Welcome to the website for the Circumnavigator Foundation’s Travel Around the World Study Grant Scholar, Northwestern University senior Christopher Ahern.
Chris beginning his journey at O’Hare Airport on Friday, June 15th – – just after 5:30 AM. See below for dispatches from Chris as he undertakes his research project.
See the latest photos from Chris’ travels in the gallery.
|My last weekend in Cape Verde was fairly low-key. On Saturday I headed off to an interview on the Plateau at Café Sofia, a place that if I lived in Praia would be one of my favorites. I was to interview a playwright that Christina had warned me might seem a little crazy, with interesting ideas in regards to the use of Creole in artistic expression and the future of the language. I forget if he had any other professions, as it seems everyone else has a few. I wouldn’t be too surprised to meet a playwright, musician, neurosurgeon, who dabbles a bit in chemistry. I exaggerate, but not by much.
I was running a little late because I caught the bus, so I sat and waited, hoping that I hadn’t arrived too late. Thus is the difficulty of arranging interviews with a common meeting point. You don’t necessarily have a yearbook picture of the person you’re meeting up with, so all you can do is show up, sit, and give the appearance of waiting. Hopefully the person you’re supposed to meet will show up and notice that you’re waiting. It’s worked so far. Knocking. A few minutes later, Sabino showed up. We ordered and started talking. He jumped into the link between language and identity in Cape Verde , specifically in theatre. Works in Creole function as a constant reaffirmation of identity and serve to remind people of the importance of maintaining that identity in a globalized world where the traditional values of a society are being supplanted.
Not only this, but the use of Creole was something that actors could fool “in their blood” as he put it. He’d translated a play that he’d originally written in Creole to Portuguese at the behest of the director of the Instituto Camões in Praia . The performance had been awkward, the dialogue stilted, because no one felt comfortable with the language. Its soul was lost in the translation. The actors had no connection with the words they were speaking, and it was evident. The same is true in school; learning is disconnected from the students, because it’s not in Creole. And it’s not for a lack of talent, he was quick to point out that there are no arts, music, or dance schools in Cape Verde , yet the country abounds with artists of the following persuasions. He leaned in and said, “How much more could we accomplish with those institutions? How much more could we accomplish with our language?”
Conflict as it used to be was of a physical form. One group would overtake another, and the defeated would be absorbed into the victor, the traces dissipating over time, eventually disappearing. In post-colonial Cape Verde the conflict has moved on from a physical to cultural warfare, via language and economic influence. The only way to survive is to give stature to the culture of the country lest it be absorbed and diluted. He spoke of a work he’d written about the results of officializing Creole. Five hundred years in the future, after the fact, Creole is taught as a foreign language in the universities of Europe and the United States, it’s one of the official language of the United Nations, and vastly important in the world. É um exagero, he admits, but it stems from the time he spent in Lisbon for school. He said that Portuguese students wouldn’t listen to Portuguese music at parties, or when hanging out. Instead, they’d listen to Cape Verdean , or Mozambican, or American music, but overall the estimation of their own culture wasn’t very high. This play, entitled Profesia do Crioulo , was an extrapolation of this trend he said in a very serious tone, and then smiled again, admitting, that yes, it was a bit of exaggeration. I couldn’t help but feel that he was advocating a subtle cultural warfare, on a massive scale, a sort of reverse colonialism that would eventually prevail, with a grain of salt.
With a caveat: he said there should be no intention of such a thing, if it happens it happens, but this should not be a war, but rather a defense and a reaffirmation of culture. You must “do well what you do, but also know what others do as well, and respect it”; mutual respect being the most crucial component, in his opinion. I couldn’t help agreeing with him. We said goodbye and I caught the bus back to Achada de Santo Antonio.
The next day I worked at the pool again. What sloth. Sunday night, the landlords of the building I’d been staying in threw a little despedida, going away party, for myself and Christina. We had a great dinner of a rice and lobster dish, salad, and wine. After this I borrowed Christina’s computer in hopes of being able to connect to the internet and finish some outstanding work for school that needed to get done as soon as possible. There was an Ethernet cord that snaked its way from the far wall of my bedroom to the desk in the adjoining room. I’d discovered that the internet could be accessed through the above mentioned connection, which brightened my day, as the only internet cafes nearby subtracted time by bandwidth transfer, as opposed to time, your time left would descend rapidly without much warning. I plugged in the computer and tried for several minutes to connect, it didn’t work then, which was frustrating, yet I was not one to despair, at least not yet. I figured I’d sleep for a few hours and then get up early morning and try again. This didn’t seem like it would be too difficult, as the bar/club across the street was in good form, and would most likely be going strong till the wee hours of the morning. I flopped onto the bed, half-covered with my initial attempts to pack, and dozed lightly. Much later than I’d expected I was awoken for the second time in a week by Eminem being played rather loudly right outside my window and an argument in Creole and a little bit of English. I showered and tried again. This was the time for despair, or more sleep. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d just to have to find another way to get it done, which wasn’t impossible, just less convenient. I woke up again, this time around nine in the morning, palming the Tupperware container that’s carried my toothpaste and other things for me, as if it were the Holy Grail. My dream had something to do with climbing a mountain, vaguely. A shower didn’t really help me wake up, but I figured I could sleep once I got on the plane. I just had to make it through the joint interview that Christina had managed to arrange.
The office of this writer was a quick five minute walk from the apartment. Christina stopped off at the supermarket on the way to pick up a bottle of wine to give to him to demonstrate how much we appreciated his time. This, however, left me as the sole person to communicate with him, something I find to be increasingly difficult, the two: lack of sleep and lack of language skills, foreign and native, I find to be directly proportionate. I wandered into the office and asked around till I was directed to a door without any markings on it. I knocked, a voice told me to come in, but it was locked, so I waited outside. Eventually the door opened and T.V. DaSilva opened the door and let me into his office. After a brief introduction I explained my project to him, and Christina arrived soon after, which was a relief. In my sleep-deprived battle with language, reinforcements were a welcome arrival. We started talking, and I subtly paused my recorder until he stopped giving a list of all the books he’d written and the years and publishing snafus that occurred, then we got to the part that interests me the most, the language used in these works. He’s written them in Creole, not Portuguese, which makes them accessible to the entire Cape Verdean population, barring minor variations between Creole from different islands. This is vastly important when it comes to the language politics in any given country. We’ll take a pause here to step out of the fabric of time, and abstract, for a moment and jump through some theoretical hoops.
Starting out with the grand purpose of the study, “grand”. What we’re looking at now is the state of the Portuguese language in some of the former Portuguese colonies, specifically examining the co-existence of different languages and standard and non-standard dialects in an official capacity, in education, and in literary expression. Within these three areas we are examining what contributes to legitimizing any given form (we’ll be even vaguer than “dialect”) and/or separate languages i.e. Creoles.
I’ll take another moment here, tangent within divergence, to clarify and perhaps illuminate more accurately the description of the research project. From my original proposal, due to various reasons, I removed a few countries to make things feasible. With this trimmed list of countries the investigation includes the politico-linguistic situation in these countries. In fact, the only country where a Creole is currently spoken that I’ve been to is Cape Verde . A Creole was spoken in Macau , but was decreolized throughout the twentieth century with the resurgence of Portuguese as the official language and the further influence of Cantonese and English. There was also a Creole spoken in Goa , which has long since disappeared. A variety of Portuguese is spoken in Mozambique , but it is not a Creole. A better description to sum up the project would be “Language politics in the former Portuguese colonies: Creoles and non-standard dialects”. I’m glad we got that cleared up; it’s all in the name, now we return to the previous paragraph.
The emphasis of this interview fell within the range of literary expression, but it would serve us well to examine how these three are connected. The official language, in most cases, is the language used in education, and the language learned through education is most often the vehicle of literary expression. Literary expression feeds back into education. Think about the “classics”, how they’re taught, and how this influences the way people learn a language. The link between educational policy and official status is usually hand in hand. The official language is most likely to be the one used in education, and the normal functioning of a government requires a certain percentage of the population proficient in the language. Notice that we have to use “most often” because the correlation is not always complete. Regardless, one can imagine the three in a row, A) Official, B) Education, C) Literature. Lines AB, BC, CB, and a BA as well, if we were to speak geometrically. This would be a simplified diagram, but it serves our purposes.
Now we can move on to another important question: what does it mean for a language to be legitimate? This term is not to be used in a linguistic sense, as it is, languages are all “legitimate”, if they can be used to communicate. The sense in which we can use the word is political. And for quite a long time the word dialect serves a pejorative denomination of a form of a language that is non-standard. In some of my interviews in Cape Verde people referred to Creole as a dialect of Portuguese itself. So, what does it mean for a language to be “legitimate”, for these dialects and flawed forms of Portuguese” to shed this mark of artificial inferiority? In the political sense, a language’s legitimacy comes from its use in government, and in expression both everyday and literary, hinging crucially upon native speakers’ opinions of its efficacy in both.
Here we enter back into time….hold your breath…1…….2……….3………and back again we are. Back to an office in the City of Praia , on the island of Santiago , in Cape Verde floating in the Atlantic off the coast of western Africa . Cape Verdians want Creole to be an official language. You will rarely hear Portuguese walking the streets of Praia . Sitting in the same room as me was someone acting out the last part of that trio. The opinion that Creole can be used as a tool of government, as well as in literary expression is of the utmost importance in terms of making the language legitimate in the political sense. If anything, the state functions in Portuguese, and the Nation in Creole. Reconciling the two should be the goal, and the way to do this is by making the language that people actually speak the official one, the rest follows from there. Authors writing in Creole serve as the vanguard of such a movement, choosing consciously and publicly to convey their own belief in the pliable, versatile, and adaptable nature of the language to whatever needs may present themselves.
The interview came to an end, and we thanked him, gave him the bottle of wine, thanked again, and took off. In my room with the fan as high as it could go, I sat, contemplating the best way to stow everything back into my bag. I can’t tell how exactly, but it feels like I’ve accumulated things. Each repacking seems a little bit more of a stretch, or push I should say, to mash everything back in. Never fear, gravity is also my friend. I ended up lifting it several time to shake and help everything settle. I said one last good bye to the landlords and Christina and headed outside to catch a cab to the airport. There is a perfect period of time to stay in each place on a trip like this, and I think it had been just enough in Cape Verde . After check-in I sat at the gate marveling at how easy it was to trick my eyes into believing that the ceiling was really only three feet away from me. Self-induced optical illusions are a sufficient way to pass the time.
Next stop was Brazil , Fortaleza to be precise, because it is the only direct flight to Brazil with the only airline flying out of Cape Verde . Not being one to complain, I settled into the seat, which was by far one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of occupying in my lifetime, and napped between the meal and a movie. Crossing the Atlantic in about four hours is pretty amazing.
Funny story, well less of a story, and not really much more than an anecdote, I’ll try that over without setting it up to be humorous, or more than it is . . . let’s call it an explanation of sorts to explain my sentiments upon arrival in Brazil. In high school I made the ever so practical decision of studying Spanish. It wasn’t a very complicated decision as the only other language offered was French. The association of people who were having existential crises at the age of sixteen, or hopeless romantics, and the appalling lack of congruency between orthography and pronunciation ( maintenant ), weighed heavily as deciding factors. Although, as a native speaker of English I can’t hold the latter against them, as I always pause to think of rodents when spelling separate . There weren’t many French speakers around, but you could hear plenty of people speaking Spanish in the halls. My Spanish teacher for the last two years of high school gave us the following advice to immerse ourselves in the language, “watch telenovelas, read books, newspapers, date a Mexican. I married one.” The last two would be said in a tongue-in-cheek manner, but they all resulted in a better understanding of the language. At the end of four years I took a placement test, and then headed off to school. Incoming freshmen don’t register for classes until new student week, and after the rest of the student body has had their pick of courses. Not a single class at the level I would have tested into had an opening by the time I sat down to register. At this point in my college career I didn’t understand the malleability of class size, or the intricacies of working the system by just showing up to class and convincing the professor to let me take the class. I resigned myself to taking another language course, but I didn’t want to start over anew, so I looked at the other Romance languages offered. French? Jamais! Italian? Forse. Then my eyes wandered to…Portuguese? Talvez. Aren’t they almost the same? The common perception. You just change a few accents, move some vowels, add a bit to your vocabulary, words like pineapple and prepositions, and voila….you have made the transition from Spanish to Portuguese in short. I thought about it, and, without any other strong candidates in the picture, enrolled in an intensive course for the fall quarter. That’s how I started learning Portuguese, the long version, an answer to the question Onde aprendeu Português? More importantly, I learned Brazilian Portuguese, which means that it hurts my brain to ask where I can apanhar o autocarro instead of pegar o ônibus . Throughout my trip, most prominently in Portugal , I noticed this, and it was with enthusiasm that I walked into the airport in Fortaleza . I had arrived.
Not one of the customs officials seemed to recognize the stamp that was my visa from the Brazilian consulate in Chicago . On the other side of this line was a tropical land blessed by God, as the song says. I can’t remember which song, but there is one. I called a friend of a friend from my Portuguese class to see if I could perhaps bum a place to sleep. He was in the middle of a date, and thought I would be arriving the next day, what miscommunication, eh. We arranged to meet the next day, and I headed to catch a taxi and find a place to stay in the meanwhile. It was late by the time I finally got settled in, but I found a small place to eat and then slept.
The next day I called to meet for lunch. The walk to the Shopping center where we’d arranged to meet was along the seafront avenue. It could have been Miami for all I know, but for my ability to hear. After meeting at the doors of the Shopping , which was eerily similar to any analogous one in the United States , I headed with Mike, and a friend of his to a nearby restaurant. The system, one of my favorite things of Brazil , is per kilo. In other words, you pay for the weight of what you eat, and while the price seems a bit much at first, the beauty of the metric system then kicks into gear, and you realize that that’s a whole lot of food. Thankfully this epiphany came before I passed by the buffet, and I loaded my plate. We talked about Brazil , the two having lived there for months at a time, for study, and at the present working for on a project to distribute napkins with natal care information on them. The girl, whose name escapes me, took off to work on some things for the quasi-NGO that the two worked for, sponsored by a grant from their university to implement a social service project that they’d drafted. Mike and I stayed for a bit and talked about his impressions of the country, and his experiences living there for extended periods of time. Deadlines were pressing so he had to leave, but he told me that if I were only in Fortaleza for a day I ought to go to Praia do Futuro (Beach of the Future), and he directed me in the direction of the bus that would get me there. I’d seen the name on the map that I’d picked up at the airport, and had thought the name a strange place in between amazing and absurd. I wondered if everyone there would be wearing grey tone uniforms when I got there. It seems like that happens a lot in the future, from what I’ve seen in the cinema.
I stopped at the bust stop, plenty of people waiting, a good sign. I waited for a bus going to Papicu . I climbed in at the front door of the first bus that passed by with the name on the sign at the front. I told the driver I wanted to go to Praia do Futuro , and he told me that the bus didn’t go there. The next bus, I asked again, and he told me to go atrás , which means back, I thought he meant to another bus stop, which I did, waited a few minutes, then realized that he’d told me to get in at the back of the bus. You enter at the back doors, pay the Cobrador sitting back there, throw yourself through a turnstile, and try to make the short, jolty, way to an open seat, while the bus jerks back and forth at the will of the maniacal driver, whose only goal in life, it seems, is to hurl people against each other, and occasionally metal poles. It gets easier with time, you build up some bus legs.
Papicu, was, in fact, a bus terminal, from which I caught the bus out to the beach of the future. Half an hour later, and well away from the center of the city I found myself on a gorgeous beach and took off my shoes to stand at the edge of the surf. Warm water oceans, que beleza . I wandered along the beach and sat at a drink stand till the sunset. Catching the bus back was quite a bit more complicated. Horizontal rain burst from the darkening sky and I ran along a brick wall that led from the beach to the nearest road. Two guys who worked at the stand, and who lived near the beach helped me flag down a bus that would take me back. I would not have known where to begin finding the bus back, and was relieved to find that people are always willing to help. Air-conditioning at full blast and the rain left me moving in my seat to warm myself. We passed by street after street that I couldn’t find on the map that I’d brought with. We hit the historic center and I breathed a sigh of relief at knowing where I was, and then realized that we’d overshot where I was staying, and that if the bus didn’t turn back around I’d be in a situation. I asked someone sitting across the aisle from me if it was turning back around, and after consulting the bus driver he gave me a thumbs up and I relaxed yet again and put away the giant map that I’d been looking at occasionally. On the curve back I spotted the street that I’d been waiting for and hit the button to request a stop. The vehicle continued for a bit, and I backtracked and grabbed another shirt to replace the one I was wearing and went to eat dinner by the sea.
Even at night the avenue was filled with people, every other one jogging or drinking a coconut (excellent if you get the chance). I walked as far as it seemed there was an area. The end a fish market, and then made the return, walking up and down the aisles of stalls selling souvenirs and other good. I saw a shirt that displayed the regional dialect of Ceará, the state in which Fortaleza resides, and their equivalents in the rest of Brazil . “The rest of Brazil ” isn’t an accurate way of saying it though. Pretty much everywhere you go you’ll find a certain way of saying things, and a manner of saying them that leaves you wondering if you’ve perhaps gone to a different country. Everyone loves imitating the accents of everywhere else, for your edification and amusement, “In Rio they talk like thish, in São Paulo the r ’s are assím.”
There is a cliché (paraphrased from an articles in Língua Portuguesa ) that says that Brazil has 180 million soccer coaches, técnicos , that all have their own opinions and critiques that abound in any conversation about futebol . In the same sentiment the country has 180 million linguists as well, each person a self-fashioned expert in dialectology and anything else that may arrive in conversation. At times it may tinge upon comical, but it also reveals an enormous pride in both the language and the regional manner of speech. This goes far beyond the ubiquitous pop/soda conversation of freshman year students.
The next day I headed to the airport via a bus back to Papicu and yet another to the airport. Flights within the country seemed like flashes compared to the ones I’d endured in the first month. The plane landed in Salvador and I called Jorge. An explanation of how I happen to know him is in order, and it is a wonderful coincidence that made navigating the way from the airport to a bed simple. My grandparents are from Austria , but have lived in New Jersey for quite a long time. They belong to a group called Austrians Abroad, which is an internet group for Austrians living abroad. No surprise there. Upon learning of my upcoming travels for the summer, my grandparents sent out an e-mail to this group with the list of places I’d be headed, to give me someone to call once I got there if I needed help with anything. Jorge has lived in Salvador for the past seventeen years, speaks German, English, and Portuguese, is married to a Brazilian and has a young daughter. Some previous plans of mine in terms of lodging had fallen through, but I got an e-mail before leaving Fortaleza from Jorge saying that he’d asked a friend of his who works in the same architectural firm if I could stay at her apartment for the time I’d be in Salvador. I called once I got to the airport, and despite being cut off, and the difficulty of communication without a cellphone, he gave me directions on how to get to apartment, and arranged for another colleague of his to meet me there and take me to the apartment.
