a nice breakfast at Cafe Trigo --- fresh bread, coffee with milk, a piece of pastele with cheese inside, and a pastry for about $4.00 Reals. That's pretty cheap, when you consider that's $2.00 U.S. If Lilian tried to eat a breakfast at Trigo, she'd use up her whole day's allotment at breakfast. So this computer savvy, intelligent, 25-year-old Brazillian girl has to find ways to get through each day. She eats lunch at a place that charges about $1.50 Reals for a decent meal. She doesn't buy any extras.
As we talked, her friend Sergio remained pretty quiet. I think he was shy, and every now and then he poured some more guarana soda into our glasses to keep them full, but that was about the extent of his contribution.
She asked me about life in the U.S., specifically what people earned in Seattle. I felt sort of bad explaining things, because even excluding salaries of workers for a fast-growing company like Microsoft, someone earning $500 a week in the U.S. earns 20 times what she makes. And, I should add, her salary is about twice as much as the minimum wage in Brazil. She is not going hungry. She is lucky.
I asked Lilian and Sergio, who's about 23, what they would do if they could go anywhere in the world, and his eyes lit up. He doesn't have a job right now, and a round trip to the U.S. would cost about $2,000.00 Reals. It would be a phenomenal amount for him to come across. He said he wants to save enough money one day to go to Las Vegas or Miami. I could not understand his enthusiasm at first, and explained that many people go to Vegas with high hopes of winning big, but more often than not they lose. I didn't mean to burst his bubble, but I just thought that he needed to know that if traveling to the Vegas doesn't happen, it wouldn't be such a loss. I don't know whether Miami is a utopia or not, but the more that we talked, I could tell it didn't matter; it was his dream. It wasn't anything practical, just something to look forward to. Sergio was entranced by the allure of big cities, money, and famous people. He said it would be very hard to save enough money to go there, but even if he has to wait until he is 50 to go to Miami or Las Vegas, it will be worth it.
I feel so fortunate to have learned a little about Lilian and Sergio's realities and dreams. I once read that "The purpose of traveling is to spread your life around the world." I would add that soaking up the lives of others is just as fulfilling.
Yesterday I traveled to Argentina. It was the best way to see the Iguacu falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I took a bus with some people from the hostel, and we walked up and down these steep dirt, clay and rock paths to get as close as we could to the falls. My senses were filled with the sound of cascading falls which you heard wherever you walked, the multicolored butterflies floating through the air, and iguanas, geckos and lizards which darted across the footpaths. I got so hot and sweaty climbing and descending that not even the mist that drifted off the falls was enough to cool me down. The sweat on my forehead seeped through my cotton bush hat that the whole front was sopping wet.
I found some people who wanted to take a boat on a ride underneath the largest falls. We strapped on life jackets and our guide got a full head of steam and took us as close to the falls as we could get without toppling the little metal boat. The water's force on my head, arms, legs was fantastic. It cooled me to the bone. The speed of the boat, the mist that forced it's way into my hair, eyes, every pore of my skin, all of these sensations of light, sound and pure water I will never forget.
The Eiffel tower was good to look at for a few minutes, the Grand Canyon was immense and the Louvre filled with amazing works. But I have never been as entranced with the sheer power of a place like I was soaring through the waterfalls at Iguacu. I think that of all the attractions of the world that I've witnessed, this wins out for it's majestic presence. And for all of those lizards running around.
The other night as I was looking for a place to get dinner, a guy came up to me and asked for money because he was hungry. He had one eye that looked at me, the other wandered. I know it's not wise to remove money from your wallet on the street around here. I just kept walking. He followed me for a few blocks and gave up, and relieved, I continued on to find a place to eat.
Later on in the evening I walked out of a place where I'd had an ice cream, and the guy was there again. He followed me, even though I walked really briskly. He was being really unkind and he kept asked me for money. He told me "You promised me you'd give me money". I remained quiet, didn't make eye contact, and walked briskly. I tried to cross the street to get away from him, but he jumped in front of me to prevent me from escaping. This was all happening fast --- in the space of 20 or 30 seconds. I could try to yell for help, but there wasn't anyone nearby. I thought I could run straight down the sidewalk as fast as I could, but I have heard it is best not to make any sudden movements in such instances. There was not an open store nearby to duck into; it was Sunday, 4pm.
I finally got to an intersection with a crosswalk. There were two taxi drivers sitting in their cars nearby. I headed straight for them. The man who'd been chasing me realized he couldn't pursue me any further. He spit at me, some landing on my shoulder, the side of my face. "Somanabitch!" he hollared and went on his way.
I have been in this town of Foz long enough. Dr. Randas is still in India and will be for another week or so. I'm going to try meet up with a friend, Tarsys Isset Poterio, who lives in Sao Paulo. We became friends in Madrid in '95 and he gave me his phone # and address. I talked with him two years ago. The only problem is that I can't find his phone number, though I had it last week. I think I accidentally threw it out while getting rid of some trash in my day pack. I tried calling an operator for the number, but she can find no listing for him in Sao Paulo. So I will try to find his number via the internet. I'm told there's a way. Simple things get very difficult when you are far from home. I do hope I can find a safe place to stay for the next week or so.
Until next time,
e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeffrey Luke's Brazil Diary
November 2, 1999
Foz do Iguacu, Brazil
I have found Tarsys' phone number in Sao Paulo. I spent the whole afternoon searching. I got dogged tired. I just kept thinking, 'There is a solution to this problem.' I kept calling the operator, I had a Brazilian person call the operator and spell everything out to make sure I wasn't providing an incorrect spelling of his name. Still no luck.
I came to this internet cafe, and Vladimir, a friend who works here, typed in Tarsys' name and the city where he lives into the computer. There were no listings at all for him, but about 10 for other people with his last name, Poterio. I was so frustrated. I left for the morning. Dr. Batista's voice was still in my mind, saying, "If you have a problem, then there is a solution." I returned to this internet cafe later in the day, and asked Lilian to access the same information on the computer. She printed all 10 names out for me, and I went to work. I pulled out a pre-paid phone card and went into action.
I walked down to the payphone at the intersection of Avenida Barosa and Rua Reboucas with the list of 10 names. I called the first Poterio on the list. The people wanted to know who I was, where I was from, why I was calling. I answered all of their questions, which apparently satisfied their curiosity, but they had no clue about my friend, Tarsys.
So I called the next name on the list. Again, they did not know who Tarsys was, and they wanted to know how I had found their number.
Their was no answer at the third and fourth numbers I dialed.
On the fifth call I hit paydirt. The guy said he did not know a Tarsys Poterio, but since I mentioned that Tarsys is a doctor, he said he knew a woman named Leda who had a cousin who was a doctor. He gave me Leda's number. Leda was so surprised I'd found her, she had the phone number for Rose Angela, Tarsys' mother, and she gave me his phone #. So I have just called and left him a message. Out of all of the people in Sao Paulo, I was able to find my friend.
If you have a problem, there must be a solution.
After leaving my message and phone number on Tarsys' answering machine, I returned to Cafe Pizza Internet to wait for his call. While I was there, I met Annahas, the man who owns Cafe Pizza Internet. He is Syrian, though he grew up in Germany. He lives here in Brazil and in addition to this internet cafe he owns a grocery store. I talked with him about this internet cafe. I told him I thought it was an ideal business. It has been extremely for me in my travels, and I have thought many times that it is probably the one business in this town truly poised for the future.
Annahas, who is 59-years-old, said business has not been good. It was better last year he said. He is printing up fliers to advertise this place to Brazilians, foreigners, tourists, students, etc. He needs more people using the computers, he said. He asked me what I do. I told him how I have been working with Dr. Batista photographing heart surgery, and he was very interested as he had quintuple bypass surgery performed by an Argentinian surgeon who invented heart bypass surgery (note to self: get his name, try to meet him). He was curious what else I do aside from heart surgery. I explained that recently I have focused my energy on researching the American stock market, and helping businesses in the U.S. to develop their strategies and bring in more business.
Annahas' son, Mazen who is 35-years-old, was at Cafe Pizza Internet for the day to help his father, who had just bought an Iridium phone. This phone cost about $1,395 in U.S. dollars, and it can make or receive calls anywhere in the world. It is the ultimate phone. I helped them to set up the phone to receive email, and I even sent Annahas's first email message from a computer in this cafe to his phone...it was so cool to type the message on a keyboard and see it a couple of minutes later on his telephone's readout!
Mazen was really interested in the photos I've making of Dr. Batista's surgery. He has read about Batista, and was very curious about his work. He wanted to know if I use film or digital cameras, and all of the details of the photography. Mazen does not live here in Brazil with his father, but runs a cattle breeding farm in Paraguay. As we talked, I realized he does not work in the fields with animals and plows, but instead he is a businessman and landowner. He does most of his work out of a city called Ciudad del Este. His farm is about 72,000 acres and covers a piece of land so great that it runs along 26 miles of the river which divides Paraguay and Brazil. The Paraguayan government is presently trying to break his farm off into 10 smaller farms, and force him to sell some of them to the government, because they say he has too much land. He is not happy at all about this, but he may have no choice.
Annahas and Mazen took me out for lunch and we had an intense discussion about the Brazilian economy, politics and opportunities for investment. Annahas says that Brazilian Banks charge 5% interest a month for money that they lend to businesses, and this is much too high a rate to pay --- it works out to 60% a year. This is especially high considering that the Real has been unstable in the recent past. He said that Brazilian banks will not lend money to any business that does not have a large cash surplus, even if it offers its office building or factory as collateral. The banks are afraid of having to sell office buildings or factories if a company is not able to pay its loan. The banks get such high interest for lending money that selling real estate slows down their profits.
Annahas said that excellent opportunities exist for outside investors willing to make loans to Brazilian companies at a lower rate, taking their buildings as collateral.
He said that the same opportunities exist for individuals who wish to lend money to Paraguayan businesses, but at rates highter than Paraguayan banks because their economy is much more stable than Brazil's.
Both father and son told me that 90% of all foreign investors are cheated in scams. They think they are buying one skyscraper for $10 million, but they are buying a different building. They think they're lending money with one piece of land as collateral, but the property doesn't exist.
The people who perpetrate these scams even cheated Assajas and Mazen. Representatives of the Argentinian government offered to sell them a government-owned petroleum company. This company had 20 gas stations, and Assajas and Mazen paid $50,000 as a downpayment and were about to pay $2 million over the next two weeks. Shortly after they made the downpayment, they learned that the petroleum company did not belong to the government, and it was not for sale.
This scam was so elaborately choreographed that Annahas and Mazen were introduced to the President of Argentina, Carlos Menem. Menem was told they were investors in his country, and he greeted them with open arms and hugs. The president didn't even know that they were being sold a fake deal. The whole scam was orchestrated by the president's mistress, and in the end, the father and son lost their downpayment. They were taught the valuable lesson that an investor should only touch a deal if he knows the business and people involved. You can't even trust the president of Argentina, because he may be an unwitting part of the con.
We had a really good talk over lunch. They've invited me to drive across the border to Paraguay tomorrow, so I'm meeting Annahas at his grocery store at 8:15.
I'll let you know how it goes.
e-mail me: email@example.com
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
November 3, 1999
Foz do Iguacu, Brazil
Annahas met me at the grocery store and we stopped by one of his other businesses, which I have referred to as Cafe Pizza Internet. I realized everyone else calls it CafePizzaNet so this is how I'll refer to it from this point on.
The cashier when we arrived, the one of the computer customers was paying for their internet use, and the cashier did not have enough change in the register for a large bill. So he called over to Annahas, the boss, to ask if he had any change in his wallet to give to the customer.
