Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Portuguese Bar

             So, I’ve been slacking on the blog post… Sorry ya’ll, its been a heck of a month!! But I’m back and have some interesting things to share.
              First of all, I meet a super cool Brazilian guy who is also here with nothing todo. By that I mean we are both not working for money or volunteering for a project, nor are we associated with any ngo’s or religious institutions. We are just simply here in Bissau.
            His name is Bruno and he lives next to the Port of Bissau on top of a bar owned by 2 Portuguese men named Truvon and Emilio. They created a small café/bar that seem to be the haven for all Portuguese men here in Bissau (I rarely see women walk in). The Bar is in Bissau Velho (Old Bissau) which is next to the port of Bissau. This neighborhood, and thus the bar as well, has a very Portuguese feel because it was built 'during the time of the Portugues', as people here like to say. It is just about the only place in the country that has 2 story mixed use (residential/business) buildings.  
            At the bar they serve beers, soda, Portuguese pastries and soup. They have a flat screen TV that’s always playing a soccer game. It’s a pretty chill spot. I stop by every once and a while and hang out with what averages out to be 4 or 5 Portuguese guys and my Brazilian friend.
            Most of my time here I have been with Guineans and have been getting more of the Guinean perspective on life. Hanging out at the bar has been a glimpse into the mind of the Portuguese businessman and life style.
            Lets start with business. The main owner, Truvon, is sick and tired of Bissau. It’s hard here for some foreign businessmen if you don’t have the right connections.  Doing anything in this country is difficult simply because of the inefficiency and disorganization. But its also difficult because of the Guinean working mentality, which is very laid back. It's hard to get things done when everyone has a 'lets do it tomorrow attitude'. I would get angry in the beginning when people would make comments of that nature. But the longer I’m here the more I'm learning and the more I understand how frustrating it is to live with this work environment. Anywho, essentially Truvon wants to close up shop, move to Brazil, open a café and retire.
            In terms of personal life,  they are almost all single (because no one is waiting for them back in Portugal) and between the age of 45 and 65. But they have been quick to adapt to Guinean culture in that many of these guys have young girlfriends (20-27 year old). I’ve seen Guniean women throw themselves at them and I’ve seen them walk up stairs to their room with prostitutes. It’s a mixed bag when it comes to relationships for them.
            Anywho, we sit and chat and I get to hear stories about their lives and we talk about everything under the sun.  There’s another Portuguese bar down the street from this one where they all hang out late at night. Just picture this: An older Portuguese man, cigarette in one hand and glass of wine in the other, talking about his life and experiences in Africa.  Sometimes its funny stories, sometimes its serious or life threatening stories. But its almost always politically INcorrect.
            I’ve gotten to be pretty good friends with these guys and it’s always priceless when I'm walking around town with my step dad and we run into them. He gives me the “ why in the heck do you know this guy??” face. hahaha

