It’s raining!

I have never been so excited to see rain as I am now in Cabo Verde.

September 2018, Santiago Island

When I arrived in Cabo Verde, the country had already suffered through a full year of drought. The rain hadn’t come, leaving the islands barren, dry, and dusty. Small family farms no longer had an income and rural properties were abandoned as families moved in search of work. Emaciated cows and goats were let loose to wander the islands in search of food and to defend themselves against the starving street dogs. The number of students in schools dwindled as families couldn’t afford transportation. Cabo Verdeans walked further and further each day to carry back jugs of water from government distribution points. The supposedly “Green Cape” was only shades of brown. Even the cacti started to wilt.

February 2018, Santiago Island

March 2018, Santiago Island

The rainy season in Cabo Verde usually starts in July and lasts through September. Back home, we know this as hurricane season. The rain that starts here in the East Atlantic picks up speed on its way west, turning into massive tropical storms that pummel the Caribbean and southern states. In fact, the only time Cabo Verde is mentioned on American news seems to be in reference to these storms. And while everyone back home stocks up on canned food, flashlights, and conveniently bottled water, Cabo Verdeans hope and pray that they don’t have to watch the rain fall into the ocean a few miles off the coast.

March 2018, Santiago Island

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on my living room couch pondering whether I had time for another Brooklyn 99 episode before bed, when I heard someone run across my roof. I immediately grabbed a flashlight in self-defense (naturally) and leapt from the couch. As I hid silently behind my bookcase (because I’m sneaky, you see) I also heard someone on the roof of my deck. A two-person heist! Stealthily craning my neck out of my hiding spot, I could just make out a darkened corner of my patio. I squinted. Was that rain?!

The rain was coming down fast and heavy and made such a racket that I assumed my fortress was under attack. I jumped out from behind my bookcase and threw open the back doors to my patio. There were puddles! And wind! And water falling from the sky! I proceeded to record a series of poorly-lit and shaky videos because the moment felt so momentous.

September 2018, Santiago Island

September 2018, Santiago Island

It’s rained several times over the past few weeks and the islands have suddenly turned green. Dusty abandoned construction lots now look like the rolling hills of Ireland. Goats munch on grass instead of garbage. For the first time in a year, the seasons seem to have changed.

A few weeks of rain won’t fix the damage caused by the recent drought. And as these droughts become more common, there will likely be more serious problems on Cabo Verde’s hazy horizon. But for now the islands are happy. It’s raining.

September 2018, Santiago Island

September 2018, Santiago Island

September 2018, Santiago Island

September 2018, Santiago Island

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A Day in the Life

The never-ending mountain of applicant folders

A never-ending mountain of applicant folders

I’ve been living in Cabo Verde for six months! I’ve visited four of ten Cabo Verdean islands, adjudicated more than 1,200 visas, and submitted my bid list for my next post. Yikes. And now that I have a better understanding of what I do (it was a long learning curve), I thought I’d fill you all in as well. So below, I present: A Day in the Life of the American Vice Consul in Cabo Verde. Also known as, me.

7:40 AM

I nudge the curb and gear my car into park, proud of myself for once again surviving the seven hectic traffic circles between my house and the U.S. Embassy. I open the car door, letting myself adjust to the buzz of street noise before swinging out onto the cobblestones. I say hello to the group of women who sit on plastic buckets selling fresh tuna to pedestrians and walk through the sunny breeze while rummaging through my purse for my security badge. As I pass the line of visa applicants outside the embassy who certainly woke up much earlier than I, I wonder who decided that American embassies should open an hour earlier than any other American office on the planet.

8:00 AM

I settle into my chair and flip on the desk lamp I brought to improve the office’s fluorescent lighting. As I pull a Tupperwared muffin out of my purse, I ponder if any of my houseplants could survive a move to my window-less desk. I log onto my computer and start typing out responses to last night’s emails.

By 9am, the Consular section’s local staff have gotten a head start on applicant intake and my boss and I are called to the windows to begin our interviews for the day. All Cabo Verdeans need a visa to visit, study, or work in the United States and must come to the U.S. Embassy for a visa interview. My boss and I will spend the next few hours interviewing applicants in Portuguese through bullet-proof glass to determine if they are eligible for visas to the United States. There are thousands of U.S. immigration laws, exceptions, and ineligibilities to consider. I often stare blankly at applicants as my mind spins through the rolodex of immigration rules that may apply to any one particular case. In the end, there is only time to speak to each applicant for about three minutes. This is also the most heartbreaking part of the job, as it often involves denying the visas of perfectly nice people who don’t qualify for the visas for which they applied. Parents argue. Children cry. Grandmas glare.

