Tag Archives: learning

A Visit To The Sacred Forest

When Adam and I learned where we would be living in Benin (near Porto Novo), we were handed a packet of information with a map of our commune (kind of like a county), job descriptions and a consultant’s report about the population, environment and economy. It’s rare to come by such comprehensive, professionally prepared information about your Peace Corps hometown, so I devoured this report as quickly as my French comprehension allowed. Being who I am, I started by studying the map and then I dove into the section on geology.

The area we live in is wrinkled into a series of broad, shallow valleys and wide, low ridges. The river valleys are laced with slow-flowing rivers with interwoven channels and stretches of wetland. I read through the details about ferruginous and hydromorphic soils, clay and peat deposits, and then came to a little bulleted text saying that our river valleys are home to 49 sacred forest islands, protected because they harbor the notorious Vodoun spirit named Oro.

I already heard a lot about Oro because he’s quite threatening and mysterious: he and his followers come out at night and perform secret ceremonies meant to chase away evil spirits. Before Benin was colonized, Oro functioned as society’s police force. Thieves, murderers and other bad people had to pay for their actions even though there wasn’t a judicial system like there is now. Only initiated men are allowed to see Oro. Women must stay out of sight, on pain of death. Fortunately, Oro is only active for a few weeks in August or September (depending on where you live), and word of his schedule is spread in advance (if only a few hours). Also, his entourage makes quite a racket, so he’s avoidable.

There are a couple other types of Vodoun spirits who are often out and about around here, viewable to all: Zangbeto and Egun (or Egungun). Zangbeto looks like a haystack and Egun looks like a person. In both cases, the spirits seem a lot like a person wearing a costume, but any identifiable features are covered up. However, followers claim that they have called forth spirits to inhabit the costumes, and that there are no people underneath. It’s not abnormal to come across small buildings that house these spirits. In the case of Zangbeto, the haystack often sits clearly visible through barred windows or doors. I can only speculate about Oro, but I’m guessing his outfits are stored on the sacred islands and that he’s a person dressed up for ceremonies.

A spirit’s house that we passed on our walk.

A spirit’s house that we passed on our walk.

Despite the intrigue surrounding Oro, I was most interested in the ecological value of his forest islands. In my Peace Corps training manuals, I had read that sacred lands like this serve the secondary purposes of protecting ecosystems and their functions. For instance, the forests and wetlands along a river valley might be reserved for ceremonial uses, with the result that they are left intact to filter water and provide feeding and nesting habitat for wildlife. In this way, the community maintains a reliable source of clean drinking water, wood (logging is permitted in some forests) and plant materials, although these aren’t the primary objectives of preserving the forest. Sacred lands can also conserve biodiversity because they are places where many types of plants are cultivated for medicinal and religious uses.

I knew that I wouldn’t be setting foot in Oro’s forests, but I tried to learn a bit more by asking around. Unfortunately, I didn’t get too far. Most people either don’t know, or don’t really find the topic of religious forests very interesting, because they’re so common and embedded into life here. Although Vodoun is a strong presence in our area, traditional practices have eroded as more people have adopted Christianity and modern medicine and have gained access to better education. However, a few weeks ago, Adam and I went with a local non-profit organization on a neighborhood walk to see an area that the organization is hoping to develop for eco-tourism. I had asked the non-profit’s leader about sacred forests before, and he mentioned to me that we would pass by one during this walk.

That day, we headed out from the mayor’s office, past the youth center and through the grounds of an elementary school. There, not even half an hour into our walk, and no more than fifty feet past the school, my guide turns to me, points, and says, “There it is. The sacred forest.”

There it was, right behind the elementary school, on a patch of land not much bigger than the city lot containing my childhood home. Not quite the vast expanse of dense woods I had imagined. I noticed a wall of vegetation enclosing a line of large, evenly spaced trees of different species. My guide laughed and wagged his finger at me. “Don’t ever go in there,” he said. “Oro is in there. Do you know what happens if a woman sees Oro?!” He laughed and walked on. Hilarious.

The sacred forest.

The sacred forest.

I stared skeptically at the forest. It seemed so average. There it was, right on the edge of town, where anybody could find it. Here in our town in Benin, a patch of forest to house an idol is on par with the storefront churches I passed by all the time in Harlem, or the local synagogue down the street from my childhood home. The believers revere it, and the nonbelievers pass by without thinking about it. I wondered how often little kids dared to sneak in and peek at Oro.

