Sunday, December 30, 2007

Towards Mocha

Here is a view of the vally (two rieberas over from mine) that leads up towards Mocha.

Cow Boy


Here is a soccer field I found out in themiddle of nowhere. And I mean Nowhere.

View from the Cliff

So this is the cliff I thought the driver was going to get thrown off of. (See story below)

Gano e Sab, e Sab pa Gano!

So I had a uniquely Cape verdian experience yesterday and I thought I’d share it with you.

The Chan di Igreja soccer team has been doing well. They’ve won all their local matches against the surrounding micro-communities, and yesterday they had a game in Ponto do Sol, which is about an hour and half away, and the equivalent of a county seat for this part of the island. I asked if I could come along to watch and take some team pictures, and was told of course, that there would be room for me in the bus that was taking the players.

As instructed, as I was waiting in the plaza at midday, and sure enough the bus showed up right on time. It’s sort of a Toyota version of a school bus meant to hold 30 people (I counted the seats later that day). There are 26 players on the team, plus the “coach” (who’s job it is to make sure everyone is sober), the “equipment manager” (who’s job it is to carry the soccer ball) and one “ball boy” (who’s job it is to fetch that ball when it’s kicked out of play). There were also, unfortunately, about 50 other people from town that were expecting to go as well. Apparently all of us were assured a place on the bus.

Naturally I assumed that I, as a town celebrity and designated team photographer, would get the remaining seat on the bus, and so I got on amongst the players and waited for the coach to explain the situation to everyone else. But then everyone else got on anyway. In a feat that would have made fraternity brothers and circus clowns everywhere stare in amazement, we managed to get 73 people on board (I counted when we got off). We had 74, but no matter what feats of human contortion were attempted, we couldn’t manage to get the door of the bus closed, so one poor soul was left at home.

I was “seated” in the middle of the second row between Nany and Pedro, although seated isn’t exactly the right word, as my left thigh was draped over Nany’s right leg, and Pedro’s left shoulder was lodged under my right armpit. My right knee was nestled snuggly in the crotch of some kid from Cruzinha, who was in front of us and seated backwards on the lap pf another guy. Quarters were, to say the least, cramped, and I quickly lost feeling in my outer extremities.

Nevertheless, we left promptly at 12:15 for a 2:00 game in a town and hour away, WAY ahead of schedule for Cape Verde. And a good thing too. Thirty minutes out of Chan and half-way up the mountain, some sputtering and choking noises from the bus, and we’d run out of gas. Dead silence in the van, and then from the very back “Ami n’acredita.” (You’ve got to be shitting me.) There are exactly 2 gas stations on this island, one on the South side in Porto Novo, and another one on this side of the island, and we weren’t very close to either one of them.

Everyone dismounted (a tricky process that took about 10 minutes) to complain and bitch and argue and threaten the driver with his life, but eventually cooler heads prevailed and we began to think of solutions. Mine was to send someone down the mountain to Chan di Igreja to send some hiaces to take the players to the game, and the rest of us non-essential personnel could wait with the bus. My suggestion was accepted and improved upon by requisitioning a bike to speed the descent. We also tried pushing the bus, as we could coast all the way to Provencao if we could just make the summit. For the first few minutes we actually made a little progress (10 metres), despite the obscenely steep grade, until one of the players pointed out that they’d all be too tired to play if we were to continue in the manner. Eventually a different solution presented itself, when a truck carrying rocks came by and someone convinced the driver to let us cyphen off a litre water bottle of his gas. A hose was procured from god knows where, and that operation was completed quickly, and everyone piled on to the bus again. But it wouldn’t start. Now blood pressure and tempers were rising and I thought surely the driver would be thrown off the side of the cliff that we happened to be stopped at, until the hiaces from Chan di Igreja arrived, the bicycle messenger sitting proudly in the lead vehicle, his face damp with sweat. Another dismount from the stalled bus, more quickly this time, and the essential personnel were on their way to Ponto do Sol at 1:20…cutting it close but certainly manageable.

I waited with bus and watched as the driver crawled beneath it and massaged the fuel line for about 5 minutes, which worked, as the bus was up and running minutes later. In the end, the huge bus, previously packed with 73 souls, arrived in Ponto do Sol (after stopping in Provencao to fill the tank completely) carrying only me and the ball boy, and an old lady that we stopped to pick up along the way. We arrived in time to see most of the first half, including the only goal of the game, a deftly turned corner kick from the foot of Chan di Igreja’s best player Nany.

The victorious bus ride home was a raucous affair with singing and chanting “Gano e sab, e sab pa gano!” (Winning is Good, Its good to Win!) and very loud zook music. Any awkward moments of silence were filled when someone would yell to the driver “Oi mos, no’ten bastant combustivel pa volta? (Hey asshole, do we have enough gas to get home?) and the whole bus would break out with laughter. (This joke never got old.) Upon arrival in Chan di Igreja, the horn was sounded, the zook turned up to ear splitting levels, and all the players were singing and clapping to let the town know we’d won. Given the cramped conditions (we were all being slapped about the head and shoulders when the clapping commenced) I’d have thought everyone anxious to get out, but we actually drove around in circles in Chan di Igreja for about 15minutes (honking and singing and clapping and chanting all the while) until everyone in town was out on the street waving and clapping along. Then we drove all the way to Cruzinha and did the same thing there. Thirty minutes later we had turned around and arrived in Chan di Igreja, and I think we were about to faze folta (drive around in circles) again until someone let flee a monstrous and insufferable fart that had people yelling and threatening death to the dealer, the putrid smell so bad that we were eventually literally crawling out the windows of the vehicle. Really an epic fart.

Then last night we all sat in the plaza and people drank and laughed (someone even bought the bus driver a beer) and relived the more exciting moments of the game. Eventually the conversation turned to our strategy for next week’s opponent. I think people must have been tired because the plaza was cleared out and quiet by 9pm.

So that was my day yesterday. I hope everyone at home is well and having a happy holiday season.

Celso on Penalty Kick

Valter (During the Game)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Gisela and Tianara

Beni and Tianara

Gisela with her Christmas Hair

Its a Kriolu Christmas

So it’s Christmas Day in Chan di Igreja and Vida e Sabi (Life is Good). Although it was about 90 degrees here today, the town is all decked out with blinking lights and colored banners, and Boas Festas music is playing in the plaza, and it feels like Christmas. Sorta. Last night I went to misa (mass) in the igreja (church) with Beni and her family (I got to ring the church bell!!!!), and when that was over we all (Me, Beni, Gisela, Lalino, Nelinda, Suzi) went to her house to eat dinner of delicious chicken and rice and beans and salad. Later we opened prendas (presents), drank some paunche de coco (sorta like egg-nog), and sat around and talked until about 1am, when the town festa (party and dance) started.

The festa was 1700$00 to get in (that’s a hell of a lot) but included all the food and drink you could handle. There were pastels and paunche and little coconut morsels and a million other little treats. Benvinda was looking spektakulo (spectacular) in her very tiny black dress and her hair all pentiad (sort of like Jamaican corn-rows, except the braids are made into designs…REALLY pretty). She was very definitely the Bell of the Ball, and all of the guys in town were coming up and telling me bo tava t’ranga muit dret (in this context it means “you picked a good one”) and I was feeling like the King of Chan di Igreja. Anyway, we danced together a few times but ainda mi n’e nada’d dret (I’m not very good yet) so I turned her loose on the dance floor and went to sit with the rest of the old folks, where we talked the night away. We were all drinking caiperinhas (the Cape Verdian version of a mojito) so everyone was prop fuska (real drunk) pretty quick. Thank goodness the party didn’t start until 1am (it is the custom in Cape Verde to start everything REAL late) or I’da been in real trouble. Anyway, at some point Beni tava’t panya’m (came and got me) and said it was time to go home.

Christmas morning it was back to misa (me in the exact same clothes since I have exactly one “nice outfit” here), then someone killed a pig and roasted it for lunch. Everyone was walking around town visiting and chatting for most of the day, and Beni and Gisela came over to take some Christmas pictures. Later I was informed that we would make a pizza for Christmas dinner. They started making the crust and mandad (sent) me to Cruzinha to panya polvo (catch an octopus) which, to my horror, was to be cooked and used as a pizza topping. I protested until Benvinda pointed out that one day years from now (or today, for that matter), when I’m back in the States, I’d be able to brag to my friends that one Christmas day I jumped in the ocean half a world away, caught and killed an octopus, and put it on a pizza. Me Tarzan, You Benvinda! Unfortunately, I won’t be able to tell that story, as mar foi brop (the sea was wild). The waves were huge and crashing (I could hear them long before I arrived at the water’s edge) and I felt certain that this would be the death of me. I sat staring at the crazy waves for about 20 minutes, trying to talk myself into jumping in and going octopus hunting (If Tarzan were here, he’d do it! Don’t be such a wuss!) but remained unconvinced. Not wanting to disappoint, I did what any clear thinking American would do…I bought some from a fisherman in Cruzinha. In the end, I am unable to assure you all that pineapple and sautéed octopus does in fact make for a delicious pizza, as Beni and Gisela got tired of waiting for me and made a sausage and pineapple pizza instead. Superb. After dinner we drank a bottle of wine, took some pictures and watched Shrek (Shrek keeps his Scottish accent even when he speaks in Portuguese by the way) for the 12th time this month. Nice day. Tomorrow I’ll sit in traffic, fight the crowds at the mall and look for good deals on unsold Christmas lights and neck ties. (ha!)

