Monday, March 23, 2009

Neli at the Beach

Mindelo Artwork

Choppin' Moray

Porto Grande in Mindelo

Ivan The Terrible

I miss this old bastard.


Dod Eat Dog World

So I, like many people, am a dog lover (I miss you Ivan!), and that's something that's pretty damn hard to be in Cape Verde. The concept of animals as pets here is a novelty, where they are strictly sources of food or labor or both. Katxors (dogs) in this country DO NOT have it good. Quite the contrary, they live an almost uniformly miserable existence. In Praia, hundreds of crazed roaming packs conduct warfare in the streets like drug cartels in Mexican bordertowns. (During our Peace Corps safety training, we were advised to carry rocks in our pockets to defend ourselves against mongrel hoards.) They're sick and soiled and starving. Most have mange or fleas or some other oozing variety of skin ailment. All of them limp. People either hate them or fear them, and rarely do they feed them. Those that aren't cannibals survive off of garbage. They shit in the street, then eat it. It's not a pretty picture, and much less so for a country that's betting much of it's financial future on tourist dollars.

Things in Santo Antao are better, but it still ain't pretty. When I came here last June, the populace of the tiny village of Janela was being overrun by wild dogs, and the kamera was forced to conduct a large scale extermination. Over a hundred of the bastards killed with poisoned fish bait, tossed in a pile, and burned. It wasn't much of a pile. It turns out that the type of dogs that survive in, literally, a dog-eat-dog world, aren't the big bruisers you might expect. Rather, it seems evolution in this part of the world favors the short, lean, skiddish, jackal-looking types.

All that being said, I recently got a dog. Accidentally.

A few weeks ago several volunteers hiked the five mountainous hours to my village from Ponto do Sol. And they brought Demonio (Demon) with them. Demonio isn't a Cape Verdian dog...he's a 2nd (now 3rd) generation Peace Corps dog. A 2003 volunteer first adopted him, before passing him on to a 2006 volunteer, who then broke from tradition and gave him to a Cape Verdian neighbor. That did not turn out too well for Demonio. In the 4 or 5 months since, Demonio has gone from well-fed, well-rested and well-adjusted, to a flea-ridden, gimpy, half-starved sad sack.

According to the volunteers that he followed here that weekend, they came across him in Ponto do Sol and gave him a few drinks of their water before heading off, and he just followed them all the way here. Conditions must have been pretty bad to make that unfamiliar walk, with pretty much total strangers, based on a few sips of water. Maybe he recognized them as Americans, or at least english speakers. Whatever the reason, when I walked into the Sona Fish bar in Cruzinha to greet my friends, there was Demonio, looking pathetic and collapsed on the floor, and I knew I was in trouble.

In the days since we've become fast friends, and I must admit, I like having a dog again. Plus, this guy game pre-trained. He can sit, down, stay (up to a point), shake hands and I've just got him to start rolling over today. This is Absolutely Mind Blowing to my neighbors, and Demonio and I have been the talk of the town for several days now. When we go walking, people will grab their friends and say something along the lines of: "Fazel senta! Oi DEUS, a bo oiya?!!! Aghora fazel deta! BROP!!! Fazel da mao! KRED!!!" (Make him sit! Holy Shit, did you see that?! Now make him lay down! Holy Shit! Make him shake! Holy Shit!) When the kids see us coming they'll start pointing their fingers at him and yelling, en masse, senta! It's like that.

What I think is even stranger for them is to see how I interact with him. I think its' safe to say that the only thing a dog in Txangreja has ever been given by anyone is a swift kick in the ass. But now they see me giving him attention, affection, a bath, a plate of fish and rice and I've overheard people talking about us, saying "Agora Caley dja ranja prop um companher" (Caley's made himself a new friend.)

Anyway, I've had to change his name. Things were going great until last Sunday, when Demonio took off after a cat and I couldn't find him. Church was letting out, with all the village elders strolling and chatting in their Sunday's finest, and I was walking through the plaza, calling for the dog, hollering "Demonio! Demonio! Onde-b Demonio!" Well, that did not go over too well, and suddenly everyone was crossing themselves and whispering and and staring at me in disbelief, and a few even went back into the church. Thankfully Romeo pulled me aside and explained the problem to me. Essentially people assumed I was walking through town clapping and whistling and calling forth the demon spirits and in general engaging in blasphemous and intolerable behavior. I told him that was the dog's name, that I didn't name it, that it has had the name for years. He made it very clear to me that none of that mattered and that Demonio was um nom feo (an ugly name) and that I needed to change it. So, now Demonio is Timo, cuz I think that was one of the names from the Lion King, and it sorta sounds like Demonio, and now I don't have any problems calling him or introducing him to anyone.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sad Cemetery

This is a sad site. On the right side of the cemetery you can see all the graves and headstones and shrines. All those little mounds of stones on the left?...that's the child cemetery. Although they're much better now, in the years before independence the infant mortality rates in Cape Verde were very high...comparable to other African nations. Anyway, if you go way back in the blog you'll find a story about a guardacabeza festival that I went to. Basically, newborns aren't really acknowledged by the community until after they've been alive for more than a week, after which point there is a party to introduce them to the town. This photo puts that tradition into a little better perspective.

Txan from the Opposite Rim

More HDR Cruzinha

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cruzinha in Panovision

Splish Splash I Was Taking a Bath. On the roof.

International Wmoen's Day, and a Big Success!

