A foreign correspondent in Brazil recently told me that Brazil is no longer boring. The protests, he said, were the first interesting thing to happen in the last few years. In some ways, I agree. Even though Brazil has been in the spotlight and has gained more and more space in the international media, a lot of the discussion is the same—even after the protests. Booming economy. Stagnated economy. Not prepared for the World Cup and Olympics. Maybe prepared for the World Cup and Olympics. Violence. Favelas. The new middle class. Dilma’s high popularity ratings. Dilma’s crashing popularity ratings. Eike Batista on the rise. Eike Batista’s downward spiral. A lot of the focus has tended to be on some of the same issues and characters, Plus, there’s has been a tremendous amount of hype—though that has begun to fade.
As far as the protests go, the writing was on the wall. While I think few people say they saw the protests coming—I am not one of them—the pressure was undoubtedly mounting. Over the past few years, I’ve read and listened to and spoken to Brazilians from every range of the socioeconomic spectrum who complained about their quality of life. And with so many more Brazilians traveling abroad, it’s enabled more people to reflect about the way things are. Every time friends visit, they always ask if we plan to move back. But they also always quietly spill their guts about things at home: crime, traffic, the cost of living. There’s always a desabafo, of getting something off their chests.
In a way, the protests represented a collective desabafo. A great roar to say “We have had it.” A warning that the status quo will not stand. It seemed to give people permission to take ownership of all of the anger and resentment they feel about the general state of things and to be honest about how they really feel about everything from politics to how they get to work everyday. It really felt like a spell was broken, or a hypnosis was abruptly interrupted. And for anyone following Brazil, that’s incredibly heartening. It could mean deeper changes are afoot.
On my end, though, one could ask why I bother continuing to write about Brazil at all. Lots of people ask me how I manage to continue covering the country from abroad since I moved back to New York a few years ago. The answer is simple: with online media and social networks, I sometimes feel like I haven’t left. And because I’m not a correspondent who is obligated to cover those very things I listed above, the ones that all the big outlets have to cover, I’m free to write what I want. And because I’m not on the ground, I’m forced to pay even closer attention to everything I read and hear, whether I’m in New York or traveling in Brazil. That’s how I managed to write about the protests at their height from afar, by watching the protests via livestream, collecting eyewitness accounts and talking to those who attended the demonstrations, and listening and reading very, very closely.
So what makes Brazil so interesting that makes it worth following, both before and after the protests? It’s a continental-sized country with some of the most modern people in the world—as well as uncontacted tribes living as they did thousands of years ago. It’s a country of extremes, which sometimes even exist side by side. It’s a country that’s increasingly globalized, but always absorbing elements of other cultures to produce something completely fascinating. It’s a place that struggles to shed the shackles of its not-so-distant past even as it makes remarkable gains. It’s the personal stories behind the big headlines. It’s discovering those amazing stories that no one else is covering. So even as the protests die down, Brazil will never bore me.
Rachel Glickhouse is a New York-based writer and is the author of riogringa.com.