A few hundred yards further down the road, we came to an enormous tree whose buttressed roots sheltered this guy. This particular tree species is very uncommon in southern Benin, but this one is protected by its religious association.

3_Statue by tree4_Statue by treeAnd pretty soon after, we looped down to the waterfront where we photographed this ominous display.

5_Doll head by riverNobody batted an eyelash as we crowded around to take photographs, nor did anyone really explain the items. (“It’s religious. This is an important spot on the water.”) We rested a bit, did some shots of palm liquor (it was 10 in the morning, but that’s hospitality), and continued on. Soon we arrived at a collection of ceremonial statuary.

The statue building.

The statue building.

7_Statue close-up 19_Statue close-up 3 8_Statue close-up 2During our walk—from the unremarkable sacred land, to the unremarked-upon sacred strangeness—I had been struggling to sort it all out in my mind. Truth be told, Vodoun is just as ho-hum as any other religion. Shrines, fetishes and statues are everywhere. I can buy ceremonial goods at my local market for less than a few dollars. The other week, Adam and I bought an altar for communicating with our ancestors. We knew it was a ritual object, but we weren’t sure what sort, and we thought it would make a good souvenir to put in our garden. We haggled over its price just as we would for a pile of tomatoes (end result: $2.25). Then we carried it around the market for an hour and the only reaction we got was a vendor who demanded to know why we hadn’t bought one from her stall.

A sacred forest obviously has a rightful place in the middle of town, and it can still have ecological significance if it’s located there. The danger is that if the religious uses lose status, then the land can be appropriated for some other use. If that happens, the secondary functions are easily lost because no one is thinking about them. And on top of that, a walk through town becomes far less interesting.

Making Gari

A sack and a bowl of pressed manioc, being sifted through screen to make gari.

A sack and a bowl of pressed manioc, being sifted through screen to make gari.

I had another manioc adventure a few weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to participate as a cooperative I work with made gari, which is dried, powdered manioc. It’s one of my favorite Beninese foods.

The first step is to have the manioc mashed, which the group paid to have done elsewhere, so I didn’t see that step. We started with large sacks packed full of the smashed manioc, which we broke up into chunks and then sifted through screens.

The woody cores and other remainders on a spare screen. These were fed to the chickens and goats. The sifted manioc is flaky and light.

After sifting the fine powder went over the fire into a big metal pan, where it was toasted until thoroughly dry.

After sifting the fine powder went over the fire into a big metal pan, where it was toasted until thoroughly dry.

The last step was to put the toasted powder on plastic in the sun. I couldn’t quite figure out what this step accomplished… maybe it was just cooling off?

This is the area where we worked, which is a large courtyard within the cooperative president’s family compound. Most of the day, nobody was willing to be photographed (hence the headless photos), but I was allowed to take this non-close-up shot.

For eating, gari is sprinkled on beans or rice and mixed in with the sauce. Sometimes it is moistened with a little palm oil first, which makes it extra tasty. Yum!

Learning a Trade in Benin

Learning a Trade in Benin

Compulsory schooling does not exist in Benin. Many who are unable to attend school learn a trade instead. Some of the most common trades in our area of Benin include tailor, auto mechanic, hair stylist, barber, metal worker, carpenter and mason. The trades are divided along gender lines. Auto mechanic, barber, metal worker, carpenter and mason are all men’s jobs. Hair stylist is a woman’s job. Tailor is a unisex position with men making men’s clothing and women making women’s clothing. The skilled trades are learned through an apprenticeship system. A family asks an artisan known for his or her quality to apprentice their child. If the apprenticeship is accepted, apprentices pay the host artisan a series of fees and work for free during their three to six year apprenticeship. Here is a breakdown of the typical fees:

  • Apprenticeship Agreement Fee: 5,000 cfa ($10) plus a bottle of rum ($5)
  • Training Fee: 30,000 – 60,000 cfa ($60 – $120)
  • Graduation Request Fee: 5,000 cfa ($10) plus a bottle of rum ($5) and a duck ($20)
  • Diploma Fee: 10,000 cfa ($20) plus an optional graduation party that costs between 100,000 – 150,000 cfa ($200 – $300)

 

What I Do

I’m like many Peace Corps Volunteers in that my roles and responsibilities at work are constantly evolving. It’s normal, but unfortunately keeps me from sharing work updates on this blog because it’s hard to know what to write. I’d be hard-pressed to describe a typical workday, but if any single day could capture my work here in Benin, a certain Wednesday in late February would serve pretty well. Let me tell you about it.