11:30 AM

I return all my checklists and guides to their blue folder, switch off my window’s microphone and return to my office, rethinking the morning’s cases. I check emails and hope I don’t see anyone that I denied at lunch.

1:30 PM

Following a sunny lunch at one of the outdoor cafes near the Embassy, I head back to the office to fight back the growing stack of applicant folders that have begun to pile up on my desk. This involves running name checks, checking fingerprint and facial recognition databases, requesting and sorting additional documentation, and looking up the finer details of immigration law in the State Department’s 800+ page guidance. I feel very academic and lawyerly. But usually at about three cases in, I remember why I’m glad I’m not a lawyer.

3:30 PM

Once I’ve sorted through all my applicant cases for the day, I have a few hours to work on some long-term projects. These projects include everything from revamping our applicant waiting room, to planning educational videos for the Facebook page, or organizing outreach trips to the other islands to answer Cabo Verdeans’ visa questions in person. The Consular section does data validation studies to determine if people are using their visas correctly. We write editorials to explain the finer points of immigration law to the Cabo Verdean public. We debate new U.S. immigration policy changes and research how these changes will affect our adjudications. At the end of the day, our goal is two-sided: to prevent illegal immigration and visa misuse, but to also encourage legitimate travel to the U.S.

5:30 PM

The U.S. Embassy in Praia is small, and unlike most embassies, we don’t have U.S. Marine guards for security. This means that one of us diplomats is responsible for kicking everyone out of their offices each night and making sure the embassy is secured until the next morning. So at 5:30pm, I usually find myself scrambling to answer one last email, making sure all the Consular safes are locked, and hitting the lights.

Until tomorrow – até amanhã!

First Impressions

You know how sometimes you feel like you’re in just the right place at just the right time? That’s how I’ve felt ever since stepping off the plane in Cabo Verde!

I am incredibly lucky to have been sent to Cabo Verde for my first post. The embassy is small, which means that my colleagues are incredibly close-knit. They’ve all gone out of their way to make sure I’m taken care of: I arrived to a fridge stocked with banana bread and a desk stocked with Post-Its. My boss graciously lets me pester him with 473 questions a day and the consular section’s local staff have invited me to perform with their singing group. Even the Ambassador himself took me on a day trip around the island to get my bearings. Getting hungry? Choose from three different dinner invites. Need an emergency pie plate? Take two and a kitchen scale. House run out of water? An emergency water truck shows up in 10 minutes. The community here is impressive, to say the least.

There are plenty of things here in Cabo Verde to be thankful for (and since I still have a leftover Thanksgiving pie in the freezer, I’m allowed to make a list). For example, the awesome water pressure in my new shower. Or the Orca store, which is a cross between a NYC bodega and an American Target, and which is currently a winter wonderland with impressively decked halls. I’m thankful that Amazon can deliver throw pillows to an island in the middle of the Atlantic within two weeks. I’m thankful that I have a car and friends who are willing to repeatedly put their lives at risk as I drive them through the lawless-ish streets of Cabo Verde. I’m thankful for people who understand technology and know how to sync my computer to my TV and can make phones work internationally. I’m thankful for my Portuguese training, because I️ would quite literally be lost and hungry and bad at my job without it. I’m thankful for the movie theater that plays new release American movies in English with Portuguese subtitles and will mix the sweet and salty popcorns for you. I’m thankful for the guards who watch my fortress of a house all night and I’m thankful for the local plant fair that helped me make my fortress of a house feel more like home.

So thank you to Cabo Verde, for welcoming me with open arms. And thank you to the United States, for hiring me to do this awesome job!

Cidade Velha, Cabo Verde

Lunch views in Cidade Velha, Cabo Verde

Palm frond ceilings

Woven palm frond ceilings, complete with fish

Cidade Velha, Cabo Verde

It looks like Jurassic Park here!

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That’ll do.

Tarrafal, Cabo Verde

Spotted in Tarrafal, Cabo Verde

Tarrafal, Cabo Verde

Those lunch views just keep on comin’…

Mindelo, Cabo Verde

Spotted in Mindelo, Cabo Verde

img_0106

Entirely unposed… me in Cabo Verde!

