Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Facts and Observations

So I think there are some things that I learned about Cape Verde before I came here, and definitely since I’ve been here, that you don’t know, and that will help clarify or contextualize my remarks and observations about the country as we go on, and I’ll attempt to delineate a few of those today. Some are just observations themselves, and others are actual statistics given to us by various organizations here in country. Some are obviously more important than others, but all will be helpful if you really want to gain a true sense of the people and culture of Cape Verde. I am by no means an expert on Cape Verde or the problems here, but here are some things that stand out…here goes.

1) There are more Cape Verdians living in the US today than in Cape Verde. It began hundreds of years ago with the exportation of Cape Verdian slaves to the US by the Portuguese. After slavery, Cape Verdians continued to immigrate to the US in an attempt to escape the drought and poverty here, as well as to reconnect with family already living over there. EVERY SINGLE Cape Verdian I’ve met has at least a couple of relatives living and working in the states. 95% of those living in he US are in the Boston, Providence and Brockton areas of the Northeast. A weird side-effect of this is that as more and more CV’s are deported for lack of proper Visas, you encounter Cape Verdians on the streets with these ridiculous Boston accents. Picture a woman with a baby slung on her back and carrying a huge drum of water on her head and coming up to you and in a voice straight out of Good Will Hunting, asking you if “You want I should findya a car ta Assomada?” It’s truly bizarre.
Another side effect is that parts of American culture has invaded Cape Verdian culture (more so on this island than the others as far as I can tell), and almost universally to the detriment of Cape Verde. For instance, relatives abroad will send home a cell phone for their niece or nephew and give them $100 towards their first bill. Now, mind you, NOBODY in Cape Verde needs a cell phone. People here work ALL day long just scrape together enough to feed and cloth their families, and they’re usually cutting that pretty close. (There are definitely no fat people here.) Yet, a LOT of the kids around here have cell phones, and they are NOT cheap, but because it’s from America, and because of the “status symbol effect,” they continue to use them.
Another thing that has found its way to CV is rap music. Everyone here asks me “Bu conxi a 50 Cent? Snoop Dog?” (Do you know 50 Cent or Snoop Dog?) People from America will send their relatives here the CDs and music videos that they’re kids like in America, and consequently, they start listening to them here…although they’re about 5 years behind. (As far as adult music goes, they’re even more behind the times, as Lionel Richie, Bryan Adams and Michael Bolton are all insanely popular here and can be heard on any local radio station any day.) Along with the rap music has come the “Thug” image. (Although they canºt pronounce the “th” sound here, so theyºre referred to as “tugs.”) North Carolina hats tilted sideways, baggy draws, Bling, low-slung pants that reveal the boxers beneath, and most of all, sneakers. You can tell a man’s worth, or at least the worth of a relative he has in America, by his sneakers. A pair of Nike shoes here is like a gold and diamond Rolex in the states. Mind you, it´s image only, and there are very few actual “thugs” in Cape Verde…just a lot of people dressing like “thugs.”

2) This country is POOR. 80% of the gross national product is from remittances from those living and working in the states. There are Western Unions on every street corner, where the locals go once a month to pick up whatever they’ve been sent by family members abroad. Another 10% is made up of donations from charity organizations or the UN. That leaves just 10% for the country to make on its own. There is almost no commerce here, other than income generated from tourism and the ports in Mindelo and Praia. Other than that it’s all just subsistence farming.

3) This country is DRY. It hasn’t rained here, not a drop on this island, in over nine months. They will get all of their rainfall for the year in the coming two months. Consequently, they have spent the last two months a simentera (planting) all of their crops. They do everything communally here. All the friends, family and neighbors of a person go to that person’s or family’s simentera and work all day long, sometimes for a couple days even, and that person returns the favor to each person that showed up for his or her simentera by going to all of theirs as well. The same thing happens after the rains when it’s harvesting time. Another consequence of the droughts here is that there are all sorts of interesting things in place to conserve, recycle, reuse, catch and harvest rain. There is a group of families that live up in the mountains (where there is often a thick fog) that have learned to put up huge nets of fine netting that literally catch the fog. They average over 15 litres of water per 1 square meter of net there, and it is a really amazing project. There are also water tanks, aqueducts, buckets etc. on everyone’s roofs, and everyone here recycles or reuses water. In the house I live in for instance, water is first used for bathing, then its on to the tub for the laundry, which is all hand-washed on a rock or washboard and from which my knuckles are already scarred, and from there the water goes to the tub for washing the dishes, and from there to the garden in the backyard. It’s a similar situation in all of the houses on this island.

4) Much of this island (and less so on other islands) is filthy. There are no garbage trucks or landfills here, so the only thing they do with the trash is burn it or throw it out in the street. In the main city of Praia, and a little bit in Assomada, there is trash everywhere. Also, there are animals everywhere. On my way to school each morning, I’ll pass cats, dogs, pigs, donkeys, cows, chickens, roosters, goats, rabbits, turkeys and the occasional monkey. (Let me also say here that the noises I endure at night are sometimes unbearable…HUGE dog fights that last for hours, roosters crowing just outside my room at all hours of the night, cats in heat, and God knows what scurrying across the floor of my room. Needless to say that although earplugs don’t drown out everything, they have been my savior here so far.) Unfortunately, the animals pretty much all have the run of the place, so they shit and sleep wherever they please. Tanbe, none of the dogs are neutered or spayed, so there is a BIG problem with bands of roving wild dogs. I’m told that just before we got here, they had a big poisoning campaign, where they warned people to put their pets inside for week, then put out poison for the dogs, picked up the bodies then next day, then burned them in the streets. Yuck.

