28 April 2011

IKURU Census 2011

The 2011 IKURU census, otherwise known as a tour of Nampula´s seediest hostels, like the epic Golden Anchor in Namialo or the Cave Negra (Black Cave) in Malema, was an immense job of about three weeks in the field (bush). We ran on fumes mostly, getting 4-6 hours of sleep, driving three to eight hours a day on terrible dirt roads/goat paths in a beat up Toyota Hillux that was more dead than alive. But we completed about 90% of the planned job, and are now hard at work organizing the massive amount of data to please the various interested parties.

It was great traveling with four Mozambicans. My Portuguese got much better, and I learned lots of Mozambican slang. Lisboa and Lagres are big conversationalists, so we had lively debates about politics, news, life, education, work. I learned a lot about Mozambican life, customs, beliefs. All of my colleagues believe in healers, witches, omens, spells, magic potions, and more. I learned a meal is not a meal without meat. We ate shrimp, dried and fresher than fresh, crab, rockfish, can after can of sardines, lots of chicken, goat, a suckling pig and an adult pig, and gazelle.

Our biggest problems were car-related. In Malema the mechanic first asked for 3,500mts ($100). We got him down to 1,500, still a rip-off, of which 500 he shared with the first “mechanic” called. We were 9 hours late to our meeting as a result of several occurrences, like taking forever to make French fries for breakfast, charging an already charged car battery, chasing down a mechanic, waiting for him to BS to earn more money and invent problems to solve, negotiating or rather begging him to lower the price and forget that the car has USAID plastered all over it and a white dude in the passenger seat. To top it off, he didn´t have a receipt, and said he would only get us one for 200mts, or about $6, which is absurd of course. We paid out of pocket for the work, knowing full well that without an official receipt a reimbursement is unlikely. These districts where we travel don´t have ATMs, but we don´t carry much money in case of theft, and we pay out of pocket hoping accounting will have paid our lodging and meal advances or reimbursements.

On the return trip from Iapaca, around 1900, after chasing a rabbit for dinner in the car, we saw sparks fly from under the hood. Lisboa stopped the car, popped the hood, and I saw that the bar normally screwed down to hold the battery popped loose and the fuse cover nowhere to be found. Not only did the mechanic screw us on price, which should have been 800-1,000mts, but he didn´t screw down the battery. As a consequence, the wire connected to the positive terminal was severed and the battery was bouncing around the engine compartment.

This is criminal negligence. A sparking battery could´ve set the engine aflame, and as there often aren´t gas stations in the districts, we had several 20L gas cans in the bed. As it was, we were hung out to dry in the middle of nowhere with no hope of a mechanic, and possibly with large animals roaming in the bushes.

Lagres cut some of the wire securing the grill and used it to wire the battery cable back together. The nut holding the bar in place was lost in the engine compartment, so Abel cut several lengths of the rope holding the tarp in the bed in place, which Lisboa and Lagres used to tie the battery in place, knowing full well that a plastic rope in a toasty engine compartment wrapped around an acidy battery isn´t a great solution. But graças a Deus (thank God) we made it to Malema, to continue limping along.

Traveling in rural Nampula made me forget to ask certain questions, like:

Is this towel clean?
Is this water safe to drink?
Did the cook wash his hands?
Can I go this way?
Is this a road?
Should I eat this?
Do you have soap/toilet paper?
Are these eggs cage-free?
Where´s the nearest WiFi hotspot?
Is there a gas station around here?
What is that smell?
What kind of meat is this?
Is this a urinal or a shower?

And finally some notable quotes from the IKURU survey:

Há um discurso sobre a ponte (There is a discussion about the bridge, ie “We don´t know if the bridge still exists.”
Esta discoteca cheira de peixe seco (This disco smells like dried fish)

05 April 2011

Qual é a cena em Nampula?

