About Pastor Bruce

Church pastor, communications professor, and nonprofit executive, Pastor Bruce H. Joffe has amassed an extensive array of journalism, scholarship, and management experience. He has taught no-nonsense public relations, media, and marketing courses at The American University, George Mason University, Mary Baldwin College, Carthage College, and Kaplan College. As president and creative director of a metropolitan Washington, DC, public relations firm, he helped to manage the reputation of his clients for more than 20 years by creating promotional materials and metrics for large corporations and local businesses to use in their branding efforts, while positioning nonprofits to raise the bar on the resources and awareness they need to make a real difference. Academically, Joffe´s most recent focus has been Media and Gender Studies. Through research and publications, he continues to explore the relationship between gender, the media, and cultural norms--including organized religion. Ordained by the International Council of Community Churches and the Progressive Christian Alliance, Pastor Bruce considers himself a progressive Christian who believes that God is love and that loving God means having compassion and forgiveness towards others. Joffe is the author of numerous magazine features, academic research, professional journal articles, and newspaper byliners. His books include The Scapegoat; A Hint of Homosexuality? 'Gay' and Homoerotic Imagery in American Print Advertising; Square Peg in a Round Hole; Personal PR: Public Relations and Marketing Tips that Work to Your Advantage; The Facebook Gospel: Social Media and the Good News; My Name Is Heretic: Reforming the Church, from Guts to Glory; and Expat: Leaving the USA for Good.

American in Portugal


I am an American living in Portugal, splitting time — with my spouse — between small homes and villages in the country’s core (Alcains, Castelo Branco) and the Alentejo (Vila Boim, Elvas).


After almost four years, we’ve come to know what we like most about living in Portugal, as well as a few things that frustrate or confuse us. It has nothing to do with our love for Portugal and the Portuguese, but because we grew up in another land and culture, and can’t help but see life (for the moment) through a different lens and viewpoint.


That’s not a criticism, just a fact we’ve come to understand.


Some things can’t be taught to us; we need to learn them by experience. Answers aren’t to be found in the fine print of guide books and manuals, or in the files of some Facebook group. Only time here will tell and reveal.


Examples?


Who knew that Portuguese pharmacies would refill our prescription(s) from the USA – before we have a local doctor or our SNS number – simply by showing a bottle or box containing our existing medicine … or, better yet, a Rx from our American doctor? Or that, unlike the USA, right turns on red (after pausing) aren’t legal here? Who do you call if your car should break down on the road? And how long does it take until that “Eureka!” moment when we realize that gasóleo and diesel fuel are the same?


Moving from one address to another in Portugal brings its own load of lessons. After all is said and done, you remember that your mail needs to be forwarded. Should be simple enough … until you learn from the post office that it costs €20 per month for the service. Apart from the flyers and junk mail, our mailbox receives so few pieces that it’s better (suggests correios), if not simpler, to contact those postal patrons who connect with us through CTT and fill out the forms to change our address.


The same goes for Finanças, a legal requirement.


Changing addresses also means stopping by EDP (several times) to disconnect and stop service, as well as to resolve any billing issues. Are we the only ones who didn’t know that the country’s energy provider has us all on annual contracts? Sure, you can cancel your contract … but through its legal end date, you’ll continue to be billed monthly service charges.


Then, there’s shopping: We’ve been used to being able to return stuff we bought and get full refunds, as long as we bring the receipt, the item is in its original packaging, and the return is made within a designated timeframe. One major hardware and household supply chain in Portugal advertises, “Don’t worry! If you buy it here and find a lower price elsewhere, we’ll refund you the difference plus 10%!” Plenty of merchants will give you a refund in full if you return something, for whatever reason, no questions asked. But don’t ass-u-me that’s the rule everywhere. Stores aren’t required to post their returns and refunds policy, whether at the point-of-sale or on the receipt. So, before buying something, especially if it’s costly, you’d best ask about the store’s return and refund policy.


Did you know that, from the moment SEF exchanges your temporary visa for a residency permit, you’re eligible to vote in Portuguese elections? That’s right: legal residents, as well as citizens and Portuguese natives are entitled — and encouraged — to vote here.


Nonetheless, Portugal’s politics, elude us … probably because there are more than two intransigent political parties. But that’s a good thing, as partisan politics here don’t appear to put party before people. Instead, coalitions are formed to move things forward—unlike certain countries where nothing progresses because of unrelenting forces meeting intractable objects.


“But it’s a socialist country,” some homelanders insist, confusing politics with economics (capitalism).


“And you don’t think there’s socialism at work in your country, too?” we reply.