5) This country is SMALL. All of the 10 islands put together are still smaller than Rhode Island. Consequently, if it weren’t for the mountains, you could walk from one side of even the biggest island to the other side in less than a day. I’ve tried to explain to people the size of Texas, and the United States, and they just can’t conceive of it. You can show it to them on a map, tell them about driving on a highway, or tell them how long it takes to fly from NYC to LA, but they just can’t grasp it.

6) This country has HUGE families. My parents here have 7 kids and 14 grandkids, and that’s about average. My neighbor has 28 children with 4 different women. There is no such thing as a woman or a man above 20 years old without kids. PC even told us to invent stories about why we don’t have kids yet, lest the locals think we’re gay or unable to father/mother children…the 2 worst imaginable sins in this country. Teenage pregnancy is an epidemic on a few of the islands here, despite the fact that the AIDS rate here is actually lower than in the States. Men here, even the marries ones, often have several girlfriends, and all of the women involved generally accept this, although there is a HUGE public information campaign going on in the country right now, aimed at educating women about why this isn’t a good thing. The men are, obviously, resistant to this line of thinking.

7) The Portuguese fucked these people royally. After consuming all of the inlands’ resources (including fresh water and timber) and trading the people as slaves for a few hundred years, Cape Verdians finally staged a successful revolt, after which the Portuguese finally gave up, and then pulled completely out of the country, leaving them with NOTHING. No trees, no water, no infrastructure, no education, no identity, no money…Nothing. Today they sponsor a few thousand students by letting them go to college for free in Lisbon, but other than that, they’ve washed their hands of the whole business. It’s really a miracle that any of these people survived, and even more of a miracle that they are one of the 5 most developed countries in Africa, as they’ve done it, more or less, on their own terms, albeit with a LOT of help from charitable organizations and agencies like Peace Corps, Red Cross and Millennium Challenge Corporation. Probably a lot more about that later.

So that should get you started for now. I’d encourage all of you to read whatever you can about Cape Verde…there are a few good articles on Wikipedia, and more available from the country’s official website. I’ll also try to put up some more of these as time goes on.

Hope everyone is well and good. Send me some e-mails!!!

All My Best,


Ribiera Manuel

So the statue in this picture is pretty much the Cape Verdian symbol of independence. The town of Ribiera Manuel was where the initial revolt against the Portuguese slave traders took place. During the day of the revolt, women, not men, broke from their confines, charged into the kitchen of the main slaveholder in town, stole all the knives, and armed with these and also rocks, proceeded to massacre every Portuguese person in town, women and children included. The statue also depicts (although not pictured) a woman chopping off the head of one Portuguese, and then quite clearly shitting down his open throat. Nice.

It did not go unnoticed that the only ET (early voluntary termination) from our group thus far was doing her home-stay in this town, and by all accounts, the attitudes of those Cape Verdians living in Ribiera Manuel are not much improved, if at all, and it is apparent;y a VERY difficult place to integrate into the community, which is the over arching goal of pre service training in the Peace Corps.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Paul, Santo Antao

Punto di Sol, Santo Antao


So nothing terribly new these days, except that today I had my first language evaluation from Peace Corps. I scored “intermediate high” on the test, which basically means I’m already proficient enough in Kriole to swear in at the end of training. This is good news in that I’m doing great with the language so far, and don’t need to worry at all about the final test before swear in, but bad news in that it means that Peace Corps thinks that piss-poor ability in Kriole is all anyone needs to get by once we’re alone at site. Not to mention the fact that they speak a completely different dialect on the Norhtern islands (where I hope I’ll end up) so all of this is really for nothing anyway. There are inherint problems with a program like Peace Corps, and figuring out a way to individualize training and language instruction is apparently one of the big ones.

In other news, by now my ENTIRE town knows my name. I’m hearing “Kelly!!!” from all directions when I walk the street these days, and it is a TON of fun. All the women here have like 6 or 8 kids each, at least, so there are TONS of children in the town and its like Christmas for them if I just stop for even a minute to talk or play or hug them…I honestly do not understand it. I haven’t done ANYTHING for any of these people, and in fact, they’ve been the ones taking care of me this past month. But they’re still SO happy to have me here. Hard to figure.

All the volunteers are stressing and talking incessantly about site announcement since we returned from our various “demystification” island trips. (Remember I went to Santo Antao, and other volunteers went to other islands.) They’ve given us a form with all the possible sites and we’re allowed to rank them in order of preference, but some are obviously better than others, so people are wigging out and trying to figure out how PC will decide who goes where. Greg had told me before that they already have it all figured out and that the form is just for show, so I’m trying not to get too worked up about it. But still…I REALLY want that one particular village. 

So we all have to complete some sort of community project prior to swearing in as volunteers, so I organized my first community “event” this week. Just a meeting to talk about an event actually, but it’s a LOT harder than you’d think to get everyone in town to agree to meet at a particular place and time. Not to mention NOTHING starts on time here, so you have to keep in mind that if you tell people 7pm, they might begin showing up around 9pm, which is pretty late since everyone goes to bed when it gets dark, so they might not show up at all. At this meeting that I’ve put together, my town will, hopefully, show up and hear my proposal (in my broken Kriole) for a school beautification project. There are only 30 chairs in the school (that houses over 120) and about 60 semi-broken ones, so I want to try to get those repaired, and I also want to have the building washed and painted, maybe with some safe-sex or good hygiene symbols/cartoons painted on one of the walls. My “getting ahead of myself” goal is to have a new community garden planted there too. I think that might be a bit much for my remaining 4 weeks in this town, but it’s going into my proposal nonetheless. There are about 1500 people in my village and I’m going to be overjoyed if I get 40 at my meeting. I think someone from Peace Corps will be in attendance somewhere in the back to see how I do, so I’m going to be a little nervous about that as well.