The last few weeks have been extremely busy with work. My first assignment in Nampula is to co-supervise a survey of a 20,000 member farmers cooperative. The first week and a half a colleague and I ran between three offices editing the survey to the liking of various partners, all of which have different perspectives and goals for it. Eventually we whittled it down from seven pages to two surveys of two pages each, both much more focused and objective than the original.

In parallel we tried to work out logistics, like arranging a car, getting money in advance to pay food and lodging expenses, scheduling meetings with associations and forums (comprised of 5-15 associations), and coordinating with field technicians.

Finally on 29/03/11 we got into the field with our three survey takers. We traveled approximately 700km over six days almost entirely on awful dirt roads and what seemed to be goat trails. It can take two hours to go less than 50km. We have to hit nine districts (like counties) in three weeks, about 29 forums, 282 associations, and 30 women´s groups.

Travel takes a toll, driving sometimes six hours a day on jarring roads, sweating in 90-100º heat, sleeping 4-6 hours in whatever lodging is available, often not eating lunch. Once, before heading to Moma from Angoche, we asked a man we on the road which of two possible routes was better. Not accustomed to speaking Portuguese, and wanting to sound formal, he said, "There is a discussion about the bridge on that route," ie "We don´t know if the bridge still exists." We elected the other route, which involved one earthen bridge and crossing a stream.

On the other hand, it´s great talking to the farmers, seeing so much of rural Nampula Province, getting to know my four colleagues, speaking Portuguese almost exclusively, eating incredible seafood, going places foreigners or even most Mozambicans never go. The task is daunting, but it´s much better than sitting around at my last job wondering when I would next have something to do.

On Friday we head out again, for around 10 days, to hopefully finish the survey. After that analyzing the data and writing reports and catching up on work that should´ve been done but was over which the survey took precedence.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Osukuru!

09 March 2011

Updates, like a 1,100 km move...

Here are some things that happened recently:

-I celebrated a birthday and prepared to move to Nampula, in northern Mozambique. The other volunteers and our friends sent me off in style, though it was very hard leaving them after we´ve become so close in the last six months. Peace Corps really is the best America has to offer the world.

-I left my going away party to witness a caesarian section at a local hospital. The baby and mother were fine, and I was impressed by the doctors´ skill and professionalism. I returned less than an hour later to find my food ready.

-I tried to mail my grandparents a letter. It cost 92 meticais (singular: metical, MZN, or mt), about $3.00, to mail internationally. I had a 100 metical note and no coins, which have denominations of 0.5, 1, 2, 5, and 10 meticais. The smaller notes are 20, 50, 100, and 200 meticais. Anyway, the postal worker informed me the post office only accepted exact change, and after I admitted I didn´t have it, she gave me back the letter. Sorry Grandma and Grandpa!

-Driving approximately 200km to the airport to fly to Nampula, we were stopped twice by the police. My colleague, in a rush to leave Chimoio, forgot his identity card. You always need lots of documentation for official business: visas, bank accounts, ID cards, etc. The police are not equipped with computers to check your insurance status if you don´t have proof in the car.

To facilitate the continuation of our journey without identification and for not respecting the speed limit, it was strongly encouraged that we contribute 400 meticais at the first stop and 200 meticais at the second ($20 in total). Or the car could have been impounded and my colleague fined perhaps 10x as much.

At some point in this adventure, my colleague´s wife gave birth. Congratulations!

-I moved into a posh fully furnished apartment in Nampula, complete with such amenities as AC, hot running water, a refrigerator, microwave, Panini maker, gas oven, television, and maid.

While aside from the maid these things may seem mundane, for almost two years in Cape Verde I lived in a concrete box which featured a bed with moldy mattress, plastic table with four chairs, gas oven, 8,000 liter rainwater catchment tank which had to last ten months for three people, and no hope of electricity.

While I certainly appreciate the new digs, I still prefer the country to the city, at least in Africa, even if it means living in a concrete box with no electricity, running water, or internet access. I don´t anticipate moving to Webberville or Bath once back in Michigan, however.

Anyway thanks for reading. I´ll try to up my blogging in the few remaining months.