Economically, Portugal is poor, at least compared to the competition. The national minimum wage remained fixed in 2021 at 775.8€ (US $940/UK £665.90) per month or 9,310 euros (US $11,275/UK £7,991) per year, taking into account 12 payments per year. Accordingly, the national minimum wage has been raised 35 euros per month from the previous year, or 4.72%. Put another way, Portugal’s national minimum wage rose to 665 euros per month before tax in 2021, but is based on 14 (not 12) monthly payments. The Portuguese government maintains its objective of gradually increasing the minimum wage to 750 euros per month by 2023.


We love Portugal for its neutrality. It’s not one of the big G7 nations … or even the G20, for that matter. Rather, the country is an active (if errant) participant in the European Union, whose most recent president was Portuguese. Portugal is also a member of NATO. It’s a safe and peaceful place; to the best of my knowledge, there’ve been no mass murders, gunfire, attack weapons, or daily violence.


We adore the Portuguese people, some of who are our closest friends, even when they’re standing outside our house after midnight talking, without using their “inside” voices.


Yet Portugal remains somewhat of an enigma, an evasive paradox … which might explain that sense of “saudade” shared by so many of its inhabitants—increasingly including immigrants like us, who have come to experience much the same feeling.


Especially when it comes to dealing with the dust, flies, and mold!


(Bruce is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.)

Climate-Changed

It’s here, huffing and puffing and blowing our houses in.

Not to belittle Covid rising or myriad international crises and challenges, but the greater good demands that we stop what we’re doing and confront climate change—here and now.

Wildfires. Heat waves. Tropical storms, hurricanes, tsunamis. Heat waves. Flooding. Draughts. Icebergs. Air Quality. Haze.

All are symptoms — accessories and accomplices — of earth’s painful diseases.

Fuel spills and non-biodegradable plastic are destroying our oceans and their inhabitants. The Amazon is emitting more carbon than it’s absorbing. Flooding in Germany and Belgium defies explanation, as does passengers trapped in waist-high water inside a submerged subway and cars floating through streets, as deadly floods sweep through central China. Record high temperatures – some 50 degrees above normal – suffocate people trying to breathe in western Canada, California, Oregon, and Washington. Dozens of wildfires rage across the Pacific Northwest, with the region experiencing unrelenting draught while smoke stretches all the way to the East coast. Seemingly everywhere, haze obliterates the sky. And, in an ironic twist, smoke from the “bootleg” wildfires is changing the weather.

“There are more than 40 evacuation orders affecting about 5,700 people or almost 2,900 properties in the province,” reports the Canadian Broadcasting System. “There are also 69 evacuation alerts, affecting just under 33,000 people and about 16,000 properties. Three hundred of Canada’s 800 fires at the moment are raging in B.C. (British Columbia).”

Elsewhere, William Brangham reports on PBS from California’s San Joaquim Valley, “The demand for water has threatened the drinking supply for hundreds of thousands of rural residents—including the farmers who grow a significant part of the country’s food supply.”

Here in Portugal, 21 municipalities and districts have been placed at maximum risk of fire. As a Facebook friend put it following days of sweltering heat, “We’re making like lizards and keeping to the shade.”

Plastic pellets escape into the environment during every stage of their lifecycle–from production to transportation and during final product manufacturing. Together with single-use plastics which continue to line supermarket shelves, despite being banned by the government (in Portugal), they absorb toxins such as dioxins from water and transfer them to the marine food web and human diets, increasing the risk of adverse effects to wildlife and people, along with fishing and survival.

The bacteria that make up “red tide,” Karenia brevis, already have killed more than 613 tons of marine life and fish around Tampa, Florida, as sewage stops everyone from bathing at an Algarve (Portugal) beach when a burst pipe causes sewage to be discharged into the sea.

Following his sky shuttle, space cadet Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame and fortune announces the commercial potential of his billionaire joy ride: All that dirty, polluting manufacturing and industrial waste will be moved from earth into outer space, leaving the earth a much more splendid place … even while the universe becomes a more contaminated “dumping ground.”

Already, global warming has become climate chaos. In the future, will it be universal?

Satellite data have shown that the world’s biggest iceberg is no more. Weighing billions of tons and bigger than many cities when it broke away from the Antarctic ice shelf in 2017, the iceberg has completely melted away. Scientists warn that this could be a sign of the quickened pace of global warming.

Greenland has decided to suspend all oil exploration off the world’s largest island, calling it “a natural step,” because the Arctic government “takes the climate crisis seriously.”

I don’t want to sound like Chicken Little, but we used to predict that the devastating effects of climate change and global warming would hit us in twenty to fifty years—worrisome for our children and grandchildren, but not nearly so deadly to us.

Climate scientists for decades have warned that the climate crisis would lead to more extreme weather. They said it would be deadly and it would be more frequent. But many are expressing surprise that heat and rain records are being broken by such large margins.

That’s the difference between prophets and profits.

Limiting global warming to 1.5C will be a “pipe dream,” predicts US climate envoy John Kerry, if China waits as late as 2030 – not even a decade away – for the peak of its emissions.

And the USA? Russia? The UK and EU? Africa and Asia?

