Sunday, November 30, 2008

Could You Do This With YOUR Hair?

D in Ponto do Sol

I offer this to D's the hopes that maybe she'll send some BarBQ Sause back with him when he returns from Xmas vacation in the states??? (I know it's shameless begging but still...its babrbq sause!)

The Newest Little Cape Verdian

Meet Eduard....Suzi's first baby. (Despite it's color, I promise I am not the father.)

World AIDS Day

More Frustrations

So in terms of my World AIDS Day project, I believe I left off after our community meeting in which we decided to have an intercambio de kuart zona (4 town basketball tournament). The next part was seeking funding, which, as it turned out was the easiest part of the whole damned operation.

At our last group training in Praia, PC did a great job of training and encouraging us in how to consigui (obtaining) funds for AIDS related activities. With the help of some community partners, I made out a budget, wrote some letters, filled out some forms and within about 10 days, was approved for a pretty sizeable sum. As I said, getting the money into the bank was easy. Getting out, however, and subsequently spending it on Cape Verdian businesses has been, quite literally, impossible.
The best advice I can give to anyone wishing to conduct any type of business here in Cape Verde is...bring a book. You’re going to need something to read. Now it’s true that Hours of Operation are posted outside nearly every business in Cape Verde. But, whereas in America, Hours of Operation refer to the schedule that an impresa (business) will be unlocked, staffed, prepared for...even EXPECTING people to come in….here in Cape Verde its another story. Here, Hours of Operation is more of a general suggestion as to when someone might show up and, depending on their mood, possibly even assist you.

Take the bank for instance. I turned up there the day after the funds arrived in the bank at 7:55. (Five minutes early.) Although I could see several people milling about inside, I waited, as the sign on the door still said Fechado. At 8:11 a well-dressed man came to the door saw, me turned the sign around and walked back behind the counter...having failed to unlock the door. I knocked, and he came back shortly thereafter and let me in. I approached the counter where three women sat, smiled my best smile and said good morning. The response was “ainda nao.” (Not yet.) So I waited some more. I observed. Behind the three women were two well-dressed men, including the one who let me in. For the life of me I can’t tell what their job is, but if I had to guess, I would say that it has something to do with shuffling around, rustling in their pockets, and ensuring that all papers, clips, staplers and stamps were at perfect right angles to the corners of their desks.

Later, more customers arrived and the lobby began to fill. It was well past 8:30 and they had yet to attend a sngle customer. An old man came in and squeezed between me and the roped stanchion that I was standing behind...usurping me from the first position in line. I didn’t say a word. I smiled. At some point (after the old man had conducted his business) one of the ladies(for only one seemed to be helping customers while the others spied their their screens as if they were written in Chinese) bade me forward with a flick of her delicate wrist and a look on her face that made her displeasure of having to be at work on this (or any) particular moring quite clear. I smiled and said I’d like to make a lavantamento (withdrawal). Well that didn’t go over to well because she looked at me like I’d just asked her to alphabetize my recipe box. There was a roll of the eyes, a deep sign and then she slapped a document on the desk. I smiled. I asked for a pen. The look I received in return was all I needed to understand that were no pens to be used on this particular day. So I dug in my bag and found one and filled out the form.

I wanted 60,000$00CVE (about $600)...enough to make a down payment on the T-shirts and basketball equipment that I intended to order in Sao Vicente. She slapped her hand on the counter, slid the paper back to her side took one look at it and announced, with a certain amount of incredulity, and to the now crowded bank: “You want 60,000?” I said I did. She asked when I wanted it. I smiled and I offered today as a suggestion. Again a roll of the eyes and a sigh. She got up from her desk, with what seemed like a great weight on her shoulders and disappeared behind a door in the back, with a contemptuous glance over her shoulders as she walked away. No “Ok, let me see about that.” No “I’ll need to get a signature and I’ll be right back.” Definitely no “certainly sir, I’ll be right back with your request.” She just got up and left. I was fully expecting to be waiting there for the better part of the day...which is exactly what happened. The woman never returned. I never even saw a glimpse of her. She never came back to tell me what was going on...not even to ask me to step aside so that she could help other customers while my request was being processed. I read entire chapters of a pretty big goddam book and in fact passed nearly two hours before she resurfaced. She did however, have the money (she didn’t count it out for me but did make a big production of slapping the fat stack of bills on the counter, but I smiled anyway and thanked her and went on my way...wary of anyone following me to murder me for my anti-AIDS activity money.