I’m part of the Community Economic Development program, whose broad goals are business development and personal money management. I work with market gardening and food processing collectives through a local office of the national agricultural extension service. Beginning in September when Adam and I moved to our site, I started building relationships with the collectives, including one that processes palm oil.

Collectives are common here, but they vary in format. Some are for women only (although men often hold the leadership roles), some are mixed. Some focus on gardening, some on processing, some on services (like musical performance) and some lack focus at all. In some groups, members work together closely and pool profits; in others, the members work more independently. There is a strong tendency to form collectives, particularly among women, but many of them don’t reap the full potential benefits.

The collective that this story is about owns land, a building and equipment, which are rare assets. The women are all concerned primarily with other home-based businesses, but they benefit greatly from the collective during the palm harvest season, when they use the giant boiling vats and settling tanks to extract oil.

Through the course of our initial meetings with the group, when we were trying to assess their needs and plan our intervention, my counterpart and I learned that the women had participated in a loan association in the past with good results. Loan associations can be really useful for people who don’t qualify for formal loans or can’t afford the risk (even of microcredit). The way they work is that a group manages a fund that each member is entitled to borrow from in turn, with fees and penalties that go back to the pool of capital. They are self-regulated based on trust, mutual interest and personal reputation.

The collective’s prior loan association had long since paid out its dividends and wrapped up, and the women were interested in starting anew. I was excited to help them, but wondered what obstacles were preventing the group from doing this on its own. If they’d had success in the past, why wouldn’t they just replicate the process? Turns out their first association had received start-up money to fund its loans.

It was a clever arrangement that had enabled all the collective’s members to benefit individually from a grant made to the group. Now the women were waiting for another donor to start again, but that’s not something I am able or willing to arrange for them. First of all, Peace Corps Benin does not provide seed funds for loan associations. But more importantly, I know that the women could self-fund their loans and that doing so would be a more empowering, sustainable and capacity-building exercise than accepting external funding.

At any rate, I had agreed to help the women form a loan association, and my counterpart and I had scheduled a small meeting with the group’s leaders to talk about the methods. I got hold of a good village savings and loan association training program from a fellow volunteer and talked it over with my counterpart, who was really enthusiastic about the program. Since he is also working with the president of the collective on a separate project, he combined errands and scheduled the two meetings back-to-back. Thus began my Wednesday.

We arrived at the association president’s home, shook hands and exchanged greetings. Meeting times here are more like guidelines than rigid plans. “We’ll meet at 10am” means, “Show up at 10am and I’ll most likely be there, or at least be willing to head over pretty soon after you show up.” Now that we’d arrived, the president put on some music, sent a kid to go buy sodas and started calling participants on his phone to tell them to head over. Every five minutes or so, another participant arrived, the greetings were repeated and someone pulled up another chair.

I sat on the sidelines and observed while the group made small talk in Fon (the de facto common language of this group.) Once everyone had arrived, my counterpart and his colleague went through their business. I kept busy by rereading and refining my notes in preparation for our part of the meeting because I don’t speak Fon and couldn’t follow their conversation.

Official meetings always require me to carefully plan what I’m going to say. I come equipped with a vocabulary list of key French words and phrases in case I draw a blank—in this instance cotiser (“to pay dues or contributions”), dispositive (“system”), parts (“shares”) and prêter (“to loan”). If I’m going to be explaining a detailed concept I bullet it out so that I can maintain a clear logical flow and don’t skip over important information.

The first piece of business wrapped up an hour or so later, and we took a break for orange sodas. Since my piece of business was unrelated to the previous stuff, the president had to call several leaders of the women’s group and tell them to come. Again, we shot the breeze for a half hour or so while everyone assembled. The CD started over from track one for the third (maybe the fourth) time. I decided I should buy a copy.

Once the women arrived my counterpart and I presented our training proposal. The program we proposed is simple, self-driven and has room for growth. Under this system, a group of about 20 people meets weekly to make mandatory deposits. They decide what the minimum and maximum payments are at the outset, based on what they know they can pay. Once some capital is accrued—a couple of months—the group starts making loans, and it continues to make new loans as often as money is available. The members decide whether to approve loans based on the quality of the borrower’s plan, with the amount based on how much that person has paid in already. All told, the association functions for about one year, after which the savings, plus profits from service fees, late fees and penalties are divvied out to the members in proportion to their inputs.