Friday, April 12, 2013

April 12th- the Coup d'etat One Year Anniversary

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the military coup d’état in Guinea Bissau. For some reason, I thought there might be some sort of celebration, or national convergence, or meeting or something. Nothing happened. It was just like another day. But the thought was definitely there on everyone’s mind.
            But other political events have taken place recently that has left the country on its toes. About a week ago or so, American FBI or CIA captured one of Guinea-Bissau’s top military officials, Bubo Na Tchuto, and are accusing him of attempting to selling drugs in the US and engage in weapons trade with Columbia.
            What I have been learning is that there are actually a lot of African American undercover agents working in Guinea-Bissau trying to get more information about the drug trafficking here. There was an American investigator who crossed paths with Bubo and that American investigator is now no longer living.  With double incentive, the Americans took Bubo on what they are calling “ international waters.”( I put it in quotes because no one seems to be able to agree where and how he was taken, but the US claims it was international waters.)
            But his capture is very controversial here and for that reason the country has been on high alert, or lock down rather.  All airlines into the country ( TAP-Portugal, TAVC- Cape Verde, SenegalAirlines, and RAM- Morocco) were canceled for fear that the military would try and claim their planes in retaliation.  The French embassy has even told French people living here be indoors after 8pm.
            Since then, I’ve been told by several different people not to say I’m American because I could be associated with the American DEA or working undercover and could easily get mixed into some problems. Fortunately for me, people are generally at a loss when it comes to figuring out where I’m from. I get a lot of Spain, Portugal, and Brazilian. Never American. Plus I can speak Portuguese and Creole which helps create more confusion.
            Though this is the current situation, it sounds a lot scarier then it seems. Everyday has been normal, for me, and it’s only when I check the news site that I am reminded about what is happening here politically.
            On the other hand, some people are pretty excited about the recent US involvement in the country. It is said that military and government officials run the country like they are the highest authority under God and that they think they are untouchable because they are at the top of the social and economic power ladder. By the US taking Bubo into custody, it shows the other dirty generals and politicians that there are bigger fish in the ocean, so they better watch out. Some folks even think that if the US come and takes enough generals involved in the Drug Trafficking then the country can begin to stabilize and begin to develop.
            The only slightly comical thing about this situation is that Bubo had approached my stepdad weeks before inquiring about his car. My step-dad has a 1999 Lincoln Navigator here and that car is almost always considered the presidential car. There are only 2 in the country: My step-dads, and some other guys. Lincoln Navigators are a rare, big, and American, so it just screams wealth, and all big military guys have their ‘wealth screaming’ car. Anyhow, Bubo was offering to buy the car, but since he was taken into US custody in New York, my dad is now looking for someone else to sell his car too. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Pascoa (Easter) in Bafata

View of Bafata and the River
For being a mostly Muslim country, everyone takes advantage of the Easter holiday. And every holiday has its go-to location, for Easter its Bubaki, the capital of the islands in the Bijagoes.  I wanted to go too! Because “Everyone” was going, but I took this opportunity instead to go to Bafata to get to know my family there a little better.
            At this time of year Bafata is hot!! In terms of elevation, this region is slightly above most places in the country. People here call it a mountain; I would call it a hill, if that. 
            But the great thing about being in a hot place is that Ice cream is appropriate at anytime of day! Ice cream here doesn’t have milk, it is juice from Cabacera ( or other fruits) that is frozen in a small plastic sandwich bag. It doesn’t look super appealing, but it taste would make you think you were eating rainbow sherbert. It’s amazingly good, 100% all natural, and really easy to make!
A huge abandoned swimming pool that's next to the river
            On a camping trip to explore food systems in the Desert of Arizona and New Mexico, our rec leader shared with us a book called 17 ways to eat a mango. Its based in Sri Lanka, and is about an American who goes with the intention of mas exporting mangos, but along the way learns the “zen” way of eating a mango. For example, a sour mango, rather than be cursed, can be mixed with sweetenings, vinegar, ginger, cinnamon, cardamon,  to make delicious sour mango chutney. Similar to the " when life gives you lemons" saying. Its a quick read, but has a great message. But what I’m getting at, “zen”-ness aside, is that there are literally 17 ways to eat a mango. (And 65 ways to each a cashew, but I wont even get into that.)
            It’s not quite mango season yet, but the mango trees throughout Bafata are loaded with Mangos.  There are 3 huge mangos trees by my aunt’s house where I was staying, and we would send my younger cousins to go hit a couple of green mangoes off the tree.  We ate the mangos:
One of my uncle Cherno's 2 wives and her eldest daughter Mona

1)   Whole, with skin, in big crunchy bites
2)   Peeled, sliced and devoured
3)   Peeled, sliced and sprinkled with salt then devoured
4)   Peeled, sliced, and smashed with salt, pimenta (hot pepper), and gusto (bullion)
5)   Boiled, then mashed with sugar- almost like apple’sauce but mango instead.