So that’s it for now. Thanks to everyone who’s been writing me. I CRAVE letters and e-mail from home (and in English) so please drop me a line and tell me anything you can about what’s going on at home. The last news I had was that Texas was flooded and that Ladybird died and traffic was at a standstill. Other than that I’m completely clueless. Are we still at war? Is football on yet and if so, how do the Horns look?

Ribiera Dos Palmas, Santo Antao

Ribiera Grande, Santo Antao

Mindelo Beach, Ilha di Sao Vicente

Paul, Santo Antao

Transportation, and My First Near Disaster

Transportation, and My First Near Disaster

So to get around this place, there are basically two major forms of transportation. There’s the hiace (pronounced “yass”) and a hilux (pronounced “lukes”). The hiaces are smallish Toyota minivans, and they only operate between bigger cities, along which are connected by cobblestone roads. They drive around in circles in whatever city they’re in, and there is always an obnoxious guy whose job it is to recruit passengers by screaming the destination out the window. They’re sorta like a carnival barker, and they all have different styles…some whistle, some yell and some have funny little catch-phrases. They will keep circling and yelling until the van is full. If you have any baggage, you throw it on top of the van and hope it doesn’t fall off. There are seats for the driver and a passenger up front, then four rows of bench seats in the back. The seats furthest to the right on all the benches also folds up so that people can get in and out of the back rows when it’s crowded. Technically speaking, there should be room for about 13 people, plus the driver. The thing about Africa though, is the guys that drive these things make all of heir money from the fares, and will take as many people as possible…and they are absolutely willing to push the limits of human endurance in that respect. The same goes for the hilux drivers. The hilux, which travel from the smaller villages to the bigger towns along dirt paths, are basically stripped down Toyota Tacomas with two bench seats welded into the back, and a plastic tarp stretched across a metal framework to provide shelter from the sun. Keep in mind that the canopy doesn’t have any vents, so very little air gets back there, and it quickly gets txeu hot and stinky. These are smaller trucks, and in America, we’d probably feel comfortable with eight or nine (maximum) people in the back of one of these things. All the hiluxs have particular routes, like busses, and particular points where they stop and wait in the villages or cities, and this is the ONLY way you can tell where they are going. For example, the only two hilux that go to Cha di Tanque, both always park in from of the diskoteka in Assomada. If I get on a hilux anywhere else in Assomada, I’m going…somewhere else.

Anyways, these guys don’t even start the trucks up until there are at least a dozen people in the back. Then they wait for a few more, then they start going, then a few more people will always hop on, and they’ll always pick up anyone who happens to be walking along the road to the village. The number of people already in the back of the truck has ABSOLUTELY no bearing on whether or not they’ll stop…they just will. Always. Regardless. And since, in the entire country, this is the ONLY transportation from the towns to the smaller villages (nobody owns their own car), the people in the back of the hilux also have whatever goods they are buying or selling or trading. Consequently you’ll commonly see antifreeze containers full of water, livestock, fruits and veggies, piles of wood, hatchets, machetes, cloth, spices…and dead fish. Which brings me to My First Near Disaster.

Coming home yesterday from Santo Antao, I walk to the diskoteka as usual, spot the blue hilux from Cha di Tanque, and am dismayed to see that its already pretty packed, maybe about 14 people so far, with baskets of corn and grain, jugs of water, and some huge sacks of rice. I’m forced to forego my usual spot at the back of the truck (near the tailgate where there is at least some breeze) and instead, squeeze myself and my bag in between two kids on the passenger side. Then we wait. Over the course of the next fifteen minutes, 9 more people manage to crawl into the back. Now we’re all in there TIGHT, hip to hip, shoulders turned to make little more room, and there is NO WAY anymore people are fitting onto this sumbitch, and the driver starts out down the road for the 20 minute ride to Cha di Tanque. Its txeu hot in the back, dust is flying everywhere and I’m miserable. Then we stop on the side of the path and pick up another guy. He looks in the back and has this face like “Damn that’s a lot of fucking people in there,” which is saying a lot for an African, and for a second I think he’ll just keep walking, but he gets in, and is forced to squat in the “aisle” between the benches, hunched over someone’s bag of rice, his knees in his chest. Now the bumper of this tiny truck is dragging on the ground, there are terrible noises coming from the engine (it’s straight up and down the mountain to get to Cha di Tanque), and there is absolutely no way in hell anything or anyone else is getting on this truck. 5 minutes later, we’re stopping again, and this time it’s real bad. It’s a fat lady in her 60’s and she’s got balanced on her head a huge blue tub in which float several enormous dead fish, which have been sliced right down the middle but nit yet cleaned. There are blood and guts and scales and flies floating in this damn tub and she doesn’t even blink. She practically throws the tub into the back of the truck, the fish snot slop sloshing a couple of folks near the coveted tailgate spot. She deftly throws a leg over over the tailgate and all of us in there are thinking “Where in the FUCK do you think you’re going to sit lady?” and oh Dear Sweet Mary Mother of Jesus she’s looking right at me. Sure enough, she hunches, squirms and grunts her way through the truck, and proceeds to pile drive her tremendous large ass right next to me, completely enveloping one of the two kids that had been there just a second before. Now this woman, and I’ve got no doubts about this at all, has never even heard of a shower, much less taken one in all her 60-some-odd years of living, and there is a stink coming out of her pores like you wouldn’t believe. Then she reaches up with the hand closest to me to grab the metal frame for balance and her pit stink hits me in the face like a fuckin train. Holy Jeezuz and God on the Cross. At this point my stomach is already turning a little, and I’m in a sweat and going a little bit crazed from the heat and stink and claustrophobia. Then the blue bucket of fish and filth is passed to her and I’m transported straight to Hell. Putrescence. I’m trying to tough it out and breathe through my mouth but its not working and I can taste the smell of this woman and her bucket and I’m not sure I’m going to make it. I’m about to yell “Para!” to stop the truck and get out and walk the rest of the way down the mountain, and that’s when it happened…My First Near Disaster.

