Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

September 10, 2005

Final party for the Brazilians

This evening, I was invited to attend the final banquet for the Brazilian and Japanese "trainees." These are young people who came to the United States to work on farms as a way of learning English and learning about agriculture.

The atmosphere at the party tonight was racous. Brazilians are partiers, and they hooted and hollered the whole evening, barely allowing the program coordinators to speak and distribute the certificates. It was fun to watch and be a part of.

I recently found out that before they leave Brazil, the trainees are put through a month-long boot camp where they are forbidden to call home or at any way contact the outside world. This is to weed out those who might get homesick or otherwise lack the ability to put up with adversity. The boot camp is a more appropriate beginning to their 18-month stint than you might imagine.

I was introduced and welcomed--as the first "host farmer" in the history of this program to attend a final banquet. I was surprised this was so unusual. I almost wondered if I should be there, and racked my brain to see if I might have somehow invited myself somewhere back a few weeks. It wouldn't be the first time.

How does the program recruit farmers to host students? Well, farmers are allowed to pay "trainees" a fraction of minimum wage. There is really no requirement for them other than that they provide some form of shelter and workmen's comp. The shelter usually isn't much.

Many farmers have clearly come to depend upon foreign trainees for cheap labor and nothing else. Some trainees reported working for good people; others felt like they had been to hell and back.

One trainee attempts to prove that Eduardo, a friend of Cassio's, has less hair at age 20 than I do at age 41. Eduardo didn't seem to care. I think he was just glad to be going home. He drew what was called a "hard farm." In other words, he worked from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., sometimes longer, for six days per week. The farmer got this much labor out of Eduardo for about $900 per month. Of that amount, Eduardo received about $350. Somebody down here in California got the rest.

Eduardo's living quarters were spartan: One room, shared by three people, with two beds, a sofa, a fridge and a microwave. The boys made their own food in the microwave. This was on a dairy farm somwhere in central Minnesota.

But Eduardo was upbeat. It's over now, he said, it had been a great experience, and he still loves America.

Raciel poses with the four girls on the program. When each female was introduced, there were unabashed whistles from the guys. One of these girls received an award for perservering on a particularly "hard farm." It was tough, they said, but she made it.

Cassio and Raciel take photos after the ceremony.

Cassio was given an award as the "most valuable" trainee. I had written him a good evaluation, but I am sure there were others who did a bang-up job as well but didn't have farmers willing to write an evaluation. So, I am a little sad for them at the same time I am happy that Cassio was rewarded for his great work. Deep down, I know he was the best.

Overall, I am sad for those students who were treated like cheap labor. I am disgusted that the "trainees" are paid so little and are so taken for granted. I am also angry that they apparently fall through the cracks of overtime and minimum wage regulations. It isn't right.

You don't want to deprive wonderful people like these Brazilian kids of a chance to come to the United States and learn. At the same time, they shouldn't be subjected to the whims of people who are only interested in cheap labor and are only minimally interested in them as people.

These kids were, in fact, expected to deal with "hard farms." In my opinion, they shouldn't have to. I would like to find some of the owners of the "hard farms" one decent farmer I know who was appalled by the treatment of foreigners by some farmers said: "crack their head on a rock."

Goal attained

Here was the final goal of our trip: Cassio wanted to see the drive-through tree. It wasn't quite as big as he had thought it would be, but he did get pictures for his father, a former lumber cutter, who, according to Cassio, probably has never seen pictures of the redwoods.

I think I know a bit of what it is like to see a kid go off to college. It is going to be pretty quiet, both on the trip home and in my house when I get there. I was accustomed to the quiet of living alone, but having the energy of a 19-year-old around the house for four months was kind of fun. It is going to be an adjustment.

I have many friends and relatives in the Bay Area--but no energy in this short time to do any visiting. We have a banquet for the exchange program tonight, which I will attend, and then I am off home across the wastes of Nevada tomorrow morning. I probably should by a book-on-tape or something to keep my mind from wandering.

September 09, 2005


Here is a shot of Cassio and a redwood this afternoon. It is a large file.

Raciel and Cassio walk along a trail in the Richardson grove of Redwoods along highway 101. This is a small grove and really is too close to the highway to get away from the sound of traffic--but it had some large trees and gave the guys a flavor of the big trees--as well as some good photos.

September 08, 2005

Ft. Bragg

Drove from Weed, CA, to Redding--where we spent some time shopping at Wal-Mart. Then onward down I-5 to the Williams exit where we ate at some place called Orv's. Uff da. After we got in the car, both Cassio and I revealed that we had taken one look at the bathroom and walked out. How can you trust a restaurant with unusuable restrooms? The restroom cleaning ethic in CA is about the lowest in the country, I have found in the past.