Several developed countries, including the US, this year have significantly increased their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union last week unveiled an ambitious plan to put climate at the center of just about every development and economic initiative it has.

Yet many activists say that their pledges still fall short of the action needed to contain average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which the International Panel for Climate Change says is necessary to avoid even more catastrophic impacts of climate change. They also criticize governments that make ambitious pledges while continuing to approve new fossil fuel projects, including coal mines, and oil and gas facilities.

“When you look at what’s happening in Canada, where they had temperatures of 50 degrees (C), and what’s going on all over the world, it is clear this is the result of climate change,” Niklas Pieters told CNN, as he helped his parents clear the debris from their ravaged home in Schuld, Germany. “I don’t want to have to get used to this.”

Wake up and do something, people: climate change is upon us.

Maybe we all should watch The Day After (again) on Netflix?

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Both Sides Now

Both Sides Now

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down and still somehow, it’s clouds illusions I recall … I really don’t know clouds at all.”—Joni Mitchell/Judy Collins

Clouds have always been a metaphor.

On the one hand, we have people—entire populations—scratching the earth and cursing the “clouds” for their woe begotten perils and perishing resources. On the other, big tech companies own and reside in the clouds, as their titans fly high above them … quite literally, thanks to the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos.

It’s increasingly the double standard: the haves and the havents, the sick from the healthy, people and their preferred politicos, conspirators v. resisters, demagogues and/or uniters.

Call it a bipolar dichotomy, if you will, where even the bad guys (i.e., ransomware attackers) are considered Robin Hoods by some, stealing from big business and the powers that be, shutting down their usury.

But it’s more than that …

How can some people have such unquantifiable riches that they take joy rides with clouds, while others—entire countries, in fact—are victims of deadly forces beyond their control?

Some blame it on Covid, which helped the rich get far richer and the poor even more destitute. The virus has strangled us all—economically, physiologically, politically, socially, morally, and even spiritually. We’re tired and anxious, because of all the ever-lasting limitations.

Turn on the news, any channel, and we’re besieged by chaos in different places: Haiti, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Turkey, Nicaragua, India. And the list goes on …

… including higher prices and inflation, making an unwelcome comeback, as we dig deeper to pay for our lives.

Consider the scapegoating, the unprecedented violence in cities and towns everywhere around the globe.

Unprecedented.

How often that word is now used: A condominium building in Florida collapses, while another in Hamas-occupied Israel is deliberately obliterated. Flash flooding in New York and London put these cities under water, while more hurricanes approach, ever stronger and more furious. Record high temperatures, hitherto unthinkable, are being reached in the most moderate climates … with unquenchable flames igniting hell fires and damnation.

Plagues: Water turning on the blood of droughts, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the killing of firstborn children. The question of whether Bible stories can be linked to archaeological discoveries has long fascinated scholars.

Symbolic of the universe’s moral law, the preacher in me believes that the ancient plagues represent the Almighty’s expression of justice, as well as judgments upon those who refuse to repent of their evil, self-serving ways.

According to the New York Times, Republicans in more than a dozen states are seeking to limit ballot access and increase partisan control of elections. GOP legislators want to make it more difficult for people to vote, paradoxically leaving Democrats to object and flee—impeding a vote (without a quorum).

Will partisan politics and the puerile need for power ever be replaced by an emphasis on the greater good? Or, are we to be the epitome of Darwin’s survival of the fittest?

Can we truly have both sides now—maybe more?

Or will clouds get in our way?

Obrigado, Portugal!

Well Done, Portugal …

I could be talking about Portugal´s amazing win over Hungary in an awesome Euro 2020 football game. Not only did Portugal do an amazing job in an awesome game, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s after-game moves favoring water over Coca Cola were the icing on the cake.

Nonetheless, I am writing here about other matters where Portugal has done well. Stuff even we expats and immigrants residing here often become used to and take for granted. So, here´s a “shout out” of thanks to Portugal for what it’s doing so well on a bunch of things – large and small – that make our lives so much better here … presented in no particular order other than my current stream of consciousness:

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your majestic beauty and splendors. Rather than tear down and demolish, you value your history … the people and places that created such masterpieces. Who knew that you´re the oldest country in Europe, with borders defined in 1139 CE? Before you even were acknowledged as Portugal, the area had passed through the hands of many empires and civilizations.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your bakeries (pastelarias), among the finest in the world. Those responsible for my affairs know that, when my time comes, I want nothing more than a memorial service in a Portuguese bakery.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your vast array of excellent wines–many priced cheaper that bottled water. And obrigado, too, for your café culture where — as in other Western European countries — we gather with friends to discuss this, that, and the other thing over wines, coffees, teas, and nibbles.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for our free and low-cost health care. While the country provides excellent, universal coverage to all who reside here, it’s great to know that a couple aged 72 and 58, respectively, can purchase top-of-the-line private health insurance for less than €2,000 per year. When we left the USA almost four years ago, the premium for one month of basic, bronze health insurance cost US $1,200—for one person, then aged 54.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your wonderful outdoor markets. Whether fruits and vegetables, clothing, plants and flowers, textiles, or antiques and collectibles, for those of us who love bargains and hunting around flea markets, yard sales, and auctions, there´s plenty of great and festive finds at bargainable prices.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your IBANs and Multibancos, enabling us to conveniently conduct financial transactions from our home computers or ubiquitous “ATMs.” Now, if only banks in other countries (to the west) would replace routing and account numbers with IBANS, it would be so much simpler to transfer funds from here to there.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for incorporating English in every school´s required curriculum—rather than as an elective “foreign” language (i.e., Spanish, French, Italian, Latin, Greek, etc.).

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your coin-dispensed shopping carts. A 50 céntimo coin or euro deposit is enough to entice customers to return the carts to their corrals, instead of leaving them, helter-skelter, in parking lots to scratch and dent our cars. Now, if only your drivers would make more of an effort to park courteously, within the designated lines.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your beloved bombeiros (firemen and women), models of national respect and admiration. The world needs everyday heroes to look up to, now more than ever. In addition to fighting the fires that blaze through Portugal, bombeiros deliver water to outlying properties. If you need water for irrigation or drinking, the bombeiros will deliver it to your property. Many bombeiros are skilled in rock-climbing techniques, and rescue people from cliffs. They rescue animals, as well. In the winter of 2017, bombeiros were called to rescue a baby whale that had washed onto Monte Clerigo beach. Bombeiros also retrieve people and animals stuck in wells. Attend car accidents. Provide first-aid treatment to locals. Support the community in the event of flooding, earthquakes or landslides. Assist in underwater searches. Transport accident victims and others in need to hospital.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for being recognized as one of the most peaceful countries in the world. You have maintained your place as the third most peaceful nation (behind Iceland and New Zealand), according to the venerable 2020 Global Peace Index. On an individual basis, peace translates to safety and security … of not being in the wrong place at the wrong time (or the right place at the right time) for fear of being a victim of violent crime.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for your wind turbines and solar panels seen throughout the country—visible reminders of your commitment to deliver cleaner energy and a sustainable environment.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for upkeeping our infrastructure. Rare is the pothole or dangerous debris found on your highways and national roads. In our own neighborhoods as well, you´re continuously upgrading our electricity, water pipes, and sewer lines. We may be frustrated by all those unexpected detours (desvios) … but we´re thankful, too.

• Obrigado, Portugal, for taking on the mantle of melting pot for refugees and immigrants, welcoming us with free health care and education, relatively low-cost housing and property insurance. And minimalist taxes, compared to whence we´ve come. We’ve met Indians and Israelis, people from Belgium and Germany, China and Russia (as well as the UK and USA) within your borders. Up close and personal, our differences – albeit skin tone, LGBT or hetero, country of origin, or language spoken – fade, as we exchange extremist nationalism for patriotism. Tudo bem!

For more feature stories, news and commentaries, personalized columns and departments, eye-popping photos and artwork, please subscribe – at no charge – to Portugal Living Magazine. You can read our current issue and subscribe for free at: http://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue.

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A Woman’s Place

Save me, please, from those teachings of the Apostle Paul insisting that women should be subservient and submissive to men, never teaching or being in positions of authority.

Malarky!

That’s not Jesus talking (Paul even admits that many of his words are his own, not Jesus’s) … nor is it even the Apostle Paul. We’re hearing from the old Pharisee Saul, whose upbringing – even to this day among the Orthodox Jewish community – taught him that women were lesser than men and, even during worship, must be seated on the sidelines, separated from the men.

Whenever I hear such foolishness about how a woman should dress, speak, walk, and look, I remind myself whence such poppycock derives and festers.

Women have a vital, integral, organic, and resourceful role in communities of faith—at least in the Scriptural stories, if not in Christian life as some know it today.

Let’s begin with the first woman mentioned in the Bible: Eve. Realizing her cunning, wit, and ability, the serpent asked her, “Did God really say …?” knowing that she could convince the dumbfounded Adam to do things her way.

One of my favorite heroes of the faith is Ruth the Moabite, who I often refer to when seeking to balance those spouting Paul’s opinions of “righteous” women.

“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.’” (Ruth 1:16)

Of course, she was talking to her mother-in-law, Naomi, not to any particular men … but her words were to form the foundation of godly relationships between husbands and wives, men and women, people whose traditions are based on the same God.