15 February 2011

It only took 6 months!

I’ve received several requests for blog posts from Mozambique (Moz). The requesters clearly didn’t follow my questionably interesting blog from Cape Verde (CV). To reflect the change of location, I’ve changed the name from “Sunburned in Cape Verde,” to “Maningue Nice in Mozambique.” Maningue is kind of like “very” in Mozambican Portuguese. I´m still as susceptible to sunburns as ever. They can be maningue bad if you know what I´m saying...

To bring you up to date, I finished two years of service in CV as a Small Enterprise Development Peace Corps (SED) Volunteer (PCV), and then flew to Mozambique to serve as a Food Security Peace Corps Response Volunteer (PCRV) for nine months, ending in May 2011. Both are Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking, like Anglophone or Francophone), though Mozambicans commonly speak Portuguese due to the myriad and often not mutually intelligible dialects.

I’ve been in Moz nearly 6 months. I´ve clearly been lazy about blogging but hope to turn over a new leaf and post shorter stuff once a week or so. I´m pretty much used to living in Mozambique, after two years in CV. There I lived in one of the most rural PCV sites. In Moz I live in one of the bigger cities, Manica Province capital Chimoio, larger than Praia the capital of CV. Maputo, the capital of Moz has about 2 million inhabitants, four times CV.

I found myself missing CV at lot at first. Living in a city I don’t get a great handle on Moz and Mozambicans. Chimoio could be any mid-sized African city. From what I`ve seen over the last few years, the heart of a developing country is in the rural areas. It makes sense, as these are mainly agrarian countries.

Living in a CV village of 800, I got to know the people, made friends, understood how they lived. People here seem serious about education and development of the country, which has immense potential. After decades of war, Moz wants to avoid conflict. It´s been through too much. Mozambicans are generally open and interested, though city folk in tend to be more inverted, whether in Moz, CV, or the US. I wish I lived in a rural area. Wherever I go, I attract attention as, like the Peace Corps Medical Officer in CV called me, “a very white man,” or “mzungu” in local dialect.

Everything I do, no matter how mundane, is strange and/or hilarious to some Mozambicans, as a mzungu. Running? Outrageous. Eating in the market with normal Mozambicans? Unexpected (“High risk of contamination,” according to my supervisor. “The shittiest place I´ve ever eaten,” according to another PCV who has traveled widely). Riding in a “chapa” (Toyota minivan with 30 people unbelievably crammed in)? Absurd. In general this doesn´t bother me much, though the assumption I´m rich does.

I work for an organization called AgriFUTURO which seeks to increase agricultural competitiveness in Moz through access to credit, “modern” farming techniques, technical assistance, access to markets, linking value chain stakeholders. USAID funds the project, implemented by several organizations.

The September food riots in Maputo and Chimoio highlighted the importance of food security, as the cost of living continues to rise. At least 10 protesters in Maputo and three in Chimoio were killed. I´d been in Moz two weeks. Luckily things calmed down after a few days.

I’ve noticed Moz is quieter than CV. Cape Verdeans are a vibrant and expressive people, always looking to celebrate. People look for excuses to dance or drink or play music. A child´s first birthday is reason to party until sunrise. CV is renowned for music. I could count on a concert every month or so in São Filipe, a town of 15,000. Chimoio, with 200,000, hasn´t had one yet. Chimoio has one discoteca (Coqueiro), São Filipe had at least eight (Alfredo´s, Faixa de Terra, Chaqrinha, Casa de Padja, Brava, Fogo em Chama, Casa Cinema, Mar Azul, and more). By the end of service, finally learning to dance well enough, I looked forward to nearly weekly discotecas or dances.

All right I´ll leave it at that. I just wanna dance! Thanks for reading and I´ll try to get better about posting.

16 August 2010

Djan Bai. Adeus Kabu Verdi. Ate proximu bes

Note: I started this awhile ago, but am finishing from Chã das Caldeiras. And now from São Filipe. And now from Lisbon.

