On the positive side

I was reminded yesterday that I have occasionally been less than complimentary about my adopted country. This is true, although I reserve my right to be critical, whether in relation to Brazil, the UK, or anywhere else for that matter (blah blah blah…). Anyway, in an effort to balance the scales somewhat (and perhaps justify the decision to come to Brazil – or more specifically, Amazonas), let me say something more positive in my next few posts.

Firstly, there’s no such thing as “can’t do”, here. The concept just doesn’t exist. There is always a jeitinho, or “little way” to get round any problem, however large or small. There is a background hum of effortless inventiveness, attenuated by a calm acceptance of what is, which we in the UK may long since have lost. Take for example the paint kettle. They don’t do paint kettles here. A source of some frustration to a gringo like myself (well OK, only when I’m painting, but still…). What do I use instead? In the UK I might have nosed about and found a plant pot or something (except they usually have those pesky holes in the bottom), or (more likely) dug out that old Diana and Charles commemorative mug that Auntie Flossie gave us, with a promise to clean it out afterwards. But I never would have thought of the solution taken for granted by all the painters in Manaus – an empty Coke bottle. Take your bottle and cut it in half, pierce two holes on opposite sides of the newly created rim of the bottom half, find some old electric cable to use as a hanger, and away you go. And the neat thing about it is, as I discovered today down at the authorised Suzuki dealer, you can use the other half as a funnel – with the added advantage that it won’t drip after you’ve used it to top up your oil…because you just put the cap back on.

At the other end of the scale, let me tell you the story of Naice’s father trying to get retrospective planning permission for his newly-built petrol station, following a visit from the local planning authority. “Sorry, you’ll have to rebuild the whole thing – there’s insufficient frontage” (between road and buildings). Can I interest you in a few beers? “No”. Might I perhaps defray some of your expenses? “No”. OK, well I’m not going to rebuild it. “You’d better”. Will not, too. Etc etc. Enough to induce an arterial flutter in the best of us, no doubt. The solution? Carry on regardless, and meantime make some enquiries with the locals, discovering that half the government buildings along the same road fall foul of this particular planning requirement. On the next visit, tell the official Ok, tell you what, start at that end of the road and work towards me, and when I see that everyone’s complying, I certainly will, too. “OK, here’s your certificate.” This is a condensed version of an episode which took place over 18 months, with all sorts of threats of closure and sanctions and fines and what-not. Was Mr da Silva worried? No. Not in the slightest? No. He just carried on doing what he was doing, in the certain knowledge that the problem would be resolved in some way – and in the meantime, well why worry?

I’m sure there are a hundred and one other examples of this jeitinho, with the rather profound result that just about everyone you meet, and no matter their circumstances, is pretty happy with and optimistic about life. If anyone has read The Power of Now, you’ll understand me when I say that in general terms, the people of Amazonas are a pretty enlightened lot.

I’m trying to be enlightened myself, but these things don’t just happen overnight, you know? Today I watched the highly trained technician fitting the steering wheel to my brand new boat. He didn’t have the right drill bit for the fixings, so he used the smaller one as a rasp to make all the holes bigger (and much less round), while I sat there trying desperately to be enlightened, with my jaws clamped tightly around my index finger. (Hey, I’m working on it, okay…?)

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