Monday, 3 December 2007


Hi guys, it’s Von, or Maria if you prefer. So much has happened since my last blog that I am really not sure where to start. In order to cope with the multitude of comings and goings and decision makings I have been spending some of my time looking at trees, just staring, not moving enquiring into the possibility of giving my brain the opportunity to be quiet and still. One thought always leads to another and looking at my life now I see myself both as a small tree plant and as the gardener. The best way for me to explain where I am at now at this stage of our travels is through the metaphor of gardening. So bear with me a little and hopefully you will see where this metaphor goes.

I have been silent about being in Portugal because I have been watching, waiting, observing, is this place really the best place for us to plant ourselves as a family. When you have invested your time and effort in the growing of a small seed you want to make sure it’s the right place. Gut instinct and universal signs are wonderful indicators giving you a kick start or a nod in the right direction, but when you are responsible for the growing of something precious you want to be as certain as you can that the site is right. Whether I like it or not I have been at the centre of this move. It was me who said to Andy it’s time to go. It was me who said to the kids it is time to go. It was me who said to my dear friends Michelle and "Tom and Jerry" come and do this thing, whatever it is, with me. So after the thrill of moving, travelling and finding Moses I went into a little panic. Oh God, is this the right place, is this the right place for all these beautiful people to plant themselves?

The Greenhouse
A greenhouse is a place where little seeds are planted into a little soil. As the gardener you provide the greenhouse to give this fragile life some protection and shelter in the hope that it will grow. You provide some water and nutrients, you cover them when they are under the soil with some black plastic to encourage humidity and moisture retention, to make sure that the strong light of the sun that they will eventually need, does them no harm. As the gardener you watch over them, you wake early to see if they have awoken and as soon as that first green sprout shows itself above the surface you invite them to come into the light. You keep them warm but not too hot. You water them never letting them dry out but never drown them. You talk to them, whisper welcome to them, tell them you love them and can’t wait to see them flourish if you are a crazy loon like me you may even walk in every now and again and brush your hands lightly over them to encourage them to resist you and grow stronger. At some point you know that in order to facilitate better growth you will have to pinch out the top growth of that plant to encourage branching, the first pruning. You marvel at their rapid growth and recognise that no matter how much you do that the majority of the magic of their growth belongs to the seed and not to you.

Barbados was my greenhouse. My family did this for me. I was watched, loved, cherished, kissed, cuddled, encouraged to grow in every direction possible. When I was getting a little leggy (ie lippy) and out of hand I was pinched out, pruned to encourage better growth. And for all this I am truly grateful. To be loved and cherished as a child is the single most important thing a family can give and looking back now I can see that all that was given to me freely. But there comes a time when each little plant must leave the greenhouse go through the difficult stage of acclimatisation and enter the nursery bed.

The Nursery Bed
When I left Barbados at 17 I left with very little in my suitcase and a whole lot of love and encouragement in my heart. The nursery bed is all about that little plant beginning to spread roots and to become strong in a less protected environment. Indeed at first acclimatisation was difficult, the cold, the grey, the rain, the loneliness of not being surrounded by all the other little plants just like me. The loneliness of being without family. But England is a great gardening place and so many people in their own way facilitated that growth. My wonderful teachers at the London School of Economics. My great friend Eska who shared a pineapple with a lonely sullen Bajan girl and got me on my way to spreading roots - to finding Andy. I will never forget the magic of that first Christmas at the home of my father and mother in law, Rev Pops and Dr. Mops. In that truly beautiful English home I was welcomed and I was taught. I learnt so much about the environment I was in about the finer aspects of English culture, English life and most thankfully I learnt about English gardening. At Shardeloes Road the largest possible roots were spread with my beautiful friends. So many beautiful people have passed through that house and in their passing I grew stronger, with good root system and wide branches and with my beautiful Andy established some plantlets called Ellie and Josh. London was a great nursery, a wonderful place to grow and to be challenged. I left London a much stronger and more capable person.

One man and a chainsaw or an axe or a sickle or a knife or a stick…or basically anything that cuts a path.
I have discovered that my hubby loves a chainsaw or anything that can cut through a path. With great determination he has managed to clear so many of the old overgrown paths around Mos and during that process we have discovered that the land we have bought is even more special than we first thought. It has been wonderful to spend days cutting and hacking and chopping and shifting and getting horribly scratched up by brambles. The finest time so far is when we discovered that running along the boundary of the land are the most beautiful series of granite pools surrounded by impressive trees and rocks that look like megaliths. We have also discovered that there is a whole lot of cutting down to do so that will keep him occupied and happy for some time to come, result! So now we know that there is good solid hard work to do.

