I come from a country considered by many the summer resort of Europe.
A place where you can feel the sun on your skin
A place where you can feel the ocean winds invading your soul
But we are much more than that
Home is where I can smell the Bacalhau being cooked
Where I can hear fado coming from the many restaurants in Downtown Lisbon
Where I can smell the salt from the Atlantic
Not the place you think you know because of your week-long vacation
However, all I can see online is the quality of the beaches,
And how Madonna moved there
Not the news that the money my poor parents paid, in Taxes
Is mysteriously gone, stored in Switzerland
No one faced any consequences
Lisbon’s home for me – Almada to be more specific. It is pretty much all you would expect: sunny, warm, welcoming, and beautiful. And I mean it. I have lived there for 17 years, and I am yet to not be amazed when I get lost in Lisbon’s streets. From the moment you step into the city, it is impossible not to be embraced in its history, music, and culture. And just a metro ride away, you can go from Alfama’s old narrow streets still standing from the Muslim influence in the Iberian Peninsula to Expo ‘98 – one of the most attractive places in Europe for investors and big corporations.
This is what you want to hear.
However, let me tell you about what you do not want to hear.
For the exact same reasons described above, thousands of “ex-pats” (rich white immigrants) have moved to Lisbon. By itself, this does not cause any harm: it actually boosts the local economy. However, a more recent phenomenon has significantly affected the life of the Portuguese: foreigners, usually from Northern Europe, started to buy houses in Lisbon just to leave them uninhabited for ¾ of the year. The perfect modern-day holiday house. Even though this sounds like an extra flow of money coming into the country lets look at this more closely:
Portugal’s national minimum wage is 700 € per month, while, for example, the Netherland’s is 1635 € per month. Obviously, a house being sold in the Portuguese housing market is way more accessible to a Dutch person than to a local Portuguese. This has resulted in an ENORMOUS increase in rent prices. As the Demand increases, so do the prices. And this has forced many locals to move. Way too many. In fact, I have lost count of how many people I know who had to move because the rent was getting too expensive. This is not okay. Locals should not have to move so foreigners can enjoy a little more sun, as we can all co-exist. But until then, locals will still be displaced from their hometowns, as they have been for the past years.
Moving on to internal problems, let me introduce you to José Socrates, one of our ex prime-ministers. He was accused of not one but 31 crimes. Those included crimes of corruption, money laundering, document forgery, and fiscal fraud. Based on this, one would assume he would be in jail, correct?
He was held in custody for 288 days, starting from November 2014. The investigation is still going on, but no conclusion is in sight. Needless to say, anyone can assume how we feel about this investigation and how it is going to end: a free man and millions of euros stored in Switzerland. The fact that this scandal has not been solved yet is a cause of frustration for so many Portuguese people. And it feels as thou anyone who is above us can steal all the money we pay in taxes and store it somewhere else. Worse than that, they would probably get away with it and face no consequences, as if it is not hard enough to have such a low minimum wage when comparing to our European neighbours.
But since 2014, things are slowly changing. Before I left Portugal, the mere thought of trying to find a job was scary – unemployment rates were incredibly high. Trying to find a job was a hard quest, even for those who held university degrees. But when I came back, I saw an overwhelming number of ads for job positions. Heritage sites were being restored, and it felt that the government cared at least a bit about their people and infrastructures for the first time in a long time. And it no longer felt as if we were living in a wheel of money. It used to be that those born with a lot of money would be rich no matter what, but those who were born poor had no opportunity to get out of poverty. However, when I went back, I felt differently.
Call it a new government, a different party, or maybe that they are scared by the fact that one ex-prime-minister went into custody. But all in all, it gave me hope that sooner rather than later, I will be able to go back home, work hard, and flourish in MY country, without having MY government against me.