Annahas not only had change, he had a virtual currency exchange station in his wallet. The currency that stretched his leather wallet at the seams included Brazilian Reals, Argentinian Pesos, Paraguayan Guarani, and American dollars. After he had gently flipped through the thick wad of bills to the section with Brazilian currency he selected a few bills, pulled them out and handed them to the cashier. He then placed his wallet in his right rear pocked where it sunk like a small brick.
In order to understand why Annahas has such a stash of currency requires an insight into the business climate surrounding this frontier town of Foz do Iguacu, Brazil.
This is not a sleepy border town. It is a human ant farm, and every morning a stream of cars, buses, motorcycles and people on foot form a long line as they cross the narrow Amizad bridge which crosses the Parana river and links Brazil to Paraguay. This line grows as the day passes, backing traffic up for 3, then 4, then 5 kilometers on either side of the bridge. Animals and people carrying large boxes and bundles on their backs slowly move across the bridge. Though there is a customs station in Paraguay, cars are rarely stopped and people pass without being hasseled very often. Though the two countries are separate, it seems as though customs understands the need to get to the other side.
The fact that this line is born everyday at sunrise and continues until after dark is proof that the free market moves people en masse like no other force in the world barring gravity.
Today gasoline is less expensive in Paraguay than in Brazil, so a number of people will drive their tattered cars and pickup trucks to Paraguay, fill them with gasoline, syphon the gas out into tanks in Brazil, and cross the bridge again, over and over again to buy more gas.
There are examples like this for every possible consumable product. If a person can figure out how to earn a Real, Peso, or Buck by finding a discrepancy between the value of something in Brazil and Paraguay, they will be on this bridge.
Annahas explains to me that this corner of the world is an especially good place to be a businessman. Just one kilometer away, Argentina also shares a border with Brazil. Just as people take advantages in the discrepancies in prices between Brazil and Paraguay, the same thing happens between Brazil and Argentina, and Argentina and Paraguay. He tells me that some men take advantage of the exchange rates between these countries' currencies and do nothing but trade currency all day.
As Annahas explains the way the free market flows with the power of lava across these borders, I explain why his wallet is packed with an array of different bills. He travels across borders all day long. He has businesses all over the place. In the course of our day together he used different bills depending on where we were, and what currency was preferred there. I heard him speak in German, Portuguese, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic.
I will tell you about our trip to the market in Paraguay today, and as I do, please realize that though he lives in Brazil, he is an Arab. To understand why he has the success in this part of the world today, it might be of interest to view everything that happens against the backdrop of his Middle Eastern roots, nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the sod of Mesopotamia.
If today you visit the marketplaces of Manama, Bahrain, or Doha, located in Qatar, you will see the origins of the Paraguayan market.
We left CafePizzaNet and drove across the bridge to Paraguay. The drive was about 6 kilometers, but it took almost an hour on account of all of the people crossing the bridge. In the slow traffic, many people came to my window asking me if I wanted to buy oranges, toys, hats and bunches of other stuff. When we finally got to Paraguay, I realized that I was in a place I had read about in stories and seen only in action movie chase scenes; the open marketplace, filled with fruitcarts, children, animals and clothing. This was a bazaar.
People constantly came up to the car to sell us stuff. As I looked out my window, I could see one butcher stand after another, one string of sausage (calabresa) links hanging in the hot sun next to a huge cow liver. A side of beef. And then, the cow head, horns still attached. I haven't seen one of those since Haiti. It spooks me each time I see one, and I'm now accustomed to heart surgery. Ask yourself this: When was the last time I saw the decapitated head of an animal atop a table. Whether a human head or animal head, I'll bet you'd be a little grossed out either way. The thing about the market place is, someone will buy that!
This is the free market in action. It's down and dirty, it's in your face, and it's capitalism. People will try to sell anything. As the traffic stood still in the center of town, two boys, maybe 7- or 8-years-old, thrust their sponges and squeegees at our windshield. As the dirty water bled out onto the glass, they scrubbed and scrubbed. Though Annahas gestured for them to stop cleaning his windshield, they finished the job and asked for money. He refused, saying he had told them not to clean, and anyway now his windshield was dirtier, which it may or may not have been. But their desperate effort highlighted the hunger for food and money.
As we drove slowly through the badly potholed roads of dirt and stone, men and women walked up to the car to offer onions, bananas, cucumbers and tomatoes. He bargained for a low price on a few items, then drove us to his son, Mazen's, office.
When we walked in the door I saw Mazen lying on the sofa, legs propped up and looking very relaxed. This guy's got it made, I thought, here he is at work and totally at ease. He quickly pointed across the room to his cleaning lady and explained that she was mopping the floor, that is why he had to stay on the sofa for a while. In his big smile and rosy cheeks, Mazen is very inviting, warm and outgoing. Though he has scarcely any hair, the 35-year-old has a boyish quality to him. He wears shorts and a t-shirt, and as soon as he's greeted me, he begins talking with his father in German.
The office is a small room, and as you look down you see that the floor is made of beautiful big white tiles, and they are very clean. The sofa he sits on looks Arabic, as does the rug which sits in the middle of the room. A big, beautiful wooden desk has been placed atop this rug, and three solid, yet ornate and padded chairs encircle the desk. This is the kind of place where he would have an intimate meeting with businessmen, where they'd make the deal.
He brings out of the room and down the hall to another room, a much less elaborate one without the careful furnishings. This is clearly a room to hang out in. Mazen, who points to his computer and says, if you have any emails you'd like to check or send, feel free to use my computer. I'm so happy. You can't imagine how kind a gesture that is to me way out here. His father has to go take care of business. Before he leaves, he tells me to enjoy the computer while I can, while it's free. I can tell that the father, shrewd businessman that he is, wishes I had not been offered the free time. Friends though we are, and well off as he is, he still wishes that I were paying to use the internet
There are a bunch of men in their 20's who come into the office, ask Mazen a question in Spanish, then leave. He tells me these are the "boys," and I learn that there are about 4 or 5 of them who do all sorts of running around town, picking things up, dropping them off. They are the people who facilitate everything running smoothly. When Annahas suggests that I look into a digital camera so that I can upload photos onto my website, Mazen tells one of his boys to take me into town to a specific store that sells video equipment. Every hour it seems I learn something about Annahas and Mazen that surprise me. Not only does Mazen run an immense cattle breeding farm along a 26 mile stretch of the Paraguay river, he and his father run a bunch of different companies in both Brazil and Paraguay.
After I return from looking at the digital camera (it is small, cheap, and of poor quality, so I don't buy it) Annahas walks into the office. I ask him how things are going.
"I am very excited because of something I just learned" he says.
"What?" I ask.
"I own the most valuable piece of land in Paraguay," he explains. He pulls out a architectural drawing of a triangular piece of land situated among city streets.
"Last year the president of the Chamber of Commerce was killed," he said. "The city has decided to put a monument on my land in his memory, but they never asked my permission." Annahas went on to explain that his land is very valuable because it is triangular and is surrounded by the three busiest streets in the city of Ciudad del Este. He says he would have given the o.k. for the monument, but wishes the city has been more considerate.
I ask him if he means he is upset, not excited.
"No, excited," he insists.
So excited, in fact, that we will go to the monument's dedication ceremony.
e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
November 4, 1999
Foz do Iguacu, Brazil
Today my web page went down and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why. There are not any events of interest which transpired on this day. An explanation of the details of this crisis will follow.
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
November 5, 1999
Foz do Iguacu, Brazil
Annahas and I drove to Paraguay for the dedication of a monument in honor of Hussein Jaijjin, the former president of the Ciudad del Este Chamber of Commerce. There are many stories in Paraguay about who killed the Lebanese businessman, and for what reasons, but no one really knows why.
According to Annahas, Jaijjin was a good man, but someone "who had a mouth that was too big. He spoke out against those who were stealing and corrupt." That is his best guess as to why the Lebanese businessman was killed inside his retail store last spring.
Today was the one year anniversary of his death.
As I mentioned in a recent entry, the monument was built on Annahas's land without his permission. While he was there in part to pay respect to the slain business leader, it seemed to me that he really wanted to have a talk with those who made the decision to install the monument, and perhaps demand an apology. Smart businessmen, of which I would count Annahas one, do not waste time. Every effort has a purpose.
After parking the car near the triangular strip of land that Annahas owns, we walked to the corner where the monument was located. We could not see it yet, as a Paraguayan flag had been draped over it and held in place with four small stones to hide it until its unveiling. It was approximately 7 feet tall and from the parts that were not covered by the flag, it looked like a big piece of charcoal-colored granite, with a natural shape and not overly polished.
Many of the people who milled around were Arab. You could tell from the dress, the fact that several men had strings of beads which they let slip through their hands as they talked with each other. Many of these Arabs have lived in Paraguay and Brazil since the early part of the century, but a greater amount immigrated from Lebanon during the war in Beirut in the early 1980's.
There were also police and military men there, and a five piece band: a tuba player, drummer, trumpet, --- I forget the rest --- maybe a clarinet and a violin. In any case, everyone was milling about, the town's video camera was there, a few radio reporters and 2 or 3 photographers were there to record tribute.
The event was like many I have covered as a photojournalist, and like many that you've probably witnessed or seen via television or the movies at some point. About four or five city officials shared kind words, spoke of what a pillar of the community this man was, etc. etc. Then there was a moment of silence, then the band played a song, then the wife spoke a little. If you haven't seen such a ceremony, you have not missed a lot. I usually can't wait for them to end. I don't mean to seem unsympathetic about such things, but the way they are planned must be like, "Well, we really should have a lot of things planned and make sure it lasts a long time so no one will feel like we're shortchanging his life tribute...so what should we fill all this time with?"
What did I do to keep interested? Well, I brought my camera along, and it was just the right camera to bring. One of the last things I purchased before my trip to Brazil was a very small camera, a very simple camera, with a lens made by Carl Zeiss. If you're not a photographer, it's enough to know that these are very fine lenses, and this camera will take a photo with such sharpness that you will be happy.
This camera is also very small. It fits easily in one hand, and also in my pocket. And to top it all off, it has a special viewfinder on the top so I can look down at my camera and take a photo of someone without them ever knowing I'm taking their picture! It's exactly what I needed today.
I walked around and looked for interesting people. Two young women talking with each other, gesturing wildly (my camera was nowhere near my eye, so they didn't shy away!); the mayor of the city standing next to the chief of police, both talking on cellular phones (it was so funny, I had to catch this scene); a close-up shot of a a string of beads as a man caressed them in his hands, which he held behind his back. I photographed two street children who walked up close to get a look during the ceremony.
I also took a few close up pictures of the chief of police standing next to a general. They looked so funny, they had the same looks! They had these straight, narrow legs, then these big bellies that sort of lept over their belts and then stopped, hovering over, defying gravity. So I held my little camera down low, angled it just right, and snapped the photo. "How funny these will look," I thought. I finished one roll and started another. I was having such a good time. After the ceremony was over, one woman started crying and I made a really up-close shot of her being hugged and consoled by another.
Just then a man came up and asked if I'd photograph a woman with the police chief and mayor. I said sure and made the photo. A few minutes later she came up to me and asked me when I would develop my film, that she would like to have a copy of this photo to put in her office. I told her when I return to America, I will send her a photo. She seemed displeased and upset. She said she knew of a one-hour place. I thought to myself, "Oh, right, you're going to take these absolutely cool photos to some Paraguayan photo lab, I might as well try developing them in Coca Cola with Mountain Dew as stop bath and 7-UP as fixer".
Then she turned to Annahas, owner of major portions of Brazil and Paraguay, and asked him to assure her that she would have a photo. It turns out, she was the daughter of the slain man.
