Sunday, August 19, 2007

Txa di Igresia (My new home as of Septmeber 3!!)

Pictures from what will be my roof in Txa di Igrsia

Nossa Senhora di Graca, and Site Placement

Nossa Senhora di Graca, and Site Placement Announcement

So there’s been a lot happening over the past week or so and there hasn’t been any internet access, so I’ll try to catch you up.

First of all, this week was festa week in my village. Almost every village on every island has a festa (a week-long party), which honors a saint. In the case of Txa di Tanki, the saint is Sonora di Graca, and the festa is one of the biggest in Cape Verde. I think there are about 1500 people living in and around Txa di Tanki, but there were about 6000 here for the day of the festa. During the evening, all week long, there were women’s batuku (traditional music and dance) groups from all over the island, the play that the local kids put on, vendors selling everything you can think of on the street and the best part…a stage, microphones, huge speakers, lights and power supplied by the kamara (city hall) in Assomada to facilitate all of this.

Definitely the scariest of these events was the Miss Txa di Tanki contest, wherein girls about 6 to 12 years old competed in a batuku contest. If you’ll recall, although in Cape Verdian culture, batuku is considered “traditional” and is not, according to locals, supposed to be “sexy,” it doesn’t change the fact that it is without question the sexiest dance imaginable. Thus, essentially the winner of the Miss Txa di Tanki contest is a darling, sweet, little girl of about 9…who can dance like porn-star-stripper on crack. Different Cutlure.

The events went on, literally, till dawn each day. The ENTIRE town goes every night, all night, no exeptions...even my 80 year old parents. My host mom actually told me the night before the festa started that I shouldn’t plan on sleeping for the next few days. I consulted Peace Corps and they suggested I “get some resta before the festa.” Outstanding.

For the festa proper, this is how it unfolds…Someone steals the statue of Sonora di Graca from the church in Txa di Tanki the week before the festa, and then on the day of the festa (15th of August) the thief begins a huge procession that starts in a village on the other side of Assomada, winds through all the villages in the outlying area, accumulating people all the time, before eventually making its way back to the church here for Sunday mass. (6000 people surrounding a tiny church that holds maybe 30). This year it was AFRICA hot, people were walking (up and down mountains) for as many as 5 hours, all dressed in the Sunday best, carrying umbnrellas, reciting prayers that were lead by the preacher, who rode in a car with a microphone. It was definitely something to see. After a 2 hour mass (I watched from my roof), the real party started.

During the days leading up to the festa, the sound of screaming pigs, goats and cows was inescapable, and I wan’t exactly sure why. Well, turns out the entire town had been butchering their best animals to cook and eat, and after mass, each and every family from Txa di Tanki returns to their house, opens up its doors and puts out the biggest goddam spread you’ve ever heard of. (Some people had actually moved their furniture out of their house to make room for more guests.) Then everyone…and I mean everyone, EATS. Astounding, startling amounts of food are consumed. It’s epic really. Stews, casseroles, chicken and dumplings, pies, cakes, kabobs, grilled meats, wine, flan, pudding, yogurt, rice, grog, veggies, candy, catxupa, home made orange paunxe. I have never in my life seen as much food as was on display that day, and that’s the god’s honest truth. You, as a visitor to Txa di Tanki, are expected to eat and drink, and eat some more, at EVERYONE’S house. Forget the N sta fartu. (I’m full!) No excuse. Forget the N dja akaba janta dja. ( I just finished eating!) No excuse. If you don’t eat all their food and cake and drink all their beer and wine, you might as well have slapped them in the face. It’s pure and unadulterated gluttony.

It seemed silly to me, to have all this excess in a place where people barely have enough to get by, until my neighbor explained to me that that’s exactly why they have such a festa. For 364 days out of the year, Cape Verdians worry about food, they worry about rain, and they worry about their crops. Then, for one day in August, they put all of that behind them, and just let loose, have a good time, and eat like most of us Americans.

