One week in Brasil (1990)

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It was late in the evening when the banks are closed and you have no chance to defend yourself when the government announced yet another “economic plan” to combat inflation.

In the name of the same war, a few months before, it had simply confiscated the peoples’ savings from their particular savings and bank accounts, just like that, as if they had the right. The people had grumbled, there were some suicides, but life had continued as usual, as it always does. There were people who had been saving to buy a car, a new stove or because they were going to have a baby. There were elderly peole who lived on the interests of saved money. Through the confiscation, the government had created such widespread confusion in the whole country, that many people lost their jobs and joined the already enormous legion of beggars and thiefs. The majority believed, as the government explained during long hours on televison, that this measure was for the good of the people. Life would be better hereafter and without inflation. An argument that seems to justify many strange offical measures, as if inflation was solely caused by the population.

The latest plan included a freezing of all wages and prices except for those the goverment profited from like gasoline, which went up fifty percent, energy and water. The announcement of this plan was made on a Thursday night, the last day of the month, and Friday was delcared a bank holiday. As is ususal on occasions like this, the whole population went a little mad. Employers stopped paying their employees, people stopped paying their bills and did not dare go shopping nor plan ahead.

I had expected my wages on Friday and was counting on the money to pay my bills, especially my health insurance which was due on the fifth of each month. On Monday, the fourth, I finally got my paycheck and raced to the bank. Whenever the goverment interferes in the chaotic normality of bank business, and here most bills are paid in banks, you can find all the population in enormous lines in the banks. I spent one hour and a half and was still far from reaching a teller when I decided to leave. I was supposed to begin teaching English to a new group of students and had stayed far too long in the bank, with nothing solved. I decided to try the bank again the next day. I had to hurry back to the hotel where I teach the employees.

I left the bank, climbed into my car and hurried to the hotel. I had five minutes till class. I parked and rushed along the pavement. In front of the back entrance of the hotel, I saw the pavement was flooded with dirty sewage water and I should have stepped onto the road do avoid it. Traffic was heavy at that moment and instead of waiting, I carefully waded on my heels through the slush. Suddenly I lost my footing and sank up to my knees into an open sewer, which by a miracle was only that deep. When I think about it today, I can’t help feeling that I might have literally disappeared from the face of the earth had the hole been deeper. I fell and had excrement splashed all over myself. There had been no sign, no fence, nothing to warn me of the danger. I felt ridiculous and cried and laughed at the same time. I could not make up my mind if I should be furious or treat the accident as one more unbeliebably improbable part of life in this country. Instead of giving the class, I took a shower, rubbed alcohol all over my body and waited for my clothes to be washed and dried in the laundryroom. I had wasted a whole afternoon and fallen into a stinking sewer. I had disappointed a new class, not paid my health insurance for that month, nor had I receivd my wages, all thanks to the government.

The next morning, the fifth, I went to another bank near home, waited one hour in line and when I reached the teller, she told me the signature on my paycheck did not match their micro-films. Exasperated by now, I drove to the bank near the hotel, a forty minute drive from home, asked the girl to check the signatures and she told me they had been cancelled. I drove to the hotel and ran angrily into the manager’s office to blurt out all of my sufferings since the troublesome check had landed in my hands. He had it changed into money for me. I went once again to the bank, waited nearly two hours in line and finally paid my health insurance. I could peacefully get sick now and go to a doctor. On Wednesday, the sixth, my story had spread all over the hotel and I graciously accepted my colleages’ commiserations and jokes about international excrements.

When the government had gone on television the Thursday before, the president had said he was worried that cooking gas, which is delivered to homes in cans, would become scarce. This provoked a rush on cooking gas. Some people stocked it, others bought trucks full of it to sell for three times its price. The accidents did not take long to follow. In the largest city in the country there was an explosion that destryed 32 stores and killed and injured many persons. I spent Thursday driving all over town with an empty can on the back seat of the car looking for gas to buy. Unsuccesfully. The can connected to the stove would finish any day now. I resolved to refuse to have another worry added to my life and put the cooking gas firmly out of my mind. A week later, the delivery, which had been stopped, became normal again. We learned there had been no shortage at all. The people had just reacted to the president’s careless remarks and thus created a shortage. Perhaps also, he had said so on purpose to take the people’s minds off the money shortage.

Well, we are now on the 19th of the month and many things have disappeared from the shelves of supermarkets. Sugar, rice, toilett paper, meat, detergents and soap powder. Prices had been frozen when they were already unreasonably high and wages did not go up anymore to compensate for the inflation which is still rampant but does not exist anymore officially.

As to the savings accounts, the new policy is to pay only interest rates and not, as before, the inflation rate also. The money confiscated would be paid back in a year when it had lost its present value. After many years of trying all kinds of measures to rid the country of inflation, the government’s desperate credo seems to be: Ignore it and it will probably go away. But until it did do that, there was plenty of time to concoct plenty of wild ideas.

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