Cape Verde

Cape Verde

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Até dia ki bo voltà

It's been a few months since I've updated. It's been a few months plus some since I sent a mass email home. My journal, which I once picked up once or twice a week to contribute to, has been sitting on a wooden box collecting inches of terra that somehow manages still to filter through the wooden slats in my window and coat everything inside in a film of heated dust.

There's an interesting conversation that I've had with numerous volunteers here about the best way to finish our two years of service in Cape Verde. I remember my roommate last year, before she left in September, obstinately refusing to think about the fact that she had one month, one week, one day, one hour left in-country. She was still rearranging her suitcases when the car pulled up to the front of our house to take her to the airport. I have a lot of respect for that.

Many people I know this year, myself included, have already started to think about that next step. For those who don't know, all volunteers were consolidated on their respective islands back in January and told that Cape Verde was one of five posts in the world that was chosen to close. This doesn't impact my service in theory, as the post closes in September and I'll be leaving in August, having completed my full 24 months. The volunteers who arrived in-country this past June will have to relocate. Education volunteers are going to Mozambique, the Small-Enterprise Development volunteers are already leaving the country, heading to Colombia, Benin or Togo. They call it "graduating." As though we finished what we set out to do and the country is ready to go on without us. As for me, I have yet to hear that opinion from any Cape Verdean, but this is how it goes.

I don't know if it's the knowledge that we're to be the final legacy of Cape Verde, or the chasm that appeared between some first years and second years when we all uniformly realized that we wouldn't be sharing the experiences that we thought, a promise that unites volunteers as family before we're even known to each other. For me, a lot of the disconnect came in knowing that I would have to explain to my neighbors and friends that no one else would be coming. Santa won't have anyone to keep her food refrigerated or recharge her batteries. Ja won't be able to wash her clothes in the dry months. Beto and Maxi, from Guinea Bissou, won't have a confidant when the racism gets to be too much and they want to talk about home. I feel myself pulling away in preparation for the massive goodbye that I'll be facing in less than two months now. The question "when do you leave?" is on everyone's tongue, and I don't want to hear it.

I'm ready for the next thing. I feel bad that I am. I have learned so much in my time here. An unbelievable amount has changed. Excitement, euphoria, boredom, heartbreak, anger, sadness, growth, healing, re-thinking, developing, disappointment, pity, readiness. Life has followed the swallow's path, always diving, skirting, quickly dancing from one point to the next, returning back home and jetting out again. I've been awestruck by life's ability to regenerate happiness from the ashes of lost things. I've been shocked by people who set things on fire to begin with and think that what they've done is normal. But in the end, I don't feel I've compromised myself. It's a small thing. Some of the most important things are.

Trust me, I will miss Fogo! I have nightmares about leaving, just sitting at the airport with my two suitcases waiting with a lump in my throat for the plane to arrive. The idea of no longer calling this little green house my home makes me incredibly sad. But I'm grateful for what I've been given and what I've been taught, and it's time to take everything back to the States. 

The next two months will fly by, and there's a chance that this will be the last post I write from Cape Verde. I will update about my two projects that are coming together right now, probably once my service is over. For those in the States, I'll see you soon.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Hey world, it's been a while. That last post was a doozy, I thought I should wait until I could write a happier one to update here.

Life has been great here. Aside from the occasional stress of teaching, which now at the end of the second trimester of the second year has started to take its annual toll on me. Most of the teachers at my school right now have to mentally smack an occasional grimace off of their faces, and a common comment in the teacher's room is, "break's almost here!" This year, however, the near end of trimester two is tinged in sadness, in bittersweet knowledge that I'm approaching the last leg of this journey.

I have a lot to look forward to in my future and I'm allowing my excitement for the next few months to remain at the foreground, saving the sadness that I've been dreaming of for the day I sit at the airport and let go of the right to call this island home.

My friend from Assomada just made it out to visit for a weekend and I passed one of the most incredible weekends in recent memory with him and dear friends. I'll admit it was not a typical Cape Verdean weekend, but served as a welcome reprieve from test preparations.