I’m writing from Mosteiros, the second town on Fogo. Tuesday I made the three hour hike from a mile up to sea level, passing through fields of beans and vegetables, the Monte Velha protected forest, coffee plantations, citrus farms, and finally bananas and mangos. Jonny and Josh live here, the two closest PCVs to me. There are some in Cova Figueira who are around that close, but I don’t know the trail. There’s a good chance of hitching a ride there, however, as I recently did with two French tourists and a bus full of census workers celebrating a job well done.

Fortunately the mango season is (was) in full swing. They are big, meaty, sweet, and cheap. About five weigh two pounds, and cost around $0.08 each, yep, eight American cents. Unfortunately there’s really no mango preservation except for the odd jam. No mango juicers, mango canneries, mango drying, mango exporting. Over Christmas in Michigan I bought three flavorless mangoes for $2. We eat them excessively, putting them in every dish possible. Jonny made a spectacular mango chicken dish. I made bean burritos with mango salsa.

Cooking here is nice because you do everything from scratch. It’s simpler, healthier, and in my opinion, more enjoyable. Somehow a completely homemade tortilla or pumpkin pie tastes better than the store-bought equivalents (which certainly aren’t available on Fogo). That said I prefer store bought chicken to killing and plucking. Pigeons and baby goats, though, are totally worth the work.

Mosteiros, as most municipal capitals, has free WiFi which just reaches the PCV house. I’m taking advantage of this opportunity to figure out what to do with myself after CV. The only sure thing is going to mainland Africa. When I get back to Michigan, however, a big question mark remains. Should I stay with PC, but in a different country (sorry CV, but I’m leaving in August no matter what)? Should I go back to school? In what field? Should I get a “real job” like my classmates and friends? Doing what? Where? For how long? After two years in CV, where I’d hoped I’d figure it all out, I’m left with more questions than answers. PC has certainly opened doors, but which one to enter? If I enter one, will I come out to find the others closed?

I’ve learned a lot in CV, including two languages, a new culture, got to know a country I didn’t know existed. When I was at our Close of Service Conference a few weeks ago in Cidade Velha on Santiago, I realized the 26 remaining PCVs in my group (lost three to medical issues) constitute the best group of people I’ve had the pleasure to call my colleagues and friends. They’re the people who’ve helped me through what have often been the two unhappiest years of my life. They’ve given up all manner of things to try to help 500,000 people eking out a life on these rocks in the Atlantic.

I have an update on the job front: I accepted a job with Peace Corps Response in Mozambique, about as far as you can get from Cape Verde in Africa (it’s not personal). I’ll work as kind of a business consultant with an American NGO in food security, which is a huge development push there. Mozambique has a lot of potential but was severely set back by decades of war, first against the Portuguese for independence, and later between Mozambicans. I’m looking forward to a new adventure, improving my Portuguese, learning, helping. It’ll be a nine month stint starting in mid-August. Unfortunately I have to go directly from CV, but plan to make it home for Christmas.

Tuesday our masons started work on the first composting toilet. I’m lucky because many PCVs never see their projects get off the ground. Of course I’ve partnered with Luxembourg Development which fully funded the construction, which makes it a lot easier than applying for funds. We continue to battle one of our suppliers to deliver materials so the job can continue. I’m not sure he understands a contract is a legally binding agreement, and not fulfilling it risks a trip to the tribunal. Everyone’s tired of his excuses.

It’s time for the grape harvest, one of my favorite activities. With grapes come mangos, pomegranates, figs, quince, and apples. It officially started Monday, but won’t get going for a few days. For the workers, it can mean 6 am to midnight, or later. Once you’ve picked a grape, you have to de-stem it that day. Harvest time in the winery is sticky, wet, chilly, tiring, and full of bee stings. I love it.

Hopefully I’ll post more frequently this month, as I’ll have regular internet access to keep the project supervisor informed while in Europe. Fika kampion.