We took Highway 20 across from I-5 to the coast. I had enjoyed Ft. Bragg last time I came through, which was about 18 months ago. We registered at the same hotel I had stayed in last visit, just across from the ocean. After the heat out in the valley, the coast is cloudy and cool--as it is usually. I kind of like that weather, at least for a while. It is a pleasant change from the heat.

The trip west is almost over. Tomorrow night we are in Concord, CA at the hotel where the guys will gather with the rest of their program participants and leave for Brazil. I am going to stay there a couple of nights at the suggestion of the program director. I will then have four days to get the car back to Fargo. That allow me to take a leisurely pace back to the middle of the continent.

It is going to be sad to see Cassio and Raciel go. The trip has been perfectly enjoyable, without even so much as an uncomfortable or unpleasant moment. Traveling is not easy. It can test the tightest friendships. But these two 20-year-olds have been unremittingly positive, flexible, polite and kind.

Cassio has been with me since April, through a busy season at the nursery and two moves. I can't recall him ever once having a down mood. If he gets tired, he just collapses until he's not tired. No moods, no pouting, none of the things I have come to expect from people his age.

I don't think I'll ever meet somebody so inquisitive. Today, for example--Cassio must have dug in the Portuguese/English dictionary at least thirty times. He'd throw it back on the dash only to grab it again a few minutes later. What's the difference between "split" and "share?" Do you want to split a drink with me or share a drink with me? I decided that "split" is slang that doesn't imply all of the gushy softness that "share" connotates. So, "split" is more appropriate for 20-year-old males still trying to prove their masculinity, while "share" is something older people and younger people are more apt to do with their malt, pop, or whatever. Wanna share? I mean, you don't say that to a hunting buddy.

Cassio decided that the person who invented English got lazy by the time he got to carrots and parrots--he was just changing the first letter and calling it good. Then he got even lazier and started using the same word for two different meanings. Wind. You can wind a clock in the wind. And so on.

Cassio says he had better take advantage of the free English lessons while he has them, thus the flurry of last minute English questions. After learning each word, he enters it in a notebook. He says that makes the difference between him remembering the word and forgetting it. The notebook looks quite full. He has been doing this nearly every evening since he moved in with me in April.

Raciel bought some shoes today for a sport which I hadn't heard of before: Indoor soccer played in a court about the size of a basketball floor. Raciel is an athlete. He has played professional soccer in Brazil, where soccer is a national passion. I think he is looking forward to getting back into the sports scene. He has played soccer maybe once in the 18 months he has been here working for farmers.

Raciel has had less chance to learn English. He lived with Brazilians most of the time he was here. Naturally, they only spoke Portuguese. He worked with cows, and they aren't real articulate.

But Raciel still makes himself perfectly clear.

I decided tonight that you can pretty much turn any word into a Portuguese word by adding "ado" to it. So, I picked up the phone and said "communicado," and that was right. I pointed at the lamp and said "illuminado," and that was right, too. Raciel thought that was pretty good. But then I said "bedspreadado," and that didn't work and Cassio right away said I had better quit while I was ahead.

Enough for tonight. Tomorrow, we check out the big trees and then head to the bay area for a brief visit.

September 07, 2005

Confluence of blogs

Cousin Anne's weblog contains some pictures of our visit. She called it "the collision of the weblogs." True enough! We had a great visit. Anne and Bob are great hosts, and the boys are still talking about the visit.

Here is Cousin Anne showing off her midget Idaho sweet corn--apparently stunted by the weather in the high desert of eastern Idaho. And here is Cousin Anne's husband Bob, retired from the Army Special Forces. Here he is looking over his land--all of the wheat fields in the picture are his.

Bob told some interesting stories about his experience in Kuwait before and during the first Gulf War. He has an interest in history, so we ended up having some long discussions about World War II while poor Cassio and Raciel looked on wondering what was going on.

Burns and onward

Here is Cousin Dean working on breaking a horse last night. Even the sound of my camera clicking seemed to spook the animal.

Little Brady Jack, three years old, in a rare pensive moment. Here is Brady Jack riding horse. He was furiously kicking the animal, trying to get it to go. Petrina completely trusted the horse, which has been hers for 14 years. The horse is not well--it is getting old, but it still is used by Dean for team roping.

Petrina saddles up the horse for riding by the Brazilians while explaining where the saddle came from. Dean has been in team-roping competitions for years and has done well--but has only come away with one beltbuckle. This year he won four competitions--and each yielded a beautiful new saddle as the prize.

This is a nostalgic view of the ranch to me. It is essentially unchanged since I stayed there for six weeks in 1983. Dean, Rawleigh and I played hours and hours of baseball in the shade of the willow trees.

