What’s it like being a Jamaican living in Portugal?
Interviews

What’s it like being a Jamaican living in Portugal?

Have you ever wondered what’s it like being a Jamaican living in Portugal? On our “Jamaicans to the World” Facebook Live show, Jamaicans.com founder Xavier Murphy spoke with Anne Henriques. She is a Jamaican that has lived in Portugal for 9 months.

Xavier: What is it like being a Jamaican in Portugal? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, the founder of Jamaicans.com. Today in Jamaicans to the World we talk to Anna Henriques who lives in Portugal. Hi, Anna, how are you?

Anna: Hi, Xavier. How are you doing?

Xavier: I’m doing good.

Anna: I’m good. Look at my garden, I love my garden. That’s what makes me happy.

Xavier: The weather looks beautiful there. It looks like it’s, nice and cool. My first question is, which paat a Jamaica yuh come from? (which part of Jamaica are you from)

Anna: I grew up in Kingston, but I spent my first two years of life and most of my holidays in Morant Bay. I’m really technically a country girl, which is why I came here because I spent 20 years in New York City in concrete and I was really missing greenery, missing farm life.

Xavier: This compared to New York and, you know, I don’t want to say 360,180, it’s really a 180.

Anna: It is.

Xavier: And the garden there is beautiful.

Anna: Thank you. We’re working on it but as I’ve said a true country girl style. I was a jewelry designer in New York City and lived in concrete, and literally worked out of concrete but right behind, other side, right behind me that way; there those are my chickens, my sheep, and my donkeys.

Xavier: Wow! really true country girl. So yuh (you) have the what yuh (you) call dem (them) di (the) country fowl?

Anna: Exactly. In fact, just before we got on, I heard one of them laying and I had to run out there and get the egg because I have one chicken that eats eggs, so I have to get them before she eats them. Yes.

Xavier: Do you eat the chickens or they’re just for eggs?

Anna: They’re just for eggs. Just eggs.

Xavier: Okay and the donkey now; tell me the story about the donkey now.

Anna: Okay, well, in fact, that actually has its origin in Morant Bay because when I was growing up, I had a donkey. I had a donkey named Moe, one of the Jamaican grey donkeys and Moe got very, very fat, and next thing you knew Moe had a baby. I had Moe and Dinky and so I’ve always loved donkeys and I’ve always wanted to have donkeys and so when I came here I mentioned it and one of the people working here helping me build this place out and he’s done the gardens and all of that. Next thing I know he organizes some rescue donkeys because I said I’m happy to take a rescue donkey, I’m not riding the donkey and I’m not using it for pulling anything and these two rescue donkeys are now rescued. I have a 30 year old female and a 2 year old male and both were very badly treated, very abused. They’ve settled down and they’re happy now and actually, now they’re fat. When they got here, they were skin and bone.

Xavier: The names again?

Anna: Of my donkeys?

Xavier: Yes.

Anna: Oh, I have Zachariah the male, and Zachariah’s wife in the Bible was Bethsheba and so we just call her Sheba for short or Shiva. Zechariah and Shiva and Amalia the sheep.

Xavier: Interesting, very interesting. You have been there how long? How long have you been living in Portugal?

Anna: Nine months. I got here the end of December?

Xavier: Oh.

Anna: Yes.

Xavier: You’re just getting into things right now?.

Anna: Yes, it’s been a bit of a baptism by fire though. I tell you, you know, arrived in and couple months later Covid locked down, you name it. It’s been crazy but it’s made some good stories, because I’ve been writing the story of my move here, what actually inspired me to get here, and the whole process of finding this place and having the whole thing unfold. I’ve been writing, it’s actually now, at least book length. It’s a lot of posts.

Xavier: You have a blog that that’s on?

Anna: Yes, it’s under my name, annaruthhenriques.wordpress.com.

Xavier: Okay. Great. I think folks who are interested in making that move can follow it and check it out to hear the story. Did you go to Portugal first before you actually move there?