It was one of the first moments in my life where I realized I was smaller than the event at hand.
It's like when the Mafia boss asks you to do something, and you just do it because you're supposed to and no one gets hurt and everyone's happy and you don't even want to know all of the details of how the machine works, you just want to get it done and get out.
Well, I handed over the film. It turns out that Annahas's son's wife owns the best photo lab in Paraguay. I don't know exactly what that means. All I know is that from the moment I handed over my film, I was a little bit scared wondering what those people will think when they see my photos, and if they'll be mad at me. I wonder how powerful they are, and what they'll do.
And I wonder now if I will ever see those photos.
e-mail me: email@example.com
Jefffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
November 6, 1999
Foz do Iguacu, Brazil
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
November 7, 1999
Foz do Iguacu, Brazil
As many of you know, this web page disappeared for a few days last week. Many readers found only a blank page, some found partial pages.
I tried very hard to fix this problem. I feel a responsibility for each person who is interested enough to log onto this web site and learn about my adventures in Brazil. It is an honor that people care and very frustrating to feel like I'm letting my readers down when they can't find the site.
As soon as I learned of the problem, I contacted the company that hosts this web page. It is a powerful internet provider that boasted of strong customer service. I knew I may run into problems during this trip, which is why I chose them. I cannot access their 1-800 number from here, but I can reach them via their 24-hour live tech support.
I accessed their tech support through their web page, and after giving my email address, I was connected with a woman named Diane. She asked what the problem was. I explained the blank page and she said there was a problem with the temporary files on the computer I was using. She told me to go to the computer's control panel, then to toolbox, and then delete the temporary internet files. Her suggestion did not fix the problem. I asked her how deleting files from this computer in Brazil would remove blank pages that my readers in the U.S. were encountering.
There was no response. Then another customer's name was appeared in the tech support the dialog box along with mine and Diane began answering his question. Another tech person took my question, and explained that the reason for the problem was that my computer was beginning to "like" the web page in its temporary memory, or cache, more than the real web page. This still did not explain why my readers would find a blank web page.
Two more names appeared in the tech support window on my computer screen. To the left of the window where I typed questions and they would type answers was a list of five tech support people, the three people who they were actively helping, and two people who were waiting for assistance. My name was on the active list, yet they began to ignore my questions. I typed a plea for someone to help get my web page going again. No response. I spent a half hour typing short messages asking for assistance. Each of my messages was interspersed between another customer's questions and tech answers. It would not be possible for anyone to have missed what I was writing. I could see everything. Yet my questions were simply ignored. I wrote things like this:
"Hi. I just need to get my web page back on line. Please respond."
"I'm in South America, cannot call you by phone, please help to solve this problem. This is serious."
"Hello Mindspring. Would you please call me -- I cannot reach you by phone. My number is 11-55-45-523-2122. Please call."
I felt so helpless. I began to think that perhaps the tech people were actually making my questions invisible so they could ignore them. I felt like a drowning man calling for a life preserver, and everyone around was ignoring me. I had been ignored by tech support for almost 45 minutes when suddenly I noticed this message from another Mindspring customer:
"Is anyone helping "jeff" ? He's really been trying to get some help."
I was elated. Someone had noticed. I responded:
"Thank you so much. This shows that my messages are visible. Please try to get someone to help."
Nothing happened. The person who had noticed my name had his problem solved and was off-line. I wondered why I was being ignored. Had I asked them too many questions already? Did they not know the answer to my question? Maybe it was because when they told me to go to control panel, then the toolbox, I did not know which icon was the toolbox. I wrote that I could not tell which icon corresponded to "toolbox", because all of their labels were in Portuguese, and the word was not similar to words for "tool" or "box." Whatever the reason, All of the tech people decided to ignore me..
An hour had passed. I was getting incredibly frustrated at paying for this service, knowing that they could see my messages, and knowing that I was being ignored on purpose. I looked at the names of the other customers who were being helped. Then I got an idea. I would write to one of the other customers. I typed the following:
"d_deavins, can you read this? I'm trying to get tech support from Brazil, no one answers."
A moment later, a response: "Yes, I can see your questions...they're right here."
I then wrote, "Thank you, d_deavins...I cannot understand what's going on. But at least I know for sure that the tech support people can see the messages I'm writing."
And then my connection was terminated.
The screen went blank, and a red box appeared on my screen indicating a serious error. The box remained on the screen and I could not remove it. While I was trying remove the box, Annahas asked me if I wanted to go to lunch. I said yes.
As we drove off to his cafe, I could not stop thinking about how unkind the people at the internet company had been. I had really hoped that they would help me solve this problem. I thought wrong. It made me feel as though most people don't care about anything but themselves.
While we were having lunch, an incident occurred to someone else which seemed to parallel my own bad experience. Annahas and I were enjoying our Syrian bread, cheese, freshly squeezed orange juice and olives when I noticed a tall, thin, dark-skinned young man running past me on the sidewalk. My chair was positioned so that I could not see him approaching from behind, only when he passed me and continued on. I thought, "he sure is running fast!" He was being chased by a slower white man, and it was clear he would never be caught. A few seconds later Annahas and I glanced across the street and saw three people --- they looked very lost, confused and frightened. It turns out they were Argentinian tourists (Annahas told me this after he heard their accent) and they had just been robbed.
I tell you this story because I think the helpless way that they felt on that sunny afternoon after being robbed was probably similar to the way I felt. They were out on the street, surrounded by other people who may have seen this happen, yet for whatever reason, no one did anything to help. The victims probably wished someone had stepped out and helped tackle, trip, grab or catch this guy. No one even tried. The only man who chased was one of the victims.
Because I walked out of my bad tech support experience and witnessed this second injustice, I was able to see the connection between the two. Both showed a complete lack of responsibility and respect.
Both experiences reminded me of something that an acquaintance in Seattle, Washington once told me. His name is Steve, and he said, "People don't care about anything unless it affects them directly."
I met Steve when I first moved to Seattle. I was playing basketball and he came up to me and asked if I he could play. He was about 35 years old and had a weeks' worth of stubble. He also had an orange streak running down the front of his T-shirt, the result of his habit of guzzling an entire quart of orange juice at one time.
He had hair on both sides of his head and in the back as well, but none in the front. This absence of hair was not an effect of pattern baldness, but resulted from his habit of rubbing his forehead with his thumb and forefingers when he was immersed in thought, which was always.
Steve was driven by a singular obsession. Whereas some people obsess about washing their hands repeatedly, counting the white lines on the road as they drive, or keeping their homes as sterile as operating rooms, Steve is obsessed with disproving the existence of Astral Soul Travel, E.S.P. and other psychic phenomena.
Steve went to a psychic fair (palm readers, tarot, crystal balls, etc.) back in the 1970's and had learned some introductory information about Astral Soul Travel from a Seattle-based group called the Inner Peace Movement. On New Years eve of 1976-77, he sniffed some glue and smoked marijuana with friends. These substances, mixed with his introductory knowledge of Astral Soul Travel formed a potent cocktail.
He wound up strapped down on his back to a bed on the 5th floor, psychiatric ward of Harborview hospital. As he explained it, "the demon seed entered me through my pee-pee, I could see my mother's feet under the bathroom door, and I saw all of these people from my high school class Astral Projecting into my room and flying around near the ceiling."
It was a memorable night in his life, and the effects linger to this date. "Linger" is putting it gently. The effects rule his every waking moment.
I have fond memories of my conversations with Steve since our first meeting on the basketball court. Sometimes I'd run into him at Taco Bell, sometimes just walking down the street. I'd often encounter him while he was interrogating a total stranger about whether they think psychic phenomenon exist. He is forceful and persistent until all of his questions have been answered to his satisfaction, which they have not yet been in 22 years and counting. He always has another question, and each answer leads him to another question...
His entire life is directed toward trying to prove that there is no such thing as Astral Soul Travel, so that he will know that those people that frightened him by flying around in his hospital room were not real, existing only in his imagination. He calls the Inner Peace Movement, the group that probably wishes it had never taught him about Astral Soul Travel, about 20 or 30 times a day. He also calls the Dyanetics organization (collect, through payphones throughout Seattle) about 10 or 20 times a day with questions, all of them directed toward easing his mind and disproving metaphysical phenomena.
I think his greatest fear lies in the possibility that what happened to him on New Year's Eve '76-'77 might happen again. As he said to me on many occasions (it was a sort of mantra):
"There's no going back to the same mental emotional state, the same mental emotional cycle or erasive wipeout amnesia factor of the years in between, it's all associative..."
...and then he'd look at me and ask plaintively, "Right Jeff?", hoping dearly that this was true.
He also liked to confirm with me that there was no truth in the metaphysical theory that it was possible to interpret other peoples' personalities by the shapes of their heads. He had heard that there are four types of people, (Feelers, Visionaries, Prophets, Intuitives), and you can tell which group a person falls into by the shape of their head (skinny headed people, round headed people, etc.) He wanted me to confirm for him that it was 100% baloney. Because if I would disprove this form of metaphysical phenomena, it would bring him one step closer to disproving it all.
Steve would call the people who he saw Astral Projecting in his hospital room. They were in his high school class then, and now one is a doctor living in Seattle, one is a lawyer in Bellevue, and one is a Rabbi on Mercer Island. He calls them each a few times (or 30 times) a week. From what I understand, they detest his calls, but can't stop them because he calls from many different places. He says he calls them to make sure they don't ever recall Astral Projecting into his hospital room.
Steve used to ask me regularly for my phone number, buy I never gave it to him. Because I like to sleep at night and I have to use my phone for work during the day. A string of 25 or 30 (or more) calls could seriously affect both activities. He always said, "Hey Jeff, I won't bug you, I won't call you much, just once in a while." But based on his history of bothering others with the phone, and the fact that he told me about how many restraining orders were issued against him (telephone restraining orders), I thought it best to keep our contact limited to the basketball court or other such chance meetings.
One day I was walking down the front steps of my apartment building as he was passing by. Just as I was thinking, "Oh, No!," he was probably thinking, "Yes, now I know where he lives." I kept walking without saying a word and got into my car. It was probably just a matter of moments before he clandestinely learned from someone at my apartment building what my name was, and then he checked the phonebook or operator for my number. And then he began calling me. Many, many, many times a day.
The calls have stopped ever since I moved to Brazil. Do you know that saying?:
"When you play with fire, you get burned".
Well, I have come up with my own sort of corollary:
"When you play with obsessive phone callers, you get obsessively phone called."
I share with you this story of Steve because of that phrase he shared with me: "People don't care about anything unless it affects them directly". He insisted that the people who were so upset with him calling with his obsessive questions were only concerned with how they were being bothered. (And, I would add, he only cared about how his questions about psychic phenomena affected him!) He always said that the people he called did not care that he was going through his own torment.
Though Steve is insane, I think there is a lot of validity to what he said. Because when I examine my own experience with my web page and tech support, I realize that they don't care in the slightest about me and my problem. My problem was probably more difficult to solve than those of other people. It would have taken thought and work. They were doing what they needed to do to get paid, and it didn't matter if they helped me or not. I could easily be ignored.
Through all of this I have begun to truly appreciate those few people
who are sincere in their care for others.
e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
November 8, 1999
Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil
Today I spent the entire morning helping Annahas to design his new advertising flyer. Then I went to the youth hostel where I'm staying and asked for their permission to include a map with their name and address in this flyer. I believe that the hostel will provide many internet customers, since most Brazilians in this area can't afford even a reduced rate, and many 20-something backpackers are looking for a place to retrieve and send e-mails. I asked the people at the hostel if we could include their logo and address on the flyer, and they said "sure".
