For lack of a better term, I declare that today was a wizzy Wednesday. No day is ever alike here in Lisbon, and it’s not just me, but the whole unpredictability of it all. I have learned very quickly never to expect things to happen in the manner that I know them from Germany, Manila or any other city I have lived in. Between the banking systems, labour laws, tax systems, housing, oh the list is endless, suffice it to say that to make it in Lisbon you need to fundamentally expect the unexpected.
I’ve been waiting for my bank card to arrive but it seems to be riding on the world’s slowest snail because it’s been over a week since I applied for it and no sign so far, not even a whiff. I grumbled to myself that at the very least a virtual debit card like I have with my German account would be handy, so I can link it to Apple Pay. So I began fiddling around with the banking app on my phone and went down the veritable rabbit hole. I discovered that I not only have a debit card but I can bloocy create as many as I want for designated merchants. It’s brilliant for budgeting because you set the limit and it’s easy to track. Well, at least I think so. I just had to smile and think of my dearly departed mother who was terrified of ATMs and couldn’t even bring herself to withdraw money from the machine. She preferred to stand in line at the bank and withdraw from the teller! She would appalled here in Lisbon if she found out that there are no tellers here, just account managers and machines – that is, if you even manage to catch an account manager.
My Uber driver story today is not a happy one at all. The young Algerian who drove me had the loveliest smile and beautiful but deeply troubled eyes. He spoke basic Portuguese and broken English, so I can’t even classify it as Portingles, but we managed somehow. He wanted to know all about me and what I had seen in Lisbon in the month that I’ve been here, and was horrified that I have spent most of my time commuting between the hostel and the office. The rain has messed with my plans, but I am not a tourist in a hurry, and I’ll have plenty of time once I find a home.
When it was my turn to interview him, I braced myself for an adventurous life lived a harrowing tale of obscure fixers along the way (crime novelist working in overdrive here…), but never expected the story I ended up with. He got married a little over a year ago in Algeria but a few months after the wedding he left the country to find work in Europe. I could have chosen Spain, France, Switzerland or Germany but instead I landed here, the country with the lowest salaries in Europe, high rents, and I am all alone. My wife stayed behind and cannot join me yet because I can’t afford to bring her over nor do I earn enough to maintain her here either. He grew more and more morose by the minute and I could tell by his body language that he was conflicted, caught between sorrow and anger, each word laced with regret. Much as I wanted to hear more, I didn’t want to push it and put him in an even fouler mood, so I steered the conversation towards more mundane things. As I alighted from the car, he bid me a good working day and thanked me for the conversation. My goodness, if I could only adopt them all and take them all under my wing. The stories I’ve listened to during these Uber rides are priceless and have taught me so much about courage.
One last day left in March, and I know it will be one hell of an adventure. Stay tuned!