Arts, Culture & Media

For this expat, moving back to Brazil wasn't all sunshine and samba

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Kids play soccer during a training session at Sao Carlos slum in Rio de Janeiro May 15, 2014.

Credit:

Pilar Olivares/Reuters

Brazil on the rise. That was the story in 2008.

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A booming economy lured many Brazilian expats back home. That included reporter Juliana Barbassa. She landed a gig at the AP. But her life back home was far from the one she envisioned.

She's chronicles it in her new book, "Dancing with the Devil in the City of God: Rio de Janeiro on the Brink."

For Barbassa, Brazil was always home. “My passport is Brazil even though I spent 30 years outside Brazil. And I was very curious, both as a journalist and as a native, a local daughter, to understand what all this uproar meant, what all the headlines meant, if there was a real change or if it was just something for the English to see.”

The Brazil she remembers as a kid was bleak. It was the Brazil of the mid-1980s. She says at that time, the country was transitioning out of the military dictatorship, and the economy was in shambles with hyperinflation.

It was far different from the country she landed in, some 30 years later. “It was an entirely different city,” she says. “It felt like someone had taken the place that I knew and turned it inside out.”

Barbassa saw security finally patrolling the favelas. And coconut sellers making calls on cellphones. But a lot of the stuff she saw was just surface level improvements. She says the favelas felt like military states and while the coconut sellers had cellphones, they might not have a sewage treatment plant. “It wasn’t quite what I’d expected or hoped for,” she says. “It was tremendously disappointing.”

She left Brazil a couple of years ago, and now lives in Zurich. The Brazil she left behind is still working toward a better future. There are protests, calls for impeachment and indictments. It looks a lot like the US. And she thinks all of these activities, while chaotic, are healthy things.

“Having the people in the streets making their demands and being heard is a very positive step for a country that just 30 years ago was under a military dictatorship,” she says. “So it looks very messy. It looks chaotic. But I see the seeds of something very positive happening as well.”