This is a guide for my family and friends about my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cape Verde, Africa. I teach English as foreign language to high school students in Boa Vista, Cape Verde. Also as a disclaimer, the comments expressed here are solely of the author and do not represent the United States Peace Corps, the American Government, or any other governing body.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

So today is December 1st. "It's coming on Christmas, they're cutting down trees..." How are those lines at the Gap? The full shopping malls and oh the traffic? It's things like that I absolutely DO NOT miss. I remember just before I left to come here my mother and I were standing in an unorganized line at the Gap. I was so frustrated with the lack of attention to how things were being run I actually said to my mother "I hate this place, this country. I can't wait to get out of here. Be in a place where there will be no lines anywhere." Yes it may be hard to be in a foreign country where they don't speak my language and it's dusty, etc. But I don't have to sit in traffic everyday, stop listening to the radio because they play crap Christmas music, look for a parking space, wait in line 30 minutes for a cheeseburger (mmm cheeseburgers....) or fight the mean lady in the store for the last shirt that's 25% off the original price. Oh thank goodness for small favors. It's interesting, because I haven't heard a breath about Christmas here. And I am in a Christian country. But there are no commercials, no signs, no rediculous advertisments, nothing. I find that in a country like this that doesn't have that much to begin with, can't have that much to give away either. Gift giving doesn't strike me as something that is as widely done as in America or Europe. Which leads me to the fascinating observations on socio-economic situations here in Sal Rei, Boa Vista.

There is a distinction between the classes here, something I had yet to really see here in Cape Verde. I guess it shouldn't surprise me, what with all the tourism and such. But I have noticed that it breaks down like this: first there are the Italian migrants, who have come to live here and brought with them European money that stretches very far. They have opened up hotels, retaurants and other tourist attractions and are living very well on money brought in from outside, as well as the money earned from European tourists. The next level are Cape Verdeans who work for the government. People like Paolo who can afford to take two people out to lobster and steak dinners (sidebar: yes he took us out again last night and I ate my first steak in 6 months. It was another bizarre experience but not really the point here). They are the elite Cape Verdeans, able to live comfortably and especially on an island which offers the finer things in life, they can indulge once in a while. The next level I would estimate to be the store owners, teachers, and people like Leland's counter part Iva, who runs all the Youth Centers on the islands. The teachers in thic country get paid remarkably well, as it is a sort of status to have completed enough education to be able to teach. It requires a college teaching degree available here at the institutes of higher education on two other islands. Iva, as well as my counterpart and the director of the high school Denise, have both received their educations in Portugal and have come back to jobs that are slightly above the teachers and store owners, but in the same general category. Next, are the slightly poorer Cape Verdeans. The people who are manual laborers. Our maid, for example, or the fisherman. This category also includes the women who are vendors at the market. Some of them come from the North and have little vegetable gardens from which they bring small items to sell. Others have managed to find a way to import other fruits and vegetables, such as oranges and grapes. The final category is (like so many countries, the US included) the immigrant workers. I was surprised to see how many people come from West Africa to work here. They work in odd little construction jobs when they can. It is a fairly good market for that here because of all the tourism and other construction that is going on here at the moment. They all seem to live in an area that is slightly inland of Sal Rei, and looks like (for lack of a better term) the ghetto. It truely is tough living in those parts. You can always tell who has migrated from the continent. They are much darker in color, and look stereotypically African. We have noticed that Cape Verdeans themselves are actually fairly light. You can tell there has long been a European mix in the gene pool. Anyway, so as Peace Corps volunteers, we have found ourselves on the slightly higher end of the food chain as people who would actually be getting paid in our position would be doing quite well. We live off of about $350-$400 a month, which does not sound like much to you I am sure. But things here are relatively cheap. But now you know why I have not spent $15 on a steak myself (that's almost a weeks worth of groceries!!), and probably never will while I am here. This money is used to pay for our utilities each month (gas, water, electric) and food mostly. We spend about $20-30 at the grocery store and market per week. So it is plenty for us to live on here. We struggle a little at the end of the period, but who doesn't? And we are still paying for large items such as furniature and the like. So after all the settling-in is done, we should be fairly steady.

So there's a little idea of the financial life a Peace Corps volunteer. Happy shopping :)


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