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FAMILY BLOG

a novel by Clary Antome

     

            

          

      PET HATE BLOG: LOU'S CORNER

       

      Name: Louisa D.

      Age: 25

      Location: lost in the English fog

      Interests: Bitching

       

      Anthropophobia

      Posted: 05.01.200..., 23:33

       

      For over a month now I've been locked up in my room and I feel great. I'm not looking for anything out there. I am sick and tired of taking bullshit from all sides.

       

      I hate people and all their petty little problems and hopes and disappointments. They either bore me to death or get on my nerves -- or both. Of all the species inhabiting this vast planet of ours (and there are quite a few slimy and smelly and yucky ones), I find humans by far the most unpleasant. Which means, of course, that I don't particularly like myself, dear reader. I'm so typical I make myself cringe. Not that I would like to be someone else, God forbid, but really, putting up with ME hasn't been much fun.

      Then again, if there's anybody I dislike more than myself, it's my two sisters and my parents. They are the epitome of a life spent lying and cheating and manipulating and harassing each other to keep the family from breaking apart. Talk about dysfunctional. Fortunately, I don't live under their roof anymore. In fact, I live thousands of miles away. You'd think that would relieve me, but it doesn't. I'm still depending on my parents' bloody charity to survive. They pay for my education, housing and food. They believe that higher education leads to a successful career, which in turn leads to a fulfilled life. Sometimes I wonder where their minds have been for the past decade or so.

       

      When I moved to England for my useless master's degree in comparative literature about a year and a half ago, mother would ask me every week on the phone if I had been "looking for a part-time job" to cover some of my expenses. Plus, it would allow me to interact with people, she said. How healthy. To be honest, I wasn't in the mood to work in some godforsaken pub or fast-food joint or retailer or call centre and "interact" for a handful of lousy pennies. It's degrading. But go explain that to parents. So I pretended I was not only taking loads of university courses, but also spending days in the library to keep up with the "demanding level" of an international master's degree and all. The only job I might have time for, I said, would be as a waitress at a local topless bar that opened after 10 p.m. on weekends -- I told mum that the pay was pretty good. She advised me to "rather stay at home and get some sleep". That's what I've been doing ever since. I've even made it a habit to spend entire weeks in bed. It's done wonders to my mental health.

      What mum doesn't know is that I hate my degree so much. And the colleagues, professors, lectures, papers, the whole bloody campus... As soon as you get out of the lecture room, you run into hordes of hype students rushing to and fro, imagining they're so special and have all these "opportunities" ahead of them, and with some luck you will manage to squeeze your way through and arrive at the foyer, where dozens of stands are selling you useless stuff and there's always this bad, loud music blasting out from loudspeakers. Interestingly enough, I seem to be the only person bothered by these phenomena. I've concluded that I'm surrounded by idiots.

       

      But being here in cold and dirty N. is far better than home. I don't miss it at all. I even managed to skip flying over for Christmas, which of course I loathe, with all the silly jingly songs and fatty food and always always always getting worthless little candlesticks and handbags and ugly sweaters from your relatives, because they haven't bothered to notice or ask about your tastes or needs. I claimed to be "drowning in work" - and even though it "broke my heart", I just couldn't afford to "lose a week" to sit next to the plastic Christmas tree and chat about my hair or my younger sister's latest outfit, stuff myself with roasted dead animals and cheap chocolate, and watch TV with my half blind, half deaf grandma between the meals.

       

      Last time I saw my family, about a year ago, things were in a turmoil. I was happy to get the hell out of there. I didn't want to have anything to do anymore with my younger sister's drug addiction, my older sister's eating disorder, my father's infidelities, my mother's manic shopping sprees, my aunt's random crying fits, my uncle's frustrated career efforts, my cousin's mental retardation, my grandma's hip problem, etc etc etc.

       

      But I couldn't care less. I'm actually sick of the whole story. If only I could think of other issues to bitch about!

       

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      TRUE-SELF BLOG: CONFESSIONS OF BEA

       

      Name: Beatriz D.

      Age: 27

      Location: Lisbon, Portugal

      Interests: soft music, poetry, historical novels, jogging, friends and family, my degree

       

      My open pages

      Posted: 09.01.200..., 10:47

      Last night I watched this film on TV about a woman who wrote down all her deepest worries in a diary and then intentionally left it in a public library, where another woman of a similar age picked it up and started adding her own thoughts. The film showed how they went on using that same diary on separate occasions, without ever meeting personally. Still, they ended up deeply influencing Ė even helping Ė each other.

      This was before blogs.

      I had been wanting to start my own journal for a very long time, but was somehow embarrassed to indulge in talking to myself. The idea that I might reach somebody else appeals more to me. I donít have much to offer, but I want to try to be as honest as possible about myself. My true self. Thatís all I have to give.

       

      So, letís see: who am I?

       

      Well, thatís what I hope to find out. Maybe other peopleís comments will reveal more to me. But for the record: I am a Portuguese woman in her late twenties, I live in the capital, Lisbon, and am currently involved in a doctoral research project at university. I have a degree in Microbiology. I share a flat with my two sisters. Actually, at the moment I live with only one of them, the youngest, as my other sister is studying in England. The flat is very nice and cosy, it has big windows overlooking lots of other buildings all the way to the sea, and I just love sitting in my room and watching the people down there, ten storeys below, going about their business.

      I also enjoy catching the commuter train and stepping out in downtown Lisbon, going to a cafť and just experiencing the hustle-bustle of life. I usually take my laptop or a book and sit for hours on my own at a table. When the weather is nice, I like to go to parks and museums. Most of my time, however, is spent at university, doing research with five colleagues. It is monotonous work, but I am excited about our findings. I think science is beautiful.

       

      I have a boyfriend, Artur, who recently graduated in Marketing studies. Weíre very close, he is my best friend, but lately weíve been having some problems. I think he is under stress because of his difficult life situation. His family is always in financial difficulties, particularly since Arturís brother and his wife have had their second baby. They all live together in a small flat. On top of that, his father drinks and his mother is very ill Ė she suffers from arthritis.

      Artur is now looking for a job. He received training with a pharmaceutical company here in Lisbon, but they let him go after six months. That was last summer. He didnít even get paid for his work, it was part of his degree. Now he has a diploma and is trying hard to get hired in his field, looking through the newspapers, sending his CV to various companies, going for job interviews. I think he's put down by all the rejections he gets.  

      Heís such a gentle person, I love him and want to be there for him. Sometimes I become impatient, especially when he slackens and sits in my living room for hours, watching TV. We both like cartoons and entertaining films, board games and some good laughs Ė I just wish he were more interested in reading and talking about serious issues.

      Artur wants to marry me as soon as he starts his career, and then we can rent a flat closer to the centre. Heís a bit reluctant to leave his mother, though. I like Arturís mother, but I donít know how to communicate with her. Sheís continually crying about her unhappy life. Only her little grandchildren can make her smile now and then.

       

      Sometimes I just want to stay in bed and not see anybody. But this is a weakness I have to overcome.

       

      Sometimes I fear that everything I do will be a failure and I wonít manage to finish my research and find a decent job afterwards. I owe it to my parents to receive my doctorate as soon as possible and start earning my own money. At the moment I get a scholarship, but it only runs for another three months. I can apply for it again, although thereís no guarantee that they will grant it once more: my research has been going on for almost two years and I have hardly any results.

      I feel bad for my parents. They have lots of expenses with us girls. They bought this flat in Lisbon five years ago and are still paying to the bank. But it was a good investment Ė mother says that there are better employment opportunities for my sisters and me here in the capital. Right now things are a bit tight: my sister Lou didnít manage to get a grant for her expensive masterís degree in England, and my youngest sister Jo is lagging behind in her Business Administration degree.

       

      My mother worries excessively about us girls. I think this is the legacy of the years our family spent in war-torn Angola, when we were children. That wasnít a safe environment. Mum always had to drive us to school and back, even though it was within walking distance from our home, because so many people were robbed or kidnapped. She also made sure we didnít venture beyond our street when we played outside. And she had to constantly remind us not to accept food or drinks from strangers, avoid the filthy toilets at school and stay away from stray dogs and cats (who might carry all kinds of parasites).

      She is a caring mother. She calls me every evening from G., a small town in the east of Portugal, where our family settled after escaping the war in Angola. She needs to check if her babies are doing alright. Sometimes she gets on my nerves, even though I know she only wants whatís best for us.

       

      We are a very united family. In fact, weíre almost like an old-fashioned clan. Just a few steps down the road, in a residential neighbourhood, lives my mumís kin: thatís my granny, my uncle Mario, his wife Silvia and their son Carlito. Theyíve been together for ages in grannyís house, this is the centre of our clanís frequent meetings. I also had a little room there when I started university. That was before my parents decided to buy a flat for my sisters and me in this newly erected block.

      Back then Carlito was still a small kid and spent a lot of time in hospitals, because of all the operations he had to undergo to help him breathe normally. So I was glad to be around: we all kept each other company in the evenings, watched films together and discussed the TV news reports. Granny and auntie are very talkative and interested women, I enjoyed living with them. And uncle Mario can be really entertaining when he's in a good mood Ė unfortunately, heís often under stress and tends to spend a lot of time on his own, locked up in his bedroom upstairs, watching TV or playing solitaire on his computer.

      Aunt Silvia and uncle Mario have been having some marriage problems lately, but I think this is only a phase. They miss their son, thatís all. Carlito has been sent to a special school in Spain, so we only see him on holidays. Heís an adorable kid Ė he just has difficulties adapting to normal classrooms, where other teenagers always poke fun at his big body size and facial features. Carlito isnít ugly or anything, but his several nose operations have left him with some scars and a slight speech disability. Heís been making a lot of progress in his new school, which is on a farm outside Barcelona.