Some other jackass in the truck yells “Para!” so he can get out and walk the rest of the way down the mountain, the driver hits the brakes, we’re all slammed forward and Lord God In Heaven my face is all of a sudden three inches deep in the armpit dreds of Big Mama, and some of her pit sweat somehow finds its way up into my nostril and I think a little bit in my mouth and now there’s fish and blood and gore in my lap and my eyes are stinging from something and the smell of it all is on my tongue and burned into memory for all eternity and now here I go throwing up all over twenty-six perfectly nice Cape Verdians, except that I’m able to catch it in my mouth and choke it back down and now I’m convulsing a little bit and shuddering from the putridness of it all. BUT, then the silver lining…now all around me are Cape Verdians with their handkerchiefs sopping up the chum from my lap and my bag and someone is fanning my face and dabbing my forehead. And all of my thoughts must be laid out plain on my face because all of those in the truck that aren’t already attending to me are overcome with riotous laughter, except for Big Mama, who’s yelling like a loon about all of the wasted fish rot, and at this point I realize I’m going to make it through this and I have a laugh as well.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cha di Igresia

This is a picture of what I hope will be the town I get posted to, taken from the roof of what I hope will be my house. Although it´s only about 4 miles as the crow flies, itºs about a 45 minute drive up the mountain and back down the other side to get to Punto di Sol, where the nearest volunteer would be. (If anyone is looking at a map it is the Northern most point of the northern most island.) From Cha di Igresia, it is a 20 minute hike down the mountain to the ocean, which you can see in the background. The crystal blue waters and black sand beach there are completely inaccessible except by boat or via a 4 hour hike from Punto di Sol...consequently it is almost always deserted, and will be a perfect place to get dragged around by my kite. There are only about 400 people in the town, with another 1500 or so in the outlying area. It might be a little small, but it´s beautiful. Keep your fingers crossed for me!!! Iºll post more pics of Santo Antao once Iºve resized them.

Santo Antao, (top of) Ribiera Grande

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

In Transit from Santo Antao

Greetings Americans!!

So Iºm in transit from Santo Antao (the really green spectacular mountain where I was visiting a current volunteer) back to Cha di Tanque on the main island of Santiago. This involves hiking down the ribiera from the volunteers house (about an hour), riding in the back of a truck from Paul to Provencao, a van from there to Port Novo, a boat to the port city of Mindelo on the next island over, where I´ll stay at a hotel until tomorrow morning, when I´ll cab it to the airport, fly to Santiago, cab it to the plateau (city center) find a hiace (van-ish thing)to Assomada, ride in the back of a truck to Cha di Tanqu and then hike to my host family house. Yikes.

Anyways, I think there must be some mistake because I arrived at the hotel, asked for my room, and was led there by the desk clerk and the room is HUGE. Computer with internet, TV, shower, bed...the works, and there was no hassle. This is the first no hassle thing Iºve encountered since leaving the states. Wow. Thank you Peace Corps!!

Anyways, Santo Antao was....well, just read the following. I went a little Ernest fucking Hemmingway and had a few (2) grogs (pure distilled sugarcane alchohol flavored with honey) last night and this is what was on the paper when I woke up. Forgive the mushiness and flowery language...

I´m writing this from Paul, Santo Antao, and the island is spectacular beyond imagining. Right now I´m perched atop a tall stone wall on the edge of the ocean, against which crash the thunderous and rhythmical waves of Africa. A wide cobblestone boardwalk runs the length of the entire village, and even at this late hour, coupkles are strolling aand talking, enjoying the cool night air...the sound of guitars somewhere in the distance. The road here from Port Novo took me thousands of feet up the rocky, lunar, desert terrain of the south of the island, before suddenly giving way to a wonderous and lush green forrest of pine trees, scednted needles everywhere. Atop the mountains, the road continues to wind along the narow ridges, and for a while, below us only clouds. Crossing into Ribiera Grande, impossibly steep and fertile valleys are revealed below. Scattered houses, tiny in the distance, cling like miracles to the mountainside, surrounded by terraced crops and gardens. Now the road begins to descend to the North side of the island, each bend revealingsteeper, deeper valeeys and taller, looming peaks. It takes the breath away. At road´s end, Provencao, with its black sand beaches, rocky coast, wide celan streets and smartly painted pastel houses. Turn right asnd walk an hour, and you´d find me here atop my wall.

Then my writing got REAL bad, so Iºll spare you that agony. To put it succintly, it looks like Lord of the Fucking Rings here, or maybe Jurassic Park...whatever it is, I hope itºs where Iºll be calling home for the next 2 years.I was actually able to scout a possible town, Cha di Igresia, which is Heaven, and about which Iºll write more later. It would literally take my life savings to upload a picture from my camera without resizing it, so until I make it back to Cha di Tanque, you'll have to wait for the pictures. Seeing is believing!

Thanks for all your e-mails, please keep them coming! Also, please feel free to pass a link to this site on to anyone you think might be interested. Txou!!

Monday, July 16, 2007


Here is a real boring pic of Praia, the main city on the main island. I thought I had loaded onto my PIN drive a SPECTACULAR one that I took of the old prison island, but I got this crappy one by mistake. Anyway, at least its something.