            If you’ve never been in a place where you have cheap and easy access to . After breakfast you call over someone selling cashews- at the price of 5 for 25 cents, you know we were buying close to 20 cashews. And doing the same after lunch. Most folks don’t eat the cashew, they just suck on the juice, chew on the meat of the fruit and spit it out.  Then in the late afternoon, folks walk around selling cashew juice. So we buy a liter and sip on that. After 2 days we accumulate a decent amount of cashew seeds. We roasted those and snacked on cashew nuts before lunch.
The deserted old down town in Bafata
            Guinea Bissau gets 6 months of rain and six months of sun. If you throw the seed of a fruit you just ate on the ground in the US, in our mind we know that a tree COULD grow, but feel people can say they have done so. Here, if you throw a seed on the ground, something will grow. That’s how fertle the soil is here.
            I feel like I’m talking a lot about food. But each meal tasted like a meal for royalty. I am not ashamed to say I ate WELL, almost too well. But living and eating here has absolutely changed my definition of fresh food. On top of the fresh fruit, each morning I would accompany my cousin to the market where she would buy our food for the day. We had Caldo de Mancara ( meat in peanut butter sauce), Caldo de Chebin ( Meat in palm oil sauce), and fried fish, all of which were served over rice.
Big plate of Caldo de Mancara ( Rice, meat in peanut butter sauce)
            Late at night there are little booth type places that have cuts of meat ready to grill.  We were looking for food late on the first night in Bafata. We approached the booth and my cousin ordered. I immediately said a little prayer, I already had the stomach flu and I really didn’t want to start my Trip in Bafata over the toilet.  But once they put the plate of grilled meat in front of us, we ate until the plate was clean.
            Needless to say, I’ve been raving about that grilled goat meat since we ate. It was grilled with onions and seasoned to perfection. We ate it with mayo and fresh baked bread. Usually I’m anti-mayonnaise, but it had been seasoned with herbs to give it a little flare.
            In Bafata (at least during the holidays) there isn’t much to do, nor is there much going on during the day. You handle your business in the morning. Come home in the afternoon to rest and eat lunch. It’s just too hot in the afternoon to doo much. In the late afternoon there is a lot more movement, but at night is when folks really get active.
Bafata is Hot!! so everyone came to swim at Hotel Trinton
            Besides just walking around town or hanging out in the down town area, there are two main go-to nightlife locations. One is Hotel Trinton, the other is Kiss club. Hotel Trinton is a hotel with a swimming pool, bar, and a mini-club. To me, and anyone coming from the US it seems pretty standard, almost lacking even to US standards. But there is nothing else here like it, so its one of the hottest spots around town.         
            Club kiss is just a club, but it’s the only one in the city, so every party animal in Bafata can be found here. But I seem to have really bad luck there. I forget sometimes that I stand out like a  I get a lot of unwanted attention, so Kiss club was a flop for me. I also don’t have the stamina for late nights anymore. I’ve gotten into the habit of getting up at 6:30 am, so by 11pm I’m ready to call it a night.  But it’s a cool place, it has two floors each with its own dj.
Amilcar Cabrals House
            Amilicar Cabral had started a lot of his revolutionary work in Bafata.  My cousin Papa took me to the old downtown to see Amilcar Cabral’s house.  The old downtown area is sad site to see. It has a colonial Portuguese feel, much like Pelorinho in Salvador, Brazil (for those that know) but it is a ghost town.  The houses are abandoned and the roads are deserted. The only thing that is active is the police station.
            But it’s easy to imagine all the hustle and bustle that used to take place there. And it’s in such a beautiful part of Bafata.  All the development here is right next to the river. It immense potential, all that’s missing is the investment, from my perspective that is. One of the biggest issues Bafata is transportation. The old down town is at least a 20minute walk from the new downtown. Bafata has no toca-tocas (aka public transportation) and very few cars. Most people get around by walking,  unless you have a bike or a motorcycle.  
            Amilcar Cabral’s house in Cape Verde is equivalent to the Presidents house. It’s huge, decorated, and memorialized.  Amilcar Cabral’s house here in Bafata, well, at least it looks newly painted. Its like nothing ever happened here!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Cacheu, GB: Forum on Slavery


