Wages low and some people struggle to survive. The old country folk and farmers in the Alentajo live simply as they have for generations. It's tough for some but they get by ... just.
Every month we go to a farmers' market in the Alentajo where you can buy everything and anything from chicks, roosters and ducks, to tractors, plants, honey, cheese, strange sausage shaped unmentionable delicacies, and even a sundry collection of pots, pans and a home brew whatsit...
We love the unpretentious feel of the market as we try to understand the culture of the indigenous locals. A culture inbred by generations driven by poverty and survival. It's almost like living in a bubble. We set aside the stresses of the 21st century for a more simplistic way of life as we people-watch while eating freshly BBQ'd chicken washed down with rustic red wine and moonshine. Not a good combination if you want to remain sober although good if you want to analyse the true meaning of life and observe happiness on a different level.
We try to blend in and put aside beliefs we held dear in the UK. It's not our country nor is it our place to impose our values on another culture ...
This brings me to the story of a newly arrived couple fresh off the boat and bristling with indignation at the way animals were treated in Portugal. I don't agree with the way women are treated in some countries but it is their religion and culture. Just sayin'. Moving swiftly on.
We met this couple at the market along with some other friends for lunch. I'm not sure how much alcohol the woman had consumed but when a couple of elderly men joined us at the next table and placed a small box of chicks on their table while they ate their meal she started to shriek.
'Let the chicks go: it's cruel, let them free!'. At this point trying to make herself understood she started clucking and flapping her arms dramatically like a demented chicken.
'For goodness sake, shut up...' I muttered. 'You're making a scene.'
'They have to let them go.'
'They don't have to do anything.' I replied tersely. 'Don't be so stupid. They've bought the chicks to fatten for food or lay eggs. They are not pets. This is real life so get real!' (although patient I'm not always renown for my tact)
Bearing in mind elderly Portuguese do not tend to speak English, they stared first at me and then at the crazy woman in complete bewilderment. I was tempted to tell them she was louco.
As I leveled their gaze, shrugged my shoulders, shook my head and as my eyes rolled heavenwards looking for divine intervention, I garbled an apology in Portuguese.
How can anyone be so quick to judge? She had everything and they nothing. Why live in an old farming community when you are more at home in the city where chicken and eggs are packed on sterile plastic trays and sold in the supermarkets?