Food and Other Stuff

Someone wanted to know about the food here. Lemmie tell you, there is txeu (a lot) rice and txeu fish here. At the market in the main city of Praia (about an hour’s drive) you can find pretty much anything you could get at a bad run-down grocery store in Austin. All the ingredients you want, just of a lower quality. In Assomada, the closest city to where I live (about a hour’s walk), the pickings are a little slimmer. The best thing though is the market. The one on Assomada is a true African market, with women sitting everywhere selling anything you can imagine, most of it picked, harvested, killed, cought or captured that same day. It smells delicious (until you get to the ladies selling the fish). There are things grilling or smoking, being weighed and measured, cut, ground up, bottled, baked, etc. All around you there are hand-woven baskets and tables full of cucumbers, rice, peppers, tomatoes, breads, grilled eel, pork (alive or dead), chicken (alive or dead), apples, curries, goat (alive or dead), papaya, crabs, shrimp, Grog and other home-made wines, mango, dried tobacco, garlic, tomatoes, bananas, guave, roots, spices, milk (from cows, goats, and even new moms!!!), corn, beans of all varieties, candies, yams, cova, apricots, blueberries, and most of all, FISH. You can get a humongous 30 pund tuna, right out of the ocean, for about $5 American . Unfortunately, $5 is more monet than most families around here will see in 4 or 5 months. Consequently, most people buy a chunk out of the tuna. Consequently there are a lot of fish guts everywhere. Also flies. My neighbor milks her cow every morning, puts it all into a couple of empty wine bottles, walks to the market and sells it every day.

Speaking of neighbors, they’re all trying to feed me. Sometimes I have 3 or 4 dinners in one night. Here in Cape Verde, it’s the most significant sign of friendship for someone to invite you to share what little food they have, so consequently its a real sign of a jackass to say no. I’m pretty ,much booked for dinner for the next 8 years. I only eat a little bit at each one, but its still a lot...of fish. Fucking fish out the whazoo. Big giant entire fishes floating in soup sometimes...heads and all! (Although sometimes its grilled chicken or pork and ALWAYS rice.) Sometimes people try to make “American” food for me too. French fried potatoes and noodles with tomato paste. Too funny. And its not like a family dinner with everyone, it’s me sitting at the head of a table with about 10 women and kids standing around smiling and staring at me while I eat a dead fish that they probably couldn’t afford in the first place. It’s actually almost always pretty tasty, just a little bit of overkill. The main, and completely unbelievable thing, is how NICE everyone is...not a single glare or scowl or anything even resembling a rude remark. Not ONE since I’ve been here. They are just genuinely caring and affectionate people, and most of them haven’t ever seen a white person up close. (Someone remind me to tell you about what happens when they realize I have chest and arm hair!!!.)

I’m REALLY excited to be going to Santo Antao tomorrow (five days in one of the what the Bandt travel guide calls “One of the world’s most beautiful, exotic and striking natural landsacpes.”). I’m not sure if I’ll get posted there after training, but I’m telling anyone who;ll listen that that is where I want to go, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed. It’s going to be beautiful...and will have cool weather. Also, I’ll have a day or to to relax and fly my kites and take some pictures. I haven’t taken many pics of my village because I didn’t want to look like a big tourist, but pretty much everyone in the entire village (1500 people) has had me over for dinner, met me personally or at least has seen me, so I think I’m safe to do whatever now.

A few days ago I flew one of my little kites on the (entirely dirt and rock) soccer “field” with the kids in the village and now they are ALL wanting to play with it some more. I’m like the pied piper walking down the black cobblestone path here....txeu (a lot) piquinoites (little kids) all crowded around me, holding my hands, singing, and hanging off of me...smiling and yelling “Kelly!!!.” As you might imagine, I’m in heaven. 

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Another LCF (Denisia on the right) and one of the current volunteers (Alex on the left).

The other PCVs

Here is a picture from dinner the other night. Iºm the oldest volunteer, but that´s turning out to work in my favor. :-)


Here is a picture of Elsa, my LCF (Language and Cultural Facilitator). Basically sheºs my bodyguard, teacher, tour guide, mom, boss, etc, all rolled into one. She´s awesome. She has done more in her life than most women do in 10 lifetimes.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ooops I Crapped My Pants

So I forgot that I never told you about my “Oops I crapped my pants!” moment.

En route to CV, we stopped in Dakar, Senegal for the day. We arrived at 4am and had been told (before we left Atlanta) that a PC rep would meet us at the airport, and then drive us to hotel, where we would stay until 8pm before flying on to Cape Verde. We stepped off the plane, down a rickety stair to the tarmac and actually had to walk across the runways to the “terminal” which was actually a dingy old warehouse with one “guard”, a guy about 18 with a huge gun in his belt. There was a lady there holding a PC sign (the only other person in the entire “Airport”), but she spoke no English. She just smiled and nodded a lot. So we gathered our bags and stood around for a while until I (having been assigned the task of “Group Leader”) tried to sign some language to her to figure out what we were supposed to do next. Eventually I discerned that she was telling me there were 2 guys from PC with trucks outside. “Outside?” I said and signed. She nodded. “With a truck?” I said and signed? More nodding. So, I tell the group of 30 other volunteers to wait for me in the airport, while I go get things sorted out. I walk confidently through the warehouse/terminal smiling all the while, past the guy with the gun, find the door to the streets outside, and with bags hanging from my shoulder (like a total idiot), step out into the pitch black morning, and the streets of Dakar.


