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!

Calm Before the Storm

Dance Number

Notice the Swapped Topa? this number had been well-rehearsed for the occasion.

Good Times


Djonny and Marlen

Friday, November 2, 2007

Books on CD?

So I have a pretty good idea about a way to really help my students learn to read and write English, and could use a little help. If anyone feels like it. What I want to do is have people send a book on CD (usually available for less than $5 at Half Price Books) along with a copy of the book itself. I´m thinking that the kids can listen to the words as they read (or at least see) them written on the page. It´ll help accustom them top hearing and seeing English, and they can do this at home after our classes. anyway…just an idea!

Also…got three packages today!!! Holy Mary Mother of Grace am I excited to get home and open them. Thnaks Dad and Greg and everyone else!!