I was exhausted after all of the graphic designing, and I just wanted to go outside, get some fresh air and coffee. It was raining heavily when I got to the front door. Annahas asked where I was going. "I'm thinking of getting a cup of coffee, but I don't have an umbrella or car...I'm going to get soaked if I try to cross the street," I told him.
"Here, why don't you come with me?" he asked. "I will take you for coffee." We dashed out in the pouring rain to his car. He drove us to Cafe Laurent.
It is hard to believe that this cafe exists in Brazil, much less in the small frontier town of Foz do Iguaçu. It is the most elegant French bakery and cafe I've ever been to, and I've been to Europe on more than one occasion. Cafe Laurent is an art gallery, where the art is cake. The walls are adorned with about 10 black and white photos. A simple image of a pear catches my eye. On the ceiling, squares of cotton pinned from their corners billow down toward you as though they were stuffed with clouds. The works of art are the chocolate mousse cakes, cookies, tortes and croissants which are on display in beautiful, clean glass cases.
When you look at one of the cakes you first notice the deep, dark sheen of the thin chocolate icing. This sheen is a property of the best Belgian chocolates. You won't find it in Brazilian, Swiss or American chocolate. Upon closer examination you notice the light dusting atop the cake, a simple, round treasure.
One cake is frosted with white icing and the sides are decorated with thin cross-sections of kiwi and strawberry. Not big, clunky, syruppy or shiny fruits. Delicate, almost translucent and elegant, the embellishments are just what's needed, nothing more. They have been applied to the white-iced cake with the care, sensibility and subtlety of paint to a canvas.
Soon after Annahas and I had begun to sip our cappucinos a woman walked by and said hello. Annahas introduced us, and told me that this was her cafe. I had just begun my cappucino, and their was something about the drink that made it the best I've had. It had a caramel or almond flavor which must have been revealed from the bean in a perfect roast. There was a dallop of freshly whipped cream, and shavings of Belgian chocolate topped it off.
I told her what a beautiful place she had, and how much I liked the coffee. She took my compliment very humbly and gracefully. Meeting her was like meeting an artist or author. Jaqueline has fair skin and blonde hair, and she's probably 30. She's part Italian and part German, and her European looks set her apart from many of her Brazilian brethren. Her lips seem perpetually pursed in the concern and attentiveness required in running her cafe.
We asked her to join our table, and she obliged. As we talked I realized that in addition to creating these baked goods, she is a very successful businesswoman. She told us that an engineer will come to the cafe tomorrow to decide on the best way to knock out the back wall of her cafe. She will build a kitchen which will be separated from the dining area by a pane of glass with the cafe's logo frosted on top.
Jaqueline owns another cafe, which is larger than this, a few kilometers away. In the next year she plans to open another cafe in Rio de Janeiro and one in São Paulo.
As we talked her eyes darted from our conversation to what was going on around us. She was concerned because she has had a lot of problems with the 15 employees that currently work for her. One of them is six months pregnant and has begun to show up 1/2 hour late for work on a few occasions. When she took the job three months ago, she didn't tell Jaqueline that a baby was on its way. Labor laws protect the future mother, and Jaqueline is stuck with an employee she can't count on.
We talked for a while longer and then Annahas and I were on our way. It had been a nice break in our day.
A few days later I stopped by to say hi and Jaqueline said she was about to finish up with work at the cafe --- she asked if I wanted to go out for a drink. I got a strawberry milkshake and she a Chops, the local draft bear. She was very excited to learn that I'm from Seattle. She told me she spent three months there last year, and showed me a bunch of color photos that she'd taken. It turns out she frequently travels to Rome because she likes to buy fine clothing there, and she also goes to Asia --- I think she said Japan.
A year or two ago she had one of the Kennedys as a boyfriend. Apparently the Kennedy family had roots in England, and while some of the family went to the United States, some traveled to New Zealand. The man that she met in Rome (A bar, nighttime, he called her over for one drink, then another) lives in New Zealand. The son of the mayor of Auckland, she said he is "very tall, very strong, and desirable to the woman of Auckland." I asked her why she's no longer dating him, and she said the while she visited him in New Zealand and he visited her in Brazil, in the end neither wanted to give up life in their own country to be with the other.
I asked her if she liked to samba, and she quickly said 'no.' I had asked a dark-skinned woman a few days earlier if she danced samba and she said of course -- "A morena (dark girl) who doesn't samba is dead in Brazil," she said with a laugh, indicating the severity of the crime with a swipe of her fingers across her throat.
Jaqueline explained that she likes opera, tranquil kinds of music, like American music (???) and classical music. It seemed apparent that it was important to her to distance herself from the typical Brazilian culture, or at least to show me that she is nothing like other Brazilians. When I asked her if she likes rice and beans, she made it clear that she does not.
Jaqueline reminds me of the woman in a song by João Gilberto. Here's the first verse --- forgive me if I make mistakes...this is from memory, and I've translated the best I can --- but I think this does the trick:
Pra Que Discutir com Madame
Madame diz que raça não melhora,
Que a vida piora, por causa do samba.
Madame diz que samba tem pecado,
que samba coitada devia acabar.
Madame diz que samba tem cachaça,
mistura de raça, mistura de cor.
Madame diz que samba, democrata,
é musica barata sem nenhum valor.
Why Argue with Madam?
Madam says that the race won't improve,
That life will get worse, because of the samba.
Madame says that samba is sinful,
That samba, poor thing, must be put to an end.
Madame says that samba is cachaça,*
mixing the races, mixing the colors.
Madame says that the democratic samba
is cheap music with no value.
* A Brazilian rum or brandy which has traditionally been consumed
by the poor, but more recently has become popular among the elite.
Jaqueline told me that I should be careful to remove my wristwatch when I walk around town. Two weeks ago she was driving in her deluxe Mercedes, when three men with guns stopped her at a traffic light, demanded that she get out of her car, stole her purse and car, and disappeared.
She told me about her Siberian Husky, Charlotte, who really likes carrots. This morning Charlotte had hot cereal with her carrots. She spends her days at home with a maid who cleans the house and prepares meals for her. At night, the dog doesn't sleep on the floor, choosing instead her doggie bed.
"Your dog has a better life than many people in this country," I remarked. Jaqueline agreed.
I had met a man at Cafe Laurent who told me he was a lawyer. We had been talking for a while, Oswaldo and I, when it started to get dark. I asked him if he was hungry, and if he wanted to get something for dinner. He told me he doesn't eat until late at night when he returns home to a meal prepared by his maid.
"The poor eat dinner much earlier than the rich in Brazil," he said.
"They eat at 6:30 or 7:00 pm, so that they can watch the novelas. Then they go to make babies, then go to sleep," he said.
I'm fortunate to have had the chance to see Jaqueline's cafe and learn about her life.
Along with Lilian and Annahas's stories, this entry rounds out a trilogy encompassing three very different lives in the small town of Foz do Iguaçu.
Until next time,
I send my best.
e-mail me: email@example.com
Well, today I will leave Foz do Iguaçu, the friends I have made here and a bunch of memories that seem like they belong to a lot more than two weeks of my life. I'm a little sad, it feels like leaving my first home in Brazil. I've found a bit of a routine for eating, writing and sleeping that feels natural. I went by Cafe Pizza Net to say goodbye to everyone. I've spent a lot of time recently helping Annahas to improve the internet cafe.
I have been consulting with him on a myriad of issues involved in running this business. Our lunch-time conversations out in front of his restaurant/supermarket have become a regular thing. Today I helped him to locate a software program by researching it on the web. The program will help him to keep track of how long people are using his computers for internet use. They currently have a really primitive system. He thinks that people are underpaying for their internet use.
During lunch today I explained to him the importance of trusting the 4 or 5 people who work for him. He is very wary of them, thinks they may be giving their friends free internet time or long distance phone calls (this is another service they offer here) or otherwise taking what they shouldn't.
This computer time-tracking program is a tactical way to keep tabs on things and try to keep a close eye on how much time is used, and how many dollars are collected, but it's not a sound long-term strategy. I explained to him that if he really wants to succeed, his employees' concerns and those of the business must be the same. They will respect and trust him only if he respects and trusts them.
I've been trying to help him form an alliance with the people that work for him, those are the seeds I'm planting. I feel fortunate to have been able to learn about this little corner of Brazil, and I told him how much I liked spending time with him, taking our trips to the Paraguayan market, and sharing lunch each day. I told him he was a good man. "That is a very kind thing to say," he said. It seemed as though I had earned his trust.
Then she said she had read some of the Brazilian Diary. I was caught off guard. Yes, I was glad she had read it, but she was the first Brazilian who had read the diary and told me. I asked her which part she had read, and she told me she'd read about the entry in which we had pizza for lunch when I first arrived in Foz. Suddenly I was scared. Not only was she my first Brazilian reader, she was the subject of the essay. Had I accurately described her job, her life?
"What do you want to do with the Brazilian Diary?" she asked me in English, and without waiting for my reply her eyes lit up and she suggested, "You could make it into a book, or maybe a soap opera."
What an insult, I thought, for her to suggest that this Brazilian Diary, into which I have poured so much time, could be turned into a soap opera. I made a fist and had already started my soft punch into her stomach, but then I realized this was not an insult. Just before it landed, I pulled my punch. She was offering me a supreme compliment. She was talking about the telenovelas, the Brazilian soap operas, which appear nightly on television. Novelas feature the best actors and screenplays in the country, and they are of better quality than Brazilian films, which usually feature second-rate actors and weak scripts.
I have observed that no matter what people are doing at 9pm, whether heart surgeons, ice cream scoopers, or taxi drivers (you can even find little televisions at taxi stands), the television goes on and everything else gets put on hold for an hour once the novelas begin. If a Brazilian religion exists, it is the worship of novelas.
I smile and thank Lilian for her compliment. She seems perplexed that I doubted her sincerity for a moment. The more I think about what she has suggested, I think she may be right. Brazilians have been sharing these glimpses into their lives. As a resident nomad, I've been telling their stories. I imagine each of these entries expanded into a short film that Brazilians might want to watch each night. I thank Lilian for her good idea.
e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
November 10, 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
Entire day spent travelling from Foz do Iguaçu to São
Paulo, Brazil. Please log on again soon for new entries.
November 11-13, 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
Settling into São Paulo, Brazil, writing the Brazilian Diary
and searching for a place to upload it to the world wide web.
November 14, 1999: 7:20pm
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
São Paulo, Brazil
What does this country know about itself that the rest of the world doesn't? Brazil has been an enigma to the outside world, the glass that simultaneously appears half full and half empty. This country possess an abundance of natural resources --- diamonds, gold, agriculture, petrochemicals --- and an enormous workforce, yet it struggles to keep its head above water in the world economy.
In an effort to learn why this third-world country cannot lift itself into the echelon of first-world power, I've asked several people who I've met to explain why they think this country experiences such poverty, inflation and economic instability.
The first person to whom I posed this question was Annahas, the Syrian businessman who I met in Foz do Iguaçu. When I asked him "Why is Brazil not a greater success?" he said, "That is the question everyone asks. All of the ingredients for success exist, yet we never move forward."
"The answer is simple," he said. "It can be stated in one word: Corruption."
He explained corruption using an example. He said that his town needed a new bridge, yet the cost for its construction was a prohibitively high, $10 million. When the tax dollars to finance the project were finally secured, the bridge was never built. The money disappeared, and no one knows where. This type of curruption exists everywhere in Brazil, he said, and this is the reason that people remain poor while the economy stagnates.
Another Brazilian told me a story which must be folklore, because it was told to me a week later, hundreds of miles away, by someone else. Some of the details of the second telling had changed, but the message behind both stories was identical.
