By Beth

It’s about 8:30am and it’s still quite dark. It’s also absolutely freezing.

Here I am, laying in bed. I am wearing:

Two tank tops, a short-sleeved shirt, a long-sleeved shirt and a sweater; as well as two layers of pants, socks and slippers. And I have…six heavy blankets on top of me.

You guessed it (or maybe you didn’t, but I’ll tell you anyway): it’s winter in Portugal, I’m in a very cold stucco house with no heat in a room with no windows, and I have just arrived a couple of days ago from sunny, 85-degree São Tomé.

And if you think I’m excited to go to Boston tomorrow, where it’s snowing, think again. As much as I love the snow, my body is already in shock as it is. And it hardly reaches freezing here!

My cousins João and Elsa are country people with very, very modest means. Yet I am extremely comfortable in their home

(besides the weather), having come from a developing country. Despite their tiny house which was hardly built to accommodate two people let alone the five that live there (and now six)  there are still things here that they are lucky to have- running water all the time- and often hot!, constant electricity, the ability to drink from the tap. Yesterday we went to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. I was shocked to be inside a mall- and with so many WHITE people around- where everything was in such easy access. Shelves and shelves of books next to bottles of wine and cheese and eggs you could pick off the stand; Christmas music playing through speakers up high on the walls.

There was a time when I thought Portugal was very different from the USA. Much poorer. But I have changed my mind. It is almost exactly the same.

We pass a McDonald’s on the way home. We then sit down and eat our lanche, or what the Portuguese use as an excuse to eat four meals a day. Nutella and hot chocolate and king cake and ham sandwiches. Sweets are so rare in São Tomé and so plentiful here. It is amazing to me that São Tomé, in the condition it is, was a part of Portugal some 30 years ago. Yet many things amaze me, and I periodically look at my tan in the mirror to remind myself that I didn’t dream it all up.