I have always heard of dangerous communities in exaggerated tales. But with no exaggeration, this is a dangerous neighborhood, not the people that live in it. The neighborhood is degraded with many housing and environmental problems. The people transform their needs into an inspiration.
Located in the vicinity of the Commercial Port, the Horta da Areia community appeared in the late 70´s in order to house temporarily, families arriving from the former Portuguese colonies. Today the community is mostly formed by Portuguese gypsies and non-gypsies where different habits and life-styles unite. A set of about 40 prefabricated houses and 25 of brick have to be enough for the more than 250 people living there.
A group of gipsy women meet as usual every afternoon to embroider. Dresses, skirts, blouses... every kind of clothing to dress themselves or make some money from a possible buyer. "The Food and Economic Security Authority terminated the fairs, my boy", says one, with a mixture of anger and nostalgia in her voice. On the other side of the Neighborhood, in a prefabricated house, nr.6, lives Manuel Vieira, nicknamed the Artesão dos Fósforos (artisian that makes sculpures out of matches)
Manuel Vieira was born in Santarém and dedicated most of his life to gardening. Today he receives a 274€ monthly pension, spending 3/4 of it on medication that slows down the pain from surgery to various hernias. He was operated ten years ago and has lived like this for 10 years. Nevertheless, he makes sculptures with matches and has the perfect notion of his work´s aesthetic and architecture. "It was an art brought by need", he says while gluing the last matches in a monument dedicated to the Virgin of Fátima. "And it´s done, then 4 or 5 layers of varnish", he continues. Manuel uses several materials that he finds as he walks "these batteries and lamps I collect from the toys thrown away by the gypsy kids". The noise from the TV is his only company on most days. His and Mestre Zé´s a former fisherman who lost his boat to the Tax Authorities and today resides in one of these prefabricated... temporarily, I underline.
The community is made of stories like this. It breaths sorrows and failed loves. It is the simple reflection of neediness. However, like everything in life, there is a positive side. And the positive side of this community has nothing to do with its proximity to the Ria Formosa or beautiful flamingos that can be observed there. No, the positive side of this community has a name: Resilience.
Resilience is a psychological concept, defined as the necessity of an individual to deal with problems, overcome obstacles or resist to the pressure lived in adverse situations. This community has many resilient members. Because the truth is that where society sees delinquents or helpless people, I have already seen the most talented poets and painters, sculptors and footballers, carpenters, farmers, fishermen, all of them... magicians of the multiplication. There is no better way concluding this preface than quoting "Roda Jones", a rapper with strong connections to this community: "then I hear people talking about opportunities, but opportunities are like the system: they are meant for the family and friends of the system! I know that I am not correct, but which of us is more wrong? When the system´s solution for my family is closed or buried!"
Faro, 09 May 2012.