Leaving the Motorhome
Once the weather started to change and Michelle came we realised pretty sharpish that it was time to go. Off we went to our dear friend Sara just to ask if she knew of anyone who was renting a house or apartment with some space outside for Mosey. Within 24hours we had moved into a lovely house with more space than we knew what to do with after so long in the motorhome and the best thing of all… a hot bath! Yipppeeee! At this moment we Poopers are now comfortably housed, well fed, well watered and very content. Thanks Sara. So we know that we don’t have to be stinky horrible campers for the next year or so.

Sara & Antonio’s Engagement PartyWhat do you do with a new house? You fill it with as many people as possible of course… When we heard Sara’s news last week that Antonio had proposed, we asked when the party was, naturally. But here they don’t have engagement parties. They seem to have parties just because they want to, but not for this reason. So we said because we are English that we simply had to host one for them and last Friday we held our first of probably many parties to come, in the house we’re renting. We cooked traditional Bajan food, everyone ate and drank loads, and a few stayed til the early hours, singing, joking and drinking in the kitchen or in front of the huge roaring fire in the lounge. At 2.30am someone announced it was time for the traditional Portuguese final drink of the night. The last one. The one you drink and then say goodbye and go. However it seemed to kick start more singing and drinking of wine, port and aqaurdente. 2 hours later it was all over. (Pictures: the happy betrothed. Or at the time of taking these at 4.30am more like the patient Sara and Antonio the baird!) So now we know that good parties can be had in our pad, absolutely essential for long winter nights.

First days at School for Josh and Ellie
The biggest burden I have been carrying is how will my children be able to interact with other children here if we live at Mos? Once again the support of good friends came to the rescue and for this we have to give huge thanks to Annabella or Bellita or Bellina as I like to call her. Over the course of the time we have been here she has given the kids worksheets in Portuguese and then one night at the bar she came and said to the kids, “would you like to come to my class next week?” On the first day we arrived at the school gates, let’s just say we were really nervous. Standing at the gates were an entire class. Now normally in London that would have had made us very nervous. But, as we walked up we were welcomed with a chorus of “Hello!” and within minutes Joshua and Ellie had disappeared totally enveloped by the most beautiful smiley bunch of school kids. Within the week Josh and Ellie had been to three classes and by the end of the week they were talking about going to school. What an amazing breakthrough for Josh and El. Muito obrigada Bellina, I can’t tell you how much that experience meant to all of us. (Pictures: Spot Josh and Ellie amongst the kids and in the far right corner just a little taller than the children is Bellina)

So now we know that Josh and Ellie will make friends here.

Tree Huggers
A special big up has to go to our dear friend Raquel. Raquel is definitely the mover and shaker of the group. She manages to speak English so fast that I have to ask her to slow down just so this slow Bajan girl can keep up. So far Raquel has managed to give us an amazing education on the local flora and fauna around here including a terrific seminar this week on the amazing Medronheiro trees and their fruit, the Medronho (pictured here in the fruit bowl, in the cakes and in the Aguardente). The best time for me though was when she took us to the local tree nursery. So many tiny and somewhat larger trees lovingly planted in a nearby forested valley waiting to be rehomed as sadly the nursery is closing sometime soon. And all of them, no matter what their size, can be bought for 25c each. I am still hoping that we will be able to save some of them and take them to Mos with us, but not so sure. For now we have just been going for walks there and are truly grateful that our other friend Barbara (gosh I could write a whole blog entry on our time together so far) will be coming and taking as many of them as she can. (Pictures Medronheiro fruit cakes. Very good. Just about everything to eat here is very good). So now I know 2 people who are as madly in love with trees as I am.

A Permanent Hole
Ultimately the aim of every gardener (especially one who is dealing with trees) is to find a permanent home for the plant you have grown and cared for. A site where you can plant it in the hope that it will take over the care of itself and in time care for you so becoming an important part of the life cycle of your shared environment. A good tree in the right environment should limit soil erosion, soaking up excess water to make the land more usable, provide clean life giving oxygen and take away your carbon dioxide. It should give some shade on a hot day and shelter for wildlife. It may even give you beautiful foliage, scented flowers or fruit. In short it will not only care for you but it will reveal the fullness of its beauty. For all this to happen the right tree has to be planted in the right place or the effects can be devastating.

Is what I have discovered here what I need to make the decision that Oleiros is the right place for us?

After careful observation this is what I know. The place is beautiful, no doubt. But the people! They’re truly amazing. On our first meeting with the President of Oleiros two things struck me. One, he listened intently saying very little and two, the little he did say. At the end of our huge nervousness induced monologue he said, “You’ll have all the support you need.” I went away from that meeting thinking about those words and I have been thinking on them ever since. What is it that we need, what is the support that we need? The answer I think is the same as it always is: the support of people. It was the support of people who helped me to grow in Barbados and to thrive in London and it is always the support of people that we need. Without that, all hopes, dreams and potentials at best limp along and at worst die.