So, I hope everyone back in the States had a great holiday and was able to spend time with their friends and family. My thanks to everyone that called…despite my makeshift family here in Cape Verde, m tava’k sodade (I was missing you all) and you made a great day even better. Boas Festas, Feliz Natal.




Me Tarzan, You Beni!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Chan di Igreja Cemetary

So when you die here, you can pay to be buried, but only for 7 years. After that, you either have to rent the plot every year, or someone else can get buried on top of you. I'm sure you can tell from the photo which ones will be renting and which ones are fine with the 7 years.

The Road to Cruzinha


So for those of that were concerned after not hearing from me in a while (both of you), I just wanted to write and let you know I’m alive and well.

I just returned to Chan di Igreja from a week of Peace Corps training on the island of Santiago. The training was interesting, with a lot of theory (3 or 4 days) on international development work and then a day full of more practical information, such as project development, proposal writing, and sources for possible funding. We also voted on Peer Support members (like a counselor for volunteers), Volunteer Action Committee Members (a liaison between the volunteers and the staff), had a Safety and Security session, and listened to a Dr. tell us about all the terrible things that can befall us if we don’t take good care of ourselves. All in all, pretty good. The crappy part was the expense, timing, location, food and weather. We were at a half-way finished hotel up on top of a mountain and it was “prop frio.” (Friggin’ Cold.) I’ve got pretty much nothing in the way of warm clothes and I really could have used them this week. As far as meals went, we had no options except what the hotel served, and that at a very pretty penny. I spent more on food last week than I did all last month. Also, the timing couldn’t have been worse. Not only did they not schedule any time during the training to see our host families again, but Christmas break started last week so all of the kids were out of school (and thus it would have been a great week to be in our villages) and the teachers in our group were rushed to get grades turned it etc., and of course, Holiday Travel is a pain in the ass everywhere, even Cape Verde. Boats and flights were all full or delayed, hotels booked, prices higher than normal, blah blah blah. Everyone seems to have made it back in one piece, even the 2 volunteers from Sao Nicolau, who got to take a 12 hour boat trip back to their island.

A word about the boats here. They are not the hulking, steady, well-maintained ferries that you can find in Seattle and other parts in the Pacific Northwest, nor are they the shabby little car ferries that tote people back and forth to Port Aransas. These are a poor mix of the two, with room for perhaps 250 passengers on an open deck up top, and a dozen cars below. The guide books for Cape Verde recommend taking boats as transportation only in cases of “extreme emergency,” as they are “neither safe nor reliable.” Outstanding. It’s REALLY windy this time of year, and these broad-sided bastards pitch and toss and lurch and sway in a way that makes Cape Verdians….well…vomit. A lot. For an island people, Cape Verdians are amazingly unaccustomed to sea travel. When you step on to the boat, the first thing that happens is a guy gives you a little plastic baggy to put your barf in. Everyone takes one…many ask for a couple extras. Many of the Cape Verdians feel ill immediately after stepping foot on the boat…breathing deeply into their plastic baggies, eyes closed, their faces a portrait of pure dread. Sure enough, minutes after departing the port, the boat starts squirming, and (in the case of my trip from Mindelo to Porto Novo yesterday) once you broach the harbor and make it out into the channel (where the wind was actually howling) 200 or so people, almost simultaneously, begin to wretch and heave and fill their plastic baggies. Some try to spew over the side, but then there’s the wind, so a lot of it ends up on the shoes. Some just throw up right their on the floor in front of them. (The deck has been astro-turfed, to enable easy cleaning.) Babies cry, children wail, old people moan and swoon. Mothers struggle to contain their own their own puke and that of their kids. The guy with the baggies is very busy. It goes on like this for the pretty much al of the 50 minutes or so that it takes to arrive in Porto Novo. The line to get off the boat forms about 15 minutes before the ride is actually over. It was a spectacle like I’ve never seen before. I’m not sure the cause of it either. I am less accustomed to sea travel than people from my island (I think most Santo Antaoians probably take that boat several times a year), but I didn’t ever feel even the least bit queasy, nor did any of the other tourists that I saw on the boat yesterday. Anyway, I can’t imagine what the 12 hour trip to Sao Nicolau was like, but I certainly don’t envy the 2 volunteers who took that trip.

Hmm…what else? Not much. I talked on the phone to Benvinda (I call her Benny though and will refer to her as such from now on) pretty much every night while I was away and it was good to see her yesterday. She came over right after I got home and brought some rice and beans to east for lunch. Apparently the power was out for quite a while during my trip, because the food in my fridge all turned to soup and sludge, and she and I spent the better part of yesterday trying to clean it out. Everyone else in town is asking me if I’ve graded their tests yet (I have) and if they did well enough to get a diploma (they did). The entire town is totally decked out with Christmas lights and they’re playing holiday music in the plaza, and although I’ll miss my family terribly on Christmas, I’m glad to be “back home” in Chan di Igreja. I did some Christmas shopping in Mindelo and Praia and have a few things for my friends (a blouse for Benvinda, some crayons for her little sister Nelinda and tea for their mom, a journal for Gisella, bottles of wine for the guys, and a matchbox car for Djonny Jr.). There are “big parties” in Chan di Igreja on the 24th, so I’ll go to those for Christmas Eve. I have plans to go swimming in Cruzinha on Christmas morning with some of the kids from my English class, and then I’ll walk back home and spend the rest of the day with Benny and her family. She’s told me that I need to bring my one good shirt over so that she can iron it before we go to church, which I am NOT looking forward to. Anyway, that’s what the next few days look like. Then Benny and I will go to Mindelo for New Year’s Eve (she said that she gets sick on the boat like everyone else). Looking forward to the next week or so!

Tomorrow I’ll tell you all about the annual meeting that my association had this morning. I’m still reeling from it actually, or I’d tell you right now. I love the people in the agencia (association) and I know that they mean well and have Chan di Igreja’s best interests at heart, but it’s as if they’ve actually taken colleges courses in procrastination, tardiness, inefficiency, and ways to minimize their time. Imagine everything you ever learned (and have probably forgotten) in a government or civics class. Ok…got it in your head? Now imagine the exact opposite, and you’ll still have no idea of what I’m talking about. Anyway, I’ll save that for tomorrow.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Gisella, Suzy and Tiynara

My School

So this is where I teach my classes, and also where I go to my Portuguese classes with the 6th graders. I'm on the top left there, and get to ring that bell three times a day. Sweet.


Here is a pic from up along the lavada. This is the ENTIRE town.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

You know what the Sun's all about...

You know what the sun’s all about…

when the lights go out.

So we’ve had some power supply problems, to say the least, here in Chan di Igreja (and all the rest of Santo Antao. Beginning early last week, we lost power during the daylight hours. (Up until then I’d enjoyed power 24-7.) I asked and was informed that all the electricity on Santo Antao is provided by two smoking and ancient diesel powered generators in Provencao. (Environmentalists feel free to cringe.) Anyway, apparently there was a delay in the latest shipment of diesel fuel, and so Electra, the (one and only) power company in Cape Verde was rationing the electricity for the island, doling it out in 8 hour dollops to the various villages. I had to cancel my classes on Thursday and Friday of last week after Chan di Igreja ran out of candles. I was assured that it wouldn’t be more than a day or two before normal power was restored.

Then it got worse. We went from having power only at night time, to only having power (quite inconveniently) from 2AM to 8AM. I asked and was informed that there was a problem with the “motor” (generator) in Provencao. Apparently, having gotten a rest, the machine decided it liked sleeping a lot better than working, and it couldn’t be coaxed into action again. I was assured that “teknikos” (technicians) were on the way from Praia (only a few islands over) to look into the matter. Surely the idea that someone qualified to operate and repair generators that supply power to an entire island and its residents would actually be stationed on that island, is too ridiculous to consider.

Then it got worse. Now, in its infinite wisdom, Electra has decided to “randomize” power to the villages. (I should note that after Cape Verde gained its Independence in 1975, one of the first orders of the new government was to privatize the previously (poorly run) telephone and electric operations. CVTelecom, the county’s only telecommunications provider, quickly invested in Broadband Internet, and made improvements to existing lines and constructed cell towers on every hillside. As a result, there is at least one (albeit sketchy) internet connection in every village, cell phone reception in nearly 100% on all the islands, and the pre-paid cards you buy to use your “movil” (cell phone) can be purchased just about anywhere. By all accounts, CVTelecom is a Cape Verdian success story. Electra, on the other hand, raised the rates for electricity, made no improvements to the infrastructure, and has no plans to do so, according to my (very smug) local Electra representative. If anything, electrical service has gotten worse since 1975. Basically, Electra sucks.) But where was I? Oh yeah…This means that we get, using today for instance, 2 hours of power spread out in 10 to 20 minute intervals, completely at random. (I picture an evil and happy old man, sitting at the controls of the generator, flipping switches on and off…Now you’ve got it, now you don’t. Now you’ve got it, now you don’t. I heard, several times today “Luz bem! Bo podi danos aula!” (The power’s back on! You can give class!), only to be followed, shortly thereafter, by “Luz jda bai! Nos ten aula oje?” (The power’s gone already! Are we having class today?).

