Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Picnic on the Beach...and Stomach Ailments

So Sunday was sorta like Secretaries Day, for the Sanitation Department workers…sorta. Jani and Orlando (who is sorta like the mayor of Cha de Igreja, appointed by the president of the kamera, and in charge of the people who sweep the streets, dump the trash in the ribeira, control the water valves, etc.) took all of his sanitation workers and their families (the street sweepers and trash dumpers) to the beach for an worker appreciation day. He and the kamera paid for a car to take about 25 people to the beach for a day of fun in the sun, and I was invited along to document the event. (My camera is my invitation to everything in this town.) Anyway, it was a picnic in style. We got down to the big beach past Cruzinha and set up shop in the shade of a cave where Orlando commenced to grilling chicken with a metal pan on a gas stove and Jani commenced to cooking rice and beans. They also brought along a bunch of paunche and grogue and even a case of cold beers…in a refrigerator. Igloo coolers are yet-to-be-discovered in Cape Verde, so they make do, with small refrigerators. Yup, they brought the whole refrigerator…carried the heavy bastard, loaded with ice cold beers, 300 yards straight down the nearly vertical rocky path that leads from the road to the beach. (It was worth it.)

While the bosses cooked, the rest of the gang played soccer on the beach, jumped into the waves (the current and riptide are still too dangerous to allow for swimming), took naps in the shade, built sandcastles, played cards and chatted…basically all the same things we do at the beach in the states. I brought the now insanely popular Frisbee and we had a go at that as well. We were there all day long and just before we packed up to leave in the evening, Orlando and Jani pulled out a humongous, delicious carrot cake with lemon cream icing (which was also stashed in the refrigerator) and we all devoured it.

Later that night I invited Beni and Gisella and Romeo and Leo and Tynara over for a very American meal of hamburgers, onion rings and coca colas. (Last week in Povocon I discovered for the first time since being in Cape Verde, a delicious frozen and frost-covered box of something called “Hamburg Patie,” which is imported from Denmark and very closely approximates an American fast food hamburger. Closer inspection of the packaging of “Hamburg Patie” reveals them to be comprised of “91% mechanically separated chicken parts.” Ominously, there is no mention of the other 9%. All I know is, they’re goddam delicious, and if I ever see them in the store again, I’m going to buy out the entire stock. I had also, through some connections in Coculi, acquired some surprisingly healthy-looking green leaf lettuce and sliced, processed cheese spread…like a poor imitation of Kraft cheese slices, except less tasty, if that’s possible. Anyway, I had all the makings for the Cape Verdian equivalent of a Happy Meal, so that’s what I made.

Well, I can tell you that the meal was, from the viewpoint of my Cape Verdian friends, a resounding success, particularly the onion rings. It was the first time eating onion rings for all of them and after they’d devoured 3 onions worth, they immediately demanded more, which made me insanely happy. They enjoyed the burgers cokes as well, but pretty much onion rings were the Big Hit. After dinner we sat around and played Sting and discussed the finer points of Frisbee throwing and the frying of onion rings.

The only downside to the entire evening was yesterday afternoon, most of which I spent in the bathroom, due I believe, to the green leaf lettuce. Peace Corps recommends that volunteers soak all produce in water and bleach for 15 minutes before consuming. I felt like that would be a little overkill, so I just washed it under the sink for a bit. Apparently that wasn’t enough, for me and my weak constitution at least.

Peace Corps training reminds us that we will all, during the course of our service, become the victims of “stomach maladies…possibly severe.” It’s not if, but when. Entire days of training were spent on diarrhea, its causes and cures. Well, yesterday was my day. I was grossly, terribly, obscenely, horribly, profanely, violently ill yesterday. (I believe the technical term is “Coming Out Both Ends.”) In the End, I would need a hose. Other than a faintly-remembered yet glorious afternoon at Mardis Gras, it was I believe, the first time in my life to pass an entire day with my pants down. Now, this would be bad enough at home in the States…behind closed doors in the cool, climate-controlled environs of my home, with nice clean, cold bathroom tiles to lay down on between eruptions. Maybe even a shaggy bathroom mat to rest my head upon. Well, I can tell you that such an experience is Much Worse over here.