These systems have a track record of helping people who don’t have the resources and connections to establish formal savings accounts or qualify for formal loans. It’s a good fit for the women in this collective, who normally save money by hiding it at home, where it’s vulnerable and doesn’t collect interest. I thought the women would see what I saw: a low-risk, low-effort, affordable system that would benefit them all for a long time. I expected a strong positive reaction.

Instead, there was silence.

And discontent. Palpable discontent.

Nobody made eye contact. People slouched in their chairs. Tooth-sucking noises and disgruntled sighs were the only things that broke the silence. Those and the flies buzzing audibly around my orange soda.

I surreptitiously checked my vocab list to boost my confidence and broke the impasse by stating the obvious: “You don’t like the loan system.” The group spoke enough French that this meaning was clear.

No, they informed me, they did not. The women had believed I was going to deliver a grant to serve as the loan capital; otherwise they would not have been interested. I had been expected to come to this meeting with a checkbook (or better yet, cash). Instead I proposed that they invest time and money in an untested system that would offer much smaller loans (at least at first).

I was embarrassed about my clumsy misunderstanding and disappointed that I had let the group down. But before those two feelings, I was just mad.

My counterpart and I had explained in great detail—more than once—that I had not come to this community to disburse funds or to implement top-down projects. Peace Corps volunteers are meant to develop projects in cooperation with community partners, and any grants we obtain require a substantial local contribution. However, most people here are used to being targeted for more passive development programs, where they are offered training and equipment as part of projects designed from far away. These programs can be beneficial, but they have also instilled a certain degree of inertia by spending on readymade solutions that don’t stimulate local innovation.

I had been confident that we were all on the same page, and that I was about to begin a really constructive project with this group, but in fact they had heard what they wanted to. I might draw strong distinctions between myself and other development workers here, but it turns out that the people I work with don’t see a big difference.

I did feel bad about the misunderstanding, but I was frustrated and lost my patience. I responded, too harshly, that I believe it’s better to start where you can rather than waiting for external aid. The group should pool its resources, I explained, and build them up. The vocabulary fairies blessed me even though I had not prepared a list for this contingency. Adrenaline is magic. I finished what was probably the longest and least stuttering—and certainly most forthcoming and opinionated—flow of speech these people had ever heard out of me. I cringed and held by breath as my counterpart translated, although my tone and body language said it all. I was pretty sure I’d overstepped.

To my surprise, the president threw up his arms and exclaimed, “We’ll do it. We’ll start! Jennifer is right!”

A murmur of general agreement emerged, but the vice president remained silent, clearly unconvinced. I turned to him and asked what he thought, and he brought up a salient point: all the members of the collective had believed I was coming with money, and they would not be convinced otherwise. The leaders could say whatever they wanted, but nothing could prove they weren’t hiding the money. “Look at all these soda bottles!” he said. “These women will think we partied.”

The ice-cold reception we’d received now made much more sense. It dawned on me that we were all in a pickle. Not only was there a disappointing absence of money, but we now had the task of repudiating blind faith. In light of this, I felt bad for lashing out, and I apologized.

And how did they respond this time?

“Jennifer,” they said, “we know you never said you had money. We know you said you don’t have money for us. It’s just what we believe. We always believe that yovos are going to bring us stuff.”

And then, after a pause, “Don’t people ask you for money all the time?”

As if maybe I’d been living on another planet.

I told them their jobs are more difficult than mine, and we had another round of sodas.

The Yovo Song Post

To prepare for coming to Benin, I read a lot of volunteer blogs. A recurring theme in them was The Yovo Song; almost all the blogs included some kind of diatribe against it. ‘Yovo’ is the term that southern Beninese use to refer to white people. The Yovo Song (really a chant) goes a few steps further:

         Yovo, yovo, bonsoir!

         Ça va bien?

         Merci!

         {BONUS LINE (rarely heard) : Et chez vous?}

         Yovo, yovo, good evening!

         Is it going well?

         Thank you!

         {BONUS LINE (rarely heard) : And with you?}

Urban legend has it that kids invented the song decades ago to greet white visitors who came to Benin with gifts. As the story goes, it continues to be passed on through generations. Although the blogging volunteers said this song drove them crazy, I had trouble envisioning myself being tormented by singing children. Lo and behold, the Yovo Song phenomenon hit me like a ton of bricks from day one in our town.

