Friday, July 16, 2010

Cape Verde

Me and my Peace Corps buddy
Teaching in Sao DomingosCidade VelhaThe foraPedro Badejo

During the beginning of the millenium, I left the US and joined the Peace Corps in Cape Verde to teach English and help train others in the teaching profession.  A lot of things happened there that  made me grow up and become the person I am today.  There was a day that just clicked for me and everything became clear and challenged everything I had done in my life.  It was one of  those singular moments of clarity that lead me to where I am today. I remember it....painting my bedroom walls and listening to Melanie C on my boombox:)  We don't have many of those in life, but when they happen, we must act on them or sacrifice the person we are meant to become.  My first was in Mexico, my second was in Prescott, AZ, and my third was in Cape Verde....and I think it was my last:) They all relate to profession, family, and place.  Cape Verde was about place and hobbies. It was here that my love for gardening started to grow. So on this hot, steamy, cloudy, monsoon day....I thought I would talk a bit about the beautiful islands known as Cape Verde off the coast of West Africa.

In my previous blogs, I wrote about gardening with my family in Wisconsin, growing potted plants at school, and now this is the account of how I started a garden at my home in Cape Verde on the island of Sal. One of the things that I discovered moving to the islands was the need for having great vegetables.  The islands had avocado, some eggplant, green beans, and that was about it. Cape Verde is a network of about 9 main islands.  They were occupied by Portugal and released in 1975 to declare their independance. These islands suffered from severe deforestation and soil run off into the ocean resulting in starvation and desert conditions on mostly all the islands. The people  had used  up their finite resources which is a familiar tale across the world...just look at Haiti as the leader of that particular issue. Cape Verde had become almost inhospitable to live and many thousands of people fled the country  to the main continent of Africa, Europe,  and the East Coast of the United States.  Today you will see neighborhoods of Cape Verdeans around the Boston and Baltimore areas.

My first day arriving to the island of Sal, I discovered how different this island was from the rest.  It was like moving to Mars or what I would imagine to be Mars:)  It was nothing but dunes and beautiful blue beaches. Coming from the Bay area, it was quite a shock to my system.  How can people live on an island without trees or gardens? I realized that without plants, life was somehow less and that I craved the presence of them in my life.  Apparently, I wasn't the only one who valued plant life on the island.  At that time, plants were expensive to purchase and good soil was hard to come by....but it was possible:)  The ground was hard and inhospitable so plants would have to be in pots.  I became real familiar with the "ice plant".  On the islands of Boa Vista, Maio, and Sal you will find a lot of dunes and very few palm oasis. There are plants, but not many...and the ones you see are cherished by the locals and migratory birds on their stop to the African continent.

We left Sal and took a hopper flight over to Santiago, the main island where agriculture happened.  It was also there that we discovered that the University of Arizona was helping the country repopulate their forests with mainly mesquite trees.  It was like walking back into Tucson again as xeroscape and sun friendly plants were grown.  We spent a whole day in the center of the island listening to the goals.  I sometimes question the dangers of introducing non native trees, plants, and animals into an area, but there was logic in the plan.  Precious soil used on the island was getting washed out into the ocean because there weren't trees there to stop the soil erosion.  Today you can see the success of the program on the islands and how is has helped increase their production of crops.  If you travel to the main island of Santiago, which is a real treat, you should visit the "fora" or countryside village of Sao Domingos.   During this time, most of the farming took place in the washes where the rain would collect....and they grew everything from bananas, avocados, mangos....but they did it in a different way than most.....everything was just tossed into the tight ravine wash area and to me, it was a very bizarre and unorganized way to farm...but it was the only space they had to use.  In several of the pictures above, you will see me standing on top of a cliff and in the background below , you will see the "strip" of green in the washes where the farmers worked. 

When I needed to get my "green" on, I went to the city of Cidade Velha (the old city).  It seemed that on the island of Santiago, there was one sacred place that trees and other plants were not affected by the devastation or plant massacre.  Here you will see some lovely spaces where you can relax by the beach and drink a cold bottle of Sagres(a Portuguese beer).

It's not to say that Cape Verde was completely void of plant life, but it was noticable in many areas.  While progress has been slow on the islands, it is happening and the Cape Verde I knew then is probably a whole new creature today offering its' yearly thousands of European visitors beautiful beaches and an escape from mainland.

I was eventually moved to the desert island of Sal where my hunger for good vegetables began.  There was a limited supply of fresh produce and so the only way of having a variety was to grow them myself.  I saved my Peace Corps stipend and bought blocks of cement to line our courtyard with homemade planters.  There weren't any garden seeds around so my mother and grandmother sent me a package of them from the States.  I purchased my soil, planted my seeds and began my adventures in my own little peace of heaven.  I battled catepillars and slugs everyday, but it was rewarding.  It also made me realize how important plants were and fueled a passion I didn't know I had and so began my gardening adventures.  Sometimes you don't realize how important things are until they are absent from your life.  Happy gardening!!


  1. You certainly have an interesting life. It is fun to read about your adventures. Thank you very much for following my blog. This week I am putting your link on my sidebar.

  2. LOL! It used to be interesting until I purchased a home:) I also enjoy reading your work. I am so glad to have found this tool about people who are enthusiastic about gardening. Many times people will have that glazed look in their eyes when we talk about plants. I'll be going to the biodomes in Milawaukee, WI next week as well as the zoo...focus will be on the gardens and plants. Can't wait and I'll take lots of pics.:) Thank you again for reading.:)


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