Yesterday it was murderously hot outside. Further, my bathroom is, I might remind you, a tiny cave of a closet, 3 feet by 3 feet with a slanted ceiling that requires you to stoop when standing. The toilet and the bathtub are one in the same. The floor is rough concrete. Its size does not permit the supine position. It is also, and here is the salient point, a mere 6 feet from the streets of Cha de Igreja. Well, the shrieking and splashing and spraying and backfiring going on in there yesterday was certainly audible and, I can assure you, Very Worrisome to my neighbors. There was real and genuine concern; a crowd gathered. Shouts of “Oi Caley…bo ta tu dret? Ki k bo ten?” (Hey Caley, what the fuck is going on in there?) They may have feared a murder was talking place.

Well as we all know, the last thing anyone wants at such a moment is an audience. I tried to ignore them; wished they’d go away. But they didn’t. Instead they knocked and called to me and knocked some more. My friend Vaduka eventually scaled the small wall that separates my quintal from the street, nearly slipped in the filth, and discovered me attempting to crawl into the kitchen to hide. God knows what his initial assumption was at that moment. If they ever get Therapy over here, he might need it. Counseling may be the only option for the nightmares he’s likely to have after seeing my crumpled, sweating, dripping, filth-covered form. Poor Bastard…I wasn’t polite. I yelled at him to please get the fuck out and let me die in peace and he obliged.

Hours later the worst had passed. I used buckets of water and bleach to rinse myself and mop the bathroom floor and clean the walls off. I believe Vaduka sensed that I was either recovering or dead, and he knocked again. I limped to the door and upon opening it found he and his mom with a Tupperware full of chicken broth and crackers and a banana. I invited them in, thanked them profusely, and apologized to Vaduka. I passed on the banana, but sipped the broth and nibbled on the crackers, and felt measurably better immediately. We talked for a bit, I explained the lettuce and we had a laugh. Having confirmed my survival, they excused themselves and promised to return today with more soup and crackers.

Anyway, that’s how I spent yesterday. My poor sister called me yesterday when I was in the midst of all of this but I didnºt have the heart to tell her. Now she knows. I’m feeling better today…I’m hungry even. I won’t scare you with pictures of yesterday, but here are a few from the picnic on the beach.

Last Photo

If I had died yesterday, like Chris McAndless did when he went off into the wild, then this would have been the last photograph taken of me alive...like the one of McAndless in front of his bus that appears on the first page of the novel about his life.

Orlando and the Crew

Soccer on the Beach


Leo and Tio Romeo...No Hands

At the Beach

Beni and Tynara

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Busy Day!

So yesterday was definitely my busiest and most rewarding day so far in Cape Verde. Today I am exhausted and happy to have nothing to do. A brief recap goes as follows.

I awoke to the sound of a honking horn and someone yelling “Oi Patch” on the street below. I open the window to see Elder carrying a couple of green sea torturugas turtles. Elder is my friend from INDP, the government funded turtle protection group, and he and I have been working on making a turtle-awareness video to be shown in schools in Cape Verde. These particular turtles were caught in redes (nets) last year and he´s spent the last 12 months caring for them in Sao Vicente and today was the day that we were to set them free in the ocean (I had actually no part whatsoever in this, he was just kind enough to invite me to set a turtle free). We drove own to Cruzinha and dropped the pessods (heavy bastards) in the ocean and he rushed me back for my second event of the day, budzod (day of mass-baptisms).

Over here, because the padre is so hard to get a hold of (he serves about 7 communities on the island) they do mass baptisms rather than just one at a time. Yesterday about 24 kids were baptized, and I was recruited by the families of nearly all of them to document the event, so it was home to wash off the turtle smell, change into my one sorta nice outfit, grab my makina (camera) and rush off to the church where I was just in time to see the padre smearing some stuff on the kids heads. Everyone was buzoff (in their finest attire). Although most wore white there were a couple of women in princess tiaras and others in slinky red minis. There was a lot of sitting and standing and singing and Hallelujahs and salves and oils applied to the foreheads of the kids and then finally the actual Baptisms. Immediately following the service, I began taking family photos, individual photos, photos with just the newly baptized child and their padrinhos and madrinhas (godfathers and godmothers), photos of the kids with the padre, photos of the kids with the Jeezuz statue, photos with the candles and without the candles, and eventually, every exponentially possible combination of child/children/parent/godparent/cousin/uncle/padre…well you get the picture. I went through a whole camera battery and 3G of digital film. It was awesome. There´s no way that I, or they, can afford to print the pictures to keep in an album, so we decided that next Sunday, we´ll borrow the big TV and DVD player from the associacao and have a group viewing of all the pics. (Hopefully I can get some of the best pics included on some of the CDs that people volunteered to print in the States.) Eventually the kids had had enough and we were all dismissed to the various festas (parties)around town.