Update: I’m in Lisbon. I finished service in Cape Verde, said goodbye to Chã das Caldeiras, and began the journey to Moçambique. What I will do I can only ascertain from a brief document the recruiter sent weeks ago, as the real job description (and paper airline ticket!) didn’t arrive via diplomatic mail. They made me send several pieces of paper via DHL which cost about $100, or more than 25% of my monthly allowance. At least that arrived the next day!

I just got back from a pretty pathetic (it’s 11 pm) night on the town, typical of a PCV coming from one of the most rural sites in Cape Verde to an entirely modern European city in a matter of hours. I asked the receptionist where to get some food. She gave me directions which I half understood and immediately forgot. I wandered near the hotel until I didn’t feel safe anymore. Heading back, I noticed a gigantic mall across the street. Needing a new pair of running shoes, I crossed.

Going from the market in Praia to a modern mall isn’t easy. I went from stepping over chickens, clothes spilled from barrels onto the broken concrete, and lost children with no parents looking for them to a mall with Diesel, LaCoste, and Guess. My little jaunt to check out the mall turned into a several hour zombie walk. I went in and out of stores, amazed they had every size and prices marked. I walked past every restaurant in the food court at least four times, and there were more than ten. I bought a Twister at an ice cream stand. I spoke Portuguese and was understood. What began as a quest for a Portuguese meal led to a fast food pasta place with a plate of generic shrimp/mozzarella/whole wheat penne and a 0.50€ glass of wine (the same price as Coke, what a great country Portugal is).

What got me were the myriad choices. In Cape Verde it’s chicken or fish, Coke or Sprite, cachupa with or without fried egg. I couldn’t make decisions. This happened when I went home for Christmas. This brief layover in Lisbon (I depart for Moçambique tomorrow at 6 pm local time) will necessitate a return. It is truly a beautiful city but I’m not ready.

I just came from two liter (that’s half a gallon) bucket baths, rice and beans twice a day, wearing the same clothes for a week. I never minded that lifestyle but the difference between it and this ultramodern hotel is quite the jolt. I took a hot shower today for the first time since…Christmas? At least the hotel in Praia smelled funny, lost power at least once, and had the chintzy falling apart quality of many new Cape Verdean buildings. Here I have to insert the card into the wall for the lights to work. The television channels work. The receptionist isn’t obviously flirting with me (okay CV’s better in that regard).

It was sad to say goodbye to Chã. I left behind a lot of friends who were like family, one perhaps broken-hearted young lady, two jobs that got going at the end. Right when you hit your stride, you have to leave. It’s a common Peace Corps experience. You finally get the language, figure out how you fit in the culture and your community, begin to thrive. If nothing else, it makes me feel good about a two year period which included some of the unhappiest times of my life. All’s well that ends well, right?

I hope I can pick up in Moçambique where I left off in Cape Verde. It will be more difficult in many ways. True, I speak some Portuguese and understand a lot. I know a lot more about development work. But I’m going from one of the highest ranking African countries on the UN Human Development Index to one of the lowest (7th from the bottom). From a country with an HIV/AIDS rate of no more than 3% to 16% (the PC Welcome Book for Moçambique mentions that some of your coworkers will probably die during your service). People often joke that PC Cape Verde is “Beach Corps” or “Posh Corps.” I would, after two years, strongly disagree. However, no one would say the same about Moçambique.

I must apologize for this post (as for all the previous ones). It was a long time coming, and in the end is rather half-baked. I’ll try to continue from Moçambique if possible. If I’m in a regional capital, no problem. If I’m in a rural area…I’ll talk to you in nine months.

Nhô São Filipe

Note: I planned to submit this to the PCV newsletter but for various reasons, among others my laziness, did not. I hope you enjoy and that I explained most of the Kriolu words.

Festa de Nhô São Filipe 2010

São Vicente and São Nicolau celebrate Carnival, Sal fills discotecas with tourists ti mantxi (until it’s time to wake up), and in Praia Gamboa (a yearly festival of music and stabbings) puts the fear in our safety and security officer’s heart. On Fogo, we celebrate Nhô São Filipe, a weeklong extravaganza ending in an escudo-less hangover 1 May.

