Way Out of my Comfort Zone




I have been in Lisbon for almost a week and have already learned so much about Portugal and its history. I knew that the country was very active during the Age of Exploration (or época dos descobrimentos in Portuguese), but I did not realize the influence that they had on the world much later than that, especially in the twentieth century.

For many years, Portugal had colonies in several African countries, including Mozambique, Angola, and Cape-Verde. After the countries won their independence in 1974, many Portuguese people were forced to move back to Portugal (typically referred to as the retornados). Many Cape-Verdeans have also immigrated to Portugal over time. There are few spaces in Lisbon that can accommodate both the Cape-Verdean immigrants and descendants, as well as the retornados, looking for a place to remind them of what was once their home.

My group went to Lisbon’s Associação Cabo-Verdiana, or the Cape-Verdean Association, in order to learn some more about what it meant to be Cape-Verdean in Lisbon. The location was on the eighth floor of an obscure building on Avenida de Liberdade in Lisbon’s Financial District.

As soon as I walked in, I was surprised. The place was very small and looked like a restaurant with nicely set tables. On the right, there was a small stage with musical equipment, but no one was on it yet. There’s rarely any air conditioning to be found in Lisbon, so the windows on the back wall were all open. Colorful paintings with artist names and descriptions were hung on the walls for everyone to see.

The atmosphere was friendly and casual, and before I knew it, more people began to arrive, filling the tables. The workers brought out typical Cape-Verdean and Angolan food, cachupa and moamba, which we all tried. Not only was the food great, but the music was too. The man who now occupied the stage filled the air with guitar, playing and singing songs of Cape-Verde’s most popular genres, morna and funaná. I was able to recall lyrics from a couple of songs we had learned in class back at Emory and gladly sang.

Every Tuesday and Friday, the Associação hosts lunches like these, filled with music and food, right in the heart of Lisbon. My professor shared with us that she was a regular attendee of these events in her college days, about 20 years ago. The man on stage, she said, had been performing there even since then, and had seldom aged except for a few more white hairs.

Strangely enough, this completely unfamiliar setting felt familiar to me. I felt comfortable even though I was in a country that I had not grown up in, listening to a language that I had only been speaking for less than a year, surrounded by people that I have not known for very long. So comfortable, in fact, that when the time came, I got up and danced, much to my own surprise.

Everybody in the Associação was very supportive and absolutely overjoyed that there was a big group of foreign college students attempting to immerse themselves in the culture. It’s usually very hard for me to get out of my shell and dance, especially in front of strangers, but being in such a warm and inviting city has made me feel much less shy and very open to experiencing the culture first-hand.

So far, Lisbon has provided me many ways to interact with its rich history and vibrant culture, and I am so excited to learn and experience more of it for the next few weeks to come.