Anna: I did. What happened was I was planning to go back to Jamaica, to my grandmother’s in St. Thomas, and do a similar thing that I’m doing here. What happened was, she had an extra cottage on, you know, beside her house, and I was going to go just move back there once my daughter went off to college and my grandmother was 100 at the time and my goal was to spend her last days with her, her last few years with her. She was going strong, sharp as anything but then she ended up falling and breaking her shoulder and getting pneumonia and dying at 100 and a half, and it thwarted all my plans. I thought where else am I gonna go because I had to leave America, I mean, I just couldn’t stay there any longer and that was what, 2 years ago, 3 years ago now. I couldn’t stay there any longer, but I had to find a place to go and, you know, I needed a place that I would feel at home and I thought where, you know, home to me was Jamaica.

Anyway, the Portuguese government was offering something called the right of return. If you’re Jewish and can prove your Portuguese heritage, they would give you citizenship and, you know, my father’s family is one of those old Spanish Portuguese Jewish families, been in Jamaica since the time of Columbus, there about and the name, of course, my name is actually Portuguese, which, you know, didn’t register growing up because it was just a Jamaican name and they retain their Judaism. I applied and got accepted and I thought, great, because at that point, my plan, my strategy was to move to France because I speak the language. I spent a year there as a teenager doing an exchange program with this fantastic, really fantastic family. I’m still very close with them and I wanted to be close to people that I cared about.

Anyway, so I thought I’ll get EU citizenship, and then I’ll hightail it over to France but I thought, okay, they’ve given me this, you know, they’ve approved my process so let me go and at least visit out of just courtesy and I got on. I booked a ticket, got on the plane and when I landed in Lisbon, the immigration man read my passport, read my name, and he said, “Welcome home.” I was like, “Oh,” I said, “Thank you,” and he said, “Yes, your name is Portuguese, you must be Portuguese,” and I laughed or whatever and everywhere I went after that everyone thought I was Portuguese. You look Portuguese, they would tell me, you know, how can you not be Portuguese? I said, well my family left there in the Inquisition, you know, they were kicked out of Portugal. It was actually they fled. It was flee or be killed and so I do have that heritage, but it wasn’t, you know, that’s a long time ago, that’s over 400 years. That’s what really brought me here. I felt such a sense of belonging, it was the people were like Jamaica in the early 70s; gentle, kind, warm and the way of life was very much Jamaican in the early 70s. So people visited, people had time for each other, which was not the US; certainly not my experience of the US.

Xavier: Amazing, amazing story. A lot of people don’t know about the rich Jewish heritage that Jamaica had. Earlier this year when I went, I visited in Kingston, the temple that’s downtown.

Anna: The only one.

Xavier: The only one. Yes and I don’t think a lot of folks realize that there is a line a Jews and so on. kind of a question out of the blue there. Are you related to Sean Paul?

Anna: Yes.

Xavier: Oh.

Anna: Well, the thing is, I have not seen him since he was little in his mom’s house, he and his brother running around playing. When I say seen I haven’t seen him live. Of course, he’s all over the screen and I hear his music everywhere I go, especially in Europe, they love his music; in the US not so much, not that they don’t love it. I don’t think he’s getting quite the exposure that he should get there, but here everywhere hear him, but it’s interesting, the Jewish history too because so many Jamaicans have Jewish heritage, Jewish blood, Jewish Genes, it’s not funny and even in the names, you go through the Jamaican telephone book, and it’s packed with Portuguese names, and we know we’re not conscious of it, because we’re Jamaican. We’ve been Jamaican forever.

Xavier: It’s funny. I did my ancestry DNA years ago and in fact, today is a Jewish holiday. Right?

Anna: It is. It’s Yom Kippur!

Xavier: It is a Jewish holiday.

Anna: Yes.

Xavier: Yes. Yes, it’s Yom Kippur.

Anna: The most significant.

Xavier: Yes.

Anna: The day of atonement, when we are supposed to really think about all of our sins.

