Autor: Mariana Água

Quem conta a história: anónimo

Who tells the story: Organization: ULHT

Título: Pathway to Happiness

Level: Advanced

Language: English

Abstract: The adventures and misadventures of Manuela (Nina) and Joaquim, a humble couple, from a rural area, who meet in their youth and build a family, emigrate and return to Portugal. They share dreams, plans, ups and downs. Memories of a life dedicated to work and family.

Keywords: family, dreams, humility, work, immigration

Pathway to Happiness

Manuela Galvão Brotas – or Nina, as her older brother still calls her – lived a very happy life with ups and downs. Many times, the roller coaster we call life, changed its turns, putting her to the test. But have the downs of life outweighed the ups? Is love capable of overcoming all barriers? Coming from a village in the Coruche area – Erra – with a big family, Manuela is the youngest of 6 siblings, and for that reason, she has always been the most pampered. 


Life in Portugal during her adolescence was not easy, there was a dictatorial political regime – Salazarism – that oppressed all those who opposed it. The search for a better life made her emigrate to another country. However, this change was not the only one that Manuela had to go through until her adult life. Today, she is 77 years old and she has been retired for a couple of years. She continues to dedicate her life to housework, the vegetable garden and the poultry, admitting with laughter that she cannot stand still. Her life changed very early on when in the fleeting phase of adolescence – at 16 years old – she met in her hometown the one who would become the man of her life. Joaquim, or Jaquim as he is fondly remembered by her, was the impetus for the first turning point in her life. 


Although the beginning of this relationship was troubled, with Manuela’s father being reticent about the relationship, this would quickly be overcome. Initially, this relationship was not very well seen by Manuela’s father who feared what could happen to her future when Joaquim left for the Angola War, since he would be away from home for a long time. But the fact that he wanted to marry daddy’s girl made him give consent for the marriage to take place. Thus, at eighteen – he was twenty –they said I do in a very intimate wedding, with little preparation time and only with the closest family members. But the day they both longed for as a happy day turned into a bitter day because of the funeral of her maternal grandmother. This fatality was an impediment for her mother to attend the wedding and the dinner that normally took place at the bride’s house, was served at the groom’s house. However, the wedding day would not be the only event to deviate from normality. Usually, after two people tie the knot, the so-called honeymoon begins. But just like the wedding, the honeymoon was not as expected. Two days after they were married, Joaquim joined the army and, after 9 months, he was sent to the Angola War, where he would stay for twenty-seven months. 


Those were different times and, contrary to what happens nowadays, there was no way to contact the family other than by letter. Cell phones appeared many years later, so news was received and sent only by weekly letters. And, during the two years that Joaquim was in Angola, it was impossible for Manuela’s heart not to be constantly in shock: “Will I get a letter from him this week?” However, what kept the flame of the relationship alive were Joaquim’s visits, every six months, to Portugal, along with the romantic letters that were written. During all the time that her husband was in the war, Nina continued with her routines and life in the countryside. However, everything was about to change. Joaquim’s arrival from the war culminates in the beginning of their life together, in a house built by his in-laws – in the same village where they both grew up – and never inhabited before. But something was missing. Joaquim wanted to give his wife the best, providing her with something she has always wanted to learn. He wanted Manuela to learn how to sew – something she had always wanted to do, but which she never had the chance to do. Therefore, he immediately rented a room in the city and went to a lady – the so-called master – who would teach his beloved all the sewing tricks. During this time, they both slept in the room they had rented – during the week – and only went to their village on weekends. After school, they moved to Lisbon – Catujal – where Joaquim already had a job and it was in this rented house that they spent the next five years. Joaquim’s adventurous and audacious spirit begins to be visible when his fearless attitude encourages Manuela to learn what she likes, never worrying if he himself would have to change jobs. The main focus was for Manuela to be happy. 


The couple’s first child, Vítor, was born when Manuela and Joaquim were twenty-four and twenty-six years old, respectively. But the twists in Manuela’s life didn’t stop there. Two and a half years after the birth of his much-desired son, Joaquim sets out on a new adventure, focused on the search for a better future. Life in Portugal was hard, money was scarce and there was not much more than the basics. Hamburg, Germany, was the place chosen, where they emigrated to and lived in for the next eleven years. Similar to what happened during the Angola War, Manuela and Joaquim lived apart for two years, with weekly exchanges of letters and her husband coming to Portugal on holidays. 


