I touched down in Portugal, the first time since living in 1987. The sweeping landscape made visible by the fleeting lights of a sleeping sun, told me that I really had left and had not been back to what was once an expansive memory. Yet nothing was remembered, the trappings of memory forever mystified in the space of the imagined. Landing and touching the earth I left some twenty years ago was nostalgic, the blanket of night was pulled over me as I walked to the awaiting bus, but I knew I was not staying, only on route to yet another home. I wondered about the landscape I could not see, the signs that would be pulled back from my lost files of history, what would they say, and how would they say it?—those thoughts that were submerged so long ago, in the depths of travel and distance. I will come back. As a person who seeks to remember and write its contents, I can’t allow this close relative, an ever growing living relative called Lisbon, to go unstudied. TAP, Portuguese airlines, waived an emotional bye to me, using its stiff wings and logo to signal my return, at least that’s how I saw it. But on to Gate 18, destination Praia, where Gisela looks at me anxious and distant at the same time, a distance that suggests to me that her imagination is being replaced by the reality of the situation, and that by doing so the earlier imagined experience is dying—coming to life is the Real. Her eyes sparkle with confusing thoughts. She thought what she would see on the airplane was what she would see, but she saw what it was, a disturbed plane between fiction and reality. There was a real mix of people in the flight, an African bound airplane which looked more like the future advertisements of a Just world, an amalgamate world, rather then a flying machine of Black citizens. We landed in Cape Verde and I was ecstatic at the realization of not needing a visa. I was the son of Cape Verdeans and as such would not need permission stamped and granted to enter my extended home. I spoke Kreolu to the customs officer and some inclination of family was eased into the space. Gisela was asked if we were married, by this acknowledgment she too could have been treated in slightly the same way, she could have entered the level of the familiar, but we were not married and she was not Cape Verdean, so to the Visa line she went, and with it our first expenditure in the island, dois mill and qhinhento scudos, 2,500 Escudos.
Greeting my parents was heaven, all the while taking in the new Airport, with its wide rooms and waiting halls. A simple linier building designed well, with sizable, well lit signs, along with electronic doors suggestive of ushers and the coming future. We landed close to one in the morning and drove home through the new paved roads, cutting through the mountains, illuminated by our high beams and conversations of what I remember form my last trip. Gisela listened on, trying with hope to soak in this new language, wanting to drink it and be tainted by its ease, but this would take some time. We had arrived.
The next day…
In our moment of feeding and cleaning my parent’s animal stables I hear about horrific sexual misconducts, persons who have sex with animals, the cow especially. I hear of how they tie the cow’s legs to prevent its natural instinct; to move about frantically for fear of alien behavior. My mother tells me of how their animal shed in the beginning had limited wall protection and how on few occasions she came to feed her animals and found the cow tied and exhausted, raped essentially. Disgusting I thought. How can this be done? How do such pervert acts become? Drunkenness and drugs, things that alter the normal behavior of man, although one can contest this idea of normalcy. Are such acts everyday? How often do such abusive infringements take place? I can only picture the darkness in which such acts occur, the haziness of the activity.
My mother speaks about her cattle with such personality and awareness. They speak to her she may say if asked. They listen and are listened to by her. She can tell when they are not well and when they have been disturbed, not physically like the knife mark left visible on the hind leg of the young bull, the son of my mother’s now pregnant cow, but more the emotions that are carried in quiet spaces when it’s just them and her. Today with our intrusions their eyes surveyed the premises, large and penetrating organs they are, investigating those who are looking at them. My mother tells the mother cow that we are not strangers, they are family from a distance, visiting. She continues while they scan their interrupted areas and breathe in long puffs of air to identify this supposed familiarity. She really does know them.
In the distance we see the mountains as if through soft filters. Their distance under the bright sun produce these soft edges and makes them moving image, yet they are still and have been so for centuries. They blur, asking never to be seen with the clarity which we kill everything with. They tell me as I look at them that I should never know them, that by attempting to I am losing them. Why have I returned if not to further clear my blurred eyes and gaze again extensively at the mirage which was once a dream, to look at the foot paths and wonder how long such scars have been burning the skins of these mountains, how thick its leather has become due to long stares such as the one I use now. But I will not clear my vision; I shouldn’t.