The Hebrew Scriptures also speak of Deborah, the first and only female judge cited in the Bible … of Bathsheba, possibly one of the first women to be “trafficked” by the manipulations of King David … of Esther, personally responsible for saving her people while in exile … and of Sarah, mother of the Jewish nation. There are many more: Rachel, Rebekah, Hannah, Leah, Jochebed (the mother of Moses) and Miriam, his sister, Rahab, the unlikely ancestor of Jesus, and others—each a strong and vital woman whose life added much to the faith

The Christian Scriptures, as well, tell the tales of many women worth knowing and emulating, beginning with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Who serves as a better role model for motherhood than Mary, a woman unique in so many ways?

Other prominent women in the New Testament include the other two Marys: There’s Mary Magdalene who, after Jesus healed her, ventured alongside him in his ministry, bearing witness to his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. We’re also introduced to Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, who hosted Jesus in her home.

Elizabeth’s faithfulness is meant to draw our minds back to Sarah and the thousands of years during which Israel waited for the Messiah to come. Mary of Bethany’s sister, Martha, was rebuked by Jesus for putting her hospitality obligations above learning his words. Nonetheless, she was still a devoted disciple of Christ and desired deeply to know and love Jesus, doing everything in her power to dignify him as the unknown king. And Priscilla was a powerful church leader in the book of Acts.

This Mother’s Day, let’s pay homage to women and think of May 9th as Women’s Day, because a woman’s place is never behind or beneath men … but alongside them.

Why else would it be a rib, rather than a lower part of the body?

Pastor Bruce moderates the interfaith, nondenominational, spiritual congregation — People of Faith Online — which welcomes everyone, everywhere!

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Dear CNN …

As one of our last vestiges of the USA in the EU – more precisely, Portugal – we really wanted to like and follow you, CNN. Of course, we realized that you’re not Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, but still …

You’re everywhere, all over the place, trying (too hard) to be liberal.

Even if (like Netflix) you’re a hybrid version, feeding us different programs and personalities than those available in the states, you’re still the closest thing to a USA-branded newscast that we receive here.

So, I should warn you not to take viewers like us for granted. Here’s what I mean:

I enjoy having my morning java with soothing voices and visages. Like Rosemary Church and Kim Brunhuber, who air here in Portugal at 8:00 AM and 9:00 AM, respectively. Trouble is, except for their calm demeanor and attractive wardrobe, all of the “news” they share are video clips I’ve already seen already–several times on different programs, earlier.

Maybe I should skip watching your programs the day before and watch them, instead, the morning after … with Rosemary and Kim?

Actually, I’m not particularly enamored with your evening line-up here … even when you’re juggling the timeslots. Let’s say that I sit down with a glass of wine at 5:00 PM (17H00), a reasonable time to “relax” with with Christiane Amanpour … even if the woman I see now sits behind a desk and anchors a talk show, rather than out in the trenches or hobnobbing with all the high-highfalutin dignitaries and diplomats you show when promoting her show.

(Speaking of promotions, do you realize how many times over the course of an hour, you promote Stanley Tucci’s “Searching for Italy” series premiering here on June 20th, although it’s already been shown in the USA months ago? Dozens! It almost makes me yearn for those spots of that Gambian woman who eats oysters for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Melmac dishes … or the country’s only female professional Kora player teaching her son to bang a mean xylophone.)

Anyway …

If dinner is late, Amanpour morphs into Hala Gorani, who I used to like. Really! Now, she’s sloppy—easily distracted, stumbling over her words, and barely able to connect the dots when it comes to making sense out of stories playing over and again. For this, you dropped Brianna Keiler? Why bring back a lackluster has-been, when creative talent such as Keiler and Ana Cabrera are tried-and-true winners?

We turn off the tube for dinner when Richard Quest (who claims to mean business) airs. The man is downright irritating and uncouth. He doesn’t listen to his guests, but interrupts them incessantly. He slathers and spits. Those bonus 20 minutes recently inserted for Quest’s World of Wonder program is a total waste of time. Yours and mine. But what I dislike most about Richard Quest is his gravely, overworked voice—something between a grimacing growl and a rumbling roar.

Yeah, voices can be a big turn-off. You should know that, CNN.

Maybe then, you wouldn’t air so many promotions for Connecting Africa’s screeching Eleni Giokos, whose diction is fingernails against a blackboard heard throughout our house. You want me to sit through an entire hour of her (along with all your other Africa-related programs)?

While some of your reporters can speak clearly and consistently, others — especially your White House correspondents — pack more words per second into a two-minute monologue than Portuguese sardines in a can. Don’t they need to come up for air?

Sorry to tell you that I’ve also lost patience with “Breaking News” Wolf Blitzer on The Situation Room and conspiracist-charging Jake Tapper on The Lead. The former makes my blood pressure spike, while the latter is so annoying with his incessant whining and putting words in his guests’ mouths. Yet you give each of them hours to whittle away at my weariness.

Except for Fox News and MSNBC, which give you a run for your audience in the USA, it’s said you have little competition in the USA, CNN.