       

      Mum and dad frequently drive over on weekends from G. and are put up in Louís bedroom. Theyíre happy to lend a hand to mum's family, especially now that granny is getting old, Carlito is no longer around, and uncle Mario has been fired from his job as an accountant in a big trading company. On Sundays we all get together for a big meal at grannyís.  

       

      Itís nice to be surrounded by so many people who love and care about you, but sometimes I imagine what it would be like to take off for a while and explore the world.

       

      Sometimes I just want to be on my own.  

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      PET HATE BLOG: LOU'S CORNER

       

      Success Stories

      Posted: 11.01.200Ö, 20:14

       

      I wonder how my sisters turned out to be such idiots. You canít trust them to form a reasonable thought.

       

      Take my older sister, Bea: if you meet her, she seems like the sweetest creature in the world. She has this broad smile on her chubby face all the time - and although she's in her late twenties, she talks as if she were five. I mean, the tone of her voice as well as the content of her conversations would make you think she has some kind of mental handicap. She doesnít. In fact, sheís the little genius in the family, if ever there was one.

      Ask my mother about Bea, and she will probably tell you how ďsuccessfulĒ her daughter is at university. All it amounts to, though, is one of these boring research projects where a bunch of geeks in white coats conduct funny experiments on other creatures for the advancement of mankind. Sheís specializing in Microbiology. But not even that is as exciting as it might sound: she just collects data from their abstruse experiments and feeds it to the computer.

      I once asked Bea how she felt about the fact that one day she might develop the next generation of biological weapons, and she looked at me as if I were a nutcase (I told you she isnít stupid). She has never heard of weapons being created in university laboratories! In fact, she's proud that her research group deals exclusively with "microscopic creatures" - so she doesn't "affect the little mice at allĒ. Infecting various types of small caged mammals with weird lab mixtures is the job of another department. Beaís working on fermentation, experimenting with ďharmless bacteriaĒ which are supposed to be added to processed meat products, so that the stuff ďtastes like meatĒ. Therefore she is innocent. She's just concerned with turning plastic food into something you would naturally want to eat.

       

      Now that weíre on the subject of substances developed in laboratories, I might as well introduce you to my younger sister Jo, who has indeed profited much from all kinds of scientific advances. She began with ordinary prescription pills in her early teens, little painkillers and sedatives that mum and dad kept for their sleepless nights. Jo wasnít just killing headaches, she was getting high. I remember that her mood improved considerably in those days. One can only recommend these drugs.

      But her exploration of the wonders of chemicals hardly stopped there. For the past decade or so, my little sister has smoked, slurped, popped, snorted or injected just about anything psychoactive you can imagine. And let me tell you, thereís a lot to choose from nowadays: legal, illegal or a good mixture of both. God bless the lab geeks and their guinea-pigs.

       

      Donít get me wrong here, I donít mind if you routinely knock yourself out in order to endure life. I myself like to escape to my nicer private world. Reality sucks.

       

      For the rest, Jo really is as mainstream as the most square person you can imagine, believe me. I have spent enough time in her company, watching her do her little drugs. I even participated in some minor experiments. (Be a conscious guinea-pig, I say!)

      My final conclusion about my sisterís habits and ideas can be summed up in two words: unbearably boring. Sheíll take those chemicals and sit in front of the TV all day. You couldnít tell the difference between her high and her sober moments, except that she's much friendlier when she is intoxicated.

      In the dreadful flat I shared with my sisters before I fled from Portugal, you could peek into Joís room and notice the remnants of smoking and snorting sessions she habitually had with her boyfriend or a few pals. Then youíd find Jo sitting with Bea in the living room, watching a quiz show and munching away some cold pizza, followed by cake or ice-cream. It was actually funny to observe how one of my sisters kept getting fatter while the other kept losing weight.

       

      Talk about junk lives.

       

      And their boyfriendsÖ! But here I have to interrupt myself with some self-criticism: if thereís one thing my sisters and I would agree upon, is that my boyfriends have been the greatest idiots of all. I really believe in the power of love, I do -- only this explains how I could have wasted so much time and energy with the most pathetic guys I ran into. And the best part is: I repeatedly managed to convince myself that each one of these males was so ďexceptionalĒ. Itís a miracle Iím not a wife and mother yet. I certainly deserve that punishment.

      For all itís worth, at least my little sister Jo has one true, constant love: her chemicals. All the mumbo-jumbo about a future career, friends and enemies, jealousy and betrayal, clothes, food, football, pets and children which she manages to churn out to my absolute befuddlement fades away as soon as she concentrates on getting her next fix. For a short while she has a clear attainable aim -- thatís more than you can say about most of us.

       

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      HEART IN AFRICA BLOG: THE STORY OF ALDA

       

      Name: Alda D.

      Age: 52

      Location: G., Portugal

      Interests: my family, baking, interior decoration, cats, buying presents for my daughters, crime novels

       

      To have a dream

      Posted: 12.01.200..., 17:44

       

      I would like to thank all the blog writers on this Europeans from Africa international website for inspiring me to start writing my own story. It has been more than a decade since I've left Angola, my beloved homeland, but for years I couldnít find a way of expressing my grief. This site has helped me more than I can tell.

      I want to take this opportunity to share my unique and tragic experiences, having witnessed the transition from colonialist oppression to a brutal civil war in one of the most beautiful countries in Africa. These happenings have shaped my entire life, and have had a profound impact on my family as well.

       

      I was born in Angola in the 1950s, when it was still a Portuguese colony. My parents were part of the colonial regime. They believed that the whites had the right and even the duty to dominate the blacks, because only white settlers had made the country run efficiently. But I was convinced that my family was lagging behind: there was a great tide of liberation sweeping over the whole African continent, and you could either embrace it or be swallowed up by it. My dreams corresponded to this tide, and soon I met other young white Africans who felt like me and encouraged me to stay true to my ideals -- because they were going to prevail. History proved us right: in 1975 Angola became independent.

      While most Portuguese fled the country, I settled down in the capital, Luanda, with my husband Martin,  himself an Angolan. We wanted to participate in the reconstruction of our homeland and make it the most prosperous nation in Africa. That entailed many hard battles from the beginning, especially against vicious rebel minorities and vested imperialist interests. But we were prepared to go to any lengths for the achievement of our goals.

      However, the peace and prosperity I longed for kept being postponed by decades of civil war. Each day living conditions were deteriorating. Even in Luanda everyone feared for their lives (including foreign businesspeople and ambassadors). Which is why we eventually had to turn our backs on our homeland.

       

      We've been here in Portugal since December 1992. And still, no matter how hard I try, I just don't feel at home. There are so many aspects of Portuguese culture that I cannot adapt to and I miss Angola terribly.

       

      Now that my daughters are all grown-up and ready to lead their independent lives, my mind keeps returning to those early days of Angolaís recovery from the colonial rule. How challenging and promising everything was. I can't help wondering if I shouldn't return there and pick up the work where I left off. That was, after all, the only time when I felt truly happy, truly justified. For all itís worth, family life has never managed to bring me the same amount of satisfaction. 

       

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      TRUE-SELF BLOG: CONFESSIONS OF BEA

       

      Bad karma?

      Posted: 14.01.200..., 21:09

      Today just wasnít my lucky day. I got into arguments with three people who are close to me.

       

      I had a sleepless night, mainly due to the disturbing noises coming from Joís room until dawn. I donít know for sure what was happening Ė there were clearly several people, though apart from my sister I could only distinguish male voices. It was difficult to tell because her TV set was so loud. These people kept coming in and out of her room, going to the kitchen or to the bathroom. At a certain point I could swear that I heard someone vomiting. It was excruciating.

      When I finally got up around 8 a.m., things had settled down. I tiptoed to the kitchen to prepare my breakfast and noticed that there were a bunch of people sleeping in Louís bedroom Ė they hadnít even bothered to close the door. Iíve told Jo time and again that I donít mind if sometimes one or the other friend stays over, but those guys I heard last nightÖ They disgust me. They arenít university students or anything, theyíre these immature thirty-somethings who still live with their parents here in the area and meet Jo in the cafť across the street. They are loud, foulmouthed and aggressive. I donít understand what she sees in them.

      But what really got to me was the state of the kitchen, it was full of repulsively dirty dishes. You couldnít even find a single clean cup. So I decided to get out of the flat and give my sister a chance to clean up during my absence Ė I didnít want her to snap and yell at me like she has done lately.

      As I was about to leave, I met Jo on her way to the bathroom. She immediately asked me to go get some bread and cigarettes, since I was already dressed. Thatís when I started screaming about being late for university and finding it inappropriate that she lets these strangers sleep in Louís bed, when she knows that mum and dad are using it on weekends. My tone of voice was really loud, which is unusual for me. Jo was so startled that she started to cry. She begged me not to tell mum anything. They have been on each otherís neck lately.

      Jo said sheís going through a rough period: Tony (thatís her boyfriend) has dumped her again and she just wanted to have some fun to take her mind off it. I felt sorry for her, sheís so in love with Tony but they continually try to hurt each other. I calmed her down and told her I had to go. We actually hugged Ė it was nice. 

       

      I joined Artur for lunch at a shopping mall close to university. Since there wasnít much work to do in the lab, I had decided to take the afternoon off and go to the museum or to the movies. I wanted to enjoy myself. But Artur didnít feel like going anywhere, he had again been rejected by some company. He said he would rather sit in my living room and snuggle his head onto my lap. I donít know what came over me - I was sickened by the idea, I lost my appetite immediately and just stared at my sandwich without saying a word. I hoped that Artur would ask me what was wrong and would help me find a way to express myself, yet he simply switched subjects and started telling me about this talk-show he had watched on TV last night.

