The Jab

Sometimes, the system works.

Against what I’d imagined to be the greatest of odds in this socialist bureaucracy, where Covid vaccinations are only available through government departments and dispensaries, I got called to come in for my jab.

What’s amazing about this is that I’m neither a citizen nor permanent resident … just another expat-immigrant still classified as a “temporary” resident, even though we’re working on four years since we arrived in Portugal.

Even more extraordinary was the fact that I was called – not messaged, emailed, or contacted via the postal system – by a real person speaking Portuguese so quickly that, twice, I had to ask her to slow down a bit.

“Pode a senhora falar um pouco mais devar, por favor?”

At first, I thought she was another salespeople, calling like MEO telemarketers to sell me something. “A senhora quer vender-me alguma coisa?” I asked as she came up for breath. “Não, não, não!” she insisted, stating that she was calling me in Alcains, Castelo Branco, to schedule my first Covid shot. Odd, though, that she said she was in Évora, despite the fact that my caller ID showed her location as Estremoz.

I asked her where I was to go and when.

“Elvas. In the old business center located in the industrial zone, at 1:30 pm on Thursday,” she replied.

“Can I get the shot here in Alcains, instead?” I asked. Elvas is a good two-hour drive away.

She didn’t know. I’d have to ask the officials here in Alcains. But, if I wanted to get my shot two days later, I would have to confirm with her for Elvas now. I’d tried getting information from my local centro de saúde, but the doors were (almost) always shut and the people inside just shook their heads when I knocked on the door and spoke Portuguese with my English accent peppered with Spanish.

So, I confirmed.

This, in itself, is a matter of no small significance!

See, we divide our time between small homes in Alcains (Castelo Branco) and Vila Boim (Elvas). When in Elvas last year, I suffered from some gastrointestinal malady that forced me to consult with a doctor, who insisted that I undergo a colonoscopy—something I’d defiantly avoided for 70 years.

To undergo the colonoscopy, however, I’d have to bring proof that I tested negative for Covid within 48 hours of the procedure. The Affidea clinic (in Évora) offered to do the test while I was there, before my colonoscopy—for €120. The same test was free in Elvas, the concelho where we lived.

But I was registered with the health department in Alcains, our first and primary home.

“Not a problem,” advised the drive-up Covid technicians. “Just have the test prescribed by your physician here in Elvas … take it to the hospital … and they’ll schedule an appointment for your test within 48 hours. Come back here, the same place, when you’re scheduled.”

Trouble was, my doctor was off for the week. Her receptionist suggested that I go directly to the hospital, which I did. Very pleasant people. But, before they could attend to me, I would need to get my “Utente” (health care) paperwork changed from Alcains to Elvas at the Centro de Saúde in Elvas and then return to the hospital to be scheduled for the test.

All that accomplished, we were ready to head to Affidea in Évora for the colonoscopy, when an SMS (message) arrived on our mobile: My procedure had been cancelled because I hadn’t booked a Covid test at the clinic.

We ran to the doctor’s office, negative Covid results officially in hand, where the receptionist called Affidea and gave them a piece of her mind. In rapid-fire Portuguese. Turning to us with a smile, she said “Sem problema. Tudo bem.” And off we went.

All of the preceding is prologue, a digression, if you will, to contextualize my marvel at how the Portuguese system had actually worked: Despite all the changes and complications, I had been called to come in for my first Covid shot.

The process was precise and professional. I showed my identity card and it was confirmed against the list the facility had of who had been scheduled that day and at what time. Remaining outside, they brought me a clipboard with a short form to fill out: Had I ever had Covid? Had I ever had a Covid shot? Was I suffering any of the (listed) symptoms?

Handing me a card that said Astra-Zeneca, the guard escorted me inside, where six cubicles had been set up for the injections. Within two minutes, a nurse entered, had me roll up my sleeve, and jabbed me. Amazingly, I didn’t feel the shot at all!

Another attendant led me to a seating area, where people were purposefully seated in the order we’d received our inoculations. First shot, first seated. We sat there for 30 minutes, watching a slide show about Elvas play over and again. Half an hour had passed when the guard came to escort me out, asking how I felt.

“Tudo bem,” I said, as I really did feel fine at that moment.

“Do I need to schedule my next appointment?” I asked before leaving … even though my second jab wasn’t to be given for another three months. Three months!

“Não,” responded the guard. “We will call you again.”

Over the next three days, I suffered chills and flushes, alternatively feverish and cold. I was “spacey” in that way that older relatives can become. My bones felt like jelly, jamming in a loosey-goosey way that made walking an exercise in futility.