But that’s not the case here in Portugal, where my Internet package includes Fox and Bloomberg newscasts, as well as Al Jazeera. Whenever you (re)run something insipid, I can turn to EuroNews and Globovision, as well English language newscasts from France, the UK, Israel – even Korea and China – for more balanced and qualified opinions.

You boast that: ”More people get their news from CNN than any other source.”

Come on, CNN …

Hyperbole! Or in your case, alternative and fake news?”

Studies show that the majority of people today get their news through the social media.

In 2019, Pew Research concluded that 55% of the American public gets their news from social media. Even though Fox News is the most-watched television news station in the USA, your online presence is more than twice the size of Fox’s. The average USA prime time audience for Fox News is about 2.9 million (Nielsen). CNN’s USA average prime time viewers total 2.7 million. NBC, the current news leader, averages 8.8 ,million and ABC about 8.6 million.

As with most news content providers, you depend upon the usual suspects: The New York Times and Washington Post, Associated Press, Reuters, and United Press International. You also borrow and share from your rivals and reports floating around the Internet. Then, your “experts” — almost always a former-this or secondary official — opine about the issue.

According to your own “fact” sheet:

Your two dozen branded networks and services are available to more than 2 billion people in more than 200 countries and territories.

● You have 36 editorial operations around the world and around 3,000 employees worldwide.

● Your coverage is supplemented and carried by more than 1,000 affiliates worldwide.

● You reach 90 million households in the U.S.

● Your digital network is the number one online news destination, regularly registering more than 200 million unique visitors globally each month.

● Internationally, you reach more than 402 million households and hotel rooms worldwide.

Maybe so.

But I’d be thrilled if my Portugal package replaced CNBC with MSNBC.

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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Back from the Dead: Mister Manny’s Miracle

Manny, Sheba, and Jackson

Just about two months ago, we took our three Miniature Schnauzers — Jax (the white one), Sheba (the black one) and Manny (the gray one) — to the vet in Castelo Branco for their annual inoculations and rabies boosters.

We live in Portugal now, since relocating from the USA about four years ago.

Anyway …

When the doctor examined Mister Manny, as we call our little boy, she became very concerned: his eyes and mouth were yellow, indicating hepatitis of the liver. She took blood tests and ultrasounds, which confirmed her diagnosis. To us, she said, “Manny is very, very sick. The liver is one organ that can’t regenerate itself or be repaired.” Handing us six different prescriptions — some pills, others to be given orally by syringe orally — she told us Manny did not have much time left and that we should prepare ourselves.

Mr. Manny

Over the next six weeks or so, Manny went from bad to worse: He didn’t eat. He drank lots of water. He was tired all the time. He couldn’t control himself. We went to our home in another area of Portugal, with our vet urging us to find a vet in the area quickly and to take Manny in. We did. This vet, too, told us that Manny was in very, very, poor condition and that the end was very near. By this point, the skin under his fur was beginning to turn yellow, too. After prescribing two more medications, she said, “You will know when it is time to take a different course of action.”

Needless to say, we were heartbroken. What we wanted and needed from the pragmatic vets was hope—something to hold onto. But they tell it as they see it here in Portugal.

All three of our dogs suffered from pancreatitis and had always been fed high-quality, low-fat foods. But this was different. Different and deadlier.

After the fourth visit following Manny’s initial diagnosis (and prognosis), his condition further deteriorated–despite the number of medications we fed to him. His sweet and outgoing spirit, along with all aspects of playfulness, were nowhere to be found.

We believed his time had come, after nine years.

Our little boy exhibited all the signs of end-stage liver failure. Hadn’t the veterinarian told us, “You will know when it’s time”?

Joana Rodrigues, his groomer and owner of 4Patas in Elvas, had come to love Manny and contacted us frequently to ask how he was doing. When we told Joana that we were planning to take Manny to the vet for euthanasia the next day … and then drive to Setúbal for cremation, she had another suggestion:

“The animal hospital in Portalegre should see Manny. How can one more opinion from another veterinarian hurt? If the vet agrees, the hospital can perform the euthanasia. They have an agreement with a crematorium in Lisbon to pick up the body for an individual incineration, returning the ashes to you in an urn.”

Portugal laws require a death certificate from the veterinarian and a “disposal” (of the body) form to be delivered to our local junta.

Despite our tears flowing like the Tagus River, we were quite impressed with the VetAl hospital facility and staff. Everyone — veterinarians, nurses, staff members — spoke English and were quite compassionate. After a few minutes, the veterinarian came out to the waiting room where she sat next to us, reviewing the treatment, medicines, and diagnoses Manny’s vets had provided.

“I will do as you wish,” she began. “But I must ask you if, first, we can keep Manny here in the hospital for three-four days. I understand everything his veterinarians have done … but they aren’t a hospital. We are. There are tests and procedures we can do here that they can’t. Will you allow us to try?”