      Iím usually a calm person and try to present logical arguments when I disagree with somebody, but probably because of my sleepless night, I suddenly called Artur an idiot. I had never done this before and must have shocked him so much that tears welled up in his eyes. I immediately regretted and explained that I was stressed because of my work in the lab (which is also true, I suppose) and had wanted so much to go to the museum this week, before the end of the impressionist paintings exhibition. I couldnít believe I had behaved so insensitively.

      But Iím lucky to have such a kind boyfriend, he forgave me. After lunch we took the commuter train to my place, where everything was tidy again. Fortunately our charwoman had come this morning. I now see that Arturís idea was much nicer: there was nobody else in the flat, so we could fool around and relax. Iíll go to the museum on the weekend. Probably on my own. 

       

      About an hour ago, mum called me up. We chat every evening, which is mostly OK. I know how lonely she feels since we kids have moved to Lisbon Ė she was so used to having us around, cooking for us, helping us with homeworkÖ Now she and dad are a bit disoriented. I know for sure that they still love each other a lot, even if they sometimes fight over silly matters. Mum complains that dad is always lending money to his two younger sisters, aunt Nanda and aunt Cecilia, and they never pay back. I donít like it when mum criticizes dad, she should be more understanding towards him. She says he is full of debts but refuses to discuss the matter with her.

      Mum is also worried about granny, who has had a hip operation two months ago and can hardly move now. Granny just lies in her bed and claims sheís being neglected by aunt Silvia, who only comes by her room three or four times a day to make sure she hasnít dirtied the sheets. Auntie isnít an unkind person, but I have the impression that she is fed-up with taking care of granny. Theyíve been living together for more than fifteen years now, day in and day out. So mum asked me to go over and chat a bit with grandma, to cheer her up and relieve aunt Silvia.    

      Then she wanted to talk with Jo, who still wasnít back home. For the past five days or so, my sister has managed to be either asleep or away when mum calls. This puts my motherís nerves on edge, she becomes anxious and complains about Joís unhealthy relationship with Tony. Mum thinks he is responsible for my sisterís failure at university. She asked me if I knew where Jo was, if I had talked to her today, if I had been to the supermarket to get her favourite soft drink.

      Iím kind of used to these questions, but today they made me furious. I told mum Iím not a babysitter and she should stop treating Jo (who is 23) as if she were totally helpless. Mother took this as an insult. She reminded me of Joís unstable personality and low self-esteem, which is why my younger sister needs my support. Mum said she canít take care of everything, itís not easy to manage a family. Her voice was shaking.

      I felt like hanging up. I think I was mainly angry at myself for having been so tactless. I know that mum only wants whatís best for all of us.

       

      Iím so tired, perhaps itís the weather Ė or my work, which is too demanding. And I wish Artur could sort out his life, it would be great for him to have a job. It might even make him more sociable, instead of always hanging out with me. Iíd love to have a wider circle of friends.

      Sometimes I miss Lou, we were pretty close. We would talk for hours about everything. Mum thinks I should visit her in England this spring. Maybe sheís right.

       

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      PET HATE BLOG: LOUíS CORNER

       

      Everyone is doing great!

      Posted: 15.01.200..., 12:37

       

      If anybody bothers at all to read these ramblings of mine, they might have the suspicion that I exaggerate my relatives' tendency to cheat each other. I'm not denying my possible paranoia, but this really is beside the point. What I am saying is: I have evidence that I'm being lied to continually.

       

      Take the e-mail my older sister Bea sent me yesterday:

       

      Hi, little sis!

       

      How are you? Is it still very cold up there in the North? Have you been reading any interesting books lately? How are your flatmates doing? Are you still having difficulties with your subjects? Mum tells me that you are full of work at the moment -- me too!

      Anyway, I just wanted to say hello, itís been months since Iíve heard from you, I had expected to have a little tete-ŗ-tete with you at Christmas but unfortunately you werenít able to come. It was all very nice, even though granny wasn't in her best mood: she didnít get to do her cooking this year because of the hip problems, so of course she had to criticize auntieís sauce and mumís overcooked potatoes and all that. And uncle Mario has still not settled the issue of his unfair dismissal at the court -- his lawyer says there are good chances that he will win the case against his old company, though. I sure hope so, otherwise he will go on complaining to everybody about the ďrotten systemĒ!

      Carlito came over for the holidays, he's improved so much -- you hardly notice his speech problems. All the teachers in his new school have praised his efforts and confirmed his talent for music and math. Aunt Silvia wants to buy him a piano, but uncle Mario says they don't have money for such luxuries.

       

      Still, everyone is doing great, you know how we manage!

       

      Mum and dad are fine, theyíve been fighting less, although every now and then dad gets into financial difficulties because of his sisters. And Jo and Tony have apparently split again - I expect them to reunite by the weekend. Crazy kids! For the rest, I think Jo actually looks better, less skinny that is. At least she goes to university regularly. Sometimes she seems a bit off, I think she drinks a little too much or something. Iíll try to have a chat with her this week, to see what sheís been up to.

      And me, well, I guess Iím OK too, just aslightly stressed because of my research. But I enjoy my work, every day. Artur has been applying for jobs, letís hope he gets hired soon. Have I told you that we are thinking of getting a place of our own? I havenít informed mum yet. This weekend Iím going to the museum to check some impressionist paintings. If you were here, I would invite you to come along!

      Anyway, thatís all, I think. As you see, nothing has changed. Maybe one day I can let you in on all the details, when you have more time and come see us. I have actually been dreaming of going to London as soon as the weather gets better -- thatís only a few hours by train from where you are, isnít it, so maybe we could meet?

       

      Lots of love,

      Bea.

       

      Ignore the appearance of a happy, talkative, united sisterhood. We're far from it. Bea hates my guts as much as I hate hers -- we just donít make an issue of it. After all, weíre family.

      I get e-mails like this every three months or so. I usually reply immediately and enthusiastically, telling Bea about my great adventures, the friendly flatmates, the interesting university subjects, the lousy weatherÖ all that. Of course, most of it is made up: my life here is utterly boring and depressing, I canít really stand my flatmates (and Iím sure itís a mutual thing), I havenít attended any lecture for a couple of months now, and I actually like just looking at the fog and rain outside while Iím comfortably tucked under my blanket.

      Then I turn to my sisterís ramblings and start asking for details: are she and her boyfriend Artur having more serious talks these days, is she still nervous about her scholarship, why do mum and dad fight so often, what makes her think that Jo is doing better/worseÖ things like that. I get involved, I show how much I care. At this point, big sis tends to back off. I donít hear a word from her for a long time, and then another one of these e-mails pops up in my mailbox. I again have to read platitudes about my family. As if it werenít enough to talk to mum on the phone every week!

       

      Christmas is probably the ideal occasion to observe my relatives in action, as they all get together in grannyís house and drive each other nuts. Grannyís place is well within walking distance from the building where my sisters live -- you can actually watch and wave to each other from the windows, if that's your idea of fun. We donít even live in the city, but in O., some godforsaken outskirts. When my grandparents and uncle Mario settled there in the 1970s, the area was quite appealing, with neat residential neighbourhoods, trees and gardens, and all the little shops at walking distance. By the 1990s, high-rise buildings (including the one where our parents bought our flat) were sprouting up all around granny's street.

       

      Whoever is in charge of the Christmas cooking, the result is always pretty disgusting, full of with fat and tasteless deep-frozen vegetables and cheap wine and all. But thatís nothing as compared to the company. Granny had been getting on peopleís nerves even before her hip operation, she doesnít hear things properly and so tends to interpret every conversation as an insult or a threat to her. Iíd say this is pretty accurate: for years now everybody has been waiting for her to drop dead (sheís about eighty).

      Auntie Silvia just feels frustrated about her spoiled life -- from her retarded son to her failed husband and ungrateful mother-in-law. Meanwhile my uncle Mario gets everyone involved in his endless fights against his old company: when he still worked, he continually grumbled about his "tedious job", the "stupid colleagues" and the "choleric boss"; now he whines because he was chucked. Iím sure heíll go on feeling sorry for himself even if he wins his damned case. He and his wife always have big arguments in front of the whole clan, to the point where she starts crying and he goes off ďfor a walkĒ. 

      No wonder our cousin Carlito came out a bit ďdefectiveĒ. Obviously no special school is going to change this -- the only reason he was sent away to Barcelona was that nobody could put up with him any more. His only visible talent is for destroying things.  He should probably consider wrestling instead of piano playing.

       

      My favourite bit of information concerns my parents, though. For the past five or six years, mum has been complaining that dad spends so much money ďon his sistersĒ. Dadís family is as dysfunctional as they come, but I have serious doubts that all his supposed debts are due to aunt Nandaís occasional travels to the Spanish coast to look for a new boyfriend, or aunt Ceciliaís difficulties raising her four children ever since her husband got imprisoned for embezzlement. Dad might give them one or the other penny, but theyíre not that close, really.

      Of course, Bea and mum are speculating about dadís concrete activities, because you canít ask the guy what he is actually doing with his money: he just gets out of his mind and starts screaming until his face turns red and you think heís going to have a stroke. This usually shuts everybody up. Some time ago I asked Bea if it wasn't more likely that dad has some kind of romantic affair(s), where he invests at least part of his earnings. He often has to travel around, doing technical maintenance for different companies. Couldnít it beÖ? Nope, sister immediately answered, because ďmum and dad still love each other a lotĒ. Right. They canít exchange two decent words, but at least they share feelings.

       

      And little sister Jo is doing ďbetterĒ and has been going to university of all places! Let me assure you that Jo hasnít set foot in university for years. In fact, she mostly just hangs out in the shabby cafť opposite the depressive block where my sisters live. She drinks a few beers while sheís there, Iíll grant you that, but this is just the introduction. Most of her drugs consumption is actually done in the comfy privacy of her bedroom, with her junky pals and her boyfriend Tony. Even their weekly fights concern schemes and deals to get more stuff.

