When I was a kid, my father owned a mine in the heartland of Brazil, in what we called ‘the interior’. The soil was rich and red, families were large, the climate was gentle and you could grow just about anything. And everybody did.
We lived in a big house that had been built in the 1850s when the English were pulling gold out of the nearby hills. The house sat up high, with a wrap-around veranda looking down over what had once been the remnants of slave quarters. My father had converted buildings that a century before had housed so many into comfortable single-family houses for the company employees.
Life was pretty easy for just about everyone. There was enough work available so anyone could earn what they needed to buy staples and goodies from the local shopkeepers. Some people were ambitious, some were not. Saturday night was dance night and Sunday was church. We had a town drunk. A sheriff. And a few crooked politicians. Like any other small town, I suppose.
Life moved in a comforting rhythm. Healthy vegetables came out of gardens and fresh fish came out of streams. Pigs were slaughtered for holidays … and no one went hungry. By certain standards, some might call these townspeople ‘poor’ because they lived a simple life. But they lacked for very little.
Then came television.
Suddenly the teenagers dreamed of nothing other than leaving town for the big city, especially São Paulo, so they too could earn those big salaries they heard about. And buy all that stuff.
What they never considered was having to pay for rent, for everything they ate, for bus fare to and from work, for clothing for the job. Those big salaries didn’t go very far.
Granted, some of them thrived in the cities. Others stayed on there, doing whatever they had to in order to scratch out a meager existence.
And some eventually came home … “defeated”.
Now what had been such a satisfying, joyous existence was seen through the filter of failure. This is how you lived when you couldn’t make it in the big city.
But nothing at home had actually changed.
This was my first lesson in how money distorts.