Once again, our hearts skipped a beat. We drew upon the last bit of hope that we’d held in reserve and left Manny in the care of VetAl do Alto Alentejo.

Manny’s treatment consisted mainly of feeding him by IV and taking him off almost all the medications he’d been taking. And lots of prayer from many people attached to Manny.

“He’s doing much better,” the animal hospital reported to us by phone. “His swollen abdomen has gone down … he is eating, as well as drinking … he’s standing … and his excretory tract is functioning. You should come and see him.”

That we did.

Indeed, he was better. But still not the happy-go-lucky, active and spirited little schnauzer whom we’d adored for nine years now. The doctor told us that this was to be expected, as Manny was knocking at death’s door when we brought him there four days earlier. But he was obviously better … better than he was. Even if his little, misshapen body was bones and fur without flesh or fat.

Two days later, the veterinarians took new blood tests and compared the results with his earlier ones. Had the “bad” numbers gone down and the “good” ones up?

Manny continued to have elevated bilirubin and alkaline phosphatase values, but the doctor said that was quite normal at this stage of the disease. His Albumin and phosphorus levels, however, already were normalizing; his other vital levels were doing better, too. He no longer had a swollen belly, he seemed happy, and took strolls on the street led by hospital staff. And, unlike earlier, when we had to add fiber pellets to his food for solid stools, he was producing much better than he had in a while.

The hospital was very pleased with Manny’s progress.

We brought him home two weeks after we had taken him there to be given his last rites.

Honestly, we believed the vets at the animal hospital would tell us that Manny would never again be the same dog that he had been before his liver catastrophe. Nonetheless, he could survive and live a happy and peaceful life with us … although, for how long, we wouldn’t know.

The subject didn’t come up.

Instead, the vet went through the goodie bag prepared for our little boy containing his hospital records and laboratory tests, five different medicines (most different than the eight we’d been giving him earlier), and two cans of special low-fat, gastrointestinal food which we were to feed him – as much as he’d eat – twice daily.

Manny came home with two cans of food. He had developed an appetite–more during his afternoon feeding than the morning. Soon, we realized that we needed to get more … as quickly as possible. First, we went to Rockipets, our go-to source for specialty dog foods in Castelo Branco. They didn’t carry the brand, but could order it for us. Normally, the order would be delivered the next day. But this was Tuesday and Thursday was Corpus Christi, a national holiday. Everything would be closed and orders backed up. The delay could extend until the weekend–or later. We called our vet, who also was out of the food. “We only carry it by special order,” she said, promising to have it the following Monday when Manny was scheduled for his check-up and examination. Now, we were getting worried, as we heard the same story from every veterinarian we contacted in the Castelo Branco region. Out of desperation, we posted large pleas for information leading to the food on our two local Facebook groups. A good friend located four cans of it at her vet in Fundão, about 30 minutes away. We called to confirm and reserve the food, then jumped in the car and headed north on A23. Soon, we were back home with one large (400g) and three small (200g) cans, which lasted through the weekend.

Slowly but surely, little misshapen Mister Manny was returning to his former self. He followed us around, everywhere. He licked his big brother and sister, as they returned the love while they curled up together. He went out in the backyard to do his business, which was consistent and normal. He began talking to us again in that strange gargling voice, on its way to becoming louder and stronger. And with his historic “tap, tap, tap,” he’d use his paws plaintively, asking to be picked up and placed in our laps. Expressing some interest in his baskets of toys, he’d soon be shaking them ferociously and playing tug of war with the others.

People ask us, “How much did you spend on his health care?”

Truth be told, it must have amounted to about €1,500 (about US $1,850) … all things considered, since he had been diagnosed with a failing liver about four months ago. Much more expensive than human care, which is universal and subsidized by the government here. Still, if cost were the issue, we would have spent probably four times that amount in the USA. And, even if health care for pets isn’t covered in Portugal, it is tax-deductible. For us, however, providing the best possible health care – and hope – for our Miniature Schnauzer was worth whatever the price tag.

After all, Mister Manny went from being malignant to a miracle.

And, for that, we are indebted and grateful.

Whether the miracle lasts a month or years, the joy of having our lively little boy back with us again — after everything we’ve gone through — is well worth it.

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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I Wish I Had Known That …

Apart from all the major stuff we need to know about moving to and living in Portugal — visas, residence, rules of the road, buying or renting property, etc. — there’s a bunch of little things that we learn as we deal with the days of our lives in Portugal.

For instance, unlike most places in the USA, making right turns on red aren’t allowed here.

We’ve compiled a list of random factoids and routine happenstance that’s worth a read.

The Portuguese tend to be passive-aggressive drivers. Either they take their sweet time, driving 20-40 kms below the speed limit on streets, highways, and byways (begging you to pass them, where possible) … or they’re aggressive speed demons who don’t drive the required two car lengths behind you, sticking, instead, on your tail until they can hop-scotch vehicle after vehicle. Similarly, always be careful to look in all directions — and then look, again — when walking around the area you live. (Too) many streets have neither yield nor stop signs, and some Portuguese drivers barrel down the roads without even slightly slowing down.

