Dear Portugal,

I would never have pointed to a map and picked you. I wasn’t sure we would even like each other. I came with only a few belongings and even fewer expectations. But I had the desire to get to know you and see if I would stay. And like two people making an acquaintance at a dinner party, we searched for commonalities: surfing, an insatiable appetite for rice and seafood, a bond to the earth and the sea.

At first I fell for the little things. The promise of surf every single day. The coastline that has gifted me with the rarest moments of surfing alone. That dazed feeling after a few glasses of fruity vinho verde. The melancholy while listening to Fado music. The rissois, natas and feijoada, the melt-in-your-mouth queijo fresco, delectable sardinha and unforgettable bacalhau. And surprisingly, even lamprey and percebe.

I loved the quiet irony of your lavish, impressive buildings next to your ancient, dilapidated houses. I even adored your temperamental weather, sunny in the morning and sometimes tempestuous in the afternoon.

And I loved your people. The grandmas dressed in black with their soft faces and culinary secrets. The fishermen with their old fashioned hats. The shopkeepers who actually mean it when they say “obrigada.”

And then I began to love you for your words, and the new feelings they gave name to.  For that elusive feeling of saudade –– untranslatable but described so accurately by the Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo: “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” Or the chamego — the sense of intimacy, infatuation, and cuddling, all in one word.

Of course, there are things about you that I will probably never understand. You’re an old soul and I’m too juvenile. I’m impulsive whereas you are cautious and pensive. I have this incessant desire to be happy, but you have this habit of enjoying being triste.

But I’ve lived many lives in different parts of the world, I’ve been running around, not caring where I rest my head, not knowing where I’d end up. Perhaps I met you, Portugal, because something inside me had really been crying out for stillness, for a safe haven where I could finally become myself.