I hear ‘yovo’ hundreds, sometimes thousands, of times each day. Every time I leave the house, the bombardment begins. Adults often say ‘yovo’ kind of as a synonym for ‘hello.’ Equally often, they shout it reflexively when I pass by. If I respond, that might be the end of it. But they also might shout ‘Yovo!’ at me again, just for good measure.

          Neighbor: Yovo!

         Me: Bonjour!

         Neighbor: YO-vo!

         Me: Ça va?

         Neighbor: Yo-VO!

         Me: Et la famille?

         Neighbor: YOVOOO!

(I’m tempted to chalk it up to a language barrier, but even people who don’t speak French usually know basic greetings.)

But children love to sing the song. Repeatedly. They are excited because I’m unusual and they want to be acknowledged. Often when I respond with eye contact and a wave or a quick salutation, they dissolve into shy giggles, hide behind each other, or run away. But if it’s a really excited group of the littlest kids—and they can get really excited—they scream at the top of their lungs and jump up and down dance. It’s hysterical, and they keep shouting until I’m out of earshot. The littlest kids don’t know all the words, but that doesn’t stop them. ‘Yovo, yovo, bonsoir! Sa buuuuh nuuuuh? Mmmmmm-mmmmmeh!’

‘Yovo’ isn’t an unfriendly term. Name-calling like this isn’t unique to white people; there’s a tendency here to use titles in place of names for everyone. Many adult women go by ‘mama [their kid’s name],’ or simply ‘mama.’ My coworkers refer to each other by an alphabet soup of job title acronyms. (Since five of them are ‘CPV’ I often haven’t the slightest clue who we’re talking about.) The older men at my job are called ‘doyen,’ a word that respectfully acknowledges their status as senior colleagues. (Except for the light-skinned one, who is ‘yovo.’) The Togolese woman who sells deconstructed tamales at Adam’s workplace is, logically, ‘Togo.’

‘Yovo’ is inclusive. Beninese don’t differentiate much among non-black races: we’re all outsiders together. Access to foreign media and internet are the exception, not the norm, even here in our large town close to the capital. There’s no internet café here; you can’t even buy a newspaper. Our town’s schools have extremely limited resources, so there are no maps of Benin, Africa, other continents, or the world. ‘Yovo’ can refer to anyone with relatively pale skin, just as ‘chinois’ can refer to me, Adam, or any of the three Japanese volunteers who live in our town. Never mind that none of us are Chinese.

Even if ‘yovo’ isn’t derogatory, it is complicated. It goes hand-in-hand with a few other vexing behaviors. In place of greetings, we’re often hit with demands for our money, helmets, bicycles, or pants. In addition, teenagers frequently greet us in falsetto. They talk to each other that way, too, but it can seem really mocking anyway. Responding in a deep bass will get you a blank stare, but high-voicing back sometimes starts a conversation.

There are times when ‘yovo’ is followed by laughter of the ‘at you,’ not the ‘with you,’ variety, and those times are upsetting, but the incessant garden-variety yovo-ing is what really bothers me. It’s dehumanizing to be always called a name. I feel hurt that people call me by a catch-all label even after we become acquainted. I feel offended that the chant never changes from ‘bonsoir,’ even when I’m out running at pre-dawn. I feel disheartened when I say ‘kaalo’ (‘good morning’ in Gun) and only get back ‘yovo.’ It saddens me to always elicit a knee-jerk epithet, rather than a genuine interaction.

At the end of the day, I understand that ‘yovo’ is just the way that people here relate to people like me. It’s what I’m called because it’s what I am. Sure, I live in a concession with Beninese neighbors, shop at the local market, and wear Beninese-style outfits. But I am so conspicuously different it’s laughable: I have a new mountain bike, top-of-the-line helmets for motorcycle and bike, well-made shoes, band-aids, an e-reader.

It’s not only my white skin and possessions that make me a yovo, it’s my behavior, too. Take the way I schedule my time for example. When making plans I prefer to set a specific hour. Beninese people are more comfortable saying ‘in the afternoon.’ Let’s say I make an appointment with the carpenter, and he’s an hour late by my clock. Maybe it’s because he went to do a job in Cotonou for a respected customer, and the old man offers him a beer and wants to talk afterward. I call the carpenter to ask when he’ll arrive. ‘Right now’ is his answer, even though he is a two-hour drive away in Cotonou, because he intends to stop what he’s doing as soon as he politely can and come to my house. I should have taken ‘in the afternoon’ for an answer!

