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Now I look
at the walls,
I talk to
the walls

Now I look
at the walls,
I talk to
the walls

She opens the door, sits us down at the living room table and, with none of the awkwardness of people who have just met, Guiomar Florindo starts to tell us the 63-year story of her life. Her eyes widen, she pauses little. This conversation gives her an escape from the silence that torments her every day.

“Do you see?” This question slips out automatically at the end of nearly every phrase.
As if life were too complicated to be understood.

To put the key in the lock and to have no one to talk to, no one to listen to me...

Being unemployed is like a black hole. I say a black hole because the person stops, and I have worked since I was small, I like serving customers. When things started to go downhill at the restaurant, I thought, “I hope this closes, I am here and I am tired of not doing anything.” Today all I think is, “you see, you were in such a hurry...”. Now I am getting used to the solitude. But, in the end, my story has been one of a person alone, and that is sad.

Today all I think is, “you see, you were in such a hurry...”

Now I am getting used to the solitude.

But, in the end, my story has been one of a person alone, and that is sad.

My name is Guiomar da Conceição, but the whole family call me Sãozinha.

As I got older, in my mum’s bar, people started to call me São. Even the other day, I was back in Cacém and the oldies said to me: “So São, so, Sãozinha?” I was the baby, I started to work behind the bar when I was nine, serving glasses of wine and making pan-boiled coffees. I always loved working in the catering industry...

I have been Guiomar since I came to live here in Tapada das Mercês, 14 years ago. And some of the bosses call me Madam Guiomar, others Gui. “Don’t call me Mrs, that’s what you call really old people. Call me Gui!”

I studied up to year 8 (13-14 years old), fourth year of the old administration studies branch of secondary school. I worked in the bar at lunch and dinner times. During the day I worked in the haberdashery that my mum opened for me when I stopped studying.

I got married on a Saturday and on the Monday I was back at the bar serving lunch.

I was 19 years old. The wedding dress cost three contos (€14.96). I bought it in a well-known wedding dress shop in Lisbon, called Isabella. I went with my aunt because my mum couldn’t leave the bar.

I got married in the National Palace of Queluz in 1975 and was divorced in 1982. My marriage didn’t last very long.

He was from the Alentejo region and my mum never let me off work to go down there. I was barely at home, because I spent all my time between the haberdashery and the bar.

Now, you tell me, if someone already has a wandering eye... He was free as a bird. There were lies after lies, lots of lovers.

The size of the pension is calculated based on the contributions made to Social Security throughout a person’s working life. In the case of employees, the employee pays 11% from their salary and the employer pays 23.75%. The employer is responsible for paying Social Security contributions. Source

I left the haberdashery in 1997, when I opened Café Marta, in name of my daughter, in the Tapada das Mercês. Until then, I had never paid contributions. It was like today, everyone avoided paying taxes. At the beginning, my mum would tell me, “There’s no need, João has a wage, if anything happens you’ll have your husband’s pension.” I rented a space, I had to have works done, install gas, get a licence... It started well, because there were lots of building works around, but later work dried up.

The size of the pension is calculated based on the contributions made to Social Security throughout a person’s working life. In the case of employees, the employee pays 11% from their salary and the employer pays 23.75%. The employer is responsible for paying Social Security contributions. Source

I would leave the house at six in the morning and get back at ten at night. I never knew what I was going to take home myself. It is a lot harder being the boss than being an employee, there are a lot of outgoings. I worked out all the numbers and divided by the 30 days of the month, when I opened the door I already knew that at the end of the day I had to have so much income to cover the expenses.

Lots of things happened at once, everything going wrong, everything going wrong...
At the time I thought about killing myself.

At the time I thought about killing myself.

But, afterwards, I would say, “So, if I am going to kill myself, what about my daughter? No, I can’t...” I thought about throwing myself under a train. But I also thought, “So, but people are going to work and the train is stuck there? They’ll get to work late because of me?” They are stupid thoughts, but... This was when the cafe started to go downhill, I was depressed. Depressed, no, all this now is depression, I was starting to get burnt out. But this passed. Psychological problems are health problems, but we need to lift our self-esteem. I don’t know how to do that either, but...