      This was already Joís routine while I still lived in that goddamned flat -- and yet, my sister Bea doesn't notice anything. She doesnít ask, either, she just sits with Jo in front of the TV and listens to little sister's stories about her difficult Business Administration subjects at university, the arrogant professors, and of course Tonyís jealousy fits.

       

      Then thereís Beaís private little universe, with her dull boyfriend and the unrewarding work in the lab. She's so bored with Artur, all they do is watching stupid videos, playing childish games and munching sweets. Theyíre both chubby and claim they're trying to lose weight. Every so often, Bea will take up jogging and Artur will start swimming, but the whole thing fades away after a few enthusiastic sessions. Incidentally, Bea has been telling me for six months now that Artur is getting a job. It doesn't occur to her that nobody needs Arturís working power, just as no one will properly employ her when sheís done with her doctorate.

      Plus, I don't have much faith in Bea's plan to move out: not only will Artur never be able to afford such an adventure, but the flat I shared with my sisters is registered in Beaís name and financed by my parents -- why in the world would anybody forfeit a deal like this? What older sis really desires is to get little sis out of there once and for all. But I donít think Jo is letting go that easily. They sure would have a lot to discuss if they dared.

       

      To wrap it all up, Bea threatens to come to England and, I suppose, check out what Iím really on about. Yes, that would probably relieve her of her own troubles. I bet mum is behind this, suggesting that Bea should see London, cause itís such a ďculturalĒ city. Then she can just as well pop by N. to say hello! And report back to base. Mum loves organizing our lives for us.

      I do pity Bea, she has always been mumís factotum. Deep in her heart she wishes somebody else would take on this function. Me, for example. Thatís one of the reasons why I was glad to leave the family circus -- I was so tired of fighting with my sisters and making my own existence shitty in the process, just because our parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents donít know how to sort out their boring lives and always need us to distract them and make up for their failures.

       

      This time I wonít reply to Bea at all.

       

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      HEART IN AFRICA BLOG: THE STORY OF ALDA

       

      Becoming a Freedom Fighter

      Posted: 16.01.200..., 15:23

       

      Looking back on my life, I understand that I was destined to fight for the liberation of Angola. I owed it to my oppressed black brothers and sisters. And it was the most decent thing to do for the sake of future generations.

       

      I grew up in Malange, in the interior north of Angola, an area rich in minerals and specialized in cotton and coffee plantations. My father worked as a district officer for the Portuguese colonial administration -- he organized the forced recruitment of black workers, in order to send them off wherever labour was required. We lived well, although we werenít as rich as the farm owners or heads of mining companies who did business with my father.

      The fact that my family belonged to the colonial regime soon became a problem for me. It just wasn't right to treat the blacks like inferior beings, mere tools that could be transported away from their home-villages and deployed wherever necessary, for many months, even years in a row. I didnít want to live in a country where black and white people were unequal.

       

      When I was fifteen, I was sent to the capital, Luanda, to attend high-school -- a privilege reserved almost exclusively to whites. This was my first chance to live away from my family. I felt very relieved to escape the confines of my home and the limited ideas of my parents, which were making me angry and revolted. I had begun questioning, even criticizing their position towards the blacks. Often enough my father and I had ended up screaming and insulting each other.

      In Luanda I was finally rid of that. Living in a boarding house close to the city centre, I was able to explore more liberal attitudes: going out with friends, discussing polemic issues, reading subversive books. Thanks to the contact with other dissenting youngsters in high-school, I learned to despise my background and the outdated ideas of the Portuguese colonial system.

      This was in the 1960s, when fierce battles for the liberation of Angola were already being fought. Rebel groups of black Angolans wreaked havoc from my birthplace Malange all the way to the capital, hundreds of kilometres away. I had actually entered adolescence surrounded by war: the villages between Luanda and Malange were systematically bombed by the Portuguese Air Force, in an attempt to contain the rebels. And in the capital white mobs made repeated incursions into black slums, lynching hundreds of innocents.

      However, there was also increasing excitement among progressive white students, who kept attentive to the movements for independence rapidly spreading all over the African continent, from Egypt to Congo, greatly supported by intellectuals in Europe and America. It was clear to us that a revolution was taking place on a world scale - and the young were being called upon to finally implement the necessary changes.

       

      During this period many whites were brutally murdered, including some cousins of mine who owned a coffee plantation. The horrifying details of their deaths sent a chill down my spine: although I could not blame the mutinous black farm labourers for their rage after centuries of cruel exploitation, I realized that the life of all Portuguese settlers was in danger -- including my own. I had many sleepless nights, especially when I travelled back home to Malange on holidays. Wilderness surrounded the town, the slightest sound outside made me panic. At the same time, my mother became fearful of black servants who had been with my family most of their lives. She imagined that they were conspiring to kill us, even though we had always treated them decently. I had grown up playing with their children. But now the gap between blacks and whites seemed to be widening. Everywhere I looked, there was only hatred and suspicion.

      The tension in my family grew more and more: my father insisted that I learn to fire a gun, in order to defend myself against possible black attackers. I tried to argue that we could never conquer the hearts and minds of our black brothers and sisters if we continued using violence against them, but nobody listened to me. The prevailing opinion amongst the whites, especially of the older generation, was that Africans were an inferior, unreasonable race. Like my mother and many other white women, I did eventually become adept in handling weapons. But deep inside I was convinced that they should be used against the oppressive Portuguese regime, not its victims.

      In the end, despite the dangers in my home region, my family wasnít attacked. This was a matter of luck -- the Portuguese army managed to protect them. Still, in the space of a few years the colonial war in Angola escalated to such an extent that many Portuguese settlers saw no other option but to flee. It was only a question of time until my parents followed suit.

       

      In the beginning of the 1970s I moved to Portugal, to study Law in Lisbon. During that time I had very little contact with my family, back in Angola. This only reinforced the differences between us.

      My brother Mario (five years older than me) was a conscripted soldier with the Portuguese army, fighting the insurgents in the Angolan jungle. I was disgusted by his participation in the war against the black liberation movement, but he and my parents stubbornly claimed that the Portuguese settlers were entitled to defend what they had acquired through their hard work. More than the geographic distance, what separated me from my family were our totally opposed ideals.

       

      This was also the first time in my life that I set foot in Portugal -- a country which had always been a strange, omnipresent reference in my school textbooks. Young people now canít believe when I tell them how throughout my childhood I was taught that Angola was just another ďprovince of Portugal", even though it is about 14 times bigger! When we studied history and geography, we were forced to memorize Portuguese names, dates and places. It was as if we lived in a vacuum, we were supposed to have no connection to our real surroundings.

      I have said it several times and will say it again: I was born in Angola, I grew up and spent most of my life there. It is my homeland. Portugal is the province, as far as I am concerned.

       

      Anyway, back in the 1970s I lived in a dormitory for female students in Lisbon. The majority of the girls I met there came from tiny places in the Portuguese interior, they had never left the country and could hardly fathom that there was a whole world beyond Lisbon. They were very simple, with absolutely no interest in social and political matters. Most of them wanted to become teachers or nurses, return to their villages, get married and have children. There was nothing in common between us.

      I felt more drawn to people from the colonies, mainly whites like myself who came from Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, East Timor. We understood each other much better, we had a common past and similar dreams for the future. But it was upsetting to walk into a lecture room or cafť or bookshop with my friends and hear other students whisper to each other ďhere come the coloniesĒ. We were systematically treated like this, especially by students who had grown up in Lisbon and other Portuguese urban areas.

      This was a shock to me. When I compared myself to my Portuguese counterparts, I saw no differences -- if anything, I seemed to be above many. My skin was as white as theirs, even whiter than most - plus I have auburn hair and blue eyes, not very common in this part of Europe. I spoke very fine Portuguese, was fluent in French and English, wrote beautifully, had no difficulties with my degree, could hold a conversation on just about any topic. And yet, I was very often aware that many Portuguese students considered me inferior. I was, after all, just another girl from the provinces!

       

      Still, these were valuable years in my life. My first contact with critical thinking in adolescence had been of a more philosophical nature -- only when I went to university in Portugal did I fully grasp how urgent it was to become directly involved in the political struggle.

      This turned out to be the most important step in my youth: I got connected with underground movements that helped me make my return to independent Angola a reality. To this day I am happy to have experienced that shift from thought to action.

       

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      PET HATE BLOG: LOUíS CORNER

       

      Bloody origins

      Posted: 20.01.200..., 19:12

       

      If you ask me, one of the greatest problems in my parentsí life is that they are so bored with themselves and each other. I cannot blame them, though: existence is fundamentally a drag.

       

      Mum has found a series of compulsive activities to cover up her desperation. Adopting cats is one of her favourites. She has about thirty of them by now. Really. If you go to my parentsí little semi-detached house in G., the first thing you will notice is the smell of cat pee and cat food all over the place. Twice a year the cats reproduce and mum actually makes an effort to help all these little creatures survive the shock of their first days on this awful planet. She has totally forfeited natural selection and has loaded herself with antibiotics and delicate cat-milk powder and special p‚tťs that provide essential proteins. Even the limp and blind and deaf ones are given a chance. Although she tries to give away some of the new kittens, she isnít very successful. So they settle down with my parents and spend their days sleeping on the living-room couch, jumping on the kitchen table to steal leftovers from meals, and sneaking into dadís so-called office (where he keeps all his electronic cables, computer hardware, old monitors, etc) to chew everything they catch.

      Dad isnít particulalry enthusiastic about the cats, but he's apparently decided to ignore his wifeís slight neurosis. Some years ago, when I was mumís favourite ďproblem-daughterĒ and we had daily dramatic fights over petty issues, father became my closest chum for a while. So he confessed to me that also he felt like a victim of motherís criticism and was utterly fed-up with her. But he still went on sleeping next to her in one bed, every night -- just like they have done for the last thirty years!

