Friday, January 2, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Hey folks. Happy New Year. Hope all your Christmases were as wonderful as ours. After almost 2 years without a place to call our home, and after moving 7 times (!) over that period, we are finally living in our renovated house down the valley from the Portuguese village of Amieira – the house called Moses. On cue, as if to a script usually reserved for seasonal family films like Love Actually, Vonny’s mum Arlene and sister Antoinette, arrived to celebrate with us for Christmas – at midnight Christmas Eve in fact. Splendid.

It’s been a while since we posted anything to our blog and it’s been quite a ride these last 2 months. Things didn’t work out so well with "Tom and Jerry" at Bacelo. After 6 months of helping restore the houses and gardens they’d bought, one day they both decided they had had enough of our little family and told us, in no uncertain terms, to leave. Immediately. It was a big shock to us. We’d only just started the restoration of our own house in October and still did not have windows, doors, heating, water or electricity. In effect then, we were brusquely, inexplicably and unceremoniously made homeless by the people we’d invited to join us in this new life of ours in Portugal. All bridges burned. With no idea what we ever did to be evicted from the houses and gardens we had helped them build. 6 weeks on we’ve still not been able to make any sense of it all and few words have been exchanged to enlighten us. As the old people say, e vida, e vita, c’est la vie, that’s life.

We were forced to look for somewhere else to stay and fortunately our gorgeous and generous neighbours Eugenia and Joao came to our rescue once again. They opened up their old house and garage for us in the village and said we could stay as long as we needed to. Bless. They housed and fed us for 4 weeks and every night we warmed our bodies and spirits in front of their wood burning stove and in the bosom of their family. During the days, the kids continued to go to school (they’re fluent in Portuguese now and both have had awesome results in their first term’s tests in all their subjects – geniuses!) and Vonnie and I threw ourselves into finishing off the restoration of Moses. In the rain, in the snow, in the winds. Whatever the weather we worked our little socks off and became quite poorly in the process.

1 week before Christmas it really didn’t look like we’d be able to move in. It had been pretty chilly, dropping to below zero most nights, making it difficult to mix plaster and run water til the sun rose after midday thawing the ground and melting the water in the outside pipes. Von and I both had full blown conjunctivitis and bad coughs that had kept us sleepless for 4 or 5 nights on the trot. But in that last week, it was like watching, nay making, our very own Extreme DIY Makeover TV show.

Then the beautifully hand crafted African wood double glazed windows, doors and staircases were installed in 3 days by a team of talented and chirpy local carpenters (see Von’s full explanation of the importance of these babies). The thermodynamic hot water system was put in by 2 lovely plumbers, André and Nuno, from a natural energy firm down the road in Castelo Branco called ENat. The electricians Rui, Elisio and Senhor Lucas, carved out all our wonderful lime plastered walls to run cables, plugs and light sockets throughout the house (next house we’ll do this bit first to save on the heartache!). The locally made wood burning stoves, one new one antique, arrived and with our neighbours help carried the heavy mothers down the hill and mounted a chimney inside the house to act as a radiator. We insulated the roof with Rockwool and cork. We built wooden structures for the bath, sink and toilet in the bathroom. We built a temporary wooden shack on the side of the house for the washing machine, tumble dryer and tool shed. We built our first walls out of thin red fire bricks and an equal spacing of lime in between them to support the huge kitchen granite work surfaces, which were picked up from the stone mason in Oleiros 2 days later. Finally the bath, wash basin, kitchen sink, oven and washing machine were delivered, we plumbed in the taps, machine and their drains and at 6pm on Christmas Eve, the electricians finished the last bit of their work and the lights were switched on. While Von and the kids rapidly got to work transforming a building site into a resemblance of a home, I jumped in the jeep to drive the 6 hour round trip to Lisbon picking up Mum and Annie from the airport, arriving back just in the knick of time before Father Christmas and Rudolph dropped in for their usual annual nightcap.

And so it came to be that after a year, 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days after first seeing and falling in love with the land called Moses, the Winter family with Moses our dog, and Angel and Slinky our cats in tow, tired, sick, but exceptionally satisfied, moved into our first, lovingly hand restored, warm and toasty, home. Sweet, sweet home indeed; made even sweeter and richer by the loud laughter and fullness of life accompanying Mum and Anne.

I’ve just finished reading one of their Christmas presents for me - Barack Obama’s first memoir “Dreams from my Father”. Wow. If you’ve not read it, it’s a must read. A truly beautifully written description of his honest and vulnerable quest to understand his own roots and identity with some sharp insight and implications about the nature of all of our multiracial, multicultural origins. Looking forward to ordering and immersing myself in his next books. America sorely needs someone sitting in the Whitehouse that has his level of integrity and humility of worldview. Lord, help that man and his family in the months ahead.

Over the last couple of months in my spare time, for time is something still in abundance here, I have had the awesome privilege of editing David Pott’s outstanding account of his 7 year adventure over 3 continents with the Lifeline Expedition. We’re only half way through the editing process but hopefully the ensuing book of tales of reconciliation concerning the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade will be as inspirational to read as it was to take part in. Watch this space for an early peak at pre-published drafts.

So, 2009 is almost upon us. Awaiting us are another 3 houses to restore, vegetable and flower gardens to cultivate, thousands of trees to plant, water canals and features to sculpt, a yoga temple to build, river damns to erect, phone lines to install, websites to write, children to raise into young adults and Portuguese to properly learn how to read, write and speak. A little daunted if truth be told, but if there’s one thing we’ve learnt over the last few years, it’s this. One step at a time. That’s all we can do. When it begins to feel overwhelming, we will keep remembering and repeating that wee mantra to each other. Just one step at a time dear. For fear, at times, floods in like a tide and tries to steal the very dreams that have, to date, been the wind in our sails. Fear of the exchange rate, of the wider inevitable global economic collapse, fear of our inexperience and ineptitude, fear of the future, of all things unknown and outside our control.

Yet we know that we’re not actually in control of anything really. Moreover, as the scriptures say, perfect love casts out all fear. Armed then with trowels and chisels, spades and hammers, ideas and imagination, and full to overflowing with our love of life, of God and each other, we step into the New Year, confident in the knowledge that He has not bought us this far to leave us here. Peace to you all. May all your dreams come true.

(We do have video evidence of the white carpet of snow that fell in Amieira on Dec 1st, the magical Christmas lights dripping from the trees and buildings in Oleiros and a 360 virtual tour of our new pad. Once I’ve found the cable to my mobile, currently buried somewhere in one of the 2 garages we’re using for our stuff, I’ll post ‘em up to this blog entry. So long. Até já.)

A White Christmas (well, near enough Christmas) in Amieira...

The magical lights in Oleiros....

1 comment:

Luz said...

hey beautiful family! just stop by to get some news and to say holla :)

you are amazing and i can't wait to visit moses again!