Very little light from the 1 or 2 street lamps in the streets, buildings are half finished or half demolished, I can’t tell which, all crumbly looking and falling apart, trash EVERYWHERE in the streets, EVERONE staring at me like I was a duck on fire or something, and I was IMMEDIATELY swarmed by dozens of tall, skinny Senegalese men that (this sounds terrible but its true) you could barely make out in the darkness. Guys were pulling on my bags and tugging on my clothes, someone stuck a hand in my pocket looking for a wallet and all the while they are hollering things that literally sounded like “Umba Wubba Lubba Gongo Wamba!” Total and Immediate culture shock, and genuine fear for my life. Not another English speaking person or anyone even resembling an official in sight (not even to stamp passports or anything). I’d love to say I did something calm or rational, and truth be told, I can’t remember exactly what I did, except to say that I choked down some fear-vomit, grabbed my bag like a football and hi-tailed it back into the airport with my balls shrunken to the size of raisins. All of this took about 15 seconds. I, now doused in a cold sweat, pale from fear, shuddering and heaving and panting, found myself standing in front of the huddled group of other volunteers in the airport. They all turned and stood staring nervously at me with wide-eyes, trying in their minds to account for the abrupt change in my appearance and demeanor, at which point I exclaimed very loudly “Don’t Panic!! Everything’s going to be OK!!!”

Long story short, after first calming myself and then some of the more excitable girls in our group, I made a phone call (this took about an hour as the operator spoke no English and I speak no Senegalese) to PC headquarters and learned that there were 2 guys in a truck out there somewhere and that I should “just go find them.” Thank you Peace Corps. Ended up (using sign language again) having the guy with the gun in his pants escort me a few hundred yards till I found them asleep in a van. After much confusion with the bags and sign-languaged bartering over the cost of the ride to the hotel, we eventually we all made it to the hotel with all our bags (another fun story). The hotel was really nice (for Dakar) and eventually we made it safely on to Praia in CV the next day. As reward for having successfully led our entire group and all our accoutrements safely to CV (a task assigned to me my PC only due to my relatively advanced age), I have yet to have to pay for a drink in-country.

CV is NOTHING like Dakar. It’s poor here to be sure, but everyone here is nice, polite, pleasant, helpful, interested, beautiful, etc. The country certainly has its problems (which I’ll talk more about later) but it’s a different fucking planet over there in Sengal. NOTE TO ANYONE COMING TO VISIT….fly through Lisbon or Paris instead.

Update from Africa

Boa Tarde Amigos!! Here’s a sort of lengthy update on my status in Cape Verde. Someone send me some pics or bits of news, interesting or otherwise. Pretty much the OLY English I’m exposed to are my books (which I’ve already finished reading), and when I read or write an e-mail, so get busy typing. It’s funny how the mind craves English when it’s removed from you. Sometimes I go a little nuts from all the Kriolu and have to go walk to the closest other volunteer’s house just to hear a little “Hey what’s up” slang.

Things here are still going well. CV only gets 3 months with any rainfall, and they’re about to get them here at the end of this month. Consequently, there is a LOT of work going on to get ready for them. (The entire country revolves around these next couple months of rain.) Everyone is busy planting corn and beans. Many people, my host parents included, walk an hour or more to places where they can get work planting in the fields. I’ve volunteered to go with them tomorrow afternoon, and they can keep whatever money I can make for them, which will probably be about 75 cents. My Mai also takes water and food to the fields, which she sells to the other workers for about 2 cents. The women here are so amazing. Mai is 72 years old and carries a huge sack of cornbread-like stuff (cous-cous) in her hands while balancing a 50 pound drum of water on her head….and carries this, more or less) up an mountain and back down the other side. It’s beyond belief. Also, my neighbor had a baby 2 days after we got here, and the mother was back working in the fieldss the very next day. SO TOUGH.

On that note, they have a custom here that the baby is not named or really welcomed into the family until the seventh day. It’s nursed and changed and held of course, but nobody really speaks of the baby, like an elephant in the room.) After the seventh day, they have a big dinner and invite everyone over to meet the baby and announce the name. It’s to do with the high infant mortality rate here I think and weird to see. Another thin weird to see is the way kids are raised. It REALLY puts Darby’s life in perspective when I see kids her age around here. Girl’s her age are already learning to balance objects on their heads over here. Kids usually walk barefoot through the dirt and cobblestone streets, even though they’re scalding hot. I guess they build calloused feet because I can’t even stand to sit on them with pants on.

That’s another weird thing about this place. NOTHING is allowed to be put on the floor, and you’re certainly not allowed to sit on the floor. If you ask the locals, they say it’s because the floor is dirty, which makes me laugh because they’ll tell you this while they wipe their eyes or handle their food right after working with the pigs or cows or chickens or goats. There is also a shortage of chairs around here (almost no wood remember?) so there is a LOT of standing around and I’ve already learned not to carry anything with me, lest I be made to stand around holding it for hours at a time.

There is a definite hygiene problem here, although they’re completely unaware of it so maybe its no problem at all. (This is one of the many dilemmas of a Peace Corps volunteer…when are you helping and when are you adding to the problems??) Cuts and scrapes go unattended in all but the richest families. I used my Peace Corps medical kit to treat a huge gash on the leg of this 8 year old girl yesterday…she had tripped and fell off her porch. She freaked out and I think her parents thought I was hurting her, until they saw how much better the cut looked…at which point they tried to give me a chicken. There are kids here with what I think must be sinus infections…lots of stuff running our of their noses, and they definitely don’t have tissues or napkins to wipe them on, so you’ll sometimes see little kids with lots of snot on their face or shirt. Anyway…don’t get the wrong idea…it’s not like this place is a cesspool or that there is no medical care, it’s just that the problems that I see really leap out at me and make an impression. There is actually a full time nurse here in the village with basic first aid supplies, and a doctor that comes several days a month. It’s a free service, but the people just aren’t educated enough to take advantage of it.