I asked the bus driver if he could advise me when we arrived at the point, so I could descend and go from there. The airport is rather far away from the actual city, and it took about an hour to get there, but when I did, I stepped off and met Alexandre, who’d been waiting at the Ladeira de Barra for a few minutes to guide me to the apartment. We walked the few minutes to the apartment, and buzzed up. We headed up and I met Aline, who was preparing to head out on a trip for work to Natal at midnight . Alexandre took off, and Aline showed me a map of the neighborhood she’d drawn for me and a list of friends to call if I wanted to go out to see the city with people. I met another friend of hers, Delana. After some soup, they headed out to go to her Aunt’s house for a bit, and I settled down to relax. Aline returned soon after and we sat and talked, waiting till the taxi came to carry her to the airport for her late flight. She’s completing her master’s degree in Architecture, while working at the Architectural firm at the same time, leaving little time for sanity or relaxation. The seemingly interminable hours that you have to wait, especially when it involves not sleeping are the most difficult, but soon enough it was time, and she headed downstairs, leaving me with an apartment to myself for the weekend. People are amazing, were my thoughts as I fell asleep.
The next day I headed out for lunch at a nearby restaurant, and then to the grocery store. Foodstuffs deposited, I headed out to explore the neighborhood. I took the first street that would lead me to water and walked along the street to the lighthouse and sat looking at the water, and enjoyed the weather. Winter in Salvador feels like a beautiful summer day, never too hot when there’s a good breeze, summer, I’ve been told is pretty miserable though. Watching the waves was incredibly soothing, the sunset beautiful. It seemed like I’d been able to watch an inordinate amount of sunsets since my arrival in Brazil , even though it came to a grand total of two.
I arrived back at the apartment with every intention of cooking some food, but instead I fell asleep. In the middle of the night, I woke up again, but I made myself sleep again, without knowing how, but it worked.
The next day I hit up an internet café to send e-mails and set up interviews. I’d been in contact with the office of the faculty of letters at one of the Universities in Salvador , and had been told to send another e-mail when I got into town. I resolved myself to relaxing, enjoying the weekend, doing less formal interviews with people, also known as talking. I called up one of Aline’s friends from the sheet, picking fairly randomly, I decided to call her friend Valdir, who is from Praia himself. We arranged to meet in a bit of time down the street at the bus stop. I wrote for a bit, and then started reading a copy of Dharma Bums in Portuguese, translated as Illuminated Vagabonds . The title alone had me. Hopping on freight trains, and climbing mountains, it strikes a chord with my inner transient.
We headed to an atm and then to catch a bus north along the shore to the historic center to meet up with more people at Pelourinho. We met up with a group of people, and walked along the streets of the historic center, stopping to get some abará, which is made of black-eyed peas, amazing. Eventually we settled at a table outside of a restaurant before the rain forced us inside for the rest of the night. We all jumped into one car and soon enough, without recognizing any of the route, I was back at the apartment. The conversation had been about the independence movements in Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau. Valdir was Cape Verdean , and another friend was from Guinea Bissau. The question of language arose quickly, and it always makes me happy when I can hear peoples’ opinions without having to sit down with them and a notebook.
|On Saturday I headed into the interior of the island, Assomada, with Evan and Lisa, an American couple on vacation to the islands. She’d spent two plus years here in the Peace Corps a few years back and he was looking into interviewing Cape Verdian deportees for a dissertation project in anthropology. After living the majority of their lives in the US and only speaking English, some of these Cape Verdians have been deported back to Cape Verde and have a tough time readjusting. The bus to get there, called a yas (I assume that’s how you spell it), was waiting in another part of town, so we walked there in the glaring sun. Upon arrival we scoped out which one looked the prize pony for our venture.
This was another thevehicledoesn’tleavetillit’sfull system, with a twist, however. The driver would have several of his friends sit in the van, making it look oh-so tantalizingly close to departure, but once you get in, they all get out. And then you’re the new bait to lure people in, but you don’t leave. All in all it’s a good system, it just leaves some poor person waiting, hoping, and praying for a long time that everyone else be as foolish and naïve as they. Luckily we only displaced a few friends and the vehicle was not too long in departing. If nothing else, this ride was pretty sweet. It appeared to have been a guest on the hit show Pimp my Yas . TV screens in the driver and co-captains headrest showing some music videos on loop, music blaring through the speakers, and bright red Adidas seat covers. Lisa later told us that this was by far one of the nicest she’d ever seen, let alone ridden in.
Behind us sat a mother and her children, who kept on making this noise, the kind you would to get a dog to heel . No dog in sight, I thought this a little bit strange, but there was a baby sitting on her lap, so it seemed to make sense. It made even more sense when a puppy about the size of my foot or smaller wandered its furry way up to Evan’s foot and did its business. I wondered if the sharp turns as we climbed our way up the mountain would carry it too far in my direction. It didn’t before we got out.
We headed through the market in the center of the city, and stopped for lunch at a small restaurant. Lisa figured we might run into some Peace Corps people doing their orientation, but it being a weekend she realized that they were probably off on their own adventures around the area. I was glad to get out of the city and to be able to talk to people in English, I’ll admit I was growing a bit tired of speaking Portuguese at this point, and most people there just answered in Creole when I asked questions in Portuguese. Point being, I was glad to be able to put aside any concerns of mutual understanding for the afternoon. It was amazing how much a forty five minute ride made a difference in the geography and the climate. Getting there you find yourself in the midst of mountains cradling the promising green stubble that only looks to grow with the continuation of the rainy season. In between these, hundred feet drops that wind their way through earth till they find the sea again. The weather was cooler and it rained while we walked, eventually prompting us to catch a ride back to Praia . This one was no where near as swank as the previous, but it did get us there. Arriving back in Praia you could feel the difference just in the weather: bright sun, almost uncomfortably hot.
We walked along an overlook of the ocean. The beach below is called Quebra Canela , which in translation either means Break your Shinbone, due to the rocks scattered in the shallower reaches of the water lurking to punish the inattentive and presumptuous, or Break Cinnamon. If my memory of spices in Portuguese holds. Up a long set of stairs there is a public park and playground that was built to commemorate the visit of the pope to Cape Verde . The park is immaculate, despite being constructed several years previous. Five minutes afoot and we were almost back at the apartment. They ducked into an internet café and I stopped at a real café with Jeff, a friend of Christina’s, who happened to be in the area. We sat for a bit talking about the country before Lisa joined, and Evan headed back to the apartment because he wasn’t feeling well. The final addition to our conversation was Pete, a counselor for a musical exchange program for American and Cape Verdian students, through Wesleyan College in Connecticut . They’d been living in the neighborhood for a couple of weeks and taking songwriting classes from both American and Cape Verdian teachers. This guy was intense, genuinely unaware of how incredibly, twitchily, intense he was, still, of course, being an excellent person. Jeff went off on a tangent about the oldest instrument of the islands and soon it was getting dark. Lisa didn’t quite trust my ability to appear threatening enough to ward off would be assailants so we took off.
The amount of Kasabadi’s (here I assume spelling), this being the rough translation of the English Cash or body (never heard before). Some people blame the rise in crime on Globalization, some on tourism, Peace Corps and missionaries, and others on the deportees returning from Boston where there is a huge Cape Verdian population. Regardless of who’s to blame, the country is not the same as it used to be. Places that were safe at any time are now no longer advisable to traverse at night. Some neighborhoods are to be avoided altogether. I can’t help but feel that I’m arriving a few years too late.
I headed back to the Instituto Camões on Monday and looked through more works concerning the use of the use of Portuguese. One of the best finds: Estão a Assassinar o Portugûes . The cover is a drawing of a man after facing the firing squad, several bullets having found their marks, yet the blindfolded body still stands. Besides the morbid description of the cover art, a translation of the title itself is in order. Cognates and a working knowledge of romance languages in general eliminate most of the leg work, and it only falls to me to illuminate the tense.
A rough translation: They’re killing/murdering Portuguese (choose the verb you like the best)
Something even more interesting, at least in my mind, is the way one would express the same thought in different forms of Portuguese. Consider the following.
European PT: Estão a assasinar o PT.
Brazilian PT: Estão assassinando o PT.
Pardon the tangent.
The book was the collection of the responses of several authors to the question put forth by a publishing company. The ambiguity of the they that is slaughtering the beloved language is never specified, and the open-ended nature lends itself to a variety of interpretations and responses. Some took it to mean the uneducated, noting “on one side there is the tendency of the ignorant to alter, abject to their comfort, the linguistic instrument. On the other side, the efforts of the educated ( letrados ) to maintain untarnished the same instrument.” A rather harsh condemnation. The most important question in regard to this statement is who the author considers to be ignorant: the uneducated, or everyone outside of Portugal . Nor will I make that clarification, at least at the moment.
Another author, taking the assassins as synonymous to Brazilians responds by asking, “how many of our best [Portuguese] authors are indebted to Brazilian authors and their use of the language?” and that “[the language] is not impoverished, nor does it degenerate with the controlled incorporation of ‘new blood’ coming from other linguistic ‘bodies’”. I can’t help but coming back to the term “A nossa lingua” and whether it refers to the population of Portugal or the wider Lusophone world.
To sum it up:
“At its base, the question reduces to that vague idea of ownership, which precisely because it is imprecise, with so much decided arbitrarily, yielding to some and protesting others, that lends itself to authoritative and restrictive solutions.”
Who’s killing Portuguese? Depends on who you ask.
On Wednesday morning I called up António Silveira Pires, mild-mannered IT specialist by day and publisher of a Creole-Language newsletter by….night, to meet for an interview.
Before talking about the interview, I’ll relay some things of the answers I’ve seemed to find so far in response to many of my questions in a paraphrased form. When it comes to the question of language and identity the short answer is that of course Cape Verdians speak Creole, they’re not Portuguese (this response is usually accompanied by a look that asks, “have you spent the last few minutes before starting this interview seeing if you could break those bricks with your head?) Then again, sou Estadounidense mas falo Inglês. Should Creole be officialized? Of course, and here is how it should be done. Why isn’t it an official language yet? (Various answers).
His answer was that the government, or at least those in the position to make it happen, are, in vulgar terms, lacking in the testicular wherewithal to bring about such changes. He also mentioned the outside pressure of the Portuguese government in regards to this, which made him sound a bit far afield a la conspiracy theorist, but it’s not inconceivable by any stretch of the imagination. We stepped through the process of objections and responses, trading back and forth the devil’s advocate hat.
-Why not make Creole the official language?
-If we do so, we’ll lose contact and trade with the Portuguese-speaking world. We’ll be isolating ourselves.
-Alright, let’s say Creole is officialized. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we toss Portuguese out the window, baby with the bath water. We’ll make them co-official.
-Alright, that makes sense, but if everyone can use Creole in any situation they’re not going to use Portuguese. Even if they’re co-official won’t we still be eliminating Portuguese de facto if not by de jure, and thus isolating ourselves.
-If we take it one step at a time. What will happen if we officialize Creole? It will be used in schools as the language of education. Children will grow up with a better understanding of their own language, and this solid foundation will only help in terms of learning a second language. As it is people cannot “express themselves well in either”, not in Portuguese because it isn’t their first language and not in Creole, because they aren’t accustomed to using it in a formal context.
-Well, what if children have a knowledge of Creole, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll learn Portuguese.
-True one doesn’t entail the other, but it does facilitate. The economic opportunities provided by being able to speak Portuguese should create enough speakers of Portuguese. The ability of government jobs can only help the process of creating bilingualism. The linguistic situation, as it is, is clearly not satisfactory. So why not change it?
-Is that a valid reason? “Why not?” Shouldn’t such a shift be motivated by something a little more substantial than this?
-Substantial? Let’s speak of substantial. Creole is the native of language of the population. It should be an official language. Shouldn’t children have the right to learn in their own language? Rhetorical question. Of course they should. In fact, it’s one of the biggest failures of the educational system in Cape Verde : students’ (and Professors’): the lack of familiarity with the language of instruction. It doesn’t even have to come to rights, it makes sense at the most basic level as well. Teaching in Creole will make the system more successful.
This is most often the train of conversation (with a few parts added post-interview). Almost as if it were the party line. So why isn’t Creole an official language? Let’s skip forward to Monday, to a joint interview with Christina and Tomé Varela da Silva. The Cape Verdean population is immensely diverse between the islands, and very proud of what makes them unique, and that includes the way they speak Creole. Choosing one form of Creole to officialize, inconveniences and offends the speakers of the others. This author, who has spent years putting into writing the oral histories and traditions of this country, showed an incredible lack of sensitivity, and not the let’stalkaboutourfeelings kind, more along the lines of let’snotstartanunecessaryconflict kind. The rough equivalent of “to the victor go the spoils,” in terms of population. Meaning that the form of Creole with the most speakers, that of Santiago , should be the official dialect of Creole because it’s simply a matter of numbers. I’ve yet to hear the same opinion from anyone outside of Santiago . This, however, is the sticking point it seems in getting anything done.
Back to normal time. Without anything scheduled for Thursday, Christina and I headed to Cidade Velha, the former colonial capital of olden days. Ships returning from Africa , the Americas , or going to those two found a perfect harbor at Cidade Velha. Due to its strategic position it was heavily bombarded by pirates of many a European country, if pirates can be from any given country, the English, French, Dutch, all sorts. The constant attacks prompted the movement of the capital to Praia . What’s left of the city isn’t much, but you can see it al from the fort overlooking the harbor that lay at the end of the rode that the yas from the city had dropped us of at. Dangling prepositions and embedded clauses which that sentences was full of. Not fragments though.
We headed down the cobblestone path until we reached the fort and walked the ramparts. Perhaps the only time I’ll ever use that word outside of singing the national anthem.
In the past months I’ve seen more churches, forts, and giant statues of Luis Camões, than the majority of the world’s population sees in several life times. Vinho, fortaleci, e escrevi uma poema épica.
From here down to the city it was a steep walk down a stairway that at points made me regret wearing sandals, and others was a joy almost falling down. We walked along a stone wall for a bit and were about to climb down into a ditch that looked to be the continuation of the trail when a woman yelled to us that we were climbing into a ditch, the road was in the other direction. A bit confused, but thankful for not having climbed into a ditch that had a disturbingly conveniently laid predecessor of paving stones before it, we walked the rest of the way down into town. Pelorinho, the slave trading post that was central to the trans-Atlantic traffic and the growth of both Brazil and the United States, is a stone’s throw away from the water.
A brief pause and we headed off to the oldest church in the country. I was waiting for a statue or a copy of the Lusiadas to fall out of the sky on my head. I hoped for the latter, preferably paperback, and abridged.
Climbing the stone stairway to the chapel was interesting; we passed by the grog factory, and a long drainage ditch, not necessarily in that order. The church is a small chapel nestled on top of a small hill. The gates were locked, but you could see the entire interior from the outside, so it was back down. Kids asked us for pens, not money, pens. There are lots of Mormons on their missions here. I guess they give the kids candy and pens to get them interested. In Assomada Lisa had gone on a bit of a tirade against this practice of giving with ulterior motives, philanthropy is one thing, bribery another…A brief pause to ask if I was Mormon, and then on… She did feel bad that the church made sure that people coming here on their missions learn Portuguese. Because, in reality, no one speaks Portuguese unless they have to (i.e. for school, official business). The previous week I’d asked people questions in Portuguese and people had fired answers right back at my blank look in Creole. Patience is a virtue, or the perseverance of the saints. Most likely the… .. Latter…… …… ….day……… …… ……Saints. No?
Once back in Praia (read: hot and sunny) I napped and turned off my brain while watching old time superman cartoons, subtitled of course. Brief summary of all of them, because there were several due to their brevity: villain has a scheme that endangers the world in some way, Lois Lane becomes embroiled in this scheme and put in peril while trying to get the scoop for the Daily Planet, Superman saves her and the world in the process (priorities?). Later Clark compliments here savvy journalism, and she says something along the lines of, “I owe it all to superman.” Clark gives a knowing smile to the audience and it ends. We’re just left wondering how no one ever put two and two together. Are glasses really that convincing a disguise? I’ll have to give those a try the next time I’m a fugitive from the law, or a superhero. Whichever comes first.
Post dinner antics included a trip to Quintal da Música, a restaurant with an interior courtyard and live music. An expression in Portuguese that doesn’t quite have an adequate translation in English, tenho saudades de… means roughly to miss something, but it’s something more. I’ve never quite understood what it means. It’s a certain kind of longing, but if you ask for an explanation it usually gets a pause and you come back to the point that there isn’t a translation. Regardless, tive saudades da minha violão. One of my least favorite parts of traveling, if there can be any, is not having music with me. I could have easily brought my computer along with me, but it saved me much stress and left me much more at ease the first half of my trip. I headed to bed soon after getting back, there was a present under the interview tree and it had my name on it…..and I woke up almost too late to open it, and just made it on time to the Instituto Superior da Educação (ISE) to speak with the director of the Department of Portuguese and Cape Verdian Studies. I’d been penciled in to a small window of time in between other meetings, so the interview was short and a bit of a question and answer session more than an interview (the difference between these two often eludes. Along the lines of spotting five things different between these two pictures).
The program is aimed at graduating professors of Portuguese (we’ll avoid the ambiguity and difficulty of creating Portuguese Professors). I asked her whether it wouldn’t be better to teach people to teach Creole, and she responded by saying that that was a valid point, but countered with the fact that there was such a vast material support for teaching in Portuguese. We’ve already got the books. Alright, I responded, pausing for a moment, and what if you had books in French. Would you teach in French just because you have them? No, of course not, nobody speaks French. The question to end this, does anyone really speak Portuguese? Technically, yes. Practically, I’d be less inclined to agree.
The rest of the day I spent transcribing interviews at the pool in the US embassy. Justification, I was going to be doing it anyways, I might as well have done it in an agreeable atmosphere, anywhere outside my stuffy room that refused to grow cooler even with windows wide open. I’m not sure if I was even allowed to be there, Christina told me that there are always Peace Corps volunteers coming in to use the pool. I scribbled my name on the sign-in sheet and wrote PC in the “Purpose/Reason of Visit” column. For some reason I always thought the two words synonymous. I doubt they cared, or even noticed. Even if they’re onto me I can always wear glasses the next time I go back.
Favorite headline in fictional newsprint history:
Extreme precautions taken in case of flying mechanical monsters.
(Context: Millions in gems moved to jewelry museum exhibit )
Can you blame the flying mechanical monster, or the villain behind the curtain, for stealing when you make it so easy? Can you Metropolis?
|Saturday morning found me in the lobby of the University residence hall with a juice box of, not juice, but chocolate milk, waiting. I’d been invited to join Alex, Teresa, and Francisco down at the beach, the whole family minus the eldest son. Alex popped his head in and we took off, with a few stops to gather the necessary provisions for such a trip. The drive was quick. I can’t help but remain transfixed during car rides to the passing scenery. It always gets me how the roads and sights are so familiar to some people, but just don’t make sense to me. I just think about the stretch of 94 between Grayslake and Evanston, down through and out to I-80. Refusing to use the onramp at 120 because I’m just that used to getting on at 137, I’ll admit it.
The neighborhood we pulled into was a mix of post-war single-family homes, beach community, and basalt. I stress the basalt, because it is, as I was later informed by Alex’s dad, also Alex, used in the construction of the majority of these houses. After stopping at the house, we headed down to the beach. I slept to make up for the lack of it from the night before. I can’t remember exactly why my body was so reluctant to rest, but it had also forgotten as I fell asleep for somewhere between thirty minutes and an hour. I realized later, and felt pretty foolish for it, that I had been burnt in a small roughly diamond shaped patch in the center of my back, which I had not reached. After a good lunch the eldest Alex, Francisco, and I went for a bike ride of the neighborhood that wound its way through the neighborhood, making it seem much larger than I’d originally thought. This is where I received the architectural lesson. A few stretches of the trail were pretty sandy, and knowing my cycling skills and natural feeling of ease on the pedals, it was a wonder that I didn’t fall and break my face. Probably wouldn’t have been fun, there seemed to be quite a few broken tiles along the way, one of the things my face has proven to be allergic to.