Anyway, there is, believe it or not, an upside to all of this. The stars. Out here in the middle of the ocean, with, literally not one electric light burning for over a hundred miles, it is Dark. Real dark. Unbelievably dark. Ridiculously dark really. In Chan di Igreja they call it “obskuro mut fundo” (Very Deep Dark) With no moon this week, you can’t see your own hand 2 inches in front of your face. (Or, I can assure you, the crotch-level door knobs that they are so fond of here in this country.) Anyway, about the stars…they’re glorious. More than I ever imagined there could be…Like you could lie down in a bed of them. The night sky here looks like it’s had a gauze blanket draped across it. The Milky Way seems to stretch right across the top of my house (although I’m sure that’s an egocentric view) and out into the ocean. I’ve seen Mars every night this week, an impossible amber beacon just atop the mountain to the West of me, like a red needle in a shimmering white haystack. And shooting stars too. Lay down on my roof and look up, and you’ll not wait two minutes before you’re pointing at a streak of light, hollering “Bo tava t’oja-l? Bo tava t’oja-L?” (Did you see that one? Did you see THAT one?) *Yes, Benvinda thinks I’m a total nerd. The first night I thought we must have been in the midst of an epic meteor shower, but as the lightless nights have worn on, and the stars have continued to fall, I’ve grown certain that this is the norm, we just can’t see them at home. Dozens and dozens of them in an hour…some of them trailing across the sky for two or three seconds. Its…well, its beautiful. Just…beautiful really.


The title of this entry was stolen from my favorite Black Keys song. Also, please forgive the use of the parenthetical within the parenthetical, and various other grammatical irregularities that always gave Mrs. Williams, my amazing 12th grade English teacher, apoplectic fits.

Friday, December 7, 2007


So here is a picture of Jaicy. She would, without a doubt, be the next American Idol...if Cape Verdians were allowed to compete. She's one of my best students, can sing, dance, tell jokes (that I never understand) and is a total knock-out to boot.

Me and Leo

So I've been spending so much time with Leo that he's starting to think I'm his Dad. (He doesn't really think that obviously, but he likes to tell people I am.) Anyway, I've been walking him to school in the mornings (his mom, Gisella has the new-born so it's hard for her to do it, and plus I love it)and when we get there he yells "Oi Patch!! (a nickname he himself thought of when he learned my "real" name is Patrick) Bo n'ti te be sh'k'sem depois di aulas? (You aren't going to forget me after school?)


So in this photo you can see the lavada that runs along the side of the mountain here in Chan di Igreja. Once every 2 or 4 days, they open a valve up on top of the mountain in Garza, and the water flows down through the lavada. Along the way, there are valve-like openings to let the water fall off into the cane fields or the tanks...for those people who have invested in such things. Anyway, you can see that the system works well for those that can afford it. The cane here is 8 or 10 feet tall in many places.


So this is an example of some of the work that my Associacao has done. They constructed a huge dike and "caminho de agua" (water road)to catch the run-off from the mountain and corrall it into some tanks near the bottom of the hill. Now if only it would rain....

My Address

So a few people back home had the care packages they had sent me returned to them this week...which is REALLY depressing. I went to the post office yesterday to try to get some info, but the guy there was not very helpful. I asked him if it was possible that the VIA PORTUGAL part was causing trouble and he said "yes it is possible." I asked him if he was the same guy that suggested putting VIA PORTUGAL on packages in the first place, and he said "yes it is possible." I asked him if he thought the packages would get here if people took off the VIA PORTUGAL part and he guessed it, "yes it possible."

Cousin Patti did some investigating with the Cape Verdian Embassy (Who knew there was such a thing?)and apparently they got a little huffy about the VIA PORTUGAL thing and insisted that packaged will get here just fine without that little extra bit of indo. Anyway, I'm not sure why several packages made it here just fine with the VIA PORTUGAL part on it, and why all of the other volunteers have no trouble receiving their care packages, but if anyone is brave enough to try to send me something (PLEASE PLEASE!!!) here is my address, without the VIA PORTUGAL.

Caley McCormick
Cha de Igreja
Frequsia de S.P. Apostolo
Ribeira Grande
Santo Antao
Cape Verde

Thanks again to anyone sending things. I'm going to be starting a School supply drive after the new year (they have NOTHING at the school here as far as school suppl goes), so if anyone is in SAMS or WALMART feel free to pick up a box of pens or pencils or erasers or small notebooks.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Benfica vs. Portugal

Benfica vs. Portugal

So last night, Portugal’s 2 biggest soccer teams played each other, which in itself would be enough to cause pandemonium here, but the fact that it happened to fall on World’s AIDS Day (which is a MUCH bigger deal here than in the states) only served to increase the vibe around the game and, basically, people got very, very drunk and went ape-shit. It was the Super Bowl. It was also the Kentucky Derby, Daytona 500, Boston Marathon, Tour de France, Colts/Patriots, Lakers/Celtics, Sampras/Agassi, Longhorns/Aggies, Yankees/Red Sox, Kasparov/Fischer, Bush/Gore…you get the picture. Futbol (soccer) is the only sport that anyone plays in Cape Verde, but they have, obviously, no official or professional teams of their own, so the population has adopted the Portugal teams as their own. It is important to understand that EVERYONE in Cape Verde follows one, passionately, with an undying love, one of these two teams.

On one side there are the red-jerseyed jugadors (players) from Benfica, and their fans. For people who understand (American) football, you can think of them like the Chicago Bears of the mid 80’s. They are well-coached, crafty, tough, bleeding veterans that play good defense, and are known to sneak in a few cheap shots when the ref isn’t looking. To Benficans, David Beckham is a sissy little bitch. In years past, Benfica was a powerhouse in the European Champion’s League.

On the other side you have the blue-shirted ballers of Portugal (Port as its known here) and their fans. These, you can think of like the St. Louis Rams (when they had Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce and were the Greatest Show on Turf). They are fast, young, flashy, and love to talk-trash. They haven’t won a Champion’s League yet, but their star is definitely on the rise. They all cut their hair like David Beckham.

Sports fans will recognize that this is the standard script for every great game in history, regardless of the sport, much as it is the basis for many great movies and books. Fans of Port were billing this is they day that the lumbering, rusty Benfica would finally be toppled, a new, “blue” dynasty to begin. Benficans were salivating at the chance to put the impudent whelps of Port in their place. All day yesterday people were dressed in blue or red. Those that could afford a replica jersey (just like in the states, officially licensed merchandise is ridiculously expensive here) wore them with pride. Chants of “Fica, Fica!” or “Port, Port, Port!” rang through the village all day long. People were drinking very early in the day. The game was to start around 7, and on TV, ads and promos were running all day long. To add to the buzz in the air, it was actually (relatively) cold here yesterday and last night, with temps in the mid-sixties after the sun went down. They put the game on the television in the plaza in Chan di Igreja and people had sweaters and windbreakers and jackets on for the first time in a year.

Benvinda and I watched the game at Gisella’s house. I made popcorn and French fries, Benvinda made a “salad,” and Gisella made the booze. Like the Super Bowl, there were hours of pre-game coverage, and a lot of World AIDS Day tie-ins. Portuguese Sport TV has copied, exactly, everything from ESPN and so there are lots and lots of graphics and talking heads and panel discussions and shots of crazy drunken fans at the stadium. The game started promptly at 6:45PM.

Gisella and Benvinda are, without question, die hard Benfica fans. They even have jerseys. Under normal circumstances, so would I have been. But where’s the fun if everyone at a Super Bowl party is rooting for the same team, so, just to be ornery, I told them I was for Port. Trash-talking, bragging and bad-mouthing ensued. To add to the fun, I wagered the washing of a week’s worth of dirty laundry on the game, and they readily accepted.

Within the first 10 minutes of the game, there was blood. One of the Port players, wanting to prove they weren’t afraid of anyone, slide-tackled one of the Benficans from behind. Caught unaware, his head hit the ground hard and ended up colliding with the cleat of the Port player, cutting his lip. He was rushed off, stitched-up and returned later. The crowds were chanting. Yellow cards started flying. Then, about half-way through the first half, Port got a good look down the right side and one of their guys was moving with the ball, coming right at the goal with one defenseman and the goalkeeper in front of him, and another on his heels. Just outside the penalty box, the chasing defender caught-up.

Even given my marginal knowledge of soccer, I understood that the goal was exquisite. The Port guy, in true Port fashion, put some sort of wicked juke on the defender in front of him; just a stutter step and a twitch of the shoulders, and the poor bastard ran right out of the picture. It’ll be replayed on the highlight reels for a month. Three more steps and then the Port player, with an effortless-looking flick of his foot, sent the ball, not rocketing, but slowly floating on a trajectory such that it sailed magically over the legs of the 2nd sliding defender, and just millimeters beyond the reach of the diving goalkeeper, to find its home in the upper corner of the net. It was the only goal of the game. Port fans sang, and drank, well into the morning hours.

Needless to say I’m very happy to not have to do laundry for a week. (This is clearly one of those bets that you never intend to live up to should you lose, but one which you’ll certainly insist be fulfilled should you win.) Anyway. It was really a lot of fun to experience a popular sporting event like this over here. Sports and rivalries are definitely some of the things that transcend cultural boundaries, things to which anyone can relate.


