Five years

It has taken about one month for me realise a few things about our having arrived in Portugal as immigrants five years ago.

This led me to thinking that lots of things take five years. For me, anyway.

  • It takes five years to realise that you are still not immune from getting into the passenger seat of your own car and wondering where the steering wheel has gone. This is not important, unless you have passengers with you who wonder if they are now expected to drive.
  • It takes five years in your country of adoption to learn enough of the language from scratch to translate it well. This is important to me.
  • I takes five years to learn enough of the language to realise that just like everywhere else, not everything everyone says is important. Very few people actually listen to each other. People spend a lot of time repeating themselves about unimportant things.
  • It takes five years to catch a real joke, and to tell a funny story yourself in this new language, and have people laugh – and not out of politeness, or because they think you are strange. I guess it is because it takes them about five years to realise that you are “here”.
  • It takes five years for you to be sorry to see the village priest leave for higher office, and to be able to write him a thank you letter in this new language, and not look anything up. A sincere one, which lends the occasion the dignity it deserves. This is important.
  • It takes five years to realise that you have not had a decent fillet steak for five years. This is not important.
  • It takes five years to realise that you can do without a potato masher in the kitchen – and then you go and buy one, and because you don’t want to break it on the very first day, end up returning to the two-fork mashing method instead.
  • It takes five years to realise, quite suddenly, that the 7-year guarantee on your bedsheets expired seven years ago. You can decide how important this is. Good, strong Zimbabwean cotton.
  • It takes five years to notice that you still have the same boots on your feet. Ah! That may be by choice! Given their shabbiness, I may be ready to let them go soon.
  • It takes five years to realise that there are some people I will always miss.  Good friends, faces, laughter. Countries, I do not miss. People, I do.
  • It takes a good five years to develop a serious filing problem.
  • It takes a lifetime to realise that the person I love chatting to the most – apart from my parents – is my sister. Even if it is her pixellated self beaming through Skype from Australia. We do not say we miss each other, even though it has been longer than five years and calls are infrequent. We just chat. This is important.
  • It takes five years to be driving along alone in your car, praying for your family and close friends, and when you reach the “Amen”, you realise the entire prayer was in Portuguese. This does not matter.
  • What does matter is that it takes five years for so many things to change. And five years for nothing to change at all.


(I know you are going to be sick if I say “five years” one more time.)

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