In our family home Gisela is introduced to our Aunt, my great aunt, my mother’s aunt. Nima is her nick name and like many in the islands I don’t know her real name and probably never will. This is not out of some kind of secrecy, just out of informalities. She is a slightly large woman who walks with a limp, surely nearing her seventies, but her verve doesn’t show this. I remember her from the last time I was here. She is an elder of the village, with soft eyes and a round face. She wears her lenco on her head, the traditional way. She came up from her small town to share in the festivities of the day, the day of Senhora Fatima, 13 de Maio. Many will pass by to visit the guests of the home, myself and Gisela. Aunti, as I call her, is intelligent and knowledgeable in the realities of life and it is why she actually plays with life’s lessons, dishing them out and taking them in at her old age. Known to be a little bit perverted, she is actually just honest and tries to keep social gatherings and relationships on their toes. Gisela has been introduced to this affront. I translate everything to her, my aunt’s comments on sex, men and beauty. She listens to how men are made Just by their woman and how woman are made Beautiful by their man. She goes on to say that I should kiss Gisela very often so as to not lose her and that for every second kiss I plant on the cheek I should plant one on the lower lips, keep her content so she doesn’t leave me. This is her character, known by many and appreciated by many more. While coming down from the roof of my parent’s home, we see her and one of my cousins waiting by an open flame just inside the last set of stairs which lead outside. My mother has set up a log stove so she can cook some Katchupa. My aunt asks Gisela if she wants to learn how to role a kind of corn role which will go inside the pot of seasoned stew; a precursor to the Katchupa. She tells her that rolling the massa is much like rolling her boyfriends balls, soft and tender, that some of them she will need to role into small erections, surreally not like your man she says. She left later that day after we ate the massinha and shared the banana cake my mother made.
* * *
After dropping my aunt we continued to ride down a nostalgic path, my father’s that is. We passed where he grew up, where he was raised by his aunt and where memories were only whispered when we met someone he grew up with, memories they could only smile about. They are whispers of hurt and pain, miss-understandings and lost comprehensions. Even as grown members of this society some things are forever left in the space of history, accounted only with slight physical gestures and smiles of a hidden life. We spoke to my Uncle Sergio, who mentioned to me that he can feel his strength moving away from him. Seventy one he says he is and things just aren’t the way they used to be. The power he once carried and the energy he once thought would never subside now tells him that he is human, and like many before him he too will die. He still moves up and down the mountains, stringing his cattle, and going up to the city to collect his pension. This is when I may see him next he tells me, “I need to get my money.” Times were tough when he grew up, my father attests to this as best he can. The surrounding landscape was green and full of life, water streamed ever strong as if the end of current was never even though of. They speak of banana trees and sugar cane plants, mango rains and cabbage gardens; now it’s mostly gone. There were some that starved when the old plantations still roamed, roamed the dreams of such labor plagued souls. He tells me when the Portuguese were around they did not care, they only wanted profit, so they made him and those like him work, often for food not money. When the Portuguese overseers and landowners’ share was taken the workers were left with barely anything, so from each other they had to borrow; not working for money to get food but for food directly. He says that there, in their part of the earth, things were slightly better but that others suffered deeply. Those scars can still be seen; those visions of famine and loss still haunt these elders, they have seen and feel deeply that they will see it again. I ask Gisela what will happen with this global warming business. My father says that last year they only had one month of rain when normally they have three. It’s been happening for sometime now he tells me, this place just gets dryer and dryer. I can’t put it all in the thought of current day discussions of global warming though, draughts have been in the history of Cape Verde and it was never a bet that it would not be in its future. The day finished with our light participation in the festivities of this church day. We saw some performances and Gisela saw what she had been waiting to see, some Batuke. We walked home in the breeze of Assomada. I will now rest for the night, for tomorrow Magaly will come.
This morning I woke up with allergies swarming me, yet again. It thought I would escape this here, where plantations and vegetations are of a different sort, but no, I woke up to sneezes and itchy eyes, tired breaths and a complaining nose. My mother told me to rub lemon on my face, wash it on like water, sniff its contents and inhale its medicine. She tells me and Gisela that there are still remedies yet unfound in this organism, that it and Ginger will cure aids one day. She smiles, and I follow. Gisela looks on for interpretations. We laugh but some truth is in the air. In Cape Verde remedies are everywhere and have a long history. There are natural cures for many human ailments. Why not?—if the smell of lemon helps me then let’s try it!