The mayor of a Brazilian city wanted to have a mural painted on a large wall that people would see as they entered by foot, car, or caravan. He wanted the artwork to express the spirit of the city, and commissioned an artist to paint the mural. When the artist completed the painting several weeks later, the mayor went to view the project. He was shocked to find a painting of a long line of people, one in front of the other, each person with their hand in the back pocket of the person in front of them, stealing their money.
"I can't believe you would paint such a horrible thing," the mayor cried. "My city is nothing like this. Why, I've never stolen a single thing in all my life."
"O.K., then," the artist said, "So maybe you're in the front of the line."
This story seems to be part of the national folklore. Everyone I've spoken with can relate to it and offer a personal story. Brazilians regularly share stories of corruption, and they can tell you ways they are robbed, lied to and bilked on a regular basis. The above story strikes me as both cynical and funny, but I wanted a real-life example. All I had to do was ask, and I was told I had to look no further than my own experience.
You may recall the entry in this diary in which I arrived in Brazil and my suitcase did not. An employee in the aiirline's baggage handling department promised me that my suitcase would be delivered to me at Dr. Batista's house the next day. It was not. It didn't show up two days later, or even on the third day, and even though the airline had our phone number, they never called.
On the third day Dr. Batista called the airport on my behalf. I could have called them and asked for my suitcase, but he wanted to take control of the situation. He has experience dealing with the airlines. They have lost his bags before.
He was given the line that my bag would arrive the next day. Then he went into action on my behalf. I will always remember his poise in handling the situation. "Filho," he called the young man in the baggage department, using the Portuguese word for "son." "The young man who is staying with us has gone without clothing for several days. I understand that the airline pays $100 for every day luggage is late so the customer can buy new socks, shirts, pants, until his own arrive. This has been the case when my luggage is delayed."
Dr. Batista asked if the airline still offers this payment, and the young man explained that they do pay $50 for each day that a passenger has to wait. The next day Dr. Batista drove me to the airport. They gave me my suitcase, but no money.
On our drive home he explained to me what happened. "You are entitled to $100 for each day you wait. The young man I spoke with knew this, but he told you that you would receive $50 so that he could keep half. But when you arrived, you were given nothing. So he kept the $100 that was supposed to be yours for each of the four days you waited.
"That is how people steal in Brazil," he said. "It's just like in the painting of the long line of people." He offered to give me clothing receipts and told me to present them to the airline when I return to the United States, along with a bill for the round-trip taxi fare to the airport in the next city, and demand payment.
Dr. Batista explained that this is a way of life in Brazil, and he said that since the airline employees had lied to me when they said they would deliver the suitcase to me, and because they had taken the money that was supposed to go to me, it was my duty to pursue the matter and get paid. The way he explained it, I was required to follow through, as though it were. He implied that if I don't stand up for myself, people will think that I don't care that they're stealing from me.
He shared with me another Brazilian saying. These saying are such a deep part of the way Brazilians think, and I think they will help your understanding:
"Tudo que é Legal não é Certo, e Tudo que é
Certo não é Legal."
"Not everything that is Legal is Right, and not all that is Right is Legal."
A friend of mine told me to take her to court if she did not pay. I have never taken anyone to court, and didn't want to. Eventually she paid me for the work, albeit a few months late, and I never had to take legal action. My friend insisted through the entire ordeal that I must not let this woman steamroll me. He said I must insist on getting paid. He claimed that if I did not stand up to her, she would continue to use the same tactic with others in the future, whether with the kid who mows her lawn or the guy who puts colored tiles onto the wall surrounding her bathtub. As far as my friend was concerned, it was my moral obligation to stand up to her.
By the same token, Dr. Batista insisted that I follow through and collect from the airline, because they took from me. This is a moral issue to him. I must follow through, careful not to break this line of Brazilians with their hands in each others' pockets. It is my duty to take what is mine and not be robbed blind.
I found another example of Brazil's national preoccupation with getting robbed by fellow countrymen. It seems all you have to do is ask questions and dig a little, and the stories of corruption jump out at you.
As soon as I arrived at the bus station here in São Paulo at 10:30 am, I was greeted by my friend Tarsys. We met five years ago at a youth hostel where we both stayed in Madrid, we got along pretty well, and took a train to Portugal. I hadn't seen him since, and thought I'd give him a call since I was in his home country.
Though Tarsys graduated from medical school here and worked for several years as a doctor (plastic surgery, sports medicine, diet & nutrition) he recently found work where he feels he's treated better and receives better pay. After we got into his car, he told me he had some work to do and asked if I wanted to go directly to his place to wash up or accompany him to work. I chose the latter.
He works for an insurance company, and his job requires him to drive from one hospital to the other and make sure that patients are not being given any medications or tests that are unnecessary, and make sure that they are not staying in the hospital any longer than necessary.
The first case I saw him handle was one in an infant care facility. A baby had been born three months premature and was asleep in this small plastic cube. He had sensors taped to his delicate hands to monitor oxygen saturation in his blood, breathing tubes taped to his mouth, and eyes taped shut to prevent his corneas from drying out.
Tarsys's job is to monitor the tests that are performed on the baby and make sure nothing unnecessary occurs. He needs to make sure no needless drugs are administered, and he makes notes on all vital statistics. "He weighs 625 centigrams today. When he reaches 800 centigrams it's safe for him to be discharged," Tarsys says. He doesn't like his role of monitoring this baby's health care, however he says that he was paid so little as a doctor and given such a heavy workload that his career was unbearable.
"I went to school for 20 years to become a doctor, and doctors do not get what they deserve in this country," he said. "They don't get the pay they should for the long hours and hard work they put in. This is why Brazil's health care system is so horrible," he says.
The insurance company he works for expects him to cut costs. They have to pay up to $1000 Reals a day (U.S. $500) to keep a premature baby in the hospital, in addition to the cost for a separate room for the mother to sleep in every night until her child's discharge.
Because the total cost for a prematurely born baby's hospitalization can reach $85,000 Reals, Tarsys's job often requires him to inform the insurance company of up-to-date details on each case. It is common practice for an insurance company to cut a deal with a hospital, for example offering $60,000 Reals for a premature baby's care in an effort to contain costs.
As I watch him at work, I see him asking nurses, administrators and doctors a barrage of questions. He takes notes busily, then faxes all of the information to the insurance company. "This job is really no fun," he explains. "Most of the doctors hate me. I come in here, ask all of these questions, and try to make sure the patients don't stay here too long.
After he finishes the note taking on the premature baby, we drive to another hospital to find out why a woman who has just received a kidney transplant has been held in the hospital for eight days after the procedure. Tarsys's job requires him to be suspicious. He has a job created by the Brazilian fear of people stealing from you if you aren't wary and watchful.
I met a French expatriate a week ago at Cafe Pizza Internet. He spends seven or eight hours a day on the internet, and in my brief contact with him I could tell he had a deep understanding of world politics. He spent a great deal of time reading the New York Times on-line and was in contact with a number of international businesses on a daily basis. You could walk into the internet cafe on any day and you'd have a good chance of seeing Yves's long shock of brown hair clamped at the top with a silver barette.
Yves is 46-years-old, tall, slender and wears wire-rimmed glasses. He's a scholar, the internet his library. He has taught himself English by reading articles on the web and consulting his dictionary, always an arm's length away. He enjoyed talking with me in English as I was the only one in the cafe with whom he could practice. He spoke with a strong French accent and his gestures were exaggerated in a Jerry Lewis-esque manner. When he got really excited in conversation (which was always) he repeated himself two or three times.
Yves told me that Brazil's problem is not corruption, but the inefficiency of its corruption. "Corruption is a part of every country, even successful ones like the U.S., Japan or Chilé," he said. "In these countries, you know who you need to go to with your money and what you have to pay to get what you want, my friend.
"Brazil is so disorganized and inefficient in its corruption, you might have to bribe one police officer and then another and still you have not reached the right guy," he said. "Or you pay off one corrupt judge, or a politician, and there's absolutely nothing done on your behalf. My friend, this is not a good system. Corruption is not a bad thing. It's a part of every country. But here it is very bad, very disorganized. Sometimes you have to bribe someone once, and then you have to bribe the same person again!"
I've been thinking about that saying that began this essay, "Brazil is the country of the future, and it always will be." I wish I could figure out who said it and when. No one seems to know its origin. When I start to wonder if Brazil might one day have a chance to become a powerful, economically stable nation with less corruption and poverty, I realize I'm being naive.
To ask if Brazil's cup is half empty or half full is to miss the point.
The cup has a hole in the bottom and will never fill.
e-mail me: email@example.com
November 15, 1999: 5:40pm
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
São Paulo, Brazil
I did this because packing my posessions into a bunch of cardboard boxes and throwing out everything else was an agonizing task. Whenever I noticed that little quote, it reminded me that I might be able to make due without some of my stuff.
It was not just the stuff I was throwing out that was hard to part with. It was hard to parts of my daily life that I would have to go without during my adventure. I packed away my CDs, which I listened to from morning tea until I drifted off to sleep. I gave up the Wall Street Journal, my connection to the world of investing and my window into the world at large.
I had to give up my telephone, where friends, family and photo assignments could reach me, as well as my mailbox, #9, in which I had found letters and other fine gems along with the bills and junk.
Harder than parting with all of the stuff was parting with my family and friends, not knowing when and if I'd return. In a big trip, in life, there are no certainties.
I remember wondering, "How in the world am I going to fit the important stuff from my apartment into this one suitcase? How will I survive without the rest of it all?"
Well, I arrived in Brazil and so did my black suitcase (finally!) packed full of stuff, and I don't even need all of the stuff I brought. I left the suitcase at Dr. Batista's house along with a bunch of clothing, and I've already traveled more than a thousand miles through Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina with two small bags containing clothing and cameras. I don't miss the extra stuff.
Several friends have told me that they want to make big changes in their lives in order to chase their dreams. It's usually their possessions that hold them back They have rooms and closets full of clothing the don't wear, computers that they no longer use, the general accumulation of things that fill so many lives. They can't even begin to imagine throwing some of their stuff away, storing the important things, and getting on with what they really want to do.
Yet these same friends admire the people who have really made a mark in the world, people like Jesus, Buddha, and Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa and Einstein. When you think about them, you realize they weren't carrying a lot of stuff around. How could they? Jesus would not have been able to travel the holy land if he had to cart around a collection of tapestries and knick-knacks. How could he have handled the resurrection with crates filled with favorite pieces of furniture? Ghandi formed an alliance with millions of people and motivated them to struggle peacefully and non-violently toward a single goal. He did all of this with just a loin cloth and a spinning wheel!
The people that have helped to shape our ideals, beliefs and aspirations moved with grace and peace through their lands, unencumbered with material goods, houses with mortgages, stereo systems and color cable televisions. The biggest questions in life --- "Who am I?", " What do I want to do most?", "How can I make it happen?" --- these are the most difficult to answer. Yet the little details of life we have the hardest time giving up. We don't want to part with our lives of comfort, our vices, our things.
We crave freedom and the experiences in life that come from having less, not more. Perhaps by keeping all of our stuff on hand we prevent ourselves from taking a big leap and we never have to look into our hearts of darkness and ask ourselves the toughest questions.
For years I have thought of myself as a photographer and that is how I described myself to others --- that's what it said on my business card. I have taken a big chance by leaving my life in the United States and searching for something new. During my first few weeks of travels I've been more writer than photographer. This surprises me. I would not have imagined a month ago how much I would take to this kind of work. I may actually be improving as a photographer because I take fewer pictures and have become more selective in the moments I capture.
In the time that I used to dedicate to shooting film and carrying cumbersome cameras around with me, I write.