It passed.

As Portugal heads into the next stage of its vaccination process – those over 65 are being jabbed – I look at my Astra-Zeneca card and feel a bit more confident and trusting.

Despite their tendency to be helpful and courteous, in Portugal and Spain, you don’t call them. They call you.

And they do! It just takes time …

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Gun Shots Heard Round the World

Photo by Michael Ciaglo/USA Today Network, via Reuters

Eight people were killed and many more injured at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, a couple of days ago.

Actually, there have been at least 21 mass shootings over the past five years, according to a database compiled by the Violence Project.

Each new attack is a gruesome reminder of all that came before it:

On March 22, a gunman opened five at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, killing ten people, including a police officer. CNN reports that the Colorado attack was the seventh USA mass shooting massacre in seven days.

On March 16, eight people — including six women of Asian descent — were killed at spas in the Atlanta area. That same day, a shooting spree across five miles in Springfield, Missouri, left five people dead–including a police officer and the gunman. Also on March 16, five people preparing a vigil in Stockton, California, were victims of a drive-by shooting.

Four victims were taken to the hospital after a shooting in Gresham, Oregon, on March 18th. Five people were shot on Saturday, March 20, inside a Houston club. In a different part of Texas, eight people were shot by an unknown assailant in Dallas that day. Also on March 20, one person was killed and another five injured during a shooting at a party in Philadelphia.

These deaths are a predictable outcome of the USA´s lack of political will to make major changes in firearm legislation.

Despite the pandemic, 2020 was the deadliest gun violence year in decades, according to the Washington Post. But we’re barely into the second quarter of 2021.

Gun control is a weapon of mass destruction among politicians — especially Republicans — who enjoy the largesse of the National Rifle Association, despite the NRA’s decades of deception, corruption, bribery, and fraud.

Hiding behind the Constitution’s Second Amendment that reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” gun enthusiasts and their congressional loyalists steadfastly refuse to deal with the destruction.

When will they realize that the only ¨militias” around these days are far-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and others that planed and participated in the January 6th attack and insurrection on the US Capitol?

Well regulated? Who’s kidding whom?

Studies and proposals to reduce gun violence include sensible actions which must be mandated and enforced by the government: Expand background checks; raise the age to buy guns; ban assault weapons; restrict the sale of “bump sticks” attached to semi-automatic weapons; and increase “red flag” laws that give courts more authority to confiscate weapons from people considered to be threats to themselves and others.

All boil down to one simple solution: reducing easy access to dangerous weapons through sober, sensible laws.

Because not only are guns used by madmen in massacres, but brutally, at times, by police.

Guns aren’t only political grenades, they hold each of us individually hostage.

As Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, someone I never met, succinctly put it:

“I need to run some errands this morning. To ensure I arrive alive, I won’t take public transit (Oscar Grant). I removed all air fresheners from the vehicle and double-checked my registration status (Daunte Wright), and ensured my license plates were visible (Lt. Caron Nazario). I will be careful to follow all traffic rules (Philando Castille), signal every turn (Sandra Bland), keep the radio volume low (Jordan Davis), and won’t stop at a fast food chain for a meal (Rayshard Brooks). I’m too afraid to pray (Rev. Clementa C. Pickney) so I just hope the car won’t break down (Corey Jones).

“When you run errands today, be sure not to dance (Elijah McClain), stop to play in a park (Tamir Rice), patronize the local convenience store for snacks (Trayvon Martin), or walk around the neighborhood (Mike Brown). Once home, don’t stand in your backyard (Stephon Clark), eat ice cream on the couch (Botham Jean), or play any video games (Atatiana Jefferson).

“I guess I’ll watch a movie around 7:30pm, I won’t leave the house to go to Walmart (John Crawford) or to the gym (Tshyrand Oates) or on a jog (Ahmaud Arbery). I won’t even walk to see the birds (Christian Cooper). I’ll just sit and remember what a blessing it is to breathe (George Floyd) and I definitely won’t go to sleep (Breonna Taylor).”

The gunshots and murders of innocent people by shooters are being heard all around the world–including Portugal, one of the world’s three most peaceful countries., where I live.

Whenever the news covers yet another shooting in America, I can’t help but feel that my Portuguese neighbors — Spanish, too — look at me incredulously, seeking an explanation.

There is no explanation for these shots heard around the world.

Yet, I am relieved that we live in Portugal.

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When the Saints Come Marching In

For heaven’s sake, the Portuguese and Spaniards love their saints.

Or, perhaps it’s their saints’ days (many last longer than a day!) with all the festivities and closures that they really appreciate?