Another topic arises in our breakfast meeting, sitting in the kitchen eating some fresh eggs just picked from the hens. “The sun has not touched them yet.” my mother tells me. She picked them from the hen whole; the eggs had yet to be exposed. She tells us how the city of Praia is everyday growing more and more dangerous. Criminal activity is sweeping the city. It is a growing city, so this is not surprise, but for a country that is not used to increasing levels of violence this new age is hitting them hard. Violent acts are appearing with less and less time, and space, between them. I think here lays the worry. People do not have the time to digest one act of disgust and fear before another appears on television, or is heard through the grape vine. They say the waive of immigrant criminals from the United States, despondent youths who were born here but left to America at and early age only to commit crimes and be sent back, are the ones that a fuelling this new waive of uncertainty. There are some who are known to be hired bandits; taking on jobs for the right amount of pay, sometimes hardly any pay. They are lost souls, displaced in a land they knew of only in gestures, in accents really. They never new this land and its laws, only the language and some cultural gestures, now they come and have to live this uncertainty, trapped in a memory of what they left behind. They think of the open planes of the American horizon, the possibilities heard and felt (even if they could not reach it at that moment) and they must really hate the minute situation they have now placed themselves in; the borders of a country so many hope to cross forever closed to those who had once that privilege. Anger and frustration at systems which do not see them, they now seek to be seen. This has always been the response of the emotionally trapped criminal; sight. Now they take sight, even if it’s not given to them. Praia is growing into a small metropolis, with immigrants from the main land of Africa flooding in asking for rights, space and understanding. At the same time, it wants to be involved in the game of politics and economics. I see Chinese hands here, US hands here, and off course, Europeans hands here. Such a small country yet it is pulled in so many directions that its core is ever spreading into thinner and thinner strands. What is to become of it? Last night my mother was completely dispositional by the scene of a little four year old girl who had been killed by her father and mother’s hands. The news showed the little girl on her bed with small pool of blood marking her weight on the cotton sheets. Her back and arms full of bruises and whip markings, and dead blood stains penetrated her once youthful skin. The back of her neck had a large discolored patch, maybe where the death blow was placed. This shook my mother, for such violence is inhuman. “What is this country coming to?” she asks me with her arms crossed, yet moving rapidly up and down as if a shake had come to her and she could not part it. “This is the fourth senseless death this month. What is happening to this country?” She asks.
Went to Praia today and met Angelo Barbosa, the Director of UCV (University of Cabo Verde). He was just what this Residency needed to kick start it’s physical movement in the island. He not only stands for institutional backing, but also for local voice. When I say voice, I mean he not only is able to locate the need for such activities, but is able to assimilate it to the established structures; and by this I mean he is able to not only understand why such a Residency for Persons of Culture is need in the island, but also why a push for critical visual art is needed. He studied partly in the states and is familiar with critical engagements and how they can progress culture. He, like I, feel that Cape Verde does not have a critical space where persons can discourse openly and honestly about activities of creativity. If such discussions are not being had, if such opinions are not shared, then they will not filter down in to physical activities which should share such concerns. Conversation about such critical opinions need not only be oral. It is when it becomes gestural that it can be utilized for artistic merits, and gestural critics are plainly seen in cultures like Cape Verde, so why is it not being translated in to the visual arts? Angelo feels that groups are the need in his organizations ideal, that by bringing groups together and forming groups of discourse that activities will follow. He is from a newer school then those who direct spaces such a Palacio di Cultura. Such persons are interested in maintaining a status quo, and this revolves around practices that are safe. CICER is more interested in dialogue and opening up spaces of information and critic. So where did we get to? Well, we’ve set up a meeting on Wednesday where persons will be invited to participate in a discussion of possibilities. We, the residents (Myself, Magaly and Gisela) Will discuss our work and introduce the Residency, and by doing so we hope to build a ‘group’ which will work on a project for exhibition at the end of the Residency. I can say that majority of things were positive and that as an initial step it is a promising one.
We walked around Praia and took in the heat which initially wasn’t so striking, due to the soft wind which cooled our skins; by the end of our stay though the heat had returned. As we walked I felt the smog of African modernity twisting my nose and suffocating my breath. I thought to complain, an inward complain, as I notice my sensibilities of global warming roaming my mind. The city was hot and full of smog, dim yet the sun was in its full bright, and extremely hazy to me due to the mixing of the two. In Praia Riba the streets were wide, the city’s ‘down town’ was well maintained, but done so by the esthetics of European cleanliness, small plazas and well colored and structured business buildings. The section was clearly one of the financial, and choreographed social, areas and as so was reminiscent of many places I had been to before, but Praia Bajo was different, garbage and waist of all matters littered the empty river path. A small dog roamed the decrepit site as I stared studiously at such dryness. The mix of cars and gravel, and mountains of cement faced buildings, told me it was a city in growth, trapped somewhere between ‘leave me alone’ and ‘get on with it already.’ Through this Magaly took pictures and more pictures as if the end of the world was near and her documentation of it would be the only remaining evidence of this once life. I must admit I did not think she was the type who clicked the shutter speed with un-studied or limited study regard for what stood in front of it. I asked myself, what respect is given to the subject now rendered mute? I most often deliberately walk around in new places without a camera; this is so my mind and its contents have to work out what is important and what will be retained. Taking pictures, I always find, is an infringement into people’s lives, which also includes their natural surroundings. The space a group inhabits involves the natural elements (including those man made elements which that group has developed) where their habitations were formed, by this nature a high level of ownership should be recognized; understanding that the ‘taking’ of such spaces is a taking of one’s property and as such it should always first be asked for.
