Its been four months since we arrived in Lisbon to make Portugal our home for the foreseeable future.
I’ll be honest, its not been easy.
Sometimes my mind drifts back to those wide open spaces of Patagonia, the biting wind off a Faroese mountain, the expanse of sea seen from the deck of a cargo ship, the sunny over-the-topness of California, the frenetic stickiness of a Hong Kong evening, the vast expanses of Mongolian plains and Siberian taiga, and I can’t quite believe we actually did it. Or that we stopped!
After a year of being on the move and just having a backpack each, with little more to worry about than which country to visit next or whether to splash out on a flight or endure a 24-hour bus journey, we have been thrust into the bureaucracy of setting up life in a country that sure loves its bits of paper.
I fought my way doggedly through the bureaucratic process of being ‘fully legal’ – registering as resident, becoming tax registered, setting up as a sole trader so I can work and pay taxes, enrolling in social security, registering with doctors….. even getting a bus pass was immensely complicated …. The list seemed endless, with a frustrating circularity whereby I couldn’t do one thing until I’d done another, but finally I am getting there.
Lauren started school in September, and after a rocky first day (“no one knows me, they all already have their own friends, I have no one to play with”) she has become a hit in the playground due to her possession of a ‘cool’ skipping rope (devices are, mercifully, banned at her school). She has a little circle of friends and while it’s not like Mozambique where they were forever in and out of each other’s homes and at times I’d have a houseful of girls, she has been to one sleepover and has requested a 5-girl sleepover for her tenth birthday next month. I don’t think she feels fully settled or integrated yet, but she is getting there.
As expected, the year of online schooling had no negative impact on her academic abilities – she is bringing home excellent marks and was even moved up to the ‘native speakers’ class in Portuguese, which given its her third language, is pretty impressive. The school is definitely stretching her, but she is coping well.
I attacked our move here like a job.
Multi-page, colour-coded excel spreadsheet ‘to do’ list and all.
After an intense but relatively short search, helped by very specific criteria (budget and proximity to Lauren’s school as I refuse to drive every day), we bought an apartment ten minutes’ walk from the school, and I am currently writing this on a small corner of the dining table, surrounded by rubble and building supplies with most of our possessions piled up around me, as three workmen rip out some of the features less to my taste. The place is small but in a good, up and coming part of a well-established family-friendly area, and we are very happy with it. I am sure it will throw some surprises at us, it’s an old building, but so far so good. The mortgage process was stressful but helped by a patient bank manager who has known me for years, and by a large deposit thanks to a very kind friend.
I have been doing some work for a former client, and there is potential for more on the horizon, so fingers crossed I will be able to pay the mortgage, the school (more than the mortgage!!), the ballet, the gymnastics, the hip hop classes, the 10-day “not obligatory but we will make your kids feel like shit if you don’t let them go” school trips to France …. and maybe even food and the electric bill as well….
Emotionally, its been a rollercoaster – we only moved in to the new place last week, and before that we were staying at a friends place a bit out of town. It was wonderful to be able to stay somewhere while we dealt with all this, and we are immensely grateful, but we were desperate to be in our own place, and properly settled. Commuting in to do the school run twice a day was a drag. While we were fine with moving every few days and living out of backpacks last year, once the decision was made to settle, that is what we both wanted to do, and the limbo of temporary accommodation and not being able to really unpack has been hard. Even though we are currently living among the dust and building equipment, we are happy to be in our new home.
We haven’t truly explored Lisbon yet – most weekends we have been trekking up to my parents’ place, enjoying spending time with the family after many years of brief intense visits and then nothing for months. Those weekends not spent up there have somehow disappeared into the black hole that is IKEA and the Portuguese equivalent of Homebase (AKI).
I miss my network far more now I am settled than when we were travelling. I was privileged to have a wide and varied support network in Mozambique – like-minded colleagues and friends who ‘got’ my work and shared my interests, other families who shared the joy and stress of raising our kids, good friends I could unwind with and when necessary unload upon…. People who looked out for me, and Lauren, and for whom I did the same. It will come here, to some extent, I guess, although European life is more self-contained and insular. All those sleepovers and dinner parties are far easier to handle when you have staff, large houses, live close to one another, and don’t need to plan things weeks in advance… . but hopefully I will find my niche here, and Lauren will do the same. In the meantime, once the builders have gone, you are all invited to visit us here in Lisbon!
So as I sit here watching a guy plaster my new ceiling, I sign off this blog (for this really is the last post) in a positive frame of mind – the worst of the transition is over, we are in our new home, I am working, Lauren is doing well at school both academically and socially, we are loving being close to family, and the rest will come.
On this exact day last year we set sail on a cargo ship for the other side of the world. This year we are setting off on another adventure, as we make our new home really ‘ours’, and create a life in our new neighbourhood.
Wish us luck.
Thank you all for reading, and for those who celebrate Christmas, in whatever way – have a wonderful one.