The other big news in recent days was site announcement. In the end, I got EXACTLY what I wanted. I’ll be going to Txa di Igresia, on the island of Santo Antao. I will officially be further (by far) from Peace Corps headquarters and next closest volunteer than anyone else, which makes me VERY happy. (I’m also, pretty much, as close to Austin as I could possibly be while still being in Cape Verde!) Essentially, I’ll have to walk about 30 minutes up the ribera from Txa di Igresia, and then find a car for a 45 minute trip over the mountain to get to the next volunteer, Laurie. From her house, its only about 15 minutes to a big town that has internet, a market, a bank, cafes, etc.

Txa di Igresia itself, is ideal. If you remember my last entry about it, its situated halfway up a ribera, on the northern coast of the northernmost island. Its about a 20 minute walk down the mountain to a gorgeous, sandy beach, which is otherwise completely inaccessible except by a 4 hour walk from a town called Punto di Sol. It’s a tiny, clean little village, and I expect I’ll have met everyone that lives there before the end of my forst day there. It’s a little scary to be going to such a small place, but its staggeringly beautiful. Also there’s the flat. I’m on the top floor of a 3 story flat. Its plain and simple, but has a brand new “kitchen,” and private access to the roof of the whole building. IDEAL. (I took the attached picture from this roof.) They also have power most of the time at night, and part of the year, running water. I’ll be doing God knows what while I’m there (Peace Corps has yet to really help define my role as a Community Development and Youth Mobilizer), but I do have some ideas already. More about that later.

In any event, yesterday was the last day of the festa. I’m currently running on about 7 hours sleep in 5 days, and although I’m happy beyond belief about site announcement, I’m a total zombie. Looking forward to Sunday morning “sleep in,” which, over here, means about 645AM if I’m lucky.

I Hope All Are Well. Send some e-mails!!!

Big Ass Tree

I canºt remember if I put up a picture of the Big Ass Tree. Here is one is I havenºt already.

Batuku Dancer

Not the best picture, but you can see whoatºs going on I think. The group of women sit in a circle and play "drums" made out of plastic bags with clothes inside. One woman sings a verse, then all respond with a chorus. The intesity of the beat, song and dance increases, until the end, at which the point whoever is dancing is essentially vibrating, for lack of a better term. Very Impressive.

Women´s Batuku

The Procession

Statue of Senhora di Graca in Procession

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Hectic Week

Hi guys. Just wanted to give you all a quick update. It’s been a very hectic week as I’ve been busily preparing for my “Dia di Limpa Skola” project in Txa di Tanki. I’ve made Portuguese avisos (flyers), invitations for kids, families, other volunteers on this island and also Peace Corps staff, drafted letters (also in Portuguese) requesting supplies, assistance and money to the kamera (City Hall) in Assomada, the Ministero di Educaҫãὀ and an Environmental NGO (non-government-organization) called Ambente. All have promised me some form of aid, but most of it has yet to arrive, and the project is tomorrow. So far, the only things I’ve managed to secure for sure are 3 buckets of paint, 2 paintbrushes, 3 mops, 3 sponges and a big bucket.
The kids in town are also going to do a batuku performance, and the group that did the play for the festa in town is going to do a 15 minute short play about drug use. To top it all off, everyone is bringing snacks and drinks to have a little party after its all over. Although I know how I want everything to go, I am having a hard time visualizing what will actually happen tomorrow. I’ll be sure to let you know though.
What else? This week we talked with the budget guy and he’s a REAL jackass. Peace Corps, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to pay us 4 times a year. (I’m really wishing I’d have taken some sort of budgeting class in college right now, and I’m sure my family is shitting golden bricks as they read this and envision me going hungry for the next two and half months.) Included in that quarterly payment will be ¼ of all work-related travel allowances, emergency money etc. that we will receive for the fiscal year, even though we don’t know when, where or how often we’ll ever need to travel, which makes a HUGE difference. (For instance, if we need to travel to Fogo for training or medical purposes, that costs about 24,000$00, whereas a trip to Santiago would cost about 12,000$00, but we don’t know ahead of time where we’d need to go.) Lastly, he told us that everyone gets the same amount for their “settling in allowance,” which is the money (about $100 USD) they give us to buy everything we need for our house…bed, bedding, pots, pans, cups, spoons, knives, desk, chairs, cleaning supplies, etc. Thing that made me want to shoot the damn messenger though, is that there are only 3 of us (myself included) that will be living alone, and that are moving into completely new sites where there has never been a Peace Corps volunteer. Everyone else is moving into an established, ready-to-go Peace Corps house with furniture, kitchen stuff, roommates, beds etc. So they’ll have a house and an allowance for fun, travel or luxury (internet, chocolate), and the three of us will be sleeping on the floor and cooking rice in cups. I know it’s the Peace Corps and all, and I realize I’m bitching about money amidst a country full of people who have none, but c’mon. How about a little love for the few of us that are going to be out in the sticks?
And as long as I’m bitching, also this week we’ve been getting what Peace Corps is calling “Emergency Sanpadjudu” kriolu lessons. On Santo Antao, the island I’ll be living on for the next two years, they speak a different version of Kriolu than the one I’ve been learning and have worked so hard to become nearly fluent in. It’s not something you could equate to understanding a Boston accent versus a South Carolina accent, as the difference here is actually a dialect. For instance, in the Badiu kriolu that I’ve learned…