It’s been interesting today, discussing the forward movement of the Residency’s exhibition for 08. In talking with the rest of the residents there’s a situation that arises and that’s personal expectations and forms of continuity. I feel the understanding I would like in this residency is not clear, neither for them or I, and that is that it be a space where ideas are shared and projects are manifested from those shared ideas (though it sounds clear its never that easy in implementation). Discussions of exhibitions are premature at this stage as it does not involve the other half, the Cape Verdean Creatives; in the future it will. Still, being that there is only three of us, and one of us in playing two roles—that of resident and resident organizer—the discussions are coming off as fusions of sorts, and I feel that, seeing as I am playing this role, I should be clearer. Lessons for next year are clarity and pre-hand discussions. There needs to be a coherent understanding of what the goals of the residency are, for the country of Cape Verde and its Creatives. I think by first having a grip on this understanding and appreciation, I can forward this request and structure a more directive set of conditions which will guide the residency to a more coherent and partnered final exhibition.
There is also the case of site. Praia is the capital city and as such has a better set of infrastructures to carry out raised concerns. The connection that is being made with UCV is showing to be a positive one. The other addition which I would like to have, the Palacio di Culture, is also based in Praia. Praia has a familiar resonance residents may be used to, as it is a growing modern city, and as such they can feel more secure. Assomada is proving thus fart to be labored; what holds our attention right now is the familial elements which are being enjoyed; my family and the inevitable cultural shock experienced in a small third world city. It is a quite far from Praia and mobility between the two seizes fairly early in the night, which makes evening gatherings a struggle. In the future I will also have to consider other satellite sights, which will be other islands. How will this work?
A political position is beginning to emerge. Angelo called me earlier to speak about the gathering we will have this coming week. He said it may be best to hold this gathering in UCV instead of the Museum. He mentioned that by doing this we would be able to open up the meeting and not have it some what closed to familiar groups known to Jose-Maria. The issue that is raised with this is one of personal politics. The persons who sees himself motivating and housing such projects gets the attention which comes from it, by doing so they are positioning themselves in a place of authority. I feel that power should be delegated evenly when it is possible, call it a socialist prospective. That fact that I have not spoken to Jose-Maria personally, with out interference, tells me that I should not make a decision which will de-power a person. Granted Jose-Maria did not sound all that enthused with the possibility; having had the information about the residency and its goals some time ago. And even though the way he has positioned his help is more inline of guest artist coming to do workshops with local artist, it does not exclude him from receiving the chance to participate the way I would like him to, for as I think about it, his group of artist were those I initially intended on working with! These are the things I need to speak to him personally about, how he feels about the potential for this residency. I feel I should do this before further elements are set in stone, even if pressured, positively, by Angelo.
There is a lot I am learning in this self appointed position. Running and organizing a residency will not be easy, it will take time. It is something that in the future should fund itself, but initially we need it to fund its administrative times. Not sure yet, as I want to send an example that such things can happen without monetary support and old fashion Will. Another note: When residents talk and they don’t completely agree with each other, how do social interactions move forward? It is true that such dynamics are part of this multi person residency and that such interaction are what I am seeking, but to what outcome? What is it that I really want from this? What is the principal goal at the end of every residency? I will need to keep it simple; simplicity is often the best way of moving forward.
On a cultural side:
We had the pleasure of witnessing a party rally for a government party; MPD. They use Batuke ladies to promote their messages. Their singing, already being message based, makes them a perfect tool. One lady said how she was invited to Sao Vincent and it reminded her of Switzerland. What she meant was that the streets were clean, the roads paved and well maintained, with electricity everywhere and solid infrastructures. Here in Sao Tiago, such elements of progression are dragging lazily behind, yet it is the capital island. It is true that this island is larger and a more complex place, but what she was referring to was to sameness of their environment. In this maybe my mother is right when she says that change may be a welcomed thing. PACV had been in power for a long time and maybe change will destabilize the numbness of current politics. Will see!
I am a bit disposed in most public spaces I attend in the island. I am walking around with foreigners, my self included. We are consistently taken apart by the fixed eye of investigation. Gisela tells me how everywhere she looks there are eyes on her. They are right to do it though; they have this right for we are from the outside and should be investigated. I don’t mind this too much. I have learned to walk in self interest, mostly, walking and talking and not paying too much attention to piercing stares, but I feel most disposed when we are in crowded places. I am with two woman and as their guide I feel responsible for everything that may happen to them, everything that may come from the island; people, most generally. People are unpredictable and though Assomada has one of the most respectful and social cores that I have ever experienced, there are those who don’t participate in such titles; there are those stares that may be hints of un-respectful behavior. I worry often about this aspect of protection, how far I must consider it and when; protection which is physical and spatial. Spatial awareness in Assomada is different then those one may have in big cities like London or Paris. In my mind I do these logistical investigations often, so much that it leaves me weary at times; with some kind of tinge of the high nerves. Relax, I tell myself, relax. You are mostly safe and so are they, and life should always have an element of fear in it. I want to know why I feel such ways. I know firstly it has to do with my own insecurities of my member/non-member status in the island. Any ease I may have is fractured by not being able to assimilate physically in such crowds. Those that walk with me are in opposition of assimilations, simply by their appearance, and as I walk with them I am further and further put in an insecure place, for I can not do what I normally would do which is to hide through camouflage. So I walk as some kind of guard, guarding them from them, guarding us from us, us from them and them from us—protection is not only for those I walk with, it is also from those I walk from.