      I kindly proposed that they consider a divorce. Then we could send mum back to Angola, as she continually claims she would like to return to her homeland, if only she werenít responsible for her familyÖ (Weíve been hearing this for years now, but she hasnít even managed to go to bloody Angola for a week or so on a holiday trip -- though Iím sure her daughters and husband and even the cats would survive it.) Dad brushed this issue aside with a shrug of his shoulders. He said that mum would wither away without us, ďshe doesnít know what else to doĒ. I think that was the longest dialogue I ever had with my father, and I wasnít very convinced either: it seems they're both hanging on to each other as a matter of routine.

       

      And then there are their three girls.

       

      Mum has always been obsessed about us. When we were kids, in the 1980s, our family lived in rather exotic places like East Germany and Czechoslovakia and Russia and Kazachstan, where our father was sent by the Angolan government to upgrade his expertise in electronic communications systems. My sisters and I had to go to kindergarten and school and face a bunch of kids that spoke funny languages and treated us as if we were a freak show. This was before mass migrations in Europe, dear reader. They still had their pretty little Iron Curtain running through the middle of the continent to avoid such inconveniences.

      Mum would cook and clean and wait for us to come home, to supervise us while we did our homework and watched TV. She accompanied our learning process very closely and insisted that we strive to be the best pupils in our class, to ďnot be embarrassed by our originsĒ. She did tests every weekend. She hardly understood the languages of these countries, always got Bea to accompany her when she had to do the shopping, and mingled only occasionally with other Angolans whom we met through the embassy. She was in her thirties.

       

      When we finally returned to Angola in 1990, mum became possessed by the idea that her youth values of ďjustice and equalityĒ would ďprevailĒ in Angola -- though in reality the whole country was in a shambles. Our "Angolan brothers and sisters" (from the most miserable slum dwellers to government officials) were literally slaughtering each other by the thousands.

      Mum expected us to be as enthusiastic about our ďhomelandĒ, to embrace the whole pioneer-spirit or whatever was supposed to be going on there, sing the national anthem with gusto every morning before entering the classroom, call ourselves ďthe roses of the African gardenĒ, learn by heart all the names of our black national heroes and the most important dates in the ďbattle for independenceĒ. Quite honestly, neither I nor my classmates cared much. We had other priorities - listing the injustices of Portuguese colonialism or imagining the great opportunities in "liberated" Angola (for which our contribution was supposedly vital) were not among them. But mum had absolutely no doubts about these things. Her main concern was that her girls should live up to her ideals.

      Fortunately, the continual civil war disturbed this process. Thereís only so much stealing, kidnapping and carnage -- combined with permanent shortages of water, electricity and food -- that even a fanatic like my mother could take. And so we left our supposed homeland once again, to Portugal this time, where my family has been stuck ever since -- in little town G., a forlorn place with nothing much to do or worry about.

      My sisters and I forgot all about our ďoriginsĒ in a few months and became your typical European teenagers: listening to boys bands, going to the local discotheque on Sunday afternoons, worrying about our hairdos and shoes, making out with guys we barely knew in the schoolyardís secret corners. Mum had fights over Beaís low grades at school, my tight t-shirts and mini-skirts, Joís secret smoking habits.

      If you want to know, I ended up hating G., with all the gossip and slander permanently going on. I was so relieved when I moved to Lisbon for my university degree! But then I just ended up in my grannyís place, where I shared a room with Bea and was forced to interact with granny and aunt Silvia and uncle Mario and cousin Carlito on a daily basis. It was depressing. Plus I still had to talk to mum on the phone every evening, which was sometimes worse than living under her roof -- she became much more inquisitive. All the while, poor little Jo was left alone with mum and dad in G., for three whole years. No wonder she resorted to hard drugs. We were an unhappy sisterhood, believe me.

       

      Splitting was the only option. Iíve done it twice already. First I went over to Brussels, to participate in some silly academic exchange programme promoting "European Culture, Identity and Integreation". Don't ask me what it was all about, I never bothered to attend more than a few lectures, during which I either dozed or chatted with other bored foreign students. I was nineteen. Mum called me twice a week, and I mostly lied about my whereabouts and activities -- there was no way she could check, was there? For one year I just bummed around old Europe and sent postcards to my two sisters with funny revolutionary slogans, urging them to break free from motherís dictatorship. My parents thought I was on drugs. They were right. But the joints I smoked were hardly the cause of my ďalienationĒ, as they called it. Interestingly enough, it never occurred to these people that I was mainly fed-up with them.

      Still and all, after that year I simply landed back in Lisbon, this time in a flat my parents graciously bought for my sisters and me. Just next to granny and uncle and auntie, so they could always keep an attentive eye on our movements. Plus we were back at daily phone calls, frequent weekend visits, and mumís continual criticism of my clothes, eating and sleeping habits, boyfriend. I endured years of fighting -- not only with her, but also with Bea and Jo, who did not live up to my ideal of making a hippie commune out of that flat. We just turned it into an uncomfortable pigsty and backstabbed each other on every occasion. Iíve told you, my sisters are too square.

      Then I split again, this time to England.

       

      Now I let mum call me only once a week on the telephone here in the campus flat, as I refuse to carry a mobile phone. I don't want to be connected with anybody anyway. It's really bad enough to have to overhear other people's phone chattering whenever I step out into the street.

      Talking to my mother every single week is still too much, of course. But I do need the money. I tell her the wildest stories about my lif: all the great friends I have, and how much my professors appreciate my work, and the tremendous progress Iím making due to all my library research, and how well things are going now that Iíve got a new boyfriend, Hal. I go through great lengths not to give her any excuses to ďworryĒ about me.

       

      Hal is fictional. Iíve introduced him just a short while ago, because mum was getting on my nerves, wondering how come I hadnít ďmet anyone interestingĒ yet. A future husband, she meant. Why not? Iíve made him tall and blond, studying architecture of all things, and coming from a well-off London family. Heís mad about me. I like him much more than any of my real boyfriends of the past. I foresee a great future for us. Far away from Portugal. I just have to figure out how I can make my family go on paying. Itís a tough battle, I reckon, as I seriously suspect that my sisters want exactly the same thing.

       

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      DARK SECRETS BLOG: THE INTIMATE JO

       

      Name: Joana D.

      Age : 23

      Location: Lisbon, Portugal

      Interests: adventure, flirting, dancing, forbidden pleasures, football

       

      What I want (NOW!)

      Posted: 28.01.200..., 22:54

       

      Hi! Iím Jo, from Lisbon. If you want to see pictures of me, click here. Iím not a shy person, but Iím not as naughty as I may look. If I like someone or something, I donít make a secret of it. Life is too short. I try to enjoy it.

      The guy you see with me in the pictures is my boyfriend Tony. We party a lot but we also have our serious moments. He plays drums in a rock band. One day we will start our own recording label.

       

      Tony and I had a row last night. I actually slapped him, so he left my flat at four a.m. (weíre nighthawks). I forgot what we were fighting about, my mind was in a jumble by then. We had done some cocaine, nothing much, and had also prepared ourselves a few cocktails. We were just lying on my bed, listening to some sound and all. I canít even remember who started a conversation.

      I suspect it had something to do with Tonyís jealousy, though, cause thatís what we always fight about. Heís just so damned possessive and expects me to behave like a tame kitten! He has actually accused me of having no self-control. Iím a free spirit, thatís all.

      Around midday I woke up with the impression that something had to change in my life. Iím actually better off on my own, Iím sick of Tonyís moods and impositions. I want a new beginning.

       

      I have to leave this place for a while. I live with my older sister Bea, Miss Perfect, who gets out of her mind every time she finds a dust particle out of place. She behaves like a mother, as if it were her business where I go and what I eat and with whom I sleep and things like that. Get a life! Sheís a prude, she has only had one boyfriend so far, and heís just a fat mummyís boy. Bea is very uptight, you'd think sheís fifty or something. I sometimes feel sorry for her. She bores me. But I go out of my way to be nice to her and all.

      I still prefer her to my other sister, Lou, who's totally arrogant and self-absorbed. We were having almost daily arguments until she went off to England. I donít miss her much, she basically treated me like shit. I think this is mumís fault, she's always preferred Lou, Miss Pretty. When I was a kid, I got so sick of hearing how talented Lou was, how much her teachers liked her, what nice long hair she had, blah-blah-blah. She actually grew up to be less beautiful than everybody imagined. And she hasnít had any success in her life either - she just goes to university, like all of us. Lou considers herself very smart but sheís not. Half the things she knows, she learned from me anyway, back in the days when we still got along. 

       

      But thatís not the point. I want a whole new life, I need to go out there and start earning my own money, make myself independent, get my own place. Iím tired of being treated like a child by my parents. They think they can always provide us with everything we need but they have no idea about my needs. They wouldn't understand me anyway.

      Mum and I have had so many disputes over my life choices in the past. Now we get along much better, I know she still doesnít agree with my decisions but she mostly lets me do my thing. If she nags me too much, I simply refuse to talk to her for a while. That usually appeases her. She says she just wants me to finish my studies and live a healthy life. But I donít want to waste time at university, itís useless. And I can take care of my health myself, thank you very much.

      I drink a bit, do some drugs now and then, smoke too much. On better days I can get by with no more than fifteen cigarettes or so, but lately Iíve been stressed. I think my main problem is Tony -- and my stupid degree. Now Iíve decided to drop both of them, for good.

       

      Iíve got this friend, Gina, she works in a night-club in the Algarve - thatís the southern coast of Portugal. We met last summer when I took a part-time job in a discotheque in downtown Lisbon. She was employed there too, we immediately hit it off. Sheís Brazilian, in her thirties. She says that with my looks I could make a buck in the proper clubs. I love the night. I love being around people. They sure teach me more about life than my calculus professor.