Modi ki bu sta? Modi ki bu txoma? Modi ki bu ta fla?

Becomes, in Sanpadjudu kriolu…

Oi manera, tu dret? Manera ke’b nom? Manera ke’k’bo te’dze?

So, although there are definitely some similarities, I feel like I’m basically starting from scratch, which definitely sucks. Peace Corps has yet to give us a good explanation as to why they are only giving us one week (one hour a day) of “emergency” sanpadjudu, but I think it has something to do with the gross inefficiency, lack of attention to detail, and piss poor planning. I’ve been told by my host family not to worry, because all the people on my new island will still be able to understand me…I just won’t be able to understand them. Anyways, as soon as I get there, I plan on arranging a new family to teach me how to talk, how to behave properly (it’s improper to stretch, sit cross-legged or touch anyone with your left hand here for instance), where and how to get mail, where to take trash, how to find a car to the nearest town etc.
Essentially, the home-stay, language acquisition, cultural integration etc. that I’ve had for the last 2 months has been a practice run for the REAL immersion that I’ll go through beginning next week, except this time I’m on my own. Time to see what I’m really made of I guess.
Anyways, basically I’ve been running around like mad, and jdan kumenza ku sodade di nha vizinho y familha (I’m already starting to miss my neighbors and host family), I don’t have anything to read (in English), I’ve had a cold for about three days, and I’m a little bit scared that tomorrow I’ll be standing around the school with three buckets of paint all by myself. So, a bit of a rough patch, but I’m still having the time of my life, and wouldn’t trade this for anything. I am living on an beautiful desert island in the middle of the ocean after all.

I hope all is well with everyone. Although I wouldn’t really know, as I think the novelty of my adventure must have worn off, and there are rarely any new e-mails or Blog comments waiting for me anymore. (Guilt Trip) If anyone has or is planning to send a card, letter, book or care package (Guilt Trip), I’ll have my new address in a week or so. I should also be given a cell phone by Peace Corps, as apparently I’ll be the “Safety and Security Coordinator” (no idea what that job entails) for the other volunteers on Santo Antao, and a cell phone comes with that gig, although God knows what it would cost to call me on it. Anyways, information to follow shortly.

Y’all take good care of each other.

Vla and Ortilindo

Me and Susie


The "Director" of the Play

The Stars of the Play

The Txa di Tanki Youth Theater Group

Other News

Howdy friends and family. Here is an update on things in Txa di Tanki. (And yes, I know I’ve spelled it a few different ways, but that’s how they do it here.)