After an afternoon of drinks and catching up, the girls split up from the guys, and when we met on a cobblestone path that winds parallel to the ocean the boys were waiting with flowers, chocolates and wine. I'm almost embarrassed to say this; I know we're Peace Corps volunteers, and these seem silly things to dwell on. But it this set the stage for an amazing night and the unexpectedness of this attention made it more potent. I may not be able to afford a vacation right now and whisk off to a faraway destination where I'm anonymous and free to relax fully, but mentally this felt like settling into a tub of warm bathwater after being dirty for months. We ran along the beach for an hour drinking wine and splashing in the warm foam that lapped up with the waves. I fell in love with my friends and life all over again.

After a wonderful dinner I snuck away from my friends, drawn to the beach by a bonfire surrounded by fishermen. I plopped down in the cold black sand and passed an hour talking about living on the beach, befriending a small boy who told me about the different types of fish he likes to catch. I helped to keep the embers smoldering, and ignored the quizzical looks the men gave me, my fingers dipped in night-chilled sand still damp from the tide, sitting in the soft screen of heat emanating from the driftwood sprinkled with glitter that changed from autumnal orange to crimson, with a constant smile tattooed on my face.

I've found in the past that sometimes I've felt bad here, when I go out with American friends and spend my time doing something "touristy." But this night I realized that I can allow myself time sometimes, in the light of stars with people I love and who understand how sometimes the days here can be more weighty than they seem. We pull each other up, sometimes before realizing that our friends or even we ourselves need help. I guess I needed it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Vonnegut and Zombies

First of all, happy belated holidays to friends and family in the States that I wasn't able to speak with in the prior weeks. My computer had an unfortunate accident and is currently undergoing surgery in the States. I'm hoping to be sent something shiny and new, fingers crossed.

The subject matter of this post isn't particularly uplifting and for that I apologize. But I promised people at home that I would update fairly routinely, and this has comprised a large part of my life for the past week e tal.

Let me start by saying that I had a great Christmas, albeit unplanned, home alone in my community. The sandstorms from the Sahara rendered a visit from my friend from Sao Nicolau in the north impossible, and our planned reunion didn't pan out. It was stressful at first, but I ended up having a very unique, very touching holiday at home with my neighbors, including Christmas Eve mass, witness to a quirky Secret Santa exchange (I was too late to participate unfortunately) and some great food with new friends in more distant zones. People here really took care of me, and as cliche as it sounds (I find it's unavoidable in this situation) I was deeply immersed in celebrations that honored what Christmas is truly supposed to signify.

My friend Chris from the States came here for New Year, as well as many people I hadn't yet met from other islands who are from the newer group to come to Peace Corps Cape Verde. It was a fun whirlwind of craziness wherein we tried to tap into everything Fogo has to offer, drinking wine the whole way through and (at least for myself) ending in a two-day sporadic nap session. It was amazing to have Chris out here, and hopefully he writes a blurb to put in here to elaborate on the trip (you're stuck doing it now sucker).

But the point of writing this is that my last weekend was spent going to two different visitas in As-Hortas, a zone south of me where many of my best students live. A visita is a week-long gathering for people mourning a death, and it culminates in a sete (translated simply as "seven," which is a week to the day after the death in this case) when people go to mass and then lunch with everyone in mourning.

There was a lot of stress involved in getting the full story, including a few terrible hours when I was under the impression that one of my best former students from a family that has been near and dear to volunteers in Ponta Verde for generations had been involved and had died. My heart was literally aching at the thought of reaching home and trudging up the hill to partake in the grief that my friends must be experiencing.

Once I reached Ponta Verde I was a mess. I couldn't even go to the visita that day, and made the long walk to As-Hortas two days later after class. The first house I went to was the home of a 16-year-old girl named Kely who had been in the backseat. Her neck snapped as the car hit the bottom of the ribeira and my only comfort when I greeted her mother, bed-ridden with grief and asking for her own death, was that she didn't feel any pain. Her aunt, the mother of another of my students, sadly told me that this girl had never even been to a festa. She was an intelligent, beautiful girl who spent her time studying and helping her family, and she never left home. Her father had given her money for new shoes that night so that she would feel presentable, and convinced her to go with her uncle.