      Iím going to call Gina and get ready to split. I need to catch fresh air and enjoy new sights, collect my thoughts, give my body a chance to move a bit. Iíve always liked the sea. Iím sick of the city. Iím sick of my bedroom. Iím sick of my family and friends. Iím suffocating here.

       

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      TRUE-SELF BLOG: CONFESSIONS OF BEA

       

      Overload

      Posted: 31 .01.200..., 19:11

       

      I havenít been doing so well lately. I donít sleep properly and itís not always Joís fault Ė she doesnít even spend much time at home. My mind is to blame. Iím confused.

       

      Artur has just taken up two part-time jobs, he needs the money and the employment interviews werenít leading him anywhere. Now he works at a call centre for cable TV in the mornings and delivers pizza in the afternoons. He only has free time after 9 p.m. and usually heads home, because his mother needs his support. Heís the only one who understands her, she says. Iíve been accompanying him to his parentsí place and then I catch a taxi back to my flat around midnight Ė sometimes Artur comes with me, though not very often.

      I donít miss him at all. Thatís what worries me. Iíve always loved Artur, these three years together have been wonderful, Iíve learned to listen and share. But I think Iíve sacrificed too much for this relationship. Iíve lost touch with myself. Now when I am alone I feel like a completely different person and have the impression that nobody actually knows the real me.

       

      Jo told me last night that she is leaving soon, she has a job offer in the Algarve or something. Sheís pretty excited about it Ė some work would do her good, she could get her mind off her turbulent relationship.

      She says itís all over with Tony. He still keeps calling, but my sister refuses to speak to him. So he talks to me. I like Tony, he cares a great deal about Jo and sometimes behaves like a father, which she actually needs. He confessed to me that he is very worried about Joís state of mind, that lately she has been out of control. But Jo has warned me not to believe a single word Tony says, heís just offended because she doesnít want him back. Iím not sure what to think. I know that Jo will do the nuttiest things Ė she always did, ever since she was a kid. She never listens to orders or advice. But she is still my sister, I have to support her.

      Frankly, I donít care much. Iím looking forward to having the whole place for myself, free from Jo and Tonyís screams and mutual insults, plus all the people hanging out here with them. Itís been nice to share a flat with my sisters, but now I need my own space. We all do, I guess.

       

      Meanwhile, I think my parents are having trouble. This morning mum called me up at about 6 a.m. Ė her voice was so low, it didnít even sound like her. She and dad had been fighting all night, until he actually drove off. He hadnít returned yet. Iím sure dad just went to a hotel or something to gather his thoughts, but mum immediately jumps to conclusions. She says heís changed so much in the past years, she doesnít recognize him at all.

      They quarrelled over money again. Mum had the impression that their expenses were unusually high and wanted to know if my father had bought things without informing her. Dad got very upset and screamed that he didnít know what she was talking about. But this time mum really insisted on discussing the issue. She threatened to divorce him, thatís how far it went. She probably wasnít very diplomatic about it, though, she has this tendency to become hysterical, just like Jo. It can really affect you. Dad still refused to talk, he accused her of being paranoid and threatened to do something even more drastic than divorce if she didnít back off. Then he left.

      Iíve told mum she should let dad do things his way, weíve managed so far. The worst you can say about my father is that he is a compulsive consumer, he buys lots of stuff from the internet and pays with credit cards. Maybe he is a bit indebted but I doubt that itís as serious as mum makes it sound. After all, she spends quite some money on her cats and dad never says a word about it.

      Mum can be very unfair sometimes. Sheís disappointed that dad hasnít lived up to her expectations. He was much more involved in politics and such when they met, he despised the superficial values of their parents and siblings. Now he has become more and more similar to them, mum says, he just cares about acquiring his electronic gadgets and DVDs and expensive shoes and ties. Iím sure my mother exaggerates Ė dad has simply grown out of their youthful illusions. Heís still a very caring and loving person. I have absolutely no complaints about him. Mum has changed, too. Sheís a bit of an uncontrollable shopper herself, she loves buying clothes and furniture and things like that for us. I wish my parents had something else in common besides their kids.

       

      On top of all this, Iím totally stressed about the report I have to prepare in order to apply for another year of financing, so that I can finish my doctorate. My mind has been blocked lately. I stare at those data on the computer and actually forget what they mean. I think my sleeplessness is seriously affecting my work. But I canít tell mum, it would only make her even more anxious. She has enough worries.

       

      I feel so lonely at the moment. I donít think thereís anybody I can talk to about my problems. Sometimes I imagine that this is how dad must feel. He never says much, but I know that deep inside heís very attached to mum and us kids. Even his screaming is just a defence. He could try to open up more, though. It would help us understand him better. Maybe I should go to G. for a few days, see if I can lend some support to my parents. I could use the fresh countryside air, too.

       

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      HANDYMAN BLOG: MARTINíS VIEWS ON EVERYTHING

       

      Name: Martin D.

      Age : 53

      Location: G., Portugal

      Interests: computers, multimedia, cars, carpentry, fishing, hunting, DVDs

       

      Longevity and Satisfaction

      Posted: 31.01.200..., 23:27

       

      Hello everybody! Today I want to discuss the decarbonization of two-stroke engines, as I have noticed that  some people arenít doing it right. The first thing you should pay attention to is that many two-stroke engines require decarbonization already after 4000km - and not only after 7000km, as proposed by some bloggers. You can see this by the traces of carbon that have accumulated in the exhaust rod. Also, you may feel that the engineís performance is weaker!

      To decarbonize the engine you have to carefully remove the cylinder head, maybe even the whole cylinder. If you donít do it properly, you may break the side bolts! To unscrew tightly bound screws, I would advise you to first heat them up gently with a soldering iron and then loosen them. If you canít manage this, it would be best to let professionals do it for you at a car mechanic's, otherwise you risk ruining essential parts!

      Finally, to scrape out the carbon in the cylinder, I recommend a simple scraper -- only in cases where you find it absolutely necessary should you resort to the back of an old saw blade. For the cylinder head you can use a simple thin copper membrane. For the rest, I found that others have fully explained how to proceed. Check out especially Mike's and Howard's blogs! These guys are real experts.

       

      When I was living in Angola, I owned a two-stroke motorbike, a Jawa made in the Czech Socialist Republic. Because of the civil war, you didnít always find the spare parts you needed. The process Iíve described here certainly made the bike last long and work satisfactorily.

       

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      DARK SECRETS BLOG: THE INTIMATE JO

       

      Boundless

      Posted: 08.02.200..., 18:43

       

      Free at last!

       

      Iíve been so happy for the past three days. Itís sunny down here in the Algarve, the kind of weather that calls for great lonely walks along the beach. I havenít had time to do it yet, but soon I will. Iíve hardly managed to get some sleep since Iíve arrived!

      Gina says that working six nights a week, I can earn more than enough to support myself, have fun and even save quite a bit of money. Sheís been introducing me to all her acquaintances, mostly in the tourism business, disco and club owners, barmen, waitresses, dancers, musicians, artists. We drive around in her old Volkswagen beetle, it has some bumps but still runs pretty well, on the hood there are stickers in the shape of little broken hearts. Ginaís so crazy, she makes me laugh. She wears thick red lipstick and dark outfits, which look superb on her brown skin. Everybody thinks sheís really sexy. Iím actually developing a crush on her -- sheís open-minded enough.

       

      Itís a whole new world, I feel at home.

       

      The first night working at Mr. Xís club was fun. (His name is Xavier, but he prefers to be called Mr. X -- it has more sex-appeal.) I think he likes me, he kept praising my relaxed attitude towards the clients. He says he appreciates girls who feel comfortable in their skin. We have to wear a tight black miniskirt and black high-heeled shoes.

      Iíve rented a room in a small, cheap hotel not far away from the night-club. There are a few other women living here like me, we work at night and sleep during the day. The atmosphere is nice, we share a toilet and shower at the end of the corridor. Iíve run into a Ukrainian woman today, tall and blond and gorgeous. She says we should get together some time, on our night off or for lunch. Sheís a table dancer, moves like a ballerina.

       

      Itís all I dreamed it would be: exceptional people and cool places, plus the concrete possibility of making my own money here and now, and not in some kind of future, stuck to a boring office job.

      This is low season, so things are a bit slow. But there are quite some foreigners, mainly Dutch, German, Danish, French and British. A few attractive men show up at the club. The majority seem to be in their forties and fifties. They like me because I speak English. Yesterday I got a fantastic tip from three guys, Scandinavians or something. After the club closed, I used that money to buy some drinks for Gina and me at another joint thatís open till later -- I wanted to show her my gratitude. Sheís been a real friend, itís so nice to hang out with her. Sheís always ready for the next adventure.

      Thereís live music at the club on Fridays and Saturdays. Now in the winter, a local band comes over to play covers. I canít wait to meet the musicians, theyíre friends of Ginaís, she's promised that we'll accompany them to one or the other party. She says you get everything at those parties. Plus you meet fantastic guys.

       

      My head is twirling. There are all these places to go to, new sensations to discover. I donít miss home at all. I havenít thought of Tony again. I hate him. He actually threatened to kill me if I left him! He would never dare such a thing, of course, he was just showing me his love. But I donít care anymore. Tony just couldnít keep up with me. Heís such a coward.

      I know I've made the right decision, even if nobody believes me. My parents think Iím crazy. Mum wanted me to finish my degree. She has no idea how fed-up I was with the whole thing. I couldnít take another second  of it. And dad refused to talk with me on the phone. This hurt a lot, I wish he would have given me a chance to explain myself, show him that I am less naÔve than everyone thinks.