So some of the teens in my town wrote and have been practicing a play to perform at a town festival (think Burgesfest or SXSW, except in a tiny village in Africa) and I’ve been going and taking pictures and helping out with it every night for a week or so and have made some great new friends. (Hopefullt there are some pictures of the play practices up with this entry. I brought my guitar the other night and these 2 guys I hadn’t met before showed up with another guitar and we basically took turns playing all night, teaching each other songs. Great night. By the end of the night, they’d arranged for us to all do a song together before the play starts. (I think there are pics posted of play practice.)

I’ve also become very close with a family up the Ribera a ways. There is an 8 year old girl named Rosie and her family that I’m crazy about, and I basically spend most of my free time over there. My parents here are old and don’t leave the house much, so going over there gives me a chance to get out in the community. They’re all beautiful, nice, polite, intelligent, happy, easy going, caring, and have never asked me for anything except my presence at their dinner table. It’s the mom Anna, a 19 year old boy (boys and girls are kids here in almost every sense of the word until about 25 or 30, and even after, rarely move out of the house they grow up in) a 17 year old girl, a 13 year old boy, and then Rosie. They haven’t seen their father in 8 years (Rosie’s never met her dad) as he emigrated to Portugal where he works as a construction worker. He sends them about $70 a month from his salary there. In this country, their dad is essentially the “typical” father, and is highly regarded as a “good man” in Txa di Tanki. They’re dirt poor...literally. The floor of their 2 room cinderblock house is the dirt of the earth. Gil and Sydney share a cot, and the women share a bed, all in the same 8X8 room where they make a wood fire to boil the water for the rice or corn or beans that they eat every night for dinner. They have a table and a couple chairs, 6 plates, 6 spoons, 5 cups, and (and this is beyond belief) several changes each of very nice looking clothes, and not a whole let more. The mom makes money by selling cow milk and butter that she makes from same, and serving as the town, cascador (animal castrator). Gil cuts and gathers firewood up on the mountain to sell to other people in the village, and also gathers padja (sorta like hay) and sells it to people to feed their animals. Lena does all the cooking and clothes washing, Rosie the cleaning of the house and tending to the smaller animals. Basically I think I’ve been adopted into their family (to the extent that that’s possible). I usually have breakfast over there, then I help feed the goats, and milk the cow in the morning. Rosie takes the milk from the bucket and puts it into empty wine bottles and then fashions corks from dried corn cobs, and their mom goes to Assomada to sell them. Then I go to school, then come back, and help Lena and Gineelson carry water to the house from a natural ground well about 2 miles away. The well puts out a sad, spasmodic stream of brackish, grainy water, which we carry in buckets on our heads. Evenings we tend to the animals again, then sit around playing cards, practicing their English and my Kriolu, swapping stories (mostly in the present tense on my part) and laughing. In a lot of ways, I feel more at home there than I ever have anywhere…although it’s impossible to explain why. The point of this isn’t to lament their poor and difficult lives, but to put their smiles and laughter, their love of family, friends and neighbors, their friendship and their hospitality, into context. Salt of the Earth.

Txa di Tanki

Heres a shot of txa di Tanki from above. All the way on the right near the top you can see a small white building...thats the house is right across the street.

Big Ass Tree

So here are a few shots (maybe only one depending on the ever-shaky internet connection here in Assomada) of the Big Ass Tree that lives here in Cape Verde. It’s the only one of its kind anywhere in the country, although they are apparently ubiquitous on The Continent (that’s what everyone here calls Africa). Nobody is sure what kind it is…locals included. It’s not a Redwood by any stretch of the imagination, but the Cape Verdians are real damn proud of it, and as well they should be. Its located in a spot that gets all of the run off when it rains (which it did for the first time in over nine months last week), and it was a really pretty walk over a brown mountain and down into and through a lush valley. Being a group of Americans, it was of course not long before someone conquered the tree by climbing to the top of it, at which point an old man appeared from nowhere to tell us that the tree is, more or less, a National Landmark. Essentially it was as if we, or rather, the guy standing up in the tree, had pissed into Old Faithful or something. We were mortified and left immediately.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Me, Rosie, Lena and Gil (and others at sign-up)

On the way to the waterfall...