A Música em Cabo Verde

Toi Pinto

António Pinto and a photo of himself with his good friend, Cesária Évora

While in Portuguese training at FSI, I had the opportunity to interview António Pinto, a Cabo Verdean diplomat and musician here in Washington D.C. I was working on a thesis project about Cabo Verdean music and was lucky to interview someone with first-hand experience. And in Portuguese, no less!

It’s said that there are more musicians per square kilometer in Cabo Verde than in any other country in the world. And after having done this project, I don’t doubt it. Because it seems that all Cabo Verdeans simply live and breathe music. So without further ado, I present to you my thesis, “A Música em Cabo Verde.” (Psst: English translation below…)

A Música em Cabo Verde | Português

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The Music in Cabo Verde | English

The word “saudade,” is the only Portuguese word that does not have an exact translation in English. It expresses the deep emotional state of lacking a person or place that you love. This feeling is often found in the literature and art of Portuguese-speaking countries. And it is especially found in music. While Portugal has fado, the sad songs of lost love, today I’d like to talk about a smaller country, a country that dances with music, the country of mornas. Today, I’d like to talk about music in Cabo Verde.

Cabo Verde is an archipelago of ten islands. The country is only the size of Rhode Island and is 570 kilometers from the coast of Senegal. The islands were unpopulated until the 15th century, when they were discovered by the Portuguese. Cabo Verde soon became a commercial hub due the slave trade and whaling industry, but the islands were a Portuguese territory until 1975, when they became independent. Now, Cabo Verde is a vibrant, developed, and growing country with a unique blend of African and Portuguese cultures. And with a diaspora larger than the population of the islands, this culture has spread around the world. The most famous aspect of these islands? The music. The music that seems to live in the hearts of all Cabo Verdeans.

I had the opportunity to speak to António Pinto, a diplomat at the Embassy of Cabo Verde in Washington, DC, and a successful musician both in Cabo Verde and the United States. He has been singing since he was a child and it all began, as so many stories do, with a girl.

“I started singing when I was 10 or 16 years old in Cabo Verde. When a boy wanted to impress a girl, he would get a group of us together and we would sing serenades underneath her window. A group of us with a guitar and a violin. So I learned to sing in Cabo Verde when I was very young. Once I was out of the military, I continued to sing in Angola. I originally went to Angola to play soccer, but after Independence on April 25th, I started singing with an Angolan group. We went to Brazil for four months and then sang for six months in Cascais in Lisbon, a very famous neighborhood. In 1981, I started working for the Embassy of Cabo Verde here in D.C. and I continued to sing for Cabo Verdean communities in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Florida.”

The independence of Cabo Verde in 1975 changed everything. When Cabo Verde first gained independence, 60% of the population could not read and the country did not have a formal education system. But in only 40 years, this rate has declined to less than 12%. The country now has a formal education system and educational partners in the United States, China, and around the world. Music education on the islands is still informal, with private teachers, and many people learn about music like Antonio, with their friends. However, there is a growing trend towards formal music education. There are many primary schools with music lessons, and legislation published by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources, discusses Musical Expression as a facet of primary education. Due to a lack of resources such as teachers, instruments, and space, progress is slow, but progress does exist. However, sometimes it is possible to use the resources that are literally washed up on the beaches. According to a Cabo Verdean tall tale, in 1968, a shipwreck was discovered on the beaches of São Nicolau. The ship was filled with electronic organs and keyboards that were originally on their way to Rio de Janeiro. The government decided to donate these instruments to the country’s schools and suddenly, students from Cabo Verde had access to the latest electronic music technology. Was it this supposed twist of fate led to the development of Cabo Verde’s electronic music industry in the 1970s?

It was this sound and identity that modernized traditional music in Cabo Verde – and there were many strong traditions. For example, there is the coladeira, the cheerful music with joking themes of satire.

Then there is the funaná, the fast songs with an accordion base. These songs are sensual, fast, and tribal. So tribal, in fact, that the Portuguese colonists banned them on the islands of Cabo Verde.

Then there is the batuque, one of the oldest types of music in Cabo Verde. This genre developed when the colonists stole the drums from the slaves on the islands. A woman in the center of a circle creates a rhythm with a cloth sack.

