Friday, December 16, 2005

Building Brazil

My last day on an audit with my current job. I am sitting in an office in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I spent just a week in this country but it showed me a world that is emerging and a nation that is very likely to be much more powerful and famous than it already is.

A super-power of the twenty-second century ? Possibly.

Brazil has great potential but also has many problems. It’s potential is that it is a young country with a young population. It has a sunny outlook on life but it has a drive that makes it want to be more than just a sun-kissed banana republic.

The people of Brazil are warm and welcoming. This sounds like a cliché but for once it is actually true. They are welcoming to foreigners but also not subservient to the current great powers. Brazil’s attempt to gain partial control of the internet from the US demonstrates a desire that one day it will be a great power also. President Lula’s refusal to roll-over at the WTO talks again shows this nation flexing it muscles.
Yet unlike some nation’s aspiring for greatness, I don’t think the world has anything to fear from a strong Brazil. It has no dangerous idealogy that threatens others. The writing on it’s flag is “Ordem e progresso”. Lula is an unlikely combination. On one hand a former metal worker and leftist. On the other hand the economic reality of Brazil is good. He has lead Brazil to pay off its IMF debts two years early.

My time this week has shown that it is quite difficult to point to a typical Brazilian. The uninitiated may expect a latino character but Brazilians may appear Japanese (the largest community outside Japan), Italian (more Italian descendents in Sao Paulo than current Romans), African, south American Indian, German and many more in addition to the language providing Portuguese.

Our host for this week’s audit was a Japanese Brazilian in his 50s. Let’s call him Pablo and say he’s a live wire, someone with constant curiosity, a comic but also someone good at his job. His job this week was to keep the auditors as happy as possible to soften up any report.
He turned out almost every evening to take us to dinners at barbeques, restaurants and similar.

He was keen for everyone to have as many “Caipirinas” while being mysteriously abstemious himself……

Pablo was no politically correct person himself. He whispered conspiratorially that the owner of a restaurant was “a black man”. He then described an older female member of staff as “fully depreciated”. Yet he conducted himself with such bon homonie that it would be difficult for people to take offence. Unique in my auditing career, I received a relatively serious job offer from Pablo. He knew I was leaving the company but "come and work for me in Brazil" he said. "Just let me know if you change your mind- your always welcome he added".

Brazil still has many poor, universal education is still an ideal not a reality.

Yet it’s spirit is hopeful and lively. This feels a land of opportunity and hope.

On this December summer’s day in Sao Paulo I am not over-excited to be returning to London, it’s safety and security and it’s cold winter. Yet that is where my love is and I want to go to her.
Still it is good to know that if London “burns” there is always a warm welcome to be had in Brazil……………..

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sick man working

Winston, our security guard is back. Last week, he was mysteriously and suddenly taken ill. He became violently sick but felt no stomach or head pain.
Charles, my Treasury colleague, excelled in the crisis. Normally, moving between Treasury screen, MSN Messenger, the web and keeping an eye out for nudes in the hotel opposite, he was transformed to help Winston.

Charles, is the office’s first aid officer. Cynics comment that he only took this for the 4 days out of the office on a training course that it allows. However Charles does take it seriously and given something to do that he feels has purpose, he is a changed man.

Winston was laid out in the first floor offices of a small oil company that shares our office building. Charles attended and when Winston’s symptoms had exhausted Charles’s limited knowledge, they contracted NHS Direct and then an ambulance.

The ambulance took 45 minutes to arrive. Maybe Winston did not sound the most urgent case, although for him and indeed those around him, it was a nasty time. Every move resulted in Winston being sick again.

Then Winston disappeared in an ambulance. I, along with the rest of the office, watched unheroically from the upper floors.
The incident was rather unsettling, if only because it reminded us of our common vulnerability and mortality. Winston, a big Nigerian man in his thirties deteriorated suddenly and for no obvious reason in the course of a couple of hours. He walked into work but left in an ambulance.

Also, the office hierarchy or order was briefly turned upside down. Charles, a not very career orientated, rather hedonistic treasury analyst became the only person who was genuinely willing and able to help in a crisis.

Winston returned today. He looked weak but his company only pays a maximum of three days sick leave to its employees. Winston wanted to come in. His mystery condition was diagnosed as Vertigo. I only knew this as a fear of height or a Hitchcock film. However I learn from Winston that it can also relate to a medical condition where the sense of balance is lost. This caused the unexplained sickness- for him it was like being at sea in a storm or a fairground ride that never stopped.

Winston is back today. He appears to be recovering. For me, it reminds me of our vulnerability and also that the guy who normally letches out of the window at naked women in the hotel may turn out to be the “Good Samaritan”. The rest of us, including me, would do well to not walk by so quickly in future. Next time it could be us suffering Vertigo or other sudden illness.