The accident happened on the way back. I hate to admit it, but I automatically assumed the driver was drunk, which makes it easy to place blame (even from me, a distant witness with no right to place blame on anyone). It was New Year at 6am and they were coming back from a festa, and drinking while driving is widely accepted here. But that wasn't even the case. The driver was a young man from a respectable family who never drank. When he was rounding a ribeira, the back door, which evidently hadn't been shut properly, swung open and a woman in the backseat flew out of the car. Instinctively, he looked behind him, and turned the wheel too hard to the left while doing so, and the car flew straight off the road into a ribeira. Everyone but the two survived, and after the first visita I went to the second to get the full story.

The second visita ended up being much harder than the first. The woman who died was 33, and I'd never met her, but she was the mother of one of my 7th graders. I walked up the steps and saw Katia on a bench, glassy-eyed but otherwise expressionless, staring off at nothing in front of her. The heels of her glossy black shoes stopped clicking rhythmically against the bench when she saw me, and I realized that she didn't want me (as a teacher or as a foreigner, I'm not sure) to see her reaction to what had happened. I respected her anxiety and expressed my condolences but moved inside quickly to give her space, but my eyes were already overflowing by the time I turned away from her.

The women at this visita were wailing, customary for Cape Verdean visitas, but this was the first time I'd experienced it in close proximity. I spoke with the cousin of the deceased and discovered that Katia's father had died years ago, he'd hung himself. Her siblings still had fathers but Katia was left with nothing after this. The most upsetting thing out of all of this was the graphic nature of describing everything. I'd casually asked what had happened, to be sure to have the story straight, and the woman told me that Luisa had been in the backseat, and was alive when help came. They loaded her into the backseat of a car, superficially in good shape aside from a scratch on the head and arm, but halfway to the hospital she began gushing blood from her mouth, nose and ears. They tried to stop the bleeding and went through two towels, but she was dead by the time she reached the hospital. I couldn't think anything other than please, God, please don't let Katia have heard this about her mother. But the openness of the culture and the rapidity with which the news was circulating was too apparent for me to hope that that could be true.

Luisa worked for a family up the street who live in America, and they've offered to adopt Katia and bring her to the States. While trying to avoid involving myself in a very intimately personal matter, I expressed to her aunt that I thought this was an amazing opportunity and offered to come to the house once a week to tutor Katia in English to ease the transition. I haven't heard much more about it, but I'm hoping that she takes the chance she has in front of her, as difficult as it will be to leave the few things that she has left of her life.

I went back for the sete the following Saturday and spent a few hours at each house. This time I started at Katia's house, where I felt my support was more important (whatever that means). She seemed to be doing better, and most of the community was there to show support. I stayed through lunch, but the ambiance was strange, and I felt like I was at a normal community gathering, so after two hours I decided to show face at the second house farther down the street.

This time it was the second visita that tore me up. I drank a beer with the men to calm my nerves a bit and then headed up to the second floor. I sat in the mother's bedroom with a small handful of other women from the community trying to show support for the girl's mother, still in bed and in a state of bewildered half-sleep. I was joking with the other women, and even got the mother to laugh a few times, and then the wailing started in the other room. It was a family member, a big woman with an equally big voice that echoed throughout the concrete rooms. I looked at the floor and cried with the women. In a second's time we went from joking about men and the differences between parties in Cape Verde and America to reabsorbing the reality that brought us all together to begin with. I think Kely's mother had run out of tears, and would only occasionally click with her tongue her reaction to the reminder that her daughter was gone. I left with a driver friend of mine and her mother asked me to come back some time soon and pass a day with her, to which I quickly and happily agreed.

