Photo credit: IOM/Tiago Figueiredo
"I was born in Água Grande in São Tomé and Príncipe, but I grew up with my grand-mother in the Bom Bom region because my mother had moved to Portugal to work and help my family from abroad. It was never my wish to come to Portugal, but fifteen years ago my mother decided it was better for me to join her.
I did not know anything about Portugal before moving here. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was how quiet it felt here and that there were many buildings. I moved to the fifth floor of an eleven-floor tower and I had never been in such a tall building before because houses in São Tomé are all small. I remember taking the stairs the first time as I went up to my floor — I was in awe of the view and the landscape.
Today I enjoy living in Lisbon – what’s important is being healthy, and having a job and a place to live, be it in Portugal or elsewhere.
When I arrived in Portugal I couldn't go to school for one year because I had an irregular residency status. We spent so many days waking up at 5 am to go to the Social Security Centre. The queues were gigantic, it was horrible. I have always enjoyed learning, so eventually I was able to continue studying and I finished high school. I already had experience as a hairdresser and cosmetologist in São Tomé and I also used to go to some of my clients’ houses to make some money. I finished my last year of high school under a regular migration status, then I decided to get training as a hair dresser and obtain a certificate so that I could work in a salon.
My best memories from Portugal are all related to my time at school. I had really good teachers. My geography teacher was particularly helpful and she always took time after class to help me do my homework, including in subjects beyond geography. I am thankful for her support to help me graduate.
I miss São Tomé’s beach and the sea there. The water in Portugal does not feel so inviting to me. Going to the beach for me equals diving in the water and going for walks – not staying under the sun. I also miss the food and the dancing. We tend to live more in community and there are more opportunities for leisure and fun – in São Tomé there is always a party happening for no particular reason.
I wish I had met more understanding people when I arrived in Portugal. Coming from abroad, one is normally not familiar with the way things work here and it is easy to feel alone. There are twice as many obstacles in the beginning and one does not know who to go to for help.
I live in a rented room at the moment, but my next step will be to be able to live alone. One day, I would like to go back to São Tomé and Príncipe."