back again with my travel diary.
here is part two of the story. in this blog post i’m documenting days 3 and 4 of our trip. the final day 5 is our travelling back day and i couldn’t document as much. again and again, lisboa is my favourite european city so far. on these two days we really get acquainted with some of this city. we get that confidence you get when you’ve walked down a street before. a lot is allowed to happen because of this confidence. for one, i break off from the girls and travel to the beach – praia São pedro- alone, because i had to and because lisboa makes me feel ready and safe enough to. the rest of the group explore the Alfama district and also visit the Castelo de São Jorge. (when we meet they tell me about their adventures and i envy the views they experienced from the top of the castle which i exchanged for solo train journeys, poetry and quiet beach time but i’ll be back, i’ll be back). also, this confidence leads to us finding obvious and unobvious art galleries – namely the Centro Cultural de Belèm and the Racismo e Cidadania exhibition . we seek out and find little book shops (closed by the time we get there) find a nearby festival and plan on going but get lost in side streets and have more fun.
i was salsaed by Joel who has a brazilian mother and swiss father but has most fun in lisbon – i asked and was answered mid salsa btw. i had so much house wine, so much. and held it down better than i ever could in england. also, Courtney, great lover of buskers, found a sweet spot by the ocean under that night’s orange moon accompanied by endless busker performances. whilst midnight wandering in the lively city centre we were led to an underground open mic spot literally by following a voice that sounded Lauryn Hill, Jorja Smith-esque. we went back the next night and it wasn’t the same vibe but we showed up atleast. as a group it was good for us, we got separated, i wandered off because i’m that one in the group and we managed, every night eating or breaking fast together. and we had moments, we got irritated, we compromised when we didn’t want to because lets be real about travelling with friends.. but we love and care for each other. we talk about later adventures with one another. we good.
one thing i’ve learnt is that i prefer to not visit the same parts of a city more than once. familiarity is always nice. knowledge is safety. but i know that, if Yah allows, in later travels i will make a conscious effort to branch out. explore wide. let myself feel alien in a new place each day. i personally would have liked to see Sintra, to see the Alfama district and there were a couple museums and galleries i will have to come back for. stuff like that.
a favourite thing about group holidays is being able to document my friends in the moment, enjoying a new environment, exploring new mental space and to have it reciprocated | Photo Credit: @fatimalidu
i also learnt that i love travelling with groups (of women i love and trust) but i also am craving a solo trip now. i’ve wanted it for a very long while and i do feel ready. i have been told to do a solo trip somewhere in europe but bun babylon.
i did travel to paris alone to meet with some creatives, but i would like to travel without having an agenda or work in mind. i believe in idleness, sometimes. i want to see italy, for sure. maybe when i’m in love. i want to see amsterdam too. with the right people though ha. i have recently been feeling sweden and i’m considering budapest. but my heart really wants Senegal – specifically Dakar, and i want Ghana, Kenya, Jamaica, Cuba. i don’t know. i don’t want to waste time if i know my heart and mind’s destinations. travelling experience is key, but if you know where you want to invest your time why waste it? let me know what you guys think and i will update you on my decisions later anyway.
this is Cristina. i took a chance suggesting that we pop into another art gallery but nobody complained (from what i could see of their eyes behind shades) so i stepped into the narrow gallery. Cristina is a photographer. the exhibiting photographer of the entire gallery actually. we don’t know this as we’re first entering, she smiles at us humbly, just like this when we first step in. it’s her friend who really bigs her up. big up friends who will shout about how amazing your work is to wandering strangers. Also, big up to artists able to take the cue and big up themselves and talk effortlessly, without pause, about their art and their talent. this is what Cristina embodies. Cristina’s photography exhibits the nineteenth century portraits adapted. she tells me that she was prompted to adapt and the first thing she thought was their faces are so ugly and needed to be covered up. i splutter a little but she continues talking which means that she meant what she said. she goes on to explain how on a different project she was working with tissue paper and that is how she decided to adapt these images. we’re already standing next to my favourite image in the gallery and courtney is lingering aside her favourite so i ask which is cristina’s favourite.
it was a nice moment. artist to artist, it meant a lot to me personally to witness and experience the opening night of cristina’s exhibition; it’s hard to document those kinds of feelings but i know that you know what i mean.
the more i travel, the more i realise how invested i am with art, particularly contemporary art. when i was in brussels i realised exactly how important it is for me, how i adored the Magritte Museum, how much of it i absorbed and remember and am later inspired by. i think i just love learning about the different movements and periods and the dadaisms and neo-dadaisms and conceptualisms and it goes on. and not learning from a text book, actually walking into a curated space and learning by vibe and feeling and visuals. i take much from that.
this is Ines. this is my favourite encounter to date. i get all of the involuntary smiles on my face when i think about this meeting. so imagine, i have navigated myself to this beach, conquered the train by myself and have gotten in the Cascais region in Lisbon and I never really use google maps plus i’m trying to save internet and battery so i go by ear. at first it seems very isolated, not abandoned, but like people are keeping the heat out of homes and shops with drawn curtains. i decide to keep walking anyway, determined that i will find the ocean eventually. just as i take out my camera i see three young girls playing in the road. at first i wonder why they’re unsupervised but then it reminds me of my sister and i little bit. lost in my memories i notice a man hanging out of the shop door a little, watching over the girls and not smiling back at me. i also notice that this shop might sell cafe food. i take my glasses off and step in. hola. i shout it to the back of the shop since the people sitting in the shaded room signal with nods and singular english words that she is back there.
