Not surprisingly it adds another layer of difficulty…
Anyone who has ever moved as an adult knows how disruptive it can be. In addition to unpacking, you also have to find a new doctor, dentist and dry cleaner. Find and memorize a new grocery store and optimal traffic route to work/school. Rearrange your kitchen six times before you know everything is in the right spot (or, is that only me?). Search out and establish new hangouts for eating, playing and simply enjoying life. I think we can all agree that the list goes on and on. And, it gets bit longer when you move to another country when you have to do all that plus learn a new culture, become familiar with a new language, understand and navigate a completely new governing model and system, learn important laws, and figure out where to buy dill (ha! inside joke for everyone who’s been with me from the beginning). But, one of the most important aspects in helping you feel settled and connected is meeting people and making friends. Toss in a pandemic and everything becomes just that much more “fun.”
When Won and I moved to Portugal we really didn’t know anyone other than Paulo and Marta, our real estate agent. Nine and a half weeks after we got here, Portugal went into its first total lockdown due to COVID-19. During that two month period, we really didn’t mind being restricted because it gave us time to catch our breath and put a plan of action together on what we wanted to do once we were free to move about again. Even though we hardly knew anyone we never felt isolated or lonely because we had the chance to get out and see Portugal and our workout sessions gave us the opportunity to see and talk to people.
The great thing is, you never know when or where you might meet people and staying open to the possibility ensures you don’t miss out. This is how we met Mark and Jennifer. We were out walking Sweet Pea on the beach when Jennifer spotted my Pepperdine baseball cap (it’s where I got my MBA). Turns out they are originally from Northern California. At the time we met, Jennifer and Mark had been far more active than we had been and recommended loads of restaurants and places to see (they were the ones that tipped us off to the Mafra and Queluz palaces). Since that time we’ve managed to safely get together on many occasions.
In November, Won joined Penha Longa Golf Club and was paired with another Mark who has become a great golf buddy. We had the chance to squeeze in lunch with Mark and his wife, Tracey, in between curfews and other restrictions before the end of the year and have remained in touch via WhatsApp.
Yay! We were beginning to make some progress on the friends front!
A few months ago I joined a Facebook group for expats living in Cascais. It has been an interesting experience for several reasons. The first is that it has afforded me a chance to learn more about this area from other expats proactively sharing suggestions and advice. I have learned about great hiking, biking and walking paths and social groups dedicated to specific activities or interests. I’ve learned tips on how to navigate local municipal and government agencies along with the latest information on COVID-19 restrictions. All this has been great, however, I’m glad I didn’t find it sooner because I might have been negatively influenced reading about some of the challenges people have had. The fact that Won and I successfully figured it out all on our own gives me a sense of confidence that I might not have had if I had joined before (or immediately after) our move. I think I might have been intimidated or concerned when I really didn’t need to be.
But, the group has lived into its core mission – to connect people. I met Joy through comments we both were making on a recent post. That prompted me to contact her directly, which enabled us to further connect through my blog. Turns out we live within walking distance of each other.
Currently, Portugal is in a second very restrictive lockdown which includes limitations on movement outside your municipality. As you may have heard, Portugal – after having been praised last year for its successful response to containing and limiting the virus – allowed families to travel and get together over Christmas. This fateful decision tragically resulted in shooting Portugal to the top of the list for the highest numbers of infection and deaths per capita in the world. I’m happy to report that the numbers are beginning to fall and things are looking better, but the lockdown remains in effect until at least March 1 when the government will consider extending it again (this is done in two week increments).
Compounding the doldrums of lockdown, the weather has been rainy and cool; winter weather here in Portugal. I had been messaging with Joy and we both decided we needed a break from both the lockdown and the weather. We agreed that as soon as the sun came out – even if it was only for a few hours, we’d grab our husbands and meet up at a local park for a safe, socially distanced visit since we had not yet met face to face!
I am happy to report that we were finally able to do that this past Monday. It was so nice to meet Joy and Kirk in person. They are lovely people. During our chat we learned that, like us, they are both retired and wanted an adventure. They arrived in September of last year from Alabama. Their original plan was to move in March of that year, but their visas were delayed due to the first lockdown. Once they got their visas, they didn’t have a choice and had to move or let the visas expire and go through it all again. Unfortunately it was right in the middle of this awful pandemic. They were sharing how difficult it has been to make social connections due to the strict curfews that went into effect shortly after they arrived followed by a complete lockdown in the new year. The last five months have been particularly difficult because they’ve felt somewhat isolated and are beginning to second-guess their decision. We implored them to hang in there and promised that once the lockdown has been lifted (and vaccines administered, allowing us all to circulate safely and freely) the country will unfold before them and they will be able to discover and experience all its magic.
After chatting with Joy and Kirk, I thought about Mark and Tracey who moved here from Texas the month before Joy and Kirk did. They have had a similar experience in terms of not having had the chance to really explore the country and might be feeling a bit lonely too. I’ve made it a priority to reach out and check in with them and as well as our friends Mark and Jennifer, to see how everyone is doing. Since it’s still OK to be outside for some exercise, I’m waiting for another break in the weather when we can all meet up at the local park for a bit of sunshine, masked interaction, and a safe, socially distanced walk.
As you can see, a pandemic and the associated restrictions on movement have added an extra layer of difficulty to what is already a life-changing experience – moving to another country. Recent news reports are saying that this lockdown will likely be in place until after Easter (April 4) in order to avoid repeating the “Christmas” mistake. That’s six weeks away…sigh… On the bright side, my plan is to introduce all of these couples to each other during our upcoming walks. It will help break the tedium if we can all connect and get to know each other in the coming weeks. Something I think we’ll all enjoy.
For all my friends in Texas – I’m keeping you warm and safe in my thoughts and prayers. I hope you and your families get through this horrible disaster as quickly as possible. I can relate to your pain and suffering. Won and I experienced something similar when we lived in New Jersey. We lost power one February for four days. The temp in our home dropped below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, plus we were on a septic system – no electricity, no flushing toilets…groan. Needless to say, we bought a generator the following week. Sending you my love.
Everyone, please stay safe, stay healthy, and be sure to stay in touch.
From Portugal with love,