And of course, there is the morna, the longing songs of a people with roots in the slave trade and who now face a widespread diaspora, who understand well the pain of being far from home. These songs are about pain and ruin. And we can not talk about the morna without mentioning Cesária Évora.

Cesária Évora was a Cabo Verdean singer who died in 2011. She was, without comparison, the most famous Cabo Verdean in the history of the country. She was the Queen of Morna and The Barefoot Diva because she performed barefoot as a tribute to her childhood, when she grew up without shoes. She came from a family of musicians, and began singing in local bars and on cruise ships when she was only 15 years old. But her career lasted for more than 50 years and her legacy will survive for much longer. She won many awards, including a Grammy, and received lifetime achievement awards from Cabo Verde, Portugal, and France. However, maybe she is best described by someone who knew her personally.

“I met Cesária when she was just singing in little bars in São Vincente. That’s where she started. And many times, in those bars, she would introduce me to perform. Then she went to Portugal where she met Jose da Silva, a Cabo Verdean entrepreneur who marketed her in Europe, where she had enormous luck. Then she came to the United States to sing and I was in charge of the backstage. I organized everything and was always with her, even in the limousine, everywhere. There were many events, including the Wolf Trap, where she sang.

In Cabo Verde, it was very difficult to visit her house. Lots of people visiting Cabo Verde wanted to visit her, but there were so many, that she couldn’t let them all in. But she said I could come any time and I used to go there a lot, even escorting people who wanted to meet her. Once, a girl came all the way from Norway to see Cesária perform at the Baia Festival. I told her that if she wanted, I could take her to Cesária’s house. I was busy with my family that day so I dropped her off at Cesaria’s at 11am. I came back to pick her up at 7pm and she was on the floor drunk! They had been drinking together and she just couldn’t keep up with Cesária!”

Cesária often performed in Cabo Verde and sang in Criolo, the country’s native tongue which is a mix of Portuguese and African languages. Her legacy still exists in the music festivals of Cabo Verde and every year, thousands of people from around the world travel to Cabo Verde to attend festivals like Baia das Gatas, the biggest festival in West Africa, and the Sal Music Festival. And why? Because the music in Cabo Verde is addictive. Cabo Verdeans have a clear passion for their country and their music.

“In all parts of the world, I think music is essential for the life of people. For both young and old. Because music transmits everything. And the music of Cabo Verde and the music of Africa – they have the flavor of jazz. When I perform, with my intent and with my style, I want people to understand my message. I want to transmit a point. Music is a remedy for people’s souls.”

It is said that there are more musicians per square kilometer in Cabo Verde than in any other country in the world. And perhaps this is because all Cabo Verdeans live and breathe music. Indeed, it is clear that there exists on these little islands, a culture that is much larger.

Flag Day!

Flag Day has come and gone and my classmates and I have all survived! The energy of the room was electric as nervous parents fretted over color-coded bid lists and State Department employees lined the walls, reliving the excitement of Flag Days past. My friends readied their cameras and specially-made Flag Day bingo cards, ready to provide emotional support should I happen to trip on my way to the front of the room.

I was one of the last people called, so I sat with my stomach in knots as the number of remaining flags dwindled. What countries were left? Should I exit my row to the right or left? Was the panic making my curls frazzled? Suddenly, I heard my name called from afar and found myself shaking the ambassador’s hand.

So where will I be going? Cabo Verde!

“Don’t tip over. Don’t tip over. Don’t tip over.”

One of my highs! Cabo Verde is a chain of ten islands off the coast of West Africa. Combined, the islands (including three volcanos – gulp) are about as big as Rhode Island, but what Cabo Verde lacks in land mass, it makes up for in exuberance. The country is known for its music, beaches, and people, yet more Cabo Verdeans actually live abroad than in the country, which boasts a population of just 500,000. Cabo Verde has a higher standard of living than any other West African nation and gained independence from Portugal in 1975. As a result, the country’s official language is Portuguese, although many citizens also speak Crioulo, an African/Creole/Portuguese mix. Perhaps most importantly, there is one goat for every two people in Cabo Verde. Goats mean cheese.

My new home!

Let’s zoom in a tad…

There it is!

I’ve listened to other people’s Flag Day stories for years, but being in my own was surreal. The Foreign Service is now tangible. The job exists. I can mentally picture the next two years of my life. And I can’t wait to get started. I will spend the next few months in intensive Portuguese and Consular training and will depart for post in October. Time to get to work!