Guarda - now & then.


Where are the smiling friendly policemen that we once knew during our time in Lagoa? Well and truly gone, if our recent experiences are anything to go by!

Gone its seems, the days when going shopping in the town or when walking to Lagoa's indoor market, I was often met with a smile and a "Bom dia" from a smart uniformed officer who passed by, swinging a plastic bag containing fresh fish he had just purchased from the market; intended for his evening meal.

Even when we were pulled over for the guarda to examine our papers, which was a regular occurrence, the attitude was so different to that of today. We were always spoken to in a polite manner, which was often accompanied by a friendly smile. In fact I think they actually did get to know us in the end and we accepted that they were just carrying out their work.

On first living in Algarve, it took us quite a while getting used to seeing "armed" policemen, so different looking to the London "Bobby"! But we did get used to it and I'm sure this came about because of their friendlier nature in that period. The police did actually blend more into everyday society and instead of being intimidated by the sight of the guns they carried, it became more a sign of reassurance.

But how different the attitude is now and we had good evidence of this on our recent holiday. In a previous story I told of how we were locked out of our apartment and not having the phone number of our agent with us our first reaction was to go to the local GNR. There was however a look of horror when we suggested this to some local people we knew in Carvoeiro.

This included a man on reception at a hotel, the Portuguese owner of a local B&B and a taxi driver. They all advised us not to go to the police; that we would get no help, they wouldn't speak English (even if they could) and when we spoke of asking the police to go to the apartment to see if they could get us in, our friends faces were even more horrified! Saying "No no, you have no papers or passports with you and you will be under suspicion; they may even think you are trying to break in and you could find yourselves under arrest!"

Well we had no resort but to book into a hotel for the night. But listening to all those words left a nasty taste in the mouth and we were left wondering who people turn to when they are in trouble. From our friends points of view it seemed that all the Guarda were interested now were traffic problems and issuing parking tickets!
This feeling towards the police was further emphasised when we went along to pick up our rented car. We arrived at the office at 9am but it wasn't open and we had to wait half an hour before the lady who ran it arrived to open up. She was very apologetic but had a distinct look of anger on her face, muttering something about the "guarda" beneath her breath. Hub asked was there anything wrong? She replied "The guarda, the police" and continued tut tutting as she sorted out our papers. Hub asked if it was a parking problem and she shook her head furiously saying,
"No no. The police, they are stopping every car on the bridge from Portimao. Searching cars!"

When we asked why?
She continued "The fires have started again in Monchique and they are looking for the people who start it. They are searching for cans of petrol, matches and other fire starting equipment"
We replied that surely that was a good thing, to prevent further fire outbreaks?

She agreed. That wasn't the problem. It was the manner and attitude of the police that had made her angry. She said they were very rude and aggressive and they deliberately frightened people. Her final word was that they were "very bad" people and she advised us that if we were stopped, to do exactly as they asked; not to question them as that could land us in big trouble! When we came away I found myself praying hard that we would not come into any contact with the local guarda.

Once again I found myself reflecting on our time in Lagoa and the many times we were stopped by the guarda and I thought of one particular day.
We were driving back from a job in Silves, having picked up Jamie from school and about to turn off the Silves road into Lagoa when the guarda signalled to us to pull over. When we stopped Hub got out of the car exchanging a friendly "Bom dia" with the officer then bent down to retrieve our papers from the glove compartment. But this time they weren't there!

He was worried that they had been stolen until I remembered that we'd used them for some business purpose and they were still in our apartment.
Well, as friendly and polite as the police were, they still insisted that we produce the documents. I was due to go to my garden job so I couldn't stay, then Jamie suddenly said "Its okay. I'll stay while Dad gets the papers"

I wasn't too keen on this idea but then realised there was no alternative. So leaving young Jamie as a sort of "hostage" Hub then drove me to my work in Porches and then went back to the apartment to fetch our papers. I knew no more until they came to pick me up a couple of hours later. Jamie was smiling all over his face and when I asked how he got on his cheery reply was. "Great. He was a really nice bloke"

Then Hub went on to relate how, when he'd returned to the police car with the papers, Jamie was in deep conversation with one of the guarda. He spoke very good English and was asking Jamie how he was getting on at school and if we liked living in Lagoa. In turn, Jamie was able to tell him that he was learning Portuguese and also all about our carpentry business and my garden job and how we all loved living in Algarve, especially Lagoa.

So, out of what could have been just a "business as usual" routine between ourselves and the guarda, a friendship had been made between our young lad and a local police officer. Jamie had shown interest in their work and had also told them of his dads career in the "Bombeiros", which in turn triggered the policeman's interest and Jamie had come away really pleased and proud that they had invited him to go and have a look at the police station, which in fact he did and afterwards, whenever we saw those 2 policemen, they'd give us a salute with a broad smile and a special wave to our schoolboy son. A nice memory, especially for Jamie.
On our recent holiday, I got to thinking of this episode with the police and Jamie and as I sat there, in Lagoa's park, bathed in glorious sunshine and surrounded by beautiful flower beds a sudden sadness came over me. I was wishing myself back 10 years and wanted things to be as they were then.

In my melancholy mood I left the park bench and went to make a phone call at the callbox on the corner of the park. I fumbled in my bag for the phone card Id recently bought and as I did so my purse dropped onto the ground. I reached down to retrieve it but another hand got there before me and as I straightened up I found myself staring at the dark brown eyes in the face of a pretty young policewoman!

As she handed the purse back to me, I thought of my friends warnings. Of the unfriendly ways that police had now and so I gave her a rather weak "Obrigada" and a rather hesitant smile!

To my complete surprise, she returned my smile, showing a row of gleaming white teeth and then a cheerful reply "de nada"!

Then gave a sort of half salute and hurried on to rejoin her male colleague. Well, I thought. There is at least one friendly face in today's Guarda and I went home with my faith restored just a little bit