Everybody dreams at least once of moving abroad. But there are no dreams achieved without some sleepless nights. On our social media people notice the good moments; the beach, mountains, good food & friends on a holiday. But that’s not all there is to it.
Last week was a disaster and I needed time to reset expectations. I took my camera, called the dogs and left the house all wrapped up warm for a long walk along the cold lake & harbour of Ovar. Life there is though and its people are mistrustful. Exactly what I needed. The truth is that we strongly have to rely on each other or ourselves. Which led last year to have to find a new balance in our relationship. When all context is gone, you are on your own. Naked in front of each other. That layer of dust & varnish that came to settle on our faces and turned us into a hard-boiled businessman and travel journalist/ writer of an unpublished book lost all its meaning here. There is no other choice than to look if that what lies underneath is still intact. That didn’t happen without a fight. We have a solid marriage but if you want to move on you need to communicate & well, yeah, fight for it. Besides the usual ‘What’s for dinner?’ and ‘How was your day?’ we also had to find out exactly what brought us here, what we expected from our lives and how we could get through this period with flying colours. I don’t know about you but for us- working together with a spouse,… We are completely different wired! To pull through together he had to find he’s more sensitive side and I had to become more pragmatic. Like I said: we had a disaster week, woohaa!
In the second year, things shift. Instead of against each other, it is the Belgian team opposing the Portuguese team. This beautiful host country was a good distraction in the first year but is now taking a new attitude. Plans fall into silence. Agreements in excuses. Carelessness in not caring. There is no dialogue about environmental issues. Plastic is a big part of people’s lives here. The same with animal abuse. Most local business runs through… Facebook. If you’re not a member, you have no access. Again, this year symbolises finding a way in working with each other.
But hey, that’s okay (Except for the environmental issues and animal abuse…), but the thing is that you see crystal clear what you gave up for that dream. I miss my girls to hang out in a bar, all dressed up. It’s in our culture to spend hours dining & talking in a nice, warm restaurant, to have a chat and get lightly drunk on a Christmas Market and make plans for the future, the weekend, or just to discuss the public debate. Portuguese like to keep things in the closed family and stay home with the kids. They await God and the stars to make something happen. They sometimes remind me of a hedgehog that balls up on the road when a car is coming: Disaster Week, woohaa!
Love & understanding
It’s like with any love relationship. The first year everything is new & exciting. The second year, you start to notice each other’s sharp edges. The third year will be ‘make or break’. We chose not to meet any expats in the first years. Everything is fun and cool among expats, but we want to connect with the (business) mentality of our host country. It is neither our plan to stay on our little Island with our little off-grid project. We want to cooperate with Portuguese because they are gentle, honest & hard workers once you are at the same level of understanding.
But we are still processing, haha. This week we hardly had internet during daytime, the bank lost our file twice(!), the real estate agent sent us the wrong references & paperwork, meetings were cancelled, electricity failed twice(!), the roof of our office in Porto ended on the neighbours’ one after some gusts of winds and the tax office sent me home three times (!) because their system failed. And of course, we started arguing with each other. This gets under your skin. While Portuguese don’t seem to be very occupied by it, there are a lot of moments where I feel emotionally shaken down.
Having said this, we are determined to stay. This land has a lot to offer and has the chance to do things differently. 80 percent of electricity comes from green energy (in Belgium we are happy with a dodgy 30 percent ). Portuguese don’t choose for a rat race life (they choose family). Life is relaxing and we are always welcome in their houses. We are the happy ones (os fortunados in Portuguese) and I am grateful for it. Even with this grim weather, there is a lot of unexpected beauty underneath it. And I love this kind of contrast. It makes me feel alive.