We had dinner, an excellent fish barbecue, and at points I was unsure of whether or not I’d wandered into Italy with all the admonishments to eat more (stereotypes aside). I also took a nap, and I can’t quite place it chronologically, that just shows either how good the food was, that it induced a coma, or that the sun got to me. Either way we all ended up watching an exhibition game between FC Porto (not the real team) and Boa Vista. Francisco informed me that he thoroughly detested the latter. Eventually I was the only one left in the family room, watching a movie about, I assume, Mozambique , but a few minutes in, without any dialogue, I realized I would fall asleep and thought it better to do so in my own bed than on the couch.
The next morning I said my goodbyes and the two Alex’s drove me to the train station. They waited for the train to arrive to see me off. The trains in Portugal have the wonderful habits of having the time of arrival of the next train flashing on some sign, and of being on time. If I were a millionaire, an eccentric one, I think I’d donate a large sum of money to the CTA to renovate the el system and make it efficient, cheap, and generally pleasant, with the stipulation that my picture be placed on all the trains. This would all be in hopes that people, upon seeing me, would invite me into their homes for dinner, lunch, a cup of tea, because the remainder of my fortune after bailing out the calamity that is probably wouldn’t suffice to buy Tic-Tac’s. But after all, I was eccentric, and what else is money good for if not free meals and gratitude?
Across the platform two metro security guards were throwing the book at a man they described as a pickpocket who made a mad escape when they let their guard down. The train arrived and after a second round of goodbyes I was off. My plan was to get to the train station that ran trains to Lisbon , buy a ticket, stow my bag, and explore the city. I got to the most central station of the city, which would have been an excellent place from which to make my foray down to the river, yet they had no facilities to maintain my luggage. I headed further down the line to the stop that had the inter-city trains. I checked out the schedule, picked a train that would land me in Lisbon at a reasonable hour, found the luggage storage lockers, and then started trekking up a hill that seemed to be leading me in the direction of the river. I paused after about a minute of slightly-uphill laboring. If I took the train back to the central station I knew that I could walk downhill and get to the river. I was sweating something mean at this point, and gravity sounded like lasagna’s unheal…my best friend.
An extended period of downward inertia later, I found myself at the end of a large open space that seemed to be on the edge of the plunge down to the real thing. I stepped into a small caf é to see if I could get something decent to eat for lunch. I tried, not the results I hoped for, but I had little time to worry about such things, for I was destined to explore the old part of the ci ty. The river is lined with all sorts of caf és big large, small, touristy….touristy, all offering about the same thing, but all I really wanted was some water, so I ordered up a large bottle and sat and watched, people, water, boats, you name it, if it’s in Porto I probably watched it float by. The afternoon passed by quickly, and I had a chance to think more about my project, but, sadly I’d left my notebook in my backpack at the train station. It was close enough to departure time that I figured I’d head over just to be on the safe side.
I made it back to the station with plenty of time to spare. It had slipped my mind that for trains there is no check in, security check, and only minimal boarding time. To pass the extra minutes in between I bought a used book in Portuguese from a book fair outside the station. They had put into the practice the importance of location.
The train made quick work of the space between Porto and Lisbon, stopping occasionally, but always returning to a good clip within a minute or so. Backpack strapped to me again I trundled through the Lisbon Metro system to the hostel I’d stayed at last, hoping there would be an open bed when I got there. There was, and I said a quick thank you to unreliable people under my breath and stowed my things away in a dorm room. I grabbed some food to eat and slept to prepare myself for the following day of preparation to leave Portugal.
The next morning I spent time catching up on e-mail and then climbed narrow switch backing lanes up to Bairro Alto and found one of the rare calm public spaces in Lisbon and sat collecting my thoughts. So far I’d approached the theme of language variation via various means, and my mind had started to feel a bit muddy on how to fit all of the methods, places, and results together in a coherent manner. Sitting still for a few hours always helps. I stopped back at the hotel, and yet again, they had another bed for me for that night, thankfully. I’d been playing it by ear, without any backup plan, but everyone working there definitely wanted to help, it just depended on their ability to actually do anything without screwing over someone who had had the foresight to make a reservation. To guys working there were Brazilian, one from Rio, and the other from outside of Sao Paulo. I’d talked to the first while I was eating breakfast, and I think he appreciated the fact that, as he put it, “You speak my kind of Portuguese.” He explained that people give him guff for speaking the way he does in Lisbon . I haven’t used that word in ages, but it brings to mind the definition of being an adult that someone once told me i.e. being a real adult means not taking guff from anyone. We talked about the implications of accent in a cross-cultural situation, also known as he complained about the way he gets treated because of the way he talks. It served as a reminder of how quickly how you speak says where you’re from and who you are. I still get a kick out of the comparison of US and British English to Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese. On both sides of the pond, there are plenty of jokes and imitations, ours being of proper accents and cockney, and theirs most likely being of a nice southern drawl. It all, however, comes back to the fact that we don’t share the (exact) same culture and history. As nations we’re separate and autonomous, and we certainly wouldn’t concede that fact, let alone how we speak. The idea of who owns the language, and who has the authority to determine how it’s spoken and where is still a rather contested issue in the Lusophone world. Should Brazil , as the country with the largest number of native speakers set the precedent? Or should the Portuguese, as it is the nation where the language was born, determine the way it should be spoken? Countless hours have been spent over this question of lineage versus population, and I feared I might fall victim to another, so I cut through the debate with quite possibly one of the most important questions of all: Is there a proper way to speak Portuguese?
The question is most often followed by a pause on the side of my interlocutor, whether a tenured professor, the director of the branch of an International Institution, or someone you meet over breakfast. Because, as the first person I interviewed, a professor at the University of Macau put it, “When you mess with language, you mess with a person’s sensibilities, and you just don’t do that.” This had been in response to a rather pointed and political question of whether he thought that Chinese students learning Portuguese in Macau should learn from Europe (EP) or Brazil (BP). Being a Brazilian as well, he had a certain bias, but he could also answer based on two criteria. The question in the bluntest form demands the election of which form is better. Here we can only hope to use the term “better” loosely because if we look at any two variations, both serving the communicational needs of a given community, then we cannot, on any basis say that one is better than the other. If the need for communication is met, then what more is there to discuss. Fair enough, if there is nothing more to it, then why ask the question at all? This is the second criterion, the political one. People will still answer the question, but the answer will vary depending on who you ask and how you ask it. I preferred the slap-in-the-face approach, it often gets the quickest and best results, but he suggested a more tactful roundabout way of getting the same answer without offending peoples’ sensibilities. What I asked my friend in Lisbon was a subtler form of that wonderfully loaded question. After the universal pause, he looked at me, looked back at the table, picked up the coffee, set it back down again, picked it up, set it back down again. He responded with another question, “What’s the right way to juggle three elephants while riding a unicycle?” I shrugged because I wasn’t quite sure what the word for juggle was. He pantomimed it while asking again. I shrugged again, “I don’t know.”
“Neither do I, but if you do it then you must be doing something right.” It seems as though I need to find an even subtler way of asking.
The answer to that question, regardless of what choice is made, is crucially important. Even more important though are the actions that occur based on that choice and how they can shape the future of a language. I thought to myself, and perhaps this was influenced by the breakfast items available, that butter and bread are butter and bread, regardless of the location of the butter. Although I always wondered how butter would stay on if you put it on the bottom side of the bread. Perhaps you just spread it on the top and flip the bread when you’re ready to eat. Either way, I’d take a catapult (Better Butter Battle ..I forget the rest of the title, but the illustrations in that book are amazing, hence my desire for a catapult. Video games aren’t causing sieges; it’s that Ted Geisel fellow, filling the imagination of the youth with fangled, but not new, crazy ideas). I headed out to the post office and made some phone calls before lunch.
That night my bag already packed for the next afternoon, perhaps a bit early, and then I had an excellent omelet with cheese, ham, green peppers, and onions fries and some sort of fruit juice, I want to say pineapple, but I’m not sure. I asked for juice expecting to hear the available options, but at this particular restaurant there is one and only one kind of juice, so if you ask for it you just better know what kind it is. Good thing I’m not deathly allergic to pineapples–or am I? Perhaps I’ve just spelled my own doom, when years later, after being chosen by the voters of the fine state of Oregon to represent them in the United States Senate, winning a re-election, and stirring up some controversy that rubs the wrong kind of people the wrong way, that someone decides to assassinate me via a drop of pineapple extract in my iced tea at a power lunch with the party leadership. Or perhaps I’m not allergic at all, and I’m just sifting through the would-be assassins a bit early, wary of any and all that offer me pineapples, or artificially flavored pineapple products.
I headed out a little bit later with a New Zealander studying environmental politics in Spain, Portugal, Romania, and Hungary and a Finnish guy, who punctuated his English with several yea’s a sentence, to Bairro Alto. For a Monday night the entire neighborhood was packed. It seemed as if the entire of Europe had decided to visit Portugal on vacation: Let’s go to Portugal , I’ve never been, it sounds like it would be nice. Do you know anyone who’s ever been? No? Me neither. Might as well. We ducked into a bar that was blaring Pearl jam and was populated by a few Portuguese guys who seemed to know most of the words, but who spoke no English, as we found out when they tried to talk to us. I would, if I could, go back in time, and start a running tally of every time after I’ve explained to someone while speaking Portuguese that I’m an American of the look of disbelief or confusion. I believe I’d be well on my way towards the world record of incredulity caused. It’s disturbing, however, the perception of the states that people have. I’m not even sure what the stereotype would be, a bunch of people sitting around in cowboy hats, eating McDonalds, drinking some Starbucks? Clearly they don’t speak other languages that them there forners use. I explained to these guys the same thing that I’ve explained to many people and they responded with a thumbs-up, grin, and departed into the buzzing party that was the street, plastic cups in hand. Again I found that I appreciated the saving grace of the design of Lisbon, gravity. We made it back to the hostel in a few minutes of the downhill-sandal-wearing-loud-awkward walk.
I tried to sleep once back, but it was far too hot in Lisbon on the fourth floor in a room without ceiling fans or any other means of air circulation. Instead I tried to imagine how one would go about learning how to juggle elephants. Steep seems the learning curve for that vocation.
Tuesday morning I woke up and stowed my pack in the storage room behind the reception desk. The owner of the hostel had pretty much given me free reign to use the room whenever after I’d helped him pacify a girl from Pennsylvania who had rather a big problem in the fact that she didn’t want to loose her books and she couldn’t leave the hostel but she wanted to go explore the city, but she didn’t want to leave her stuff, and overall she was being very loud, angry, and persistent. I offered to help her quickly move her stuff into the locker I was vacating, solving the problem, and gaining the gratitude of the owner in the process. From this point on I don’t think I could do any wrong. There wasn’t much time left to do so anyways, I relaxed on a couch in the main room of the hostel with my notebook for a bit before heading off to catch the bus to the airport.
This was the first time I had to check my backpack. Two airline employees informed the person in front of me in line that their carry-on luggage wasn’t going to make it on board, it was far too large. My backpack made it look like a box of tissues. I tossed it into a spare duffel bag I’d brought with for this exact situation. I brought a book with for the flight; I figured I’d sleep a bit, read a bit, and magically wake up in Praia .
Cape Verde , is an archipelago of Islands off the coast of Western Africa, think Guinea , Guinea Bissau, Senegal. Of the ten major islands, the Northern, Barlovento group, and the Southern, Sotavento group. I landed in Praia , the capital, on the Island of Santiago in the south. The descent was abrupt. You’re uncomfortably low to the water, no land in sight, and suddenly reddish-brown dirt rushes into view and the plane shudders its way down through the last hundred or so feet briefly touching the pavement before the brakes and reverse engines screech and roar to life to slow the progress of the whole thing. Upon landing, the cabin burst into applause. While I found myself clapping, I couldn’t help but feel a bit unnerved at the jubilation surrounding something that I hoped was a normal everyday occurrence.
A friend of mine met me at the airport. We took Portuguese class together at Northwestern, and she is currently in Cape Verde on a Fulbright to finish her dissertation on Cape Verdean Theatre. We caught a cab back to the house she was staying in. She’d been able to arrange with the landlords a stay for me in another one of the apartments for the time I’d be in Praia , including meals, which is quite the bonus. I dropped off my bag and we went on a walking tour of the neighborhood: bus stop, bank, other bank, embassy down this street, super market, internet caf é another bus stop, internet caf é and video rental store, and finally another caf é with e xcellent ice cream. I should have drawn a map, because I certainly didn’t remember it all, but I’d figure it out in the upcoming days to be sure. I relaxed for a bit in the apartment/studio that I’d be inhabiting for the next two weeks before heading over to the landlords’ for dinner. Turns out, it was their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, and they’d invited some friends over to celebrate it. I felt a bit of an imposition, but they were certainly welcoming and the entertaining hosts. One of their friends was an English professor at the Instituto Superior da Eduacacao, and got off on a bit of a Shakespeare tangent that lasted much longer than normal Shakespeare tangents do. Still, I couldn’t help but appreciate the fact that he spoke English with a painfully proper British accent, the kind that you find in Victorian period pieces. You’d have to give a Londoner time with a dialect coach to get them speaking like this. Around the table you could hear Portuguese, Creole, French, and English, and some interesting opinions about all of them. Most importantly, I realized that Portuguese is certainly not the first language of Cape Verdeans . The English professor told me, in his opinion, that people speak Portuguese terribly here, my hosts replied that of course they do, it’s not their language. Ask someone if they speak Creole well, and they’ll most likely give you a look like you fell of the bike one too many times despite the training wheels.
After dinner Christina told me she would give me a crash course in Praia the next day. In the morning I got up, ate some breakfast, and prepared myself. We caught the bus to the national library past the soccer stadium, and then headed over to the national archive for a bit. From there we headed up to the Plateau, the oldest part of the city that was the concentration of Portuguese development back in the olden days. We hopped off the bus and walked past the open air fruit market that stretches from street to street. Christina was explaining to me that I really need to meet Jeff, an American who’d been living in Cape Verde for quite along time, seven years I found out later, spoke excellent Creole, and knew pretty much everyone. We bumped into him walking down the street. Cape Verde , at least Praia is like that. It seems as if everyone knows everyone, and that’s not limited to just within the artistic community here that Christina and Jeff are both heavily involved in. The phrase “Heavily involved”, usually sounds of something illegal. We brainstormed over lunch additional people and places that I could interview and visit outside my original contact list. It’s certainly a great help to have people who have lived in the country for years.
Christina headed off to run some errands, and Jeff and I headed out to get some post lunch coffee. We ran into some more people he knew, and I sat at a table trying to understand Creole, without much luck. The newly founded University of Cape Verde was next on the docket. Jeff had met the Rector, and wanted to set up an interview for me. The first thing you do when you meet someone in an official context..speak in Portuguese. This was the advice Jeff gave me. “It makes them feel like you’re not just somebody coming in off the street trying to get an appointment for no particular reason.” Two important terms to note here: bilingualism, diglossia. I’ll use some rough definitions, compiled from several sources, and the homebrewed response that everyone seems to have. Bilingualism defines a situation in which two languages, neither being given a status of prestige higher than the other, are used in.
I was excited. Little did I realize that I that little progress would be made on that front. I followed up several times with the secretary there, but to no avail. August in Cape Verde is not the time of the year to be setting up interviews. Everyone’s either on vacation, or getting ready to go on vacation. We left the University, which at this point in time is a single building on the Plateau, with hopes to consolidate and expand the higher education system on Santiago as a start. For the past couple of years, Jeff has been the producer for a Cape Verdean dance group, Raiz de Polon. We headed over to their rehearsal space where we were to meet up again with Christina. I hung out in the office, a room next door to the two dance rooms, I assume would be the proper terminology. I met some of the members of the company and waited for things to start. The heat inside got to be too much, so I sat on the step outside of one of the studios, that’s the word I was looking for, from which I could see both the street and the rehearsal. Christina showed up a bit later and we were talking outside when one of the members of the group came out, looked at us, took us into the other studio, and sat us down in two chairs along the near wall. He ushered one or two more in, and then shut the door, turned off the lights, and went to man the audio equipment. What followed was an interpretive solo dance piece about Don Quixote, Sancho, and the history of Cape Verde . These themes and characters did not jump immediately to my mind, but Christina assured me that she’d seen it several times, and was still figuring it out. She’d even had lunch with the creator/performer of the piece and had discussed it with him, and she was still figuring it out. We sat, after a brief session of critical feedback, some given in Portuguese, I believe in order to include me in the conversation, with the guy who’d been flinging himself around the room, twirling books on the ends of strings, and using rocks as sandals for the past couple of minutes. Christina posed a question about the identifiably “African” parts of the piece, and he went in to a drawn out explanation of how he was “not African, his mother was Portuguese, he had a brother who was white like [us].” I don’t want to say that race is a touchy subject here, because most everyone has both European and African ancestry, but identity is hugely important. As a whole the country has been struggling for quite a long time to define itself based on a cultural allegiance to Africa or to Europe . There are proponents for both sides. I wouldn’t necessarily say proponents, because it’s a mindset more than anything else, but the idea comes across. We left the building and headed back to the house. I ate dinner with the landlords; this meal was decidedly less festive. I believe they’ve become after a quarter of a century one of those married couples that don’t need to talk to each other. I didn’t realize this at first, and tried to dispel what I thought was an awkward situation with small talk in Portuguese. The weather, the city, history. You name it, I tried.
Thursday morning I woke up and headed back to the building where the dance group practices. The other side of the building is a restaurant called Quintal da Musica, a large courtyard with a stage and a bar. Mario Lucio, my contact for this interview is a playwright, and musician. Quite possibly one of the best known musicians in Cape Verde . I got a chance to listen to his music later, and it was pretty good. He seemed antsy to do the interview and be on his way, so we started. His views, when simplified to a word, pluralism. As long as people can understand each other, then what difference does it make how you write a word? Creole can be standardized and made the official language, people are going to be able to understand each other just fine. I asked if picking one (Barlovento or Sotavento) to serve as the model of standard Creole would be a problem. He replied that they were equivalent to US and British English, and that if people could communicate in them, then that was all that mattered. I think he missed the point. I think everyone in the use would be a bit rankled if they were told to use British English and vice versa. The question here is not a linguistic one, of mutual intelligibility, but a political one.
The end of the interview arrived and I headed back to my apartment to eat lunch. I spent the rest of the afternoon working and after dinner I headed down to the beach with Christina to meet up with Jeff and some other friends of theirs. We sat for an hour or two at a small table amidst many other small tables that formed a giant L with stands behind them selling food and drinks, most barbecuing some sort of seafood. Inside this shape was a beach soccer game in full swing, and a huge crowd of people. Some watching the game, some not. I got a ride home and slept. The air conditioning unit that is in my apartment, which I was extremely excited upon at first glance, does not work. The fan helps, but it’s still pretty hot.
