Transitioning from Portugal to Guinea-Bissau

I was so happy seeing my sister again. After this episode of separation, we have never been separated ever again. We became inseparable. My sister will forever be my partner in crime, like Thelma & Louise, Bonnie & Clyde.

Anyway, leaving Portugal was bittersweet: I was sad leaving my beloved country, leaving my father and grandmother behind. They both loved me so much and it was reciprocal. However, I was so elated to leave my tormentors behind. Those vultures can pick on another helpless victim for all I care.

I was looking forward going to my mum’s country, in a way also learning about my own origins. For a moment, I resembled the famous Portuguese explorers of the 15th century who were the first to explore the African continent.

After a long journey, we finally arrived in Guinea-Bissau, greeted by our maternal grandmother and some other relatives. Me and my sister felt so important like it was a welcoming party at the airport. Such a happy moment we sensed the positive vibe hugging us. Although I was happy to be surrounded by family, the one thing I couldn’t handle well was the unbearable heat. The menacing scorching sun was throwing countless heat punches in succession without giving us a break. Shades were our haven protecting us from the ferocious sun. The thing I realised, once you were exposed by the sun, you quickly became the sun’s prisoner, helpless and attacked by its strong and powerful rays. In other words, my first experience in Guinea-Bissau resembled hell on earth. As if the sun wasn’t a threat enough, lurking around the village that was now our home, hyenas and vultures fighting over leftover food from the garbage. It is fair to say, me and my sister were not used to this life yet. From being born in Lisbon, to living in Madeira, with the vibrant city life including the vibrant beaches to now living in a remote shack village? This reality was a slap in the face.

To make matters worse, was the culture in Guinea-Bissau which I wasn’t prepared for. So, as you may recount, I was such a ball of energy, bubbly and always seeking attention right? Well those characteristics simply were not allowed. I shall explain why. Many African countries I am sure is the same, but you must be docile, do as you’re told and must importantly obey rules. Well, I was terrible and not only did I stand out for my larger than life personality, being European I was clearly labelled as well which didn’t go in my favour. I found most children especially girls my age (3-4) so docile and cookie cutters almost who already knew how to cook, clean and more.  I was the opposite, I just wanted to play which was normal at my tender age. Sadly for me, I was often on the receiving hand.

As I was so stubborn and didn’t follow the rules and do what I was told, I was frequently beaten. Before you find this appalling, this was the culture in Guinea-Bissau (including many African countries) this was how we were raised, beatings were part of the norms. So ironically from being frequently bullied and beaten by my friend’s cousins and young relatives, now I was being frequently beaten by adults. I wondered when would this ongoing nightmare end? I started school in Guinea-Bissau and at school, teachers also can beat you. The beatings didn’t make me submissive, on the contrary it made me rebel even more. I am sure I quickly earned a reputation in the village. My mum too used to get the updates on me and my sister and she was told how terrible I was. Naturally, my grandma wanted us to leave as soon as possible. The feeling was clearly mutual.

You must understand and look in my perspective, once I was surrounded by love, care and attention by my mum, dad and other relatives. Even my half sister (she was the eldest of my dad’s children) gave me so much love. I changed when I was being bullied at the hands of my cousin’s friends and other relatives, and my sad experience in Guinea-Bissau only made things worse for me and I started to rebel. All these changes obviously had a negative effect and impact on me. I longed to see my mum and dad again.

At school, I became defiant which led to more trouble for me. Being defiant and stubborn sometimes wasn’t always a bad thing. I recall this memory fondly, so as you see, the culture in Guinea-Bissau not only you get beaten but you were also taught a lesson. My sister once wee in her bed, in the village, they were digging a hole for a well. My relatives as I can’t recall whose idea was it to place my sister in the hole as a punishment. When I saw that, I requested to go down the hole with her at once. My defiance including my stubbornness to not simply watch my sister helplessly looking up as well as being scared won over and was granted to go down and be with her. My persistance paid off. Remember I stated we were inseparable, so naturally I wanted to be right next to her.

As we were both looking up, we were exposed as the outsiders who got caught. At that moment, reality struck that we stood out and were not part of the village. Above us, people were chatting, laughing. I felt so exposed as if I was nude. Eventually we were brought up, but that memory of that day can’t be erased. I think the consequence was to prevent my sister to wee in her bed again. There are other consequences like this to scare children to not repeat things. I obviously never liked these procedures even today. It is fair to say, I never felt I belong in Guinea-Bissau and wanted to leave. Of course, I knew it wouldn’t be possible. In our recent conversations, I found out my dad left Portugal for Switzerland. All that was left was us, and we could be a family again. My mum always assured us she was finalising everything in order for us to go to Switzerland. At first, I believed her. As days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months and months turned to years, I was losing faith. I resigned that Guinea-Bissau was going to be my home for good. At first, I adapted to my frequent beatings as stubborn and defiant children including myself were subject to such treatment. Defeated, I became withdrawn at first, but slowly submissive. I wanted to ensure making life easier for myself was a priority.  I relented and made friends and to the delight of my grandmother started to do chores like the other girls my age. Of course, my personality took a dent, but I was occasionally rebellious to the chagrin of my grandmother.

One day, our mum called. She had great news, she told my grandmother she got tickets for us to leave Guinea-Bissau and she should get everything sorted for us to leave. I just taught it was a joke or a prank to uplift my mood. Nevertheless, I wanted to believe it so bad. Did my mum finally got us our ticket to freedom after 2 years of misery? Potentially tickets to the promised land of Switzerland?

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