The other big news is that on Friday I travel to Santo Antao, where I’ll spend a few days with a volunteer already living there, seeing what they do on a daily basis. It’s the big green, lush mountainous island that I’ve been hoping to get assigned to since I started learning about CV. There is a huge agricultural push going on there, with drip irrigation, micro-credit financed farm, honey collection projects, jam making projects, coffee production, Grog of course and a big influx big eco-tourism, as Europeans apparently go there pretty regularly to kike and camp in the mountains. I think its also sort of a test run to see how I’ll adapt to the language there, which is a very different dialect of Kriolu than the one I’m currently learning. I’m definitely the best student in my Kriolu class, and am even able to have some conversations with my neighbors and family. (As long as they are all in the present tense, which can be difficult, although I’ve found that as long as I insert a time reference “tomorrow” then I can just keep talking in the present tense, and they get that I mean in the future. Pretty much everyone laughs when I talk. I’m sure I sound like a drunk 3rd grader.) Its fun though, and I’ve found a neighbor called Suzi that helps me practice each night. She looks through my school notes, infers what we’ve been learning, and then she tries to make me practice it. Her whole family (like 10 people) sits around and watches this process, laughing every time I start to talk. Too funny. I’m already feeling at home in my village as well. When I walk to or home from school, all the kids are yelling “Keli!!!!!” and running up and giving me high fives.
Another funny thing is how the Fonze, from Happy Days, has invaded CV culture. I don’t know if its really from the Fonze, but everyone here gives everyone the thumbs up sign. Even during a formal greeting, it would be something like “good Morning to you Mam,” and you would give her a thumbs up, and she’ll say “good Morning to you as well sir,” and also stick her whole arm out with the thumbs up. People do it driving by, passing you on the street, pretty much its always appropriate to give someone the thumbs up…Its going to be a hard habit to break when I come home.

Children from My Village

These are some of the kids in my village. The little girl singing (if Iºve got the right Picture) is a little firecracker, and the most outgoing little kid Iºve ever met.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Hi guys.

So I got an e-mail asking a little more about the “paying compliments” and greetings on the street phenomenon, so I thought I’d give you a sample. When you pass any stranger, much less a vizinho (neighbor) on the street, this might be a typical exchange…

Bon Dia!
Bon Dia!
Nha dam Bensao.
Nha Dam Bensao.
Tudo Dreto?
Tudo Dreto…y Bo?
N sta fixi. Bo sta fixi?
N sta fixi. Tudo dreto. Modi Ki Bu Sta?
N sta Bom. N sta Bom. Y bo?

So that gets the greeting out of the way, and then you have this whole other conversation about how well you slept, what you had for breakfast, what your plans for the day are, etc. etc. It literally takes about 5 minutes to say Hi. There REALLY is no such thing as being in a hurry here. Consequently, nothing starts on time. Yesterday I was invited to come and watch the soccer game in my village, and was told it would start “promptly” at 2pm. Having already assimilated much of the Cape Verdian culture, I showed up at 3:30 and was the only one there. I think they actually kicked it off about 5. Crazy.

Also, I didn’t want to give the wrong impression about my host family being rich. They are by the standards of Cha di Tanque (my little village) but to put it perspective, today Mani (my Pai) and Palmeira (my Mai), who are both in their 70’s, got up, made me breakfast, then walked half way up a mountain to find a tree, chopped off two limbs with a machete, stripped the bark, made two splints, split the limbs, hammered on a hoe to each of them, then hammered in the splints. Then they came back, made me lunch, then walked about 45 minutes to the “Campo” where they will be out in the sun digging holes in the parched earth for the rest of the day, planting beans and probably getting paid about 50 cents for all their efforts. The people in Cape Verde are TOUGH.

Txio for now. Someone send me some pictures of something!!!!

All My Love

Hi guys! Just a small update. Today we took a group field trip to a place called Cidade Velha. The first outpost established on any of the Cape Verde Islands, it served as a fort and slave trading post for the Portuguese. Themost striking thing about the place (besides the view of the ocean) is the Pillory, which is a huge white marble column (topped by a cross of course) to which were tied tens of thousands of African slaves. After disembarking from the slave ships from Sengal, they were paraded and tied to the pillory, where they were inspected by potential buyers. It also served as the public whipping post for slaves who escaped and were recaptured or were otherwise resistant. It’s a powerful place, and at first I was surprised that it wasn’t the first thing tore down when they finally ousted the Portuguese in the 1970’s. (That’s not a mistake, it really was only in the 70’s that Cape Verde gained it’s independence from Portugal). In addition, there are still the remains of a convent and church, the slave quarters and the fort itself, as well as the town which group up around the fort. Really interesting history here, and one that actually parallels that of the United States. Eventually the slaves revolted and ran up the ribiera (valley) in the picture to the Forna (hinterland) where they hid and finally settled in the surrounding mountains here on Santiago, or fled to the other islands and put up a pretty much constant rebellion against the Portuguese.

We also got to visit a farm there where they harvest sugarcane and distill it into the famous Grogu of Cape Verde. They gave us all a sample at the end, and all I can say is that its lightning in a bottle…or coconut shell as it happened. Its like drinking fire, and goes straight to your head and gut. I can’t imagine how anyone drinks more than a thimbleful. It was no-shit Africa hot today, and a ton of people are burned, but I was smart and brought a huge hat.

Followed that up with a little Tabanka lesson. It’s one of several Cape Verdian traditional dances, but it the most fun you can have on two legs. The kids here learn it before they can walk and mostly it involves shaking your ass, but in a way that no white person can even begin to imagine. The locals, or Host County Nationals (HCNs we call them) tie this traditional piece of cloth (panditerra) right around the meat of their butts, and proceed to bootyquake in ways that would make porn star blush, all without moving any other part of their body….they even balance things on their head while they’re doing it. It’s amazing and TOTALLY HOT (although they explained the dance’s origins to us and it’s really nothing to do with erotica). We all had to try it at some point and I can tell you right now that I am going to be one booty-shaking bastard by the time I come home. In Cape Verde, if you don’t dance, you don’t exist. EVERYTHING here revolves around music, singing and dancing. As you might imagine, I’m feeling right at home already. Anyway, there’s your little Cape Verdian culture lesson for the day.