Next morning was breakfast. There’s such a thing as guava paste, and it’s excellent. Afterwards a visit to the UniCV again to see if the Rector had received the e-mail that his secretary had told me to send to her e-mail address which she would forward to him. Christina had an interview with a history professor, whose office happened to be right next to the Rector. I contemplated just knocking on his door, but I figured that might cross the line from assertive to impolite. I talked to his secretary again. I asked if she’d gotten the e-mail I’d sent. She asked when I’d sent it. I’d sent it the same day I’d visited. She found it. She hadn’t forwarded it. I asked her to. She did and said she’d call me when the Rector got back to her. I knew pretty much that this meant that I wasn’t going to be able to meet with him while I was here, which was disappointing, but I had much more to do, so I figured I’d survive.
Lunch was quick and I headed over to my good friend the Instituto Camoes, Praia branch. They always seem to have an excellent library with at least a few gems regarding the specific country. Part of me feels guilty stowing myself away in a library in a foreign country, but if you don’t have interviews scheduled, and you have the time to make it there, it can never hurt. The one drawback to this particular library was the fact that there were no indications as to what was where. Everything was organized very well, don’t get me wrong, but it just took being the one who organized it to really know where anything was. I asked the librarian and she pointed me in the right direction. She didn’t seem too glad that I was there though. It was sweltering in the library too, perhaps that was why she seemed a bit unpleasant. I read through a few books, realizing that reading in Portuguese makes me tired, or maybe it was the heat. When the library closed I headed back and continued writing, piecing together the thoughts I’d pulled from the pages.
|The weekend after I arrived in Lisbon I went on a tourism binge. I had already e-mailed my contacts and there was nothing left but to wait. So wait I did, as I explored the city. I’m going to preface what I say next, so it doesn’t seem like I harbor any sort of animosity towards Lisbon, because I certainly don’t. It’s not that I don’t like the city, in fact, I’m fascinated by it, but for the love of God…..from an aerial view it looks like someone had a few too many drinks, was kicked in the head by a horse several times and then tried to draw a nonagon inscribed inside a pentagon inside the shape of a pear. It’s a civil engineer’s nemesis, yet somehow everyone seems to get by. So, I put aside my acclimation to Chicago’s neatly ordered streets and wandered. Here are some highlights: Botanical Garden, Bodyworks exhibit (same as the one in Chicago, but with all the signs in Portuguese), Bairro Alto (where all the cool kids go to hang out), and Cascais–a beach about a half an hour west of the city.
Sunday afternoon I arranged an appointment for Monday at the University of Lisbon, and another up in Coimbra for Tuesday. I called up friends of mine who were in the Lisbon area. Rita and Andr are both graduate students, at the University of Chicago and Northwestern respectively, and even better they’re both Portuguese, and most importantly, they speak very slowly for me so that I can understand. Without that grace, I would have little hope of keeping up with any conversation. They stopped by the hostel I was staying at and we walked up the hill to the Castle of Saint George (Castelo de So Jorge), that overlooks the city. It was amazing to see the Baixa (downtown) area where I’d been staying from up above. All the buildings looked so small, and you couldn’t even see the streets, but when you were down there, you could hardly see anything but the buildings. We walked around the battlements and took in the view of the city. I forgot my camera. We walked down and jumped in their car and headed out. I wasn’t exactly sure where we headed, but I knew I was in good hands, and would probably see more, and better parts, of the city with these two than I’d seen the entire weekend.
We drove out west of the city near the Monesteiro dos Jernimos and parked the car. In Portugal, I have learned, and have come to admire, they practice the art of multiple meals a day. And by multiple, I mean four, which is only one more than I’m used to eating, but I believe it comes at just the right time in the day to be utterly pleasant. There’s pequeno almoo (breakfast), almoo (lunch), and jantar (dinner), just as I’m used to. But wedged in between almoo and jantar, between the hours of five and six there is the magical world of lanche (roughly equivalent to British teatime, even though I honestly don’t know what time of day this happens at). This meal lifts the spirits and tides you over until the real thing. Although it’s nothing big or complicated, I think it could quite possibly be the best meal. We headed to a pastry restaurant, or factory, as the place liked to call itself, where they created (or perfected, depending on who you ask) and now manufacture some of the best Pastis de Nata, or Portuguese Egg tarts in all of Portugal. In fact, this place deems the pastries Pastis de Belm, not deigning to let them be confused or put on equal level with the product of another bakery. For good reason does this place tout their product as amazing. We entered the bakery and moved from one room to the next. This place was huge, and every table you could see was filled with people. The restaurant went back further, I felt as if I’d stepped through the looking glass as we entered into progressively larger rooms that the diminutive exterior did nothing to indicate. After waiting in line we got a table and ordered up drinks and some food. A few of these pastries and I was hooked, and to the idea of a snack between lunch and dinner.
Across the street, and under another major road, we went until we were at the edge of the river. There is a monument to the explorers, or discoverers, whichever you prefer. It bears the likenesses of, you know, all the greats. Down the river there’s a tower that guards the river, we didn’t go inside because it was past closing, but we did relax outside for awhile. For dinner we headed to a restaurant that was decorated completely with neckties. I thought about making a joke about never having been to a Thai restaurant, but I don’t think the humor would have carried, and as Andr informed me later, my sarcasm doesn’t translate well. The woes of being a bilingual comedian (It got to the point where I had to carry around a monkey, rat, cat, chair and table with me. I’d yell at them to all get in place, and when people would come by I’d say “The rat is under the chair.”…..”The cat is on the table”….”The monkey is…”…….”Ahhh!! Where’d the monkey go this time?”.) After dinner we headed out to one of the most newly-constructed sections of Lisbon, which doesn’t mean much when you think of how old the city actually is, but in this case everything was fairly shiny new, most of it having been constructed within the past couple of years. We parked and walked along the huge line of bars and restaurants that edges one side of the Parque das Naes, until we reached the Vasco da Gama tower, and then headed back into the city.
Monday I sent e-mails during the morning and after numbing my brain staring at a computer screen for hour-long intervals, I headed to the University of Lisbon for an interview. I really enjoyed the metro; it was quick, cheap, and easy to figure out. All the universities that I’ve visited so far have had a very different feel to them. There’s no enclosed campus, people live here and here, feel. It seems more so that people come to class and then go home, not necessarily living in any proximity to the school. My interview didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. The professor I spoke with had been working on a project that was aimed at characterizing the development of European and Brazilian Portuguese at certain points in time, at the lexical and syntactic levels. I asked her a few questions, and after answering them she asked me what my project was about. My description elicited a laugh and a bit of an “oh-you-undergrads” sort of smile, accompanied by the advice to start off on a small issue. I replied in the nicest of terms that when it comes to academic pursuits, between timidity and erring, the former is a far greater failure. From there the interview didn’t progress too much further. I took my leave and headed back to the hostel to meet up with Andr and Rita. They had offered to give me a ride up to Leiria, their hometown, and even to Coimbra for my interview at the University. We arrived in time for dinner, and I realized how slowly they’d been talking when I heard Rita’s dad speak. Dinner was excellent, even if the conversation was a bit hard to follow, watched a bit of a documentary on killer bees (I like my women like I like my coffee….covered in bees.), checked my e-mail and headed to bed.
Rita, her sister, Filipa, Andr, and I left the next morning for the University of Coimbra. My appointment to meet with the Reitor (Dean) of the Faculdade de Letras was at ten. We got there a little bit after that, but without any worries. We agreed to meet back at the car in an hour or so. They headed out to see the campus; I headed to my interview. After a bit of wandering the halls I found the office that I assumed was the right one, and was in the start of the knock when a woman popped out of it. I almost punch her in the face with the continuation of the movement. Luckily, for both of us, she was fairly short, and moving quickly.
She took down my name and proceeded across the hall, returning shortly and then ushering me in. My meeting with the Dean was quick, and was more to figure out who he could rope into meeting with me at that time. It worked out well. On the staff at the University is an American professor from Michigan that is, in fact, a creolist. Huzzah!!! We talked for the next hour or so and I was able to pick his brain about who, what, and where to talk to, read, and go. I thanked him and headed back to the car. I was relieved and elated that this interview had gone infinitely better than the last.
We stopped for lunch on the way back to Leiria. The place, they informed me, used to let you order whatever you wanted, let’s say five of a dish, and then just pay for what you eat. They have since caved to health inspectors, to the chagrin of many and you must predict how much you are going to eat and pay for it even if you don’t eat it. A resounding sigh of disappointment. Oh, and everything comes with a heaping plate of soup/rice, I’m still not sure which it was, but it went well with everything. The drive back to Leiria went quickly and once back in the city we stopped by the bus station so I could buy a ticket up to Braga. Fillipa came with to make sure I didn’t accidentally purchase myself a trip to Madrid. That done we headed back to their house and planned to go to the beach. I bowed out for a quick nap that quickly turned into a few hours of a comatose state. I woke up feeling refreshed, which is a rare feeling, I find, when it comes to naps. Usually one returns from sleep feeling even more tired than before, or at least groggy enough to inebriate several pirates. Rita’s mom had tickets to see the symphony at a nearby cultural center, so we, being Rita, her dad, Andr, and myself headed out to a restaurant close to the soccer stadium that looked like an office, before heading over to the cultural center/movie theater for the concert. Amazing food. I will say, however, that I found it strange to be eating any meal in a nice restaurant with a bowl of chips, and by that I mean potato chips. Although these were excellent potato chips, and were not merely from a bag. No, these had been sliced from potatoes and made here at the restaurant (I won’t discuss the process beyond slicing, because that takes the magic out of it). I had never had a better reason to eat potato chips with a fork and a knife….so I did. We rushed to make the doors before they closed.
As we were shuffling into the auditorium, I saw the Dean of the Faculty of Letters. He waved hello, and asked how my meeting with the professor had gone. I said it had gone well, and thanked him again for arranging it, and marveled at the coincidence. “That’s just how Leiria is.” I was informed, I half expected to see the professor I’d spoken to as well, but no luck.
I’ll preface my opinion of the concert with the fact that my mp3 player has been dead for quite some time. I was revisited by its spirit for a few days in the spring, but since it has long passed on to the heaven of portable electronic devices, God rest its soul. It was not long for this world. Nor did I bring my computer with me on this trip. For this entire trip I have been music-less and going through withdrawals. I’ll often find myself humming a snippet from a song I half know, and then go crazy spending the rest of the day trying to remember how the rest goes. Infuriating, to say the least. In the spirit of that, and the fact that I love music, the concert was excellent. I sat next to the wall, so every now and again I would close my eyes and just listen to the pulsing of the strings, the occasional slow, at times mournful, rise and fall of the brass, and the subtle interspersion of the clarinets and other woodwinds. It’s fascinating to watch the mass of violinists, violists, cellists, or bassists all move their bows in almost perfect unison, allowing, of course, for a bit of personal variation in posture and positioning. It would be interesting to remove everything else and just be able to watch the bows. The second half after a brief intermission went quickly. The post-concert festivities were a bit drawn out and we stood out on the balcony watching the director of something or another make a speech of some sort and congratulate everyone. Really the music was the only thing anyone needed to hear.
We all headed back, and I fell asleep fairly quickly.
The bus the next day was to leave Leiria at a little after noon, and I would make a connection at Coimbra and Porto, finding myself in Braga at a little after six in the evening, or so I’d predicted based on rough estimates of time between Porto and my final destination. Regardless, I said my goodbyes and caught a ride from Fillipa to the bus station. At this point I wasn’t quite sure what bus I was catching or where it would be, but the station was small enough that there was little room to doubt, and even less room to worry. I reminded myself that I’d navigated far more complicated networks, and this was no time to doubt my intrepidness, if that’s a word, perhaps intrepidity, but that’s far too close to stupidity for my liking. Patience won out, and I boarded the bus bound for Coimbra a few minutes after it was scheduled to arrive. I sat down and waited for more people to come piling in, but there were only a few souls scattered throughout the seats of the coach bus. I made myself comfortable and enjoyed the ride. Upon arrival in Coimbra I hauled my bag out of the belly of the vehicle and waited for the next part of my trip to come teetering in. I stood and watched bus drivers back into parking spaces as if they were operating a mini-coupe as opposed to a hulking monstrosity of a bus. I don’t know why, but I still had the fear that somehow I was going to miss something in Portugal of all places. It wasn’t as if it would have made anything that difficult, I just would have felt rather embarrassed to have come so far, without missing anything yet, only to get lost…in Portugal. It would be equivalent to taking fourth place on mushroom when you’ve already beaten it on special.
To Braga I made it without any complications or worries. A member of the Circumnavigators club, Karen Sclueter had hosted an exchange student from Portugal, Alex, a time ago, who had returned home, but still kept in contact. I was given the e-mail address of his wife, Teresa, who happens to be a professor at the University of Minho in Braga working in automization. I wasn’t quite sure what this meant, along the lines of building an algorithm to solve a problem. She was able to arrange an interview for me with a professor of Portuguese Literature at the university. I called from a payphone at the station and she said she’d come pick me up. I waited outside for a brief couple of minutes before she arrived with one of their sons in the back seat. Francisco, all of six years old, can probably eat more food than most adults if he likes the food, is quite possibly one of Spider Man’s biggest fans, and talks much faster than I can understand. I hopped in the car and was given a brief tour of Braga en route to their house for lunch. Francisco and I ate as Teresa told me of my appointment with the professor at the University and how she would be able to pick me up in the morning from the university residence I’d being staying at. Occasionally Francisco would interject, and would be reminded that if he wanted me to understand him that he’d have to speak slower. He obliged and I was quickly roped into, break my arm will you, going to the pool that’s part of their building. The water was a bit cold, so I crouched at the edge and asked Francisco to push me in. I have the hardest time making myself get into cold water, month-long journeys, fine. But cold water….that’s a different story.
After pool we headed over to the University residence where I’d be staying. The building was newly built, mostly for international students doing summer language programs and Erasmus students during the year. For a dorm, it was pretty swank, I must say, a bit of a ghost town in the summer because the language programs had just ended, but swank nonetheless. I deposited my stuff in my room and we grabbed dinner, or at least part of it from a restaurant. The name of the pastries with meat in them escapes me, but I do remember that the establishment had a glass floor that provided a clear view of the ruins it was built upon, discovered after construction was already underway. There was also a picture of a famous author, I want to say Ea de Queiroz, on the wall because the restaurant is named in one of his works. All that aside, dinner was good. They took me on a walking tour of the city center. In all, it’s pretty small, but you can wander in and out of the streets that crisscross the oldest part of the city. At the end of one of the main roads through the center there is an arch that used to be part of the wall that surrounded the city. The wall has since, obviously, been removed, and the city has spread outwards. After coming full circle back to the same view of the arch, I said goodnight and headed of to crash at my Ikea-esque single. Stepping out of the elevator the lights in the hallway flickered on. They’re motion triggered, to save electricity, but at night they make a long empty hallway a bit unsettling. Just a bit too horror movie for my liking.
One advantage of being alone: there was no one there to say, “I’ll be right back, I’m just going to go find X” to.
The above phrase being the clear indication that I would be next to have my arms chopped off and sewn onto a re-animated corpse, or something along those lines.
Grisly death avoided, I ducked into my room and went to sleep.
My interview the next morning was less formal than I expected. It started out as a normal one, and with the arrival of an old student of this professor. We all ended up at a cafe across the street from the entrance of the university. It also turned out to be more of a history lesson than anything else, which is wonderful, as it put much of the literature of Mozambique and Angola in the context of the past five hundred or so years. Nothing too big. After this Elena, an Italian doctoral student in the Portuguese Literature department showed me the library and left me to my own devices. Fat kid in a candy store. Eventually I ended up in the linguistics section, with a pile of books that had caught my eye. Elena returned and gave me her card to use in the photocopier outside the library. Fat kid with the keys to the candy store. I left the university heavier than I’d entered.
After lunch I got a chance to do some reading outside with my newly acquired materials. I picked a bench in the gardens behind the historical archive of the city, which is a rather old looking house on one side, and a castle on the other. I’m not accustomed to wearing shoes during the summer, mostly because my feet have the tendency to sweat when it’s warm outside, something I’ve been told is a very normal reaction to heat. Yet, regardless of how normal this reaction may be, it often leaves shoes and socks smelling a bit on the unpleasant side and people none to eager to spend time in your presence. I took off my shoes to give my feet a fighting chance.
A bit later I headed over to Alex and Teresa’s house again for dinner. We all hopped in the car and drove a few minutes to a place to get Francesinhas.
We’re going to pause, and this pause is brought to you to explain to the best of my knowledge, what exactly this food is. Matthias, my Swedish friend, who I’d met in Macau, had given a description of the Francesinha (and here I use the singular for dramatic effect) that made it sound like the holy grail of all hangover food. We’ll start out with a rundown of the ingredients. The first layer, a piece of toast, next, sausage, egg, cheese, other sausage, another egg, more cheese, finally another piece of toast. All of this is covered, yet again with more cheese and topped off with a tomato and onion sauce. On the side, usually, some fries.
Now, I wasn’t sure what to expect, as this food had been built up in my mind to be pretty amazing. I didn’t want to be disappointed, thankfully I was not. As I was eating it I couldn’t help but marvel at the layers, and think that I’d just met lasagna’s less healthy cousin.
After dinner we headed up to the churches above the city. The road up to them is lined on either side by trees that make you forget the city below. It seems like it could be anywhere in the world. You emerge out of the forest and find yourself next to a well lit church with a commanding view of the city. On the way down we paused at a point in the road and Alex put the car into neutral and let go of the brake, and we seemed, for all purposes that we rolled backwards up the hill. It’s an optical illusion due to the angle of the road that curves around to the left, because the car actually rolls downhill it just seems to be going up, based on the incline of the other. They dropped me off back at the dorm, and I watched an episode of The Daily Show in the TV room before heading off to bed.
The next morning I caught the convenient shuttle between the residence and the university and spent the rest of the morning combing through the library (You idiots! What are you doing?…We’re combing the desert.). I had lunch with Teresa and two other professors at this amazing restaurant close to the school. So much food, so cheap, I wanted to surgically remove it and graft it to the side of a building on Church Street so I could eat there every day upon return to Evanston. All three were headed to the other campus of U. Minho in Guimares, so I tagged along to get a chance to see the castle and the old part of the city. They dropped me off in the city center with plans to meet up near the castle in an hour and a half or so. I wandered off into the city center without a map, but soon enough found an information center and a map. To get to the castle, all you really have to do is walk uphill, the same way you walk down hill in Lisbon to find your way. To get to the top of the castle you have to climb up a set of stairs that are steeper than they are narrow. Climbing up was no problem, more of a ladder than anything else. From each side of the keep you could see for quite a distance. I took some pictures, and enjoyed the breeze that undid the sweat that the climb had caused. Deciding that it was time to get down, I swung my legs through the trapdoor and realized why people had been so slow to descend while I’d been waiting my turn to climb up.