      I only informed them about my decision half an hour before leaving, I called them from the bus terminal. Mum sounded disappointed, but it didnít affect me. Iím so used to being told that Iíve let my family down. Whatever I try to do, it never seems right.

       

      So this time I did what I wanted, in spite of everybody else. Now I canít wait to get my first pay check and kiss my family goodbye. This is the beginning of a new life.

       

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      TRUE-SELF BLOG: CONFESSIONS OF BEA

       

      Dark Periods

      Posted: 12.02.200..., 16:06

       

      Mum and dad were here on the weekend, Theyíre still upset about Joís sudden departure to the Algarve., but they also think that itís not such a bad idea to let her experience the world of hard work for a while.

      Jo is doing fine, she sounds happy and much friendlier. She calls mum every day around dinner time, when she returns from work. Sheís employed at a family restaurant, serving lunch and afterwards cleaning up. Her boss is very nice, he treats her like a daughter. She is living in a flat with two girls, has a big room overlooking the sea. Mum complains that the rent is a bit high, though. My parents are covering Joís expenses until she gets her salary at the end of the month. Iím sure she will become much more responsible now that she's going to earn her own money.

       

      Whereas I feel more and more apathetic. I canít even enjoy the things that once brought me so much pleasure, like sitting in cafťs, laughing with Artur, jogging in the park or working in the lab. Even when I watch TV, I can hardly concentrate. I just want to sleep Ė but when I get to bed, I toss and turn and canít find a second of peace.

      I keep thinking that I have to do something drastic. But I donít know what. Perhaps Iím just anxious because of the deadline for my scholarship report. Plus my supervisor, professor Helder, has hinted that he is dissatisfied with the slow progress of our investigation. He expected to have clear results by March, so they could be published in the May-June edition of the universityís scientific journal. Now heís not so sure we can make it Ė and I feel responsible for this failure, although nobody in the group has indicated that.

       

      I look at my life and have the sensation that everything has gone wrong.

       

      This isnít the first time Iíve had these thoughts. Itís happened before, almost eight years ago. I was so afraid of letting everyone down. I hated myself, my weakness. I actually considered suicide.

      I think back then I was just dissatisfied with my degree, and couldnít bring myself to admit it. Not that I didnít like Medicine - I had always been interested in science and its application to human well-being. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to become a doctor and heal people, particularly children. Maybe I was influenced by my early experiences in Angola, where the poor were affected by terrible endemic diseases, and there were lots of cripples because of the millions of landmines. I wanted to participate in the efforts to change this situation, perhaps one day join the International Red Cross and travel around Africa helping the most needy populations. My role model was Dr. Albert Schweitzer, I thought his life story was so honourable, I dreamed of following in his footsteps. I was actually very excited when I first came to Medical School here in Lisbon, and looked forward to meeting people with similar opinions. 

      But that first year almost killed me. For some strange reason, I became so depressed, I didnít know what to do. My grades were miserable, I didnít make any friends, I wasnít interested in anything.

      I studied my anatomy and physiology books like mad until tears were streaming down my cheeks, because I couldnít understand a word of what I was reading. On top of that I became absolutely disgusted with the idea of touching human bodies. I actually developed a kind of phobia against infections, unusual swellings, wounds, the appearance and smell of disease altogether. Just looking at pictures from medicine books made me almost faint.

      I kept all this bottled up inside me, not even aunt Silvia and uncle Mario and granny, with whom I lived then, suspected anything. I would leave the house every morning, catch a train downtown and just sit in a park or shopping mall, watching people, not really thinking anything. Only ice-cream made me feel slightly better. I think this went on for months.

      Until I wasnít able to get out of bed one morning. I was convinced that I was paralysed and started wailing. Aunt Silvia had to give me a tranquillizer. Then I confessed my troubles to her. She was very kind and understanding Ė weíve always had a close relationship, sheís like a second mother. She persuaded me to tell my parents the truth: that I couldnít stand the pressure and had failed all my exams. I didnít reveal to anybody that I had actually not been to university for months. Nor did I talk about my suicidal thoughts.

      Mum was very disappointed. She had been so proud of my good high-school graduation grades and my decision to study medicine. But she still supported me Ė she let me return home to G. and take some time off to ponder about my alternatives. In the end, my family helped me overcome my difficulties. I should have told them immediately what was wrong.

       

      This time itís different, though, because Iím sure I love my Microbiology degree and want to become a successful bacteriologist. I am fascinated by harmless microscopic organisms, they are so tiny and distant, I can manipulate them without danger to myself. I was one of the best students in my graduation year and had a wonderful, intellectually challenging rapport with many of my professors. When it came to getting a doctorate, I had offers to join several research teams and had absolutely no difficulty getting funds for my work. These last two years have been exciting. But somehow I never overcame my anxiety, I still fear that I wonít manage to do whatís expected of me.

      The problem isnít my degree at all. I need to look at other aspects of my life more objectively. Maybe I should make a list of all the things Iím actually dissatisfied with.

       

      I have to be more daring, try out new things, move on to new experiences. Otherwise Iíll end up suffocatingÖ

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      HEART IN AFRICA BLOG: THE STORY OF ALDA

       

      From underground to the battlefield

      Posted: 14.02.200..., 17:56

       

      During my stay in Lisbon in the early 1970s, I got deeply acquainted with progressive anti-colonial thinking, and spent many hours a day studying historical texts, manifestoes and proposals for revolution. These ideas inspired me and many of my fellows to undertake concrete actions in our struggle for liberation.

       

      Ever since the 1930s, the Portuguese dictatorship of Salazar had forced the country and its colonies into a long slumber, promoting ignorance and passivity, piety and a blind respect for the state authorities. This only made me feel more inspired to revolt.

      I was convinced of the absurdity of a conformist existence, and felt the urge to break loose from the fetters of a totalitarian regime that expected me to uphold what I couldn't agree with: political and religious intolerance, imperialism, racism. Like many students, I became an enthusiastic sympathiser of the underground Portuguese Communist Party, the only political movement in Portugal that consistently opposed the Salazar dictatorship. Finally I was taking part in an important historical moment.

      I joined other young men and women who had spent their entire lives in Africa, but whose white skin did not make them assume that they were special. My later husband Martin was one of them. We first met in 1972 in Lisbon. He was finishing his degree in electronic engineering, and like me he yearned to return to Angola. We planned to do all that was in our power to help build an independent country, using his technological know-how and my legal expertise in the service of our black brothers and sisters.

      For almost two years, Martin and I worked clandestinely with other comrades in Lisbon: writing, printing and distributing illegal pamphlets, calling the Portuguese people to demand an immediate end of the colonial war. These were thrilling but also dangerous activities. We lived in constant fear of PIDE, the secret police, whose members infiltrated student groups with the order to imprison and torture dissidents. Many friends of mine were arrested, some never recovered from the experience. Illegality became our second nature. My family couldnít even dream that I was involved with underground movements, trying to subvert the system that supported their way of living.

      For Martin and me these risks were no deterrent. We knew we had to be brave and put our lives on the line for the greater cause of liberation. Our joint efforts and hopes were not in vain. On the 25th of April 1974 the famous Carnation Revolution, led by disaffected members of the Portuguese Armed Forces, toppled a 40-year-old dictatorship. Shortly after that, Martin and I got married.

       

      In the beginning of 1975, when the newly established democratic Portuguese government guaranteed total independence for all African colonies, we packed our things and caught a plane to Luanda. Our dream had come true.

       

      Just as we were arriving in Angola, my parents were about to flee. Their entire lives had been spent in the colony and suddenly they were forced to return to Portugal empty-handed. None of them had any interest in Angola, now that the Portuguese rule no longer had a say in it. For them, this great African country should have remained nothing but another ďprovinceĒ of Portugal.

      This was also the breaking point in my conflicting relationship with my father. Although I loved him sincerely, I had felt myself drifting away from him ever since my adolescence. He had become the epitome of everything I opposed.

      In Luanda, in '75, dad and I had a violent confrontation. I remember it as if it had happened yesterday. We were in the house of some relatives. The whole place was a mess, their belongings had been packed into crates they hoped to ship to Portugal, most of the furniture had been given away, the servants had left. Outside there was near anarchy. Food and water were rationed, waste was accumulating in the streets. People didnít know when or if at all they would manage to get a seat on a plane out of the country -- Portuguese settlers were streaming to Luanda by the thousands, to be evacuated before the independence day in November. Nobody was going to protect them against possible black violence after that.

      I sat with my parents in the living room and tried to explain why I had come to live in independent Angola. My father didnít listen to me at all. His nerves were on edge because of the unbearable heat (electricity shortage made it practically impossible to have the air conditioner or fans running). Worse even, he was filled with a sense of loss. The system he belonged to was collapsing in front of his eyes and he couldnít accept that. He sat in an armchair and clenched his fists. He interrupted me continuously when I described my hopes for the future, and called me a traitor. A madwoman. A hopeless case. He swore he wouldnít even send for my body if I got killed.

      I was shattered by his cruel words, and yet I saw the tears in his eyes. Dad seemed paralysed, his wheezing got so loud my mother thought he was having one of his asthma attacks. I was ordered to leave and never come back.

       

      But my familyís disapproval did not move me to reconsider my choices for a second. If none of them could understand me, so be it! I wasnít willing to turn into a bitter and failed ex-colonialist. Life had much more to offer than their limited ideas, and I was anxious to follow my own will.

      Of course, I had Martin and many other friends who shared my vision. We knew we were facing a great challenge. Already then many people feared that a civil war would break out as soon as the Portuguese army had left. Nevertheless, we were willing to put all our energy and efforts into rebuilding Angola after more than 10 years of colonial war. We were convinced that we were doing the right thing: for our home country, for ourselves, and for future generations. I was in my twenties, as old as my  youngest daughter now. I felt more alive than ever before or after.