Death brought in this day. I woke up to faint yells, calls, much like whale sounds in the deep ocean, or even elephant whispers heard thought special microphones. Our neighbor’s mother passed away. She was old I’ve been told, bedridden for more then fifteen years. Her mind, it’s said, was off. Her body had slowly eased onto fragility and finally today it decided to give up. Even as I write I hear louder cries, coming from those who have heard of the news thru this community’s grape vine. Though this now includes telephone calls it is still only an initial step, for once the calls have been made the rest is done through old fashion word of mouth. Earlier I heard cars pulling up, Dina trucks, bringing with them relatives from surrounding villages. With them come louder voices, louder cries, which make earlier sounds seem slow and steady, faint and distant. Male cries are heard, they speak of their pain in tenure like voices. Women too share their thoughts of the deceased. In a day like today the woman who has passed away will be remembered and asked many questions. Those that morn will ask her fleeting soul, why? Why has she chosen to go? Questions will also be given to God, handed to him along with hums of pain. Why have you done this? This question is never asked in anger or frustration, it is mainly asked as a call out to God, so he may be on the look out for a coming soul.
My father earlier said that deaths have taken the place of marriages, with regards to social gatherings. They now demand the most attention. The family of the deceased will have to accommodate those who come to mourn. They will have to feed and quench the thirsts that come from such guests. Many come. They do so to pay their respects. By doing so you too will have respect paid to you when your time comes; such times come to everyone.
Sometimes I critic such energies, the kind given to the type of death like today’s; an old woman passing and others knowing that such a time would come, they knew it with as much knowledge as our knowing of tomorrow’s sun. She was, after all, in her death bed for more the fifteen years. Regard for her had been made simple, as simple as an island can be. She was left there (not out of spite) so that that day may come. She was placed in death’s hallway some time back, as such one has to comment on the amount of energy that will be expelled in these next few weeks, knowing full well that her time was near; from slaughtered animals to physically exhausting cries. The closest relative will have to receive all those who will look to pay their respect. She will be the center image in a precession of mourners who look to share their pain, however close or distant that pain may be, this they do before they make their way onto the open area; this is where food will be given and conversations on death and life, work and kids, money and future will be had; this IS the social sphere my father says has replaced the weeding.
There are many people outside my mother’s house today. The funeral of the woman who dies yesterday was today, this morning. I hear the cries before my eyes even parted to yet another day in Assomada. This time they sounded like stereotypes ghosts sounds, hounds of sort, some low and some high. They travel well in this area. They don’t bounce off the cement walls of the homes, if anything these stone walls act like caves, channeling the sounds and sending them through undisturbed. As I write they are crying, but today such cries are mixed with words and chatter. There are many people going in and out of the deceased’s house and many more will come; the funeral will soon finish and those who attended will soon arrive. From passed experiences I can say that there will be more crying, there will be eating, talking and sharing. The street will be busy today. There is something about death that brings some kind of tranquility to my mind, tragedies really. When something tragic happens I feel that there will be sometime before it happens again. I know this is partly imagine, partly wished, but when I hear of bad news I must say there is an ease which rises in me, for it may be some time before it happens again. When long periods of time go without something tragic happening that’s when I worry.
The residents and I went to a small mountain just outside the skirts of the city. It is small compared to what surrounds it, but it is high enough to take in some of the most breath taking views. One is able to see a 360view of the island and point out the other major mountains. One can also see the ocean on the North West side of the island. We took images and began making our way back down when we saw my mother approaching us. She met with us and we decided to go back up the mountain. She guided us to the wonders of the landscape, what were earlier just houses and planes, now had names and histories. She discounted the tales of her youth and how she was expressed in the scenes which lay in front of us. We took images, for record, for thought, for remembrance. We made out way down into land which belonged to my mother’s grandfather, land where he planted and his families planted, now most of that land has been taken by the government, still some of land’s where cousins of my mother still plant. The land that once belonged to her family has been sold, and my mother says she was lucky to still find a piece to buy. “We’ll see; there is the possibility that Yaya will build her second home before she passes.” She tells us this while we make our way to one of her cousin’s house.