She always got on well with the bosses. She feels no anger, not even towards the one who she says owes her seven thousand euros in compensation. He was a “good person” and even offered her a trip to Madeira. In the end, despite all the woes, they treated her well, with dignity. And, when that is hard to come by, it’s priceless.

After I sold the shop, my son-in-law had contacts and quickly found me a restaurant to work at in Lisbon. It was called Great Food and was near the National Assembly.

This restaurant shut and the owners opened another one here, just by me. But, along the way, that café also changed hands and location, the boss wanted to grow the business and we moved to a large warehouse in Albarraque. I was there for three years. It was me and one assistant cooking every day, for 150 people.

It was all traditional Portuguese food! No foreign stuff!
No, because I never did that. Curry isn’t Portuguese, but I also used to make a good Mozambican-style curry. It’s delicious.
I’m not bragging, it was the customers who would tell me...
And a decent cabidela (rice dish involving poultry or rabbit cooked in its own blood with vinegar), Portuguese-style bean stew...

There was a man who used to say I made the best bean stew in the world. When people ordered omelettes though it would really get my goat. Why come to a restaurant to eat an omelette? Sometimes, I would come into the kitchen swearing blue murder... because to make a good omelette, the flame has to be on low, I had to be there the whole time by the hob. I would say “that pig..…” But I didn’t say pig, I used much stronger words, like a real chef. No one would hear and I could let off some steam.

When the recession came, we went from over one hundred to fewer than forty lunches and the restaurant closed down. I went on unemployment benefit for the first time in 2011.

Anyone who has, involuntarily, ceased to have a paid work contract and is registered at an employment centre can receive the unemployment benefit from Social Security.
It pays 65% of the mean salary received in the year prior to entering unemployment, and can vary from €435.76 to €1089.40, for employees. There are specific rules for self-employed workers, one-man business owners, and directors and managers. Source

Every month I had to apply for three jobs and bring in a stamped and signed piece of paper as proof.

As of 1 October 2016, the unemployed are no longer required to sign on every fortnight at employment centres or council offices, as they had been obliged to do, to prove they were actively looking for work, to guarantee their receipt of unemployment benefit. Source

I got really sad one time... I went to hand in my CV somewhere and I said: “Look, I’m unemployed, will you take my CV?” The person took it off me, but then threw it straight in the bin. When you are unemployed, you’re also called up to do training. I did training in English, French, computing, food hygiene... but this is just to make up numbers, nothing more. While we are training, we’re not officially unemployed. It’s a good way to pass the time, to be with other people for a while, but it doesn’t help us to find work.

The status of unemployed is classified as not having a job and being immediately available for work. People who are without work and on special employment programmes or professional training are considered “occupied” and are not included in the unemployment rate calculation. People who are without work and, for health reasons are not fit to enter the workplace immediately are considered “temporarily unavailable” and are also excluded from the unemployment rate calculation. Source

Now, my work is looking after my mother who fell and broke her hip. I go there every day, except weekends. I get unemployment benefit, but now that I am classified as a family carer, I don’t have to keep looking for work. My nephew Diogo picks me up around eight. I have breakfast, we have a coffee and he leaves me at my sister’s house, where my mum is staying.

It’s a moral duty, I don’t see her with the love of a daughter... I’m very hurt, I’ve had a loveless life. Her motto with me has always been, “I want to, I can and I’m the boss”.

My mother chose my boyfriend, she organised my wedding, and took care of my divorce.

But it’s not her fault, it’s mine, because I let her do it all.
My mother deciding for me my whole life is a burden I don’t know how to explain. A pain... a sadness... But I already analysed this many years ago, now am just angry inside. Because it is a lot all together, lot of stuff at once, a lot of rejection... bad things, negative things.

I have been divorced and alone for 37 or 38 years. The experience left me so traumatised that I never managed to find anyone. I had to become independent.
My day-to-day life? I get up, I have a wash, I go to the cafe, when I didn’t go to my mother’s I used to go for a walk, I make myself a quick lunch, rushed and badly done...