Group Photo - under the waterfall

Overnight in Ribera di Barka.

Here is a picture of a waterfall we found up the ribera (valley) outside of Ribera di Barka. It was about a 2 hour hike up the ribera on a REALLY hot day, but was well worth the effort. Freezing cold water falling about 150 feet from the top of a rock outcropping. Easily the best day Iºve had so far.

From the group in the picture, about 6 of us decided to stay overnight in Ribera di Barka. We ate tons of grilled chicken and fish, had a few beers at the local bar, and taught the kids some fun games. (Interestingly, none of knew the word for goose when we tried to teach them Duck, Duck, Goose, so henceforth on the island of Santiago, children will be playing Chicken, Chicken, Fish. Also, the children prefer to be able to run THRUOGH the circle when playing.

There was a fmaily there that had an extra house with a roof you could get to, so we all slept out there for the night. TXEU stars there, as there is absolutely ZERO light pollution. Amazing night of star gazing, story telling, and guitar playing. Also, there was a goat living on the roof.


X-Rated Blog Entry

So, peace corps gave us a kriolu-english dictionary and I thought I would share the following entry, for your amusement :-)

sex- v. fazi seksu (polite); fazi amor (polite); moka (vulgar); mofa (vulgar); tra karepa; da krau; kebra koku (lit. break poop) (vulgar); kume kuza (lit. eat the thing) (vulgar); subi kama (lit. climb the bed) (informal); deta (lit. lie down/go to bed) (informal); fazi kuza (lit. do the thing) (vulgar); mopi kasarola (lit. dent the pot) (vulgar); fodi (vulgar); poi kuza na kuza (put the thing in the thing) (vulgar); subi na kabelu (lit. climb in the hair) (vulgar); xinta na pregu (sit on the nail) (vulgar); kumi kabesa (lit. eat the head) (vulgar); kumi kongu (lit. eat congo beans) (vulgar); fazi galu ku galinha (lit. do the rooster and the chicken) (vulgar); fazi kel kuza (lit. do that thing) (vulgar); fazi mal kriason/kriadeza (lit. do the bad thing) (vulgar); da un kuza (lit. give a thing) (vulgar); da katxor banhu (lit. give the dog a bath) (vulgar); da biota (lit. give housework) (vulgar); da fuliada (lit. give a throw) (vulgar); da fogu (lit. give fire)

I wonder what a list like this would look like in English.

Ribera di Barka

Sign Up

Here is a picture of some kids from the meeting signing up to bring food and cleaning products...

Me, Lena and Rosie (at CD meeting)

Community Development Meeting

So tonight I had the Community Project Meeting in Txa di Tanqi was a success!! (At least as far as I’m concerned.) I made an AVISO (sort of like an invitation) in Assomada last Friday, which was interesting because all written documents in CV are in Portuguese, and I only speak Kriolu. Anyway, I flubbed my way through most of it and taped them up all over town and put them in the hilux that run from here to Assomada (including the one I nearly barfed in).