Some of the many boats I saw on an early morning walk
            It’s funny how sometimes the best trips are the ones that are spontaneous and unplanned. 
            After lots of debate, Abdu, a fellow Rotarian, and I decided to wing it and show up at the Forum on Slavery in Cacheu, GB. I say wing it because we had no ride there, no place to stay once we got there, we had no plan for food, and we didn’t really know anyone who was going to be there, and we didn’t even have an invitation. (We later discovered the event was open to the public). But the forum had been all over TV and the radio the past couple days. It sounded like a fun learning excursions and a great reason to get out of Bissau, so we went for it!
View from the dock in Cacheu
            Cacheu is about 2 hours north of Bissau, which is one of the larger cities north of Guinea Bissau, and it lies on the Cacheu river. Cacheau is a beautiful! It has a thriving population, but you get the feel that you are in an abandoned city.  It is a small fisher town and the down town area only consists of a dock, a church, a little restaurant, and the presidents house (the house built for the President when he comes to Cacheu). There are coconut trees all around and bulanhas, or gardens, filled with subsistence crops (including millet, corn, sorghum, and rice). You’ll also find lots of cattle, sheep, and goats grazing on the grasslands throughout the city.
Sunday's workshop sessions
            Abdu’s cousin’s, wife’s, family is from Cacheu and so he was told we could stop by their house and see if we could leave our things there. What are the odds that the first house we stopped and asked at, which was the house directly next to the bus stop, was the house we were looking for? We dropped off our things and then hopped into Conference. 
            The conference was 3 days long, March 22-24th. The night before was all the fun stuff (from what I heard). There were lots of Music and theater performances.
When we arrived at the storage , Odete “Idontknowherlastname”, who is an acclaimed Bissau-Guniean poet, writer and educator, was speaking about the history of the Language Creole in relation to Portuguese. Essentially creole was very much its own language, but with colonization, lots of Portuguese got incorporated into it. Quick language lesson:

            Portugues- past tense, first person: verb root + ava
               Ex: verb ‘estar’ – to be, + root ‘ava’= ‘estava’

            Creole- to express the past tense, all words or verbs are followed by “ba”
               Ex: sta- to be, in creole, becomes sta ba or  N’sta ba, meaning I was.

Director of AD Bissau (on Right) with dance group
            What’s interesting is that it could easily be mistaken for Portuguese, because it sounds so similar. That’s why creole described as ‘Portuguese mal falado’ or Portuguese spoken poorly. When you break it down, Creole is 80% Portuguese and 20% words from the Pepel and several other ethnicities.
            We also learned that Cacheu was one of the earliest European colonial settlements in Sub-saharan Africa, due to its strategic location on the Cacheu river. Cacheu was the official slave trading point for the Portuguese in the region. It was the point at which duties on all slaves exported had to be paid.
Prepping food for the ceremony
            The second part of the day was a ceremony for good luck and success in future endeavors. Concoran, which I have seen 4 or 5 times now, was in attendance as well as his brother Compu. (They are not actually brothers but they have some similarities in costume and they both come out to play during Fenado, or circumcision ceremonies)
            The evening filled with more music, dance and theater. A group called SOMETHING From Guinee Conakree came up to preform and they were amazing!!
            The whole weekend was really relaxed, and we didn’t actually DO much. What made such a great experience were the interesting people and engaging conversations. I met a professional French photographer who gave me some photography tips. I met a women from France who is just moving back to Bissau and is working on a project that will provide children who need heart surgery a free ride to France to have that heart operation, which is also free. (It’s such a small world because this women is my neighbor back in Bissau AND she knows my step-dad back from when he used to live in France).
Compo shaking his groove thang
            This weekend for me really displayed the beauty of Bissau’s people, culture, and landscape. Tereasa, the mother of the place where we left our things fed us every meal, let us sleep at her place, and refused payment for it all when it was time to leave.  We were also able to catch a ride back with the Director of SOMETHING, who we spent a lot of time talking to throughout the conference, instead of taking the bus back. We spent Sunday afternoon walking along the river talking with people we met along the way.