I won’t murder you with all the details of my expidiente (business) in Sao Vicente, but let me hit the high-lights.
There are four T-shirt printing companies in Sao Vicente. Three of them have no T-shirts. One has only pink. Size extra small. I received wildly varying estimates for the price of a T-shirt emblazoned with the red AIDS ribbon, and wildly different expectations as to when they could be done by. (The worst case scenario was “next year.”) I smiled though all of it.
The sporting equipment company has little to no sporting equipment. I did in fact (last month) sign a promissory note to pay for two basketball goals should they order them from Praia for me, which they did with little or no trouble. The problem turned out to be that they then sold those to the kamera in Mindelo. Ditto the basketballs. I was promised a donation of two trophies for the activity in exchange for my business and a little publicity during the event, but he told me, straight faced, that right now, as it turns out, they didn’t have enough to be giving any away. (This despite the fact that that behind him, behind me, behind the counters, on the walls, on the shelves, on the floors, and in boxes, lay trophies. A veritable cornucopia of trophies was literally littering the store. I smiled through all of it, but did put it frankly to the proprietor that I had money in my hand, and wanted desperately to spend it in his store, for the benefit of his countrymen, but that he was making it very close to impossible. He too smiled.

Ribbons, balloons, tape, scissors, other promotional materials, the food, the transportation, help making and posting the avisos (signs), help organizing the actual tournament and a couple of other things have come, not easily, but more easily than most of this, but sufficed to say that there is nothing anywhere approximating customer service in this country, and even having “cash to burn,” for lack of a better term, doesn’t help.

In the end what helped was connections, and improvisations. It turns out that Lili, Benvinda’s uncle, is a very popular, much respected ex-cop, who is also the third uncle of the guy in the sporting goods store. I told him about my trouble and we went over there together where he walked right behind the counter and spoke to the proprietor in some very hushed tones and forthwith, two basketballs, a soccer ball, two (complimentary) trophies, and two basketball rims were produced. Now I was really smiling.

I asked Lili if he happened to be related to the T-shirt guy and, as it turns out...he was. First cousins as it happens and in much the same manner, I was assured that 200 whote T-shirts could be arranged, if I could give them a week or so. It involves the T-shoirt guy going around to various suppliers and getting what he can where he can and it’ll cost a little more to make the shirts, but that’s exactly the type of business attitude that I’d expect in America. I would think that here, where cash and business is much harder to come by, people would be willing to “go the extra mile” to get that business, but apparently not. Anyway, my thanks to the very persuasive Lili for all his help, as it looks like we’ll be able to pull off this activity after all.
So that’s it for now, next up will be a brief diatribe about the worthlessness of the local kamera. Rather than help us out with our activity, they’ve found out that Peace Corps (and American money) was involved and they ended up soliciting funds from us. Not only are they not getting any of our funds, but it has been made very clear to people in Txangreja that the reason we aren’t painting any ribbons or AIDS slogans on the polivalent walls is because the kamera reneged on it’s word to come do that for us and instead sent word that we’d need to pay over 20,000$00CVE. It’s criminal really.

OK, enough griping. Bring on World AIDS Day!!!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Waterfall in Paul

Xmas Wish?

So if anyone out there wants to send me a Xmas present, there are 2 books I really want to read. They are The Second World War: A Complete History - Martin Gilbert; and The Men Who Stare at Goats. K, thanks.

Twister Rocks

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Here is Nelinda...Beni's little sister.

