Desert Meanderings. 1.

It’s a random night in January.

I’m walking along Sal’s major highway – the one that extends along the island’s longitudinal axis like a vein.

I’m headed towards Santa Maria, at the southernmost end of the island.

The road is smooth and empty. Population here is low relative to land area, so the road is usually empty at any given instance in time – as far as the eye can see.

I enjoy playing dreamy surreal songs from Wildlight while walking along this road at night. Autograf too. I like their music too for stuff like this.

I walk along the edge of the road as it wraps over a hill. On a good hill you can see the edges of the island. During the day.

I think it’s an interesting feeling: Standing on a highway and being able to see the water lapping against different shores delineating the island. It makes you much more keenly aware that you’re really just standing on a piece of land surrounded by water.

Any piece of ground anywhere on the planet is a part of an expanse of land surrounded by water, but it’s just never really something you’re very conscious of- until you’re staring at the different edges of the stretch of land you’re standing on.


I’ve just come across someone. A guy. He’s about the same age as I am. Thereabouts.

There’s a tall structure off the highway. A little into the desert. I’m not sure what it is. It looks like something in-between a lighthouse and a telecommunications mast.

I think I was walking towards it out of curiosity when I came across him. He works security there. He’s on a night shift.

We talk for a bit. He’s from the Gambia I think.

There’s something of a language barrier, so we can’t communicate extensively. We spend some time hanging out in his living quarters. It’s a small room at the base of the tall structure. We’re talking about Santa Maria, and watching some Youtube videos on his phone.

It’s strange seeing technology from the perspective of an insider-somewhat. To a lot of people an app is really just a name that they generally associate with the emotions they experience from using it.

And the company behind the app, the people who build are maintain it, are really just this nebulous, extra-terrestrial and omniscient “They”. “The YouTube people”, “The Google people”, etc.

I recently spent about a year living in Silicon Valley, and so that gave me something of an insider perspective into apps and software technology in general. There’s the insider perspective you get from learning about how the tech works, and there’s the social dimension you get from living in a place that’s renowned for software development.

The people behind the apps are neither nebulous, nor extra-terrestrial, nor omniscient. They’re people. Like everyone else. Things that generally happen to people also happen to them.


At some point I feel like I should head back on the road. I mention that to him. We talk a bit more as we head out of his quarters.

He looks like he could use some company on his solitary nights shifts. He also seems to miss his family back in The Gambia.

We exchange our goodbyes and I head out into the night.


Image: Hanging off some weathered rocks somewhere on the western edge of Sal island.

Sal: An Uneventful Weekend.

I woke up a few minutes ago.

I’m still on the bed. The faded pink – you know I don’t know if the mattress is actually pink. Or if it was pink before the colour faded so much. It looks pinkish now though. It’s a dull dispirited pink that has definitely had better days.

I’m on the mattress, hearing the rusty springs inside it softly creak as my weight shifts.

Fucking Simon.

He said he was going to get me a better mattress.

Come to think of it, he said he was going to get me a lot of things. That was why he charged me a bit extra for the room.

For example, he also said he was going to install locks on the door.

At some point I realized all of that was never going to happen. And so I stopped bothering him. I have more prominent life quandaries to contemplate anyway.


I feel listless and unenthusiastic.

I’m wearing my camping jacket. The dark green one I bought at a thrift shop in San Francisco. I’m wearing it indoors now, I’m not quite sure why. I guess it helps me feel warm. Warm and protected somehow.

I head out the door of the studio apartment.

It’s a dull day. The sky is somber and grey. It’s almost like it’s echoing my mood.

Today’s sky is actually atypical. Sal island is usually sunny like all the time.

When I first got here, one of things I found extremely thrilling was how clear the sky was. Sometimes there would be practically no clouds. Just this sparkling hue of entrancing blue.

Today there’s no stimulating blue to lift my spirits.


I’m on the walkway, trudging by the row of neighbouring apartments.

I’m by the staircase. The wide staircase that leads to the apartments on the storey above.

There are a bunch of Cape Verdeans neighbours sitting down and having a chat.

To hell with it – I think I’ll join them.


I’m sitting amidst the group. Gleaning whatever I can of their conversation in Creole.

Nino is in the group.

Nino looks very different from the rest of them.

He is a Sambajud.

Sambajuds are generally first-generation mixed-race Cape Verdeans. They’re usually very light skinned, and usually you can tell just from looking at them. This is in contrast to the Badiu who are generally darker-skinned – way more Cape Verdean than they are Caucasian, although they might have some European streaks in their ancestry somewhere.

