6th Sep 2019:
We set out on a road trip at around 11.00 am from Figueira da Foz towards Guarda (Central of Portugal). This was just like any other trip, no expectations besides the joy of breaking the monotony of sitting in the office all day long. It later turned out that I had the slightest idea of what this trip was all about. James, my boss, had highlighted that we were going to see the woods. So basically, this was a trip to the woods. Wouldn’t be fair to be blamed for my ignorance anyway.
I candidly enjoy the road trips but this particular one wasn’t scaling up to my expectations. The tedium of eucalyptus everywhere you look at was slowly turning my attention to my phone, which I rarely call to mind when I am doing something interesting.
The trip started coming to life when we approached the hills. The unwinding of the narrow roads around the hills going up and down, the villages sitting right in what seems to be in the midst of nowhere, surrounded by the natural vegetation and the antagonistic peaks of the hills bringing out the perfect artistic impression of what nature could offer in abundance when you embrace it instead of destroying it.
Beyond the tranquillity that blends with the beauty of this land lies a story. A story of anguish, discouragement, hopelessness, and brokenness. A simple gaze at the land is enough to tell it all. The ghost woods that were left standing by the raging fire the swept across Central Portugal in 2017 uncovered the mask of inefficiency and unpreparedness of tackling issues by the Government when disaster looms.
Experience is the best teacher, but trust me, this particular one can never be wished for even at the worst of your enemies. The trees that were once a symbol of wealth and protection against the hostile climatic conditions turned out to be the horror this time around. Having a tree close to your house became a real nightmare. Houses were burned, Families lost properties, there were many casualties and the worst of it all, lives were lost. A place that many had called home for many years suddenly transformed itself into a daunting one.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger indeed. The countless efforts by the victims to get compensation from both the National government and the European Union remained futile. Yes ‘they have been compensated and they are now living a comfortable life’ but that’s according to the media, the ground truth, however, tells a different line of the story. This, however, has not pinned these families down. They are more united than ever, always working tirelessly together to make sure they restore back their ecosystem but not with neither the eucalyptus nor the pines anymore but focusing only on the native trees that are more fire-resistant. Despite the grueling experience and the hidden pain that is deeply engraved in the victims’ hearts, this you can tell from the tears in their eyes when narrating their stories, they have been able to put all that behind the masks and stand in their feet. What’s more evident in them is unity, love, resilience, and determination.
With all that said, many questions remain unanswered until now, among others, the question of if this was a normal wildfire remains a mystery to be unlocked.
By: Kelvin Jimmy Awori