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Isabel spends most of her time in Lisbon, in the restaurant "Batata Doce", of which she is the owner, along with her husband, João. A space that she claims to be the extension of her room, because what she really likes is to meet people.

And for that Isabel makes use of two huge assets that were born with her: a contagious smile and an enormous ability to cooking. Enough ingredients to attract customers from all quarters. The menu is varied and crosses the Portuguese gastronomy with the Angolan, birthplace of Isabel.

Before Batata Doce, Isabel was looking after the bars of almost all theaters in Lisbon. For 22  years  she feed many  actors  and actresses from which resulted great friendship that still lasts. Before that Isabel used to cook for families, worked in ready-to-eat shops and hamburguer houses and it was at that time that she met João Castanheira, who used to work as a waiter in a restaurant for which Isabel provided food. They started dating and after two years Joana was born. The second baby arrived two years later,  a  boy called Francisco. In 2021 we turned 27 years old.

As a child, Isabel dreamed of being a ballet dancer and later a nurse  "but one of those who rules" says smiling. Destiny has reserved another future for her but she still loves to dance.

Isabel is very well known in the Lapa neighborhood, more specifically in Rua S. João da Mata, where her restaurant is located. But it's not just for the delicacies that customers go to Batata Doce. It is also because they want to meet protagonist of a long story, with a happy ending. The kind that would result in a movie.

For this, we need to go back  to January 1965. Isabel was 2 years old. There was a period of colonial war with successive clashes between the Portuguese Armed Forces and the forces organized by the liberation movements of the former colonies. This was the context,  in  Angola, where Isabel's life has changed forever.

One day, his Aunt Eve was in the middle of the bush among the grass, hand in hand with her sister Isabel and on his back she carried  the other Isabel,  the "Batata Doce". Suddenly, she heard a noise, and she thought it was a boar. She grabbed a stick to push it away, and then she hears a gunshot. Frightened, she started running and little Isabel "Batata Doce" slides from her back. The Portuguese military still called for her, but suspicious no longer went back.

They immediately reported the scene and took little Isabel to command. Battalion 525 now had a new mission: looking after Isabel to whom they affectionately named she  Batata Doce (sweet potato) because it was her favorite food.

Early times in Portugal

"It was your smile that saved you," said once a military man. In fact, Isabel became the center of attention and a reason for daily conversation. Not only did she brought another joy to the battalion, as she reminded everyone of the importance of the human side in wartime.

 

In this context, there were several who showed a special affection for Isabel, of which standout:  Antonino Araújo, ensign, who met Isabel in the bush and decided to take her with the platoon. Marcelino Teixeira de Carvalho, a militia officer, whose wife, Visitação, and  her  daughter Luisa, 2 years old - the same age as Isabel - accompanied him to Catete's military facility. Luísa and Isabel spent their days together and became best friends.  Until today.

 

Manuel Cândido Ferreira, who handled Isabel’s baths and meals, who always desired to take Isabel with him, one day, back to Portugal.   But it was Manoel Junque ira, battalion commander, and his wife, Margarida,  who anticipated and stayed with the tutelage of little Isabel, soon after the end of the mission in Angola, bringing Batata Doce to the  metropolis. Isabel joined the couple's three children, who soon began school, and the family grew up.

She was always treated as a daughter and properly accompanied during her growth. She lived in an environment of principles, good education and respect for others. From Monday to Friday she was an intern at school but weekends and vacations were spent with the Junqueira family.

From 5 to 12  years old  Isabel  studied at Colégio do Alvor, in Sintra. When she completed the preparatory cycle she moved to a school closer to home, Filhas de Maria Imaculada, in the neighborhood of São Miguel, followed by four more  years of boarding school.

When she was 14, she received the sad news of the death of Margarida Junqueira, her stepmother,  and so she thought about getting independent. She found work in Porto, in the same brotherhood of nuns where she had studied. If at first she had the colonel's  support,  she later lost it as she failed at school. Isabel decided to move to Lisbon where Captain Altinino Gonçalves, a former officer in Angola, not only welcomed her to his home but also got her a job at Portugal Telecom. When her life got steady Isabel went to live with a friend with whom she shared a house. To pay the bills she began to take care of children and the elderly while cooking to supply restaurants. Since then the fondness for cooking never stopped until she had her own restaurant.

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2017: return to Angola

Isabel knew little or nothing about her life. Curious enough, she began to attend the meetings of battalion 525 as well as visiting DN newspaper archives. All because she was told, that in  October 1965, the newspaper had published an article about a little girl that was baptized by the portuguese troops, at the Sameiro Sanctuary in Braga. The research lasted a month, with a happy ending. The article had been found. Towards such finding, quickly the staff from the newspaper talked about the opportunity to tell  this  story. But it wasn't just Isabel who wanted to know about her past and her  family's origin. Angola was also looking  for Batata Doce.

 

In the summer of 2015, Isabel receives a phone call and later the visit of Roberto Paulo, resident  in Angola, but on vacation in Portugal, where he had studied. He was carrying a mission, at the request of Branca Jacinto who asked him to"find the sister taken by the Portuguese 50 years ago". Through a computer search, all the clues led to the Batata Doce, the  restaurant. Happy coincidence, Roberto thought, when he came to confirm that  the owner was the person he was looking for.

The distance between Isabel and the biological family was getting shorter and shorter. It still took 52 years. In 2017,  and after some preparation, specially mental, Isabel decides to return to Angola to recover  the  past,  meet the family and  re-born. She was received in a party atmosphere, among many tears, countless hugs and many stories to hear. Now Isabel feels real complete.

Personality

Isabel owns a positive and contagious energy and never forgets the enormous  self-esteem  she often cultivates.  Every day she looks at the mirror and says "I like me a lot”. She always focus on good things and usually exceeds adversity. She never gives up, she never swerves from her dreams.  In line with humility that characterizes her, Isabel has the ambition to reach the end of the month with money enough to pay the bills and live with dignity.

She gives great importance to good education and respect for others. She forgives easily and is always letting go of grudges and bitterness. "Life is in charge of doing justice." She makes friends very easy and remembers that "I am in this world to make people happy".

With a troubled life and away from the family, she says that luck has always been with her and continues so, but "the most important is the merit, because luck we do not know when will it come". Part of the merit owes it to the host family, the Junqueira family, from whom she received the greatest heritage: education,  love and  affection.

To the younger ones Isabel gives an advice: "never give up on your dreams."

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Images from Isabel and Rui Oliveira / JN e DN archives