If you read our extensive ramblings (see what I did there?) about getting to Portugal, you know that we were given generous and extensive support from many strangers on social media. This support is the best part of social media; how it’s supposed to work. From the extensive and accurate files of the Americans and Friends in Portugal group to the immediate community we found in the Braga+ Expat group, we found almost everything we needed to make the tremendous change in our lives.
As an example: Before we arrived on Nov 30th, we’d been invited to the city’s Tree Lighting event by Cindy P. with the understanding that we might be too jet-lagged to cope. We managed to stagger out, had a great time watching the tree light up (complete with music and wide-eyed children in the crowd), enjoyed a nice meal, and met people who became good friends. That one invitation led to a holiday season full of meals and meeting new people. It was part of the reason we love being here.
Most of y’all didn’t know us in the States, but this level of social engagement is a gigantic difference from how we were. We had a solid circle of friends, but saw most of them maybe once a month. Having to work was part of it, but geography played a larger role, even with the couple who lived only a 10 minute drive away. Because it wasn’t so much as how close we lived, as our commutes ate into hours of our so-called “free” time. Now we live in a place where a 15-20 minute walk gets us to nearly every friends’ home or place we’re meeting. It’s probably the same distance, but its much more accessible. Moreover, John was the center point of the social circle; nearly every person came from a game he ran* in the early 00’s, either directly or brought in by one of those people. Lisa didn’t think she was particularly good at making friends, feeling more definitively introverted and socially awkward than John.
Before we left the States, Lisa (that’s me!) made a commitment to be more social. She knew she’d be unhappy if she let her feelings (aka, fear) keep her at home. Together, we decided to say “yes” as much as possible, and let events unfold as organically as possible. The opportunities rolled in and now we have to be careful to ration our social events or we get burned out, over-peopled as it were. We could spend nearly every day just seeing the people we consider good friends, which sounds great until you try it for a week or so. At least for us, it’s become a balancing act of wanting to see people but needing to reset and recharge.
We both feel a strong desire to give back, in part, the generosity we were met with on our arrival. It’s part of being good members of this community, creating strength and resilience through connections. One way we do this, almost since our first month here, is to host a monthly lunch at a local restaurant. We’ve negotiated a set menu and cost with the restaurant and invite anyone in the community to join us. We enjoy the meal with everyone and the restaurant gets a good crowd on an “off” day, as well as any extra monies collected. (We pay for ourselves of course.) Its a great place for newcomers, or scouters, to ask questions and enjoy a family-style meal. Breaking bread with someone as a way to get to know them on a deeper level is an ancient technique. We (mostly Lisa) also actively connect with scouters, people considering moving to Braga, to offer information, opinions, or meet for a drink to just talk. People she’s talked with have ended up moving here and know they have at least one person to say “Hi!” to when they see one another around town. This puts us in good company with other “locals” who do the same thing; something about this town seems to have attracted a welcoming sort of immigrant!
So many helped us, whether by answering a question, inviting us into their home for a meal, or sharing their own experiences. To be able to pass that along is how we help keep our community strong. It’s still a fairly new community, to be honest. We just had lunch with a couple who just celebrated being in Braga for five years, and when they first got here they say they could go weeks without hearing anyone speaking English without a Portuguese accent. They weren’t unique, but they were very rare and it seemed each person or couple was an island until themselves. Exactly what changed, and when, we’re a little unclear on, but taking a long view we’re still a ways from something you’d recognize as stable. Then again, that’s part of the fun! We didn’t mean for the monthly lunch to be a regular thing, but these days we get asked when the next one is. Our friend Cindy is the organizer of the “main” monthly meet-and-greet, and when the weather is good there will be 50+ people there; she’s done such a good job of making it a regular and important part of the community that it will probably be happening for… well, for forever. Who knows what other traditions have yet to be born?
* It was a role playing game and he was the gamemaster, the person making sure the players smoothly moved from event to event within a specifically defined environment. Specifically, it was based on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books.