Once back on solid ground I headed down towards the city center, stopping under a tree to relax for a bit before meeting back up. In Braga I got to eat with Francisco and then jump in the pool again. We raced the length of the pool several times, and then relaxed before dinner. They dropped me off at the center of the city so I could wander around a Folklore festival that had dancers and musicians from the Ukraine, Mexico, Brazil, Cape Verde, and more. I watched a few countries and then headed back to sleep.
|I’m sitting by a public fountain, the base is covered with blue tiles, and the water is perfectly clear. I’m sitting cross-legged watching people walk by on their way out of a train station of some sort. A friend of mine walks by, but she has blonde hair. I try to get her attention, but she walks on determinedly without a glance. After what seems like a huge struggle, I manage to get to my feet and chase after her. My legs feel like they’ve just woken up from being asleep for hours, but I finally catch up with her and touch her shoulder. She turns around and it’s a middle-aged woman who looks nothing like my friend. I jump on a nearby cement bench scanning the crowd frantically. Nowhere can I see her, or anyone remotely similar to her. I wake up and there is a pressing on my chest. It feels like I’m having a heart attack of some sort, I roll over and try to get up, but that doesn’t quite work. The room seems very bright, and it’s getting brighter, the pressure is increasing as well.
I wake up in a bed in an inn on the wrong side of the South Africa-Mozambique border for my liking. It takes a good couple of minutes for me to calm down, so I’ll take a few to explain how I got there.
Friday night I went out with Joo, Ulisses, and Rui to the Franco-Mozambican cultural center to see a dance show put on by a traditional Mozambican Dance company. It was great and afterwards Joo and I went with to meet up with some of Ruis family eating dinner. I spent the rest of the evening smiling and trying to keep up with the conversation. I feel I, at the very least, got one of those right. We finally headed back to the apartment and I fell asleep without further ado.
I slept in later than normal the next morning, woke up and had a simple breakfast of coffee and bread. My friend, Alfredo came in with a smile on his face and promptly asked me if I wanted to go to Johannesburg. At this point in time I will point out that it is a skill in life to be able to tactfully decline an invitation to something you don’t want to do, and an even more valuable skill to be able to determine rather quickly what it is you would like to do. I had nothing to do that day, and even though I hadn’t loved Johannesburg the first time I thought I’d give it a second chance at the very least. I’d left my driver’s license at home so Alfredo had to call up a friend to drive half the way. We were to drive there like the wind to pick up something for the factory they worked for, and then head back. It also just so happened that we’d be going to Pretoria and not Johannesburg. I perceived this as I sign that South Africa could be redeemed in my mind, and agreed to go. We hopped in a borrowed car and sped off on our way, making good time to the border. I appreciated being able to see the countryside that I’d missed under the cover of darkness on the bus ride in to Maputo. The border came quickly and we skated through line with our “diplomatic” (read: foreign) passports and were well on our way into South Africa when we finally had to stop for gas. The tank was filled and we busted out of the place like the car was on fire…bad simile….like the station was on fire…better I hope. Little did we know that it was right into a speed trap.
Two South African police officers flagged us down and told us that the ticket for the offense would be something along the lines of two hundred rand, around $29.2132 based on today’s exchange rate. They both insisted that we had to pay them in cash there or accompany them to the police station to pay the ticket immediately. Then we started playing the waiting game, this is the fun part: It’s where they waited for us to just give them a bit of money, and we waited to see if we could get out of the ticket anyway. They flagged down another car and wrote out a ticket, but our case was still pending. One of the officers asked us where we were from, one of the guys responded “Portugal”, so the officer asked us if we liked soccer. The answer,
We finally made it to Pretoria, or at least as close as we were going to get. The border was to close at 10 and we had called ahead to have someone meet us with a bag of graphite for some machine in the factory that both of these guys worked in, a cement factory of Cimentos Moçambicanos. We pulled into a gas station outside of the city, filled up, ordered some McDonald’s and waited for the bag to arrive. That was the first time I’d eaten at that restaurant in quite a long time, and pretty much anywhere you go in the world, a hamburger from McDonald’s will taste the exact same. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. So we waited at the gas station until another car pulled up, and out stepped a rather talkative Aussie, a silent Mozambican, and an enormous South African. I felt like I had come to make quite an important hand off, just of graphite, but crucial nonetheless. And three people in each car was certainly unnecessary, but I just assume that at least one of the people in that car had been asked the question, “Do you want to drive to Pretoria?”, and without thinking through the implications of such a trip and dazzled by the promise of the lucrative graphite-exchange market, had agreed.
The exchange made, we headed back towards the border, racing to get back before it closed. We flew through the closing night, pausing briefly at tolls to throw wadded up Rands into the hands of tollbooth workers, and then sped off. We arrived at the border at 10:26 hoping against hope that by some bureaucratic fluke of some sort, the gates would still be open and they’d let us slip through, and we’d be able to get back to Maputo. There was little hope, and luck in this endeavor. The border guards told us that there was absolutely nothing they could do, that the border opened at 5 in the morning and we could wait in the queue that was already starting to form. At this point I was very disenchanted with road trips. We sat for a bit in the car, and then decided to retrace our steps and return to the nearest gas station, where we’d seen a border inn. We got a room for three, waited out the brief hours between then and the opening of the border in sleep.
When I woke up, it took time to place myself in my own body, let alone on the wrong side of the border at 5:30 in the morning. A bit disturbed by the dream I lay in bed until my watch alarm went off fifteen minutes later. We got up and drove back to the border and slid into line and soon enough made it into the passport line again. I froze for a second when the man behind the counter, the exact same one that was here on the first night I arrived in Mozambique, informs me that my visa isn’t valid for multiple entries. Alfredo quickly handed him a bill, and another sticker was slapped onto my passport and another stamping was violently meted out on my abused travel document.
The drive back to Maputo went quickly and unremarkably, they dropped me off at the apartment and went to drop the bag of graphite off at the factory. I contemplated sleep, but it didn’t seem like a possibility at the time. I had things to do, and by that I mean bread to eat, and coffee to drink. I putzed around the rest of the afternoon getting things in order before I left for the beach for two days. I was going to catch a shuttle from a hostel in the center of the city that had another branch out past Inhambane on Tofo Beach. I use these names to give a geographical reference mark for the reader, and because I can’t help but think of vegetarians whenever I mention that beach, and I think everyone else should as well. Soon enough it was night and I borrowed Alfredo’s computer and sat down to use the internet to get some much needed work done before I had to leave at 5 to walk to the shuttle that was scheduled to leave the hostel at 5:30. To pass the time I popped in a pirate dvd of Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard, of the epic…the word past trilogy escapes me, maybe because no one ever makes the fourth movie, with the exception of many a low-budget horror film that usually circumvents the problem by suffixing a number to the title. I finished my work, but fell asleep on the couch, waking up at what seemed like the exact point my memory of the movie had stopped. I had half an hour before I was to head out the door, and my body was not cooperating. I moved to my bed and lay there contemplating the bed sheets with my eyes closed. Eventually I told myself that I’d be pretty pissed off at myself if I didn’t take this opportunity to go to one of the most beautiful places in the world. At least that’s how I worded it in my tirade to my groggy self. I’d finished my work in Maputo, so I was determined to head to the beach, and enjoy the splendors of the Indian Ocean. After much cajoling, I lured my body out of bed with the promise of sun and surf and the possibility of sleeping again on the bus.
I packed my bag, leaving the pile of books that Director Aresta had given me in my room and walked out into the early, painfully early, morning. It wasn’t light out yet because it’s winter in Mozambique. I treaded carefully the half hour walk wary of any people on the street. Something in my bag was clunking with each step I took as if to shout, “Here TouristTouristTouristTouristTouristTourist!!!!”, with which I was not too happy. I tried adjusting my gait, but to no avail. I resigned myself to the clunking and instead picked up the pace. I must have appeared comical speed walking through the still dark morning, clunk, step, clunk, step, trip, clunk, rebalance, clunk, onward, clunk. I got to the hostel on time, and in true Mozambican fashion, God bless the country, the bus to take us arrived a good 45 minutes late. While others waiting for the bus had spent this hour minus fifteen fretting, I had successively broken the button off a pair of pants, tried to sew it back on in the dim light, given up, and taken a nap. Productivity.
We all piled into the chapa minibus, crammed into the seats with our luggage. I had played it smart and got to sit up front with the driver and another guy, or so I’d thought. I had more leg room but each successive time that he shifted gears I had to shift as well. Eventually I figured it out, but I worried that the (predicted) seven hour bus ride to get there would grow rather tedious if this was constantly required. Thankfully, the minibus was only carrying us to another larger bus at the main station. There is something important to note about the bus system in Mozambique, and that is that buses do not leave until they are full. There is no variation upon this theme, infuriating as it may be. You can wait for about two hours, and it may not make sense. All these people who are here came on time and were punctual and the bus should carry them off in a timely efficient manner. But this is not the case, attitude, or reality. All in all, you must have patience.
I along with probably the three other tallest guys on the bus got the row that was right above the wheel well. There was ample opportunity to examine what my knees look like covered in cloth. Eventually we all figured out that we could stand up while the bus was jolting along to straighten our legs and relieve the numbing from the waist down, at which the seats seemed to be experts at providing, anesthesiologists take note (I just wanted to use a big word, I apologize for my grandiloquence). Nor was the ride a smooth one. Upon arrival in Mozambique, I was surprised to discover that traffic was on the left side of the road, and not on the right as in Portugal. This could originate from the fact that the first cars transported to Mozambique were from South Africa, or that the surrounding countries are all former British colonies, and Mozambique wasn’t stubborn enough to insist upon a change at the border. Regardless of this fact, we spent a good deal of the trip in the right hand lane, avoiding potholes the size of cows in the road. The bus would swerve back and forth to avoid these craters in the road to preserve the little remaining structural integrity that remained in the shocks. I’d forget at times which side of the road people drove on until an oncoming car would force us back into “our” lane. The driver would even sometimes speed up to sneak past one more pot hole before returning to the left to avoid an oncoming semi, always seeming a bit reluctant to do so.
We reached Inhambane on time, and it was a comfort to be able to get off the bus after several hours of knee aches which were quite the new experience for me. This time I just opened the window and climbed out instead of scaling the bags people had left on the bus. We stood in a circle, the other guys in the same row and I, and stretched, commiserating as best we could, and reveling in the fact that we had just half an hour of agony left to go. Someone said that it was the price you pay to reach paradise, and I hoped they were right, because my knees would not accept anything less than perfection for the price they’d been paying. I was not let down. The bus finally ambled down a dirt road to the hostel where I rented a bed in a hut, which I at first thought was a euphemistic way of referring to dorms. Actually there were just huts, but they were great, except for the fact that I had to duck about a foot or so to enter (I forgot to do so completely once, and my forehead suffered for it). I deposited my things in the hut and then climbed up the hill to get a view of the beach, and my knees sang a song of vindication at the sight.
The waves looked like some sort of mouthwash that touts the promise of fighting gum disease and gingivitis, which I will not name due to copyright concerns. The view was amazing. I walked down to the beach and stood at the edge of the surf letting the waves swirl up the sand and wrap around the bottom part of my waterproof shoes. I took off my shoes and the experience was complete, the water was as warm as the air, if not just a little warmer. One day I’ll have to go back to Mozambique when it’s not winter there. I climbed back up to the top of the hill and ran into some people I’d met in Maputo. We headed down the beach to see if we could find somewhere to find a quick bite to eat, but all the restaurants close at the exact same time between lunch and dinner, so it just doesn’t do any good but to wait till the restaurants open again, a bit like the bus. I sat on the beach until it was about the time to leave and then headed up to the bar at the time we’d all agreed to. I was starving and it took a bit of time to get everyone to agree on whether we were going out to eat or were just going to eat at the hostel. Finally, we all headed out for the twenty minute walk to the restaurant, and the food, for me a marlin fillet, was excellent. We all headed back to the hostel and had a few drinks as one by one everyone retired to bed.
Tuesday morning I woke up and headed to the beach, where I was determined to spend the entire day, and nothing could keep me from this venture. Indeed, I did nothing at all on Tuesday, and to be honest, it was great. I thought about trying to go out on an “Ocean Safari”, but it was a bit too expensive and I wasn’t quite sure that I’d be okay with snorkeling out in the open sea, swimming to a reef is different. I realized that I’d only have one day to do anything and about all I wanted to do was to lie on the beach and relax. Once the sun set I headed back to the hostel and hung out before a large group of us started a barbecue. Better said, a few people cooked for the majority of us. Two guys staying at the hostel had gone to the market and bought a barracuda and lugged it back. Lug not being too much of an exaggeration. To grill a fish of such size you very simply cut off the head and put in some garlic and lemon sauce. To cook it you put a lot of coal under it and then flip it after about an hour. These are things you learn at culinary school.
Once it was cooked the fish was set directly on a picnic table and cut open for anyone of the dozen or so people eating to just grab a chunk of it. Plates, if you managed to get one, were filled with rice and salad from a plastic bag, and we passed around bottles of pop we’d brought down from the bar. Overall it was the cheapest meal I’d eaten, and it was by far the best. A few people hung out until the hostel shut off its lights, and then I headed for bed. I had planned on catching the shuttle directly back to the hostel at four in the morning. This ambition proved to be a little bit over ambitious. Instead I woke up at nine, flew out of bed, and then calmed down a bit as I took stock of the situation. I had left an entire day to make it back to Maputo before my flight the next day, and those may sound like famous last plans, but I wasn’t too worried about having to make the trek.
I filled up a bottle of water and started walking towards the main road into Inhambane. The receptionist had told me there was another bus back to the city leaving at 11, and I had my sights set on this one at the very least. I caught a ride into town and they brought me to the place where I could run in and inquire about further buses. Sadly there were no more from Inhambane to Maputo that day, but I could head across the river to Maxixi and catch one of the many from there. Once on the ferry I ran into some people from the hostel again, which was nice. I made the short trip to the place of bus congregation and made it onto a bus and began to wait. Two hours and a different bus with all the same people later we jerked into motion. I was seated right behind the driver with my bag seated directly on my lap. The ride went quickly, a few stops for gas and other necessities, but by the end my body was screaming again to be free of the confinements of a seat. It soon had its wish as we pulled into a bus station in Maputo whose location is still a bit unclear in my mind. I asked the bus driver how I could possibly get back to my friend’s apartment and he said something quickly and then just said he’d take me. A few people were still on the bus and we started off into the city. A young guy named David talked to me in a mix of Portuguese and a little bit of English as we reached the city. He told me he wanted to study in the US or England after the coming year and he asked me quite a few questions about which schools were the best, and which he should look into. I did my best at playing the part of an impromptu guidance counselor and gave him my e-mail if he had any other questions, I felt as though with the internet at my disposal I could be better informed. I finally trudged up the stairs of the apartment building because the elevator was inexplicably out of order at the moment, put my bag down and breathed a sigh of relief. It had been a journey.
That night I ate and got my things in order for my flight the next morning and slept lightly with three watch alarms and a travel alarm clock set to make sure I’d get up and shower before heading to the airport. At least one of them worked, or maybe it was the repetition of all of them in quick succession that lulled me out of bed. I packed everything again and threw a load of books and a few other things into the duffel bag I’d brought along in case I’d had to check my pack. Ulisses drove me over to the airport and made sure the Portuguese folks waiting in line in front of me to check in took “care of the American”. He smiled, and assured that I was in good hands headed out. There was little to do but wait until the international check-in opened, but I was starving so I decided to be pro-active about my situation. I headed upstairs and had an omelet, salad, fries, and coffee, then contemplated how it could be that I was so tired. I wasn’t too worried, as I figured the plane would provide me ample time to catch up. I got back to the check-in and realized I had to pay an airport tax, also known as a get-you-out-of-the-country card, so I had to swing by the ATM again.
We actually boarded the flight on time. I took this as a good sign. We landed in Lisbon ahead of schedule, and I set off to find a place to sleep. I caught one of the many buses heading toward the Baixa, downtown area, and hoped luck would be on my side. After pacing the tiny, yet blessedly grid-like, streets of the Baixa for a good half hour I finally found the hostel. It was denoted by a sign about the size of a sheet of printer paper with just a single word on it, “EASY”. There were no rooms available, but they pointed me across the street to a guest house; sadly, they didn’t have any available rooms either, but were able to point me in a another direction with quite possibly one of the most complicated maps and explanations I’ve ever heard in my life. It might have been quicker if one of the two people at the reception had just gone with me. I made it there with map in hand and finally found a room that reminded me of another guest house in Vienna. The two were strikingly similar, or maybe my memory just likes to lump together European-looking rooms with showers and sinks in them.
From the South Eastern Africa to Western Europe, I’d arrived. Sleep.
|The boarding process went slowly and by the time I stepped on board there were only seats on the top level, few and scattered at that. I sat next to a girl who had made short work of falling sleep. The jolting bus soon woke her and she gave me a look of extreme disappointment. Maybe she was just starting to dream, or maybe it was just starting to get good. Either way I could sympathize. Vehicle and passengers alike wobbled through the beginning of the workday traffic in Johannesburg. Each divot in the road was amplified by the shocks, or the lack thereof, especially on the upper level. The open road only exacerbated the sway. I’d never understood how people could get sick in moving cars, carsick? I would scoff. Now, as our vessel evidenced signs that a storm was brewing I felt a little bit more understanding, as my fear of capsizing persisted.
I mentally planned out my escape route if we tipped to starboard, and a contingency plan for port. Incidentally the name of port wine comes from the Portuguese city of Porto. Little did that matter to me as I contemplated how quickly I could climb the width of the bus, morbid, but thankfully unnecessary. We pulled off to a rest stop that was eerily similar to any rest stop along I-80 that I knew from childhood road trips to visit family in New Jersey and Boston. Perhaps a bit smaller, but with all the amenities, including a fast food restaurant. Against my better judgment, I ordered a meal and sat down to enjoy it. Jennie, the British girl who was also traveling to Maputo sat down with me, and as we were waiting for a new bus to arrive, the shocks on the old one were shot, we saw through the glass another guy who’d stayed at our hostel. He’d gone to Pretoria for a few days and had caught the bus to head over to Nelspruit, close to the South Africa-Mozambique border. It’s a small world, that of traveling, in the fact that it doesn’t seem strange to see someone you’ve happen to run into and never expected to see again at a rest stop in rural/suburban South Africa.
Everyone piled back onto the bus. This time I found a seat behind and American girl from Boston, who the bus had heard quite well up until that point. Thankfully, inside voices were used for the rest of the trip. At the time of our slated arrival we were a bit past Nelspruit. Someone had had forgotten to get off at the last stop, and the bus driver was arranging a mode of transportation back for them. I couldn’t complain as I got out and stretched in the sun. The weather had gotten progressively warmer as we descended from the chilly heights of Johannesburg. I asked a few people how long to the border in Portuguese, and was greeted with smiles. Either they didn’t understand me, or they didn’t know. I was hoping for the latter.
It was night when we reached the border, and everyone descended from the bus to go through immigration. The South African side went quickly and it was a short walk across the border to Mozambique. This part took a little bit longer. I waited in line till I got to the front and was informed that I had to fill out a form that was only available at the counter. A bit frustrated, because I didn’t have a pen on me, I was relieved when the guy behind me in line was kind of enough to lend me one, and tell me how to fill out the form, even though there was little explanation needed for lines such as name and passport no. I handed my passport and form over the counter and it was viciously stamped and passed back. Back on the bus I finally got a response of about an hour to Maputo. It didn’t seem expectations would be met, so it was better just to create any.
