If I had to ask myself the question: “how did your year go?” I would say: “Brilliantly, one I will never forget”. The past year has been extremely tough for many people throughout the world, far removed from what we may consider easy. I, however, feel that I have been very lucky.
2021, a tale of two halves. The first half was spent in South Africa, my country of residence, and where I had lived my whole life. Some highlights during this time spent in South Africa include being chosen as part of the 2021 SAYAS blogging team, presenting Google Earth Engine (GEE) at the UCL-Wits climate workshop, publishing my first academic paper in Water SA and publishing an article in Quest: Science for South Africa, a popular science magazine.
Although I was not unhappy, a large part of me wanted to release and break away from the regularity of lockdown life and routine. My grandmother who had been stuck in a lockdown of her own in Portugal would call me and say how she missed spending time with family. As she could not travel, I wanted to visit her and keep her company.
I am a man consumed by wanderlust. My great aunt and uncle would always talk about their time in Portugal over Sunday lunches, they too wanted to visit Portugal to see their family. I have a large Portuguese family, the majority of whom moved to Portugal from South Africa during 2020 lockdown. The few of us left in South Africa would regularly meet on the weekends during the Covid period. During these small gatherings, the chat would often center around visiting family in Portugal and how amazing Portugal is during the summertime. I had been to Portugal before, but only when I was younger and for a short period of time.
Making a mental map of the timeline of 2021 is rather difficult, a year full of activity and newness. I decided to visit my grandmother and at the same time find out for myself what all the fuss was about. I left home in early June, by myself, with my brand-new laptop and planned to continue my desktop work on my PhD work overseas. Back at home I had been working on a desktop, but my work was easily transferred to the new device.
After what I had initially planned as an extended visit with family, on the days leading up to my flight back to South Africa in August, I felt that my time in Europe was not over. I saw that I could afford the opportunity to live on my own, and so I did exactly that. I have been renting an apartment for the last two months, well beyond what I had initially planned to do in Portugal.
Whilst here I have watched my heroes represent the Portuguese National football team no less than three times, three times more than I had ever done so in the previous decade of my life. Under the lights in Estadio do Algarve, I saw my hero Cristiano Ronaldo score six goals in three games, breaking the international goalscoring record. I watched the Moto GP, where two more of my heroes: Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder, rode their hearts out in Portimão. A dream come true, needless to say I have so many jealous friends back home.
I had the opportunity to visit and spend extended periods with my grandmother, cousins, aunts, and uncles. My Portuguese family that I never had the opportunity to spend quality time with. They introduced me to the art, food, culture, and night life Portugal had to offer. I feel blessed and content with my decision to stay longer.
Whilst in Portugal, my academic work has continued. I have submitted an additional paper to a top international journal. The paper which contains the first map of peatland coverage in the Angolan Highlands. I presented these findings at the SSAG-SAAG 2021 joint online conference.
My time to go back to South Africa has come, although my PhD work can be done remotely. Living in one place and constantly thinking about another place can be very taxing on the mind. We are not worlds away, but the distance between myself and my immediate family has not been easy to navigate. Before I do go back home, my immediate family is going to visit Portugal and we will hopefully enjoy an incredible Christmas with the whole family back together.
My eagerness to return home is fueled by the possibility of an extended field visit to my study site in Angola. I cannot wait to see the site with my own eyes, and not as a satellite image, behind a screen thousands of kilometers away. Cautious optimism has never let me down, let us wait and see what else 2022 might bring.