Everyone Say "Ice Cream"

So I managed to get my hands on a game of Twister recently, and it is currently all the rage in Txangreja. I think yesterday we played for about 3 hours straight....with theis short break for "ice cream," which is actually just some frozen kool-aid type pops that I made.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pato, Pato, Peru

This is the kids playing pato, pato, peru. I didn't know the word for goose, and in any event they wouldn't know what one was, so the game is now called duck, duck, turkey. The only problem is that everyone WANTS to be cooked in the pot in the middle.

Lavinha and Cuchinha

These are Benvinda's cousins who are regular visitors at my least on the days when I have yogurt and cookies to hand out.

Portuguese Symphony

This week a group of "musical missionaries" came and played a 20 minute concert in Txangreja.

How to do a Project in Cape Verde

So as I said before, over the past month or so I, along with my local association, have been planning an event for World AIDS Day (December 1st...mark your calendars!) in my town, and I thought I’d try to write a little bit about what that entails and why it’s nearly impossible to get anything accomplished in this country. Now this is a long and complicated process, and thus a longer story than normal, so for those (two or three) interested persons, I’ll break it up into several entries over several days.
In a nutshell, what we’re doing is to invite all four towns in my ribeira to all-day soccer/basketball tournament here in Txangreja, during which we’ll play soccer/basketball, talk about AIDS awareness and prevention, paint some anti-AIDS slogans on the walls of the polivalent (miniature concrete soccer field), distribute condoms and T-shirts and trophies, and wrap the whole thing up with food and juice and a dance.

Now, at the beginning, I thought of the project as “difficult but doable.” I have since come to think of it as “overambitious” to say the least, and probably requiring divine intervention. There are a multitude of challenges every step of the way, and if I had any hair on my head I’d be pulling it out by now. What I’ve learned over the past several weeks is that in Cape Verde, you have to go back and reinvent not just the wheel, but the lever, the fulcrum, and several of Newton’s Laws for each and every step involved in getting anything done. But I’ll get to that.

Now obviously I didn’t have any particular qualifications in community development or “event planning” before I came here (unless you count my annual Halloween Pumpkin Carving Parties, or the 1st Annual South Austin Rock-Paper-Scissors Pro-Am Invitational Open that we had at my house a couple years back). However, at our last two group training events in Praia, Peace Corps gave us a crash course in project planning and development, including how to secure funding and write grant proposals. As it turns out, there are quite a lot of American and international funds available for AIDS education and awareness programs in Africa. Its not just free money...there are many stipulations (the maximum amount that can be requested, what types of projects can be funded, what the funds can be used to purchase, and other restrictions on how the money can be spent). The particular grant I had in mind demands a minimum community and/or third party contribution of 25% of the total project cost. Cognizant of all these restrictions, I set out to get Txangreja some of that money.

During our Peace Corps training, we learned that there are many important steps involved in planning a community project. The “African Development Model” currently in favor (although there are a lot to choose from), says that before you can even decide what it is you’re going to do, you gotta do a ton of other stuff first. Ergo, we had several “experts” come and talk to us about Resource Procurement, Asset and Community Mapping, Feasibility Studies, Appreciative Inquiries, Community Leader Identification, Resource Management, Community Contribution and the Development of Local Agendas. So for brevity’s sake, lets just say that all of that stuff is what I’ve been doing for the last year and a half in Txangreja.

So, step one of the “Development Plan” specifies that any successful project requires the endorsement and participation of the community, and community leaders in particular, in the planning, preparing and implementation stages. So a couple a months ago I met with the dirreçao (leadership) of my Association, told them about the AIDS money and the formaçao (training) I’d just had and it was decided that we should try to do a World AIDS Day activity in town. So now we’ve arrived at the part where I actually get to sit down with my community to solicit ideas and suggestions, form a plan for the activity itself, delegate volunteers to come up with a orçament (budget) and press for some form of community contribution to meet the 25% minimum contribution. Well, as it happens, just the “sitting down with my community part” of all of that was a challenge in and of itself.