There's a little book that that I carry around
with me through Brazil. In the introduction to William Strunk Jr.
& E.B. White's The Elements of Style, White discusses the contents
of a chapter called "An Approach to Style." He writes that the chapter
"is addressed particularly to those who feel that English prose composition
is not only a necessary skill but a sensible pursuit as well - a way to
spend one's days."
I have begun to understand the pursuit, and I agree with all my heart.
e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
16-17 Nov. 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
São Paulo, Brazil
Exploring the city of São Paulo and trying to figure out where to go next. Please see next entry.
18 November 1999: 2:28pm
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
São Paulo, Brazil
I was almost hit by a car last night while walking to the market to buy groceries. Most of the crosswalks around here lack traffic lights, and drivers go so fast that you have to be alert anytime you're near traffic. I was halfway across the street and my peripheral vision saw this car coming from just behind me and to the side. They had it planned perfectly, I'm sure, so that as long as I kept moving, they would not hit me. But if I had slowed down for a moment, they would not have been able to stop.
Brazilian drivers don't slow yield to pedestrians. They know that people will run as soon as a speeding car gets close to them. As cars close in, pedestrians scurry across streets like frightened ants, chased by tiny little Fiats and Volkswagons. The drivers around here cut each other off, stop abruptly, don't use turn signals, and leave little space between them and the cars in front of them. It's like the worst city driving you've experienced in the states, only faster and with fewer rules and less respect for life.
Each day I've been in São Paulo I've been close to getting hit --- I think that if a fast moving car comes within two or three feet of me, it's a close call. Brazilian pedestrians don't seem as scared as I am, they just run. In any case, I'm not accustomed to such aggressive drivers, even though I was born and spent several years in Boston, a city notorious for obnoxious drivers.
Whenever someone's killed suddenly in a car crash or other such disaster, do you notice how the police or ambulance people, whoever was first on the scene, have been know to say: "Well, he died so quickly, he didn't even know what hit him."
Now what kind of consolation is that?
Apparently that's their way of saying that the victim didn't suffer. Now if I got whacked by a car and killed, I'd want to know who hit me, and why. Was I not paying attention? Did I cross when I shouldn't have? Maybe it was the driver's fault. Were they eating a Big Mac or talking on the phone? I need to know if I'll have to get revenge in the afterlife.
I would simply want to know what hit me. If I died without knowing why I'd feel like a major life event had been left unresolved.
I drove my little red Toyota to a car wash in Seattle earlier this year. It was late in the afternoon and I wasn't on may way anywhere, I just left my house thinking, "I'm going to get my car washed." I drove down East Madison until I took a left onto 12th Avenue East. I drove a few blocks, all the while listening to Abba's "Dancing Queen" on the radio. I got to a traffic light that was located right near the car wash. It was red, so I stopped, and while I was sitting there, singing along to "Dancing Queen," I noticed a car approaching from behind in my rear-view mirror. I realized instantly that there was no way it would stop.
Since there was a car stopped in front of me at the light, I could not accelerate out of the way. A moment later, SMACK! The car plowed into me. All of the stuff in my car --- the quarters, nickels and dimes, a 7-UP I was drinking, photos, film, camera, etc. went airborn in my car, filling the air like trailers and cows in those movies about tornadoes. And in an instant, it was over. My engine stopped, but "Dancing Queen" continued to play.
The guy who hit me was very apologetic. He told me he'd been trying to find a radio station and got distracted looking at the radio. I was alright, my car survived, and except for an anxious feeling that overcomes me whenever I hear Abba music, I made it out of the situation unscathed. I have a better grasp of the fragile nature of life. That drive to the car wash could have been my last. As they say, I never would have known what hit me (though I did have a glimpse before impact).
By the way, I did make it to the grocery store last night. Brazilians are as horrible at maneuvering a shiopping cart as they are their little cars. Fortunately for me, I have no fear of Brazilian drivers once they're on extremely crowded highly waxed supermarket floors. To give you an idea of how crowded they are after work lets out, imagine a trip to your Safeway or Stop & Shop grocery. Now imagine the store is 1/4 the size, and there are twice as many shoppers. That's what it's like here.
I happen to be extremely assertive with a shopping cart. In the U.S. there is an unwritten code of conduct. You don't bump into people with your cart. If you accidentally do, you apologize. In the U.S. I pass as a pretty normal cart-pusher because while I move fast (often with feet off the ground, standing on that little horizontal bar on the bottom which allows me to glide across open stretches), I don't hit people. I know my limits.
In Brazil, you can throw courtesy out the window. People are reckless, and I'm convinced that people's lack of civility on the roadways carries right into the grocery aisles. The more aggressive side of my cart-driving personality began to emerge last night. Everyone's packed so closely together that the occasional bumping of carts and people is inevitable. I apologized when I accidentally bumped into someone. But they didn't when they hit me. I thought that rude. So next time I go shopping, I'm taking no prisoners. It's no-holds-barred shopping. I wonder how far I can go before I cross the line and they think I'm being rude or reckless? And what will they do? For once I'd like to make them jump.
Tomorrow I will shop.
Watch out, Brazil!
p.s. This is my first time living south of the equator.
While washing my face before bed last night, I noticed the water goes down
the drain clockwise. I always heard it changes direction once you
cross the equator. Does it really go down the drain in the opposite
direction up in the U.S.? Will someone check and let me know?
e-mail me: email@example.com
24 November 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazil Diary
I lost my grip on things last week. I never realized how quickly life could go from wonderful to bad, but it did. It all took place quickly like a sandcastle swept out to sea with one wave.
I lost my grasp on this project. A few things triggered it. I almost flipped out. People who know that I'm pretty even-keeled would never guess I could hit an extreme. In one of my last moments of composure, I wrote a note to a friend. While it did not explain all of the walls that were collapsing in on me, it expressed my uncertainty.
* * *
I'm beginning to think of winding up this trip to Brazil. A few factors contribute to this thinking. First, I wrote to Dr. Batista a couple of days ago, with no response. It's true, he may be busy or perhaps did not check e-mails. In any case, he's my primary reason for coming down here, and if he's not too responsive to this project, then I don't want to impose on him.
It's true, I could try to ask for names of his surgeon friends in Rio or S.P., but he really is the guy for heart surgery. They would perhaps be good subjects for regular heart surgery photos, but those I could take in the U.S. As far as someone really liking my photos and hiring me, it's always possible...anywhere. I don't know if people I could meet through him would provide valuable entrés...so far I haven't been around him enough to find out.
Another thing on my mind is whether I really want to be in Brazil when the year turns to 2000. This place is not nearly as forward looking as the U.S. As a result, their preparedness is probably far behind ours. The chances of food, electric and water shortages/outages are great. I really don't know if I should be down here for the new year. What if I couldn't access money via ATM afterwards? As a traveler, I'm very dependent upon other people's resources...for food, shelter, etc.
I have a cell phone # for Dr. Batista, and I'm going to try to call him now and figure out if I can take a bus there tomorrow or Sunday. My suitcase with most of my stuff is at his place, stashed out of the way, and my suit hangs in a closet there...it arrived several days into my stay, and as you know, I left Curitiba after one week, so it has not yet been worn.
This letter is not hopeful, I know, but I don't want to continue on optimism alone. If this Brazilian adventure were leading to bigger and better things, I'd be more positive. I don't want to be naive and continue to look for places to travel and explore if I don't have a more clearly defined purpose...The initial purpose was to work with Dr. Batista and to connect with people...which I've done to an extent.
I also miss home, my family and friends a lot.
I hope the days are going well for you with your family and photography. Please tell everyone that I say hi.
As soon as I wrote that letter, I went to a pay phone and called Dr. Batista's house. I needed to speak with him because I felt as though my reason for being in Brazil was to work with him. We had not spoken in weeks and he sent me only one (somewhat brief and ambiguous) e-mail after he had returned from India. It read, "I arrived and am adjusting to the true time."
His daughter, Juliana answered. I asked her if her father was home. She said no, he was in Berlin and would not be home until the 23rd. I was standing in the parking lot of a shopping mall under the blazing São Paulo sun. I squeezed my backpack between my feet as we talked to make sure no one would try to swipe it. With my pack on my back, they can come up from behind and unzip it without you even noticing. It happens. I was feeling vulnerable.
I was standing there, a whole bunch of days in Brazil running together in my mind, and I could not even remember what the date was. She told me we were at the 20th. "So he'll be back home in three days?" I asked outloud, wondering what I would do to burn time in São Paulo. Then I realized I just wanted to be home, in Curitiba. It was her home, it was their home, but I really wanted to be there. So I asked, "Would it be alright if I took I bus to Curitiba and waited for your dad to get back?" Juliana has such a gentle and kind spirit. I could picture her smiling as she talked to me. "Of course you can. Just come back here whenever you want."
I had been so desperately lost at that pay phone.
Now I was saved.
I took a bus to Curitiba the next day. I arrived in the evening
and spent the next few days hanging out with the family. It was so
comforting to be here, just to pat Buck (their black lab) and scratch Dafney
(yellow lab) behind the ears and play GuGu, a Brazilian combination of
Pictionary and charades.
On the eve of Dr. Batista's return from Berlin, I spoke with Lennard, one of his 21-year-old twins. I had not met Lennard during my first stay here, as he had been in Bahia enjoying two of his favorite things, sunshine and surfing. He is tall, darkly tanned and has bleach-blonde hair. He looks like a guy from a surf flic, and has a bedroom wall plastered with photos of him with his family and friends. He has one collage of photos of himself taken at one of those photo booths. A wild and crazy expression in each. Because I had only seen these photos of him, they were the only thing I had from which to form an initial impression. Boisterous, lively, the guy everyone likes at the party.
I was off-target; he is different.
Lennard is much like his father. He is serious and when you ask him a question, you can see he weighs it carefully. He doesn't throw air about without reason. He wanted to speak with me in English, and when he did, I realized that he spoke just like his dad. Dr. Batista spoke in English when he made a presentation to surgeons in Seattle, and also when he performed his surgery there. In the way he emphasized some words, and in cadence, he spoke just like his father.
I told Lennard that I have met a number of technically competent surgeons, but that I thought his father went a step beyond most surgeons. His father, I said, has an intelligence that allows him to find solutions to problems in realms beyond cutting and suturing.
Lennard spoke up, and when he did, I realized that he also shared ideas
like his dad. "My father says there are people with culture and people
with intelligence," he said. I asked him if he meant art and musical
culture, and he told me he meant culture in a different sense. I
think that by culture he meant technical knowlege. "People with culture,"
he said, "know a lot of different things, like they might know how this
microwave oven works. But when they have a problem, when they're
in a situation where there is pressure and they have to act, they don't
know how to use all of the things they know. People with intelligence
are able to use what they know."
A few weeks ago I had been wondering whether Dr. Batista liked the book that I made for him. Here is an excerpt from the October 27 diary entry when I gave him the gift.
* * *
After Dr. Randas and I had finished coffee and he'd had a cigar, I gave
him the album of photos I'd made. It was wrapped in green and gold
paper, and accompanied by a card. He seemed to like the book, though
he wasn't very effusive in his comments. "Nice book," he said.
As he began to look through the book,
he noticed a photograph I took of the patient in the Seattle a few days before the operation. He told me to look at the patients feet, swollen from the edema that results from poor circulation. As he turned from one page to the next, he scarcely took time to read the text. I had to point out parts of the text that I thought he'd like. These passages had taken me several hours to translate from English to Portuguese, and I'd even enlisted the help of a Brazilian friend, Wanderlan Silva, who lived in New York who offered suggestions via email.