I’ve been doing a great job making friends and getting to know my village here already. I’m about a 10 minute walk from the closest volunteer (a nice gal from South Jersey) and I walk to her house each morning to pick her up, then we walk another 10 minutes to the school where we go to learn Creolu. Along the way we pass, among other things, goats, pigs, chickens, cows and ladies (NEVER men) balancing enormous objects on their heads, on their way to the market or the water well. It’s very surreal. The man in charge of my sector of Peace Corps (Youth and Community Development Mobilization) has inferred that if I keep it up, I’ll get my choice of islands to serve on. Right now I’m leaning towards the lush mountains, streams and fruit trees of Santo Antao, or the volcano island of Fogo where they grow coffee and make wine. I know I’ve said it before already, but the people here are ridiculously friendly. You actually have to pay a compliment to ANYONE you see passing by. It takes FOREVER to get anywhere.

I hope everyone is doing great and haven’t forgotten about me already...I miss you!

All My Love

Friday, July 6, 2007

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Mi Casa!!!

Hi guys. Here~s the latest update from Africa. Hope things arew well for everyone. Today Iºm taking my first baby steps out of my village and into the nearest vity....Assomada. Africa is....well...itºs certainly Africa. Txao!!

Things here are amazing. My host mom and dad (Palmeira y Mani) are about 75 years old. They have 5 grown sons, all of whom work and live in the main city of Praia. The first night was VERY SCARY. The three of us just staring at each other for about 15 minutes. Complete silence. Fear and Panic. Then came the food. Tons of rice, fish, salad, bread, juice, coffee, beans, corn , more fish and more rice. A Feast. All of it tasty, and a little weird. After I ate all of that, she cleared the table and did the dishes. Bout 20 minutes after that, one of her sons, who happens to be the UN representative for CV, came over and we had the whole dinner over again. N sta fartu. That was the first sentence of Ceiolu that I learned. I am full. Anyway, Palmeira is the richest lady in Cha di Tanque, a small village where I am staying. They’re dirt poor by any but African standards, but live well for this place. During the 2 dinners, 37 neighbors came over to meet me. No shit. 37. I know because I wrote down all their names. (Which they all thought was a little weird.)

The house is amazing. It’s a big square with the middle cut out and open to the outside. From the rua (street) you enter a sitting room with 4 chairs. This is the ONLY room where members of the opposite sex can talk to each other alone. (First rule of the house) From there you enter the opened square I mentioned which is a tile concrete floor with broken bits of colored tile laid about, and huge pretty plants, including a papaya tree, all around. To the left is the cusina (kitchen) about 5 X 5 feet, to the right, the master bedroom (10 X 10) and a water closet (4 X 4). There is water in the toilet, which comes from an underground tank. You pump a bunch of water up to the roof with a lever, and that operates the plumbing (sorta) for the day. We get to flush it once per day, and there’s enough water for 3 cold showers, about 2 minutes each. (2nd rule of the house) Other side of the square is the alfombra fresca. A porch covered with empty bags and hay woven together to form a thatch roof, held up by sticks, under which sits a table for 8. Beyond that lies a second cusinia, the one where they use fire to cook fish, boil water for coffee and tea, etc. Then there is the jardin (garden). Papaya, Mango, Banana, Coconut, Corn, Beans, Kale, and amillion other things. 3 chikens, 3 rabbits, a turkey, 2 goats and a pig. I literally wake up in the mornings, pick a mango or papaya of the tree and eat it for breakfast while Palmeira cooks me up an ovu (egg), coffee and some fish stew (cachupa).

Best of all is my room. Up a set of steep white stairs from the open square of the cenete of the house, I have a rooftop apartment all to myself with a view of the mountains and the entire ribiera (valley). I have a patio all to myself where I sit and play my guitar and read in my chair when I’m not studying or over at the neighbor’s house playing with their kids. (I’m learning more from them than I do at school!) My room has a door with a lock and key that only I have. It is about 8 X 10 painted white with flowered curtains on both of the windows. I keep them open all the time and a really nice cool breeze blows through them all day and all night. Fiku, the dog, sleeps on the patio outside my room at night. I have a bed to sleep on and a second bed on which all of my things are laid out, as well as a desk and chair, and some flowers in a cup. There is a light that works if I need it, although I’ve been so tired that I usually go to bed as soon as it gets dark, around 730. I’ve put some pictures here (I think) so you can see all that I’m talking about.

I’ve been here only 3 or 4 days (already lost count) and already I’m able to at least make all the basic communication. (Me hungry, me thirsty, how are you, whats your name etc.)

One quick funny story….So I’ve been going around saying “Boa Tarde. Modi Ki bu Xioma? N Xioma Caley”, which means Good Afternoon, whats your name, my name is Caley. Turns out Ke Li (pronounced Caley) litrerally translates into “What is this?” So, I’ve been going around the village saying “Good afternoon, whats your name? My name is What is This?” LOTS of people looking at me like I’m the dumbest thing that ever came to Africa. So funny.

Anyway. I’m SO happy I came. Africa is everything I thought it would be and much much more. It’s poor and rugged beyond description, but beautiful as well. I can’t begin to tell you how vibrant, beautiful, pleasant and polite the people in this village are. Everybody sings all day long. Amazing.

I want for nothing, have more than I need, and have never been so happy.

All My Love.

ps I think the pictures arenºt working becuase theyºre huge files. I may try otra vez when I get back to a computer.