As I finished writing my post yesterday, I had to wonder what predicaments awaited me in the day to come. Every morning, I have some crazy story to write to you about, and it’s not like I’m fishing for material here. It is a constant struggle to keep my head above the cultural water, and while it always provides me with entertaining stories, at times it is much easier than others. Sometimes I tread water for days without realizing it, and sometimes it feels like every minute of it is an effort.

I think I’m entering one of the latter periods again. We’ve been back for almost a month now, so the initial excitement is wearing off, the pleasure of finding that I am actually more comfortable here than I’d thought. Once again, I am realizing how much effort even daily life takes here, much less when we’re traveling and I’m actively pushing my comfort zone outwards.

For example, yesterday we went to the post office (yes, again) to try to send a thank you card to our hosts in Pedralva. I have been carrying this silly card around for days, and by now it’s looking much the worse for wear. I just wanted to get it sent out already before our time there becomes a distant memory and a thank you card is rendered totally moot.

This time Gabe was with me, so I didn’t anticipate any trouble. However, as it turned out, neither of us had any change for the stamp machine, and it didn’t take cards. When we tried to buy a small cookie from the cafe to make change for a ten euro bill, the guy got all worked up about how he didn’t have enough change in the drawer, we would clean him out of coins, etc. He told us to take the cookie and come back later for the change, which was very generous of him, but pretty much defeated the point of getting the cookie in the first place.

Now tell me: where else would someone actually NOT take your money and choose instead to give you merchandise on credit? Seriously! What kind of heathens are these people? Clearly not good ‘Merican capitalists, nuh uh!

So we left and went to the gym, the much-traveled card still in my bag, once again defeated by the @%!* stamp machine. It beats me every time. Or at least two out of the last three times, which is not a great track record.

This is what I’m talking about: even the simplest of tasks, like getting groceries, or a stamp, or a hair cut, turns into an epic journey. While I appreciate that it makes for good writing, and good stories to tell our children about the good old days in Lisbon back before they were born… sometimes I would gladly trade all of them for just one easy, hassle-free day.

I couldn’t help but continue this train of thought when I went to my Portuguese lesson later in the day. Somehow I’d skipped the imperative verb form, which may explain why I have so many troubles in Portuguese — I don’t know how to tell people to do what I want, dammit! My tutor claimed it was easy, so I sat down yesterday morning to learn how to boss people around. I was anticipating that it would be like the French imperative, which has two forms: informal/singular and formal/plural. No problem, easy peasy.

Within about a minute, I had realized that it was not at all like French, and was completely stumped by the book’s explanation. So I left it for class, where I proceeded to be totally stumped yet again by my tutor’s explanation. She kept saying, “Oh no, it’s very easy. You just take this ending and put it on this form of the verb, and when it’s negative you take this form, but only when you’re speaking to this person, and otherwise it stays the same.” Right. Got it. I’m sorry, but anything that requires that many arrows and hand motions to explain — not easy.

By the end of the lesson, my brain was feeling about as sore as my muscles were from my workout earlier that day. I needed some things from the store, but I couldn’t bear facing the site of last week’s humiliation again. So I just went straight home, feeling worn out, lonely, and ever so slightly sorry for myself. You’ll agree that between the post office, the grocery store, and the hairdresser, I have had quite the time of it these past two weeks!

As I turned onto our street, still in this Eeyore state of mind, I saw two familiar faces walking towards me. First was the wife of the restoration guy across the street, who was carrying their adorable black-haired grandson all bundled up in a blanket. She gave me a broad smile and greeted me with a “Boa tarde!,” just as she would any other resident of our street.

At the same time, the local crazy guy — er, special needs individual — who lives across the street also walked by. He said, as he always does, “Boa tarde, tudo bem?”, or Good afternoon, how’s it going? (Please note: they both said good afternoon to me, despite the fact that it was nearly 6 PM! Ha!)

Suddenly, the world seemed a little bit brighter. I had just been greeted by two people in our neighborhood as if I had lived there for years, even though I’ve only ever exchanged a few words with either of them. They did not see a foreigner, someone who doesn’t speak their language, a stranger in their town. They saw a neighbor, someone who lives on their street, who shops at the stores they shop at, walks the cobblestones they walk on, drinks the coffee they drink. And they greeted me as such.

As I opened the door to our building, I turned around and looked back out into the street, which was lit in fuzzy pink by the setting sun. I breathed in the cool night air, and thought to myself, “This is where I live.” And in that moment, all the effort it’s taken to keep my head above water these past weeks became well worth the effort.