Where: Brasilia, Brazil
When: December 9 - 16, 2006
It has been a while since you heard from me. I am just catching up with a blog on my experiences in Brazil in December.
I was back in Brazil for the second time in 2006year and the 8th time in total for a conference on urban traffic planning. My job was to meet up again with the people from the Ministry of Cities and people from different municipalities as a first mission of a new 4-year international programme on planning for cycling in cities that is starting on the 1st of January 2007.
For me, just before returning to Thailand to continue my spiritual journey, it was a good opportunity to earn some money and to work again and see how it is to be in touch again with my field of expertise. Do I want to continue doing this work? and Would I like to live in Brazil for a longer time? were some of the questions on the back of my mind.
Let me start to give you some of my feelings, thoughts and considerations about Brazil.
From the first time I was in Brazil, I loved it. Or more precisely: I loved the people. The human warmth, the friendliness and the sensuality of the Brazilians always strike a cord with me. Brazilians like people. They (of course I am generalising) like to socialise, dance and enjoy life. I know, that in Brazil people run at you embracing you like you are their lost son that came back after 20 years, might not mean that much, but it still feels nice. People matter. In Holland I too often feel that people have (and take) no time to meet and greet people, and that work and things have a bigger part in our lives than people.
A Brazilian friend of mine who came back from living in Japan told me she started crying when people in the queue in the supermarket started chatting with each other. Normal in Brazil, unthinkable in Japan and (I would say) rare in Holland.
But that's the people. It often seems that the nicest people live in societies that are not so nice. I don't know how that works, but it often seems that way.
The Brazilian society is harsh. The differences between the rich and the poor are huge and (partly as a result) criminality is a huge problem. More than a hundred people are killed everyday in what some call the 'guerra civil Brasileira'. And the same amount of people are killed on Brazil's roads. Corruption and self-enrichment by the rich seem to be a national sports and the jails are hells on earth.
But there is also continuous hope. The democracy with all its problems and scandels is alive and kicking. Even sittings of municipal councils are broadcasted live on television and a vibrant press is following politics every minute.
With president Lula in power not everything has changed for the better but programs to take care of the needs of the poorest in the country, do make a difference. And there are few countries where public participation is so wide-spread than in Brazil. That doesn't always make it easier to get things realised, but makes that what get's done has a good base of support.
Work in Brazil
In the field I work in, I continuously meet people who are passionately working for whatever they believe in (in that is planning for cycling and a more 'democratic' way of traffic planning). I like that there are so many people that believe that you can make a difference, however difficult that is. That enthusiasm is contagious and makes it nice to work in Brazil. And there is a lot going on. There is absolutely no doubt that I can make a much much bigger difference in Brazil than I could ever do in Holland. So that is great. If you want to make the world a better place than the more impact you have the nicer it is.
On the other hand everything is political in Brazil, so if you cannot manage to convince those in power, great plans and common sense is not enough to make a change. You need to know, or get to know, the right people.
As you'd expect, planning is not Brazilian thing. Conferences, meetings, everything starts always an hour or more late and sometimes finishes as much as 2 hours late. As Brazilians like to talk, there is also a habit of not chairing meetings or forum discussions so that they indeed go on indefinitely.
With this, there is a habit to work crazy hours. Starting at 8 am and finishing at 8 pm is not extreme (as I have seen it). If that work is efficient and effective is another thing. As with the badly chaired discussions, a lot leads to nowhere or to the wrong result. If I'd ever work for a longer period in Brazil I'd definitely make sure to limit the time I spent on work and maximise the output. In Brazil it is a bit the American system, a lot of hours but the output per hour is much lower than in Europe.
Live in Brazil?
So how would it be to live in Brazil? I am not sure. In my current line of work I'd probably work in a busy, noisy, polluted, car-oriented city. Even a small city like Florianopolis has 3 lanes of traffic along the coast and the next quiet beach is a drive away (not like my 15 minute cycle trip in The Hague).
And of course, much more than in Europe or Asia, you have to mind your personal safety.
But then, living with Brazilians for a while will be a nice experience.
Anyway, nothing I need to make decisions about now. At the moment I enjoy Thailand....
All the best,