In my nine month exile in Rio, I discovered many things about myself, life and other people. I also found an internal passion for writing.
Writing the blog inspired me to think of more ideas to write about. I then started thinking about writing a collection of essays about interesting people I know, a non-fiction piece. But somehow, I never mastered the courage to start. Then one day, I was inspired to write a short story, and after doing that, decided to write a fiction book. So far so good. When I start, I just cannot stop! It’s an amazing feeling. To be continued..
Here is someone who has some real thoughts about writing. A great quote from him:
“Whether you write literary fiction or thrillers, whether you write fantasy, science fiction, horror, what appeals most to us is the human character. And there’s no other person in the world you know better than yourself.
All we are doing are self-portraits. As simple that. We accumulate knowledge and wisdom and power, and we get our hearts broken, and we write. We write for others to absorb what took us so long to understand.
…Storytellers weave beautiful, intricate stories. They carefully build settings, masterfully sculpt characters. Their stories make use of the reader’s imagination – they make him dream. And then there’s the other category, the ones who make us feel.”
This is true of all my favorite writers such as Kundera and Murakami. I hope to be like them one day.
The past week or so Rio saw an incredible influx of people, coming to participate in the various events related to the UN conference on sustainability. Of course, the important guests such as Obama, Dilma and other heads of states showed their presence but with more than 3000(!!) side events, the majority of the zoo consisted of environmentalists, policy makers, journalists, various human rights advocates, charity workers and any kind of self proclaimed oppressed minority.
For example, the city is full of Indians from the North of Brazil, who came wearing their traditional feathers with their faces painted, to protest the oppression of their rights. One has to ask the smart-ass question: How can a person claiming to be living for under $1 a day, can afford a $500 flight, to come to hang out in Rio for a week?
There was also a guy who claims he came from Mozambique to protest the horrible atrocities he faced by the hands of a brazilian company’s subsidiary there. He has come all the way to Rio, to protest in front of the headquarters, interviewing for all the local newspapers and media, who are more than happy for such a scoop. Just again, to put in reference, Mozambique is where there are cases when a person would quit his job after one month, because the salary was so much for him, that he decided he does not need to work anymore.
Also, we had to work from home or alternative buildings, as corporate security was worried about protests. In one of the days, some of the people who had to work late, had to be evacuated from the building as the protestors were blocking the entrances. Also, the side wall was sprayed with red paint balls, and writings such as “down with multinationals”, and your company = death. Apparently, Rio does not have enough social problems to worry about, and vandalism is a form of art.
As the recently appointed unofficial head of sustainability strategy for my company, I got to spend the last 4 months discussing any possible issue related to this topic. I also got to meet many of the various actors in the field. I came to the following conclusions:
1. Sustainability is a whole cross functional research field (like psychology, chemistry, or biology) whose findings, present and future, could fill in something like 100 football stadiums.
2. Most of the people in this field are hopeless dreamers or smart politicians who spend all their time crying for everybody else, talking about every possible problem of their world, blaming big companies, government and everybody else, without offering any solutions.
3. As a result of the above two, sustainability generates $$$ for the people who know how to use it to their advantage, those being: consultants, industrial manufacturers, politicians, NGOs, any kind of disadvantaged person.
I am not against trying to make the world a better place, but I am really skeptical this will happen unless people will stop discussing again and again the same problems and start coming up with reasonable solutions instead of saying crap such as: “GDP growth is not a good measure of development, the capitalist system has totally failed and we need to move to another system that does not focus on economics” -direct quote from a colleague from sustainability department, sitting across from me in a fancy lunch event, and wearing her designer shirt and diamond earrings).
Another alternative is also to put more smart, action oriented people, such as Shay Agassi (betterplace.com), to find solutions, instead of waiting for useless politicians or college professors to do so.
This week has truly been a week of extremes for me. I spent 3 days in the northern state of Pará, visiting some mines, followed by a shopping spree weekend in the Brazilian New York City, aka, São Paulo.
Pará reminded me of the image of conquering the western frontier, so often portrayed in the American literature and movies. We spent hours driving through broken highways and dirt roads, passing endless plains, green hilltops, horse pastures, small farms, huge forests, seeing very little presence of humans in the region. This state is seeing a lot of economic growth in the past year due to investments in the mining industry, and people from all over Brazil, especially from even poorer areas are flocking here in search of job opportunities. The small cities that exist around future mining operations are growing at a high pace (20%+ population growth rate per annum) and the government is busy talking about economic growth rather than actually taking actions to support it. Many of these emerging urban nuclei resemble shanti towns, with no sewage system, no waste treatment facilities, and overall low levels of support for public services such as education, health or safety.
Oftentimes, the big companies in the area have to assume the role of the government, developing urban plans, paving roads, providing electricity, building schools and creating various training programs. Unlike in some developed countries, they are not driven by PR concerns but rather are acting on immediate operational needs and long term planning. They have to ensure a certain quality of life for their employees, they need to be able to build a local labor pool, and as it is always the case with extractive industries, they have to build trust relationships with the local community and governments.
Setting aside the current dire state of the towns I visited, I could see the infinite amount of opportunities for brave future entrepreneurs. These places are short of everything: hotels, supermarkets, shops, restaurants, bars, technical training institutes, beauty salons, security solutions, transport, internet cafes, gas stations (we actually tried to fuel the car one day and were told gasoline has run out for the day). They will also continue to grow at the same rate for the foreseeable future. I am sure that next time I visit, the towns will be completely transformed. I hope that for the better…
From one extreme to another, I passed a weekend in Sampa, catching up on all the things I have been missing from my lovely NYC. I bought some amazing designer clothes (second hand but perfect state!!), spending a ridiculous amount of $$, which is uncharacteristic of me. I met some MBA friends and had a brunch at the chic Hyatt restaurant (overpriced, but totally worth the western experience). I also checked out the nightlife and found the paulista girls super stylish and paulista guys much more elegant than their carioca counterparts.
I understand how a state that is 3 hours of flight away can be so different but what is truly amazing is how the 500km between SP and Rio can create such a huge cultural distance.
This weekend I visited Petropolis, located about an hour away from Rio. I was expecting a small and quaint town, but looks like progress is far-reaching. Petropolis was quite big and commercial. It does have some of its old charm remaining.
I visited the Imperial Palace and bored by decaying relics, spent my afternoon chilling in the super-cute adjacent cafe.
I also walked along the canals and discovered a beautiful church and then the Crystal Palace, which is supposed to be hosting a major German celebration at the end of this month. Brazilian Germans partying it up.. I want to see that!