Not happy with this situation and not wanting to live this intense relationship apart from Joaquim, she ended up satisfying her partner’s wishes, heading to Germany. The trip to Hamburg, contrary to what one might think, was a thoughtful decision, as Manuela went to the country known as the land of poets and thinkers, with a job in the canteen of the factory where her husband worked. The first years in Germany were not easy for this woman. The German language was nothing like Portuguese, which in the early days got in the way of her life and prevented her, for example, from going to the doctor alone. Simple things like going to the bakery were difficult for someone who knew nothing in German. Although complicated, as time went by, she learned and memorized a few words, whether listening to her German colleagues in the canteen or through books with translation. At one point, even going to get bread became funny when she realized the similarity between bread, in German brot, and her last name, Brotas. 


As mentioned, life in Hamburg was very different from life in Portugal in Salazar’s time. A very nice house, freedom of speech and a better lifestyle were things that did not exist in her home country. Joaquim’s adventurous side continued to attract Manuela and they both dedicated their weekends to exploring the country that had welcomed them. In addition to the beautiful places they visited and the quality of life, their life in Germany was also marked by the birth of the couple’s second child, Sérgio, six years after they arrived in the country. Manuela’s boldness, of not being afraid to change, was intensified even more when she revealed that she was a woman outside the norm. As it was not very common for women to get their driver’s license at that time, Manuela got it, even though she failed twice in her driving test. Joaquim’s affability and concern for his wife take on an even greater dimension when he insists that Manuela shall not give up on getting the driver’s license, something she thought was necessary. And so it was. 


Still pregnant with Sérgio, she started theoretical classes, in German and, after the boy was born, she dedicated herself to driving. The years went by, the family’s life was getting better and it is at this point that Joaquim decides to buy two taxis in Portugal and associate himself with two partners. However, when the boss is away, things don’t always go as smoothly as possible. Although this family went to Portugal every year to spend their holidays, visiting families from both sides, it was not enough to safeguard the business one hundred percent. Although the quality of life was much better in Germany, they decided to come back to Portugal. According to Manuela, coming to Portugal was a combination of several factors. First, the dictatorial regime had already ended; the taxi business was not plain sailing, which made Joaquim worried, and Vítor, at the age of fifteen, did not like living in the country and asked all the time “When are we going back to Portugal?” This question is very directly related to the personality of this son since he was always much shier than Sérgio. The fact that Sérgio went to primary school and that these parents wanted their youngest son to start school and do his studies without interruption was also one of the decisive reasons. Furthermore, Germany was offering compensation to immigrants who wanted to leave the country that year. All these reasons had an impact on the decision, eventually culminating in their return to the country of origin. Manuela arrives in Portugal at the age of forty-one. 


The house they built during their holidays in Portugal, in the years prior to their return, was practically ready to move into. This house was located in the same place as the other one, Catujal, but it was not exactly in the same place, it was two kilometres away. With the house finished, they handed over the keys of the rented house to the landlord and began moving into the new house. From Hamburg they brought several belongings that they took to the new house and that was how they rebuilt their life, always marked by a lot of work and love on both sides. But, with two children and a house to take care of, Joaquim tried to get Manuela to give up one of her passions, sewing, which she did not approve of. For her, taking care of the house, children and husband was not enough. She needed something to challenge her and to help distract her. Furthermore, when the neighbours learned that the family had returned to Portugal, they immediately went to her, for her sewing services. It was a fact, there was no better seamstress than Manuela. Life at work was in line with what she wanted to do. In addition to sewing, Joaquim set up a chicken coop so that his wife could take care of it. 


Family life, on the other hand, was marked by differences between the different personalities of the children that became more pronounced over the years. Sérgio was, without any doubt, the most naughty of the brothers. But he was also the most cherished by the neighbours because he was considered the most communicative. On the opposite side, the older brother’s personality was underlined by a stubbornness, still evident today, and by an alienation from the outside world. Talking about the children means talking about Manuela’s parents. Every year, without any exception, Manuela would pick up her parents from Erra to spend their holidays at her house. At a certain point, her mother didn’t feel well because she had a serious kidney infection. The following days were marked by a constant struggle, great concern and pain. Ten days later, her mother died. But Manuela didn’t give up. She had her family to take care of. The years went by, the children grew up, and Joaquim’s willingness to take risks was still alive. And then comes what for Manuela was the biggest kick in her husband’s life. 


