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Asneira Livre

"I was breathing vigorously while sweat dripped down my throat, neck and forehead like the end of a drizzle. Cool outside temperature created sort of halo around my steamy torso...", Abdur Rais

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Asneira Livre


Por Abdur Rais*

It was just about 8am on a cold Monday morning of November last year when I finally finished jogging up the gradual hill along Avenida da Republica. For nearly three weeks since landing in Porto, I relished on seafood and tens of different Bacalhau dishes; my pants were already feeling tight and I was determined to wake up early and go for a morning run. I went down to Douro riverside area rather easily but jogging up the hill from Jardim do Morro to the modern building having Vitoria Regia Florista on the ground floor was simply agonizing.

Upon stopping at the roadside wall next to the building, panting and sweating profusely, I bent forward and grabbed my ankles to stretch lower back and hamstrings. I was breathing vigorously while sweat dripped down my throat, neck and forehead like the end of a drizzle. Cool outside temperature created sort of halo around my steamy torso. Suddenly I heard a woman speaking in Portuguese with unreserved urgency and command.

I ignored her voice at first and didn´t even bother to look – thought it was someone passing by on that busy Gaia sidewalk. Then I heard the same phrases all over again with same urgency and tone; this time her voice also seemed louder. I tilted my head up and noticed an elderly woman standing just about one meter in front of me. With hands on her hips, she looked very intense with wide and piercing eyes.

She repeated the same set of phrases again. I stood up quickly and faced her as several people started to gather around – most looked like passers-by who just stopped because of what the woman was saying to me. My mind wandered quickly and assumed that she was asking if I am OK. Instinctively, I said “no problem” while I tried to straighten my dripping-wet sweatshirt.

The woman repeated those phrases again while giving me a curious, concerned stare. My mind quickly registered that she didn´t understand my English; I felt also that she realized I do not understand Portuguese. I repeated in quick succession a couple of times: “No problem, I am fine, thank you.” The crowd turned slowly and started to disperse. The woman relaxed her facial expression, dropped hands from her hips and turned quickly into the crowd. As she walked by, she uttered this time a Portuguese phrase that sounded totally different.

I often use this interesting encounter in Gaia during my initial phase of settling-in here as an example to describe people and culture in Portugal. While it is impossible to verify that the woman was indeed expressing her concerns and checking to see if I needed help, I believe she was doing precisely that: a panting man with head drooped low and sweating all over on a busy sidewalk can certainly appear ominous.

For having lived most of my life in the US, I remain earnestly touched by this incident as one particular difference became obvious:  it is very unlikely for similar situation on busy sidewalks in the US to cause major concern amongst passers-by except perhaps for some kind soul placing a call with local police or emergency 911 for dispatching help. Although I don´t have identical personal experience to support the view, I am well aware of many events that are virtually similar or even worse.

Is it proper to feel this kind of concern for a stranger on the street? After all, he might have been in real trouble and quite unable to reach out for help. Isn´t it only natural and expected of fellow humans to offer a helping hand just in case there is need? It can of course be a false alarm but isn´t it prudent also to verify just to make sure?

On the other hand, couldn´t it be an overreaction? Perhaps it was totally unwarranted because he was just taking a breather; it shows complete lack of respect for his space and freedom. Moreover, why bother? Shouldn´t each of us be minding own business anyway?

Clearly this can be a distraction and elusively complicated choice when we are intensely engaged in personal agenda of modern-day living.  And compassionately warm human hearts continue to become increasingly scarce on the city streets and sidewalks of many countries.


* Colaborador da Unidade de Engenharia de Sistemas de Produção (UESP)