I handed out two more balls to some kids. The gifts to be given, given by donations from those afar. The names are written on each ball, so the recipients may know of who donated them. The image may be investigated in the minds of the youth, or it may not. They are happy to have a ball and if they think of it’s donor it’s a plus, if not, they have the right not to. In the area we were yesterday Gisela commented on how poor they must be. What she sees are small houses, small spaces, dark and dirty, but here I say it’s the type of dirty that is different from what most call dirty. She sees areas which are dim and low, where washes of dark, of smog and age affect and present an image of dirt. Here I think of how dirty is different in each person’s perception. I know that where we were, my family’s home, it was not dirty. What surrounded the homes may have been dirty, possibly, in that traditionally visual way, but their yard, their interior spaces, themselves, was not. But I do sympathize with her shock. It may have been the most clear visual introduction to what poverty must be like in Cape Verde, but I know that there’s worse.
Magaly stayed pretty much un-interpreted, stationary in a way. Her reading was not predictable, but I know she was taken back as well. When asked to take a picture of the balls being handed the mention her uneasiness about taking images in such places. I took her to mean such personal spaces. On our way home my mother continued to talk about the city. The moon had come out and the night had slowly set in. We were in the city, yet we had only the illumination of the moon guiding our steps. Such a strong moon here in Assomada. This lighting raised a complaint. We stopped in some wonderful and elaborate homes, gawking at such incredible structures, in such an incredible place. They almost did not match. Beautifully designed houses in an area were the streets are not paved; there are no street lights and barely any infrastructure. It was this clear distinction that motivated our ending conversation. We spoke about government, the lack of it maybe, but that is an all too familiar topic and one does not need to use their imagination too picture that discussion.
There are crying sounds mixed with cheering sounds this morning. Right next door the recent death of an elder is still penetrating the walls of our street. It has died down some from previous days, now only about one or two women can be heard. But along with them car horns and yells can also be heard, confusing the sounds and making us decipher them so as to define their reason. How must the people immersed in death feel, hearing such sounds of happiness and hope? Elections were yesterday and by night time most results could be predicted. On television the local station TCV (Television of Cape Verde) had ongoing reports on the results. From each of the islands information poured in, given by reports stationed there. By ten at night most places could predict a winner. On the station’s late coverage they had a round table discussion. They spoke about the candidates and their strengths. While this occurred the residents and I relaxed into the night, talking about the day’s events and about life in general. Time yesterday moved slow, we all noticed; a rarity at our age. It seems the older you get the faster time moves. I look at Moses—a child my mother takes care of, a kind of younger brother to me now—and I wonder if for him time moves with ease, un-noticed and without weight. He moves about the hose careless often, smiling and running without restraints. Not much of an academic kid his gift can be more seen in his eyes; the way he studies his environment, how lose his feet are when they touch the stone streets as he chases a football. When one’s is at that age Cape Verde must be a dream, warm and relentlessly open. For him I mean, or others like him, for a life in the islands for most kids don’t come with such freedoms.
Yesterday we went to Tarrafal, but before this we has a meeting about what’s to happen in the next couple of weeks of residency. Time is something we don’t have much of, and most initial plans will have to be reconfigured. When we sat down and really looked at our time we noticed we have only about two weeks of work time and a week and bit for set up and exhibition. What this means is that the collaboration work we were planning to do, one which would have been a kind of open call for ideas and projects, will not happen. When we meet this coming Thursday with potential Creatives, we will share this limited scope, how it will be best for collaborations to happen now with works which are already in progress, such as our individual projects. It is not what I had intended, but it is what will have to work. We again realized that the residency in the future as to be longer for such ideas of sharing to work. We forwarded our discussion to exhibition day. Magaly suggested we begin to advertise it as soon as we could, but I suggested that advertisement at this stage would be too preemptive, that we did not have enough information to advertise this event with, we have no other collaborators yet, no structured theme and no working times and titles. A generic flyer was suggested, but this too would not have the affect one thinks it would, word of mouth is the best tool and this will be done by those who will look to participate with us and share that space of creative dialogue. They will most likely make up the bulk of viewers for that day. We left this conversations in a slightly uneasy state, as it got to issues of art and who it is made for, touching on elements of site, critic, future, the work’s longevity, etc… in such discussions personal opinion rain and can often leave persons sensitive. But as resident organizer I have to take such discussion into account, so to best provide the type of exhibition the residents and Creatives would want.