For me, the book was about more than photos of heart surgery. It was the first project that I had ever worked on that combined all of the forces that I possess. I was able to connect with Dr. Batista after seeing him on television in a NOVA special. This took more than two years of postioning, calling heart surgeons across the U.S., meeting them and photographing them first so that I would be prepared to photograph Dr. Batista if the opportunity arose.
As soon as I learned I'd have the chance not only to meet him, but to
photograph him in action, my mind spun into overdrive. I decided
that I needed to meet the patient, interview him about his heart failure
and its effects on his life, and photograph him before Batista arrived
in Seattle from Brazil. A day later I was in the
patient's home spending an afternoon learning about everything in his life that led up to his present heart problem. I made photos which I believe captured that moment in his life.
The morning of the surgery I had arrived at the hospital at 6:30 am. I introduced myself to Dr. Batista in Portuguese and within the hour I was helping him prepare a presentation to the hospital staff. An hour later I was at work documenting the first Batista Procedure in Seattle.
All of my passions in life came together in that book. My interest in people, in journalism, the art of the interview, the field of biology, the human heart, and of course, my love of Brazil.
I feel as though that book is pregnant, full of hope, snapshots of a
life saved, captured in color and black and white, in English and Portuguese.
When he made it from cover to cover in about 4 minutes, I felt like he
probably hadn't absorbed it all. He did say that the photos were
beautiful, and that the book was really cool. It was just a sense
that I had that perhaps he's more into the process of the surgery than
a document about it.
Because Lennard had returned home after I had left for Foz do Iguacu, I didn't know if he'd ever seen my photos of his dad. I asked him if he'd seen the book, and he had. He did not know I had taken the photos and made that book.
"I saw it on the table one day before school, so I opened it up and looked at it," he told me. He asked if his father had written the text, the parts that were in Portuguese. I told him no, I had written the text myself, translated it from things his father had said in Seattle. He told me that his father really liked the book. I was so pleased to learn this. I told Lennard that I wasn't really sure if his dad liked the book much because he didn't seem very excited. Lennard smiled and told me that's how his dad is. As we continued to talk, I thought I'd ask Lennard if he knew where the book was, because I hadn't seen it anywhere in the house.
Lennard told me that his father had taken the book to Berlin.
I felt like the soccer players that I see after he scores the goal, jumping through the air, arms raised to the sky.
It was an honor to learn that Dr.Batista had brought that book of photos and writing to Germany. Those photographs and that text represent who he is as a surgeon and thinker, a scientist and idealist. He was proud of the way I had portrayed him and his work.
I feel truly international now.
Today I went to the airport at 9:10 a.m. with Odessa to pick up Dr. Batista. He had a 9:30 a.m. surgery, so we went straight to the hospital. The surgery went well. It was a real struggle, because one of his assistants kept getting in my way. I wanted to make this photo of Dr. Batista huddled over the patient, putting in his sutures under intense concentration. The assistant was holding a suction tube or some other important tool, and he was standing where he was supposed to be, just doing his job. He was about five or six inches into my frame, and no matter where I moved, I could not get a good angle on Batista. I asked him very quietly if he'd move for a moment so I could get the shot, and he did (barely) and I didn't get the shot the way I'd wanted. I felt like just reaching my arm out and shoving him to the side and saying, "Will you just get out of my way?!!! I'm trying to get a photo here.!"
I know that the surgery is much more important than whether or not I
get a great photo, but to me, they're equally important. When I'm
in the operating room, I'm serious. This is life or death for me.
Opportunities to photograph Dr. Randas J. Vilela Batista in action in Brazil
are rare. I got my one great shot. I was doggedly determined.
I got up on a small ladder and found the perfect angle. I focused
on Dr. Batista's eyelashes, I watched as he stiched, and I waited for the
assistant to move out of my frame. I outlasted him. After about
25 minutes he got tired, started to slouch a little, then he shifted his
weight and moved a little to the left. It was all the room I needed.
I have begun to appreciate the importance of the power of knowledge. I recently read an article in Fortune magazine entitled, "Grab the Knowlege and Squeeze". I found that it applies to the work that I do, and perhaps you will be able to learn something that will benefit you. Here is my condensed version.
The article began by stating, "Here's how you make money. Wrap your fingers around a jugular vein, then ask every passing corpuscle to pay a toll. It's the oldest, and only, game in town."
The author, Thomas A. Steward, discusses how important it is to run a business in such a way that you control how your service or product is used. He said that free markets destroy profits, and to be a truly successful businessperson, you must set up a market of value which will never become free. Because in the real world of business, Control Points, seizable, squeezable veins where money flows, change over time. Companies that were once very valuable can become worthless overnight. Their products become commodities.
Steward compares a company named Ingram Micro, the world's biggest computer distributor, with Dell Computers. In a nutshell, Ingram Micro has begun to flounder in the past month, a company that has a good grip on a bad vein. In today's New Economy, dominance rarely comes to the owner of a stockpile; in fact, it's not usually an issue of goods at all. Power is in the hands of people who hold valuable knowlege.
Dell sells directly to customers, so it adds a shipper's profits to a manufacturing margin. More than this, "Dell aggregates knowledge and turns it into a control point. Its famous build-your-own web pages invite buyers to select and customize a computer for personal use...Dell thus knows the market...and can see upstream to its suppliers as acutely as it sees downstream." Dell, the article concludes, can see the market directly and knows more about what is happening than any other equipment maker or distributor in the business.
Dell became powerful by setting up shop at the intersection of supply and demand.
Part of my reason for coming to Brazil is so that I may bask in the bliss of photographing my latest passion, open heart surgery. The other goal is to serve Dr. Batista in any way I can. I had read the above-mentioned article as I was trying to fall asleep last night, and I came up with an idea for a way to bring this all together in one project.
I possess a specific kind of knowlege, and also a way to control its use. I don't intend to charge Dr. Batista for the work I'm doing for him. He is being so generous and kind to let me stay with him and learn from him. I simply want to make this connection that this is the type of knowledge that I can use as leverage.
I am able to combine my skills in photography and writing with my burning desire to learn about heart surgery. When I combine these with my education in biology, interest in Brazil and Portuguese and understanding of how to build and maintain a web site, I realize that there probably aren't a lot of people in the world with these interests. If there are, they haven't made it down here to Brazil.
I know who Dr. Batista is, and what kind of work he does. I know about Left Ventricular Reduction Surgery. I've seen him perform it in the United States and Brazil. I know about other surgeries he's invented, such as Cardiac Autotransplantation, or his strategy for Reversal of Eisenmenger Syndrome. This knowlege did not throw itself on me. I've gone to the library, I've asked questions, I've worked hard to get into operating rooms in the U.S., and now to Brazil.
I probably understand this surgeon's purpose in life better than anyone. He is the most respected heart surgeon in the world. Other surgeons know about his technique, but my understanding of his mission runs deeper. We ride horses. We talk about life, problems, and solutions. I live with his family.
So this afternoon after we walked out of the operating room, we picked up a cup of coffee (mine with sugar, his without) and went to his office. While he lit his cigar, I told him that I wanted to know how I could help him. I told him that I remembered he once mentioned how he thought a web site about the different heart surgeries that he's invented would be a good idea. I told him I could make the idea a reality. I told him it should have a photo of each of the operations he is currently inventing and performing, along with text describing each procedure.
He was genuinely interested, and wanted to know if I could set it up so that people could send him e-mail via the web site, because this way they'd only need to know one address. I said of course I could arrange it that way.
He told me that in three days he leaves for Pakistan to teach surgeons one of his techniques. I could see in his eyes that he was hungry to begin the web page.
There is an expression in Brazil, "Dar um jeito," and loosely translated, it means that no obstacle is so great that you can't climb over it, and no problem so difficult that you can't solve it. In English people might say, "Where there's a will there's a way," or, "I'll give it my best shot," but Brazilians are resouceful, scrappy people and their "Dar um jeito" is unique.
I told Dr. Batista that I would get working on his web site. I don't really know how I will do all of this. I will have to figure out how to gather all of his writing, photograph the different surgeries, and find a host for his web site. There are many obstacles, and this will be difficult, but so are many worthwhile things in life. I will dar um jeito.
This ties into the magazine article that I mentioned earlier because my knowledge of Dr. Batista is unique. I have a specific knowledge, and in this capacity, I am irreplaceable.
At this moment, I'm not concerned with making money here. I believe that if I work well with him, our alliance will create opportunities better than any I can currently imagine.
I admire the way that Dr. Batista's operations save the lives of sick
people who have nothing. He could work in the United States
and make a mad amount of money. He chooses this work because it is
right for him. And the same goes for me. I know this is the
right thing to do. I am not worried about the money or the end result.
This is learning, this is life, this is a dream.
e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
25 November 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
Dr. Batista hurried into the living room last night, a towel wrapped around his waist, to tell me that he had just learned that the Cleveland Clinic had invented a new surgery to reshape the heart.
He had been talking to a friend in the United States who had just seen a television show which described the procedure. A spokesperson for the Cleveland Clinic, one of the most powerful heart surgery centers in the United States, announced that the hospital had performed this new surgery on 90 patients with excellent rates of survival.
I could tell something unusual was up. He usually has a very relaxed manner. He knows the stones alongside the paths he walks. Something had just happened.
As soon as Dr. Batista heard the news, he knew that the Cleveland Clinic had begun to perform the procedure he had invented, only they had decided not to give him credit for inventing the surgery. They chose to rename it, and instead of calling it "Ventricular Remodeling" or the "Batista Procedure," they called it "Heart Reshaping".
Batista invented this surgery nine years ago to help his patients with a serious heart ailment called congestive heart failure, which enlarges their hearts until they can hardly pump blood. The process is not a sudden event, but a slow debilitating process which deprives its victims of the ability to breath and walk and kills them within five years.
Working in a rural hospital under very primitive conditions, Dr. Batista could not offer the option of heart transplantation to his patients. Instead, he developed a way to make his patients' enlarged hearts much smaller. He cut out a section of the left ventricle, then sews the heart together again.
It was very difficult for Dr. Batista, who went to medical school in Boston but returned to the jungles of Brazil to perform heart surgery on the poor people, to convince the cardiac surgical community that his operation was a success on more than 700 patients in Brazil, and that it would help patients in the U.S. who had congestive heart failure.
Dr. Batista traveled from Brazil to a convention of cardiac surgeons in Buffalo in 1996 to present his findings, but the surgeons there said that he did not have enough data to support his claims that the surgery was effective, so they would not let him talk about his surgery. He noticed that in the schedule of events at this convention there was a session where surgeons were permitted to present findings they on pulmonary failure and other diseases affecting the lungs.
Dr. Batista saw this as his chance to talk about his surgery for patients with congestive heart failure. At that moment, he was an unknown in the world of heart surgery, but by the end of the day his place in the field would change dramatically. He went before the group and said, "The lungs are some of the most critical organs in the body, for they take in oxygen which goes to the heart.
"The heart, on the other hand, is crucial because it circulates oxygen through the body. I would like to share with you a procedure I have developed which improves heart function."
Using the lungs as his way in, he was able to talk about the heart. The surgeons, cardiologists and others in attendance were caught completely off-guard. They were amazed, doubtful, and shocked at once. Some thought him crazy, some thought him a genius, but no matter what, Dr. Batista's impact on the world of cardiac surgery was born that day.
The media learned about his procedure and articles started to appear in the New York Times, The Washington Post, andTime and Life Magazines. American surgeons scrambled to learn how to perform his operation because most had long lists of patients with congestive heart failure who were dying on waiting lists for heart transplants.
To give an idea of the severity of the problem in the United States, an article in the Nov. 1999 Life magazine states, "last year 50,000 Americans needed a new heart, and 95 percent of them will die without getting one."
