Monthly Archives: June 2012

nos montanha :: our mountain

We live in a valley near the foot of Pico d’Antonia, the highest peak on Santiago. Every day we are lucky to see the changing face of this beautiful mountain, and we wanted to share some of those wonderful views with you.

This week’s picture of our mountain…

January 6, 2012

4:30 p.m.

Our house and our mountain! This was our house for the past year, which we left Monday to head to Benin.



Public Transportation Part II: The Rules of Public Transportation

This is a typical view from inside a mostly full 15-passenger van known generically as a hiace.

Meat being sold out of the back of a pick-up truck.

Public transportation here in Santiago, Cape Verde has rules. The rules aren’t written anywhere and I’m still working on understanding them, but here is my current understanding of the rules of public transportation in Santiago:

My Child is Your Child:  Jen and I were heading home from Praia in a hiace (a 15 passenger van). A woman got on with an infant and a little girl around three years old. There wasn’t room for her to sit with both her infant and three-year old together so she handed the three-year old to the person behind her and held her infant on her lap. The approximately 25-year old man who wound up with the three-year old put his arm around the little girl like it was his little sister and she snuggled up to him. No words were exchanged between anyone. About 15 minutes later, the man got off and in his place two women got on. The little girl sat on one of the women’s lap. “Who’s little girl is this?” the woman asked. Mom, sitting one row in front, turned her head and said, “she’s mine”. The little girl snuggled on this new stranger’s lap for the next half hour until she got off with her mom and her baby brother.

Yes, You Do Know Someone Here: There’s a good chance you will know someone, be related to someone, or know someone who is related to someone in the hiace or hilux you are riding in. Though many times the ride is silent, sometimes people talk and through asking where they’re from and who they know, they almost always know someone in common. Typical conversation:

  • A: Aren’t you from Calheta?
  • B: No, I’m from Picos.
  • A: Do you know Ze who cuts hair in Achada Igreja?
  • A: Mena’s son?
  • B: No,  Tuka’s son.
  • B: Yeah, Ze’s married to my cousin Maria.
  • A: That’s where I know you from; you were at their baby’s baptism last year, right?
  • B: That was a great party wasn’t it?!

There’s Always Room for One More: Most of the hiaces are made to hold 15 – five rows of three. Other than the front seat where I’ve never seen more than three (including the driver), the other rows aren’t considered full until there are four people in each. In the back two rows there is a bucket seat separated from a bench meant for two. A small board is placed across the gap (stored under the seat in every hiace) for adding an extra person. After those seats are filled, or sometimes before, people just squish in, sit on each others’ laps, squat in any remaining available space; they make it work. The most adults I’ve seen in a hiace is 22 though there were some children riding on laps as well. Any that doesn’t include the various items people were carrying with them. Which leads me to:

It Will Fit: You can bring just about anything that will fit into or top of a vehicle with you.  As very few people own cars, the hiace and hilux are the main sources of transportation for the vast majority of the population. Thus, if you go shopping and need to bring something home, you bring it in public transportation. Sacks of corn that are larger than my seven year old niece, five gallon jugs of fresh milk, live goats and chickens and piglets, a freshly caught tuna – all share space with the other passengers. If you can’t hold it, it goes under the seat, under your feet, under someone else’s feet, on someone else’s lap – anywhere it will fit.

Benches are attached to both sides of the back of pick-up trucks which are then covered with a frame and tarp. This is the view inside a not-very-full vehicle.

Stop Here. Or There: You can get on or off anywhere you want. The hiaces and hiluxes follow a path and anywhere that one goes by, you can flag it to pick you up. The same goes for getting off. Simply shout, “Para!” (stop) or “Dexa-N li!” (let me out here). This can sometimes lead to someone getting off (pause for five people to exit to let the person out, the exiting passenger to unload a dozen grocery bags before paying the driver, change to be found among the passengers while the five who exited get back on) and then someone else asks to stop 50 feet later. This is not an uncommon occurrence.

People Take Care of Each Other: I once saw a baby vomit all over her mother and the two passengers sitting in front of her mother. It was gross. The hiace pulled over. People handed over handkerchiefs and water. The driver got out and helped clean up. No one complained.

People Take Care of Each Other: On the back of an hilux, a man began having what I think was a seizure. The other passengers shouted to the driver to stop the vehicle. They held his hand and asked what could be done to help. The man was able to speak a little and said he just needed some time. Someone was sent to the nearest house for water. People patiently waited. When his seizure ended, the other passengers insisted that the driver turn the vehicle around (disrupting their travel) and take the man to the health center. The man refused, explaining that his medicine at home was all that he needed.

