So it’s over, and we are now on the plane back to Lisbon. After what has undoubtedly been one of the trips of my life, if not “the one”.
Even if my feelings about these last days are still in a turmoil and I know it will take some time to fully understand how I stand regarding my past, there are some conclusions to be taken.
First of all, this trip was the fulfilling of a dream. For years I told the boys about being born in Africa, how it was to live my childhood there, in a land of perpetual summer, how happy I had been there; I told them the story of my ancestors, how some came to Mozambique from distant Madeira in the early years of the 20th century in search for a better life; how others came from even more distant Poland to South Africa and made their home there; how their children met and married and became my grandparents, who built the beautiful house whose photos I so often showed them, with the luxuriant garden, the light greens of the lawn and the darker shades of the trees, and the bright colours of Granny’s roses and other flowers… and the crystal blue waters of the swimming pool where we spent so many hours of fun with our family and friends. For years the boys had asked me to bring them here; they wanted to get to know my roots, in fact theirs for they are part of me and I belong to this land; I am an African and as such somewhat exotic in their eyes, so they wanted to see it, feel it.
Now they had already been to Africa twice: first on a holiday to Cape Verde, a few years ago, where we spent a delightful week in Boavista island. But as I say Cape Verde is a very “light version” of Africa, very different from my own. Then last year their father took them for a holiday in São Tomé island, another former Portuguese colony, more like my own Africa but not really the same. So this was it, their dream and mine, and it came true. I am so grateful that I was able to come to Maputo with them, to share the memories of my old life and a very important part of what I am.
I also wanted to come face to face with the past and, if possible, heal old wounds that had remained hidden during all these years. When we left Mozambique there were feelings of pain, of utter loss, of being cheated out of our future here, of being forced to leave our home forever. The year and a half that we spent here after the revolution was a time of fear, of violence, of trying to find shelter from the horrible events happening around us; it was a time of hatred, of settling old scores, without space for tolerance or forgiveness. I remember how, before independence day on 25 June 1975, all Portuguese citizens born in Mozambique had to make a choice between one of the nationalities, a terrible one, almost impossible, as we belonged to both countries; and to have to choose tore us apart, as it did my Grandfather, a Mozambican born and bred, who had to choose the Portuguese nationality when he finally understood there was no future for him in his beloved homeland.
Coming here allowed me to face my past and make amends. I no longer feel angry about what happened or even at the fact that my city’s name was changed from Lourenço Marques (LM) to Maputo. For many years I would always mention the city by its former name, as if it were a way of not losing it so utterly. Now I can say Maputo without pain, naturally, and feel it is still my city. Many things have changed, but the city remains the same, no matter the changes, no matter the name.
And then, the sense of belonging. But I have discovered that I can belong to as many places as those that have been meaningful in my life. I belong to Maputo as I was born here and spent here the most wonderful, magical childhood anyone might have; I am an African, no doubt, and there are so many things I love about Africa, such as the climate and the unique colours of the sunset, or the night skies where the stars seem so much bigger than in Europe! But I also belong to Lisbon. It is also my city, the city that welcomed me all those years ago and where I have spent my teens, where I have studied, loved, married, had my children, made my career, loved again…I love Lisbon, it’s my home and I also belong there, no doubt about it.
And then, of course, my beloved island of Madeira, where I have spent so many happy and memorable moments over the years. The – always unforgettable – holidays of my youth, but also every holiday that I spend there with my dear friend Luisa and her family. Madeira is my paradise on Earth, my dream place, and I belong there too.
I feel I have come to terms as to where I belong, which is great progress; I am an African by birth and an European by adoption, and this trip to the past has made me realize I’ m quite comfortable with that.
Most of all, this trip to the past has allowed me to share many feelings, many ideas, many memories about myself with Nuno and my sons. I’m sure they will understand much more about the person I am than before. With this trip I also paid homage to my family in general and my grandparents in particular, who fought hard to build our beautiful house and give us a wonderful life. When I stood before our house I felt such a strong connection with them. Wherever they are, they will have felt I was honouring their memory and I felt they were close and happy and proud.
On the trip back home to Lisbon, I leave my other home behind. I have made my peace with my native city and country; unlike that sad, angry, torn goodbye of forty three years ago this was a serene goodbye, or maybe not even a goodbye but a “see you later”. For unlike all those years ago, when I cried bitterly as I saw my homeland disappearing in the distance and thought I would never return, this time I hope, I feel that I would love to come back and maybe I will. Oh yes, I have made my peace, and this has been a very, very different goodbye.