Adam and I are into the final countdown in Cape Verde: we leave for Benin in less than one month.
I’m incredibly excited to see what Benin is like, what our new host community is like, what our jobs are like (we don’t know any details yet, just that we’ll be in the Community Economic Development program). This time I’m eager to learn new languages (we’ll learn French and I think also a local language). On the other hand, the reality of leaving is setting in, and I’m sad. I have pre-emptive sodadi for the people and places that I’ve come to know here: our neighbors, our friends, our routines, our mountains.
Though I’ve prohibited myself from thinking in ‘what-ifs,’ I can’t help but think that if we stayed here another year, we could apply all we have learned and that things things would get a whole lot more interesting as we moved along with our primary project. And that life in general would get a whole lot easier as we applied our experience and improved our language. A couple of things—both negative and positive—have happened in the past couple of weeks to make me sad that we’re leaving.
Adam and I went to Santo Antao on vacation last week (photos, photos, photos, photos!), and on our first day back in town we visited our elementary school to touch base with the principal and see the garden. Most of the garden was empty and that the gota gota (drip irrigation) equipment was not yet installed in some new sections. These things are understandable, and there are good reasons for them—the irrigation technician has been too busy to spend an entire day at the school, and the school staff is planning to plant everything at once once the new sections are hooked up. These are normal wrinkles, but they show me that there is a place for me and Adam on this project. The fact is, the garden project is a lot of work for the principal and teachers, and on top of that they’re trying to do new and different things. We have the time, the ideas, and the experience to help, and I’m disappointed that we can’t.
On a happier note, we went out visiting last weekend and got to stop for a couple of hours at a particular neighbor’s house for the first time. For whatever reason, we hadn’t had the chance to stop in before, though we’ve meant to. We got to talking about some of Cape Verde’s traditional foods, and either Adam or I mentioned that we hadn’t yet tried kamoka, which is roasted, ground corn that you can eat in lots of different ways—in coffee, yogurt, with corn meal, and more. (To be honest, I lose track.) Our neighbor’s son silently stepped out and returned a few minutes later with a bag of kamoka for us to bring home (homemade from the family’s own corn). Wonderful! Next thing we know, grandmom steps out without a work and returns shortly with a bag of ovu di tera (chicken eggs from free-ranging chickens). In the space of ten minutes, Adam and I were pretty much set for the week’s breakfasts. (Since then, I’ve been given eggs at least three other times. We haven’t had serious rain for months, and all the fields are picked clean, so I guess eggs are the month of May’s fixon kongu.)
This hospitality and generosity also makes me sad to leave, but in a much nicer way. Our week away in Santo Antão, including our time visiting other Volunteers’ sites, made me come home with fresh eyes. I have slowed down this past week and tried not to take anything good for granted. I’m trying to stop and chat longer, spend more time people watching in town, and visit more.
To help me remember my year here and the people I have met I’ve been collecting seeds from friends and family (and wild tomato seeds), and I’ll plant them back home in the States.
I’m also trying to figure out how to transport my rock collection. Heh.
Amidst all this, I’m incredibly excited that we’ll be welcoming a group of students from North Star Academy (where Adam worked before joining Peace Corps) for a week-long visit to Cape Verde. The students will be studying food security, building a tire garden in our satellite elementary school, and learning about the culture of Cape Verde. They are top students and awesome kids, and it’s going to be a fantastic trip! Preparing for their trip has me busy, but I’ve enjoyed running around work and town to organize things. In order to plan the best trip I can, I’ve been trying to see our town through the eyes of the students and teachers who will be coming. In this way I’ve started to remember my first impressions, and I’m trying to savor things while I can.
For a long while I felt like an outsider here. Despite (perhaps because of?) the morabeza, I am still a guest. Lately, however, I recognize that I have a unique role in our community, and that people do consider me a neighbor, even if I’m a temporary one. People call dibs on the papayas from the trees in my yard. They shout for me on the way past my house to go work in their fields. They tease me about being lazy when I don’t show up for aerobics class. Casual conversation here often consists of simply guessing at where a person is going… more and more, the woman who sells candies by the chapel—who keeps track of pretty much all of my comings and goings—is getting it right about me.