Music Required: There will almost always be music playing. It will frequently be very loud. It is often funana. If you aren’t familiar with funana, ZeEspanhol is a good place to start.  If you’re sitting in the front seat, there might be a small DVD screen on the dashboard where you can watch the video, too.

We Can Wait: You can stop the vehicle, go in to a store to get some rice/beans/oil/other and come back. The rest of us will wait.

Never Get in an Empty Vehicle: If you are leaving from an endpoint of the trip, the hiace will not depart until full. Hiaces go between the cities – Praia to Assomada; Praia to Tarrafal; Assomada to Pedro Badeja; etc. If you enter a half full, or much more painful, a mostly empty vehicle, it will drive around in circles looking for passengers. A man (I’ve never seen a woman do this job) – hangs out the window of the big sliding door on the passenger side of the vehicle shouting out the destination city. “Tarrafal! Tarrafal! Tarrafal!” The slightest of head nods is all that is necessary to get the vehicle to pull over. Usually between 8 am and 6 pm, there are a slew of half-full vehicles looking to fill up and the drivers will sometimes aggressively try to pull you into a vehicle. I’ve seen drivers pull the bags (and children) out of women’s hands and put them in their vehicle so the woman will follow. Potential male passengers don’t get the same aggressive treatment. I’ve ridden around a 10 square block area in Praia for 90 minutes waiting for the hiace to be full enough to take me 45 minutes home. Rookie mistake. Rember, get in a vehicle that is as full as possible to get home as quickly as possible.

Federal Express, UPS, the USPS – None Can Compete: You can send lunch, an important message, a baby goat, a bag of corn or just about anything else to someone else in another town. Just flag down a hiace or hilux, hand the bag to the driver ask him to give it to “insert name here” in the other town. He will hand it off to someone, tell them the name of the person its for, and it will get there. And if lunch was sent, it will still be hot.

My language comprehension is currently around 75%. By this I mean that I understand 75% of the words that people say to me though I usually get the gist of what is said. I would bet that my understanding of the public transportation rules is around the same so please don’t take any of this as gospel. As I only have one week to go in Cape Verde, uncovering the rest of the rules will have to wait for a return trip.

Jen, our friend Titina and our friend Ana’s little girl in the back of an hilux (pick-up truck).

nos montanha :: our mountain

Happy Birthday to my sister Megan!!!

We live in a valley near the foot of Pico d’Antonia, the highest peak on Santiago. Every day we are lucky to see the changing face of this beautiful mountain, and we wanted to share some of those wonderful views with you.

This week’s picture of our mountain…

January 9, 2012

7:15 a.m.

January was a good month for pretty clouds.

Speaking In Public, Dancing In Public

Batuku has been a consistent presence in me and Adam’s Peace Corps experience from the start. Batuku is thought to be the oldest Cape Verdean musical genre. It is performed by women seated in a semicircle, with homemade drums on their laps, and a dancer or two standing before the group. (Sometimes men participate as well.) The singing is in a call and response format. For most of the song, the dancer stands in place and shuffles her feet in time with the music. Toward the end of the song, she starts shaking her butt, while holding her upper and lower body rigidly in place. Batuku started with drumming and dance brought to the islands by continental Africans. The Portuguese government and the Catholic church tried to suppress it because it was seen as “African.” Nowadays, it’s extremely popular—most towns have a group, which is usually formed as an arm of a community association. I had heard about Batuku before I came to Cape Verde and I was very curious. I didn’t have to wait long to see it; only a couple weeks into PST I caught a performance in the Assomada town square. But truth be told, I was underwhelmed at first.

I started to gain appreciation for Batuku during homestay. Our Pre-service training required Small Enterprise Development volunteers to develop a small community project. Through a community meeting, Adam and I learned that the Batuku group wanted help improving its organizational management, with the ultimate goal of making money through performances and CD sales. Through the project, we developed friendships with the batukaderas and I saw the social significance of Batuku groups. The women invited us to their practices and to a baby shower, where I saw the music performed with passion and joy.

At the baby shower. For celebrations, people often dance to Batuku with a bottle of wine on their head… I don’t know what it means.

The group played at our dispidida (going-away party), and I very quickly learned that there is no way I can escape being ‘invited’ to da kutornu (dance). Which is fine, because Batuku is way more fun when you’re a participant, rather than a mere spectator.

This was in front of my largest audience yet, at Parents’ Day.

Don’t be mistaken. They are laughing at me, not with me. It’s a constant.