Around the year 2000, he bought an aluminium company. It could have been the start of something great if the firm hadn’t been bought with a debt. During the time of the company’s purchase hesitation, Manuela tried to dissuade Joaquim from this idea, calling him to reason, in a rational way, not foreseeing anything positive. But his stubbornness, probably inherited by Vítor, was greater, and he decided to go ahead with the purchase. There were nine years of attempts to make the company rise, but nothing came of it, going bankrupt in 2009. And now? The bankrupt company might not have been so serious if there were no assets to pay the debts. And the worst was yet to come when the couple’s lawyer advised them to divorce, only on paper, in order to safeguard everything they had built, the result of years of work. Perhaps the biggest regret in Manuela’s life was this. She warned him. And he ignored the advice and decided to have his way. And now they were divorced. For legal purposes, they were divorced, but life together continued as it was before, with the same passion, care and attention. However, the pain that Manuela was left with, made her not want to remarry, not even after the process was all finished. 

However, not all was bad in the midst of the company’s recovery attempts. At the age of sixty-four, Manuela discovers that she is going to be, for the first time, the grandmother of a boy. The birth of Mateus in 2008 comes at a complicated time, which, in a way, helped to ease the revolt she felt. To the routine she had lived for several years she added another hobby that Manuela did like more than anything else: taking care of her only grandchild. With her family complete, she was ready to live the rest of a peaceful life. But the unexpected happens. At a certain point, Joaquim started to stop taking care of the land and the animals, he was more and more melancholic and didn’t eat. Something wasn’t right. In fact, she decided to take him to the hospital to see what it was all about. After some blood tests, the doctor is startled by the results. Joaquim was on the verge of leukaemia. The following day, Joaquim went to the hospital again, but this time to a different unit. To find out what was happening and in order to obtain more information, the doctor asked for an endoscopy. And what was most feared, was confirmed. Joaquim had stomach cancer. And because the problem was so serious, he did not wait to get home to tell Manuela the news, he immediately called her from the hospital. And now? What was going to happen to the love of Manuela’s life? On the same day that Joaquim’s illness was discovered, he was sent home, but he would have to be there the next day to be admitted. And so it was. In the Christmas week, more specifically on the 20th of December, Joaquim is admitted to the hospital. The surgery to remove his stomach is scheduled for the 4th of January, which meant that Joaquim would have to spend Christmas in hospital away from his family. At that time, everything stopped making sense to Manuela. Spending Christmas without her love made no sense to her. However, she followed what her husband said and in whatever way possible, they celebrated Christmas. On the surgery day, Manuela stayed in the hospital all day, trying all the time to find out something about her love. Nurses and doctors were in and out of the operating room, but no one did Manuela much good, they just told her enough to keep her heart a little warmer. After a full day on the operating room, it turns out that what was expected didn’t happen. They did not manage to remove Joaquim’s stomach due to the great advance of the cancer. For Joaquim’s health to be ensured, the doctors tried to solve the problem in another way, by doing a biopsy with the aim of starting chemotherapy treatment, which would dry the mass and, in the future, it would be possible to perform the surgery. Chemotherapy treatments did not go as well as expected due to Joaquim’s fragile condition. Chemotherapy, contrary to what was supposed, had very negative effects on his health, and even ended up burning other of his organs such as his intestines and lungs. The days did not tend to improve and in April of the same year, Joaquim had to return to the hospital where he was hospitalized for 3 weeks. The organs began to die and towards the end of his life, he did not recognize his children. Joaquim just died. But their love remained. The truth is that Joaquim’s death did not prevent this love from continuing, from remaining alive, whether through memories or letters that they wrote to each other – and that they kept – from the times when they were apart. However, as is often said, after the storm comes the calm and this story is no exception. Coincidence of fate or not, on the day of the funeral of the only man she loved in her life, Manuela discovers that she is going to be a grandmother for the second time, from her youngest son, which eases the pain of her husband’s departure. Xavier, the youngest member of the Galvão Brotas family, is born nine months after his grandfather’s death and brings new light and hope to grandmother Manuela. In short, this woman’s life was marked by ups and downs, in which love always prevailed, whether for her husband, children or grandchildren. Although her husband has been gone for nearly three years, the love and affection with which she speaks of him is obvious from start to finish. A life marked by her husband’s love and adventures – whether positive or negative – transformed the family’s baby girl into a woman-at-arms. The happy life she had, thanks to everything her husband provided her, makes Manuela remember her life in a happy way – “I was happy. I always did what I wanted.”

Project 2020-2-RO01-KA205-080819 STORYLINE

Funded by the Romanian National Agency of the Erasmus+ Programme

Start date: 01-11-2020

End date: 31-10-2022

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