International Seasonal Welcome!

To mark International day of the migrant, on 18th December,  Fundão Municipality hosted a Multi-cultural Christmas event in what was previously the Roman Catholic Seminary in the town.

The Seminary has been home for several months to not only a group of international students, migrant workers from Asia and Eastern Europe, and most recently has welcomed a group of African refugees.

The group of 14 men from Eritrea were the ones responsible for cooking the hot chicken curry – part of an inclusion project part funded by the EU. Mum and I tasted it and it blew our heads off! Like many of the Portuguese present we found it HOT. We were treated to many foods from different countries – and we brought something typical to our Christmas…. mince pies and homemade Christmas cake. No-one in attendance had tried these before, so that was novel.

When our bellies were full, we sat to hear a contextual speech from the mayor of Fundao, Dr. Paulo Fernandes, who spoke to the diversity of migration stories that were present in the room. There were folks who migrated to northern Europe for jobs, people who had been forced to return to Portugal from the colonies of Mozambique and Angola in the early 1970’s, a group of young professional engineers from Nepal, India, Brazil and other parts of Portugal, there was our dear friend Rosso (Italian) and his wife Jamie (Korean), and my mum in the mix!

The beautiful  man who represented the Eritrean group spoke about the welcome they had received in Fundão, how this was their home now, and how they wanted to get involved in the society and to work. Probably a mixture of a political point (as refugees are not supposed to work) and gratitude to the local authorities who were trying to spear head a scheme to get these men out and to learn how to prune cherry trees – the symbol of Fundão. Here is a link about the initiative.

The other refugees staying in the Seminario are from Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen. It was a little strange for me on such as day talking about migration that the word for refugee was not mentioned in the Portuguese language. Migration instead was the preferred term.

Even in the panel discussion that followed the heart warming speech from the  Eritrean man, the topic of question was how have you found it to live in Fundao? And were there any difficulties you encountered? This was asked to me, a fantastic Lithuanian lady and of a Nepalise engineer. We all did our best to answer – and of course i found the main difficulty in communication!

An invited guest from Lisbon, a history professor who was born in Angola spoke the most candidly about some of the difficulties that people of colour face. But the evening was made light by the Lithuania lady singing us a seasonal carol with her amazing voice! All in all, it was a gift of an evening.

Being part of this multi-cultural event, surrounded by friends who work for the local council (Paula, Ana Teresa, Sonia, Esmeralda, Dona Alcina) friends who have moved here like me, where from Brazil (Marli) or Korea (Jamie) – I felt very ‘at home’ in all the diversity. Let’s see what adventures in welcoming and hosting we will get up to this year of 2019!