After Adam and I got to site we became acquainted with a local community association that is focused, among other areas, on growing tourism-related business in town. Adam and I had already seen that many tourists—domestic and foreign—pass through our town, but that local residents don’t benefit much from the traffic. Cape Verdeans come here to relax in the waterfalls during the rainy season, and they stop to eat and drink. The vast majority of international visitors, however, drive through town in buses to visit the National Botanic Garden as part of volta di ilha (‘round the island) tours that rapidly pass through a handful of major attractions. To me and Adam, it seemed that the tours lacked opportunities for the tourists to interact with and learn about the local culture and people. We started to think about ways that we could work with the community association.

Then we had a visit from the Batuku group from our homestay town, and a project idea fell into our laps. The group came to our town to celebrate their second anniversary. Their visit is a story unto itself, in which forty women—from schoolchildren to grandmothers—arrived in an open bed truck with all the makings of a feast, right down to the napkins and birthday cake.

Singing Happy Birthday to the group.

After eating, we walked to the botanic garden, where the women were going to see the sights and play a few songs. As we entered the garden, we saw a tourist bus loading up to depart. The tourists were intrigued by our drumming, singing, reveling parade. Their guide got excited as she realized this opportunity to explain and demonstrate the musical form of Batuku. That evening, Adam and I talked about how cool it would be if our town’s Batuku groups could earn a little money by performing at the Botanic Garden, as part of the group tour packages.

Walking to the botanic garden.

Pretty soon, we learned that Peace Corps Cape Verde would be closing, and we decided to advance the Batuku project as a secondary project. We pitched the idea to the community association president, and he linked us up with the Batuku group. We had hoped that the group members would have a central role in negotiating the project, but in the end time constraints and formalities meant that Adam and I did much of the groundwork. Adam and I consulted with them continually as the project advanced. We located an interested tourism agency, and the next step is for the association president to negotiate details.

The project got some attention recently at a tourism forum hosted by our local camara (county government). The theme of the forum was “Partnerships and Synergies for Touristic Development of [Our Town].” In the midst of feeling nostalgic about leaving, I was happy for the chance to present my and Adam’s community project publicly. Naively, I formatted a few snapshots to act as a backdrop while I spoke, and outlined important points in my notebook. As the forum opened, I realized that I was to present at the end of a program that included the National Minister of Tourism, the Director of Tourism for Santiago Island, two Master’s candidates in Tourism, and the conselho’s (county’s) head of tourism. Yikes!

In the end, it went fine. I followed my notes and stuck to simple vocabulary. There were a lot of familiar faces in the room, and despite being at the end of the program, people were smiling and engaged. In Cape Verde, questions do not follow each presentation. Instead, the speakers form a panel after all the talks are over, and audience members take turns commenting. The panelists take notes and reply with short speeches that address individual comments and synthesize themes. It’s a type of public speaking that I have no practice in doing, but… Surely you can guess where this goes? Yup, I was expected to participate in the panel, too.

My mind betrayed me during the comment period, wandering back to the first formal meetings Adam and I attended during our service. My palms used to sweat just from the pressure of introducing ourselves! I would list vocabulary words to look up later and scribble furiously to note their context, including who said what and their tone. But mostly I paid attention, recorded who said what, and how I could respond. There were a number of really interesting discussion points, but I kept it basic and stuck to a few generic sentences, considering that I was surrounded by more qualified experts.

During the lanxi (snack) after the forum, a few people congratulated me on a presentation well done, and complimented our project. I hope that the association is able to reach an agreement with the tour agencies, and that the story I presented planted an idea in someone’s mind!

nos montanha :: our mountain

We live in a valley near the foot of Pico d’Antonia, the highest peak on Santiago. Every day we are lucky to see the changing face of this beautiful mountain, and we wanted to share some of those wonderful views with you.

This week’s picture of our mountain…

June 7, 2012

4:45 p.m.

Taken from Serra Malagueta National Park, which is often shrouded in clouds even when the rest of the island is clear… which it was. This photo makes it look like there were heavy clouds extending for miles, but really they were only right around the peak we were standing on.

nos montanha :: our mountain

We live in a valley near the foot of Pico d’Antonia, the highest peak on Santiago. Every day we are lucky to see the changing face of this beautiful mountain, and we wanted to share some of those wonderful views with you.

This week’s picture of our mountain…

November 27, 2011

6:15 p.m.

Digging back in the archives some more, another beautiful sunset/moonrise shot from last year. These days at 6:15 p.m. it’s broad daylight!