Friday, November 30, 2007


This is up the riberia abut 20 minutes walk from my village. It may give you a better sense of the terrain here.


Here is a place that has invested the time and money ( a lot of it) in drip irrigation techniques. As you can see, it is an oasis in the desert.

I am Gods Gift to ESL Teachers

I am God’s gift to ESL Teachers

But not really. But sometimes I feel like am. Iºm writing in a moment of exaltation, so please allow me to pat myself on the back for a minute…

After sign-up for English classes, there was a total of 38 people interested. Fine with me. Good start. After the first week of English classes, there were 62. Wow! Word had gotten around that my classes were, and I quote, “fun and interesting and people were actually learning.” Tourists passing through town are stopping at my house and telling me that people are walking up to them and asking how they are and what are their names and where do they come from. When they ask them where they learned their English, they tell them...Teacher Caley! That weekend (sign up was officially closed at that point), after the second week of classes, I was more or less inundated by people requesting to be let in to the class late. They were promising to come to every class, never be late, take good notes, work extra hard to catch up. Against the advice of my Association’s president, I accepted everyone, and set up a full-day “seminar” to catch everyone up on hat they had missed. Everyone showed up, everyone paid attention, everyone took notes, everyone asked question. I’ve now got 112 students in four classes from 5 to 9 at night, covering the entire spectrum of ages (8 to 49) and experience (some have never heard a word, others have been studyinh it in school for 5 or six years), and we’re really making progress.

We started with simple “Good evening. Good evening. Hi my name is _____. What is your name? My name is _____. Pleased to meet you. Nice to meet you too. How are you? I am fine. And you? I’m well, thanks. Ok, good night. See you later.” Later, I taught them “from”, numbers, ordinals, days and months, and we added “How old are you? I am 32. And you? I am 26. Where are you from? I am from Cape Verde. And you? I am from America.” Then, “When is your birthday? My birthday is ______. And you? My birthday is ______. Then we drew smiley faces and blank faces and sad faces and learned some vocabulary like fine, sad, ok, well, so-so, sick, tired, happy, terrific, and then we learned Why and Because and then they started asking each other “Why are you sad?” Then we added more vocabulary and introduced the verb “to be” and What, Where, Who, When, Why and How, “to like,” “to want” and “to be able to” and augmented our vocabulary and introduced some prepositions so we can talk about locations of things. We sing the alphabet song every day at the end of class, we translate the music of (the much beloved in Cape Verde) Brian Adams because they can all sing the words even though they don’t know what they mean. (NOTE to future ESL teachers, be prepared to explain alternate significance of the number 69 if you translate the song “Summer of 69.” They WILL ask.) Thursday is FUN day. I read some poetry to prove the English language can be beautiful (I recommend Nothing Gold Can Stay for a great example) and then I read something from a book of Kriolu poetry I found used on of all places. They’ve never seen their own language in print or writing (Kriolu is, as of now, only a spoken language…there is no official alphabet, no spelling or pronunciation rules yet) and they are pretty much moved to tears to see it printed in an actual hard-bound book. Its like an original version f the King James Bible to them. Although I don’t speak it (Kriolu) well yet, I know more about it, grammatically, linguistically and phonetically than they do, and they CRAVE information about it. Then (on Thursdays) we have games and competitions (What is the third letter of the alphabet? What day was yesterday? How do you change the sentence “They are from France.” into a question? How do you pronounce the number 1,873? For real laughs, I ask them to pronounce the number 3,333 because they are, as yet, incapable of making the “th” sound. They say Tree Tousand Tree Hundid Turdy Tree.) During these exercises I give away some or all of loot I have received from home. Starbursts are, as far as my students are concerned, absolutely the greatest invention in the history of mankind. (SOMEONE SEND ME SOME MORE!!!!) Attendance was 100%. There were kids peering in the windows of the school, people lined up outside my classroom 15 minutes before class in a country where people regularly show up 2 hours late for work or church or anything else you can think of. Twice, after losing power in town, I tried to cancel class and was met woth outrage and forced to give classes by candlelight. Friday is movie night, where I make pots and pots of pipoka (popcorn, which is REAL cheap to make) and show a film from America (hopefully with Portuguese subtitles) and explain in Kriolu parts that they don’t understand. They LOVE movie night, and watch (at least in the case of the new Transformers movie) with mouths agape…like kids inside Toys R’ Us for the first time.

Than last week a setback. Attendance plummeted. The people that did make it to class were looking at their watches, even though they donºt have watches. Even my Golden Ace in the Hole, the undefeatable music of Michael Bolton, also insanely, perversely popular here, failed miserably. Someone actually got up and left in the middle of the class that night. I was devastated. Finally I asked Jailson, the coolest kid in town, why people were dropping out. He explained that it was only for the next couple of days, as the European Champions League (soccer) was having its final matches during class hours. This is essentially a 5 day Super Bowl that oly the biggest nerds in town would miss out on. I cancelled classes for the last 2 days and yesterday, my classroom was full again. Today, to regenerate interest, I conducted a village-wide scavenger hunt. This afternoon, I pasted letters in hidden spots all around Chan di Igreja, and then in class I taught them prepositional phrases (behind the church, under the stairs, on the side of the tree, behind the door, under you chair). Then I gave them a list of clues to find the jumbled letters. They had to run all over creation, finding the letters according to the clues and unscramble them to make the sentence “Hello, how are you?” The winners from each class got to pick from a bag of goodies (Everyone chose Juicy Fruit, or Choosey Foot as its known here). They went absolutely bat-shit crazy for it. I was given several hugs tonight.

Then, just minutes ago, at almost midnight here, I went on to the roof to have a cigarette. (First one in 3 days Mom!) While up there, I heard a conversation from a thatch-roofed house below. Know what I heard? People Practicing. “Good evening. Good evening. Hello, my name is Jandira. What is your name? My name is Jaicy. Pleased to meet you. Nice to meet you too. How are you? I am fine.” Etc. Etc. Etc. They even improvised the dialogue we’ve been practicing by adding separate elements that we’ve been working on. (I heard Jandira ask and Jaicy reply, almost correctly, “What is your mother name? My mother name is Fatinha.”) I’ll admit that I cried and laughed a little bit and felt a swell of love and pride. My students. (After hearing that conversation, I’ve resolved to teach the possessive case “ ‘s “ as soon as possible.)

Anyway, it’s only been a month of classes so far and I know we’ve got a long way to go, but I’m encouraged and excited and challenged in earnest each day. Imagine teaching, while speaking in a language you barely understand, why you can say “The circle is in front of the square.” But you have to say “He is at the front of the line.” (It’s the little things, like the “th” sound, or “at the front of “ vs. “in front of,” or explaining why we use about a dozen words where in Kriolu they may use only one (over here para means, through, at, for, into, through, stop and a few dozen over things), or how in the HELL can we not have the English equivalents of the words “boquat” or “brop,” which they use in every other sentence. (The closest thing I can think of is “some” and “wild”, respectively, but they don’t mean exactly that either.)

Point of all this is, I’m having a hell of a time, and a hell of a good time, with this teaching English business, and couldn’t be happier about my experience so far. I come home at night exhausted and hoarse and covered in chalk dust…and I LOVE it. If anyone is tinkering with the idea of teaching ANYTHING, I vote that you give it a try. There’s nothing like it that I’ve known.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Some Differences

Some Differences

So, they don’t have lines here. They pretty much don’t exist in any form. At the market, the post office, the bank or the bar…they just crowd. It’s totally acceptable, and totally maddening. You might be at the loja with bottled water and 100$00 CVE in your hand waiting patiently behind the person in front of you, and when they finish in front of you, you’ll step up to the counter and someone from out of nowhere will sidle up next to you with their eggs or whatever and hand over their money. The cutter won’t think its weird, the person behind the counter won’t think its weird, the people behind you won’t even think its weird. Only you will think it’s weird. In this way, in Cape Verde, business is transacted. In this way, in America, people are murdered on the highways or at post offices.

When you see a friend on the street and stop to chat with them, they will hold you hand for the length of the conversation. Men and men, men and women, women and women, children and adults…everyone. One minute chat, ten minute chat. Makes no difference; they’ll hold your hand all the while. It’s polite. Not in a handshake posture either, but holding hands like sweethearts. It takes some getting used to. In this way, in Cape Verde, people show friendship and respect. In this way, in America, rumors and germs are spread.

You can give anything to anyone to give to anyone else, anywhere. No problem. Coming or going over the mountain in the hiace, almost without fail, there will be an old lady or a kid standing on the side of the road somewhere along the way. They will have perhaps a bag or a sack or a jug or an envelope or even cash. The hiace will stop and they will say something to the effect of “this is for Joao who lives in the town of ______.” The driver will take whatever it is and say OK and off we go. It doesn’t matter where the town that Joao lives in is, or even what island it is on, and it doesn’t matter where we’re going, so long as we’re heading in that general direction. When we get where we’re going, the driver will hand it to someone else heading in that direction and say “this is for Joao who lives in the town of ______.” They’ll say OK and off they go. The process is repeated over and over again, and eventually, reliably, the parcel will arrive in the hands of the intended recipient. I’ve seen it happen a million times. Sacks of bananas, letters from Portugal, bottles of grog, suitcases of clothes and wads of cash…all passing through the hands of strangers before dutifully being handed over to the rightful owner. It is a process that never ceases to excite wonder. In this way, in Cape Verde, people who can’t afford to travel or mail something (or rightfully don’t trust the Cape Verdian Postal Service) are able to send things to friends and families. For obvious resons, this could never work in America.