I feel like Cape Verdeans generally – even the most Badiu of them, are not entirely genetically African – whatever that means. In relative terms, the most Badiu Cape Verdeans will generally have some features different from what you’ll find in more mainland Africa.

For example their hair has larger curls. In like more inland West Africa people generally have hair with type 4C curls – tightly coiled strands of hair that generally give the impression of being one coherent mass.

Badiu Cape Verdeans will have more 3C sort of curls – wavy springy hair – what your hair strands would look like if you wrapped them around a pencil or a crayon. I think it’s because the Cape Verdean archipelago has historically been some sort of cultural confluence – a port for European cargo etc ships on their way back to Europe (I learnt this from Tony while I was having drinks with him and Peverto the other day) – with people of African descent generally accompanying them as underlings – as is usually the historical case.

Something I’ve never quite understood – why aren’t there any historical stories (or at least none that I know of) of colonial empires which grew out of the African continent? At that time there wasn’t such a widespread moral objection to colonization – it was just what people did. People rampaged whatever territories they could, and abducted its inhabitants as slaves- expanding their own empire and furthering their own fictive narrative of ethnic superiority.

My question then is, why was the colonizer-colonized dynamic so biased against the people from the African continent?

For a group of people to successfully, continually, and persistently overpower another group they need to have access to resources the other group does not. Somehow. They have to be at some sort of advantage – have some sort of an edge.

Technology? But these different groups of people had existed for about the same time. None had a significant temporal head start – if any, the people on the African continent did have the head start, because I believe there’s evidence suggesting that human life began in Africa – something like that.

Co-operation? Large-scale inter-tribal co-operation? E.g on say a national scale? Maybe. I think that’s an actual possibility. Maybe the absence of co-operation and a collective identity on a much larger scale than tribes or regional kingdoms – maybe that makes it more likely to be overpowered by a coherent group unified at say a national level. But then there are questions of relative size. Some Western European countries are relatively tiny. Size-wise, how would they compare to say a kingdom elsewhere with a larger geographical area/more people? I don’t know.

Differences in the collective priority attached to innovation? That’s another one.

The discovery of technology that dramatically catalysed technological progress? Eg writing?

For example if one society discovers writing before the other, you’d expect a positively nonlinear acceleration of progress in that society – because all of a sudden people can reliably share large amounts of information more quickly, more effectively, more efficiently. That’s one possibility that occurred to me a while ago. I should look through research papers in Sociology to see if it’s something people have already talked about.


One of the Cape Verdeans hands me a stick of marijuana. They’ve been passing it around as they engaged in their Creole conversation.

As the joint floats in my direction, I ask myself:

Hm, am I really in the mood for weed today?

Do I feel like today is that sort of day?

The joint gets closer.

Ah to hell with it. I’m in a weird-ass mood today anyway.

I accept the joint and take in some puffs.

I feel my headspace gradually begin to transition, as the THC perfuses my bloodstream.

oooooKAYYyy. Now I’m in a different place.

I’ll just chill here for a while longer. Hazy with drowsy and distant excitement while immersed in the gargle of excited Creole chattering around me.


Image:

Random night on Sal. I was trying to get into a casino- “Casino Royale” along Avenida dos Hoteis in Santa Maria. But I wasn’t granted entry because I wasn’t wearing actual shoes. My actual formal shoes were swept away by the ocean waves on a night I spent at the beach a few weeks prior. They were both frustrating nights.

Mercado Municipal

I’m standing on the first-floor balcony of the Mercado Municipal– A brown two-storey building which houses Santa Maria’s Farmer’s Market, as well as a good number of offices.

It’s a new building. I think they recently commissioned it. A considerable number of the offices haven’t even been allocated yet.

There’s this empty office in one corner of the second-floor. I sneak up there every once in a while with my laptop to get some electricity. I sit on the floor in my jeans- stiff with salt from walks along the beach, and make life plans on the computer.

What sort of a shape should my professional life take, What the fuck is my precise plan with this gap year, What’s going to happen with college etc.

I don’t know if it’s allowed. But the door usually isn’t locked so I’m not like, breaking in or anything.

Making plans gives me a calming sense of reassurance during these thoroughly uncertain times. I’ve spent all of the money I came into this country with. My parents and I have been in intense arguments since the beginning of the year, and so I don’t ask them for money.

I don’t think it makes sense to exchange in series upon series of heated messages with your parents, engage in boiling, livid arguments on the phone-

I don’t think it makes sense to do all of that, and then at the end be like Err, so I know we’re all like boiling with rage and stuff, but do you guys mind sending me some money so I don’t like, die in this country

Yeah, I need you to send me money so I can keep doing what I want and we can keep having more arguments- How’s that

I want to do what I want with my life, but I want to do it on your own dime

Not like there’s that much money to send in the first place.