Having identified the leaders and powerbrokers in Txangreja (who’s participation is prescribed in the “Development Model” and who, in the case of Txangreja, turn out to be the teachers, the nurse, the owners of the hiaces, the guy who owns the giant speakers and CD player, and the ladies who run the local rathskellers), Pedro (the President of my association) and I set out to have a meeting. That’s all. Just to have a meeting. Nine people in the same room at the same time, for half an hour, to talk about how we can get some practically free money (we’re talking thousands of dollars!) to do a worthwhile project in town. It took ten days.

You would think that the mere suggestion of thousands of American dollars being spent by Txangrejans for Txangrejans in service to the education and betterment of Txangrejans would have them lining up at the doors. Not so. Keep in mind that the unemployment rate in my town is hovering at around, say, 97%. There are only one and a half television channels available here. We are often without power. The kids are in school for most of the day. There is currently no farming or harvesting to be done, and the town has been devoid of decks of playing cards for some time. The beaches are underwater and boats can’t go our for fish because mar e brop (the sea is too rough). There is, to say the least, not much to do around here right now. So Pedro and I thoughtfully tava t’marka hora (set the time) of the meeting for 12PM. (After the drivers’ work day is done, but before the kids home from school and during a break in the telenovela (soap opera) schedule. Pedro went door to door to invite our 9 guests three days in advance. On the day of the meeting I showed up ten minutes early...and waited 2 hours for the first person to show up. By 3PM there were three people. The rate of one person per hour made me insane and we decided to try it again the following day. No excuses or elaborate stories were offered by those who failed to attend. In a Cape Verdian cultural phenomenon I hope to employ when I return to the States, Cape Verdians almost almost always prefer to just say something like…

”Oh yeah...that meeting? Yeah, I didn’t go.”

“You couldn’t make it or you forgot about it?”

“No, I just didn’t go.”

Its like that. Anyway, we had better success on Saturday, as at various points throughout the afternoon we had as many as 4 people in the room at the same time, but inevitably one would tire of waiting for the others and he’d leave, another would enter, and so on and so on. So I consulted with Pedro and he decided that printed invitations were what we really needed. That was sure to fix the problem. Which brings me to reinventing the wheel.

To get some printed invitations required the use of the Association’s computer (it exploded last week...literally...exploded), the printer (out of very expensive ink), paper (also expensive and unavailable here in Txangreja) and electricity (hit or miss these days). I suggested hand-writing them but Pedro shot that down. So I used my own money to get back and forth to Povoçon, and bought the expensive ink and the expensive paper and had our Txangrejan printer sent on the hour car ride to Garça (where they have a functioning computer but no printer, and waited three hours for the power to come on there and did, finally, manage to make up some elegantly worded invitations for nine people, who I see each and every day several times a day, to come to the school that they walk past several times a day. Pedro then distributed these invitation and true to his word, it worked. On the appointed day, and only one hour late, we had five people. That made a quorum, so I said fuck it let’s just get on with it and we started. Eventually the other four showed up and I didn’t have to re-explain everything too many times.

So during that meeting we came up with the plan, which will, hopefully go as follows:
1. Four teams in the tourney boys and girls, for a total of 8 teams
2. Food for 300 people
3. T-shirts for 250 people
4. Two Trophies
5. Five hundred condoms
6. Music and a dance
7. Balloons and red ribbons
8. Painted slogans on the walls
9. Kids poster contest
10. Transportation provided for visiting teams
11. Four 20 minute “sessions” on AIDS awareness and prevention given by local community leaders
12. Basketball goals and nets installed in the polivalent

So that was a while ago and we’ve made (not without difficulty) a lot of progress since then, but I’ll write more about that later.
In the meantime, here are some newer pics!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gettin' Busy!!!!

So it’s been a while since I wrote anything here, but I’ve got a real good excuse. I’ve actually been busy with WORK if you can believe that. There’s been an awful lot going on over the past month and a half, so I’ll give you the quick version.

First, we’re back on with the english classes, except this time I’m focusing on the kids in town. As of last month, Benvinda (who was just hired as the local kindergarten teacher) and I have been working with the kindergartners three times a week, teaching them the alphabet, numbers, basic nutrition, and some VERY basic english (Hi my name is_____, I am _____ years old, etc.). Believe it or not, they actually learn faster than most of my older students from the previous english classes.

