As a mother and breadwinner in my family, I could not fall apart when Ceará Importers* cut my work-hours and pay in half. I had to remain strong and focused. I had to maintain my equilibrium. There was no room for self-pity, anger or hopelessness. My sons, then fourteen and sixteen years old, depended on me for survival. Together, we found ways of cutting our expenses to the bone. We had to support each other to get through this period of financial difficulty.
In search of a new work contract, I spent the first three months meeting with business contacts. The year 1999 was a tough time to find work at any level. Brazil’s economy was in shambles as a result of the collapse of the Asian and Russian economies. The unemployment rate rose daily. Consumption fell, worsening the situation with more lay-offs. The government’s efforts to promote exports for badly needed foreign currency made no headway. Due to the unstable economic climate, exporters in Ceará were reluctant to invest in expansion and hire additional staff.
My hopes soared when I learned about a project to stimulate Ceará’s fresh melon exports. The project team was looking for an international trade professional with experience in the European market. My contact thought I was ideal for the position. He arranged an interview with the Project Manager at Cambeba, the seat of the Government of the State of Ceará. The interview went well. Two hours later, my interview with the Senator overseeing the project was a disaster. I was an outsider.
Faced with a shrunken job market, I had to change direction and focus. Partnering with my sister in Los Angeles, I set up a sole-proprietor export/import firm. My sister did the same in the USA. With permission from my landlord, I transformed our guest room into our Brazil Office. As local manufacturers would ship goods directly to our USA Office, I did not need storage facilities in Fortaleza. My Business Plan seemed a winner.
I dedicated my afternoons to establishing contacts with potential suppliers. Our first sample shipment of 14 Units of Brazilian Handwoven Cotton Fabrics Hammocks for Camping left Fortaleza on 24 December 1999.
My hard work came to naught. Without capital, I failed to launch our export/import business. By September, my financial situation had become critical. Putting aside my pride, I asked my family in the USA and Canada for assistance. In December, through referral from a close friend, I signed a contract with a small cashew-nut producer seeking to enter the European market. The value of the contract covered less than half of my rent, but I had my first client.
Then, in February 2000, a miracle happened. The Classified Section of a major local newspaper carried two ads of job openings for a foreign-trade professional with export experience. After interviews for both positions, I succeeded in winning one of them. My nightmare over the past eight months had come to an end.