Parents are like, What????

What are you doing in that country? Who sent you there? Aren’t you supposed to be with your classmates in Argentina? Your classmates in that ridiculous unrealistic school that we don’t really understand?

Aren’t you supposed to be studying to get your university degree?

So you can get a good job in the US after graduation and begin to earn in Dollars?

What are you doing in Cape Verde?

Who sent you there?

Wait, where is Cape Verde again?

Ah! You must be experiencing a spiritual attack. The envious enemies from our village have seen your future glory and have employed metaphysical projectiles to derail you from your destiny.

Demons were launched from our hometown to turn your brain upside down. That is why you think it makes sense to jettison a marvelous college programme- To abandon an opportunity to be employed in Heaven- Heaven being another name for the USA-

That is why you think it makes sense to abandon all of that and begin to roam the wilderness.

Doing what??

What are you doing??

You need deliverance.

Ah, our enemies have won!

Ah, our enemies are rejoicing over us in their witchcraft covens!

Ah! Our lives are finished! Our son is lost! Lost to the evil demonic powers of the world!

Ah! O ma se o! What a pity!


A lot of the time, I have absolutely no idea where my next meal will come from.

My Senegalese neighbours have been immensely helpful. I am extremely lucky to have them. Most afternoons, they make a huge bowl of delicious food. Usually they invite me over. Most of the time I’m in my apartment, pretending I don’t need their food. Pretending I’ve got things all figured out. Stomaching my discomfort.

And then the aroma of their Senegalese dishes- with names that sound like Chebujeri and Maave, begin to waft in, torturing me all the more.

And then eventually there’s the invite.

“Mayowa!! Come! Come eat! Come!”

“Mange!”

“Comida!”

Those guys are mind-blowing cooks. Like, I don’t understand. I have absolutely no idea.

It’s always like magic. I have absolutely no idea how they do it.

Their food is so good. Like, so good.

I had no idea some people boiled carrots. In rice. Amongst a lot of other things, they put the carrots in seasoned rice to boil. I was very surprised to see that.


But every once in a while things are horrible. Business doesn’t go so well for them, and they make barely any money from the stream of tourists on which Sal island thrives.

On such days, everyone is hungry. You can feel the hunger in the air.

There was this day:

I was seated somewhere on the expanse of small black stones that I think used to be a lawn.

I saw Izmir Bamba walk by.

Izmir Bamba is one of my Senegalese neighbours.

I saw him walk by, but he wasn’t really walking, no. Not really.

He was swaying. From side to side. Like a speedometer.

He probably hadn’t eaten anything that day.

He was swaying from side to side because he could barely stand straight.

If I myself was feeling more energetic, I would’ve burst out laughing.

Not out of derision. No. It was just funny. I’m sure even he would’ve understood.



There’s a small opening in the wooden frame of the roof.

The roof of the empty corner office on the second floor.

The one I sneak into, to charge my computer.

It’s like a sunroof. Skylight.

It’s a skylight.

The woodwork on the roof is interesting.

One of my college professors in the previous semester, had a similar skylight in his office.

I could see it in the background of his video stream during our remote classes in Berlin.

He was in Budapest.

I thought it was cool.


There’s tailor who has a stall on the other side of the building. Right across the square space between the office rows from which you can peer downstairs at the Farmer’s Market.

It usually feels good looking down and seeing all of those nice colourful inviting fruits. Very picturesque.

Earlier in the year, a kind fruit vendor gave me some bananas and I think some oranges for free after I tried buying with my last Euro and US dollar cents.

She had this understanding, sympathetic look on her face. Like aw, he’s trying to buy fruits with these useless coins, let me help him out.

The tailor.

The tailor has this apprentice. More often than not, he’s expressing some sort of disappointment at him.

The poor guy usually has his nose to the sewing machine- or tailor’s chalk- whatever instrument he happens to be using at the time.

And his tailor boss is usually like, yelling in frustration. In Creole.

It’s not always so clear what he’s saying, but from his flapping arms I can usually tell it’s something like:

What sort of a human being are you?”

Why can’t you learn? That was not what I said!!”

Look at this! Look at this line you’ve just sewn. Was that what I said you should do??”

Was that what I said you should do????”



I’m standing on the balcony of the first floor.

I’m thinking about a book I’ve been reading- “You Must Set Forth at Dawn” by Wole Soyinka. it’s an autobiography.

I think it’s an immensely inspiring book. I started reading it late last year in Berlin.