Additionally, I’m teaching English 2 days a week to the 4th and 5th graders in town. They’ve already got all the “introduction and greeting” english down pretty well, so we’ve moved on to conjugating the verb “to be,” personal pronouns and augmenting their vocabulary. Basically they stay in class for one extra hour after their normal classes and we work on these topics, pronunciation, and confidence. It does a heart good to know that after 5 hours of school, there are kids in this town that are interested enough in learning english that they’re willing to stay late to take advantage of some free instruction. (I think the Friday night cartoon movies that I’m showing are a big incentive as well. 100% attendance is required for them to come to that.) We obviously don’t have textbooks or readers, so most of the work is just just done aloud, with lots of repetition.

Finally, with respect to the english classes, I’ve got a small group of high school students that come over 3 times a week for help with their homework and to practice/apply the lessons they’re learning at the liçeo (high school). That’s a lot of fun as well, as I’ve already seen a marked improvement in their grades at shcool. (I’ve been getting quite a few free meals out of the deal as well, as the parents are ecstatic that their kids grades are coming up.)

So, in addition to the english instruction, last month I was invited by to speak at Universidad Lusofona (in Mindelo on the island of Sau Vicente) about Peace Corps in general (our mission and global initiatives) and specifically about my experiences here in Cape Verde. Universidad Lusofona is a Portuguese institution, funded by private charitable donations, who’s aim it is to help provide quality educations to poor residents in Portuguese speaking countries. Essentially they build first-class universities in developing countries in Africa, and also have two campuses in Brazil, where they offer degrees in Enlgish, teaching, civil construction, accounting, management, Portuguese, architecture, law, and biology, just to name a few. According to the Lusofona Director, the group offers over 10,000 full-ride scholarships to qualified African students. (Although I’ve yet to meet a Cape Verdian who would allow you to refer to them as African, they do, nonetheless, qualify for the free tuition grants.

It was a two day seminar geared towards about-to-graduate students, and how they can go about getting jobs with their new education and shiny degrees. There were representatives from most of Cape Verde’s major employers, including the Halcyon Airlines, Enacol (think Exxon but for Africa), the shipping industry, etc. There were also sessions on how to prepare a CV or Resume, basic interview skills, how to market oneself to an employer and other pretty useful skills that perhaps we as Americans take for granted.

Anyway, I gather I was invited as the evening’s entertainment, as I was pretty much last person on the program to speak on the first night, and I was asked to speak, as I said, about my experiences as a volunteer in Cape Verde, and a little bit about volunteering opportunities here in Cape Verde, all of which have little to do with gaining employment in the “private sector” here in Cape Verde.

So there were about 250 people in the audience and I was definitely a little nervous. I’d prepared a good little slide show with pics from my time here so far, as well as a brief but thorough segment on Peace Corps (its history, the three main goals, seven global initiatives, etc.). I had also, on the advice of my country director, practiced my all-kriolu speech in front of a mirror a few times, timing it to make sure I came in under the 30 minute mark that I was allotted. However, just minutes before I was to go up front, the school director “reminded me” that I needed to be give my presentation in Portuguese. Uh….Wha? A brief wave of nausea and a bad case of the sweats struck me.

Now its true that Portuguese is the “official” language of the country, and its certainly the language spoken in the classrooms...but as I’ve said before, nobody here speaks it in the home or on the streets and in over a year here in Cape Verde, I’ve never had a conversation in Portuguese. Plus, at this point, my kriolu is excellent, and I was really looking forward to seeing some freaked out Cape Verdians as they encountered what was likely to be their first kriolu speaking white guy. Now, I’ve been studying Portuguese, and I can understand it when I hear it spoken, and I can read it, and I can even, given enough time (say, like a decade) express myself...a little. I was and am certain however, that I could not give a 30 minute presentation in front of 250 people (which included some rather technical language) at a formal event without coming across as...well...mentally deficient.