The bus arrived in Maputo at around eight o’clock. Luggage from the bottom of the bus and the trailer came out one by one and required the presentation of the luggage tag you’d received before stowing it underneath. It went pretty quickly, which was a relief. After I grabbed my luggage I hopped in a cab with Jennie, and the American girl, her name was Sara, over to the hostel they were both staying at. I figured where there’s a hostel, there are phones. Smoke, fire, connection of sorts. I talked to one of the guys at the reception, and he told me that there wouldn’t be a phone until the next day. Speaking a foreign language comes in handy let me tell you, I talked him into letting me borrow his cell phone só para um momentinho, because I’d already told my friend that I’d call him when I arrived. (That’s a great story in and of itself. Before I’d left, a friend of mine, Rita had e-mailed the list of places I’d be going to a friend to see if I could find people who’d let me stay with them or be able to show me around the places I’d be. This friend, Marina, had participated in a Program in Tunis with people from all over the Lusophone world and beyond. I had though that Marina knew Alfredo, the guy I needed to get in touch with, but this is not the case. Marina’s friend, whose name escapes me at the moment, met Alfredo before he moved to Mozambique, I believe only about a week before this. Friend of a Friend of a Friend, quite the chain of coincidence) So I got a hold of Alfredo and he directed me to come to the restaurant Sagres. I had heard Sartres, which confused me a bit, not the place I’d eat my meals, but despite the confusion at the reception counter and the strange look the cab driver gave me, I arrived at the restaurant a little later with backpack in tow.
Traveling without a cell phone is rather difficult; at least it makes me appreciate my instant access to communication back home. I got to the restaurant, but had little way of knowing to whom or where to go, so I borrowed another person’s phone and called again. This time it worked and Alfredo came to meet me outside and we walked back in to a group of about 20 people sitting down the length of a long table composed smaller tables pushed together. Room on the end of the table closest to the door was made for me and I was seated across from Manuel, John, and Carolina, the latter two husband and wife. I found out that most of these people worked at the same company, Cimentos Moçambicanos, or was dating, married to, or shared an apartment with someone who did work there. Never once did the conversation stray to cement, which was a relief, as I find myself woefully ignorant of such materials beyond the terrible feeling the leave in my body after impact involving a distance greater than a few feet. John offered to teach me how to ride a motorcycle, and insisted that I had to visit Norway, his home country, to go to the highest inhabited point north of the Arctic Circle where the emission standard for clean air is taken. We left the restaurant a little before midnight, and I was relieved to find the idea of sleep fast approaching, yet this wasn’t the plan quite yet. I deposited my bag in the trunk of Manuel’s car and we shortly drove to a Discothèque. Clearly the night was just beginning. The club called The Sixth Floor was housed in a building that gave little impression of a nightclub except for the pulsing music coming from above. True to its name, it was one the sixth floor with an excellent, at least partial view of the city.
We got back to the apartment I’d be staying around four in the morning and I fell asleep. I’d have to say that for not actually knowing anyone upon arrival, I felt incredibly welcome in Maputo.
I woke up around noon the next day and found everyone sitting in the living room or at the table. I wasn’t sure who had lived in the apartment when I’d been introduced to everyone last night. I realize the things I’m the worst with in foreign languages are numbers, spelling, and remembering the names of people I’ve just met. I have to hear someone’s name said quite a few times before it sticks. Lends itself to a lot of awkward, “Hey……you…….how’s it going?”-moments. Everyone hung out at the apartment for the rest of the day and then a few of us went out to dinner at a nearby restaurant. Of the four people living in the apartment, one of them, again whose name escapes me, I want to say Eleanor (or the Portuguese equivalent), was leaving to visit her parents in Portugal and then on to London for her Master’s. She was off to the airport the next day.
The next day was another day of leisure. Eleanor left for the airport and Alfredo and I walked to a nearby park for lunch and then headed back to the apartment. Eleanor’s flight was rescheduled, so she was back at the apartment for another day. She was flying TAP, the same airline I’ll be using when I leave. I made a mental note to call the airport the day before I left. I planned out the next couple of days, I’d finally gotten a map, which eased my mind a great deal. There’s nothing worse than having to wander when you need to get somewhere. Wandering for its own sake is a different story.
The weekend had passed by without much event and I had enjoyed the slow pace of it, but I also felt like I’d lost time doing nothing. Monday found me rummaging through the card catalog files at the Instituto Camões, which was only about a block from the apartment. I had quite a list of books to peruse to see what I could find of interest. I grabbed the first bunch and dove in. The reminder of one of the librarians that they were closing brought me back to the surface. What?! It was just for lunch. I breathed a sigh and decided to go grab some food myself. After lunch I headed back and looked through the remainder jotting down notes and titles for research purposes upon my return home. I used one of the computers to check my e-mail and set up appointments for the upcoming week.
A brief stop back at the apartment and I left for Fatima’s, the hostel, to meet up with people for dinner. Back at the hostel post dinner, I met some Scottish girls; one of them was soon to be celebrating her 21st birthday. Listening to them speak, I was almost expecting one of them to break and say, “Alright, we don’t really have this ridiculous accent.” But no, they were Scottish; it’s just the accent that’s so different. It’s a clear reminder that no one speaks the same anywhere, whether it be English or Portuguese. By the time I was going to leave it was late so I found an open bed at the hostel and slept there. Don’t tell the owners.
The next day Jennie asked me if I wanted to go find a round hotel that her grandmother had visited fifty years ago. About all her grandmother had told her was that the hotel was round and that it was in Maputo. With those two pieces of information, how could you fail to find such a landmark? On the way we ran into a German guy who had been on the same bus up with us. He was headed to the Mercado Janet (Janet Market) to buy a shirt, and asked us if we wanted to join. Circular buildings don’t seem to just up and disappear, so we agreed. The market is a winding maze of stalls, long tables lined with fruits and vegetables, and some of the cheapest and, I’d argue, tastiest food I’ve had in town so far. Maybe it seemed like a maze because after the third time of happening upon the same people sitting in a circle, and getting the same smile I felt a bit confused, but eventually we made it out. I bough a cheap shirt because my other one was in need of a washing, but I wasn’t sure how quickly it would dry. The weather was perfect for being outside. The sun rises early, as should everyone, and it’s comfortably warm outside until around five in the evening when a light jacket does the trick.
We located the street that the hotel would have to have been on, according to Mateus from the hostel. Five minutes passed, and still no evidence of a round hotel. Another five, still nothing. It seemed like the hotel had either been demolished, or fifty years had switched Maputo and Mombaça, when there was a sign for a hotel. About a hundred meters past a curve in the road, there it was…the round hotel. We couldn’t get on the roof because there were antennae but the view from the hotel itself was pretty awesome. On the way back we stopped by the University I was going to visit in the next couple of days, everything was closed by that time in the day, but it helped to know where it was. Jennie and I parted ways and I headed back to the apartment and ate dinner with everyone.
The next day I headed down to the Baixa, or center of town to visit the Brazilian cultural center and the Portuguese Fort built in the 1500’s. There wasn’t too much to note in the cultural center except the exposition of cartoons encouraging people to use condoms. Humor to fight the spread of AIDS. I stopped for lunch and then headed back to catch up on some reading and collect some thoughts for the day. Later I met up with some people from the hostel and we went out to the fish market for dinner. You walk around and buy some fish, clams, prawns, what-have-you, and then you bring it to a nearby restaurant and they cook it for you. It’s pricey but delicious, and I’m not a big fan of seafood. Dinner, and a bit of time at the hostel found me pretty tired, so I headed back to the apartment to sleep.
I woke up and headed to the IC to use the internet before lunch and then headed back to the Pedagogical University to see if I could get a hold of the professor who’d yet to e-mail me back about a time we could meet. I found out that the professor I’d been trying to get a hold of to interview was currently in São Paulo. That was a shame, but I did get a chance to talk to the head of the department of Portuguese for an hour or so, before heading to the school’s library. With that done I stopped by once again to the IC to use the internet quickly and then headed down to the walkway overlooking the sea that ran parallel to the street the apartment was on. It was just starting to get dark when I got back, and we all ate dinner together and hung out for a bit before setting off to each do our own things. I borrowed one of the guy’s computers to make some phone calls using skype. What an invention that is. I don’t know how it works, I’m just glad that it does. I fell asleep with my notebook and an issue of National Geographic from 1995 about bearded seal.
Friday morning found me up and about fairly early in the morning. I’d had an easy schedule up until this point, getting up when I wanted to, usually around nine, heading to do some research, pausing for lunch, continuing on after lunch, leaving a few hours later, and then strolling till I headed back to the apartment. However, I’d arranged to meet with the director of the Portuguese School of Mozambique at 9 on Friday, so I was out of bed by 7:30 and on my way at twenty to nine. I hopped into a minibus, or chapa, as they’re called here, and crouched over the wheel hub with my knees pressed against just about everyone else’s. I asked the driver to let me know when I should get off and it was just down the street from the fish market. As delicious as the meal had been, fish are far from appealing in the morning.
I walked down the road, went through the security at the school and then waited to talk to the director. Dr. Aresta came down to meet me and took me on a tour of the building, which was built and is funded by the Portuguese government, meaning it was a very nice school. The building is home to Pre-school through high school, and runs in cycles. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but the main goal of the school is to prepare students for college, and it does a good job of it. Classes are taught in Portuguese, and just Portuguese (barring foreign language classes), which avoids one of the huge problems of education here in Mozambique. Many children enter school without ever having learned Portuguese; they usually speak the Bantu language from the respective geographical region. Around the fourth year Portuguese begins to be taught as a discipline and then in the subsequent years the Bantu language becomes the discipline and Portuguese becomes the language of instruction. This usually leaves children ill-prepared to cope with schooling, because they have to learn in a whole new language, and many can’t adjust to the shift. To add to this dilemma, most teachers in the country haven’t received much education at a higher level, and Portuguese is a second language for them as well. The lack of a strong grasp on the language is transmitted from the teacher to the student. It’s a struggle to work through education with a second language. I can only imagine the chaos that switching from English to Swahili would have caused in fourth grade. The great thing is that this school has largely been able to avoid that problem. All classes are taught in Portuguese and half of the instructors are native speakers.
The tour ended at the library which had a surprising amount of material specifically suited to my subject of study. I grabbed a few books from a shelf to skim through to see if I could find anything of interest, and Dr. Aresta continued collecting more that he thought might be of use. I soon had several small piles of books around me and they were growing as I read through indices, searching out what I needed. As soon as I’d find something the book would almost disappear from my hands and a photocopy would soon arrive of the pages I was interested in. I was also presented with several books published by the school of various language and education symposia that have taken place there, a few works by Dr. Aresta about education in Mozambique, language and politics in Macau, and a t-shirt from the school. I thanked him profusely for meeting with me and allowing me to use their library as we sat in the school cafeteria and I lunched away at a sandwich of some sort. His reply was indicative of the attitude I’ve felt so far on my trip:
“Aprendeu a minha lingua, e está estudando a minha cultura. É o menos que posso fazer.” You’ve learned my language and are studying my culture, it’s the least I can do.
(This weekend I think I’ll take to interviewing people in the streets. The trees here are by far the best I’ve seen so far. I’ll take some pictures to explain that statement. I might head to the beach for a few days next week to…..research….the way that…manatees….speak Portuguese.)
|I’m going to rewind a little bit, and take us back to my trip through Velha Goa (Old Goa). I didn’t have access to a computer after I went to the city, and before I left, I would be loath to omit that part of my journey.
The ride to the city went quickly. I had to stand with my head cocked to the side to fit in the low-ceilinged bus even with my knees bent. I looked down the length of the bus; no one else seemed to be facing the same dilemma. Eventually I was able to relocate my apparently too-tall body to a comfortable seat. It was unfortunately only about two minutes before I got off the bus.
Old Goa, as I may have mentioned before, functioned as the capital of Portuguese India during colonial times. It was said to rival contemporary Paris and London, and that whoever had seen it need not see Lisbon. While this may no longer be the case, if we take the number of churches to be a rough approximation to population, we can imagine that the city must have been booming at one point. Granted, churches can be better indications of dispensable income and gratuitous pride. I made my rounds of the churches slowly pacing through the sanctuaries, a bit miffed by the lack of respect from fellow visitors for the rules of “please keep silent”, and the no photos sign. Perhaps they are, like traffic lines, suggestions. Maybe I was just jealous that I didn’t have anyone to talk to and my batteries had given out on me again. The most bizarre, as well as most interesting church was the Basílica Bom Jesus, where the remains of St. Francis Xavier are encased in glass a good twenty-five feet in the air. Saint Francis was responsible for the baptism of thousands upon thousands of people in India and beyond. In fact, his right hand, the one he used to baptize all those people is now on display in Il Chiesa del Sacro Nome di Gesù (Church of the Holy Name of Jesus).
Driving back along the river to Panjim I watched the waves rolling along, destined to feed into the bay. It started raining. The first and only time this happened while I was in a moving vehicle. I waited at the bus center while the water poured and got some tea in a plastic cup that could only be held by the edges and sipped slowly. The rain slowed to a drizzle and I hopped the next bus to MiramarMiramarDonaPaulMiramar. Once back I ate at a restaurant that had caught my eye the first night there. It proclaimed itself truly ´Goan´, and I decided I’d test that claim. Not as if I had any baseline to compare it to. It was more expensive than the restaurants I’d been eating at, but I decided to enjoy my last night in town. I prepared my things for the next day and then fell asleep.
The airport the next morning was not high on list of places I really wanted to be, but transportation has its limits. Taxis from the nearby hotel cost a small fortune, so I caught the bus into town (there’s nothing like knowing a city’s transportation system to make you feel like you’ve accomplished at least one thing). After a light breakfast I wandered around until I was offered a taxi. Maybe my backpack gave me away. The flight from Goa made me seriously consider buying a tranquilizer gun with doses suitable for children. Or maybe writing to my congressman to require infants to be sedated during flights, but that wouldn’t cover international flights. I kept on having to remind myself that patience is a virtue, the perseverance of the saints remains a mystery to me. I was about half an hour away from demanding another pillow to cover my ears. The flight ended, much to my delight.
The flight leaving Mumbai was delayed by the heavy rains, so I waited patiently, or at least I waited. Finally the plane left and I slept on the way to Dubai. The only thing I can say about the airport at Dubai, is that it’s a bit excessive to put a mall in the middle of an airport, but it is quite possibly the best thing ever. I bought a book by the same author that had written the hokey yet entertaining novel that made excellent flight-time fodder. I had about six hours to kill in the meanwhile, so I headed to the terminal and waited out the middle of the night. I managed to fall asleep on my backpack for a good hour or so and loved every minute of it. The flight to Johannesburg was a blur, but there were these handy little stickers that you can put on your seat that say “wake me up for food”, “wake me up for drinks”, and “do not wake me for any reason”. I was tired, but I can’t pass up free food either.
We landed in Johannesburg in the morning and it was cold. When I first stepped outside I scoffed at everyone bundling up and bracing themselves for the cold weather. This had nothing on Chicago. I had to wait for a while outside to catch a ride to the hostel I was staying at, and by the end of an hour I was no longer scoffing. The van arrived shortly and I hopped in and savored the novelty of heating. The first day there I found a spot on the couch in the sun and slept, I’ve taken quite a few notes from cats about how to stay warm even if when it’s freezing outside. There were two dogs at the hostel, one a labrador, or some larger dog and the other a smaller dog with rather large eyebrows. While I was half asleep the smaller one decided to join me on the sofa and nuzzled between myself and the couch. She had clearly taken better notes than me on how to stay warm.
I spent the next day at the hostel relaxing and getting to know the other people staying there, with a brief trip out for dinner. The hostel was in Kensington, which is a bit outside of the city. Suffice it to say it was difficult to get around without a car, and there wasn’t too much to do within walking distance besides buying groceries at a small market nearby. Suffice it to say, I decided I wanted to go into the city to at least look around. A British girl, Jennie, who was also staying at the hostel, had the same ambition, so we went together. After waiting for half an hour to catch the bus we abandoned the hope and settled for a minibus. Neither of us was quite clear on how the system worked or where we were going, but it was clear that we were heading into the city. We got off close by to a building that appeared fairly old, perhaps a city hall or something along those lines, where one would be able to procure a map. It was a courthouse, but we still asked where we could find a map to guide our wanderings. In South Africa there are quite a few ways of speaking English. We headed off in the direction that we thought we’d been told. Eventually the library greeted us and we went inside to photocopy a map. We were instructed in no uncertain terms to ask anyone for directions by one of the attendants at the library who had helped us. We looked at each other, a bit uncertain as to what that implied, but decided to follow that advice for the most part.
With map in hand it was off to the Museum of Africa. I thought this would be a much more comprehensive account of the history of South Africa, but for some strange reason it had a rather large exhibit on photography. One exhibit was of Johannesburg, of the poverty and affluence that co-exist (or don’t co-exist, depending on how you see it) in the same city, and another was strangely the results from an international photo competition. A bit disappointed, but not too upset, because it was free, we headed over to the Market street theater area. This was a mix of outside shops and one really nice theater, with a few workshop spaces in other buildings. There weren’t any plays going on at the time so we started heading back to the bus depot. We passed one bus station on the way, it looked to be fairly busy, but we weren’t quite sure if it was the one we needed or not. We passed another, still weren’t sure, and finally decided to ask someone passing by where we would catch bus 32. The response clearly implied that that was a silly question,
The bus station, or bus bundle I’ll say, is a confusion known as Ghandi Square. There are quite a few bus stands, and the strong majority of them don’t have any indication of what bus you can wait for there. It seemed like it was going to be a battle, and indeed it was. We asked a driver where we could find out the proper place to wait, he told us to ask a man in a pickup truck, and he told us to go down to the corner to the “robots” and wait there. “Robots” are traffic lights, but that was not readily apparent at the time. Without any clear indication of machines in humanoid form that would kindly direct us to the proper means of transportation we asked at the ticket counter. The man directed us across the circle to “King’s Pies”. Why yes! I often give directions by franchise bakery stores. Really he was directing us to the information center that was neatly tucked underneath the stairs and down a long hallway. There they told us that it was on the corner by the traffic light. At long last we emerged victorious and glimpsed the glory of the two sequential numbers in reverse order. Getting on the bus I searched around a little bit just to see if there was any unclaimed booty lying around because it felt like I’d just gotten to X-marks-the-spot on a treasure map. There were only seats. The ride back was quick and I spent the rest of the night at the hostel making dinner and hanging out.
The next day I decided not to go into the city and out to the university. Another guy staying at the hostel had been mugged at the bus station, and since I couldn’t find anyone to go with me I decided I would stay at the hostel and catch up on e-mail and other things. At this point I felt a bit like a girl asking someone to go to the bathroom with me, something I’ve never understood. Staying put did have one major consolation. Kensington was once, and still is to a lesser extent, heavily populated with Portuguese immigrants. These Portuguese immigrants have set up quite a few restaurants for the enjoyment of all. I walked to the closest one for dinner and talked to a few of the people working there. They all spoke Portuguese and English, so we mixed it into some Portlish (Engluguese?). After eating I headed home to pack up and sleep. There was someone in my dorm room snoring like a lumber mill, so I popped into another dorm and found an open bed.
The next morning at seven I got up and climbed into the hostel’s van. Jennie was also heading up to Maputo, so we commiserated about the painfully early hour, and the unpleasant cold that seems to permeate everything. Your clothes are so cold when you put them on that they feel wet, it’s strange. We were dropped off at the bus station to wait for the bus, and it seems that no one really believes in indoor heating in Johannesburg. Half an hour after the departure time we got on the bus and waited for the vehicle to lurch into motion.
