Some 250,000 Africans from the former colonies are living in Portugal these days. Many came to the country during the years after the 1974 revolution, which hastened the independence of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and São Tome e Príncipe. Married to a Portuguese or taking advantage of the then pliant immigration legislation, in search of a better future - many of those immigrants continue to live a marginal life, worsened by the present recession.
Trâs-os-Montes (Beyond the Mountains), used to be one of the poorest regions of Portugal. Emigration over the past decades has been massive. But, Trâs-os-Montes is blessed with quite a number of narrow gauge (100 cm) railways which, unfortunately, are being gradually closed down. One of the most spectacular tracks is the 'Linha do Tua' from Mirandela to Tua village on the banks of the River Douro. Fifty four kilometers of railroad along the river (Tua, indeed). A masterpiece of engineering that started as early as 1884. Inaugurated by King D.Luís I in September 1887.
For years the air charter company Scan Air provided flights for the aid organisation that I worked for. This was in the early nineties. Mozambique had been plagued by civil war for decades. Transport by road was often difficult – if not impossible – because of the many attacks by the anti-govcmsment rebels. And we really needed transport, because for years we had been responsible for keeping more than 100.000 refugees alive. Waiting for better times, or rather, peace.
Guinea-Bissau - situated on the West-African coast south of Senegal and not even half the size of Scotland - becomes an addiction. That is clear soon after my visit to the country in January 2005. Within a year, I, branco pelelé or foté (white man), am back and soon after I have arrived, I once again become immersed in the bath of friendly warmth so typical for Guinea-Bissau. Kuma de korpo? Korpo esta bem! Djarama buí!. How’s your body? My body feels great, thanks very much!
Now that our hero Ali Farka Touré has passed on from mortality to immortality, I cherish even more my memories of his brilliant concert on 22 July 2005 in Lisbon. In the open air in Monsanto Park, high above Lisbon with broad views of the city and the River Tagus. Wine and a cigar at hand.
Guinea-Bissau, not even half the size of Scotland, on the west coast of Africa. Independent from Portugal since 1974 and ever since, torn apart by intcmsal political disputes that brought the country close to bankruptcy. Abounding in water with mangrove forest along the coast and a couple of bigger rivers that run from the African hinterland to the Atlantic Ocean.
Ever since my earliest childhood days I have been fond of everything that rolls, flies and floats. One of the most impressive forms of transport still remains the steam-engine. Even in The Netherlands I remember them seeing operate and, as a young boy with my father holding my hand, witnessed a steam train rolling into the station of Oisterwijk in southcms Holland carrying numerous Hungarian refugees. That was in 1956.
Wandering through Venice, I find myself suddenly in front of a narrow gate that marks the entrance of an unsightly alley. At the gate, a small sign that reads “Getto di Venezia”. It marks one of the few entrances to the Jewish ghetto (a word that is now quite current worldwide but originates from Venice because of a foundry, ‘getto’, in the same area as the Jewish quarter).