As two of the most Catholic countries, religious holidays are bountiful in both Spain and Portugal, where many of the same feast days and ferias are celebrated.

Holy Week (“Semana Santa”), the week before Easter starting on Palm Sunday, is recognized almost everywhere “Christian,” as is Christmas. Both Portugal and Spain also pay tribute to the Eucharist through Corpus Christi, the “Body of Christ,” with processions, prayers, bells, incense, singing, and church services. (The exact date of Corpus Christi varies each year, according to Easter.)

Next to Jesus, most venerated is the Virgin Mary. Personally, I’m reminded of that daily … as the street we now live on is named Nossa Senhora dos Altos Céus (“Our Lady of the Highest Heavens”).

A four-day “Festa Nossa Senhora Dos Altos Céus” is the highlight of the year here in Lousa. In addition to all the religious homage featuring a procession along streets festooned with petals, marching band, icons held high on their floats, and people dressed in their finest, following along up town and down, a carnival-like atmosphere pervades the village with celebratory lights strung across streets, community meals, games of chance, carousing and partying. Then, it takes weeks for the community to clean up from all that revelry.

Portugal and Spain honor Mary on August 15th for the Assumption of Mary, and on December 8th for the Immaculate Conception.

Celebrated on the same day (November 1st) in Spain and Portugal, too, is All Saints Day: “Todos los Santos” in Spanish and “Dia de Todos os Santos” in Portuguese, a national holiday in the two countries.

From national to the local levels, every town, village, and province in Portugal and Spain honors its own special saints, as well.

In Olvera, our town in southern Spain, it’s Mary who’s again praised. According to tradition, sometime around 1500, a shepherd found an abandoned virgin about two kilometers from Olvera and, there, the Olvereños built their hermitage, an object of worship and consolation to the townsfolk all these years. Back in 1715, Olvera suffered a severe famine due to a drought and prayed for the Virgin to intercede. And the rain came! Thanking our Lady of Los Remedios is a tradition now on the Monday of Quasimodo, toasting the Virgin with a special pastry known as the “Torta del Lunes de Quasimodo.”

For the sheer quantity of saints having holidays, the prize goes to Portugal … which has several saints honored across the country. Who hasn’t heard of Fátima, Portugal’s most famous Christian pilgrimage?

On May 13, 1917, three children saw a miraculous vision of the Virgin Mary in Fátima. Later that same year, other apparitions apparently were witnessed by large numbers of people at the site.

Nowadays, a candlelight procession through the town on May 12th leads to the sanctuary. The next day, crowds wave white handkerchiefs, as a statue of the Virgin is carried from the high altar to the Chapel of the Apparitions during the “Adeus” (farewell) procession the following day. A second pilgrimage is held in October.

The Portuguese celebrate November 11th as Saint Martin’s Day, another national holiday, which honors a soldier who cut his cloak in half to help keep a beggar warm … after which the sun came out to warm him. As a result, warm days at the beginning of November are called “St. Martin’s Summer.” The Portuguese celebrate this time – called “Magusto” – with bonfires and parties, lots of chestnuts and wine.

Respects are paid to John the Baptist (São João) around the country on June 23-24.

With all due respect, however, nowhere are as many saints recognized as in little Lousa. Besides the principal holiday devoted to “Our Lady of the Highest Heavens,” Lousa features at least four favored saints.

In August 2018, Santa Luzia is exalted on the 4th and 5th with a procession and a special exposition dedicated to her at our historical museum. Not two weeks later is a three-day (17-19) festival honoring Saint Sebastian (São Sebastião). Other saints officially recognized and revered in this small village with a population hovering at about 800 include Santa Bárbara and San Antonio (the latter is feted for three days in June with a sardine fest). Nearby Lardosa sponsors its own four-day jubilee for Saint Anthony in August.

Yet, so enthralled is Lousa with its saints that Lousarte, our hometown cultural association, published a book entitled Los Santos da Lousa e Outras Coisas, available for purchase at the Lousarte museum.

Museums seem to be religion’s realm today, albeit holy days, special events and occasions – births, weddings, funerals – notwithstanding.

Fewer people seem to be participating in church services on Sundays.

Lord knows – except for the elderly, mostly women at that – I hardly see people going into or coming out of churches when the bells toll. Maybe it’s the same at other places of worship, too?

There’s an oft-told joke in Spain which, loosely translated, states that “A Spaniard will die defending the doors of his church. That doesn’t mean that he’ll ever go in!”

I suspect the same may be more or less true today in Portugal.

And elsewhere, too.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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