If you work in Luso-Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde), as I did for a short time in 1994, you must speak Portuguese. Even though the unofficial ‘official’ language of international development is English, in Angola the language of business is Portuguese. Without the ability to communicate in that language you’d be wasting your time. And so, about 6 weeks after I’d arrived in Luanda, my employer sent me back to Lisbon for an intensive 6 week course.
Every weekend I would take the train from the suburbs where I rented a room with Dona Maria, a divorcee who opened her house to foreign students, to the old city. From the main square I would wander the narrow streets with no destination in mind, just interested to kill time and practice what I’d learned over the week. Looking over a wall near a cathedral I snapped this photo of a tubby tram navigating a bend in the old town.
I lifted my camera up again and shot the scene directly in front of me, the jumble of steep tiled roofs and small iron balconies used as outdoor clothes dryers.
It was autumn and the afternoon sun attracted lots of old folks into the park to soak up the rays. I was surprised throughout my time there how poor Portugal was compared to other parts of Europe I had visited. It was not uncommon for an old donna to approach me and ask for a few coins or Escudos. Things got better in the late 90s and 2000’s but alas, the senior citizenry of Portugal are probably once again facing a precarious existence.
I don’t remember taking this picture but I like it. It captures the mood I was feeling in those weeks: partly sunny interspersed with dark shadows.
The Sunday before I returned to Angola my hostess, Donna Maria (with glasses) and a fellow language student from France, took me on a rather long train ride to the outskirts of town where we tramped through the narrow streets and drank coffee. It was getting chilly but the company was warm. I grabbed this shot as they were pointing out some local site to me.
We walked all afternoon through the cobbled streets.
All in all a most pleasant 6 weeks. I don’t know if I would endorse the effectiveness of intensive language training because when I returned to Angola I still struggled to understand what was being said. I left the country a month or so later, but for non-linguistic reasons!