Monday, April 14, 2008

Here I sit in my little sleeper compartment in a train bound from Austin to San Antonio - first leg of a trip to California for a long awaited writing retreat. I love the tight efficiency and quiet closeness of this compartment - the perfect world - a space designed to hold one person - or an intimate two. I love my traveler role - been a long time since I've traveled alone, especially like this, by train, with a good long interim between departure and arrival and no clock ticking.

I already started having adventures in the station -the train was three hours late - didn't matter to me because I had already separated the time onboard from the rest of my life. I read a bit, distracted by "Dancing With Stars" on the station TV - Latin dancing. A young man with several back packs commented on the fact that the dancers weren't doing real samba - too much upper body, too much with the feet, not enough between the knees and the waist. He was Brazilian and he knew - so we started talking about samba and Brazil and he offered to go get us food if I'd watch his bags. He walked over to nearby Whole Foods market to get us sandwiches (delicious chicken with some kind of sweet sauce and red onions and cabbage that I never would have known I wanted, but now will order again)

As we ate he told me about himself and his country and his dreams, and his impression of our country. He said Brazil is a mess - not a country in which he wants to raise his children - too much corruption and because of the corruption "nothing works" not the roads, the buses, the education system, the health care system, law enforcement - nothing. He worked his way to an electrical engineering degree - public basic school - three years technical training to a technical certificate (he is so thankful his parents could pay for that) and worked his way through university. He is lucky he said - has a skill, not like so many poor people in Brazil. He works for Dell for $20,000 a year, considered middle class there, and pays 60% to the government in taxes, (third highest tax rate in the world, he says) because of the corruption. His dream was to emigrate to the US , and Austin is his favorite city, but the immigration laws are tough here. Australia wants engineers of all kinds and makes it easy for them to become citizens, so the dream is shifting.. His parents, who he dearly loves and for whom one of the back packs is full of American consumer goods, want him to emigrate. They also believe life in Brazil is broken.

He said the rate of crime in Brazil and the regular impact of it on his life is increasing and alarming, He is probably six four, a healthy, imposing, athletic looking young man - BIG_ and he was recently mugged (managing to escape) in broad day light, close to city hall in his home city in southern Brazil. He is astonished that Americans park our cars on the street and they aren't stolen, that we walk our city streets at night, even women, and aren't attacked.

There is also the matter of music, art, plays, books even - much harder to come by in Brazil. He was impressed that I was able to have library books to take with me on my trip - and several of them - not available to him at home. He was awed coming out of his hostel in New York City by the beauty of violin music a young man was playing on the subway steps for donations - waited for tow trains and kept putting dollars in the violin case because he was so moved by the presence of live music.. He saw his first opera in New York City - standing room with a German girl who paid eighteen dollars to take him to La Boheme - he loved it. There aren't many chances to hear/see live classical music in Brazil, and when there are the tickets are very expensive and sell out fast.

It was an amazing two hours talk I had with this young man - who bought his first coat when he got off the plane in New York City to temperatures in the thirties after getting on the plane on a day when the temperature was 104 degrees - but he has a smart phone and talks about WI FI. as easily as he would talk about water. He loves the commercials on American TV -the humor of them and that the drug commercials list the side effects, which they would never bother with in Brazil.He says when you buy a house there it doesn't have the finishing touches American homes have, that he's astonished what money can buy here and how fast people can earn it. He was open, warm, friendly, gave me a new and different slice of place - and an odd fact- After World War II Brazil invited immigration from Japan and so there are many Japanese in Brazil, very good vegetable farmers , he says, and an asset to his country - growing rice and strawberries.

Not even two hours out of Austin yet, and rich in adventure already.

1 comment:

Dixi said...

What an interesting adventure you had. I have never had an experience with a sleeper train. The conversation with the man from Brazil was very memorable. It is interesting that he is now thinking of emigrating to Australia, also interesting that Austin is his favorite U.S. city. Reading his appreciation for how things are in the U.S. makes me feel good. We so often take the matter of safety and being able to park cars on streets for granted. An interesting entry.