In the same vein, people will go get you just about anything here. The verb they use is mandar (to send for). I haven’t quite worked out the intricacies, but I believe its roots lie in the fact that there is really nothing at all to do here, so if someone needs something done, why not do it for them. It is usually someone older having someone younger go get the something, but not always. Here is how it works. If you need something, and can’t for whatever reason go get it yourself, you send someone else. I can walk out to the roof and drop 50$00 to whoever happens to be standing or walking below and say “Bo ta mandam 2 ovos.” (Go get me two eggs.) They’ll get them, pick out the best 2 eggs of the bunch even, walk up the three flights of stairs and hand me my change. Similarly, I may be walking in the plaza and have someone holler at me to fetch them a bucket of water, or a broom, or their cousin who lives down the street. You can manda a hiace driver to panya (pick up) a ¼ kilo of cheese or a letter from the post office in the next town over if he’s going that way. There is no please and no thank you, and none is expected. It’s just a part of their life here. This could also never work in America.

People that are your friends will take things without asking. Over here, this is not weird. Over here, it’s polite. It takes some getting used to and I’ve had to learn to keep things that I don’t want to share out of site. Essentially, as near as I can tell, the thinking is “If you’re not using it right now, I will.” If they have it, whatever It is, when you want to use it, you go get it back. In this way, in America, friends and neighbors dissolve friendships. In this way, in Cape Verde, three or four families can farm a plot with only 1 achada (spade), clean moray or fish with only one good knife between them, etc.

The entire village raises the children. Anyone can (and probably should if they’re being polite) pick up your child here. Similarly, at any moment, someone may hand you a child that is not your own. You will be expected to shower this child with love and attention, and also discipline and supervision. It may be for five minutes, or two hours. If you’re busy, you can hand it to someone else. Over here, anyone can walk away with your baby…take them to the plaza to sit and play. Feed them. Change them. Spank them. Give them a toy. In this way, in Cape Verde, there is an overwhelming sense of community and trust and friendship and assistance. In this way, in America, Amber Alerts are issued and perverts are pleasured.

You can be a total stupid jackass and leave a wallet with IDs, Credit Card and 10000$00 CVE in it (the equivalent of 4 or 5 months wages from a good job) in the plaza, and go home to cook your dinner and about 15 minutes later, a 13 year old kid that you’ve never met before, or at least don’t remember meeting before, will knock on your door and hand it to you with a smile. He won’t ask for anything, won’t expect anything and won’t take anything…except Juicy Fruit. I know this because I was a total stupid jackass and did this exact thing. I’d like to say that in America this would never happen, but I’m often a total stupid jackass when it comes to losing things and on Christmas Eve a few years ago an Austin Cap Metro bus driver knocked on my door at 10PM and handed me a wallet that I’d left on his bus earlier that day. He drove 5 miles out of his way after work to give it to me. He also wouldn’t take anything, although I didn’t have any Juicy Fruit to offer him at the time.

Lastly. If you ask people over here (and I have), they’ll tell you that the best opportunity that anyone from Cape Verde might ever get (and it’s highly unlikely), is the opportunity to leave here and go to America. It’s sad, but it’s what they think. What’s sadder is that, at least for the time being, it may be true. Over 75% of the county’s income is sent here from charity organizations or family living in other countries. 90% of that money is then sent right back out to another foreign country to buy food, clothing and supplies. Over here there is virtually no infrastructure, no rain and no crops. There is no telling where the next meal is coming from. There is no guarantee you’ll get to go to school. There is no adequate justice system to protect you or punish criminals. There are virtually no services for the poor. There are no jobs here (and even if you could find one in one of the bigger towns, there isn’t a way to get there). There is no public transportation. There are no Universities. There are no special ramps for the handicapped. There aren’t a lot of dreams here. In this way, Cape Verde is sad and poor, and I am happy for the opportunity to try to make a contribution to its development, however insignificant that contribution may be. In this way, America, despite her faults, is still the best country in the world.

That being said, there is much to learn from the people here. Though they have virtually nothing, they are proud. You’d think that they wouldn’t have much to celebrate, but they love to laugh, and sing and dance. Families are impossibly huge, yet manage to be close and caring and loving. They take bad news and no rain with a shrug of the shoulders and a hopeful eye towards next year. They are trusting and trustworthy. They sleep with their doors and windows open. They help each other. In most respects, despite their disadvantages and all that they are lacking, they are something that many (most?) Americans are not…happy.


So this is the end result of hundreds of man hours of backbreaking work. These fields (and all the rest of Chan di Igreja) were planted with corn and beans months ago, but no rains came. So, all that time that the people spent doubled over digging in the dirt with their hands or a small spade, amounts to a few piles of straw that they can feed to a goat or a cow. Less than 15 hours of rain fell in Chan di Igreja this calendar year.

Rooftop View

Here you can see what the average house looks like in Chan di Igreja.

Da Gals



So internet is functioning, at least for now, in my town again and wanted to give you a quick update.

Firstly, Happy belated Thanksgiving to everyone. The volunteers in Coculi made a feast for Turkey Day, but I had my English class, and in any case was unable to arrange a car to get me there, so I didn’t make it for that. I was missing my friends and family quite a bit and feeling a little bummed out, so I decided to go to Cruzinha to pout and mope. I walked there and went swimming, read for a while, sunned myself on the rocks, and eventually met a kid who gave me a lesson in octopus hunting. I managed to catch a little one, and the kid speared a moray and some kind of big silvery looking fish, and we moseyed through town looking for someone to cook them for us, which didn’t take long. It was at some point during lunch that I realized that I was spending my Thanksgiving swimming in the crystal blue waters of a desert island, reading and laying in the sun, eating grilled fish and a self-caught-octopus, and I quit pouting and moping and decided to be thankful after all.

Later that day (having already explained to my friends here in Chan the concept of Thanksgiving and my dread at the thought of spending it alone) I was invited to dinner at Benvinda’s house. The whole gang was there; Gisella and Leo and the new baby, Benvinda, Romeu, Lalino, and Suzy. They had killed some type of animal earlier that day and stewed it, Cape Verdian style, in a pot with a million other things. I had resigned to accept this as my new Thanksgiving traditional meal, when I realized it was just an appetizer. Turns out, for my benefit, they had fried up some delicious slices of tuna, made rice, breadfruit and mantioch and a spicy green sauce that I spread liberally over everything. It was all delicious and I was very thankful indeed to be spending the day with my substitute family.

Next day I went to Coculi to hang out with the girls there and wait for a car to Paul (the Eastern side of the island) where most of the volunteers on this island were getting together for a Day After Thanksgiving Feast. In Coculi I binged on delicious leftovers. Sugar-glazed ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, chocolate cake, carrot cake cupcakes, coffee…the works. That night in Paul (which is georgous), everyone brought something, and the girls cooked and then more feasting; fresh carrots and cucumbers and ranch sauce, deviled eggs, preschuto, an honest-to-goodness turkey dinner (no idea where that came from) with more stuffing, bacon-laced corn bread, sweet mashed potatoes, garlic mashers, cranberry sauce, corn on the cob, gravy, lemon bars, rice pudding and plenty of booze. I felt as satisfied (and as stuffed and miserable from eating too much) as I always do at mom’s house on thanksgiving, and was asleep by 10PM I think.

Next day (yesterday) I made it back to Chan, where the weather was pleasantly cool for a change (perhaps in the mid 70’s with a pretty stiff breeze). I put on a long sleeved shirt for the first time since arriving in Cape Verde, walked down to watch Home Alone at Gisella’s house, and came back and read for a little bit. Benvinda came over at 10 with some dulce (sweet treats made from coconut milk and sugar) and we did her English homework and fell asleep watching The Notebook. Despite missing my family it was, all in all, a pretty terrific weekend. I hope everyone else is fat and happy as well. Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

This Candy Sucks

The Work Begins

The Work Begins!

So tomorrow, I start REAL work…teaching! Last night I had a meeting with everyone who signed up for English classes (the computer classes are on hold until we can arrange a few more computers) and there were 78 people. They range in age from 9 to 43. Although some of the people have completed high school (and the required English in high school) nobody speaks a word of it. So, my first challenge will be figuring out how to divide everyone into classes. The first month will just be introductions (hello, good morning, good night, My name is, how are you, introduce the verb “to be” etc.) and will give me a chance to evaluate the students and figure out the best way to separate everyone. Anyway, I’m looking forward to it, and have been making lesson plans and planning “props” for class, to keep it fun and interesting. I’m a little nervous because some people are walking up from Cruzinha or down from Garca to come to the classes. There will be three per day, for one hour each, starting at 5 and lasting until 8. That means some people will be walking home for an hour after dark, and I definitely want it to be worth their effort. All of the teachers form Cruzinha, Garca and Chan di Igreja are also going to be attending, so that makes me even more nervous. But, I’ve got a good game plan, I don’t get nervous in front of people, and I can speak English, so all I gotta figure out is the teaching part right? Prolly easier said than done, but I’m certainly gonna give it a whirl.