Xavier: Yes, you know, and it’s funny, so my ancestry comes back, and it says, 1% Jewish. So my kids tease me and laugh at me and they say, like, today, my kids are like, daddy today is your holiday, it’s your holiday, you’re 1% Jewish, you should be celebrating this holiday and they joke about it, but you’re absolutely correct. There is, you know, they say out of many one there is so many different, different blood that’s from different places that is running in our bodies and that’s just amazing, you know, for us, that, you know, we can look at this and say, hey, let me try and discover this here. Let me try and discover this here and I want to one of these days I’ll tell everyone my journey, in terms of my African DNA testing, which is kind of different but it allows you to say, here are my people. I could definitely say, here are my people in Africa and that’s for another day, today it’s about your story.

Anna: Well that’s my story too though. I have a whole heap of Nigerian, Sierra Leone, you know, I mean, I have it too and I also have North Africa, plenty North Africa, from the Jewish side; not from my mother’s side, which was the post slaves; well, which was the slave heritage.

Xavier: Okay.

Anna: Well, the North African was the Jewish heritage.

Xavier: I see.

Anna: My father is a Genealogists, so I’m imbued with all this information.

Xavier: Oh, that’s amazing. That is amazing. I’ve been doing it on my own and it’s as I’ve said, very interesting. Once I’ve said for the past two months, once a week, I’m getting through ancestry now. You know, someone will say, I’m your cousin, let’s see if we could figure this out, you know, and it’s an interesting area, and I’m going to probably take it on in a different series, and kind of take a look at that because it’s amazing stuff. A cousin found me and he’s from Bangladesh.

Anna: Wow.

Xavier: His dad is Jamaican, and apparently my cousin, but we’re trying to figure out. He doesn’t know the dad, so that’s a story within itself.

Anna: Wow! That’s amazing. Yeah.

Xavier: Yes.

Anna: How interesting.

Xavier: What do you love? And I think you kind of mentioned it, but what do you love about Portugal?

Anna: Well, it’s a collective, I love the people. I find them people I like to be around. As I said, you know, there’s a certain gentle quality, they’re very matter of fact, they very straightforward, they are uncomplicated, and I mean, I’m saying this is a whole, you know, and very down to earth people and I also love the landscape but also one of the things I love; probably one of the real draws for me coming from an island is that Portugal has more coastline than you can imagine. It has 1100 miles of coastline, so for an island girl, you feel like you’re on an island because everywhere you look there’s this ocean.

Xavier: A follow up to that is, what do you like the least?

Anna: Truthfully, let’s see, I don’t like the fact that I can’t speak Portuguese. I’m learning it but I feel very debilitated, you know, and the problem I’ve realized that most English-speaking nations really are not very adept at multiple languages, unlike every other culture. So it’s a struggle to learn it.

Xavier: You’re so right about that. I know when I talk to my European counterparts, they’re required fully all the way. I know in Jamaica we do, for the most part, we get two years of a language.

Anna: Big deal.

Xavier: Which is probably not enough, you know, and in Europe I know it’s almost a requirement that you’re going to study a language all the way through, your high school years as we may call it. yes, I get that.

Anna: The other part too is the tongue. English does not have complicated muscular action in the tongue. We have lots of discussions about these in the world here, you know, because there are a lot of people from all over and English tongue, especially the Jamaican which is quite flat even though we have intonation is not coming from the tongue, so we can’t pronounce the things properly. So, you know, they look at us, well, they look at me, like, what are you saying?

Xavier: Well, that leads me to another question. Everybody has had this experience if you live abroad, and they find out you’re Jamaican. Tell me the funniest experience you’ve had or it could be a serious one too, but an experience you have when they find out you’re Jamaican, and something else typically comes after.

Anna: I haven’t had too much of that here because this is a country that has so much coastal area. People here tend to be travelers and you remember all the greatest navigation came out of Portugal. People here have relatives all over the world and they think I’m Portuguese and they think nothing of the fact that, you know, I’m Jamaican, yes, right but I’m Portuguese. In other words, in their heads, it’s not a surprise, because I think they kind of compartmentalized because I looked Portuguese and have a Portuguese name, that oh, just another of our immigrant stories. Unlike the U.S. where they didn’t know where I was from, and I’d say, listen, just close your eyes. Just close your eyes, and listen to me. You’re Caribbean? Jamaican? But you don’t look Jamaican, you know the usual. So I said, well, I guess you’re eliminating all African Americans from being American then because if, I mean, if I don’t look Jamaican, then you’re saying that America is white and therefore black people don’t belong because Jamaica, therefore is black and white, or whitish looking people don’t really belong either. So we get into these discussions.