So I begged the lady to let me talk in kriolu, I explained that in my line of work, kriolu is essential, that it's an integral, probably the MOST integral part of my experience, that I absolutely NEEDED to speak in kriolu, if for no other reason than not to embarrass myself or the Peace Corps. She initially suggested that I speak in English and let her translate into Portuguese and I resisted and she resisted, but then relented thank God. So she got up to introduce me, and away we went.

Well I can tell you that that evening will definitely go down as one of my favorite and most memorable experiences in Cape Verde. As soon as I started talking, about 200 jaws hit the floor and there were expressions of disbelief written across every face in the room. These people could absolutely not believe that a white American, in country for just over a year, could speak kriolu. (It is a real testament to the Peace Corps training program that we volunteers are able to acquire the language in such a short time, and I think I did Peace Corps proud on this particular occassion, if I do say so myself.) Seeing the looks on thier faces, I knew I had their attention and it put my nervous stomach at ease, and I ended up breezing through the presentation. After doing the plugs and promos for PC, I talked ( being sure to slip in a little bit of the BAdiu kriolu from Santiago) and showed slides about and from everything including the application process, my first few nights in my home stay village, our two month training, my arrival in Txangreja, the awkwardness of all of it, the language acquisition, some of the projects that I and various other volunteers have undertaken, my impressions of Cape Verde and the culture, and then I wrapped up with a little bit about volunteerism and some of the opportunities that exist for Cape Verdians to volunteer here in Cape Verde, giving an example of a great guy from Txan di Tanki who volunteers his time to do a kids theater group. Then I thanked everyone and asked if there were any questions. Well, about 250 hands shot up and it quickly became clear that they thought I was lying.

They disbelievingly asked me things like:

Could you clarify how long you've been in Santo Antao? Just since last September? And you didn't know kriolu before you came? And you don't speak Portuguese? And you didn't know any Portuguese before you came? And you had to learn Santiago kriolu and then learn Sanpadjudo kriolu? And you can speak them both? You're staying for TWO YEARS? You are working FOR FREE? And you WANTED to leave America and come here or it's like the army? (Many Cape Verdians think the US still uses the draft system.) And you LIKE Cape Verde? You LOVE Cape Verde?

I ended up taking questions for about 15 more minutes before we had to wrap it up but I got a HUGE ego boost with a nice round of applause and lots of hand shakes as I stepped down from the podium. During the drinks and reception part of the evening I answered many more questions, exchanged contact information with a number of people interested in learning how they could volunteer with the I.N.D.P (the turtle people) and how they could start local associations like the one I work in. Afterwards I went to dinner with the school administration where we (hopefully) made some important connections and, assuming that the universities goals are in lone with those of the Peace Corps, maybe the evening will one day lead to a volunteer working in that University. (Although those details and negotiations are things WAY beyond my pay grade.)

The following night was pretty much a repeat of the first, with more questions and I notices, a lot of the same poeple in the audience...still apparently not convinced that Peace Corps was for real. I got invited out for dfrinks with several of the students afterwards which was certainly fun. So not only did I get a huge swollen head from the whole weekend, but I got to stay in the hotel in Mindelo with hot water and AC as a bonus. Really, I couldn't have asked for a better few days.

So there's one more big work project to talk about, which is the WORLD AIDS DAY TOURNAMENT that me and the local association will be putting on in Txangreja at the end f this month. I am kind of hoping to give you a real feel for what it's like to prepare, plan for, organize and fund a project to operate in general in this country. So since I've already been blabbering for a while, I'll save that for next time. I've also got a good entry about US election night which I spent in Mindelo as well, and I'll get that up pending approval from the US State department. ;-)

OK, so there are some pics of my classes below, and maybe one of a sunset? I think I switched the labels on some, so the 4th graders may actually be the 5th graders and vice versa.

Sunset in Txangreja

Part of my HS English Study Group

Here they are taking a test that I made up for them. I gave it to them the night before their real test in school, and hopefully, it was more or less what they got in their actual class.

Me and the Kinders

My 5th Grade Class

My 4th Grade Class