I'm not even sure what the point of writing this is. I haven't had a computer (read: internet, tv shows, general distractions) in a matter of weeks now, and this on top of the new level of isolation from lack of contact with the rest of the world led me to a strange, Vonnegut-esque realization that we are, as a whole, completely absurd creatures. We find comfort in distracting things that don't mean anything, and really what we're choosing to distract ourselves from is meaning. I didn't have 30 Rock to turn to, or have an opportunity to watch zombies take over the world before bedtime (which is my favorite pastime), but I felt myself burst at the seams and survive. I reached my threshold of what I'm able to handle, and then surpassed it, and came out realizing as always that I'm still better off than so many others. I exhausted myself giving every part of myself that I could to strangers who couldn't help but put their full weight on me, and I'm not used to that so it was a strain, but what did I lose? What changed for me? Nothing.

I'll get my computer back in a month, eventually have a long day teaching and come home and curl up to whatever show I've bummed from the last computer I've scavenged. I'll choose to stay at home one hot Saturday and read all day and eat macaroni and cheese until I have to nap it off. I'm American, and you can take the girl out of the States, etc. But this week, perhaps more than another span of time in the recent past, put into stark, uncomfortable perspective the things that I have in my life, and the things that matter, and the things that I was desperately hoping do mean something, or could, but ultimately don't and never will.

Life is hard. We have a funny tendency, dangerously coupled with an uncanny ability, to trick ourselves into thinking that we'll be the exception to the rule in the blink of an eye we call our life, without stopping to think that there are no rules. So if there's any point to writing this it's to ask anyone who reads this, just once, and not out of a sense of entitlement or thinking that I've suddenly learned something unlearnable (on the contrary I feel stupid for systematically falling into this trap), to shut the computer or turn off the tv at the onset of the next urge to watch a show or surf Facebook and do something you've never done, or talk to someone you've never talked to. Or just go sit in the grass and do nothing.

I don't know. I plan on spending minimal time in my house this trimester, and getting to know every square inch of this island before I leave in the coming months. My reality will never be as hard is it is for the majority of people here. So I'll continue to give what I can, and hopefully ease the burdens of those who need help, but I'll always be going back to better. Go play in the sun and leave your iPad at home. I'll join you in September. Much love to you all.



Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Guest spot: Kristin

My green tea bag just told me that "The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself."

This life really is just an epic expanse of a rollercoaster.

Fuckin Mark Twain.


I've known Rachel Day since June of 2006. We were roommates during our life shaking study abroad trip around Ireland. 6 weeks, 2 weeks in 3 different cities. Every time we'd get our roommate assignments Rachel and I were together. Oddly enough, we weren't very close then. Not for any particular reason, but we were both different people then. I think one thing we did have in common was we didn't necessarily go to Ireland to find ourselves, and yet the most unexpected can change you forever. I always know when a relationship is extra special to me because I can't remember the moment I fall in love. I have no clue when it clicked that we were going to be friends forever. But I'm sure as hell glad it did. For the remainder of college we only grew closer, and I can now proudly say that Rachel Day is one of my closest friends, more than a sister... someone I don't know how not to love.

In all honestly when Rachel first told me she was applying to Peace Corps I was extremely excited but also very nervous. I know she's a strong woman and was at a point in her life she needed a challenge. Although I couldn't bring myself to not be a skeptic and to jump to conclusions about how she'll manage where ever she ends up. Well, I do still worry for her the way I do any close friend, but I can now honestly say that she has surpassed any expectations and I could not be more proud. I don't want to say she's a new woman because we all always saw it in her, but I can say that she has grown so much and truly conquered the unfathomable challenges that come with that journey.

Now enough about how amazing Rachel is...