So Sunday was International Women's Day here in Cape Verde...not sure about the rest of the International Community. Yes, Cape Verde is very fond of "International" and "World" fill in the blank Days. (Some of my favorites include World Malaria Day, World Disaster Reduction Day, Democracy Day, and International Kids Day.) However, if anyone in Cape Verde deserves a day of recognition, it is definitely the Women. I've said before that men here are pigs, but I'm not sure I've made it clear just how bad the women have it in this country.

They do all the cooking, all the cleaning, all the housework and almost all the regular work, they raise the kids (and usually end up raising the grandkids and great grandkids), fetch the water, scrounge the wood and care for the animals. They do it all almost completely on their own, or with the help of their aunts and sisters and nieces and cousins and daughters. The are unarguably the center of the home. They're also the walls, the foundation and the ceiling, and they get treated like the doormat. If they ever got it into their heads to go on strike, this country would fall apart in a day. And all of this is done for largely ungrateful kids and a man who rarely if ever contributes ANYTHING to the household and is almost CERTAINLY sleeping with two or three eight other women, and probably has kids with some or all of them.

Anyway, I got together with some of the women from my village and we put together a little activity for all the women and girls in town. There is no money, so it wasn't anything extravagant. The goal was just for the ladies in town to have a little fun and food, and be recognized for all of their hard work and sacrifice. There was to be a performance from the Txangreja Girl's Club we started (there are currently four members, plus me), music and some games, to include dodgeball, a three-legged race and an "obstacle course" which required participants to jump-rope, hula-hoop, run with an egg on a spoon, and answer a "women's empowerment" question. It turns out that despite how well women can dance here, the can't hula-hoop, and eggs are too expensive to waste on games, so they substituted potatoes. Everything else went pretty much according to plan.

I REALLY pushed for a thirty minute information session and informal Q&A about domestic violence and was met with some REALLY uncomfortable stares and general disbelief that I would even bring it up. Domestic violence is a real problem in this country, and in this village in particular. (Last week 15 year old Samira got a big black eye after refusing to wash her brother's laundry, and 65 year old Mara needed 18 stitches to close up the gash in her head given to her by her husband and his belt buckle, just for instance.) There are a million factors that contribute to its prevalence in Cape Verde (tradition, cultural acceptance, boredom, poverty, alcoholism and machismo among them), but the biggest obstacle seems to be the fact that to even whisper the words "domestic violence" in public is is hugely taboo. It's maddening, and one of the reasons I don't have a lot of male friends here. Anyway.

In principle, the men were to cook a dish during the day and bring it to my house, and I was to set up the "post-activity" dinner and dance over at the Dancing Trapiche. I wanted it to be women only until midnight (so they could have all the food to themselves, leave the kids with the men, have a beer and a laugh without men around and, in theory, get to just be girls together. The men could come in after midnight, provided they did all the cleaning up afterward. The Women thought this was an Excellent Idea. In reality, the women did all the cooking and cleaning, the men showed up, drunk, about 20 minutes after the food was served and scarfed everything down in seconds. But the Obstacle Course was a Big Success.

Overall I'd say the day was a big success. There was a special mass at church and all the old gals were there in their finest attire, there was a big turn-out, the music was good, and, after a lot of prodding, a lot of participation...even from the Old Gals in town. And as I said...the Obstacle Course was a Big success.

Pics of the day below.

Obstacle Course!...(was a Big Success!)

Pink Boots!

My sister says my niece is coocoo for cocoa puffs when it comes to her little red boots. This little girl feels the same way about her pink ones.

Approaching the Starting Line..."It's On Now!"

The Obstacle Course was a Big Success!

Iris all dressed up.

Last week I told Iris what her name meant...she didn't know it was a pretty flower, and then I showed her some actual Irises, and ever since then I think she's had a bit of a crush on me.

The Old Gals

Top 'o the World!

Once you get to the top of the "hill" (in the picture below) you can rest in these probably-hundreds-of-years-old ruins. Then, whether you're heading back to Txangreja or onward to Ribeira Alta, you gotta climb back down.

Stairway to Heaven

So this is part of the VERY difficult hike to Ribeira Alta. It's REAL steep. Look closely and you'll see the pathway zig-zagging up the side of the mountain. In some parts it's nearly vertical.

Cruzinha, in Stunning HD

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Carnaval Comes to Txan

So it was Carnaval the other week, and while debauchery and hyjinks with the other volunteers in Mindelo sounded kind of appealing, I opted to stay here in Txangreja and celebrate with my town. We had a big old time at the school, having spent an hour of "shool time" a day, for an entire week, making costumes and musical instruments (just FYI...flattened bottle tops nailed to wooden sticks make for great tambourines and shakers). Anyway, we had three girls tie for best costume (Paper Dolls, below) and they walked away with the last of my Starburst candies as the Big Prize. Afterwards we all marched through the streets making a helluvalotta racket. Great day! Pics below.

Mickey doin' the Twist

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Paper Dolls

So the budget for our costume and costume contest was, well...nonexistent, so we improvised. Here are three of the best costumes of the day...all made from the pages of Esquire, Paste, People and Newsweek magazines.
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Rosey and Mickey

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In another bit of improvisational wizardry, we used plastic bags, rice sacks, and corn and flour bags for grass skirts and dresses. a baby girl?

For some reason, despite this being a very homophobic culture, it is perfectly cceptable for men and boys to dress as women and girls...but only during Carnaval.
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