We drove to some of the best sceneries in Sao Tiago. Cutting through the mountains and making our way up towards the cloud levels; our ears popping constantly and our eyes moving from left to right. The zigzagging roads had pockets of people; they were actually stationed in voting areas, where those of the mountains came down to vote while others hung around to hear of how the events would end. When you begin to move away from Assomada the houses get smaller and further apart. Once in a while you get a small town, compilations of houses, but this is rare. People’s treks are longer and here you begin to see mules. Since being here we had not seen them, but moving up the mountains you see these amazing creatures, able to carry weights that other animal could not. Their skinny feet plant down hard on the lava earth and their eyes speak of monotonous. The loads are so heavy at time you can’t even see the body of the mule, only its head sticking out from a massive pile of water buckets and dry grass. When we reached Serra Malagueta, the town on the peak of the mountain, the cooler winds could be felt. We were up in the clouds and from there the other half of the island could be seen. The coastal planes below and the small signs of sea level further squinted our eyes. We zoomed in while also trying to zoom out. To catch it all in was hard, and here one understands that Cape Verde is an experience experienced daily and daily one experiences it differently. When we reached the sea we stretched our feet, stripped our cloths and felt the Atlantic, with its salty and cold response. That water of my working histories was brushing the traveling salt on my skin, even when I dried myself under the sun’s rays that salt stayed, painting my skin with abstract lines of crusted white; I could have licked the salt if I wanted to. I handed out a few footballs while at the beach and the kids played with them in front of us. By the shore they kicked this traveling plastic which has traversed many seas in its role in our global economic world. I have to say that in the midst of all this beauty I write, the ball which I speak of, the one I brought to brighten the smiles of some young kids in the island will soon become waist of the kind that can’t be recycled. It may in time find itself right in the deep landscape of the Atlantics bottom; where most plastic waist n finding itself.
On our way back up the mountain we stopped in Serra Malagueta again, this time to bath in the dipping clouds. How beautiful they were, sweeping the mountain road we traveled. At some points we could hardly see. The fog was dense but moving with speed, up and down the mountain till it finally became a low whisper of grey and disappeared. The cool temperature made me think that the people here would have to wear warmer clothing; this is the price they would have to pay for having better planting grounds. This place was greener, much like its opposite; the dry river beds on the bottom of the mountains. This incredible scene I remember from my previous trip. It was as beautiful to me now as it was then; simply gorgeous.
Yesterday we went to Praia. We hung out in front of UCV, sitting on some plastic Sagres stamped chairs in front of Restaurant Sofia. The day was hot, no surprise there, so we ordered some drinks to cool us down. We went there specifically to use the internet; UCV has free internet access in the plaza that is right in front of it, open for general use. We connected to a slow internet, the speeds much different then one is used to, plus, with wireless interferences downloads took some time; but it was free, so complaints were left to a minimum. Magaly connect trough Skype with her mother in Chile. They spoke, and seeing as her laptop had a video camera in it we too were able to waive hi from across the Atlantic. But with such lifts came also steep lows, Magaly was not able to connect with her partner and it was at this time that the weight of difference became too much; cultural shock finally pressed its full weight. The limited and frustrating access to communication was too exhausting and she finally allowed herself to express what she had been feeling; Cape Verde is, after all, a third world country, and though it is moving at a faster rates then many African countries it is still a country where poverty is seen. She, like Gisela, have had access thus far to areas where most others would not, by this invitation they have been shocked by what they’ve seen, the guise of respect, which has cloaked some of their interactions, has stayed on for longer then I thought, but yesterday, along with Magaly, Gisela too broke down about such differences. I too have been trying to identify my shock, but have to admit that I don’t see things with such highlighted and distinct differences, this may be my sensibility to it, or my better relationship to it all. My understanding of the island’s communal language, one of family and assistance, makes me feel more aware at the progressions it has made in the recent years and how fast it is actually moving forward. Still, I have been reminded lately—by not only the residents but also the discussions I have been having with family and friends—that poverty is a very imminent shell which wraps majority of peoples here. Kreolu’s attitude and acceptance of their fate makes one think that it is not that bad, that in fact it may not be poverty at all, but something else, something which does not carry such a loaded weight, but sometimes it takes an outsider to tell you what it is, it takes someone else to see through the disguise the members of the nation wet themselves with in hopes of surviving, it takes someone else to tell you that it is actually, both physically and ideally poverty disguised. Magaly’s disposition was also due to her being here without her other; the person with which she would normally express all these shocks with, or at least buffer her feeling on it with. She thought that it would not be so hard to communicate to her links outside the country, frustrated at low connections speeds, long mailing waits, high calling prices, these are the plates of modernity which will in time smooth the country into first world standards, but which now frustrate a person who has become used to something else. I think about countries which are in these stages of movement, where progression is coupled with interferences of first world mandates. In such a open traveling world, globalization, expectations are high and I feel this is why most Cape Verdean are fast to tell you, the foreigner, that this is how things work; role with the punches as they say.