Fogo, Cape Verde... quite the little volcano she's got. I'm not going to go into too much Travel Magazine detail, but here's my top ten thoughts that spring to mind when thinking about the trip:

1. Absolutely beautiful black sand beaches, some that stretch as far as you can see and others are small private coves
2. We hiked the volcano, which I'll admit was extremely challenging for me (i need to get my booty to the gym), but it was completely worth the aches and pains going up (and coming down). The views were spectacular and the company was even better. I loved sharing that experience with 3 incredible ladies, oh and our lovely guide
3. Donkeys make noises they don't teach you in preschool
4. Thanksgiving should be a global holiday. Not because I'm a proud American and think everyone should celebrate our holiday, but because the idea of cooking a lot of food and sharing it with others translates well
5. Bucket showers aren't as bad as you might think
6. Wine is yummy even on a volcano
7. The playful innocents of a kid and the undeniable wisdom of the elderly is universal
8. African beer is really not that tasty
9. Everyone's African doppleganger lives in Fogo
10. Have your adventures while they're there to be had, but never forget you can always go home.

When I got back to the states I spent about a day in Boston. First time in Boston and I must admit it really made me miss the east coast. I think Beantown would be too cold for me but I kept wondering if I should give NYC another chance. Anyway... more importantly, I thought a lot about the Fogo trip while wandering the streets. The first bit of American news I heard was that people were literally being shot, pepper sprayed and trampled to death while shopping on Black Friday. I feel like if I go into my detailed opinion of these events this note will be way too long... so I'll just leave you with that tidbit of information and you can discuss among yourselves.

Fogo is not that different from anywhere else. I feel like some would be insulted by this comment but the truth is every place has its pros and cons. It's just a matter of finding a balance where ever you may end up, whether you're there for a week or a lifetime. People surprise me how different and yet similar they can be. I think that's what allows me to have faith in humanity... to not completely give up on anyone or anything.

I'd personally like to thank Rachel for hosting Meghan, Lolly and I, and for trusting us to appreciate her current way of life. I couldn't be more proud of her, both watching her leading a class and go about her Cape Verdean life.

"Not all who wander are aimless, especially those who seek truth beyond tradition, beyond definition, beyond the image."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Poetic interlude

This is a quick interjection meant for all of the volunteers I know, as well as those I don't. I came across this poem recently and it articulates points that I or friends have made in recent conversation. I was touched by its relevance, and just want to post it in hopes that it may touch a chord with someone else when they need it.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
... though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

-Mary Oliver

Monday, October 10, 2011

I get it

During my first trimester of my first year in Fogo, a friend of mine listened patiently to my frustrations regarding disciplinary problems in my classroom, and said to me, “I wouldn’t wish a first year of teaching on my worst enemy.” I shrugged the comment off at the time, thinking that my second year surely couldn’t be too different from the first. And now here I am, and for the millionth time during my service I find myself thinking “ok, I was wrong.”

The difference is astounding. One year ago I was grasping at straws trying to find anything at all that I could do to keep things in order. I didn’t have teaching resources, my Kriolu wasn’t strong, and I didn’t understand the learning styles of Cape Verdean children. The blank stares I encountered were disheartening, as was the amount of time it took me to figure out how to make my students grasp even the simplest concept.

I’m not quite a month in to my second year in school now, but I’ve taken every painful lesson from last year and combined them into some hybrid version of success. I love joking with my students, but understand now the fine line between light-hearted lessons and getting kids so excited that they become uncontrollable. Everyone participates, like it or not. I have the “teacher face” down, and can stop kids from talking without saying a word. That might be my favorite. I leave my personal emotions at the door when I walk into the classroom. My first real effective day last year came after a breakup, but in retrospect I think the only reason the students behaved that day was fear. Effective, but not my style.

Last year my favorite thing to say to people was that my kids are the best and worst parts of my service. I think once the year goes on that may be the case once again, but I have a handle on it now. A friend in the States, a very successful and wonderful teacher, told me someone said to him once, “I tried teaching. I get it, but it’s not for me.” For me, it’s become something that I think I’ll need to do for the rest of my life…maybe just not professionally.

For anyone who wants to try, I highly recommend teaching ESL. Before joining Peace Corps I taught in Arlington for a year, only once a week, to an amazing and diverse group of people. I taught people of all ages, from nearly every continent. I still remember their faces, and their kind words, and I have a beautiful card from them hanging on my wall. To date, aside from Peace Corps, it remains the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done.