Among other events, Nhô São Filipe 2010 offered a football tournament; cockfights; horse racing and skills competitions; Miss São Filipe 2010; and myriad musical acts like Face à Face, Kassav, Gilyto, and local zouk star/Chã das Caldeiras primary school director Timas. This year focused more on zouk than funáná, as two consecutive nights of Ferro Gaita in 2009 did not exactly get the crowd on its proverbial feet.

In late April 2010, like 2009, Cape Verdeans returned from Brockton in droves, requiring no less than three Praia to São Filipe TACV flights daily plus as many as Halcyon Air could manage. Dripping in jewelry, wearing the latest American fashions, and freely spending money no doubt earned through backbreaking factory or construction labor, the Foguenses took back their homeland. The festa’s famous excesses attracted a strong group of PCVs this year as well.

Much to everyone’s relief, the PCV visits went off without a single kasubodi (literally “cash or body,” ie give me your money or I stab you). Each day started late, with an audacious tour which visited nearly every cachupa restaurant over the week. Groups of PCVs then split off to nap, endure the searing São Filipe sun to go bidong (55 gal. barrels shipped from the States) shopping, or cool off at the beach. At dusk PCVs would make a valiant effort to organize dinner and evening refreshments. Around eleven the group traveled to the spacious Presidio, São Filipe’s main praça (plaza), for the night’s show. By five or six, with everyone exhausted and the music clearly done, the remaining PCVs trekked to their temporary residences to collapse on questionably clean mattresses, barely noticing the oppressive heat, flies, cockroaches, and mosquitoes.

The rectangular Presidio overlooks the sea, with Brava in the bruma seca (dry wind from the Sahara) obscured distance. In the front, perpendicular to the sea, the musicians performed on a vast stage. A fountain in the back and benches along the ocean side provided tired dancers a plethora of resting places. Booths selling pintxu (grilled pork), grogue (sugarcane death rum), Strela (CV’s national beer), and the odd sumo (juice) lined the other two sides, with a buzof (show-offish) bar in the far corner. The bathrooms, located under said bar, added to the charm, with several inches of urine rendering them unusable, except to people too drunk to care or men willing to urinate down the steps leading to the public health hazards. The police force efficiently readmitted partygoers wishing to relieve themselves in nearby back alleys.

São Filipe, aka Bila, that pretty and tranquil city by the sea features pastel sobrados (traditional Portuguese colonial architecture), picturesque praças, and cobblestone streets which only seem to go uphill. Bila, often proclaimed as Cape Verde’s cleanest city also suffered the highest per capita dengue rates in the country, worse than notoriously unkempt Praia. Only Porto Novo beats Bila in sleepy desertedness. In Bila the population waits for its American visa and the guaranteed riches which will allow it to build a mansion equipped with three meter security fence, ferocious dogs, and Hummer in the driveway.

With its provincial big city attitude and a multitude of young men unwillingly returned from America, in Bila a city losing the smallness which makes Cape Verde pleasant meets the worst of American culture. Only in São Filipe (and Mosteiros) will young men affectionately greet light skinned PCVs with the N word and espouse their loyalty to the Bloods, all in glorious Boston-accented English. On the flip side, after grogue binges and missteps with pikenas (girls…not quite girlfriends) they may express the desire to “shoot you in the f#@%ing head.”

One cannot, however, neglect Bila’s charms. The beautiful black sand Fonte de Bila beach attracts scores of youth during the summer, and will do so until the president of the Câmara (municipal government) and the delegado (delegate) of the MADRRM (ministry of agriculture and environment) divert it all for construction and votes. Djarfogo, a local art store and center of culture roasts the island’s best coffee and shows films provoking thoughtful conversation afterwards. Pipi’s Bar serves delicious Senegalese food, lifting up a beautiful culture often derided by locals. KATOBi.net, a liceu (high school) teacher’s website, chronicles local events and news, often in perfect ALUPEC Kriolu which would bring a smile to Lela’s face.