We met Abraao, the artist who had a stint in Barcelona. He now lives here and was originally from Assomada. He came off as a young artist frustrated at the slow pace of progression in the arts here in the island. He mentioned how critical discourse was missing and how traditional practices, Modern practices, are still what take precedence. For him things ought to be different, art should look to move outside the boxes of modernity (again the interference of First World I mentioned earlier). We have experienced more in the postmodern world and art movements have showed us (or him), that the arts have been is a stage of de-boxing; the standard frame around art making and exhibiting has long been removed, so why are they (artists in the island) still hanging on to such borders. He came off very animated and fidgety. At times he spoke about the West’s inability to allow for exploration, its fixed communities in art, all seeking attention for right and reason. For him it was better coming back to the island, seeking to further understand himself, to allow himself to explore (and be explored). The question that is usually posed to someone like Abraao is, why have you come back if you have such complaints about the arts here? This is a very familiar question to any one who has had the access to be somewhere else and has chosen to come back to a complacent place. It is said that frictions and dispositions motivate the artist and this may be so for him (I will have to ask), but I also wonder about the small fish in a big pond analogy; did he come back to be a big fish a small pond, to be the outsider/insider with access and information, critic and discourse, seeing as he may have been a small fish in a big pond in Europe. We will see what may come of these questions upon further discussions.
Yesterday’s drive home was yet another site only given to you here in the island; the full moon lighting the cliffs as we drove up, down and through them, leaving behind silhouettes of lava sculptures; incredible. I had mentioned to Gisela that here your trek at night would be lit by the moon, that in no time you would be able to see clearly in front of you with no need for artificial lighting. The driver of the van played some Kino and at certain times of the trip some of us sang the songs he made so familiar to us. We got to Assomada and stop to take a picture of the Chinese Construcao; a literal construction company by that name. They have been given the contract to build the next market site. They were still working at nine o’clock at night, lit by some powerful flood lights and, again, the moon. The big grey circle hovered above them like an overseer and we simply had to capture it on camera. The sights continue to be incredible and this may be why the shock of difference in the island is so disruptive, how is it that in such a place you can have so many differences; mind-blowing!
For the past two day or so we have had bad stomachs. We ate something bad, maybe some pork, or the yucca, not sure, at some point we even thought it was a virus, but it must have been the food. I say we to include most people in the house, my mother, father, Gisela and myself. Magaly did not get sick, due to her not eating what we all are. Strangely though my cousin visiting from Sao Tome did not get sick either, and she ate exactly what we ate. For me this sickness included vomiting and, well, the runs, for some it was only one of the two. Gisela had difficulties during the night, for her the vomiting struck late, while trying to sleep, where for me it struck during the evening and by night time I had gotten rid of what ever poison disrupted the natural equilibrium of my belly. We are better, but it is always a reminder that being in a foreign country has it moments of cleanliness, well, that is what I call it; a moment of purity.
Yesterday was the day of our presentation at the UCV. Gisela was not able to attend. She was not feeling well enough to travel to Praia, but I had to go. I noticed while driving there, that I was running of two pieces of bread for the entire day; strange how the body sometimes can be poised in its cleaning process; never did I feel hungry and now that I think of it I wasn’t really weak either. The meeting went well. Magaly had been there already, having chosen to go to Praia earlier that day to connect to the internet and get some work done. Partly I think it was her wanting to escape the small city of Assomada. She went to Praia for there in the such an expansive space was familiarity, the ability to get lost, to be busy and not think or have time to think of the prisms that Assomada forwards; this with relationship to reality of poverty, time, sorrow, etc, but these are speculations. I am sure if she could she would stay down there, where access is more the type she is used to, but why then leave a country to reside in a foreign space if not to access the truth of that space, maybe that is it, I wonder if, now a days, people who reside in First World countries are interested in the truth of another country, or city, or town? Not sure!
The presentation had a good showing. I described it to Gisela yesterday as there being three groups of people in attendance. We had the established Quo, those who make more traditional works, who run most publicly funded spaces of exhibitions and cultural production, the likes of Jose-Maria, director of Palacio Di Cultura. We then had a second group, and they were the distraught artist and intellectuals, who don’t care for such traditions if it’s not critical and encouraging concepts of the Now. They are most likely the ones who have traveled and experienced art and artist in a different way and feel that those ways should become visible works here in the island. The third groups were the young teenage artists who are mentored by the first group. They are the ones who have spaces in Palacio Di Cultura, where they practice and speak of traditional practices and materials in art. They are the ones who most likely speak about art history, whereas contemporary discussions are most often only accented. All three groups are important for they demonstrate the planes of activity currently working in Praia. In my talk yesterday, after hearing critics of the second group about the first group, I forwarded a though for debate and discussion; hoping someone in time may approach me on it. I asked that Praia be looked at in its own content, often in need separation from Western contexts, that it be looked at as a city that is going through its modernity. If so most artists would respond to it as such, in a modern way, making work relative to a city which is in that process. Seeing that we are in a global world, of access and mobility, there are some who have traveled and experienced post-modern works and as such expect a higher level of critical work to be done. This dual state is interesting and actually need each other. To omit one in to place the arts here in grave danger, for it would be silencing and Truth.
Magaly and I met people and have set up some workshops. We’ve been invited to participate in an exhibition being done by the second group mentioned above and we have been given open access to the spaces that the traditionalist house. All in all it has been a great experience. The residency was taken well and participation looks to be in play.