I’ve wanted to live in Portugal for as long as I can remember. And so, three months ago, I packed my bags and moved to Lisbon.
Well, that’s not exactly accurate. Moving is a process and the preparations for my move have been ongoing for quite a while now. Preparations extend past the physical, too, and into the emotional, the mental. So, for months now, since I had firmly made the decision that This Was Now Happening, I’ve been mentally preparing myself: I’ve been reading about moving country, talking to friends, sharing my fears, my excitement, my worries, my ecstasy and essentially trying to just be really, really prepared.
And then I landed in Lisbon, and I realised quite quickly that I wasn’t prepared at all.
This isn’t because I didn’t know what awaited me: I was greeted by loving family members at the airport, the sun shining happily down as we drove to their home, where I’d rest and eat a warm meal in a familiar environment. As a South African of Portuguese (and other) descent, my connection to Portugal is intrinsic to me. So the feelings of homeliness and happiness washed over me, even as the initial sadness of saying goodbye to OR Tambo lingered. This is the beginning of my new adventure.
But despite the sense of familiarity to my new environment, there is also so much that strikes me as alien. In other words, culture shock doesn’t necessarily have to smack you in the face the moment you land in your new country. It seeps into your daily life, and wears you down bit by bit: because everything is new, something as simple as ordering a coffee or buying groceries becomes a learning experience. This is especially true when you’re doing it all for the first time in a different language. And while I was trying to get the hang of this new country and all its idiosyncrasies, I began to miss my country, and all the little things that make it familiar.
I missed (and miss) talking and joking in English, and not just any English, but my English, with its inflections and particularities and expressions borrowed from and influenced by the many other official languages. As the days grow shorter here, I see the photos of people having poolside braais and drinking wine from the Cape (actually mostly Tall Horse), and I think it would be impossible not to long for dinners with old friends and good conversation. The winter rain here couldn’t be more different from the summer thunderstorms of the Highveld, where the lightning burns the sky shades of ochre against the city skyline. But these are the things you can’t be prepared for when you move away, I’ve now learnt; these are just the things you have to feel, and you somehow learn to deal with.
So these last few months, the lead-up to the move, and the settlement here, have been far from easy. But while I do feel homesick and sad a lot of the time, I also feel excited and hopeful. This really is only the beginning.