The final thing I remember before falling asleep on the flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok was the vague plot line of the Bollywood movie playing on the screen at the front of my section of the cabin. It involved a London born girl with Indian parents who decided to take her to India to find a husband so she would settle down. Upon their arrival to India my eyes landed shut, but I do vaguely remember my dream being filled with musical numbers, like the kind that are squeezed into Indian movies like montages, and music videos to advance the story further. The connecting flight to Mumbai was uneventful, except for a few patches of turbulence, the kind that gives you that ever so brief feeling of free fall in your stomach, before you sink down into your seat as the pilot nudges the plane upwards to correct its course. This movie I didn’t sleep through.
The terminal was confusing, but after jumping through the hoops of the customs line I was out into the humid air of the city. Along the exit there were hundreds of people packed together holding up signs for family and loved ones, I made my way through and paid a pre-set fair to get to my hostel. On the way down it seemed like we were the slowest car on the road. Cars, Motorcycles, and auto-rickshaws zoomed by on every side as the cab driver peacefully weaved along. We stopped twice, once for snacks, the other for gas, I was not privy to either of these plans, but relaxed in the back seat as he left and returned, successfully both times.
Here’s a funny thing that slipped my mind as I was planning, which in retrospect was a rather short-sighted oversight: I knew that summer in the northern hemisphere obviously means winter in the southern hemisphere. What I had failed to account for was what the lack of a correlation between a dry season in the northern hemisphere meant for the lands closer to the equator. Well, it turns out that…pause for effect…there is a thing called monsoon season, monsoon coming from the Arabic ‘Ar mawsim’ meaning ‘season of wind’. To put in terms for those more meteorologically inclined:
Regardless of the technicalities the result is rain, and not in small amounts. As we drove, the taxi driver would occasionally reach out the window with a bandana and wipe the wind shield clear of rain. He would do the same to the inside as well, and would repeat this process every so often, providing him a view of what came next. A rather labor-intensive process, but it seemed to do the trick. We reached the Gateway of India, which I knew lay close to the hostel, but my driver still had no idea of where that might be, so I ran through the rain to a nearby hotel and asked the concierge where it was. He gave me a strange look, and replied that it was around the corner. I thanked him abashedly and sprinted back to the taxi as it began to rain in earnest, as if the previous bucketfuls were just the appetizer. The guard at the hostel was asleep behind the gate, so I carefully knocked to gently wake him from his sleep. It was about 12:30, or so, I can’t remember exactly as my watch was still on Hong Kong time, and the switch had been something like three and a half hours earlier. He didn’t look to happy to do so, but in the end the gate was opened, I paid for a bed, trudged up the stairs, stumbled through the darkness to my room, found a bed, and without further ado passed out to the sound of the monsoon.
I had a dream. I dreamt I was back in Jordan walking past one of the favorite shwarma stands that I had come to love in the time I’d spent there. It was delicious, cheap; even thinking about it makes me want to hop on the next available plane. Alright, maybe not that good, but the hyperbole doesn’t land too far from the truth. Anyways…the entire restaurant had been changed, the location was the same, but it looked completely different. Apparently it had been revamped as a shop which now sold cupcakes and ice cream cakes shaped like footballs with googly eyes and goofy teeth. Needless to say I was bit taken back by this drastic change. After exchanging a few greetings with the owner and explaining that I had been there the previous summer, I asked him why he had changed the restaurant from the perfection that it had reached.
“Well,” he said, “Sometimes change is good. Where are all the shebab that were with you last? It’s good to have friends.”
“There not here,” I replied.
“So you are traveling alone?”
He smiled, “Yes, that is good as well. You never know who you’ll meet.”
I woke up, looked around, and decided that I really wasn’t up for the land of the awake, so I returned to Amman. This time I was climbing up the hill that led to the ACOR (American Center for Oriental Research), the one that no matter how many times you climbed it, it never got easier. You’d break a sweat no matter what you did, and always wonder why you’d decided to go up this hill instead of the other one, as it only saved you a minute or two of time to and from the University of Jordan’s campus. Halfway up the hill I saw the Arabic teacher, I forgot how to spell his name exactly, I’ll hazard a guess and say Mr. Sha’arif. He invited me in for tea and who was I to refuse such hospitality. We sat and talked for a bit about life, he sat smoking a cigarette pensively as I ate a few of the ever-present grapes that made their way to the table when ever he invited us in. The tea was ready soon, and as I stirred the sugar in he pointed out:
“You westerners stir your tea like this,” he said indicating a clockwise motion, “and we Arabs stir it like this,” he motioned counter-clockwise.
I smiled, knowing the punch line but playing along.
“Do you know why?”
“No, I don’t.”
He leaned in smiling, “To melt the sugar.”
We both laughed, and I called him mushkelgee, a trouble maker, one of the most important words I learned in Arabic. It always breaks the ice to call someone a scoundrel in their own language, followed by the rebuttal ” Laa, anta mushkelgee!” (No, you’re a trouble maker!). In fact it probably formed the large part of our interaction with the Egyptian shopkeepers at the bottom of the hill, with whom we’d sit and drink tea on some nights.
After a bit Mr. Sha’arif looked at me again and asked, “Are you traveling alone this time?”
I nodded again.
“Mabrook!” (Congratulations) he said and lifted his glass to me. I smiled, raised mine, thanked him, and took another sip. As I set the glass down I stared at the golden spirals that wrapped around the glass. To melt the sugar. I woke up to the sound of the breakfast call, and decided that I would eventually have to face the world and food would ease the process.
I flung myself out of bed, which seems to be the only way to do it, because once you’re in the air without any recourse to return and the hard floor to greet you, being alert becomes a priority. The food was simple, but tasted good. I checked my e-mail, and responded to some other ones. The internet is quite the handy tool on this trip. I don’t think I’d be able to get by without it; thankfully it is almost ubiquitous and cheap. After that I met an Aussie, who was heading out to grab some food, so I joined him. I can’t say that I was ever a huge fan of Indian food prior to my departure from Chicago. At least, it wouldn’t have rated in my top five favorite cuisines. After one meal, I was reconsidering the rankings. Albeit spicy, the food was delicious and best of all cheap. And hey, if you’ve got a stuffed up nose, it’s a perfect solution.
After lunch, or second breakfast, not sure what to call it, I dropped by the hostel and headed to the Gateway of India. As I stood, watching the waves crash up against the seawall, the clouds opened up again filling the street with sheets of rain, I mentally thanked my brother for lending me his rain jacket, and verbally thanked the jacket for having a hood. The streets emptied of people, save for the few making the dash from awning to overhang. I took a nap at the hostel and then popped over to a nearby hotel and made a call to a friend of one of the club members, Mohini, and arranged to have lunch in two days. Since the rain seemed unpredictable, from showers, to drizzle, to swimming pool sized sheets, I decided to wait out the rest of the day inside. I got to meet some of the people staying there as well.
Quite possibly, the most entertaining of all these characters was a South African lawyer, who proceeded to give me a good portion of his life story, and the entirety of his CV. He was visiting to defend a young guy from Britain who had been jailed for buying drugs from an ‘undercover’ cop, I use the term loosely. He had been staying at the same youth hostel, and sadly for him there is no such thing as an entrapment law in India. So, the doctor, as this lawyer says most people call him, or Doc, was there to get him out. As it sounded from his perspective, he had had a good time verbally slapping around the prosecuting attorney and was well satisfied with the progress of the case so far. He told me of his education, starting from Bachelors, through Masters, on to Ph.D., and finally ‘the highest level of education’ as he put it, an honorary Ph.D. Yes he was bragging, but what made it even more interesting was that he had two sons, who he had raised by himself. The 21-year old was graduating in Chemistry and Electrical Engineering, and the 25-year old had started law school. On top of this he had released several albums under the pseudonym The Doctor, and had done several tours in South Africa and, believe it or not, India. He spoke English, Afrikaans, German, French, Zulu, to list a few, and played the guitar, drums, piano, saxophone, and trumpet. I was a bit skeptical now, but I thought if he was lying, it was a rather well-thought out fabrication, and who minds a little creative spirit when it comes to autobiographies. We call those memoirs. He was either a genius, or quite far from being mentally stable. More important than this was the fact that he had a guitar with him. Whether or not he was telling the truth took second seat to this fact.
He said that he would be hanging out in the common room later, and that I could play the guitar later. I looked forward to it. When traveling the things you miss become more and more apparent, the constraints of time and space. I looked forward to the opportunity, but had some time to kill in the meanwhile. I uploaded some of my photos, and after struggling to get them down to a manageable size I shipped them off. From there it was out to get more food. There were several restaurants relatively close to the hostel that served pretty much the same dishes, at the same prices; it was just a matter of where your feet led you. I dined again with the Aussie, a guy from Sao Paulo, a Danish photographer who had spent the last month doing freelance work for NGO’s, and a French pilot who was looking to land a job flying for an Indian airline. Pilot certifications obtained in Canada are not valid in the EU, a policy which he very calmly described as protectionism, though it probably rankled him since he discovered this post Canuck certification.
More cookie points for Indian food, and I headed to the hostel again, to get my hands on a guitar, which I had desperately missed in the previous week and a half. Guitars are like friends, some of them you know well, others you don’t come in contact with that often, but you can still make it through the few chords of pleasantries Gmaj “How are you?” Cmaj “I’m good. and you?” Gmaj Cmaj, “Good, busy, but that’s how it goes.” Amin “How’s your Mom?” Fmaj “She’s good. Thanks for asking. What are you up to this weekend? We should hang out.” Emin “Yeah definitely give me a call !” Cmaj “Will do. Bye” Gmaj “Bye”. And so it goes, but even those friends that you don’t know very well are a welcome surprise when you haven’t seen any friend for awhile. Metaphor stretched to its limit? Let’s just say I enjoyed playing the guitar. I went to sleep and didn’t dream.
The next day I met up for lunch with the friend via the club. We drove across a good deal of the city, and it gave me a better grasp on how enormous the place actually is. From the hostel to the hotel where the restaurant was there was no exit from a densely packed urban area. Traffic was at points packed, and at others free-flowing, constant throughout was the ephemeral concept of a lane. The dashed lines seem to function more as suggestions than anything else. Lunch was superb, and I enjoyed talking to Mohini and her friend about everything from weddings, to funerals, to the culture of the “East Indian” people living in Mumbai, whose cultural influence is heavily Portuguese (in cuisine, architecture, and religion, but sadly not in language). Upon return to the hostel I decided to roam the street stalls that were close to the hostel, without the intention of really buying anything. As it was, I didn’t, but the browsing process was just as much fun. Haggling should be a more widespread socially acceptable form of behavior. Pause, we can add another travel sport. The triathlon now consists of: Repeat Sleeping (separate competitions for airline, bus, and train), people watching, and haggling).
This accomplished I headed home to catch some sleep before waking up early to catch a cab. I’d been warned that it could take up to two and a half hours to get to the airport from the part of town I was staying in, so I preferred to be well rested and onboard my next flight. I grabbed a bad action novel from the cupboard downstairs and read a good portion of it as the monsoon returned to make life interesting.
I woke up and ate breakfast in a solemn manner. It was early, I was tired. It had slipped my mind that another Scholar was arriving in Mumbai at the exact time I was leaving. We had agreed to try and meet up before I left town. In fact she was checking in as I sat there contemplating the texture of bread, I looked directly at her, but my mind didn’t make the connection.
Cabs were plentiful on the street, and I slid into the closest one after making sure the price with the driver. I thought traffic would be horrendous, and it was at points, but we arrived at the airport a good hour and a half after departing from the hostel. Along the way I spoke to the cab driver, who was about my age. He was from Agra, but was working in Mumbai for the time being. He had been telling his parents that he works in an office because he doesn’t want them to worry about him. His sister asked him to get her an iPod. He laughed as he said that he’d told her to be patient and wait. A smile crept across his face as described how he and his group of friends would jump into the Yamuna River in the middle of the night and his father would call him crazy for these nocturnal escapades. Venice was the first stop on his list when he had saved up enough money to travel. He knew more about the city’s history than I assume most Venetians do. My education in Italian Architecture was cut short by our arrival at the airport.
The plane was delayed for about an hour, so I kept on reading the novel I’d brought with from. It’s one of those books that is kind of like running down a steep slope. At first you don’t really enjoy it, but once you get towards the bottom your legs are pumping fast, you feel each footstep reverberate through you, and the air rushing past you feels pretty good. I finally got to board after a little bit of a hassle explaining to security why I had so many batteries in my bag. After explaining they asked me how I’d liked India so far. There seemed to be a ‘correct’ answer to this question, I went with what seemed obvious, “It’s been great!”. They smiled and let me board the plane. Taking off from Mumbai you get a much better sense of how vast the city is. Rising up from the airport you can see the vast blue network of tarps, which people have used to patch leaking roofs in monsoon season, winding in between office buildings and extremely expensive apartment buildings. I spent the flight, a brief hour, looking out the window as we cruised down the coast over the Arabian Sea. Once we started to close on the airport in Goa I looked down examining the concentric steps of earth that seemed to be made up of rusted iron ore. That’s just the color of the soil, I’m not sure if it’s due to a high iron content or not.
The airport was small and left little room for confusion. I got a taxi and headed for Panjim, the capital of Goa about 45 minutes away. I didn’t have the exact address for the hostel, nor was the telephone number working. My driver brought me to another hotel in town that was far too expensive, so I called one of my contacts and asked if they knew where it was. Instead of in the city itself, the hostel is right on Aguada Bay, barely removed from the sea, and still just a short bus ride from everywhere I needed to go. They had no dorm beds available (a claim of which I doubt the veracity), but could offer me a double room with a private bathroom, and it was still cheaper than any place I’d stayed so far. I deposited my belongings, grabbed the key to my room and headed to the main road of my part of town to see what I could rustle up in terms of food. A got the lay of the land and realized that food, or at least trustworthy looking food establishments, were in short supply. I decided on a small Goan barbecue that looked promising enough. The food came quickly, I ate it quickly, and then headed back to my room after grabbing some water and a few snacks to get me through the night. I planned my siege of the city for the next day, and fell asleep with the light on and my book on my chest.
I woke up and went downstairs to see if I could get some breakfast at the hostel, but was sadly disappointed when the door was closed. I had yet to see any people other than myself that looked like they were staying there. My hopes of quick food close dashed I consoled myself with a crowded bus ride into the city. The system was easy enough to understand, the driver drives and stops at certain points, and the…for the lack of the better word….yeller yells to people nearby as he hangs out the doorway of the bus the stops that the bus will be making in quick succession, repeatedly.
I’m not sure what determines the order or the number of the repetitions, but it seems to have something behind it.
From the bus station I roamed the streets stopping at tour companies to see if I could find a map. A map of the entire state of Goa was the only thing I’d been able to lay my hands on up until this point, and I knew that it would not cut it in navigating the city of Panjim. After asking several people I was directed to a ‘map of the city’. I arrived at the corner of a bridge and a street and there on a billboard was a map of the city. I contemplated taking a picture of it and trying to navigate by that, but I didn’t have my camera. I studied the map for a bit and then decided to take my chances and I headed down the street. The actual place people had been trying to direct me became apparent as I came across on the left hand side a state bureau of tourism. Relieved, I went inside, got a map, and asked the receptionist to help me circle all the addresses I was to visit. She gladly obliged and even gave me some candy; tourists are a bit like children. They wander around, they don’t speak the language, and you have to speak to them slowly so they’ll understand. But the candy was good.
My first stop was the historical archives building just across the bridge and down the street from the tourism bureau. I stepped in, not knowing exactly how to go about requesting documents, or what documents they had. I ran into a history grad student from Duke who was researching the early legal history of the East India Company and he explained how the system worked. I had to register myself at the archive. I was directed to sit in the anteroom of the director’s office and wait till he returned from lunch. A little bit after half past two, a light turned on above the door, and I was motioned in to the office. The director, a very serious looking man, scrutinized the letter of introduction I handed him, and then directed me to go to the archivist. I smiled and went to find the archivist, she told me to go back to the front desk to register. The man there sent me another direction. Eventually I was routed to the office of the director yet again. I handed him the form that all this rigmarole had produced. He took it and the letter of introduction that he’d already glared at, and told me yet again to go see the archivist. After speaking to her I went to sit in a room and wait for the one, mind you one, book that functioned as the register for all the items in the archive. Leafing through this, I found several promising sources, and requested the first. I was directed to a room with all the curtains closed and dim lighting, and asked to sit. Five minutes later the first manuscript was delivered. I will say this, after a good hour or so of trying to read handwritten 16th century Portuguese I have a great respect for historians. The patience and acute eyesight to endure such things is a testament to dedication. I went out to grab some lunch with Mitch, the Grad student, because the Archives were closed for a siesta. After lunch we both headed back to peruse some more archaic Portuguese. My tolerance of cursive handwriting and my eyesight both tested, I headed to my next place of contact. I interviewed the director of another branch of the Orient Foundation (Fundacao Oriente), and it gave me a much better insight into the workings of the organization.
I took my leave of the place after scanning through a few books in the library and decided to see if I could squeeze in one last visit before the working day ended. By the time I reached the street the Language Center was on it was a bit too late, and I couldn’t exactly locate it, so went for dinner at a Goan restaurant that Mitch had suggested to me. Besides the food, which was excellent, I found something equally as interesting. The owner of the restaurant spoke Portuguese. He told me that he had learned it in school prior to the return of Goa back to Indian rule. I spoke with him for a little while longer but had to catch the bus back to the hostel before it shut its doors.
The next day I packed my stuff moved it into one of the dorm rooms. They had neglected to mention that the room I was staying in had been reserved for one night during the time I would be there. I squeezed some toothpaste from a larger tube that I had bought into the travel sized one, 100mL is smaller than you’d think, and then headed out to visit my next contact. I had planned to use the internet at the hostel, but it was not working on one computer, and the other one was connected but the keyboard was not functioning. Since I had no interest in playing solitaire I caught the bus and headed back to the Fundacao Oriente, where I’d seen that they had a group of computers available for use for free. From the bus station I stopped in a small restaurant and ordered up breakfast, the hostel had again let me down in terms of food availability. Then I headed over to the Foundation and got some work done. I stopped back at the Goan restaurant from the day before for lunch. The owner was there as well as a few people who were a bit older and had learned the language in school. The food was excellent; you can’t go wrong with seafood here, and the conversation enlightening.
The Portuguese Language Center that had eluded my sight the previous day was a bit removed from the road, which is probably why I didn’t see it the first time. I climbed the stairs and waited patiently to talk to some of the professors. Only two were there at the time, but we soon got into a debate about how to best characterize Goan Portuguese. At least they were debating; I was scribbling furiously trying to capture everything. I got their e-mail addresses and agreed to stop by on Saturday morning to pick up some materials if possible and set out into the city.
Fontainhas, the northern most part of the city, represents the Portuguese influence, architecture, winding streets. Panaji Town, to the west certainly doesn’t. About a block or two from the Church of the Immaculate Conception, just past the Municipal Gardens the city becomes a modern city, bustling with people in transit to their homes. At that hour you had to squeeze past people to walk on the sidewalk. The sky looked threatening, so I ducked into a restaurant to grab a light dinner before heading back. Just in time, the waves crashed down as I ordered up some Onion Uttapam and organized my thoughts in my notebook. My timing couldn’t have been better, as I left the rain stopped. The trip back to the bus station was easy enough, even at night. I caught the bus; I was becoming a pro at this, and made it back to my hostel and got ready for bed. I was soaked by the time I got back. The rain jacket took the brunt of the moisture, but my pants were still dripping. I climbed upstairs and hung up my clothing to dry.
