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Caught Between Two Places: Reflections From An Airplane Above the Atlantic

I have been back from Cape Verde for a month and only now have I had the courage to sit and pen down my thoughts. It’s been quite a hectic month full of relocations and new beginnings. One can say it’s been, at the least, overwhelming. I arrived from Cape Verde to my parents’ home in Providence, then relocated to my new home and started a new teaching position at a university in Charlotte. So my life in the last few weeks has been full of transitions.  Meanwhile, I had placed all the feelings I’d been experiencing on hold as I dealt with more pressing family and professional matters like unpacking, address changes, matriculating my son at the new school, completing my syllabi and numerous faculty meetings.  So today, right now, I will address these feelings on paper for the first time.

This entry’s title speaks to these feelings that I have had over the last 20 years but really did not know how to conceptualize them. I normally visit Cape Verde for about three to four weeks at a time, every other year. The first week or so, everything is a bit strange. The second week, I get used to being there but by the fourth week, I feel as if am truly home and part of the community. This includes running errands around town for my grandma or just sitting at the beach bar for hours, people watching, without a sense of urgency that I must go sightseeing or anything of the sort.  By the time I feel this way, like I am truly “home”, it is time to leave and come back to my life in the United States. So in the fifth week, I am pulled and uprooted from a life that I truly love to return to another life that I also truly love.  When I get back to the US, it usually takes a couple of months for me to get back to some normalcy, feeling like I belong once again to the American society. I go through feelings of sodade, a very deep nostalgic feeling of homesickness understood only by those whose homeland is different from where they now reside.

 For the past twenty years, I have been doing this back and forth between my country of origin and my country of residence; a back and forth between two lives that I truly love, feeling torn, not wanting to loose neither; hence, the title of this entry, caught between two places. When I am at home in Cape Verde, I do not feel one hundred percent me, because there is this undeniable American dimension to me, for which I appreciate and am thankful. However, when I am in the US, I also do not feel one hundred percent whole, because I do not have my entire family and what is familiar to me, what is peaceful and what is simple.  I miss being around my aunts who are my mentors, my cousins who look like me and my grandmother who blesses me with infinite wisdom. In the US, I also live another airplane ride from my parents, siblings, and the Cape Verdean community. So there is an additional dimension to my sodade.  Don’t get me wrong, am thankful for my husband and our son. However, the “whole” of me always feels incomplete without all of the pieces mentioned above. In the end, the best way to describe my feelings over the past twenty years is like I am suspended in the air, on an airplane flying over the Atlantic, not really sure whether to land at Boston Logan International Airport or the Amilcar Cabral International Airport in Cape Verde.

Signing Off From Cabo Verde…the land where God spread his happiness

This will probably be my last entry prior to my departure to the United States next week. 

 I Learned Today That My Grandmother Loved Mini-Skirts!!

Today I met with Dona Maninha. This was one of the most important conversations I have had in my life. I went through obstacles courses and scavenger hunts to find her residence but I found her through about 9 people. You see, Dona Maninha was very good friends with my paternal grandmother, whom I never met because she passed on when my father was young. Currently, I am the same age my grandmother was when she passed away. The circumstances of her life and death were too painful so my father has had a hard time discussing her with me. I know very little about her life beyond that she was gorgeous (from the pictures I have of her) and that all loved her. Last week, I decided that I would learn about this woman whose name I share and who has marked my father’s life. My grandma was the godmother to Dona Maninha’s daughter. They were very good friends. My objective was to create memories of my grandmother that, instead of pain and death, included happy moments and real day-to-day situations she lived. So I went on a quest to learn about her life through her friends. What I have learned thus far: she would have been in her late 70s (and if we know anything about CV women, that is pretty young). She was friendly, soft spoken, very pretty and sophisticated, wouldn’t hurt a fly, trusting, laughed and smiled a lot, worked at the cafeteria of a local soccer team, her and my dad were VERY close since they only had each other, she spoiled him and treated him like a little king and he did the same with her even as a young boy, she supplemented her income by crocheting and doing other needle-work which helped put my dad through school. She loved music, dancing, and mini-skirts.

Allowing Life Transitions To Take Place

I have visited home every couple of years or so since my family decided to immigrate to the United States 20 years ago. From all of my visits to Cape Verde, this was probably the most significant one.  Of course, the time I met my husband in 2005 was extremely important but as a Cape Verdean woman this was by far the most enlightening experience.  I say this because I have been on a quest to find my cultural identity and my place within my family’s history. In this quest to define myself, I met several people by chance, some of them “regular” people (i.e. Dona Maninha, 80 year-old-mother of 9, and my grandmother), and others, famous painters (Tchale Figueira), singers (Cesaria Evora), and writers (Germano Almeida). All these people have helped me somewhat place myself in this world and my role as a Cape Verdean woman, professional, wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, etc but not in this same order but all equally important. My trips to CV have now transitioned from me as a young woman who comes home to party at night and hit the beaches during the day to me as an adult woman who can still do all that but lives a purposeful life which includes family and the pursuit of cultural identity through history so that the present and the future can make more sense. Each day, I feel like I know my purpose in this world a bit more. I don’t claim to know it all but conversing with all these people who are full of wisdom has opened my eyes to the past, the present, and how to tackle the future. Until my next post….

my day with Cape Verde’s Royalties

The coolest part of my day was going over Cesaria Evora’s house and sitting by her feet while she was talking to me and my sisters. She asked about our family background for reference sake (she knew my family since we live so close). I was able to walk around and see all her platinum and gold albums as well as pictures and awards that she’s received throughout the years. I asked her if she could live anywhere (besides Cape Verde) in the world she said, “right here in Cabo Verde, LOL!” She looks healthy and seems to be resting….although I wish she would quit the smoking.  Later that afternoon I also listened in quietly on my sister’s conversation with internationally recognized artists, composer Vasco Martins and painter Tchale Figueira. They discussed art, music and cultural identity as it relates to their own personal art. Tchale lives two doors down from us while Cesaria lives about a 2 minute walk!

So I was complaining to my husband that I didn’t want to go to the night clubs while I am home anymore because all they play is foreign music like european techno or Angolan Kuduro with some spotting of Cape Verdean or Antilles zouk. It becomes the same mundane crap every night. Can you believe the clubs don’t start popping until 2:30am here in S. Vicente??!! I am not saying I am old or nothing but dang, where can I go to find some decent danceable music around 11pm or midnight? On the positive side, it’s very easy to go to the local hotel or bar to listen to local and international artists play live traditional music. That is a treat that is on the rise here in the city of Mindelo. I think more and more, our culture is appreciated by our own people. I was starting to think that only foreigners appreciated our music and culture. I guess we were waiting for the international stamp of approval…or something!

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