So I get it. Teaching every day from the crack of dawn to two may not be for me, but it’s stuck with me. I saved some of my favorite parts from a project that I did last year with my eighth graders. Some of the papers made me want to quit, but some of the students took the opportunity to convey their emotions and thoughts in such a poetic way; I was insurmountably proud of them. Some were just hilarious. These were some of my favorites:

I like my father. She is the best father.

The holiday that I liked is the holiday of Christmas. Because I was together with my friends, brothers, my family, girlfriend, and my mother, and my father. The party was more pleasant with music in house of my aunt. I danced very with my girlfriend.

At first day that I went to school in Ponta Verde, I finded many friends.

We spent time there and spent one midnight happy.

I like policemen. I like to go to the beach. I don’t want to be rich. I want to have a family with a woman that I love. I like my English teacher.

I’m 12 years old. My homework is about a party in Santo Antonio. It is very short but is very interesting.

During summer vacation, the weather gets hot, and since I live close to the beach I go there almost every day to swim. Even when the vacation is about to end, I still be happy because when I return to school I will be in a different grade and that will be a new experience.

A month after my grandfather died I had many sad. I liked him, he gave me a lot stories. He was seventy years old.

Last year I went to the island Brava over my island vacation. I was walking around the city. The city was full of flowers by the side and seemed to be the paradise. Out windows at night we were looking at the sky. Took many photographs.

(Anyone interested in ESL in the Northern Virginia area should look into REEP: The Arlington Education and Employment Program. Please feel free to email me with any questions, and check out their website at

Friday, September 16, 2011

Summer vacation

Disclaimer: this is a ridiculously long post.

When I first joined Peace Corps I had this big idea that I would spend my full two years here. I thought it would be better to use my vacation days within country. I came here partially to isolate myself from Western thought and also to get to know a country other than my own in a personal way, so it made sense to stay. But living on an island can drive a person to near-insanity at times, and I thought it best for my mental health and the physical safety of my students to get away for a while. My friend Toby was planning to go home to York for a few weeks over his birthday and invited me along. At first I declined, offering every type of reason except a good one. I needed a break, I was just too stubborn to admit it. But when he found a buy-one-get-one-free ticket to Germany I had to jump on board.

This vacation started out unintentionally. I had planned an art camp for my students with two other volunteers to take place during the summer. Sadly, I was shipped to Dakar during the exact week that art camp was taking place for a few medical consultations and had to miss it. But this journey extended my vacation to a full month traveling outside of Cape Verde, and it was pretty amazing. Since I don’t speak French or Wolof, while I was in Dakar I had to wait for volunteers to come to the medical hut when they had time and tag along with them. So some days were spent restlessly pacing around, hoping for someone to show up (but enjoying turkey and French bread and varieties of cheese, all of which I’ve been denied for such a long time now). But there were a few days I was able to go explore.

I made fast friends with a few of the volunteers, one of whom was beginning his third year and moving from a rural site to Dakar. He had never been to Ngor Island, which is a small island used for its beaches just off the coast of the beach near the Peace Corps medical hut. We were able to go there one day, crammed onto a boat with a hundred other people for a smooth ten minute ride. I was happy to just walk around and stretch my legs a little bit. We circled the island, and I was able to try touba, a spicy coffee that tastes like it has ginger in it, before we sat down for a drink before heading back.

Another day we went to the port with the intention of getting details on tickets to Goree island, a former slave island. But we were sidetracked. We saw a long, narrow sea wall jutting out into the ocean in a winding S-curve and were too curious to leave it be. It’s used these days for fishermen, and it was used back in the day for coastal defense. Parts of it were difficult to traverse. Rock had been eroded over time, and parts of it were washed away completely. Other sections were coated in slippery algae, and there was one part that had an ancient cannon blocking the way. But it was amazing, and spontaneous, which made my day.