Xavier: Deep discussions.

Anna: Its reflective, Think, we have to think, you know.

Xavier: Yes.

Anna: Yes, when the new world is mixed,

Xavier: Yes, and I think some countries people say America especially, love to put people in boxes.

Anna: Absolutely.

Xavier: If they can’t put you in a box then it becomes an issue.

Anna: Of course, they insist, they insist on it.

Xavier: So I gwan (I am going) move on to food.

Anna: Yes. Of course

Xavier: And Portuguese food. I gwan talk ’bout Portuguese food first.

Anna: I know. What I’m saying I’m being Jamaican because, you know, Jamaicans live to eat.

Xavier: What’s the Portuguese food you absolutely found fantastic, you loved it, you’d recommend it to anyone?

Anna: Well, truthfully, I’ve never had such good fish as I have had here. It’s fresh, straight out of the water, well a day at most, but the way they grill it, it’s to perfection. It is never overcooked. It is only seasoned with a little bit of salt and olive oil and a piece of lemon maybe, sometimes garlic, but that’s it. I cannot describe how good it tastes and it’s grilled and they serve it with just boiled potatoes and boiled vegetables which you know that basically is just fillers, but the fish is unreal.

Xavier: What’s the name of the fish?

Anna: Well any kind, I mean, any kind and when you arrive at any restaurant and we’re talking inexpensive too, because they’re fishing off the cost right off the coast where, you know, all the villages and towns on the coast fish and when they bring in the catch, you know, it’s extensive. And they also  probably have what, you know, the farm raised, et cetera, but there’s a lot of fresh fish here, but the thing is that I am a little bit tired because there’s not a lot of variety in the food here. Not a lot. So it’s very simply done, and I’m really mostly vegetarian, but sometimes I crave a good curry chicken.

Xavier: You went right to my next question which is the Jamaican food you miss the most. So it’s your curry chicken is what you miss the most?

Anna: Oh God, yes. Oh God. Even when I go to Jamaica, if I’m staying with people or I’m visiting friends and nobody is serving curried chicken, I have to go get my fix from Island Grill.

Attraction: Lisbon

Xavier: If you come to Portugal, or if I come to Portugal, what would you say is the must see attraction or the thing I must do if I come to Portugal?

Anna: Well, it depends really. If you tell me you’re very interested in history, I’d say you have to go to Lisbon and you have to explore it by foot and it’s small, so easy to do. Lisbon is gorgeous and absolutely packed jam with amazing history and it’s such a beautiful, beautiful city right on the river and on the ocean, but if you were looking for more of a relaxed time and just nature, beauty, the Algarve. I’ve never seen a coastline like this. I mean, I’m hard-pressed to give any beach outside of Jamaica or the Caribbean any kind of accolade but here I was so impressed it’s not funny and the variety of beaches one to the next within short drives. You know, high, high, high cliffs with little coves, little perfect coves in crystal clear blue water, let me tell you.

Xavier: It sounded like Portland to me.

Anna: In a different way. Portland is its own magic and Portland is unique but you know, they have these beautiful little wooden staircases leading down to the beach. Everything is done nicely and low-key and fantastic fish restaurants right on the beach; just one. Every beach has one and a bar. So it’s civilized and, you know, so it’s low key. It’s not plasticated, it’s not done in the garish sort of, you know, you know what I’m talking about?

Xavier: Right. Everything is…

Anna: Unified manner. Yes.

The Algarve

Xavier: Good. Is there one thing you miss about Jamaica, you know, what’s that one thing you’d seh? Say) We talked about the curry chicken but is there one thing you’d she (say) I miss?