In the afternoon I sit on Facebook, but on the games. Once, I did a test and left, to see if anyone noticed. Do you think anyone did? And in the evenings, the TV is my company: I watch Preço Certo (the Price is Right) and Joker (another Portuguese gameshow).
I also like to watch the news.

I used to go out and take photos. I always take my camera with me in my bag, but I haven’t fancied getting it out for a while.

But this can’t go on, I have to change my pattern, I also know how to analyse myself. I love seeing the angry sea, I like to watch the waves, those blasts of water jumping... I also used to like the cinema a lot, but I haven’t been for a long time.
As the years go by, we lose interest in everything. So I don’t feel useless, sometimes, I also have a look at cookery books and, when I have money I go on some of those cheap trips. I like to travel. Living only at home isn’t living. Now, I look at the walls, I talk to the walls.

When I was working, I used to earn €900 a month. Now I get around €435 in unemployment benefit and I got a letter from Social Security telling me that I will move onto the lower rate, which is 80% of what I receive now. Now, with the housing madness, the landlord told me that I have until November 2020 to leave.

Lower rate unemployment benefit can be received by those who have already received the full quota of unemployment benefit to which they were entitled, who are still unemployed and registered at the job centre, with an average family unit income of below €278.89 per month, or equivalent to 80% of the Social Support Index (€348.61). Source

I will move to a ground floor that my mother has rented out in Cacém, right next to the haberdashery.

If my pension ends up being small and I have to retire early, I might get a part-time job, anything will do. Even looking after someone, or doing the ironing, I don’t mind. I will do any work, as long as it’s honest. I don’t think about the future, I can’t think about the future. If I start thinking about it… worrying that I can’t pay the bills, then I go into a downward spiral.

Marta had been presented as a successful woman, always busy. On her mother’s invitation, she appears on the second day we meet. Guiomar is beside herself with happiness: “Look who’s here! My daughter took the time to come and see me.” They talk about the little things, family, old times. And they share, at least, one philosophy: to speak as little as possible about problems, downplay them, brush them off before they can take root.

I have a married daughter who has her own house, but there’s no space for me. I don’t have anyone... There’s my daughter, my Marta. We have a good relationship, but very distant, it was always like that, it’s how she is. We see each other at Christmas and Easter. On Saturdays, I call her or she calls me: “Are you OK?, “I’m fine...”
And well, what can I do?

I was the opposite with her to how my mother was with me. One day, Marta said to me: “Don’t stick your oar in my life like you let grandma Deolinda stick her oar in yours.” That was 20 years ago and today I still have never expressed an opinion about her life.

I would like to go back to working in the catering industry. It’s something that I must have been born with. I really like talking, I like interacting with people. It makes me feel whole. But I don’t know if it will happen... I’m nearly 64 years old, it’s hard to get work. Society doesn’t want people of my age behind a bar. They want young people. Employers nowadays think that I’m old, but I don’t feel old.

When we’re working everything is much easier. Working is escaping solitude, and the financial side of it is also important, because we need to survive.
I think that people of my age should have more opportunities, but things are the way they are.
If there isn’t even work for the young, there’s even less for those nearing retirement. The State just ignores us, ignores us!
It doesn’t look our way.

In October, I didn’t go to vote because it’s always the same old story, promises after promises. They don’t support the elderly enough. When the unemployment benefit ends I will have to go and ask for the Social Integration Income, because they will not give me a pension, I missed out on too many years of contributions. People take to the streets, and what happens? Nothing.

This is a Social Security benefit provided to citizens registered at the job centre who are considered to be living in conditions of extreme poverty. The calculation of these amounts varies according to the household. Source

I can’t let myself get down, I shouldn’t. We must be positive. People might be black inside, but on the outside you must keep smiling.

My life is full of problems and phases, but I’ll get over this. At night, I get very down. But I can’t be like this, I can’t cry. I can’t cry. I have to make it. I have to make it. When I turn off the TV and go to bed, I want to forget my past, but I can’t.

I’ve been alone my whole life.

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