This seemed to be the situation: the windows were open, and there were screens, but the screen windows were also open. To prevent any curious pests I closed the screen windows as best I could and filled any large holes in the screens with some balled up toilet paper. I settled in to read my novel when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a small movement, and then heard an all too familiar buzz near my ear. I swatted wildly and dove for the locker where my bag was. The lock wouldn’t open, the combination was correct, but sometimes it was stubborn. I pulled hard, as I glanced around the room, making sure not to stay still for too long. The repellent was in the tupperware container at the bottom of my bag. I sprayed some one and rubbed it in as I cautiously backed towards the door, as if it was going to announce its presence to me. It’s ironic how such a small thing can inspire terror, looking back I feel ridiculous, but better safe than sorry. With enough repellent to kill a bee hive I jumped back onto the bed. Sitting cross-legged I covered my legs with my towel and draped my rain jacket over my shoulders. I tried to start reading again, but couldn’t bring myself to stop scanning the room to find the mosquito. If one could get in, then more could get in. Vigilance, that’s what survival required. The ceiling had no hook from which to hang a net, so I draped it over my head. At this point, to an outside observer, I probably seemed ludicrous, but it was a battle. I would wait for it to come to me, and victory would be mine. I glanced around the room to see what assets I had to my advantage and my eye fell on the clothes rack that held my drying articles. There were three of them in the room. The bed was in the corner, but I lined two of the racks on the remaining sides of the bed. I put my bag down by my feet to lift the netting clear, and fastened the net to the racks in several different ways. It reminded me of building a fort, only I was much more serious about it. With the net secured, or at least jury-rigged to protect me from the perils of the bug, I settled in to try to sleep. I couldn’t. Instead, I pulled out my headlamp and continued to read. Here I was halfway around the world, and I was sitting in a fort reading by flashlight.
The next morning I moved my things back into the other room and headed for the bus. I stopped by the Foundation again to use the internet. Before the schools let out the place is empty and you can use the internet in peace. After they let out, it’s a whole different story. I talked to a Brazilian woman who’d been living in India for the past nine years who had also found this treasure trove of internet access. I told her about my project, and she told me I had to go to Diu, and promptly told me the best way to get there, and people to call once I did. She also immediately e-mailed a friend of hers in Mozambique to let her know I’d be coming to Maputo. I thanked her profusely then headed off to the Portuguese Consulate. By the time I reached the top of Altinho, the highest part of the city, the consulate was closed for lunch. One of the staff members offered to give me a ride down to the bottom of the hill where all the restaurants are. Flying down the hill I finally understood the reason why people drive mopeds and motorcycles.
I ate and then headed up the hill for a second time and spoke to a few of the people working at the consulate. People are always eager to help, and this was no exception. They echoed the sentiment that I should head up to Diu, and proceeded to give me several contacts there. I tried to explain that I didn’t really have time, but thought it better to thank them and go on my way. From here I wandered around the neighborhood and found that the extent of the city is much larger than I’d originally thought. My wanderings, thankfully, brought me back to the main part of town and I decided to head back to my hostel to write, after grabbing some groceries. I slept like a brick without the threat of the mosquitoes.
Saturday morning I extended my stay by one day, still not sure about the system here. After realizing that my stay needed to be extended by a day I asked the man at the front counter if I could do it then. He told me to wait until tomorrow, and we’d see. I asked again last night, and a different man told me to wait until this morning. It all worked out okay, but I’m still a bit unclear as to why the waiting. Regardless of reason, I headed into the city yet again to stop by the Portuguese Language Center to see if I could pick up some materials on cd. The professor I spoke to told me he had not been able to copy the cds, but gave me the name and the best way to find them, if they had copies, at the University of Lisbon. Now I’ll be heading over to the city of Old Goa, which functioned as the capital of Portuguese India during colonial times, and was a thriving city until Cholera epidemics wiped out the majority of the population. At current times, the most prominent part of the city left is the churches. Yet another remnant of the Portuguese here in India.
Tomorrow I leave for South Africa for a few days, and then on to Mozambique. It’s going to be a long trip, but I’m looking forward to cooler climes.
Favorite food here: Masala Dosa
|For some reason I decided that the best way to avoid jet lag would be to avoid sleeping before I had to leave for the airport at a good 4:30 or so in the morning. This, in my sleep-deprived state of mind, seemed like a perfectly legitimate and incredibly well-founded approach to fighting off the woes of trans-Pacific travel. I’d soon test the merits of this hypothesis.
The flight from Chicago to San Francisco went by quickly, I slept and woke up, slept and woke up, I started counting the number of times I could fall asleep and come back, and perhaps one day a professional career will be spawned from this ability. You never know.
In terms of repeat sleeping, if Chicago to San Francisco was a light morning jog, San Francisco to Hong Kong was a marathon. I weaved in and out of consciousness, no joke; I’m talking highlight reel material here. The little girl behind me doing Taibo with my seat back certainly helped me stay on my toes, wouldn’t want to fall into a deep sleep, certainly not. After 14 hours, 10 naps of varying lengths, 4 movies, 2 journal articles, several perusals through the Skymall magazine, and a few minutes of classical music I arrived at Hong Kong international.
After hopping through customs, I caught the airport express into the city. A friend of mine described Hong Kong as ‘when you think of the future’, ‘yea’, ‘that’s what Hong Kong is like!’
I finally found my hostel, tucked neatly into the side of a shopping complex that didn’t make too much sense. On the way up in the elevator I spoke to a South African who was staying at the same hostel and he offered to show me around the city before he left the next day. I checked in and met a few other people in the hostel, and invited two guys from New York to join us in our wanderings of the city.
We walked down to the harbor that evening, which provided us with a brilliant view of the skyline. From Kowloon, standing close enough to the harbor, you can see almost a two-hundred seventy degree view of the skyline on Hong Kong Island. There were quite a few people gathering about on a patio overlooking the harbor, which I found a bit curious. Boats and ferries were milling around in the harbor, but nothing that warranted the excitement that emanated from the crowd.
At 8 pm, the light show promptly started.
I will say this, flashing lights, however entertaining they may be, have never been one of the select few of my favorite things But this light show is something else. Think of a whole skyline devoted to a light show, each building pulsing. It may seem obnoxious, and I’m sure after seeing it every night for a week it would just seem excessive, but the overwhelming collision of colored lights, en masse, with my retina felt of something inexplicably entertaining. Where but in a city of the future would such a thing occur? We hurried on to the ferry to cross over to Hong Kong Island in the middle of the light show, watching the weaving lights as we bobbed our way across Victoria Harbor. Once on the other side we roamed up and down the streets of the island (the majority felt up) till it got late and we decided to catch the ferry and the subway back to the hostel.
The interesting thing about my theory of retrograde sleep deprivation planning (RSDP from now on) is that….(drum roll)….it worked. I’m probably the most surprised and most relieved of anyone that it was a success. The next morning found me refreshed and in a wandering mood. I went with the two New Yorkers to the end of one of the subway lines, to find an outlet mall that they’d heard had great discounts. The mall turned out to be a bust, but it did give as an opportunity to head over to Victoria Peak on the tram which, as I remember from the information from the brochure I read, rides along a rail that angles anywhere from 15 to 48 degrees.
Suffice it to say, it’s a ride that you and your childhood fear of roller coasters won’t forget. I almost felt that once we reached the top we should have slowly inched over till we could see a gut wrenching fall below, plummeted towards the earth, screaming all the while, see a bright flash, get off the ride and then look at the automatic pictures taken of all of us and how absurd the faces we make are. The view from atop the four hundred meter rise of the peak tram puts the light show to shame. We loitered around the peak for a while, grabbing some food to eat, and then began our descent down the mount.
Return tickets had not been purchase, as it seemed a reasonable idea to walk down. It would be cheaper, we’d get to see more of the city, and it was a nice night out. Little did we know that a) the path is not as direct as one would hope, switch backing and winding through poorly-lit mosquito-filled woods where people occasionally enjoy standing silhouetted by a single light with large ferocious dogs that are none too thrilled to find you interloping on their territory b) it would take a good long while to get back down, 400 meters of height does not equal 400 meters of walking, c) where one sidewalk ends isn’t necessarily where the next begins. Regardless of these obstacles we made it back to the hostel, and I, as promptly as the eight o’clock light show, fell asleep.
The next morning I woke up, said my goodbyes, checked out and set forth to locate the Macau ferry terminal. I exited the subway station and with great determination and aplomb turned the wrong way. Five minutes later, after realizing this error, I corrected course and found myself at the terminal. It had the feel of a mini-airport. Gates, departures, arrivals, luggage check. I shuttled on board the rocking vessel, and climbed the stairs to the upper level, where I plopped down into my seat. In the seat next to me a man was eating McDonald’s. The fries smelled good, most likely because I’d forgone the pleasure of lunch in hopes of avoiding any seasickness, which has never really been an issue in my life, but err on the side of caution as they say in…you know. The boat took off and I spent the better part of the ride looking from side to side to catch glimpses of the islands littering the South China Sea on the route. The rest of the time went to remaining befuddled by the logic, or apparent lack to me, of a game show that involved presenting skits to a crowd. Upon conclusion a meter would light up on the right side of the stage, up to 20. Sometimes the contestants would be carried off by the crew of the show, other times not, the scores didn’t quite correspond. Arrival cut short my chances to be confused further.
From the ferry terminal there are about, I exaggerate not, fifty hotel/casino shuttles at any given time, all waiting to carry eager gamblers of into the young night full of hope, and return them desolate after a weekend of heavy losses. From the tiny map of where the hostel looked to be I concluded that the best shuttle for my purposes would be that to the Grand Lisboa Hotel. Macau is, for the most part, Portuguese in name only: the streets, and the government bear the stamp of the language, and the casinos evidence the old time mariners’ penchant for gambling. In a rather fitting homage to this European Heritage, there are quite a few casinos and hotels that bear the moniker of Lisbon (Grand Lisboa, New Lisboa, Hotel Lisboa…to name a few). In that brief stint of naiveté I had chosen to get aboard the shuttle that would take me to the wrong one. It all pans out in the end because the area wasn’t that large, and I convoluted the map till it looked approximately akin to the street that the hostel was supposed to be on. I looked again, observed my surroundings befuddled, and then, upon looking to the sky, I observed that I was standing in the doorway, above which a placard for the hostel was hung.
After checking in and depositing my things I went out exploring. This time it would be without map, probably a foolish idea, but I decided to test my navigational skills, which aren’t the best to begin with. A few mental photographs of the map that would lead me to the ruins of St. Paul and the repetition of a few key streets and I was off. I made my way up to the facade of the old church, which would probably be the most fascinating in Macau if it hadn’t burned down. By the top I was sweating profusely, but the view was great. Another sign read ‘Fortaleza do Monte’ (fortress on the hill). Both these things I like on their own, why not together. No longer did I hold any hopes of remaining fresh and clean since my ascent to that point, so I carried on. The center of the fort has now been converted to the Macau Museum, giving a brief summation of history of the peninsula from prehistoric to modern.
I sat there watching the sun set for a little bit and tried to conceptualize where I was in the world, stick a mental thumbtack in a mental globe. It works, but it still seems strange. Airplanes, hydrofoils, and trains seem to skew the conception of time. It takes roughly an hour to drive from my apartment at school back home regardless of whether I’m a law-abiding motorist or not. Extrapolate from that for the flight across, three…five..two…carry the one, and you end up roughly, if you don’t hit rush hour on 480, on the east coast. Yet hear I am. My mind rebels, I quite it with food at a Brazilian Restaurant that one of the hostel staff suggested to me. Panic averted, deep breath, onward we go.
I phoned a professor at the University of Macau and set an appointment for the next day. That done I headed out to grab some food.
I woke up the next morning and met the two other people staying in the dorm at the hostel. The first, Mathias had been traveling Southeast Asia for the past six months while taking a break from working, and Barbara was visiting Macau because she had to renew her visa to Beijing. We headed over to watch the dragon boat races in one of the lakes close to the harbor. Brief background: Qu Yuan, a minister and adviser to the king of one of the states of pre-imperial China, who was above all a patriot and a man of integrity, was banished by his king due to ‘court intrigue’ (as I read at the maritime museum). During his exile the state was conquered by a neighboring state, and he was so distraught upon hearing this news that he waded into the river holding a large rock. The villagers living nearby, who knew him to be a man of good character, rushed to the water to try and save him. They couldn’t, but out of respect they later scattered rice in the water to keep the fish from eating his body. And from there you get several boats with roughly twenty people from different countries racing through the water of Sai Von Lake. Needless to say the celebration has had quite a bit of time to develop.
It was time to get going for my interview, so we parted ways but agreed to meet up later for dinner. I hopped on the next bus bound for Taipa and the University. The Macau peninsula is connected to the islands of Taipa and Coloane via three bridges. Taipa and Coloane, previously separated islands have been connected by an increasing building boom. The filled in region that used to be sea between these two is called Cotai. The bus left me at the bottom of a hill that led me to the University. At the top I was delighted to find the professor that I had arranged to meet with. We spoke for the next hour or so, and then as I had promised the two from the hostel, we arranged to meet for dinner the following night.
The part of Taipa that I went to next was Taipa village, a meandering web of small streets, little shops, and small stores selling jerky-like pieces of meet at seemingly exorbitant prices. Guided by the sweet smell lofting through the air, I wandered through sweets shops trying various candies, my favorite being peanuts in a nougat-like substance that weren’t overwhelmingly sweet. I bought a few for the road on the way to a Portuguese restaurant where I was to rendezvous with my fellow travelers. We settled in to a booth and waited. After a good ten minutes we realized that we had to wave down one of the waitresses to place our orders. My own choice was Bacalhau with potatoes. If you were wondering Bacalhau is salted codfish, which may not sound extremely appealing by any stretch of the imagination, but don’t let that stop you from trying it if you get the chance. The dish was a mix of thin strips of potato, bell peppers, fried egg, onions, and of course, Bacalhau. Superb I must say. To bookend the meal we flagged the waitress down again before she could disappear back into the kitchen. We caught the bus back to Macau and decided to watch a copy of Babel that Mathias had bought in Vietnam.
My dinner partners departed the next morning and I was left with a whole room to myself. Sadly I didn’t linger, I headed over to the next point of contact, and made arrangements to conduct interviews the next day, and as luck would have it found another one of my contacts in the very same building. Turns out that the President of the Orient Foundation is by afternoon at the Portuguese Institute of the Orient. I interviewed him and then made my way out into the city to see as many of the Portuguese churches that I could.
As night fell I met up with Professor Silva down in Taipa again. We caught the bus down to Taipa, far from the bustle of Macau, it seemed almost serene in comparison. Thai food was on the menu for the night, and we headed to what is, as I was assured, the best Thai in Asia. I’ve never eaten in Bangkok, so, who am I to disagree? After dinner we said our goodbyes, and I headed home to sleep.
The next morning I decided I would sate any remaining vestiges of an urge to see the wonders of Macau, so I set off on foot to see one of the oldest temples on the island. Located on the southwestern side of the island, the temple A-Ma, which is dedicated to a girl who was venerated for her ability to save sailors from drowning. Her name was given to the temple and the area surrounding it, where the first Portuguese sailors arrived (at least in the bay near it). The sailors were told that they had arrived at the mouth of the bay, A-Ma-Hau. Magic or at least a possible explanation for the name, but it’s not the only one out in the water. The temple is built on several levels; stairs lead up from each till you get to the main part of the temple. There is something extremely calm about the temples and churches of Macau, even with all the tourists milling about, almost as if saying that they’ve been there for long enough and they’re not going anywhere soon. If the batteries for my camera hadn’t run out, I probably would have been taking pictures too.
As it was, photo-less I trekked north to the Brazilian restaurant I’d eaten at the first day, whose owner I had promised to come back. After lunch I killed some time at a Portuguese bookstore down the street from the Portuguese Institute of the Orient before my interviews. It was amazing to see books like ‘Tin Tin and the secrets of the Mayan Temple of Gold’ in Portuguese, let alone in China. I jotted down the titles of a few books, and even contemplated purchasing one or two, but thought it better to wait. You can find anything on the internet, although the non-cylindrical shape of books might make difficult the transport.
The security guard at the door was much friendlier today, a change from the previous day when he had regarded with a suspicious glance upon my arrival. I proceeded to an unoccupied classroom and waited for language instructors to come to me (nothing sinister about that is there). One by one they came in, a bit concerned as to why I wanted to talk to them, but quickly warmed up once they learned that I spoke Portuguese and it was far from an interrogation. After that I got a chance to interview people from several levels of classes. Overall a huge success. It felt good to be making progress on the research. Traveling with a purpose trumps tourism any day, unless it involves me on a beach with a good book for an extended period of time. It’s the goal that distinguishes trips for anecdotal material from Magellan-esque voyages. I thanked the director of the program and made my way back south.
I stopped back at the hostel to drop off my dormant camera, and headed out to meet up with a friend of a friend of a friend and some of her friends at the Galaxy/Starworld Casino.
So, you can’t be mad at me….but…
(Absolution via pre-emption, it’s an art. Trust me. As if the above phrase could render impossible any anger or criticism on the part of the listener. Sounds like a good idea at the time, like McDonald’s, RSDP, and espresso shots)
as I was saying, we met at the casino and one thing led to another and…
(isn’t that wonderful, it’s the wind up, where I set up the start to an amusing story, hilarity to ensue shortly, and almost at the breaking point we pause, the picture freezes and the narrator emerges from off screen, pointer in hand to indicate the obvious in this snapshot, a trick far too often abused by film-makers and screenwriters. How dare they.)
We had a few drinks and…
(we can even count down. 3)
…decided to play a few games and…
..and it turns out that…
Actually none of that happened, except for meeting at the casino. It was the best landmark to navigate by, sans the use of cell phones. Pardon the abuse of your readership trust, but it made it interesting, no? We ended up at a Thai restaurant. I was certainly not one to complain, as this night’s fare looked like a promising candidate to rival the previous champion. I recognized a few items from the menu and was promptly designated sous chef Thai-cuisine expert and handed the menu to make further selections. I’ll admit it…faced with disappointing them or taking a stab in the dark…I bluffed it, straight-faced and riding on the coat tails of a single face card I stuck it out. And it turned out alright. I also found out that European Portuguese is much harder to understand in groups when you don’t quite have the luxury of asking someone to slow down and repeat everything again, with a few more vowels thrown in. After dinner I headed home a little befuddled by my apparent lack of any language skills. Sleep helped, I had some vivid dreams, perhaps the malaria medication.
The next day I woke up, headed to the ferry terminal and booked my trip back to the airport, turns out I’ll have to get up pretty early, but I’m alright with that. I walked around with a German girl who’d just arrived from Thailand for awhile, sharing my ‘expertise’, however limited it may be, of Macau. I’m off to Mumbai tomorrow after a brief stopover in Bangkok.
Favorite thing I read in Portuguese: ‘Estes flores sao bens publicos. Por favor nao os levem’ (literally: These flowers are public goods, please don’t carry them away).