The fishing boats are coming in with their catches, each taking its turn at the pier. The five days of hot, dry weather finally broke yesterday and while it’s still warm, there’s enough of a breeze to keep things cool. I have no air conditioning in this apartment; most people here don’t have air conditioning. The buildings are somehow built to stay cool in the summer. It works against me in the winter—I’ll need to buy some space heaters by November, but for now, with the exception of one very hot day, it’s been comfortable. Or at least not too uncomfortable.
Summers are dry and hot in The Algarve and it has had its share of wildfires this season. On Monday night, I watched a blanket of reddish smoke work its way across the sky.
An acquaintance on the other side of Tavira had to evacuate for the night. Another friend in Vilamoura messaged me that night asking if I needed a place to evacuate to. Last night, a wildfire started near her home and she was the one preparing to evacuate; I returned her offer of a place to stay if needed. Today, the fires are either out or in the “conclusion” stage. Hopefully, the bombeiros will have a chance to rest. But like the American west, the fire danger is at high alert.
This is a village of brick and stucco and tile roofs. The fishermen’s huts at the end of town are wood. I sat here on Monday night calculating how much of the town would actually burn if the fire made it here. I also tried to figure out what my evacuation plan would be since I don’t have a car or any friends close by. Could I call an Uber? Maybe. I eyeballed the boats in the canal, trying to figure out how to wrap my laptop so it wouldn’t get wet if I had to make a swim for it. (Note to self: Buy duct tape.)
When you move thousands of miles away on your own, you need to make contingency plans. You need to think about the what ifs: What if I get COVID even though I’m vaccinated? What if I break a hip? What if my apartment burns to the ground?
Fortunately, I have lived alone for most of my life. I know how to self-Heimlich. I keep a full dose of antibiotics in the fridge. I have someone I can call if something goes horribly wrong. I should probably have several somebodies, but they will come in time. I have the means to fly someone over to me if I need to.
I am a self-contained unit, but I am also getting older and I know that shit happens, no matter how much you plan. Years ago I read a funny line: If money can solve it, it’s not a problem; it’s a situation. To which I would often add, “Oh, boy, this is a big situation.”
In Florida, we had hurricanes, but there is so much advance warning (and differing models of where any one hurricane is heading) that you take your time before packing a bag. Usually you just go to the store to get more beer and snacky-snacks. Tornados, earthquakes, wildfires can arrive with no warning. A big advantage to moving 4,000 miles is that I have learned I don’t need “all my things”—I can replace most of my stuff with a quick shopping spree at the local mall or just re-order from Amazon. I am very sure I can pack a go-bag in under 10 minutes.
There are risks to everything we do. You run a certain amount of risk every time you drive your car to the grocery store. I took a risk moving to a country where I didn’t know anyone. Do I feel isolated here? Yes, a little. I am isolated everywhere but I know that it takes on a different and riskier connotation when you’re thousands of miles away from family and friends. Expats need a network.
That is why there are expat communities. That’s why you need to learn the language and make friends with locals. People need networks for survival, even the self-contained units. I have lived in this small village for two and a half months. My Portuguese sucks. I am an introvert. But every morning I take a walk and bom dia the hell out of everyone. I pet all the dogs (not to network, I just like dogs). I wave to the old men who sit on the benches by the pier. I talk to the man who works on his boat every morning and the ladies at the post office. I tip the staff at the bakery who start bagging a croissant for me when they see me walk in.
And, it finally happened. As I took my walk one morning last week, the man who works on his boat drove by and honked and waved. The other day the lady who used to work at the bakery beeped at me from her scooter as she went to her new job. The men on the benches wave and call out bom dia.
I am slowly building a network. The epidemic has slowed me down quite a bit as far as networking in groups. Yes, there are some expat meetups, and even though I’m vaxxed, I am leery of variants, especially since we are in high tourist season and people are coming in from all over. I am passing on meeting up in any group of more than four people. As my language skills increase, I hope to meet and socialize with more locals. In the meantime, I am keeping up my daily walks and keeping an eye on the wildfire map. I like to calculate my risks.