In other news, I’ve now added fijou branca (white beans, cabbage, tomatoes, mantioch, onion, pepper and pork fat), ganga (a soup with mantioch, potatoes, curry, malageta, cabbage and beans), caldo di pecsi (soup with potatoes, carrots, curry, rice onions and fish), and pizza (a thin bread topped with a tomato based sauce, chorizo, cheese and pineapple slices) to my cooking repertoire. If most of those sound like they taste the same, that’s because they do. Benvinda taught me the ganga and the pizza, and Marlen taught me to make the caldo and the fijou. I’ve also given up trying to cook American food for my neighbors and friends. I’ve made some delicious fried rice, beef tacos, ham and cheese omelets, and spaghetti and meatballs, and everyone keeps telling me “bo precisa empregada.” (You need some help around the house.) Anyway, I’m content to keep eating my own delicious food when I’m able to find the right ingredients (or have them sent form home). I’ve decided that out of that humongous care package from The Culprits, the best things were (aside from the humongous plastic garbage bag full of pornography) these 2 little multi-spice containers. They’ve got salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, sage, oregano, rosemary, and basil in them. As the little shakers say…”Every cook’s favorite companions, conveniently packaged in one place!” What could be better, really? (Except I DO still need some crushed red pepper )

Also, Benvinda has come over a few times to cook and watch movies on my computer, and next weekend, we’re going on out first official “date,” if such a thing exists here. We’re going to pack a picnic lunch and walk 4 hours to a place called Ribiera Alta. And back I think. This Ribiera Alta place is on the other side of the mountain (the opposite direction from Provencao) and is, I believe, one of the most remote villages in the country, and therefore on the planet. There are no cars that go there, no power, no indoor plumbing. I’m really not sure what they DO have there, but I wanna check it out and Benvinda said she’d show me the way. She says we can dispense with all the subi y dixi (climbing up and down) and just follow the coast to the next Ribeira and hike up it a ways.

Also, it turned out that my Associacao didn’t have the money to pay for internet in town after all, so that is now disconnected. I’m working on a solution to that, but I may be off the radar for a while.

So that’s all the news that’s fit to print. If someone gets bored, please feel free to copy and paste some headlines from MSNBC or somewhere and attach them as a Word Doc to an e-mail so I can catch up on what’s going on back in Civilization. I especially like to hear about the Cowboys and the Texans. Also, I heard somewhere that Osama Bin Hidin’ has released some new albums recently? What did they say? Is he still pissed?

I hope everyone is well and taking good care of each other.


Friday, November 9, 2007

The Mother Load

The Mother Load

Parts of the following story may be shocking, but for the sake of realism, I thought it best to be completely truthful about my feelings and the events of yesterday. That being said…

So a few days ago the old man came up to me in the plaza and handed me what has become my favorite thing on Earth. The little slip of paper that means I have a package waiting for me in Provencao, the big town on the other side of the mountain. I had been expecting The Shipment from my sister but had recently received devastating news from her that a low down dirty scoundrel in the employ of the United States Post Office had most likely absconded with The Shipment, and all its treasures. (Mailed almost a month ago, several of the magazines that had been inside the Shipment were returned to her mailbox, which likely means that The Shipment was opened on that side of the Atlantic.) Upon closer inspection of the little slip of paper, under SENDER, it said “PCM,” so I assumed at first it was from my dad. (We have the same initials.) Then I remembered that I had already received all the packages currently en route from my dad, so I concluded it was the book (International Development and You!) I ordered from Amazon. (Yup, they even ship to Cape Verde.) Anyway, cars had been hard to find lately, so I was content to wait a few days.

I finally made it to town yesterday. And, what I saw…what I saw when I got to Correios (Post Office). Well, it took my breath away. Winning the lottery, a trip to the Moon, X-Ray vision…even dethroning King George…nothing could have made me happier. (Except to have received The Shipment.) Even this morning, nearly 24 hours later, my head is still swimming with giddiness. It is literally impossible to overstate the size of the smile that I’ve been wearing since I saw it. The guy at the Post Office said to me “Bo ten boquat amigos, I oje, m’tk bastant trabaj.” (You have a lot of friends, and today I have a lot of work.) This he said this as he WHEELED IN A HUGE CART of packages. Spilling off the top of the pile of loot was the Amazon box and my boring book. Just beneath was a fat envelope with what I immediately recognized as my mother’s beautiful handwriting. Hallelujah, Amen. Below that, a stout little box with Ruidoso, New Mexico in the return address field…something from my dad after all! (And the Lord said, Let There Be Jerky!) The foundation of this tower of tidings was a mammoth, epic, titanically colossal crate of a box. I had to step back a bit from the counter to take it all in…to really appreciate the size of this big bastard. The poor post office guy was sweating…struggling with the immensity of the load. He would have used a forklift if he’dve had one. As he turned the tower, I saw a name. The name…was Bird. The long awaited, much anticipated Box. This from my friends in Austin. My dear, sweet, darling friends from Austin. And as everyone knows, friends from Austin are the very best kinds of friends to have.

It was The Mother Load. My eyes dilated and became huge black orbs. I was one of Pavlov’s dogs and the bell was ringing in my head. Gollum with The Precious. Dorian Gray with his Portrait. Butch with his Father’s Gold Watch. It was mine. All Mine. I may have had an erection. I Loved these boxes and packages and envelopes. I really loved them. Maybe this makes me a bad person. I hope not, cuz it’s true.

I couldn’t carry all of it at once, so sprinting like a track star to the pont do lavada (place where you try to find a car), I returned minutes later with Txiba and Sabino and their hiace. We loaded everything onto the top and then drove around town for another torturously long hour while they looked for more people to take to Chan di Igreja. It was all I could do to not open at least one thing…even the boring book. When I finally did make it home, all I wanted to do was open it all up, crawl inside the Box, among My New Things, and cover myself in a blanket of beef jerky and taco seasoning and guitar strings. But then Benvinda showed up.

She was there to talk about something important, which could not have come at a worse time. I was listening, and I was hearing sounds, but my eyes were darting back and forth between her and My Treasure. My Attention Divided. It must have been pretty obvious, because finally she stopped talking and smiled and said “Oi Keile…bo kre spreimenta ma bo caixas? (Oh Caley, do you want to see what’s in the boxes?) I nodded my head and she laughed and said “No be!” (Let’s Go!) I handed her a knife and she delicately slit the lid on my dad’s box while I shredded into my mom’s envelope. From Dad and Sandra there were bags and bags of delicious pepper, teriyaki, and classic style beef jerky, pounds of Juicy Fruit (to which my entire town is now addicted to and which they pronounce Choosey Foot), batteries, nuts, Jolley Ranchers, soy-sauce and Slim Jims (my new favorite thing). From Mom, among other things, was my desperately sought after book God of Animals (which is great by the way) guitar strings worth twice their weight in gold to me, taco seasoning, Jolly Ranchers, and the All-Important pictures of my growing niece and darling dog. The smell of candy and gum and meat and a new hardback book wafted through my kitchenette. Pure, Unadulterated Bliss.

I thought this would be enough to tide me over until I could talk to Benvinda, but (after explaining and experimenting with beef jerky) she gave me a wry smile and wink and nodded at the Box and said “Bo kre?” (You wanna?) “Uh huh.” Once again she used the knife to first delicately remove the brown paper wrapping, then folded it, then started to put the knife away until my impatience got the better of me and I tore the box open. Benvinda and I dove in. Inside? Oh Lawd, the Inside. Peanut Butter and Jelly granola, pizza flavored goldfish, huge jars of spices (Praise Be!), taco seasoning, tea, coffee, marinade packages, measuring cups and kitchen utensils (GOOD JOB!), pens, yo-yo’s (these will make me THE most popular kid in 5th grade), acres of gum, stickers, Snickers, decorations, party favors, candles, duct tape, paperbacks, a lufa brush, candy necklaces (these will also make me very popular), magazines, the Austin Chronicle, Newspapers, disks full of E-books, days and days worth of (impeccably selected) new music including, among countless others, the early works of Snow Patrol, Ghostland Observatory (Thank You!!), Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Grand National (I’d never heard of them and they’re my new favorite band!), and unbelievably, the entire B.B. King discography (which I will cherish forever). There was also (God Love All Of You and Save You A Seat Next To His Throne)…Velveeta and Ro-Tel sauce and Santitas Mexican Style corn tortilla chips that, miraculously, arrived almost completely intact. Last night I explained yo-yo’s and Mexican Food and Personals Ads and Lufa Brushes to Benvinda, and she and I feasted on proper beef tacos with homemade tortillas and an impossibly delicious bowl of chips and Mexican queso, which I have not had in almost 5 months. Jeezuz.