If I had moved to Portugal just for the beautiful place, it would have been enough and together my friends, Michelle, "Tom and Jerry" and my family Andy, Josh, Ellie, Moses and Angel would have made a life work. If I had then realised that there was a lovely community of people who we could be on the outside of and just enjoy the fact that they were here that would have been enough too. I would still have got pleasure from watching them. But, this is not how it is. We have come to Oleiros and found a community of people who have welcomed us, who have helped us each and every step of the way and have become friends. (This is the lovely Carlos whose married to the delightful Theresa.)

Almost every night we have met them at the fantastic Bar called “Calado” which translates in English as “Shut Up”. Calado is owned by the totally yummy Pedro (in the GANT top with Umberto and Ines). Here we meet everyone and laugh, watch football, play cards but mostly do the opposite of the name ie talk. It is this talking that has been the most wonderful thing. We have discovered that just like us many of our new friends have moved from the cities, have taken all their incredible skills, energy and hopes and decided to plant them, like us, right here in this little town of Olieros. They hope to plant, to grow, to nourish themselves, the people around them and the environment in which they live. This similarity is wonderful but the truly exciting thing for me is their approach.

Yes we have great bars in London too, yes we have friends but these guys in Oleiros have something that I think has been lost in London. They have the desire to move forward together and they make the time no matter how tired they are to be together and to make sure that everyone is ok. That no one is alone. That everyone has someone to share time with at the end of the day (usually at Calado) no matter how the day has gone for themselves. In London I could never do this, so caught up was I in my own personal drama that there was never enough time to share. They share time and you know what guys, it is really really good. It is perhaps the best kind of support anyone can receive; it is the basis of community. This community is ripe for growth in all directions. (Picture: Ines, another tree hugger who I hope will one day help us to grow alot of herbs at Mos.)

You see, you can move to a place and set up your own little island and not be a part of anything around you. That is not for me. I was concerned that that was what would happen; that we would move and be put in a position of setting up our own little Eden because we would not be able to be a part of a wider community. Nope not for me. It is largely because of this community of people that I know this is the right place and the right time. I now feel we can grow here. It is not just my own personal growth that is important or the growth of my family or my immediate friends, but the growth of the whole, together. I want to be a strong tree here. Not just for me but for all. It is a fragile land here in Olieros. For most of my new friends their partners live away, in either neighbouring towns or in the cities, because there is not enough work. The weather is beautifully sunny here now, and in many ways that is lovely but it should be raining and if it doesn’t rain what then? Will there be fires, will the trees survive? Will my new friends have to leave some day simply because the environment can not support their needs? Will we one day have to move on for whatever reason? Is this our permanent planting hole? The answers to these questions no one knows. And I find yet again I have to rely on instinct. My instincts tell me that there is good life to be had here, not flashy life, not showy life, not a life of constant leisure but a life of time shared and a life of community and a life of hard work and a life of open arms. So whenever you are ready come and share time with us. Our arms (just like our postbox that we finally got the key for a few days ago) are wide open.

1 comment:

Baba said...

wow... thanks for sharing all that...I'm delighted here laying in my bed at the Mount of Oaks...I've been thinking so often of all of you guys... weirdly I miss you, even when we just met twice for few hours... well, not so weirdly maybe, you guys are easy to be missed I guess :-)...
I'm really thankful for your open arms, and I'm sure we'll see each other more often, even if I'm not so close to you as Oleiros...
you know, a story just came to my mind now... a tree I met in India...yes, it even had a name, so special it was...the name was "Benji" and it was in the middle of a jungle which ended on a I went along inside the jungle, wanting to find "the tree"...I found few people on the way, not many, and asked "where is the tree?"..."oh, the tree?" they replied with a funny smile in their faces... "just keep going, you'll see it", and they kept the cheeky smile...I didn't get I went, and finally I met "Banji" I realized the motive for the cheeky smiles...the reason was that all around the trunk of the tree, more than 500 meters around, it was all the same tree...the huge branches would go in and out the ground, and was simply amazing...
So, I guess what I want to tell you with that story, is that, even though you'll plant the precious tree you already have in "Moses", that would only be the place of the trunk... I believe (just an impression) that this precious tree will spread all over... you will go in and out in different grounds, and grow in many different directions :-)
lets see... anyway... God is the one who will make it grow :-) the way He wants :-)...

so, yah, I hope to see you back here soon so we can have an excuse for another party :-) eh, eh... next time here :-) I love parties too :-)
Much Love and many hugs to all of you... when we were coming home I just realized I forgot to go to the car and say bye to Ellie and Josh...tell them I'm sorry... I really like them... special kids !!!
Looking forward to get to know you all better...

Shantii Shantii