So naturally, this being an extremely Catholic country, a Baptism requires a HUGE party, and rather than combine parties, which would have been my suggestion, there were 24 separate parties (in a town of less than 400 people)with each table topped with more food and booze than could feed the Cape Vedian army (there is one). I was obliged (and happy) to appear at each of the parties to take some pictures and stuff my face with pizza and grilled meats and stewed meats and cake and peanuts and pastels and olives and cheese and chorriz and even a few salads. Immediately following the feeding frenzy, the drinking and the dancing commenced. The drinking and the dancing were to go on well into the morning hours and have only just now died down (it´s currently 1:45 on the following day). At some point I snuck out of festa #24 and went home for a nap.

I woke up and got to the associacao to meet a group from Povocon who have come to Cha di Igreja to talk to the town about VIH/SIDA (HIV/AIDS). We contacted the group after a member of the associacao vouched for their program and suggested we bring them in. Also, they came de graca (for free). Hindsite is 20/20 and I now realize what a monumental scheduling error we made when planning this little talk. With all the festas going on, there were only about 14 people present at the formacao (seminar). Anyway, these guys showed up with a very impressive amount of equipment including slide projectors, computers, dvd players a portable stereo and, due to its overuse, what I now assume to be a very recently acquired laser pointer. (He was apparently unaware that it may be harmful to shine it directly into the eyes of his audience.) Anyway, they got their stuff set up while I ran around trying (unsuccessfully) to pull people away from their festas for a few minutes and then eventually got started at 6:00. The guy was a nice and actually very engaging speaker, but by the end, I was pretty much wishing I had given the talk myself, and was actually glad that more people hadnºt attended. During the talk this “expert” expressed some pretty radical views on the principle causes of AIDS (“breast milk and fornication”), statistics (he quoted the population of Cape Verde as 40,000, with 8,000 having AIDS…we eventually settled on 480,000 as the population of Cape Verde with a 0.8% infection rate) , and most shockingly, forms of prevention (he claimed that “courage, family and abstinence” were the only ways to prevent it and even went so far as to say that “condoms have only a 30% success rate at best” and left open the possibility that if used incorrectly, camisinhas (condoms, or literally translated..."little shirts") could actually multiply your risk of catching the disease. At that point someone raised their hands to ask if this meant that they werenºt going to be handing out free condoms and when he said no, 9 people left. As you may have guessed by now, these guys were sent by the Catholic Church (the name Associaçao de Accao de John Paul II should have been my first clue) and while I applaud the church´s efforts to at least spread awareness, I have to disagree with their tactics. Before they left they handed out a few pins that depict a wooden cross with a red ribbon draped over it.

Later it was back to all the festas for more eating, more dancing, more drinking, and eventually, lip syncing, and topless modelling. Its tradition for all the guests to toast the father of the newly baptized kid with a grogue, which makes for a staggering amount ofdrinking.) I am absolutely incapable of having more than 2 or 3 and still be able to walk, so I left to go home a little after midnight, but the music was going on all over town until well into this morning, and there is STILL a full house at church today. From the looks of things, theyºre getting ready to ratchet up the parties once again this afternoon, so Iºm planning to swing by to take a look at what foods are left, then seek refuge from the festas and go to the beach.

Anyway, yesterday was great (and a good thing too as I was in a bit of a slump in the days leading up to it) Iºve now officially entered and eaten at every single family house in Cha di Igreja, which I am particularly proud of. Pictures of the day below!

Not So Handsome Devil (and a turtle)

Handsome Devil

Proud Mama and REAL Cute Kid

Cute Kids (Again)

Everybody Dance

Huge Spread

Dance Lessons

Da Boys Doing LipSync

Roger Flexing

By the end of the night, the guys had their shirts off and were posing for the camera.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Beni´s little sister.