Then came today, segunda feira (Monday). I got there at 5 to get things ready, the town professor showed up early and opened up the school for me and showed me how to work the generator to pon luz (make light). By 6 the sign-up sheets were posted, I’d gone over the frases util (useful phrases) I planned to use and I commenced waiting nervously for my first big speech in Kriolu. So the aviso said it would start at 7 sharp, and when there wasn’t a person in sight at 730, I’d pretty much chalked the whole thing up as a learning experience. (I am the world’s worst Community Development Mobilizer!!) When all of a sudden, what to my eyes did appear? Two of my neighbors, coming near! It was Rose (8 years old, precious, shy as can be and basically, since we talk on the same level, my second Kriolu professora) and Lena (17, whip-smart, sassy, practical and funny as hell)…basically the two people I feel most comfortable with in this entire country…and I felt better immediately. (I am NOT the world’s worst Community Development Mobilizer!!) Even better, more people were behind them and basically everyone was filing into the school around 7:45 (not too bad). There are, more or less as far as I can tell, about 1500 people in TdT (my village of Txa di Tanqi) and I was hoping about 15 or 30 would show, most of that number being my immediate neighbors and other PC volunteers living in the area. Instead I got…43!!!, and only one other PC volunteer! Fixi!! (I am the World’s Best Community Development Mobilizer!!)

Almost everyone that came was between the ages of 8 and 18 (my exact target audience, so around 815, I was so excited about the turnout that I ditched The Speech, and just started to papia ku tudus (talk with everyone off the cuff). I basically said “thank you for opening up your hearts and homes and making all the brankas (white people) feel welcome on the island” and then I asked if anyone knew what Korpo di Paz (Peace Corps) was and heard a lot of hilarious things. Dipos (after) I explained to them in Kriolu (using the word “explained” lightly here), what I thought Peace Corps was, what I thought my role in the community was, and then I talked for a little while about how I’d been out in the community talking with all the krianzas (kids) about what they want and need in the community, and about how the school here is in bad shape and about the importance of community building and working together and how I would go to the kamara (government office in Assomada) to request whatever assistance I could muster, and then finally laid out my master plan for the Dia di Limpa Skola y Festa Tanbe (Day of School Cleaning and Party Too).

The words flew from my mouth without effort. I was in the moment, pausing only for effect on the key messages, emphasizing and gesticulating, smiling, making eye contact and for a while, the frustration of foreign-language immersion was a complete thing of the past, a figment of my imagination. I was, for a brief and shining moment, an actual Cape Verdian. When I was done with my explanation (including a couple well received jokes) I asked if there were any questions and got…dead silence and blank stares. A fly buzzed around my face. A couple chairs creaked. Someone blew their nose, and one guy in the back got up and left. Utter devastation. As the sweat beaded on my forehead and I began to shift back and forth with nervous energy, my mind racing for a an answer to the silence. I could try again...where was The Speech…what happened to my frases util?...Did my translation of txuba txobe mean something more vulgar than what I intended? What would happen if I just walked out like the guy in the back? I finally settle on Nhos sta segura qi nigem tevi algo ki kre flanos? (Are there really no comments?) And then, like snow on Christmas morning, a shy little 8 year old girl sitting in the front, my neighbor, my professora, my Rose, raises her hand. I say...

-Sim Rosie? Bu kre flanos?
-Sim. Her tiny little snowflake voice making a question out of a statement.
-Enton… flanos.
-Ami n podi adjudao Kelli? Can I help you Caley?
-Claro Rosie. Claro. Obrigado. Of course you can. Thank You.

Rosie smiles, gets up from her seat in the front, takes ten long steps to me, takes my hand in hers, and melts my heart by turning to the room and announcing in a confident and excited voice…

-Ami n ta trazi nha saco pa poi lixu! (I will bring my sack to put trash in!)

She walks to the sign up sheet I’ve posted on the wall and she takes up a marker and scribbles along the bottom…

Rosie Fernandez - saco.

The whole room stares at her and I’m watching them and I realize that they all know her even better than I do and there are 42 melted hearts in the room.

The rest of the story tells itself. Within seconds people are up and talking and signing up to cook stuff and bring soap and mops and a couple guys in the front are telling me they can bring their brother from Assomada because he’s a carpintero (carpenter) and there are people discussing other possibilities amongst themselves…and now we’re on our way.

And I walk over to the corner of the room and take a seat near the sign-up lists and pull Rosie onto my lap and wrap my arms around her and we sit together in the corner and watch things unfold, and I’m reminded again of exactly why I’m here.

Obigado pa todo Rosie.