Here are some other things you might not have heard about the ins and outs of Portugal living:

Parking lots are good news and bad. The good news is that shopping carts often require a deposit of a 50 cent coin or a euro one to ensure that carts are returned to their corrals, rather than left wherever in the parking not. The bad news? Portuguese drivers often don’t take the time to straighten their vehicles and park within the lines, rather than helter-skelter, diagonally, across two or more spaces. Including parking spots reserved for the handicapped!

Watch where you step while walking around your area. Many dogs are allowed to roam and run through the streets where they take care of their “business.” More often than not, it’s not picked up. Pedestrians beware!

It’s illegal to use the outside lane of a roundabout to travel straight through unless you are exiting the roundabout.

Speed limits in Portugal depend on the both the type of road and vehicle. In “built-up” areas, for instance, the speed limit is 50 kph–approximately 31 mph.

Pets must wear special seat belts when out with you in the car. It’s the law!

A good rule of thumb is to remember that 80 kms is the equivalent of 50 miles–whether in distance or speed. Similarly, 80ºF is midpoint between 26-27º measured in Celsius.

You are be required to exchange your driving license within 185 days of getting a residence certificate in Portugal. Woe to you if you don’t! You’ll be required to suffer through Portuguese driving school which includes learning to use a driver’s school vehicle with manual transmission, being tested on all the rules — and signs — of the road, and demonstrating your ability to understand the mechanics of how vehicles operate by changing a tire, draining and adding fluids, and troubleshooting minor mechanical problems.

Plan on filing your annual Portuguese income tax returns first, and then filing those with your home country. Typically, you’ll need two accountants: one to file your Portuguese taxes, the other to file what’s due elsewhere. Most accountants filing USA taxes for foreigners in Portugal, for instance, automatically request an extension until October, so that Portuguese taxes can be taken into account when preparing client tax returns for Uncle Sam.

Forget about personal checks in Portugal and most EU countries. They’re a relic of the past. Most people use plastic these days. Checks sent from stateside to Portugal for special occasions and gifts won’t be accepted for deposit by Portuguese banks. Even if you have an app from your USA bank to conduct your banking online, you will also need an American sim card or chip.

When cashiers ask you for our “número contribuinte,” they’re asking if you want to provide your fiscal number (NIF). That way, the money you’ve spent on purchases will be reported to the tax authorities and you’ll receive (income) tax credits for your spending.

Offered the option of paying in dollars or euros with a credit or debit card? Always choose euros. You’ll be shown the exchange rate–how much in dollars you’ll pay for your currency exchange from euros. From time to time, write down that amount. Then, when you’re in a more personal space, check to see how much actually was charged to your credit or debit card. Invariably, you’ll find that you get a much better deal by opting for your transaction to be in euros.

Tips aren’t expected, but they are very much appreciated. Especially in restaurants, snack bars, and cafés. Most people leave the loose change on the table when ordering coffee or a tinto. Some Americans used to tipping 20% or more are astonished that 5% is the general going rate for tips in Portugal–especially for tabs up to 20€.

Municipalities in Portugal are measured from small to large. The smallest is the aldea (village), followed by vila (town) and cidade (city). Towns and cities are governed by juntas and cámaras (councils), while official business in villages is overseen by their fregusías (parishes).

Speaking of sizes, don’t forget to bring some of the smallest things with you–especially pharmaceuticals, like aspirin or eye drops. They can be hard to find in some parts of Portugal and much more costly than you’ve been used to paying.

Certainly, there are more things you may have wished you’d known before putting boots on the ground here in Portugal. Can you think of others, besides what we’ve posted here?

Feature articles, news and commentary, personalized columns and departments, original artwork and fabulous photos are all included in your free subscription to Portugal Living Magazine … the only broad spectrum, English language magazine distributed throughout Portugal–and beyond. To read through our current issue and subscribe at no cost, visit: http://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue.

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 Reverberating Round the World

Photo by Michael Ciaglo/USA Today Network, via Reuters

Incredibly, at least least 110 people were shot and killed, with another 223 injured in 217 separate incidents over the last 72 hours in the USA.

Nearly every state has experienced gunfire.

Just weeks ago, I chronicled the massacres:

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 24 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.

What’s worse, we’ve grown weary hearing — and seeing — these gruesome statistics.

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?

Come on, folks: How did we ever allow “open carry” laws to be legislated into existence?

When did we lose all sense and sensibility? Or civility? And sensitivity. Raw power at the end of a gun barrel is a consequence of the extremism grown rampant in America. Why talk and negotiate, when we can scream, threaten, and kill?

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.

But I am relieved that we live in Portugal.

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