Some Changes

Some Changes

So here are some changes that I’ve noticed in myself since coming here. Some are the product of necessity, others I’ve culturally osmosized, others are unexplainable.

1) I bathe only once every couple or three days. At home I used to take 2 showers a day, sometimes 3 if I was at the gym. Now I wait till I notice that I’m dirty or stinky. In much the same way, I am now (trips to Sao Vicente aside) eating mostly only when I am hungry, rather than the 3 or 4 times a day I ate and snacked at home. It’s weird, but smaller portions of less tasty (and more healthy) food have become more filling and satisfying than 3 big meals a day were for me in the states. (This is not to say however, that I wouldn’t murder someone for a plate of BarBQ right now.)

2) My eyebrows have turned red. Noticeably red. People are pointing it out to me. It’s very weird, but I seem to be getting simultaneously both more Irish and more Cape Verdian at the same time.

3) I make all my decisions on my own, with no help from others. In the past I always had a very unintentional yet meticulous way of bouncing my emotions and questions and ideas and decisions off various members of my family, thereby forming my thoughts and actions in a sort of communal way. Here I’m deprived, more or less, of that opportunity. I miss their counsel.

4) I frequently urinate outdoors. I actually loved to do that at home a lot as well (its fun to pee outside, and back in Austin, many a morning I could be seen drinking my coffee and having a piss out on the back porch), but lack of population density and a negative number of per capita bathrooms here in Cape Verde make it much more acceptable. Guys here are pretty much at liberty to pee where they want.

5) I cook every night. I liked to cook at home, but not as much as I liked Golden Chick or Pei Wei or Austin’s Pizza or Clay Pit. Now I make my own delicious fried chicken and stir fry and pineapple pesto pizza and curried chicken.

6) In cases of extreme relaxation and/or solitude, I have the capacity to “zone out” and lose time. Example: The other day at the beach, I was sitting where I thought was well above the highest water line, where I made my little camp. About 10 minutes later, completely enveloped in an Ian McEwan novel, I was suddenly swamped with salt water. 50 or 100 waves must have lapped the shore before one came anywhere near me, much less got me wet, and so I moved my things and began to wonder about the cadence of the ocean. Was it a rogue wave that soaked me or was there a rhythm or a number between bigger breaks? I started counting them, trying to remember which ones broke big out on the bar, which ones made it up the beach, which ones petered out. I counted and counted and I think I accidentally hypnotized myself because I snapped out of it about 45 minutes later when a sand crab walked across my toes and I immediately registered the burn of the sun on my back, and the passed time. An hour of my life gone in an unregistered instant, and I’m pretty sure if someone would have come along and suggested I tapdance on the beach I would have gone all Bojangles right then and there. But it wasn’t a bad thing. Except for the sunburn, I felt great…rested, like I had taken a 2 hour nap. Possibly the yogis and the meditating weirdos have got something going on after all.

7) I am no longer slatternly. I sweep and mop and dust and wipe the counter and do the dishes and wash my clothes daily, and keep a good house.

8) I am easily entertained. These next 2 sort of go along with number 6 I guess but whatever. At home I needed more things to occupy less time. There I always needed movies and functions and activities and new music and magazines and happy hours and plans and Things, and Things To Look Forward To. Although I still crave the movies, I now find that conversation, a good (or even pretty bad) book, chores, walking, my camera and my guitar are sufficient to pass all the ample free time that I have here. Similarly, here, conversation is an activity in and of itself. It seems to me in the States, we require an auxiliary function in order to facilitate conversation with people. Happy hour to talk with our friends, a lunch to talk shop with our co-workers, an evening walk to chat with our neighbors, a game of handball to gossip with our friends. Here, no such occasion is requisite. It is enough to drop by one’s home, at whatever hour, just to say hello or ask about the family…even just to sit and pass the time. I think we Americans have a much more difficult time with this notion, and see such things as an intrusion on our privacy, or an invasion of our personal boundaries.

9)I can do with less. Here I have no TV, no hot water, no new books or movies, little or no internet, no restaurants or bookshops or clubs or bars, frequently no power, often no choices about things to do really. And yet I am, for the most part, content. Similarly, after a day spent lesson planning, teaching, working out, swimming, playing basketball with 19 year-olds and hiking, the thought of a big fat bowl of rice and some water is enough to get my mouth watering.

