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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Shifting Burden of Fear in Portugal

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

Those sitting and socializing in the sun keep an informal watch on Portuguese villages. (Photo by dnoticias)


When my son was in secondary school in the heart of Portugal, I would drive his friends to their homes after a visit to our house, a session with a Mathematics tutor or some other activity.

I would wait until his friend left the car and unlocked their house door or until someone let them in, even better if I saw a relative and could wave at him or her. I thought of myself as a responsible parent delivering my son’s friend safe and sound.


We live with assumptions. After 27 years of living outside of the United States and paying attention to the cues of other cultures, where the rules are bound to be different, I did not think that there was anything awry in my car drop-off etiquette.

I was wrong.

Finally, one of my son’s friends told him that it was creepy that I waited for him to get inside the door. Other friends echoed this opinion.

What was going on?

I had held on to my survival techniques from the States, where random violence is a fact of life. After all these years, I, finally, recognized the stress of living in a powder keg.

Two mass shootings there within days of each other prove my point. Like most others, I was still reeling from the eight dead in spas in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 16, when, on March 22, 10 were killed in Boulder, Colorado, in a supermarket.

This spree of shootings followed the killing of Sarah Everard, 33, who had disappeared in South London. A Metropolitan Police officer was arrested on March 9 in connection with her death. A vigil was held for Everard on March 13, which led to an aggressive police response and four arrests. Across the pond, women’s explosions of anger about their compromised safety resounded justifiably.

I live in a Portuguese village of 250 people. Everyone knows everyone. I can shift the oppressive burden of fear from my shoulders in exchange for the lightness of tranquility.

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