Dr. Batista's surgery supplants the need for a heart transplant. In the fall of 1996, the chief surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Patrick McCarthy, flew to Curitiba where he was invited to stay at Dr. Batista's home and learn to perform his surgery.
The fascination with the ventricular reduction technique, which was now being referred to among surgeons and the press simply as "The Batista Procedure," continued to grow. Within a few months he was featured on ABC New's 20/20 as well as NOVA . Many families of patients with congestive heart failure saw Dr. McCarthy interviewed on the NOVA segment and began contacting the Cleveland Clinic where he worked. In the weeks after the show aired, McCarthy told Batista that he received more than 3,000 telephone calls.
The Cleveland Clinic began performing the operation. There were some successful cases, and some patients died. Similarly, surgeons in other parts of the United States began to perform the surgery in an attempt to help some members of their growing heart transplant waiting lists. Dr. Batista taught surgeons visiting Brazil how to perform his procedure, and he also began travelling regularly to give demonstrations in hospitals worldwide.
In the United States, the fatalities associated with the surgery prevented some surgeons from continuing to perform the procedure. There is only speculation as to why they stopped performing the operation. In my conversations with Dr. Batista, he thinks that surgeons would open themselves up to being sued if they operated and the patient died. The fear of lawsuits, and the experiemental nature of the operation (Medicare will not pay for the procedure) caused interest in the procedure to wane.
Batista has continued to perform his surgery on patients with big hearts right up until yesterday. He operated on a woman who was very old and sick. The doctors, nurses and assistants who had been attending to her told Dr. Batista yesterday that she would probably die during surgery. Today after breakfast we went to visit her in the hospital. She was sitting up in a chair --- next to her bed --- and was extremely grateful to Dr. Batista. He asked an assistant to go get the piece of heart he had excised from her yesterday, and when it arrived, I got a photo of him showing it to her. It is amazing to witness this in person. I needed to actually be here in person, in Brazil, in order to understand Batista's sincerity and the power of this operation.
Which brings us to last night. Surgeons in the United States have pretty much given up on the Batista procedure during the past two or three years. The most powerful heart surgery center in the country, The Cleveland Clinic, went from doing hundreds of Batista procedures to publicly announcing that they were no longer performing the procedure.
Dr. Batista knows hearts too well to believe that the Cleveland Clinic had actually invented a new way to reshape the heart. He knew that they had chosen to perform his surgery and call it "Heart Reshaping Surgery." They gave him no credit
I asked Batista if he was upset. He said no, this is a good thing. I asked what he meant. He said that because the Cleveland Clinic was performing the surgery, they are endorsing it. For several years, they stopped doing it, and the reasoning seemed to be that it did not work.
Batista, instead of being upset, is pleased that the procedure is being accepted in the United States. He said that by calling it their own invention, they're showing that they like it so much, they're bragging about it. "If you have a beautiful son, everybody is proud to say 'This is my son.' If you have an ugly son, nobody says, 'He's mine.' In this way, the surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic are showing that they are so proud of this operation that they're saying it's their own.
We went to the hospital first thing this morning to get a fax that his friend sent here from the U.S. He called his office to find out what it said, but his secretary could not read it because it was in English. So we drove over. He took a look at the fax and handed it to me to read. He is a big man in the sense that he does not get angry or jealous over things that might make others furious.
Here was his life's work, his most successful operation, stolen, renamed, and flaunted as new by Patrick McCarthy, the surgeon who stayed at Batista's home in Brazil while learning to perform his procedure.
As Dr. Batista and I read the press release, we laughed, because it is comedic, if there can be a place for comedy in heart surgery. It is a flagrant violation of honesty. I suppose it is funny that anyone would lie so blatantly about a scientific discovery. I felt this lie was tragic, too, because it undermined the validity of the procedure Batista has worked his life to develop. If Batista wasn't upset, then I won't be either.
Here are a few quotes from the press release which he
just received from the United States. It looks like it was put together
by the Cleveland Clinic's public relations department:
* * *
"This week, surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic reported good results from a last-chance surgery to reshape the heart."
"Connie Hicks is among 90 patients who have undergone the Cleveland Clinic Procedure." [I have added the italics]
"The heart reshaping surgery is not totally new. Cleveland Clinic doctors say it is a refinement of several old procedures, most notably a surgery pioneered by Dr. Randis [sic] Batista of Brazil."
"Batista received widespread attention three years ago
when he claimed his heart shrinking surgery saved a number of Brazilian
U.S. doctors have since abandoned the Batista procedure."
"He was oversold, in that Dr. Batista made this appear that everyone would respond and that everyone would get better," said McCarthy.
"But the Batista procedure was not a total failure, doctors
say it has led to the development of new heart reshaping surgeries."
* * *
Though Dr. Batista is disappointed that the Cleveland Clinic took all of the credit for his procedure, he has seen too much of the world to be surprised. "This is a marketing effort on their part," he told me. They will bring in a lot of patients with this publicity. By giving it their own name, instead of calling it the 'Batista Procedure,' they will probably be able to collect Medicare funding for the operation. They will make a great deal of money."
He told me that he would have liked it if Dr. McCarthy had called and explained that his hospital needed to rename the technique for Medicare reasons, or to have a new way to advertise the surgery to the media.
"You will see, they will have roundtable discussions about their new surgery, they will invite the press, but I will not be asked to join," Dr. Batista told me. "They know the truth, and it will catch up with them. They are like Goliath, and I am like David. I am this little Indian out here in Brazil, what am I going to do to them? But all it takes is a small stone. It might not be from me, it could be someone else. When that stone hits, they will fall. They will end up looking like idiots."
With this said, Dr. Batista leaned back on the sofa, smiled,
and told me that every situation has its good side and its bad side.
He thinks that this "endorsement" is a giant step forward for his procedure.
It is finally being accepted by the cardiac surgical establishment in the
"I think this is great news," he said.
"I think this is excellent."
e-mail me: email@example.com
26 November 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazil Diary
During his recent trip to Berlin, Dr. Batista showed surgeons the concept behind a surgery he has invented for patients with Eisenmenger Syndrome. It is a wildly different surgery, it is unconventional, but it works. The German surgeons to whom he taught the surgery asked if he had done double blind testing on patients to find out if the procedure really works.
We were driving his pickup to downtown Curitiba to pick up his plane ticket for tomorrow's trip to Saudi Arabil. "They asked me if I had randomized my research to collect data on patients," he said. "We already know what happens to people with this disease, they die in six months.
"Many surgeons want to have data, research and randomized testing on everything before they'll consider doing an operation. I operate on patients, not statistics.
"So why do these doctors want to have statistics about my results before they will perform the operation? If you own father were sick, and dying, you wouldn't ask, 'Will you do randomized testing first? If you were sick, you wouldn't ask your surgeon, 'Will show me the data on this procedure,' you'd say, 'Just do whatever you need to do to help me,''' he said. Then he added, "Let's get practical."
Just a note on Batista, who yesterday operated on that lady who was very old and sick. Since the other doctors and nurses at the hospital said she not survive surgery, I asked if he feared that she would die. He said that he took it as a challenge. He did everything he needed to prepare for the surgery. I could sense him focusing his mind, concentrating, preparting for the surgery as we drove to the hospital together.
During the surgery Batista became upset with one of the doctors who was working as his assistant. I didn't understand all of what he dished out to him, but he asked him something about what he had been doing the night before, why was he so tired.
After surgery, Batista told me that the doctor was not thinking quickly. He was slow and did not anticipate. "He was one of the people who told me the patient would die. And it was as though he believed it, that was how he was working, to fulfill his belief. For me, going into that surgery, I was thinking, "They tell me she is the sickest patient in the hospital, that she will die, and to me that is the challenge to make sure she makes it out of surgery alive.
"You have to be focused going into the operation, you have to be prepared and anticipate what will happen next. He was not, and that is why I got angry with him. I asked him what happened, was he awake all night, did he not sleep?...why was he so slow?
"It's like in football, when the quarterback throws the ball, there is no one in the place he's throwing the ball to yet, but the man who will catch the ball is already moving, he's anticipating where the ball will land, and he goes to that place. It's exactly the same in surgery," he said.
We went on to carry the analogy to basketball. I recall that Batista was a basketball player on Brazil's national team. I mentioned that the best basketball players, like Larry Bird, who played for the Celtics, move without the ball, getting into the best postition to receive a pass.
Batista said it's the same thing when you are rebounding in basketball. "You have to watch the ball bounce off the rim, and predict where it will land. Then you have to know the best time to jump and catch the ball. If you're a moment too early or late, you won't get the rebound. You have to anticipate. Athletics are very good training for surgery," he said.
As I write this morning's entry, Batista sits on the sofa facing me, his towel still wrapped around him, goes through some mail and makes phone calls. He has just been asked go to Saudi Arabia and operate on a 22-year-old who has an enlarged heart and is very close to dying. He will fly there to operate on the young man tomorrow, then fly to Pakistan.
I will be on my own again, and will have to figure out what to do for a while until he returns. He said that he will return to Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on the morning of December 4, and that I could meet him there. It is far away, so I may spend the days between now and then on buses, meeting some more people and learning about life. If I don't find a place to upload the Brazil Diary in the next week or so, it's because I'll be out in the wild.
Thinking of you all,
30 November 1999
Jeffrey Luke's Brazilian Diary
On a Highway in Brazil
I'm on a bus
crossing southern Brazil.
The trip is long.
Seven hours down, eight to go.
It is night and I can feel the cracks and holes in the road.
The other riders have fallen asleep, corpses sprawled across vacant seats,
legs dangling into the aisles.
Determined to find sleep, I curl up across two seats.
My back gently touches the seat in front of me.
"Better this way," I think, "if we stop suddenly, my back hits, not my face."
I am in the back seat, sleeping. Through my eyelids
I see dad is driving.
He has been driving all night, his grip loosens on the wheel, his eyes begin to close.
"Don't fall asleep at the wheel," I think.
I am so tired, I cannot speak.
We have arrived at our house, he's backing into the driveway.
We're almost safe, but he falls asleep, his foot depresses the accelerator.
Our driveway is long, we are going fast, we will surely crash.
My eyes are barely open, yet I can see it all.
His eyes are shut.
If I am to save us, I must pull myself from sleep and wake him so he can brake
Before we hit the stone wall at driveway's end.
I'm too tired to make a sound.
I pull all of my strength together,
For one loud yell to wake him...
And as I open my mouth to scream, I wake up.
And the bus is roaring across the Brazilian outback at full speed,
My shoulder blades reaching out to the open road.
* * *
I am sleeping again and my mother is driving the car.
She's wearing a skirt, she's steering with her butt.
We're driving under an overpass, dangerously close to the wall.
"Mom, stop!" I'm yelling, "Drive the right way," I say, but she continues.
I wake and the bus rolls along the same road in Brazil,
my back to the road.
* * *
The bus pulls over to a roadside lanchonete,
All of the passengers, half-asleep, stumble out.
"Twenty minutes," the driver shouts.
I get rice and beans and fried eggplant at the buffet.
I eat it while watching a soccer game on television.
Then I go to the bathroom, and looking out the window
I can see a field of tall yellow grass that extends forever.
I notice my reflection in the glass. My hair has grown too long.
It is pretty, strong, blondish-brown and a little longer than shoulder length.
It is cut in two layers, and the top, which is crimson-colored, looks really
good next to the blonde.
Then I wonder if I should shave.
I realize that I've been in this bathroom too long,
And worry that that bus has left without me.
I run outside.
I wake up again,
Pull my head off the seat, and look out the window,
As the big Brazilian sun begins to rise.