There was also something Inside the Box that confused me at first. I pulled it out of the box and saw a tiny, battery operated, winged, pink dildo-esque sex toy in a clear plastic box that said Personal Massage Fan. What in the hell? Why in God’s name did my friends send me a pink massaging dildo? And, even if you wanted to, how would you use a dildo with little spinning wings on it? What were the implications? It looked very dangerous to me. Clearly my Friends from Austin were more sexually advanced than me. I was staring at it, chewing on some teriyaki beef jerky, trying to figure out how one might derive pleasure from such a device, when I heard Benvinda say “Uhhhhhh...oi Keile? Uhhhhhh…oi Keile, okie…esli?” (Um…Caley? Um…Caley, what is...this?”) I looked up and, realizing that I still had the pink dildo in my hands, quickly hid it behind my back. She registered my embarrassment and I followed her eyes to what it was that she needed me to explain.

It was a humongous plastic garbage bag full of pornography. Not your run of the mill pornography mind you. Not Playboy or Penthouse or something that some kids’ dads had hidden in boxes in the garage or under the bathroom sinks. No, this was Pornography on a whole other level. Nawty stuff. I watched in horror as Benvinda flipped through a Smorgasbord of Smut. I didn’t take in the titles, but did see flashes of 900 numbers, nurses doing aerobics, cheerleaders who forgot their bloomers that day, people pouring milk and other foodstuffs on themselves, Asian women practicing calisthenics. The most recent issue of “Sista: Coming in All Flavas” dropped out of her hands and on to the floor and I choked on my beef jerky. I stood there coughing, trying to think of something, but the only thing that came out was “Uhhhhhh.” Then, “Er... Benvinda, I did NOT ask anyone to send me pornography. I do NOT like to look at pornography! I don’t…that is not even mine. I don’t know what that is. What IS that?” I had said it in English, and as I made a mental note of that interesting little side-effect of the situation, I realized that I was waving the pink dildo around in the air as I spoke. Benvinda waitied. There was a very unpleasant look on her face.

In the end, the thing that saved me was the birthday card that my friends had made me and included in the Box. It is a very special card. It’s a 12 page affair, filled with short messages, and is made from colorful construction paper, tied together with bright and fuzzy pipe cleaners from the crafts store and adorned with stickers and patches and buttons and cut-outs and jellythings and sandcastles and little umbrellas that you put in your drinks when you are in Fiji. Also, at the end there is a picture of most of them bearing their bosoms and behinds to the camera. What a site for sore eyes. It was to this picture that I directed Benvinda as I repeated the words “Nhes amigos e malcriados!” (My friends are very misbehaved!) over and over again. I explained to her that they had gotten together and had a little party to put the Box together, and that there was probably drinking involved, and especially I pointed out Scott and his very white buttocks. I explained to her that Scott is VERY malcriado and has a pornography problem and habitually loves to purchase pornography and ship it internationally to unsuspecting volunteer bystanders. I explained that I ONLY read pornography for the articles.

She was of course, only kidding, as she is apt to do. I didn’t need the card to save me and I think she had a very fine time teasing me and making me think she was shocked or offended. At dinner I went through and translated all of the messages in my birthday card for her (most of them referencing the pounds and pounds of porn) and we laughed and talked about our friends. It was a really great night. The pink sex toy turned out not to be a Personal Massage Fan, but a Personal Message Fan. Ohhhh. It’s not intended for insertion at all. Instead, you can type messages into it and when you turn on the fan, the little fan blades magically light up to spell out whatever you typed into it. It’s REALLY cool, and I can assure you that, after Catch Phrase, this is the toy of the century. I tried it out on little Djonny after dinner last night, and I literally hypnotized him.

Anyway. To my wonderful Ma, and to Dad and Sandra, and to JW (who’s movie filled package arrived earlier and filled me with Joy) and my Friends from Austin, and Mrs. Christopher (the Bar-B-Q Souse arrived!) and Cousin Patti (who’s book is on the way) and Greg and most especially my sister (your package is here in Spirit!)…thank you SO much for thinking of me. There are very few creature comforts here, and a lot more homesickness than I acknowledge or will admit to. Sometimes I go almost crazy wanting to be near you all again. But those little slips of paper from the post office man are like best of big giant bear hugs from home, and now I understand why they’re called Care Packages. (They also mean I’m five years old and it’s Christmas Morning…every time.) Anyway, I can’t thank you guys enough. (Hopefully you’ve gotten a good chuckle at my expense out of this story at least.) Also, please know that I am very grateful, and that I feel well-provisioned, much-loved, and very, very happy today.

All My Love


The Culprits



So, the following, of course, did not actually happen.

So I was swimming in Cruzinha the other day. I had been there to work on the turtle project with INDP (the guys with those matching white T-shirts) and it was HOT. Real Hot. Hot enough to cook things in your shorts. “A little crotch pot cookin’,” as Robin Williams once said. Anyway, so I’m swimming in the little cove in Cruzinha, and mar e brof (the sea is rough). The waves are moving me around quite a bit, and I’m having to swim pretty strong to maintain my position relative to the rock you climb out on. Anyway, I’m swimming there in the brof, and diving down as close to the bottom as I can, which is not very close to the bottom, hoping to spot some cool shells and when I come up, one of the fishing boats from Cruzinha has appeared from nowhere. When I say “fishing boat,” I’m not talking about some big schooner with rigs and nets and sonar, or even an engine…I’m talking about a puny rowboat that you’d rent in Lady Bird Lake or Central Park or somewhere where there is no actual danger should you tump yourself in. Anyway, the fishing/row boat is 10 meters off from me and I see there are 3 men in it , and the guy with the oars I recognize but wont identify here for reasons which will become clear soon enough. I don’t know him very well, but I’ve met him once or twice. He’s hollerin’ something at me, but I can’t quite make it out over the wind and waves and my piss poor kriole. So I make my way over and he’s yelling “Ben Txiga! Ben txiga ei! Ben ma nos!” (Come here! Come over here! Come with us!) with what I mistakenly perceive as anxiety, but which I later realize was amusement. Everyone here thinks white people can’t swim and I think he thought I was going to drown out there. (Particularly amusing considering that, for an island people, almost nobody on this island is comfortable in the water, or a very good swimmer.) But anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, he’s yelling. So for a minute I think about telling him “no I’m fine, lots of white people know how to swim, and if they’re that worried about it I’ll just go ahead and call it a day and get out over on the rock.” While I’m trying to figure out how to say any of that I see that now, having dropped the oars, he’s making gestures with his hands, alternately closing a fist and then opening his hand out flat, all the while yelling “Txiga! Peligros!” (Get Over! Dangerous!) Oh Gawd Lord Let Mary Be With Me. Thoughts and images of a giant moray eel swallowing one of my toes, sinking its fangs into my ass, or worse, ti ta k’me nhes ovus. Like shamoo in the Sea World show, I breach the surface and, nearly overshooting my target, fall flopping and panting into the rowboat. Salvation. The guys in the boat are laughing and now the Captain picks up his oars again. “OK agrinhasin ta dret. No be.” (OK now everything’s cool. Let’s go.) I peer over the bow and look for whatever it was that was going to eat my balls, and don’t see anything. Turning to the Captain, I ask, “modque foi peligros?” (Why was it dangerous.) He says, “No be panya pesci.” (Let’s go catch some fish.) I say “Ma, porque foi peligros? Tenia morae?” (But why was it dangerous? Was there a moray?) He smiles. “No be panya pesci.” So, after a minute or two I’m content to let it remain a mystery. I think fleetingly about my backpack on the diving rock (It has my camera in it), but decide it’ll be alright until we get back.

In this mar e brof our little boat is rocking and bucking like a horse and for a minute or two I’m a little sea-sick, but that passes quickly enough. I turn my attention to learning the craft of the pescadores (fishermen), and begin to take inventory of our little boat. Surprisingly, there is little in the way of fishing equipment. There are now 4 of us in the boat, so it’s cramped, but I’ve got the stern bench, right behind Captain, who’s facing me as he rows. There are several coils of rope, 2 or 3 nets on a stick, a long and wickedly-barbed spear that lies beneath the benches, a small anchor and a big rubberized container in the back of the boat, between myself and Captain, who has produced, from out of nowhere, a huge black cigar. He’s got sort of a wicked grin on his face as he chews the thing, and I get that sort of weird tingling sensation when you know something just isn’t quite right. While I’m contemplating what it is that might be amiss, the guy in the front of the boat unwinds some of the coiled rope and tosses the small anchor over the side. I look around and see that we’re not very far from where I was initially swimming; we’re perhaps only 200 or 300 meters from the diving rocks. The rope unspools quickly and looking again over the side, I see that we’re in not too deep water; I can sort of make out some dark rocks below us. Let’s get to fishin!

So, the guys in the front are talking about something but I can’t really hear them over the wind, but I ask Captain “Oki k’nos ti ta b’usa pa isca?” (What are we going to use for bait?) He looks at me with that weird grin again and, lighting the cigar with an ancient bronze zippo, he nods at the rubberized box and I think he says…“Cinnamon.” Cinnamon. Huh. No, that can’t be it. Surely I’ve misunderstood so I ask again. “Oki k’nos ti ta b’usa pa isca?” This time he clearly says “Diamonds.” Diamonds. Huh. I’m nodding my head like I understand but I’m not getting it and I say “Diamonds?” and he says “Diamonds.” Diamonds. Huh. Maybe the guy is fuckin’ with me or something but I guess I’ll just sit back and watch and quit asking so many damn questions, but that tingling sensation has migrated down to my balls and I’m pretty sure something is definitely not quite right. He shouts something to his shipmates and they nod and now he’s reaching into the rubberized box that holds our Diamond Bait, or possibly some horrid tool to chop me up and use me as chum. He leans forward, smoking, and opens the box. The lid opens on his side and I can’t see what’s inside. But then he pulls It out, and I see It, and I know what It is, and I realize my mistake.