Ines comes out with all of the smiles missing from everyone else and greets me with the most familiar portuguese greetings, i think. i tell her that my portuguese is limited and she laughs out another smile and greets me with the same intensity in english. i tell her that i’m looking for beach food with no meat and no dairy. she only has a meat looking quiche. she apologises and offers me a drink instead but i have my water. after it is clear that i will not be a paying customer, she asks me who i am. i tell her about jamaica and london and birmingham. and i tell her about my name. what it means. she tells me her name is Ines and she actually interrupts me gently when she realises i am from the UK, she has lived in andover where everyone called her Agnes, the english version of her name. we talk about art. Ines is an artist too. She has her own blog (i have lost the card that she gave me, i have lost the website and i have lost my damn mind trying to find it, i’m sure it will show up).
I ask to take a picture of her, she blushes and says she will but she wasn’t expecting to be photographed today. whilst i’m taking photographs of Ines the man previously hanging out of the door has committed his whole body into the store. he speaks in low vibrating portuguese and everyone chuckles and claps at Ines. She blushes and laughs more and translates that he says ‘i have become famous’. she runs to the back and comes back with a card and a notebook and we exchange blogs.
before i leave, Ines tells me about her own project and storytelling. anyone who visits her cafe has to place a flag from where they are from. ofcourse, the diaspora baby in me got momentarily confused but i placed the flag in Brum, just because. we tried to take this pic several times, my camera seems to only work in my hands. but after several confessions – ‘i am not a photographer’- and forced smiles and hurting arms, we got a shot.
i left with a few hugs, softened faces now smiling with me, a new friend and a new story.
reunited with the group
eating out was the highlight of each day, thankfully we were all very committed to this part of the day. on our final night in lisboa we decided to do something a little different and have some sit-down street food. it was a good experience, lively environment made better by the awareness that the house wine was really being served in a jug and also made better by this guy. Zakir.
Zakir was selling the merchandise he dressed himself with. we had no need for any of it but we still wanted to talk with him. he tried to guess where we were from. he guessed Angolan, Mozambique and i believe that is all. he ran out of guesses and asked us to tell him. Fatima told him that he she was Egyptian. He laughed out a few strangely genuine ha ha ha’s and denied Fatima her Egyptian heritage. we asked him why Fatima could not be Egyptian and he just ha ha ha’ed it away. Fatima explains that she is half Egyptian and half Ghanaian. he does not seem that impressed but is more appeased. Hawwa tells him that she is Nigerian and he says ohh okay i like African people. We’re not quite sure what to do with this confession but find allow ourselves to find this whole scenario kinda funny. Hawwa then pursues to find out why he likes African peoples. he does not answer and asks where Courtney and i are from. we explain Jamaica and he repeats Jamaica a few times like testing the word out.
he tells us that he is bangladeshi and we talk to him about his experience in portugal. we talk to him about the bangladeshi community in birmingham and london. he wants to come to london. he says he will, in 2020, IA. (all the while Zakir is trying to convince us to buy 8 euro hats, sunglasses and headbands)
Hawwa has not forgotten about Zakir’s previous statement and asks again what exactly it is that he likes about African people. he explains that African people are sexy.
i promise we do spend some time dealing with this desexualisation of black bodies but it is not the night or the space. we’ve spent so much of his time and discussed more than i have documented or rememebered about diasporic lifestyles that we do end up buying light-up mini mouse ears, for a bartered price of 2 euros.
all of my encounters seemed to happen in one day. here are two bangladeshi gentlemen who run a souvenir shop in a very expensive and maybe unvisited street in lisboa. it is super convenient that they’re open near midnight even though we are really sceptical at first. i buy a beautiful tile print mug which i will drop and snap off the handle from later that night. i will be a little upset about it but will also be offered my first taste of portuguese ginja and will then be thrown into a salsa so i am not really upset. i later try to convince my sister that the mug is better this way, that she can use it to warm her hands. i think the mug sits prettily in the cupboard unused now but anyway. after conversations and failed attempts at bartering, we talk to these guys about what it is like being bangladeshi in portugal. they say it is alright. not a dream. no real opportunities are available. if i remember they speak about the muslim community in portugal being restorative for them and how extra hard they have to work. they talk about family life and how hard it can be – hence why they are open so late. the friend at the back taking a selfie with Courtney is married with children. i photographed our friend at the front who laughs and tells us he is not married and has no children, but he still has a gyal, basically. when failing to knock down my mug to a sensible price i speak to the friend at the back and realise that he has lived in london – ealing broadway- which is where i’m from. small small world.
our final day is split between early morning stressful rides to the train station to get back to faro (where we fly out from), then quiet time roaming, final meetings with the ocean and then plane rides back at sunset. on wednesday night i told portuguese strangers how much i loved lisboa and they shouted over loud music ‘lisboa will not forget you’ and it better not because i am truly returning with even more love and expectancy.