After Dakar, I had one day in Praia before Toby and I went to Sal for our flight to Germany. I hadn’t been certain how long I’d be held in Dakar, and it was a relief to touch ground back in Cape Verde in time to go on the trip we’d been planning. Two days later we arrived in Stuttgart to start the three weeks we’d stay in Europe.

We stayed two nights in Stuttgart, accommodating our excitement to try every type of food and drink every type of beer that we could get our hands on. We made it to a museum and I felt months of stress begin to chip away. The second morning there we woke up, packed our bags, and took a long walk to the place we’d begin hitchhiking. Along the way we found that there was one thing we’d both missed terribly but never really noticed: grass. Seriously, all I wanted to do was sit in the grass and roll around in flowers. It was probably an odd sight to people walking by, but we had to give in a few times.

After Stuttgart we went to Karlsruhe, which was interesting because there's a theory that this is the city whose layout Washington DC is based on. Capitol Hill is the equivalent of the Town Hall of Karlsruhe: an epicenter with ring streets expanding outward from it. So that was strangely familiar. But we were struck upon arrival by an increasing number of people in costume. We passed pirates, barmaids, peasant boys, all mixed in with people just going about their evening. We had no idea what was going on until we reached the main park, which was hosting a giant medieval festival. Getting rides to our destination proved to be a long process that day (we got numerous rides along the way, some incredible people, including a family who rearranged their car and children to make room for us) and we didn’t have much time once we got there. So the next day we were off.

The next stop was Saarbrucken. We stayed there one night and spent a full day exploring, but the highlight was dinner. I’d been set on sushi from the beginning, and I found a great restaurant in the city. Spicy tuna rolls and five little bottles of warm sake later I was the happiest girl in the world. But again, we had a target in mind and had to be on our way. At this point we were on the border of France and planned to make it to Metz.

This was the best hitch of the trip. We met a fantastic couple who went out of their way to befriend us. They took us to our destination, and then we all went to the extension of the Pompidou center that had just been completed.

We had some drinks after in the shadow of a beautiful cathedral, and exchanged contact information before begrudgingly saying our goodbyes. It was one of the more staggering experiences of my life to date. Metz, as though it knew it was following a star performance, didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Everything came together, stars aligned, and the meaning of life was clear. I can’t say why, really. It was just one of those places that meant something to me immediately. We had some wine-induced conversations (debates? Fights? Who’s to say) about modern art, explored parks, and let ourselves get lost in the newness of it all.

After Metz, we made our way to Reims. My favorite part of Reims was the process of getting to Reims. It was far more difficult to get rides in France than it was in Germany, and we’d been on the side of a road for three hours before getting a ride to a gas station a few exits up. This was good timing as we were able to eat and shield ourselves from the rain that had been showing signs of opening up on us for an hour or so. As we were waiting at this gas station, a Mack truck whistled to a stop in front of us. A young guy leaned out the door of the driver’s side and said this was a bad place to wait, but he could take us a few exits up.

After we’d been in the cab of the truck for a good fifteen minutes or so, he said he was making a drop at a farm but after that he was heading to Reims, if we wanted to go on this drop with him and then continue on our journey. He was personable and fun, and of course we agreed. We sped along increasingly narrow back roads and came to a tiny town in the middle of acres of farmland, and as he was helping a local farmer unload the freight, we climbed all over the truck and explored the town.

Afterward, we continued on to Reims. Along the way, our new friend started pulling medieval weapons out of various hiding places in the cab (completely innocently, just a quirky guy) to highlight stories he told us about strange things that had happened to him over his years of driving. This popped into my head a little bit later when we were stranded in a ghost town, our friend having reached his 15 hour maximum on driving for the day, and we realized the three of us would be sharing the cab for the night. He was a friendly guy, with a sweet disposition, and he ended up giving us all of the food that he had in his refrigerator (and also gave me a small sheep figurine to remember him by) and we continued on the next day. Definitely a night to remember.

