Some notes on Azorean Flora, Fauna and Insects

Kathleen McCaul Moura

One reason the Azores suits my husband and myself so well is because of its unique flora and fauna. My husband is from Brazil and I am from England. We spent time living in both countries and one of us was always homesick. Here we have what I would never have believed possible, curvy English lanes with green English fields and English cows, amongst Brazilian palm trees, Brazilian heat and rain, Brazilian crickets singing in the thick Brazilian night. It’s as if our bloods have mixed here. And of course, there is the Ocean. Our children are a mistura of Brazilian and English, Irish and Portuguese; faraway places but with the same Atlantic lapping their borders. All their ancestors looked out on the same blue horizon which we now squint our eyes up at. I often wonder if my husband’s family were pirates. He is sunburnt, with a large hooked nose and a long old-fashioned face, the kind of face that could be at sea for months at a time, with business in every port. 

We told ourselves we would stay in the Azores for a year. It was just an experiment, an adventure into nature from which we would return. Then, suddenly, as the time to leave came closer, an old house with a small quinta appeared before us. In this garden were: grape vines, magnolia trees, elderflower bushes, avocado trees, guava trees, nespera trees, pear trees, lime trees, orange trees, fig trees, banana trees, persimmon trees, mango trees and several different kinds of oak. ‘We could be in England, here,’ I whispered to my husband, cradling an acorn in my hand. ‘We could be anywhere,’ he murmured in reply.

Within weeks the house was our home but we soon realised there were many others who had lived there for longer than us. We were not the first and we would not be the last. From the vegetation came all sorts of local visitors. Ants were the first to arrive, streams of them making their way to and from the nooks and crannies of the old basalt floor. They marched into our kid’s room and gave away their secrets, biscuits and fruits hidden under beds suddenly black with the tiny creatures. We bought poison to pour into their little nests. We felt bad about it but we did it anyway. The second set of visitors were black rats. Our new neighbours said we needed cats and we were given two kittens, one orange and one grey, both patterned like tigers. We called them Ginger and Jazz. They don’t like going outside. Not useful as rat catchers but now part of the family. 

Our third lot of visitors, after the ants and the rats, were cockroaches. I have never liked cockroaches but it seems that I have transferred all my pandemic trauma onto two things: Covid tests and cockroaches. When faced with either of these things I utterly lose it. I scream and wail and run away and tears often roll down my cheeks when faced with a Covid test. With cockroaches I mostly just scream and freeze and scream and freeze and scream. I have transferred this behaviour to the children. They do it in Portuguese, screaming BARATAAAAAAAAA, BARATAAAAAAA, BARATAAAAAA. This terror has however allowed us to bond with another of our new neighbours who told us his wife faints when she sees cockroaches. He recommended Biokill. Filipe bought two bottles and squirted it around the whole house and the cockroaches began to turn upside down dead. We are on our sixth bottle and Filipe has even discovered the extra-strength blue version. 

We have now reached a kind of truce with our new friends the insects and my husband has taken to managing this ever-growing plot of land with great enthusiasm. At first I found this strange – he grew up in an apartment in the middle of the heaving Latin American megacity São Paulo. Then, out of the blue, my brother-in-law sends us a stack digital files of old home video tapes he had digitised. He instructs Filipe to only watch when he is feeling OK. They were made by their father who died very tragically. We open them cautiously. It is the first time I have seen my husband’s father properly. All the photos of him have been put away. It is entrancing. There is one particular video where his father sounds very happy. It is a film of the small plot of land the family bought in the grassy hills around São Paulo, on which they built a wooden house. He moves the camera slowly, showing the vegetables he has just planted, the fruit trees that Filipe says are enormous now. A tiny mango tree, another tiny lime tree, just like the ones my husband is now so proud of owning. Perhaps Filipe came from a family of farmers after all, not pirates as I always thought. We watch the film of this far off flora and fauna which seems so much like our new backyard, holding hands, over and over again, until I see a cockroach climbing up the wall and begin to scream. 


Kathleen McCaul Moura is a writer and journalist. She has lived and worked in Baghdad, Kashmir, Delhi, Mumbai, Doha, London and São Paulo and now lives in São Miguel with her four children and her husband. She is the author of two novels and the editor of the acclaimed Megacity anthology. Her non-fiction has appeared in journals such as Granta, The London Review of Books, The Guardian and BBC. She is completing a doctorate from the University of East Anglia in Creative Writing.