All in all Nhô São Filipe 2010 exceeded expectations. It proved fun and safe for PCVs and Bila itself. Hilario can sleep soundly until April 2011, when even more PCVs will surely venture to Fogo to partake in its most famous event.

19 April 2010

E ke la

Lately things have been all right. The toughest part about this is the loneliness you can feel, even in the company of friends and people who care about you. In terms of work, things have improved. Now that my Kriolu is good enough for substantive conversation, people realize I might be of value. I wrote a proposal for a local youth group which netted over $1000 for a dance. The dance ended poorly, something I feared, and the reason you won’t find my name on the proposal! I learned a lot about project management though.

I’m working with the primary school director/zouk music star on the same proposal I wrote a few months ago. This time, however, the president of the municipal government asked for the proposal to fix the school, instead of a strange American thinking it was a good idea and trying to push it. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m hopeful. It’ll be around $3000 to repair the bathrooms, replace windows/doors/locks, and fix the water tank which will supply the bathroom and kitchen.

The composting toilet project is in full swing. A group of German speaking Italian students from a semiautonomous region on the border with Austria came to work with Cape Verdean high schoolers in agricultural projects. I worked with one Italian (Patrick) and one Cape Verdean on the toilet. Patrick tested for E. coli, prepared grapevines for compost, and suggested improvements for the bathroom design. I translated between the two students. The Italians spoke various levels of school English. While Patrick’s was basic he tried hard and I mostly understood. I tried to teach him American slang which he absorbed enthusiastically. Using the words he knew, we had colorful conversations about “shit” and “piss.”

It turned out the compost didn’t contain E. coli, but the nearby water tank did. This I learned after proving to the Italians I could drink untreated water from said tank without stomach issues. A Portuguese NGO nurse said the majority of stool samples from Chã test positive for E. coli, but a benign type.

It’s amazing how strong one’s stomach becomes over 20 odd months. I love the communal way we sometimes eat, with a plate and a few spoons or one water glass for a room full of people. I gladly accept the resulting colds. I eat dinner with one family often. I give English class from 5:30-7, and then go to their house for dinner. The father, Fatinho’s favorite dish is “skaldadu ku leite,” which is a bit like Moroccan couscous with fresh goat milk. Sometimes they put coffee with heaps of sugar over it as well. We mostly eat rice and beans though, with the odd fried fish, squash, or raw manioc.

I love going there at night, with anywhere from three to ten people crowded into the dark cinder block kitchen. A lone candle barely illuminates our faces. Some people squeeze onto a narrow bench, others sit on sacks of rice, logs, powdered milk cans, with kids on the floor. Normally the dog is there, and if there’s fish, we spit the bones on the floor for him to devour. Dogs in CV survive on bones and rice. If someone’s radio has batteries, we listen to Radio Criolo FM. If Fatinho’s there, sometimes we dance. Otherwise we joke and “konta parti” (tell our part, or story). Aside from his kids, others from surrounding houses often eat there, as well as cousins and younger men without women. Recently a woman came with her kids, shaken up after her man hit her. It’s a kind of wild, overpopulated oasis where everyone’s welcome.

Fatinho needs an explanation. At about 45, he has 46 children with multiple women. He’s incredibly charismatic and liked by just about everyone. He treats his family and children remarkably well, with several in high school in São Filipe (uncommon in Chã) and one at the University of Cape Verde in Praia. Each woman has a house in the compound, and they get along well. It’s common for men to have several women, but not this openly. Somehow he makes it work, though. On the other hand, it’s ridiculously irresponsible to have so many kids. I have no idea where they get the money to survive. Some of kids work at the winery; Fatinho is a mason; one of his women helps with his work; they have land where they grow grapes, beans, tomatoes, squash; and they raise pigs, goats, cows, and chickens.

I’m not sure there’s continuity to this blog, but I’m going to cut myself off here. Thanks for reading. Fika dretu!