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      PET HATE BLOG: LOUíS CORNER

       

      Growing Pains

      Posted: 25.02.200..., 20:03

       

      Before you accuse me of being an inconsiderate daughter, let me assure you that I not only talk to my mother on the phone every week but also to my father. Even though he couldnít care less about my sisters and me -- apart from the money he provides to secure our survival, there seems to be no other connection between us. He only thinks about his gadgets and the crappy DVDs heís collecting and the fishing club meetings in G.

      I usually chat with him for about half a minute, upon mumís insistence -- ďdad wants to know how youíre doing,Ē she tells me -- and itís always awkward. He asks me how Iím doing, I say Iím doing fine, I ask him how heís doing, he says heís doing fine, and then he passes the phone back to mum. Each week we have to repeat this ritual. Sometimes, just for a change, I complain of a slight headache, because of the weather or something -- he then tells me to take an aspirin.

      He enjoyed playing the big daddy when we were small, impressing us with little tricks like building a paper plane or moving his hands in a way that made us think he was tearing out his thumb. And he would explain all kinds of strange things to us, like the star constellations, or the various shapes and sizes of ships, or the differences between the water in a small puddle and the ocean, till we got dizzy and thought we lived in this tremendously complicated world and would always need him to tell us what was what.

      Of course, he didn't provide us with a single useful piece of advice. I suppose he has never given much thought to this whole Life-issue, it just happened to him and now he has to put up with it. As we grew older, got pimples on our faces and started shaving our legs, dad became more and more silent. Except when he screams. Thatís a treat we can count on for the rest of his otherwise unexciting existence.

       

      When I had my abortion at sixteen, dad actually felt too embarrassed to even look at me. That was probably the breaking point in our relationship: he realized I was old enough to sleep around, I realized he was unable to deal with such a banality. In the end, I was relieved that he didnít decide to have a ďserious talkĒ with me, as mum repeatedly asked of him. I thought it was great that at least one of my parents had the decency not to address me with platitudes about ďsafe sexĒ, as if I hadnít already learned all about conception and contraception from TV.

      Mother did all the preaching right after the abortion. I had to put up with it, of course: she paid for the whole thing and ordered dad to drive us to Spain, since abortions were illegal in Portugal and we had to cross the border to get it done lawfully in a neat clinic that received lots of Portuguese teenagers and their mothers.

      Mum treated me like an utter idiot, which is a speciality of hers. There I was, sitting in the back seat of dadís jeep, hours after the procedure, still groggy from the anaesthesia, and she just blabbered on about how ďirresponsibleĒ I had been, and what in the world had made me ďdecideĒ to take the risk of producing a child, and why did I expose myself to such ďinsecure situations", etc etc etc. Whereas dad just steered silently through the curves, as if he were an anonymous taxi driver. He only intervened when he decided to make a stop at a roadside snack-bar to fetch a sandwich. He asked me if I also wanted to eat something.

       

      I could have bothered explaining myself back then, but I didnít. The truth, dear reader, is that I had bad luck: my bloody ovaries framed me. I had this steady boyfriend, a local boy named Saul. His sperm actually managed to fertilize me the first time I allowed him to penetrate me, which was quick and clumsy and not very memorable. We were obviously a match bound for success.

      We did it in the only place where we could be on our own: the underground garage of an apartment block in construction, just next to our high school. We rolled on the dusty concrete floor like several times before, and that was about it. I had hardly noticed the difference. My mind was occupied with the anxious notion that somebody could barge in and catch us red-handed.

      Then it turned out that I was pregnant, and my family reacted in the usual manner: mum nagged me, dad screamed at the world, Jo laughed at my humiliation and Bea felt relieved that she was still a virgin.

       

      I think this was the first time it occurred to me how much I hated them all.

       

      Incidentally, my ex-boyfriend Saul, who has a useless degree in archaeology from the university of Lisbon and is ďmomentarily unemployedĒ and living at his parentsí place in G., still hasnít overcome the pain of our break-up seven years ago. I received an e-mail from him just the other day: he was offended because I hadnít come to Portugal for Christmas. After insulting me for not thinking about him, he finished with this superb sentence: ďMy heart still yearns for the happiest days of my life, when I held you in my arms and nothing else matteredĒ.

      Saul and I were a normal, healthy young couple: we were absolutely bored and frustrated with ourselves and our favourite hobby consisted of verbally abusing each other. I sympathise with his suffering and can only support it -- at least he knows that happiness has passed him by already and now thereís only trouble ahead.

       

      I see no reason to be hopeful: if life has been so shitty up to now, there isnít much to be expected from the future. People who donít arrive at this basic conclusion by the age of twenty baffle me. Not only that, but they bore me to death with their invariable dreams of better days to come.

      But I donít reveal these thoughts to the outside world, dear reader. In fact, I go out of my way to state the opposite. For example, when mum asked me on the phone how things were going with my new love Hal, I told her everything was fantastic -- ďIíve never been so happy in my life,Ē I said.

       

      Which isnít all that false, either. Ever since Iíve locked myself up in my room, Iíve come as close to bliss as it gets. 

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      DARK SECRETS BLOG: THE INTIMATE JO

       

      The Flame

      Posted: 28.02.200..., 19:21

       

      Life is an adventure. Iím enjoying every second of it. Iíve met the man of my dreams and nothing else matters now. Jean-Luc is a god, heís a god! Tall, blond, strong and with the most magnetic blue eyes Iíve ever seenÖ I just melt when he looks at me.

      It all happened so quickly, he has changed my life in ways I can hardly describe. He has shown me the power I have in me. I will follow him to the end of the world. Jean-Luc, je tíaime!

       

      I donít care if none of my friends talk to me anymore. That bitch Gina was only interested in helping me while I played her game -- as soon as I got into a more favourable position, I was no longer any good. I hate her. Sheís just jealous because Iím younger than her, my breasts look nicer, I move more sensually. She canít stand competition. Iím sure she was the one who made Mr. X chuck me out of his club, there was no reason for him to do it, I kept the clients really entertained.

      Screw it. Jean-Luc has found me a better job and I'm earning much more money. Iíve moved to his hotel room, which is a lot bigger and has a private bathroom. Jean-Luc has been so kind, I owe him so much. And heís fun to be with, he takes me to bars and parties after my shift at the dance club. I feel very safe and relaxed around him, he introduces me to lots of men but always keeps a firm grip around my hips, as if to protect me from their hungry eyes. He has a very mature character, and I like it. He treats me like a little girl, and I love it. Heís already 37, but looks much younger.

       

      We met at Mr. Xís club and it was love at first sight. Jean-Luc came over with two guys and a middle-aged woman, they ordered some beers and snacks. He asked me if I spoke French, because his English isnít very good -- he gently touched my hand and smiled. He has this incredible smile, like an angel. Fortunately, I managed to produce a few clumsy sentences in French, this seemed to impress him. He gave me a huge tip that night!

      The next evening he returned with another guy, and immediately started talking to me in French, asking where I was from, how come a pretty girl like me ends up in such a place, what time I would get off, things like that. I was evasive, to remain mysterious. Plus I had to serve other clients. Jean-Luc actually wanted me sit at their table for a while, but Mr. X sent Gina instead. This offended Jean-Luc, who paid absolutely no attention to her and kept ordering drinks and food, anything to make me come close to him, walk in front of him, reply to his questions and remarks. We agreed to meet after my shift, but time seemed not to pass at all. He managed to get me into the menís room at the club and we kissed passionately. That's when we got caught by one of the barmen. Soon Mr. X was on my neck, as if it was a big deal that I had disappeared for a few minutes with a guy -- I could just as well have gone to the back yard for a smoke, which is allowed.

       

      That night I walked out of Mr. Xís club and into Jean-Lucís arms. We went to a party right by the sea. He brought me drinks, offered me some great cocaine, we danced like mad and ended up on the beach at dawn, high on acid and on pure love. It was an unforgettable experience, I felt reborn. Jean-Luc is so open-minded, so free! Iíve never met a man like him before.

      He took me to this dance club and introduced me as the new stripper. Vito, thatís the name of the owner, asked me to do a little dance for him, so that he could judge my capacities. There were only about a dozen men at the club, it was still early evening,. A fabulous black woman was just finishing her show, the guys were stuffing bills into her tight white g-string. I felt really nervous, but Jean-Luc said I should close my eyes and imagine I was dancing for him. I drank a shot of plain whisky and got on stage. Vito introduced me as ďVivienne, the FlameĒ, because of my bleached hair, I think.

      They played some funky sound, my heart was pounding but I just did what Jean-Luc had told me. The guys started cheering, asking me to take off my tight t-shirt and all that. I danced slowly, removing my clothes bit by bit, until I only had my little red panties on. They actually roared when I unhooked my bra! I felt so powerful, so seductive. I looked over to Jean-Luc and he blew me a kiss. Then I got closer to the audience and let them stuff bills into my panties. And I walked off stage, hearing their applause.

      As easy as that!

      These guys are really generous with their tips, plus I get my money from Vito every time I perform. Of course he hired me, or Vivienne, immediately. Iíve been getting up on that stage every night, and audiences love me. Itís the greatest fun Iíve had since Iíve arrived here. Jean-Luc is always sitting at the bar, looking lustfully at me while I dance, and grabbing my hand as soon as I come out of the dressing room. Weíve been spending most of the money I make rather carelessly, but I donít really mind. Itís been so exciting. I love being Vivienne. And I love being Jean-Lucís girl.

       

      Iíve wasted so many nights here in the Algarve, meeting men, sleeping with them, feeling disappointed by them. Now I know that none of them can compare with Jean-Luc.

      Soon he will be leaving to France. He says he canít live without me, he's even asked me to become his wife. He already has children from a previous marriage but wants to make a baby with me. I am ready. Now more than ever.

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