Infection by empathy

by Elena Strezoska (Macedonia)

Making a local connection Portugal


It's been two months since I first got here. The old city on the Atlantic has been long a must-see and maybe a must-live-here place on my list. I had been researching its cultural field, history, cuisine and people's mentality by the time, while I was studying the language of Fado. Learning the national language is the best way to reach to the roots of a nation. The language on which you would ask for water to quench your thirst and at the same time say Te amo to fuel other forms of thirst. So here I am holding meu namorado s hand, of course, to help me with the luggage, and myself standing in front of a new life chapter, namely ESC Volunteer. In the first week, we breathed on the "lungs" of a restored hostel building near the old town, which used to be a hospital dormitory back in the time. On the very evening of our arrival, we were attracted to the big cobblestone boulevards, narrow steep alleys, and the royal architecture. Through it, interwoven images of high fashion, hung on the glittering advertisements, the storefronts, reflected on the faces of the tourists. We stared with half-open mouths just like hypnotized flies, unable to break free from the pursuit of the definition of beauty. In front of the entrance to Rossio train station there was a huge inscription We are opening for you here, and just ten meters below, a man with an obvious leg deformity, was the main roll in a picture that one cannot but only remove the look of. I was “begging” for the meaning of the inscription and persistently tried to fit it into the whole downtown story without removing the scene. I gasped, I was trapped, after all this aesthetic euphoria, this was a low blow. And not only for me. As we passed the man by, we were met by the blunt looks of many passersby who, as caught by an epidemic, could not bear watching him. Did anyone play with our sense of empathy? Or maybe we are just infected by some trend? The next day, early in the morning painted in pale foggy daylight, the flooded facades of houses with thousands of different seafaring details suddenly justified their colors. The Alto Bairro seemed to be waiting to be conquered by a new group of tourists, leisurely stranded on one of the oldest trams in Lisbon. Namely, Elevador da Gloria. The just-passing sunlight behind the leaves of the trees managed to reach us, transformed all in eyes, not allowing to miss the change of the palace guard. Still flipping through the dream and the reality, I stared up at the steep alley that was right in front of us, from which a funky beat was spreading. We got into a second-hand shop and I was immediately tempted to try on a few retro pieces. With the saleswoman, which was the owner of the boutique, actually a lady in adulthood, we started from bargaining over the price to more serious themes. I found out, that she traveled a lot with her husband, back in the days. Unfortunately the change of the standards and as a result of financial crises, she couldn’t effort herself that pleasure anymore so she worked on NGO projects for integrating the immigrants from the Capeverdian islands, settled in Cova da Moura, the Lisbon’s favela, for fulfilling her need for contact with the unknown – I deeply recommend you to visit it, even though it is not so safe for tourists. With an ironic tone, she smiled and ended the sentence with the -Ola e Ate logo! After a month of activities in the host organization, and still, without home feelings about the new place, I decided to visit the only lady I knew on Alto Bairro, or maybe in Lisboa at all. When I came there the boutique was closed and from the window-shop, I found out, that it will be closed for a while because of the Coronavirus, actually because of an infection. I was shocked and felt sorry for her. I didn’t know If I was also in danger, but I knew she infected me for sure otherwise.