I’m also comparatively uptight about privacy and personal information. If I’m biking through town on my way to a meeting, it’s acceptable for a complete stranger to shout ‘Stop!’ and ask who I am, where I live, where I’m from, where I’m going, what I’ll do there, if I have kids, and more. I’m taken aback that a stranger feels entitled to hold me up and ask all these questions, but I have to remember that I’m the stranger here. If I worry that this will make me late, I shouldn’t, because chance encounters like these cause everyone to show up late from time to time, and it’s acceptable.

One of my biggest reasons for joining the Peace Corps was to experience life in another culture, a process that sounds marvelous but in practice is sometimes rough. I come from a culture that prizes individuality, but that’s not Benin. To accept being called ‘yovo’ feels like a loss of individuality, but it’s a part of Beninese culture and there’s no stopping it. Not every ‘Yovo!’ is an invitation to chat, but it’s not a slur either. So I’m learning to hear ‘yovo’ with Beninese ears.

My New Normal

This past July Adam and I moved to Benin to complete our second year of Peace Corps, and for the second summer in a row, life was turned upside down. Truth be told, day-to-day life here in Benin was really mundane at the outset. This is mostly because Peace Corps training filled up six days per week, with the same routine every day from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Being in training also meant I had Peace Corps taking care of all of my needs, and that I interacted mainly with Americans. Still, there have been a few times over the past couple of months that I’ve looked around and realized how truly remarkable my standard has become. For instance, it’s normal for me to…

  • Get from place to place on public transportation that consists of either riding on the back of a dirtbike in traffic where bigger always wins, or cramming into a 16-passenger van—16 being the absolute minimum number of passengers—with street vendors flocking to the open windows at every station, stoplight, or traffic snag to sell snacks, clothing, cosmetics, or plastic baggies full of cold water (5 cents!).
  • See 7-year-old girls walking alone through town with their baby siblings slung on their backs, or transporting 20-liter bowls of water on their heads… or both at once.

A woman with a basket of chickens on her head is a pretty average sight.

  • Purchase two heaping plates of rice, beans, gari (dried and pulverized manioc), and egg with sauce for less than $1.00 (a plate for me and one for Adam). While we sit and eat lunch, it’s normal for an old woman to emerge from her concession (basically, a shared front yard) and totter over with her cane to talk to the lunchstand mama… wearing only a pagne (cloth) wrapped around her waist.
  • Buy a pineapple at streetside stand for 20 cents. It’s also normal for the stand to be staffed by a young kid who will then use a long, sharp knife to peel and chop the fruit.

Benin has it’s own pineapple variety, called pain de sucre (sugar bread).

  • Ride my bike to a colleague’s house for a training activity, and pass through a Beninese funeral celebration on the way. This consists of a tented street party with food, drinks, families in matching outfits, and a DJ making shout-outs to the guests to earn tips.

For funerals, families all get matching outfits.

  • Communicate in French (albeit not very well). This includes communicating in French during classes for a local Beninese language, Gun (pronounced ‘goon’)—my third Peace Corps language.

photos: Serra Malageta to Espinho Branco

Our fellow volunteer friend Lynette organized a group hike from Serra Malagueta National Park to the coastal town of Calheta. Serra Malagueta is located in the mountains toward the northern end of Santiago. It’s often cloudy there, and cool, which means at this time of year it’s also greener. There are several endemic species there that are found only in the highest of Santiago’s mountains, including these. From Serra, we descended through ever browner terrain, through agricultural fields, into the town of Espinho Branco.

Outside of Espinho Branco is Rabelarte, an artists’ colony that somewhat paradoxically displays the traditional lifestyle of the Rabelados (‘Rebels’), a group once by its cultural and physical isolation in opposition to Portuguese Catholic rule. Visitors can see the traditional thatched-roof homes and folk art of the Rabelados, which is done on canvas, wood, or found objects like bones and trash. The art for sale in the shop was interesting and original, but what really impressed me was the art filling the homes, such as the pattern of grass thatching painted onto the ceiling of a metal roof, a mixed-media collage, a local landscape painting, and a floor-to-ceiling self-portrait of a painter and his wife.

After checking out Rabelarte we stopped short of our original goal of Calheta and caught a Hiace the rest of the way.