He is working in the kitchen of his home; outside there is a slight drizzle, in a typical London winter day. For a long time he concentrates on his work, and when he raises his head and casually looks at the television on the wall he sees a too familiar picture: a blue sky over a golden beach and the greyish blue of the Atlantic sea; a subtitle says something about how Portugal has become one of the favourite destinies in Europe for travellers all over the world – and longing for his homeland makes his heart ache.
He was always an ambitious boy. When he was finishing his Marketing graduation he told his father he would do his training in Brazil, considered the best place in the field. And so he did. When he came back he already had a taste of what living abroad meant, and after graduating he immediately started applying for jobs outside Portugal, as he knew things were very tough back home. For years young people had been struggling to get decent jobs in Portugal and most of those who were employed were earning the minimum wage, and this was definitely not in his plans. Soon he was called to Barcelona for an interview and, at 22 and in the flicker of an eye, he was living by himself in a strange city and beginning a new life.
Over the years he changed jobs, always improving his situation and soon he was enjoying life in that incredible city. He made new friends even if he never forgot those he had in Portugal. He found new loves, and finally settled down with a beautiful, smart girl whom he married a few years later. She was also ambitious and hard working and when an opportunity presented itself for her to have a promotion and move to London he didn’t hesitate, left his job and soon found a great one there. They travelled around the world together and had a comfortable life, one he could never have dreamt of had he stayed in his country. He couldn’t complain, but still at times he felt this loneliness, this longing for home, this feeling he was not where he should be, the belief that he was always out of place. How he missed his family, how sad he felt whenever there was a family reunion that he was not able to attend, how worried he was when his grandparents, now elderly and frail, were sick and he feared he might not be there to hold them just one more time…how he missed the long summer days on the beach, talking to his father until late in the evening, teasing his younger brother, walking along the sea and feeling the salt on his lips…life was simply not the same away from home, and wherever he lived home would always be there, where his heart and his family were.
On the other side of the Atlantic, in the mega-city of S. Paulo, Brazil, she is getting ready for an event she will be attending for her work. The TV is on and suddenly she sees the very same image, the very same news about Portugal being chosen as the number one destiny for holidays…tears fill up her blue eyes and she wipes them angrily, she won’t have them spoil her makeup, she is in a hurry…but as memories of her old life come flooding back she sits down and cries of loneliness, of longing, she misses her home, her family, her friends, her city, the smell of grilled sardines during St. Anthony’s festivities in June…
As a coincidence, she also graduated in Marketing and did her practice in Rio de Janeiro, also returning to Portugal with a strong conviction that in her country she would have no career opportunities. After graduation she worked as a trainee for a multinational company, but they paid her a miserable wage and made her work long hours. When she told her mother she would love to do a post graduation in the most prestigious Marketing school in S. Paulo her mother told her it would be very hard, as her wage had been considerably reduced because of the current crisis in Portugal – and the same had happened to her father, an university teacher at one of Lisbon’s private universities, also strongly affected by the economic crisis. For months she worked part time jobs to save money and in the end, with the support of her mother who again made huge sacrifices, she finally boarded a plane to S. Paulo to follow her dream of a career. She bravely faced a very different life from the comfortable one she had in Lisbon: she went to a hard, dangerous city with very little money, her only weapons her courage and her determination to succeed.
She found a small apartment in a nice area – in S. Paulo there’s no living in a “less nice” area, it’s much too dangerous – with a friend and tried to live as modestly as she could, but still it was hard to make ends meet and she knew she could not ask more of her mother.
She had a very difficult time, and some of the things she went through she swore her mother would never know. But, as mothers’ sixth sense goes, her mother knew she was facing hardship – but somehow they never admitted that to each other, as neither of them would allow herself a moment of weakness so the other would not falter in her turn. So days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and amidst all the difficulties she finished her post-graduation with a brilliant result and soon had an invitation to work for one the of the most prestigious international companies in S. Paulo, where she has been slowly but steadily building the career she had dreamt of, one she has fought so hard for.
Both these young people are the children of a sad, impoverished Portugal that has very little to offer to the new generations. While my generation eagerly looked forward to finishing our studies and finding and building a career in the city where we lived or chose to live in, for some years now – and mostly after the economic crisis installed itself – our young people have almost no options if they stay, so they are forced to choose leaving the country if they want to find a decent career opportunity. Today every family has at least a son or a daughter living and working abroad, and in some families this number is higher. Thank God today we have Viber and WhatsApp and Skype, that bring us together with those we love who are far away, but still it’s not the same thing as having them near us. Thank God for Easy jet and Ryan air and such, that make travelling easier and cheaper, but still the distance is there and no one can travel back and forth all the time…so we comfort ourselves thinking they are making a sacrifice but building successful careers and maybe, maybe one day, who knows, things will change and they will be able to return…
My boys are still at home, still studying, but who knows what they will do in the future. Pedro is already considering doing a course entirely in English that will give him more possibilities to work abroad. Explicitly or not, going away is an ever present thought in the mind of young Portuguese. And we all have to come to terms with that. The world has changed and probably not for the best. In this case we’d certainly prefer our children to build their successful careers in their own country. Still, in a globalised society these young people have truly become citizens of the world. They have outgrown their boundaries, conquered their fears, fought for their ideals and to achieve what they wanted for their lives; they have faced their challenges leaving their fears behind them. They are worthy of our admiration as they have left their comfortable lives and faced the unknown. And they are succeeding, and I have no doubt they will have great careers and find happiness because they are fighters who will simply not be vanquished.
But, deep within, no matter how successful and happy they are, there will always be that faint nostalgic feeling, of missing someone and something, of looking for that puzzle part that is just not there, a feeling so much our own that only a Portuguese word can describe it – the very special word “SAUDADE”.
Ask any Portuguese – he or she will put his right hand over the heart and tell you how it much it hurts.