The human body’s natural defenses are wonderous. First I’m infused with a gallon or so of pure adrenaline. Stoptime and a straight shot to my heart, and I’m tensely, keenly aware of every minute detail around me. A sheen of sweat forms on me instantly, to keep me cool in This, My Hour of Need. My life flashes before my eyes; a welcomed, final farewell memory to send me on my way. Also, my balls shrink to the size of peanuts and then get sucked up inside of me somewhere.

What I’ve heard as “Diamonds” was actually the kriole word for Dynamite…which is Dynamite. Huh. Dynamite. As if to confirm my suspicions, he wags It in front of my face, and this time, he annunciates each syllable very clearly. “DY-NO-MITE.” It looks just like It does on the Roadrunner cartoons when Coyote puts on his roller-skates and unpacks It from a big ole ACME crate and loads It onto his hot-air balloon. Captain is mouthing something at me but I can’t hear it over the thunderous booming noise inside my head, which turns out to be my heartbeat. Whatever it is he’s saying, he pauses in the middle of it. Pauses to light the wick, here in our tiny little rocking, bucking, rising and falling rowboat, using the cigar in his mouth. My mouth agape and eyes wide, I see him turn It in his hand to confirm that It’s lit, yes It’s lit, and then, very casual-like, he tosses It. Right Over My HEAD. Behind Me. Where I Can’t See It. Quick like a fox I whip my head around in the boat to see how long I have to live, and I realize that he has not tossed It very far. Not Far Enough. Not Nearly Fucking Far Enough. For an instant I’m encouraged! Surely the water will put out the fuse? But no. I catch another glimpse of it as we come up out of a trough and apparently they have waterproofed It and weighted the bottom of It, because It stands up strait up in the water like a sizzling boner from Hell. We are definitely going to die now. I try to swallow but my tongue has tripled in size and then I don’t have any spit in my mouth anyway. The last thing I see before It goes off is Captain…with his fingers in his ears. He gives me a quick nod to tell me I should do the same. I do.

As you might imagine, the actual event was anti-climactic. More of a really loud POP than an explosion; lots of spray. I wish I could tell you exactly what it looked like, but I realize as I write this that I had my eyes closed and my head tucked between my knees in the Crash Landing Position. What I did see when I looked up were hundreds of dead fish floating to the surface. Hundreds. (See the What a Haul photo for details.) Here and there a moray eel or Red Grouper, but mostly the puny little silver sliver fish. Captain and the guys are laughing at me…I must be ghostly white despite my sunburn. Up comes the anchor and out come the nets and barbs and all the fish and eels are collected in less than 5 minutes and dumped unsurreptitiously into the bottom of the boat. Stone dead. None of the wiggling squirming fighting frenzy you’d associate with ocean fishing. Five minutes later we’re pulling the boat out of the water and onto the rocky shore. I realize I am the only one left in the boat at this point and I look down to see my knuckles are white and I actually have to manually tell my brain to unpry my fingers from the sides of the boat and let go; the effects of Actual real-life traumatization. I think that I never said a single word from the time he opened the Diamond Bait box until now and all I can think to say is “Obrigado. M’tava ta predi muit.” He says “Nada” and flashes that wicked grin again.

I collect my camera and my bag and take a few photos of the haul. Gravity has begun to work on my balls again. I’m watching the activity below, and the men are dividing the haul between them, the Captain taking a slightly bigger pile. Several other fishermen are on the shore as well, and now they’re yelling at him. Screaming, some of them. I look in their boats and they’ve got, like, 8 fish. Total. I try to listen but don’t catch much. My knees are still shaking a little, so I walk a few steps over to Mariazinha’s cantina and she buys me a beer.

Later, Mariazinha explains that the yelling was because it is of course illegal to use dynamite to catch fish. It’s bad for, well, for a million reasons, not least among them the risk to life and limb, the damage it does to the ecosystem (it kills EVERYTHING, not just fish), the fact that the fish they “catch” that way don’t keep for more than a day, and something else she told me about the fish meat, but which I didn’t understand. The guy that had his 8 fish were caught the hard, legal, time consuming way and was obviously pissed at this other guy, the Captain.

So, I guess that’s it for me when it comes to fishing. Not sure what, if anything, would have happened to me had I been in the water when they dropped the Dyno over the side; about what might have happened if they hadn’t seen me swimming in the first place. I prefer not to think about my insides melting in a shockwave, so I’ll shelve that. But, I think that the lesson of all this is clear. The moral of the story applies here, and everywhere else in the world…Know Who Your Fishing Buddies Are.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Chum in the Water

This picture doesn't really due justice to the carnage, but maybe you get the idea.


These are the 2 that like to cook crepes in their underpants.

Da Boys

It's My Berfday!

Its My Berfday!!

So it’s my berfday today, and I share it with my neighbor Djonny, who turns 4, while I turn 32. Anyway, last night we had a little joint festa, the likes of which I’ve never seen. A festa to end the resta.

So it started around 7PM (it was a school night after all) and when I got there at 745, it was already in full swing. There are 397 people living in Chan di Igreja, and I think all of them were crammed into the Cruz’s apartment downstairs. Certainly the 68 kids that go to primaria (elementary school) with Djonny were all there, and I’m pretty sure EVERYONE between the ages of 2 and 20 were there. I had been smelling delicious, mind-bogglingly savory and delectable cosas (things) cooking all day (I live upstairs from their kitchen), but nothing prepared me for the spread that they had laid out on the table there…with Djonny’s grandmother acting as a bouncer to keep the kids away while Marlen (Djonny’s mom) made a few last minute flourishes, making everything Just So.

There, before me on the table, lay cookies, crackers, cakes, cokes and kolaches; pipoka (popcorn), pizza, pastels and pao (bread). Tarts, crepes, doughnuts and yogurts. Also these little fish treats. YUM. There were sodas and sumo (juice) and milk, and the adults had beer and paunche. There was a full-on diskoteka sound system that came from God knows where because I’ve never seen it before and it was BLASTING some pretty good-timing and funky Cape Verdian zook music (think Afro-Brasilian Hip-Hop). Everyone was dancing. There were party hats and balloons (which a few malcriados filled with water before the night was over) and streamers and noise makers and tinsel and glitter.

At about 9, they brought out The Cake. It said “Happy Birthday Spidermans” with the number 4 turned facing the wring direction but that’s OK), we dimmed the lights and sang parabens (happy birthday to you), Djonny blew out the candles, and finally, at long last, the kids were turned loose on the snacks….and all Hell broke loose. It was like tossing 20 loaves of bread up in the air to seagulls on the beach. Like 6 tons of chum dumped in a swarming mass of starving sharks. Little Djonny’s gramma was mowed down by an onslaught of 4 year old kids all hyped-up on zook music and the smell of sugar. The sharks and gulls were grabbing cakes and tarts and those yummy little fish-treats by the fistfuls, cramming it down their throats, trying to fend off the bigger gulls and sharks. One little bastard had a whole 2 litre bottle of Orange Dolly in his two tiny little mitts…head thrown back, just draining the thing like some kinda midget vampire. From somewhere in the chaos, an adult yells at him (I think the kid is called Oswaldo and he was one of the ones with the water balloons later) and it must have scared him because now Orange Dolly is snarfing out his nose but he doesn’t care. I see Marlen through the detritus which is now flying through the air, and she has a look of, well…satisfaction if you can believe it. Yup, it’s definitely satisfaction. All of this takes only a few minutes, and then it’s gone. The food I mean. All of it.

It got even better after that. Instantly, Marlen and a team of helpers are hauling out the tables and chairs and every other movable object in the kitchen and are using a huge sweeper broom to clean up the shrapnel while the kids are running around yelling and screaming and dancing, and blowing the noisemakers, all of them now fully fueled and ready to…Dance. Yup, the clean-up and clear-out done in the kitchen has resulted in The Dance Floor and now all the kids are crammed in there to see…that Rafaela and Sonyea have choreographed a little number, complete with matching outfits, that any mom in America probably would have passed out from having seen (even the little ones already know how to do the Nawty Dance). Anyway, its awesome, everyone is cheering and clapping and you wouldn’t believe the noise. The gals finish up and now come all the others, shaking their little booties and partying like it was 1999. Things continued on like that until well past 11PM and then, like magic, it was over. Some signal, unseen and unheard by me, and everyone starts filing out and I’m looking for Marlen and Djonny to say thanks and Happy Birthday and goodbye, and I find them in the bedroom, her and Djonny and Djon all curled up together asleep. So sweet.

Anyway, it was tons of fun, and great way to spend the night before my birthday. Today’s been great as well…I’ve had a few phone calls from the other volunteers and a few neighbors here in Chan Di Igreja, and hopefully I’ll get to talk to my sister tonight (hint hint). Tonight I dine in Coculi, where the two volunteers living there have offered to cook me sumpin’ good and I can’t wait. Thanks to everyone who’s already called or e-mailed or sent me a little something in the mail…you’ve made this 32nd birthday of mine a really great one!