10)I never knew how much I needed my friends and family. When I was at home, I took them, their counsel, and my time with them for granted. Now they are in my thoughts every single day. Literally, there isn’t a single day that goes by that I don’t think about them, or wish that I could talk to them, or just pass some time with them. It seems that in the States, we are, so many of us, cynical about our friends and families. We all claim to come from “a fucked up family,” and we hear people “talk shit” about others we know. We make movies and write books and tell our friends how much we dread Going Home for Christmas, or going to the Jones’ for diner, or how my asshole brother is drunk again, or about what a shit the guy in the cubicle across form us at work is. This time away from my loved ones has convinced me, despite all imperfections, Family is the most important thing, with friendship right behind.

La d´Cima

Here is a talkative little girl I met the other day, waiting for a ride down the mountian.

Basketball Camp

So I started a small basketball camp here in Cha de Igreja. So far there are about 8 of us. There is this guy, John, who could play for the Longhorns, and then everyone else, who could be whooped by your gramma. We will practice.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

No Stress

Stress in general is practically non-existant here, and except for the stress of being so far away from my friends and loved ones, I’m living a stress-free life. Last weekend was particularly stress-free however, as myself and a few other volunteers headed to Sao Vicente to celebrate a birthday. Mostly we ate a lot, had hot showers, used the internet, swam on the beach, walked around window shopping, and ate some more. They have Ice Cream there. And pizza. A good time and a small fortune (by Peace Corps standards) was spent by all. It was nice to speak Egnlish for a change, and good to see my friends, and so and it was with reluctant hearts that we all returned to our separate villages. Here is a picture of Daron trying to horn in on my girlfriend by exaggerating the size of his…intellect.

I swear its THIS big

Porto Novo

Livin´The Dream (Daron´s favorite quote)

So, lest anyone think I made a big mistake in leaving my life in the states and coming here, have a look at these. I spent the entirety of last Monday on this beach (10am to 7pm) making my lesson plans for next week. I had the entire beach to myself, as there wasn’t another soul in the vicinity, and once past Cruzinha I didn’t see another person until I returned to Cha de Igreja just after sunset. It’s hard to believe that solitude on such a scale is possible in a place as beautiful as this. It´s also hard to believe how sunburned I got.

Big Deserted Beach (a)

Big Deserted Beach

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Daron in the Ribeira of Paul

...in case his mom is still reading.

Dance that Goofy Dance

Birthday Party

Photo Donors?

Photo Donors Needed

So without a doubt, the best thing I brought back with me from the states, as least as far as my neighbors are concerned, were the pictures. People Love them. They put them on their tables and show them to everyone, they glue them to their walls, they mail them to family living outside the country, they cherish them. Imagine not having a single photo of your children when they were baby´s. In all seriousness, these things will be family heirlooms. As such, I’m looking for a few kind souls who would be willing to serve as surrogate photo printers. The way it would work is, you would e-mail me your address and I would mail you a CD with a 50 or 100 pictures on it. You would take them to Walmart or Walgreens or wherever they have 5 cent prints, and then you´d mail them back to me here where I can distribute them to everyone. A second goal would be to start a Peace Corps photo album here in my associacao in Cha de Igreja, with pics from me, the town, and all the volunteers and their projects that will eventually come to Cha de Igreja (there will be a volunteer here for, presumably, then next 10 years), the end result being a photo journal of the entire Peace Crops legacy in Cha ge Igreja. A third goal would (much further down the line) be to print the best pictures from my (hopefully) upcoming photography classes in town. Each one of my students will be able to select their 5 favorite photos from all the ones they take during the class, and I´ll see to it that theyºre printed and distributed. In all, I think it would cost around $10 for the prints, plus another $10 to mail a large envelope with the pictures. If anyone is interested, please send me an e-mail and let me know. Tanks!
In the interest of creating interest, here are a few pics of kids from Cha de Igreja. Think how happy youºd make a mom by mailing her a picture of her darling kids!


This is Otav. About a month ago I made the mistake of feeding him French toast one morning for breakfast, and now I have a constant breakfast companion. Pretty cute little guy though.


Say cheese