We reached our destination early the next morning. Reims is the capital of the champagne valley in France, and we drank accordingly. The day was spent wandering around. The only big thing here was the Notre-Dame cathedral, the site where the kings of France were once crowned. It had a lot of character, but there had been massive damage done to it in 2010 with the outbreak of a fire, and the dynamic inside has changed with the addition of modern stained glass which now includes pieces ranging from the 13th to 20th century. The variety of style was unlike anything I’d seen in stained glass. The only thing I can say about that night is better summed up through photos:


(tasteful but clearly well-enjoyed)

(where am I?)

After Reims, having woken up with severe champagne headaches, we decided to take a train into Paris. We spent three days there, and it was wonderful. We went to the Musee D’Orsay which quickly made my list of best museums I’ve ever been to. I finally climbed the Eiffel tower, had Mexican food for the first time in forever, my first Cosmopolitan in over a year, walked along the Seine and crossed a few things off our lists. We stayed in a hotel in Montmartre, on the top floor, and the first night I hopped over the guardrail to sit on the narrow rooftop ledge to watch the light show.

I could dedicate a whole post to Paris, but I’ll keep it short and sweet. On the third evening, we made our way to the bus station to catch the overnight bus to London. It was an awful ride and I highly recommend avoiding this situation at all costs. Progress was delayed numerous times and it made sleeping impossible. But we did finally reach London and made our way to Toby’s friend’s apartment. We lazed around (oh my God couches! Couches are so good) and made dinner with his friends that night, but we’d been hearing sirens go by and realized that the riots had broken out in Ealing, which is where we were. We didn’t see anything, but the stories on the news were heartbreaking, and in the middle of the night we could hear helicopters circling around us and turned on the news to hear that residences in the area were being broken in to. When Toby’s friends walked home after dinner, they passed burning cars and found that the apartment building across theirs was on fire.

It was tragic to see what people were capable of, but I have to say it was heartening the following day to step outside and see so many people walking with
brooms and dustpans to clean up the mess that looters had made the night before.

After London we spent a day at Cambridge, where Toby showed me all of his University haunts. Cambridge is beautiful, and it was a really touching way to spend the day. It made me miss JMU, and we sat under a tree eating sandwiches and trading stories about college days. That night we took a train to York, to his family’s house, where we spent the following five days or so. If I could sum this up I would say the following: sleeping in, mashed potatoes, afternoon gin, the family farm, wine, steaks, sausages, fish and chips, haircuts, movie theaters!, mango juice, stained glass, art, Les Mis, bars, bacon, moors, highland cows, washing machines omg, chicken brick, more bacon, asparagus and tea. If I say much more than that we’ll be here for days. Amazing. That is all.

(fish and chips on the moors)

(highland cows are so awesome)

The last stop was Edinburg. Toby’s brother lives there and we made it during the Fringe, which is the annual theater festival that triples Edinburg’s already massive population every year. It was so much fun, and once again it was the type of place that contained too much in too short of time to be able to do it justice here. One thing worth mentioning is that we went to see a show called Showstoppers at the Fringe, which is an improvised musical. The audience would provide examples of Broadway musicals, or specific songs, and also suggest a setting, and the actors would improvise an entire musical incorporating everything on the compiled list. The first night was so hilarious that we went the following night, and it was equally mind blowing.

After this trip we flew back to Stuttgart for a night before coming back to Cape Verde. We’d planned to come back through Boavista to see some friends and settle back into life in-country before going back to our sites. It was a good way to end, and I was able to cross another island off the list.

So a lot happened and changed over the course of this month abroad. I have tentative plans for post-PC life, which I’ll elaborate on as soon as things are set in motion, and I also feel completely regenerated for my second year here. I didn’t realize when I was making the plans, but leaving for a while helped me twofold: I was able to step away from the stresses of my life as a teacher and evaluate and redevelop my plan for the coming year, and I was also able to settle into familiar ambiguity and relax a little bit. I kind of feel as though I’m starting over again, but this time with a good grasp on the language and classroom techniques. It was at once the perfect celebration to the end of my first year of teaching, and an energy boost for the second. We’ll see what the coming year brings.