welcome to emmas housethought

neighbours and the working bee

A few weeks back we were having a heatwave and I felt the need to dip myself in the Fonte (the name of that part of the village) irrigation tank. I cannot do one thing at a time, so in this case I was combining a cool swim with medicinal hydrotherapy, teaching the dog to swim and cleaning out the tank.

(There was one thrilling moment when Wookie lauched himself into the deep end, and then, shocked by the cold, or just by all that water, swam to the edge and pulled himself out. I was so proud. Next he’ll be surfing like a proper aussie dog)

wookie swimmingbubble

Decked out in my sexy spring suit (spring wetsuit, that is, and sarcastic on the sexy), naturally I drew a crowd. Foreigners are strange. First they wear funny clothes then they swim in really cold water, and then start doing work no one asked them to do.

The cleaning of the tank became something of a topic of discussion among the boys hanging at the Fonte. One of the part-time neighbours who maintains a sweet flowery creek beside his house somehow convinced the other blokes that there should be a working bee.

And incredibly, children and their cousins turned out in force on Saturday armed with antique agricultural tools, ready for work! The tank had been emptied of water and the slush from the bottom was being driven this way and that – they were attempting to dispose of about 20 cubic metres of mud through a 10cm hole.

Fortunately the ex-film producer arrived just as anyone-of-seniority had gone off to lunch. Only one of the older teenagers was affronted by the new female Kommandant, but once he was given a vital role in the new regime he could see the wisdom in it. The girls were stoked to have me there, because now the boys had to stop bossing them around, and they started calling me Chef.


After cesta (siesta) the grown-ups arrived back on the scene. Their role was to give a running commentary and instead of interfering they cheered from the sidelines about what great work we were doing. One of them provided rounds of soft drink and refocussed distracted children. The muck was re-routed and the river end of the tank was clean in no time. The kids ran out of steam mid afternoon.

None of the adults (in particular the ones who invented the idea) actually did any work. Which further proves my theory that the world is divided between People Who Talk and People Who Do. I’m kind of a bit jealous of Talkers really, I don’t know how they get away with it. Then again, they won’t be the ones swimming in the Fonte pool. I will be.

And so I stayed on, on the verge of a stroke and/or heart attack, but nonetheless committed. There was no helping the deep end of filthy slop, so I set upon landscaping the creek and waterfall end, cutting back the nettle and tearing out grasses taller than myself! Seeing as it was the part-time neighbour who inspired the bee, I cleared the creek so that water could be seen as it flowed down to meet the waterfall, just as my part-time neighbour likes it.

The next day, someone had started refilling the tank, which was perfect, as the sludge was made less viscous and then could be shoved through the 10cm opening. It took longer than I expected, but once a few kids arrived mid afternoon we had the tank finally clean by the end of the day.


And then something strange was happening in the conversation at the sidelines. I was being credited for the whole idea. The village elder claimed that the tank had never been so clean… all because of the woman, the foreigner… how bizarre! And the compliments just keep on coming about how good it looks and what a great job done. These neighbours never cease to confound me.

And today, it’s just like our very own pool. I can see a bit more landscaping to be done (think a few of those nasty ferns which take over everything here will look great at the sides). Then of course the pool and bridge need to be tiled with azulejos and if my neighbour opened a café in his basement, added a few umbrellas, some deckchairs, a little music, a carribean-style cocktail bar…



  1. Isabel July 18, 2009 10:09 pm Reply

    I think you will probably make it happen…

    And you know what? You might even end up Presidente da Junta de Freguesia.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: July 20th, 2009 at 2:36 am

    But will I ever get the house finished? Now that you mention it, being Presidente da Junta might get us recycling bins in our village….mmm… in every village… a ban on plastic bags… fire breaks… ‘Clean Up’ campaigns… now we’re talking! I could be a real pain in the arse! Watch out Portugal, emma’s after socrates job now!

    [Reply to comment]

  2. Isabel July 20, 2009 7:14 am Reply

    I’m sure you would do a better job, and people would hate you a lot less than they hate him right now.

    By the way, there seems to be a lot of kids in your village. That’s nice! Are they there just for the holidays, or do they live in the village all the time?(But you don’t you have recycling bins??? How did you manage to find the road to that place?!)

    [Reply to comment]

  3. Fiona July 22, 2009 6:43 pm Reply

    Hi Emma, Came on your site by chance while researching where my husband and I might relocate to – our wonderful Aussie government in their infinite wisdom has had a knee-jerk reaction to the global financial crisis and abolished the exemption of income tax law 23AG that we have lived under for years (as my husband already pays tax overseas where he works we didn’t pay tax here on his ‘take home’ pay) now we have to also pay almost half of what we are left with after tax to government here (double dipping at its finest!). So, was surfing the net, remembering wonderful days travelling in Portugal and looking at tax laws there, when your blog caught my eye. Couldn’t stop reading – we have always wanted to renovate a ruin in Europe (but haven’t done so yet – closest thing is our converted church we live in here in Oz). Every blog of yours made me want to comment but I thought you’d get sick of my name coming up – figured it was best to do it in one hit.
    So, thank you for Linda Hamilton arms (only rewatched the Terminator movie the other day with my 20 and 22 year old daughters and we all commented on her arms), Amalia ( I just love her – discovered her voice when we were living in Turkey in 2007) and all your amazing descriptions of life in Portugal. As others have said, ‘You should publish a book’.
    Must get back to my research – the new tax law is already in effect so the sooner we decide what we are doing the better. Look forward to reading more about your adventures!

    [Reply to comment]

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