This view gives some idea of the charm of the high desert of Eastern Oregon.

This morning, Cassio, Raciel and I left the ranch and traveled to Bend, OR, which has developed into a foofy town, with enough medical facilities to be considered the Rochester of the west. I got off the main drag and was driving through town when Cassio spotted this Brazilian Cafe. Suddenly the boys, who had denied being hungry only five minutes before, were ready to eat. Afterwards, they pulled the pretty Brazilian cook out front for a picture.

After Bend, we drove south into northern California. Here is a view of Mt. Shasta. Tonight we are staying in the shadow of the 14,000 foot peak in a little town called Weed, CA. And yes, somewhere in town there is a sign by the school which says "Weed High."

September 06, 2005

Hauling hay

Cassio maneuvers a semi-load of hay over a road which is much rougher than it looks.

Raciel unloads the hay and stacks it.

Out of all of the cousins, Cassio was quick to pick out Andy as his kindred spirit. Both are pedal-to-the-metal. Andy is fond of driving four-wheeler at 40 mph. He also drives tractor and semi. He is in second grade. He and Cassio have been inventing games to pass the time while they wait for the semi to be loaded with hay.

At the ranch in Burns

Cousin Dean points at the atlas, opened to Brazil, as Raciel and Cassio explain where they live. Cassio whispered to me that he has learned more about Brazil geography since he came here and had to explain it so many times than he ever knew before.

The ranch! In the Bergeson extended family, that means one thing: Aunt Lois and Uncle Don's place in Burns. The house always bustles with cousins. Last night was typical, a rowdy affair with bountiful food and lots of kids and lots of laughing and yelling and carrying on. I stayed at the ranch six weeks once when I was in college, and I have had a soft spot for it ever since.

Cassio and Raciel are enjoying it too, I think. Today they are hauling bales of hay with a tractor and semi. Cousin Dean gave them a brief training session and then left them to the job while he went off to repair fences.

I just drove to town to sit behind the Days Inn and steal wireless. Now I am going to go try to find a good cup of coffee.

More about Burns, one of my favorite places, later.

September 05, 2005

Things we might do...

I have been thinking about the people who are now homeless and utterly without belongings and wondering what we could do--it looks like about 5,000 of them might end up in MN, many at Camp Ripley. Won't they be utterly bored? The thought occurs to me that many of them might be able to play musical instruments, but that none of them will have any. I mean, out of 5000 people from New Orleans, some few dozen must be able to play guitar. What about if we got together some musical instruments and sent down there? I'd bet they would be used. Better than sending televisions, which also might not be a bad idea, but really not all that edifiying. But one guitar would keep people occupied, and might be a wonderful sight for an old guitar player--perhaps somebody who quit playing years ago, but who might start again now for lack of anything else to do.

September 04, 2005

Four wheelin Brazilians

Earlier in the day, Cassio and Raciel drove 4-wheeler up at the other property that Anne and Bob own. Here is Cassio loading the 4-wheeler on the trailer afterwards--going full bore, as always.

Raciel was in his element when they went driving later in the day. They were bouncing around the field behind Anne and Bob's house like a couple of rabbits.

Happy campers.

They worked up an appetite, did the crazy Brazilians--which was needed, since Anne cooked an excellent meal of steak, veggies and blueberry pie.

More pics

Here is the view of Cousin Anne and her husband Bob's property along the Snake River in Idaho. We were trying to help them pick out a place to put a house today. Tough decision!

Here is a picture Raciel took of a buffalo (or "boooofalo" as he calls them) along side the road.

This fellow was plodding along in the proper lane, oblivious to the thirty cars piled up behind him.

Cassio set up this shot of him "skydiving." Actually, he is sprawled out on a rock.

This is a picture Raciel took of an elk. Dozens of cars had stopped to take pictures. You could hear the elk chewing--clearly he was very used to tourists.

This picture is from the end of the day two days ago when we were leaving the Big Horn mountains. Cassio stuck the camera out the window and captured this geological feature.

Waiting for Old Faithful

A backscratch from one Old Faithful while waiting for another.

Cassio and Raciel at Old Faithful. Cassio wears the same mischievous smirk he has since we left Fertile.

Old Faithful

Cassio, Raciel and I spent yesterday in Yellowstone Park. We arrived at Old Faithful late in the day after seeing other sights in the park. We were quite tired and ready to leave when we heard that Old Faithful was ready to blow. So, we went over the hill to find this scene.

Clearly, it is not too wise to go through a national park on a holiday weekend. We spent one hour stuck in road construction. Overall, however, things went quite smoothly. The park is quite well prepared for a lot of people.

The geyser blows on schedule as it has for decades.