It was the cabbages that saved us.
We remember that the goal of this project is to produce a learning tool, about how to squat a river. We want to know how squatting activities increase the sustainable relationship between the river and the communities, economically, socially and environmentally. Our case study is the Jamor River.
At least three phases will be developed: first, making a first contact with the squatters on the banks of Jamor, collecting general information about this community: who they are, what they do, why they do it; the second, to know more closely the squatting activities, through interviews and other forms of data collection; the third, to systematize all the gathered information and to make a small film.
The first phase is completed: we walked down the Jamor river and we met the squatters established along the banks of the river, from its source, in Serra da Carregueira (Sintra), to the mouth, in Cruz Quebrada (Oeiras). We established a first contact: we try to understand who these people are; we introduce ourselves, we present the project. We probe about their openness to participate. We did a mapping of squatter gardens along Jamor. At first, we were almost always received with strangeness (which is not surprising, given the “illegal” nature of squatting practice) – then to be greeted with a smile and in many cases a handful of ripe figs in the hand. We talked a lot about the awkwardness of these places. As if parallel universes they were: near and simultaneously far from the city, outside the time and space of the city, but at the same time in the middle of it. “An island under the city.” Only by being there, with dirty shoes on the clay of the earth, the scent of the field and the sound of the river like background music, almost forgetting the surrounding suburban cement, to know what a strange feeling this is. Almost reminiscent of a surrealistic collage.
On this day we begin the second phase of the project How to Squat a River. Do you remember Mr. Camões, Queluz’s senior squatter de Queluz? He was our first interviewee. The day was rainy, and we feared that, despite the arrangement, he would not appear, but at the appointed hour he was at the door of his small squatter garden. The interview was not held in the garden where we had met him – being the end of the season, the garden had been cleaned, and only had land to show. It was Mr. Camões himself who decided to give the interview in the second vegetable garden that squatter, so he could proudly show the cabbages, lettuces, peppers, piripiris or chuchus that are still there. As the first filmed interview that we collected, to discourage the drizzles that kept falling, the process of assembling the material of image and sound was a little slow, not quickened, somewhat complicated. Despite the waiting time, Mr. Camões never lost his sympathy and desire to talk.
After all set up and the interview properly prepared, everything more than ready to start recording, the batteries failed in the main micro. Ten more minutes for a jump to the nearest fuel pumps to buy new ones. The rain always about to burst. The fear of wetting the material. What saved us were the cabbages to protect the equipment.
More than an hour of interview and lots of precious information for the project. Thank you, Mr. Camões, for the time and patience that has devolved upon us.