Anna: Well, truthfully I miss my friends. I really miss my belly laughs with my friends and sitting around chatting a whole heap of nonsense and, you know, being experts on everything. You know, Jamaicans are experts on everything because when I’m too opinionated in other cultures, it becomes too opinionated but when I’m with my Jamaican friends, we’re all, you know…

Xavier: You’re absolutely right. Yes.

Anna: I miss that.

Xavier: We’re all experts at everything. That’s a good way to put it.

Anna: Yeah, and we can laugh at ourselves and we can laugh at each other. We can say gwan man (going on man), you know, and the person who has been taking themselves so seriously starts fi laugh. Where here, they’re kinda looking at, like, who does she think she is? You know, when you really just looking for some good verbal interaction.

Xavier: Culturally, did you find anything and I think you may have mentioned that just a little bit that in terms of like Jamaica in the 70s, but did you find anything culturally similar to Jamaica there? I mean, you know, we’re a mold at different cultures in Jamaica; our food again, out of many one food and so on. Any of those, you know, things that you found culturally kind of similar?

Anna: Well, I don’t have as much exposure to Portuguese families as I would like at this moment.

Xavier: Okay.

Lisbon yard of the palace

Anna: But the ones I’ve met are just like Jamaicans. They welcome you into their home, they have to feed you, and they have to give you something to drink. They’re very, very warm and embracing, that is not the US. That’s not Northern Europe. It’s not Japan; I lived in Japan for five years. It’s not England. It’s Portuguese and it’s Jamaican and that level of hospitality that just goes beyond, and it’s hospitality from the heart. It’s not hospitality with impressing anyone with fancy what have you. It’s just the warmth and the genuine embrace that is very Jamaican here.

Xavier: That’s nice.

Anna: [Inaudible 25:11]

Xavier: That’s very nice. Listen, thank you again for spending some time with us telling us your story. My final question is this one. What advice would you offer to a Jamaican who is thinking of moving to Portugal?

Anna: Well, it depends on the Jamaican too. Some of my loud, you know, fellow countrymen; I say, no, you cannot play loud music here. People respect other people’s ears.

Xavier: They’d have to find maybe a couple of acres of land way out there before…

Anna: No.

Xavier: You know…

Anna: No, put on the headphones. No, but, you know, the thing is, is it really truthfully depends, I mean, on what they’re looking for, because every experience is so different but, yeah, I would just say, you know, anyone willing to move to another country tends to be more open and keep that openness but also trust your intuition with people. That’s it.

Xavier: Okay.

Anna: Yeah.

Xavier: Anna, again, thank you for joining us. Thank you for telling your story and we will be sure; anybody who is watching this, we need to get Anna some curry chicken because that is what she’s missing here in Portugal.

Anna: I have chicken yuh nuh (you know). I have chickens and have my Jamaican curry powder, I just can’t kill my chickens.

Xavier: Oh, you do? Okay.

Anna: No, I just can’t kill my chickens.

Aerial view of the Pena Palace in Sintra National Park, Portugal

Xavier: So if you could give us, your blog again, so that if folks wanted to check out your journey as you write it, what’s the blog again?

Anna: It’s annaruth, r, u, t, h, henriques.wordpress.com.

Xavier: Okay.

Anna: If they just type in my name and type in blog, it should pop up, and well the other thing that maybe if they want to look up too is what I’m building out here, this retreat is called Golden Web. So if they type in Golden Web Retreat, then my Instagram account comes up and the website comes up and so it shows what I’m doing and by early next year, everything will be open and up and running.

Xavier: Good. Well, I know where I’m gonna be coming to Portugal if I make the visit.

Anna: Great.

Xavier: And I will bring some extra curry powder for you.

Anna: Thank you.

Xavier: Again, thank you for joining us, and you take care. Blessings to you and your family and again, thanks for joining us

Anna: And to you and yours and you know since you are, well, this is for your children’s sake as well. May you be inscribed in the book of life; that’s what you say at this time of year.

Xavier: Okay, I will let them know.

Anna: This is the Jewish Heritage, may you be inscribed in the book of life

Xavier: Anna, take care.

Photo Source: DepositPhotos

About the author

Xavier Murphy