I find the author to be a remarkably intelligent and insightful individual. Wole Soyinka is extremely popular in Nigeria- particularly because he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature sometime in the nineteen-eighties. He’s the first and only person from Nigeria to be awarded a Nobel- and I think the first black African.

Before coming across the book, he was this name I had always heard in conversation, and was generally this Nigerian poster-child for people who use “big words”.

I began reading the book, and all of a sudden I was like Wow, this guy is actually a remarkably interesting guy Hm!

I’ve been thinking about a line from the book. I think from the Foreword or Dedication or something.

It went something like “I dedicate this book to my wife- my loving wife to whom my perpetual absence made me a husband only in name, and to my stoically resigned children…”

I’m particularly surprised by his “matter-of-factly” tone. He doesn’t sound regretful about being a perpetually absent husband or father. he doesn’t even sound sad. Just this flat “This was how it happened and that’s that”.

I think it’s very unusual, and I’m curious why he has that perspective of his marriage and his children.

I started the book late last year. I’m still reading it.

You know, as much as I can afford right now. In between figuring out how to get food and stay alive.

I’m standing on the balcony, ruminating on that sentence, and peering down at an interesting playground across the road.


I’m here today, because I’m waiting for someone.

Two people actually. I’m waiting for two people.

About a week ago I walked into this woman doing something in an interesting-looking office. Here. Here at the Mercado Municipal.

We began to talk.

It turned out she was a Director of this Biodiversity NGO in Cape Verde. She and the second Director were from Spain. Very curious, I asked questions about the NGO. As she answered my questions, she showed me around the office. There was this really interesting miniature model of a Turtle Nest facility they had somewhere on the island- It was just beautiful to look at.

At some point I chipped in that I was on a gap year from college in the US. I mentioned that I had some cool techy AI stuff I could do with their historical turtle nesting data that could help provide useful insights into their strategy and stuff.

She seemed interested. We talked some more and then scheduled a day for me to meet with both her and the second manager.

That day is today.

I’m very excited. We’re planning to do some AI stuff.

Some real stuff. In the real world. With a real organization. Not some inert college paper that’ll end up in just grades. I’ve been very uninspired by that recently.



There’s this guy.

In one of the offices on the first floor.

He’s an optician. I think.

Or an ophthalmologist. One of those eye people. He’s got all of the eye equipment in his office. Lenses and charts and stuff.

He’s from somewhere in Europe.

I walked into his office the other day. We got talking.

He has this interesting car collection on one of his desks.

He was telling me about his perspective on life and marriage and children.

There was an old picture of him standing with a woman- somewhere on the wall I think.

I asked if she was here on Sal.

He said no.

He said a man and a woman should only be together for a while, have kids, and once those kids are grown everyone goes their separate ways.

With regard to a long-term relationship with a woman, he said “I’m happy alone”.

And then he said: “Children are like birds. They fly!”, gesticulating with his fingers.

He said his children were doing well. Said one of them worked at Apple. And that their mother was somewhere, living her life.

I was standing there and listening to him. I thought his perspective was weird.

At some point he began to talk about girls.

He looked at me:

“Girls, When I need…” he said, looking around

“I catch!”, clasping his fingers together like the talons of a hawk.

I kept listening.

Hm.

Okay.

Mister “When I need I catch.”

After our conversation, I headed out of his office. I think at the time, I was trying to figure out how to withdraw the last few dollars on my Bank of America ATM card.

As I headed out, I saw him like flirting with a Cape Verdean girl walking by.

I focused my mind on my financial worries, trying not to imagine what happened whenever Cape Verdean girls came along for eye tests.


I’m still here, standing on the balcony.

The NGO guys are not yet here.


Image: Somewhere on Sal.

A Short Story of Half a Baguette and Lingering Emotional Trauma.

“Oh wow man, I like your triceps. They look really cool.”

He looks up and smiles at me.

“Haha thanks!”

“You do exercises? Like push ups and stuff?”

“No no, I do a lot of swimming. At the beach.”

“Mmmmmn.”

It adds up. His triceps are prominent- prominent enough to catch my attention, but not enough to suggest that he has a dedicated exercise routine for them. I wonder how much open water swimming I need to do to have triceps like that.

I mention that I need a place to charge my computer.

“Is the art gallery upstairs open?”

The last time I was here I charged my computer in the bright sunlit gallery upstairs surrounded by the deep rich and inspiring colours of abstract Cape Verdean art.

“Ah no, gallery’s not open today.”

“Oh man.”

“But there’s the library. You can charge at the library.”

