Up until a few months ago, I had no plans in life. I felt my path was put on hold and I spent my summer touring in Portugal (From Porto, to Braga, Viana, Lisbon and Al Garve) and enjoying Barcelona (which wasn’t much compared to Portugal).
Born and raised in Dubai then shipped over to Cairo, I haven’t been much of a traveler since my childhood trips around the world with my parents. I interned in Switzerland at the age of 18 after several years spent in Egypt feeling like an outcast (and venting about that online to all of you). I hit London last Christmas and then went on a job hunt in Dubai. My hunger for travel grew.
In search for more to learn, I decided to embark on an educational program and see where that takes me. And here I find myself in Portugal, at Lisbon its capital, amidst the too-good-to-be-true food (yes, beats Spain), the bars, a fascinating culture, beautiful Fado music, a city by the ocean and river, gardens, sunshine and beautiful people.
Unlike what most people wouldn’t expect, I fell in love with Portugal last summer and decided to deviate from the norm and start somewhere new. I developed a strong urge to see the world and like most other Egyptian women, I didn’t really get to explore a world of my own or even get the chance to be my own person.
And what more, I lack that sense of belonging, with family roots scattered between Syria, Lebanon, Italy and Egypt. Raised somewhere and boxed someplace else, I feel I need to make a home of own.
Not knowing what to really expect while moving (quite unlike going on a trip with friends), I made a transit in Barcelona and then went on to take TAP Portugal, the Portuguese airline. One of their staff surprised me and said, “ta3ali men hena” and introduced himself as an Egyptian working for TAP. Fun!
But then my trip didn’t continue as a pleasant one. Flight attendants insisted on taking my carry-on while they allowed others to have much larger bags on the quite spacious plane (I enjoyed wine and a salmon sandwich on board – I can’t deny that).
I finally landed in Lisbon after a hectic trip, only to find that my carry-on was missing and their answer was, “Go look for it with the other luggage”. Quite helpful, indeed! And so I walked down the endless corridor wondering if I really lost my gadgets and books.
Even though I found my bags, I struggled to get a cart amidst the hustling crowds of people shoving (something in common with my “home country”) and after several failed attempts and keeling over, I managed to drag my bags on a cart to the exit.
A colleague was waiting for me at the airport and took me to my destination. Surprisingly, the apartment was quite pleasant, indeed. Finally a place of my own. Even though a bit far from school, added with the frustration of not understanding the language, it felt like a fresh breath of air.
Speaking French makes it easier to learn the language here. They even have words originating from Arabic, like “Al-fas” for Al-khas (Lettuce), “Azeite” from Al-zayt for oil (olive oil, rather), “Oxala” (pronounced Oshala) For Insha’allah.
Arab influences are seen in Portugal’s language, architecture, food and faces. You walk down the streets and you see all walks of life. A mixture of African, Arab, Western and Asian looks.
It was really late at night and I was starving, so I hopped down to the bistro under my building, and after several attempts of sign language, I got an asparagus soup, a green salad, a serving of two steaks and a glass of house wine all for 15 Euros! And really yummy!
On my second day, I started experiencing the warmth of the Portuguese people. My colleague and a friend I made from school admission picked me up and took me to the city center to get me acquainted, help me get a Sim card, change money and take nice long walks. After that, we went to Lisbon’s Pink Street, “The Absolute Vodka Street”, where we sat at a pleasant pub listening to live Fado and eating delicious seafood and Haram-meat tapas (they even have warm blankets set out on each chair).
I’ve been spending my days being quite lazy and enjoying the speedy internet, streaming shows (Downton Abbey) and enjoying the view overlooking the surrounding parks. The weather is similar to Cairo. Not too cold, with the sun up and shining in the morning.
Bairo Alto is another area full of alleys filled with bars and attractive venues. Needless to say, I couldn’t help visiting quite a few. (I happened to post a painting of a somewhat nude woman only to have it reported by Facebook “friends” and removed. Now I know why I left lol!)
My program takes me on to Boston, Shanghai and Brazil. But until then, I’ll be learning Portuguese (hopefully) and keeping you posted.
WE SAID THIS: Good luck, Jackie!