Maria Pereira: “Let troubles disappear into the Earth”

Photography : Camille Noyon - Text : Elisabeth Grosdhomme

Maria Pereira was born in Braga, Portugal. Her parents were farmers and she was one among ten siblings.

Her childhood years went away quickly. She began to work on the family farm as early as the age of 11, after having obtained a certificate of primary studies, and therefore, according to the then applicable Portuguese legislation, completed mandatory education.

Her teenage and young adult years were soon eaten up by work. As time went on, Maria dedicated herself to the farm in order to help her aging parents and compensate for the departure of her brothers and sisters to other professional horizons. No time left to think about herself.

Then one day, her older sister, having moved to France in the meantime, asks her to come over. She has just given birth and is looking for someone she can trust to look after her baby so she can go back to work; she cannot afford to pay for a babysitter, is confronted to the usual difficulties in finding a nursery – in short, asks her sister to come and help her out for a few months.

This is how, in 1988, at almost 30, Maria Pereira left Portugal and travelled to France for what she thought would be a short stay.

But things worked out differently. While taking care of her sister’s child, she gets herself hired by a company that lets her do small dispatching tasks at home. Then come other contracts with other families, for childcare or housework. Time goes on. She gets married and has a son of her own. Little by little, her existence puts down roots in France.

At the same time, in 1992, Portugal joins the European Union, and that makes an enormous difference. Maria is no longer a Portuguese immigrant in France, but a European citizen belonging to two nations. If Europe is an abstract notion for many of us, it is a very concrete reality for her: a common currency, the Euro, which facilitates the back-and-forth trips she does in the summertime to visit her family still living in Portugal; voting rights for local and European elections, which Maria thoroughly exercises as she always goes to the voting booth right at opening time on election days.

Her life in France has sometimes been painful, punctuated by a divorce and health issues, but Maria feels she has been decently welcomed, considered with trust by her various employers, treated with equity by the administrative agencies that she had to deal with. She has learned to like our country and feels at home here – except in winter to tell the truth, when the weather becomes cold and damp. She has discovered Mount Saint-Michel and the Lourdes sanctuary with amazement. And now that she has a bit more time to herself, she would like to learn to write in the language that she has acquired “on the go” through simple talk and practice.

The connection between her past and present lives is a communal garden she was allotted by the city of Senlis in 2011, which she looks after with love, reviving the agricultural experience of her youth. She has planted vegetables and flowers, local plants and others that she brought back from her travels to Braga. And above all, when gardening she forgets all her troubles, recalling, as she pulls up weeds, a proverb she was taught by a Spanish neighbour: “Troubles disappear into the Earth”.

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