He gets up from his desk at the reception and tears off a chunk of the 50 escudo baguette in my right hand. I’m a little taken aback by the intrusion, but otherwise it’s not really a problem. He’s a pretty nice and friendly guy. I myself have been intruding in other people’s eating and drinking recently. Not long ago I invited myself to provide human company to a lonely bottle of wine I saw at the defunct bar in front of the hotel where I stay.

The owners of the wine were relaxing in the distance. Upon realising their unfortunate bottle of wine was being plundered by a stranger they sprung up and briskly approached me.

I think I was on my second glass when they reached me.

We ended up being quasi-friends, engaging in interesting, heartening conversation for most of that day over multiple other bottles of wine.

———

We walk towards the library. It’s dark and somewhat dusty. It’s evident no one ever comes here. Libraries are not a huge thing on Ilha do Sal. Same with suits. I remember the time I was going around boutiques on the island and offering to sell my suit so I could get some money. The shop owners all kept giving me very bewildered and amused and confused looks. I did not understand it at the time.

Later I began to ask myself how many people I had ever seen wearing suits on the island. The answer was none.

There’s also that other really cool library at Espargos- Bibliotheque Jorge Barbosa. I think the only other person I ever saw in the main hall of the library was the librarian. Haha.

I settle down and find a spot to plug in my computer. I pluck some art books from the bookshelves and take some pictures. Pictures of Van Gogh paintings surrounding my MacBook Pro. I think it all looks really cool and visually appealing and creative and artistic. Pretty much all of the books are in Portuguese so I’m able to make very little sense of them. To be honest the post-impressionist paintings in the books are just as impermeable to me as the descriptive Portuguese text. I do not understand any of the two. I guess I could just see the indecipherable ink scribblings on the pages as an art form too.

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I start up my computer and begin to work on a number of research fellowship applications. A number of hours pass. I type, I think, I look around, and every once in a while I think I take some more pictures.

 

—————

 

“Oh thank you very much man, today was a really productive day!”

“No problem you’re welcome haha!”

Somehow we find ourselves beginning to engage in a conversation about relationships. Romantic relationships. Past romantic relationships. He tells me about his first girlfriend. And his current girlfriend. I think there was another girlfriend between the two of them, but I’m not sure now.

I ask him how he handled the emotional distress of the separation at the end of the first relationship. He says something about how the past is the past, and how the moment the relationship ends the person becomes an “ex”. He puts a lot of vocal emphasis on the “Ex”.

I don’t really like the word “ex”, and I’m not sure why. It’s definitely a word pretty much everyone uses to describe past romantic partners, but for some reason I don’t feel like it applies to my specific experience. I’ll have to come up with some other term that I feel resonates much more with how I feel.

I keep getting perspective from him. From the look of things, calling someone an “Ex”, and saying the “Ex” very loudly is supposed to immediately make you feel emotionally detached from them.

That doesn’t work for me. It does not matter how many times I decide to shout “Ex!”, and make forceful slicing downward motions with my hand, I’m still going to keep wallowing in the distressing emotional mire that has enveloped my being from the past few months.

I still find myself talking to her. In my head. I still find myself talking to her in my head. Sometimes I sub-vocalise. I still see flashes of her face, of her smile, of her hair.

I’m angry at something, and for some reason I find myself thinking about something she did that got me angry. And I feel like I’m going through that disturbing experience all over again.

And so I find myself getting angry at someone who is not there. Over something that happened to me months ago. And I get visibly upset, like the distressing event just freshly happened. Emotional anguish from the past, rippling through to my present without any cogent provocation. I’m not sure what that means.

My thought process still gets periodically interrupted by pangs of disorienting sadness: I’m thinking about A. Thoughts about A connect to B. Thoughts about B connect to C. A begins to connect directly to C, and then——

And then I see her face. She is smiling at me. And seeing that makes my heart sink. An intense sadness overwhelms me. And all of a sudden I’m unable to remember what I was thinking about in the first place.

What was I thinking about again? A? B? How many letters had I gotten to? What was A about again?

My brain feels fragmented. And wounded.

 

__________________________

 

“Hey I have a friend for you! From Italy! I want you to meet her! She really needs some BBC!”

He holds his right arm in his left hand, moving the arm back and forth.

All of a sudden I am laughing very loudly.

“Hahahahahahaha!!!!”

There’s a female coworker of his in the room. She humorously chastises him for being so vulgar in the presence of a guest.

We’re all smiling. The guest doesn’t seem to mind.

At some point he offers to show me around the museum.

“Wait what? There’s a museum?”

I was not expecting that at all.

There are some medium sized sea salt crystals on the desk— trademark of Ilha do Sal. Ilha do Sal literally means “Island of Salt”.

I put one of the crystals into my mouth as I follow him towards the entrance to the museum.