Vanessa Barchfield is a Tucson traveler. She worked for a year as a reporter in Brazil; she's been to India twice, and she's now living in Austria, where, she says, they don't do much in the way of brunches. Living and traveling abroad has provided Barchfield with an interesting perspective on the good ol' U.S. of A, and her reporting beat gave her insight into water problems that sound strikingly similar to the ones facing Tucson. The Weekly sat down with her over breakfast during a recent trip back to the Old Pueblo to visit family and friends.
What's it like covering sewers in Brazil?
It's a dirty business, actually. There aren't many of them, so it wasn't such a hard job. I didn't just cover sewers; I covered water and infrastructure. Mostly, it was about highways.
You hear about a lot of water issues in Arizona. Were there similar issues in Brazil?
Brazil's semiarid regions--like the northeast--have the same water shortage and drought problems that we have here in Tucson. There's a lot of water in Brazil, but most of it isn't potable, so they have a lot of problems getting drinking water generally to people in rural areas across the country.
Have Brazilians come up with any creative solutions for dealing with drought, which is to say, how are they dealing with water shortages?
The federal government has proposed a very controversial river transposition project, which would reroute water from the Rio São Francisco to several states with severe droughts--similar to the Central Arizona Project. The transposition has been stalled in federal courts for the past few years, however, so some states are investing in aqueduct construction, and others use trucks to transport water to the most desiccated regions.
What was it like being an American in Brazil?
Americans, generally speaking, are not so liked in Brazil--obviously, for political reasons. But Brazilians are very friendly, so once I got over the initial, "Oh, we hate (President George W.) Bush," they were very friendly to me as a person.
Did you have any really negative encounters with people?
Besides being held up at gunpoint? No. (Laughs. )
Really? Were you held up?
Yeah. I was mugged in Rio once--twice, actually. But never in São Paulo; São Paulo is safe, except for the cop slayings.
You hear a lot about people in other countries drawing a distinction between the government of the United States and the people. Do you think that holds true for Brazilians, by and large?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, they love bitching about Bush. But, you know, I love doing that as well. So we got along in that regard.
Did you see tangible evidence of the economic boom in India between your two visits?
Yeah, actually. The first time I was there was in 2004; I lived there for a year, in Bombay. And at that point, I was one of the few gringos living in Bombay; I was studying then, and gringos were coming in and starting businesses. And I was there just recently for a wedding, in January, and it was like we, as non-Indians, didn't get looks anymore, because there are so many foreigners.
Were there a lot of new buildings and roads?
In Bombay, at least, there's not really a lot of space for more roads, because it's so overdeveloped already. But there is more wealth, definitely.
You've been living in Austria. Are you going back soon?
Yeah, in June.
What's the take on America in Austria?
Generally speaking, Germans and Austrians tend to like the States, and anti-Americanism is a little less prevalent there than it is in Brazil.
Do you have a sense for what they think America should do in Iraq at all?
I would say the general sense in Austria is that the United States shouldn't just pick up and leave, because we've really screwed up the country, and it's just going to deteriorate into civil war if we do. I've noticed people here are more supportive of just withdrawing, though.
How has Tucson changed since you were last here?
Every time I come home, there's a lot more development, a lot more strip malls. ... I'm sort of disappointed about the River Road expansion, because it was such a beautiful road; I loved driving on it. Maybe it will be nice once the construction is over. And I am so sad to see that Hear's Music has closed--it was one of my first stops every time I came home. What a loss. Oh, and also--the other change is that there are more Rosses coming into Tucson, which I'm happy about.
Rosses. You know, the discount department store. ... I like my discount shopping.