Where I’ve Been: Cape Verde

Cape Verde is an archipelago of ten teeny-tiny volcanic islands off the coast of Senegal in the North Atlantic. Yes, most hurricanes that hit the Caribbean and the southeast USA start off over Cape Verde as typical summer rainstorms. The uninhabited islands were discovered and populated by the Portuguese in 1460, who brought over Africans as slaves. As was typical of Luso-Hispanic colonialism, blood boiled, races mixed, and Cape Verde was left with a variation of skin tones and hair textures reminiscent of its big brother Brazil. After a brief, shining turn as a major refueling stop for ocean-going vessels and a source of skilled mariners for 19th century American whaling ships, Cape Verde fell into long-term drought-induced economic despair, launching a diaspora now numbering over a million Cape Verdeans in North America and Europe, with less than 500,000 on the islands themselves. Cape Verde’s best-known export: soulful morna singer Cesária Évora.

I was invited to accompany my good friend José, Cape Verdean historian and intellectual playboy, to visit his homeland in August of 2004. For two weeks we swatted flies, battled dust and heat, watched Brazilian soap operas, met (literally) boatloads of folks from the States and Europe visiting family for the summer, and relaxing on beaches in the absolute middle of the ocean. Yes, everybody thought I was Cape Verdean (“Hey, why dudn’t that kid speak Kriolu?”). No, I’m not Cape Verdean. Would be very proud if I was, though. And yes, I know going there’s like going to Hawaii and saying you’ve been to the USA – technically it’s true, so technically, I’ve been to Africa.

Also:
Cape Verde on Wikipedia – basic overview
Cape Verde Unabridged – news, politics, and culture
caboverde.com – tourist and cultural information
Cape Verde Home Page – portal to other sites
Governo de Cabo Verde – official government site (in Portuguese)

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Why I Travel

Blame it on the preacher’s wife. I had to have been ten or eleven when Mrs. Estelle McKissick, wife of Rev. Rudolph W. McKissick of Bethel Baptist Institutional (Missionary Rock of Zion Sermon on the Mount in Christ) Church (Inc.) in my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, gave me a dangerous little book for Christmas titled Free Stuff for Kids. I can’t even remember most of the trinkets and doo-dads you could order in the mail because my attention was always and forever caught-up in the section that had the addresses of the travel bureaus of all fifty states, a bunch of cities, and a whole slew of countries. In exchange for a 19-cent postcard, I got bushels of pamphlets, brochures, and travel posters—among the more memorable materials, a thick, catalogue-sized guide to Austria; an amazingly ornate, oversized, circus-style souvenir booklet from Singapore; and an envelope royally sealed with red wax from the principality of Monaco—to the point of having my mother lug home an old file cabinet from school to house my nascent travel repository. This was waaaaay before the Internet age and country-specific websites. I became the biggest geography nerd in three counties (went to the State Geography Bee in seventh grade to prove it).

Then, one Saturday at the Regency Square Mall, I ran across a table touting high school foreign exchange programs through a non-profit organization called Youth For Understanding. I asked my folks, both high school teachers at the time, about hosting an exchange student and they balked, saying they wouldn’t have had the time to really focus the requisite energy and attention on a foreign guest (which in hindsight, I think they had a point). But that didn’t mean that I couldn’t go! So, during my eleventh grade year, I saved up money from my telephone customer service job to pay for most of the $2,000 program fee for a summer in fabulous Sweden!

Why Sweden? For starters, it, along with Finland, was the cheapest country option that didn’t require some prior knowledge of a foreign language. And I deduced that there were marginally more black people in Sweden than in Finland (thank World Book Encyclopedia for that one). So, I spent the summer between my junior and senior years of high school swatting at Nordic mosquitoes, eating reindeer, and watching the sun dip under the horizon for all of an hour in the far, far, far north of Sweden. Yes, that’s me (many, many moons ago) standing next to a sign for the Arctic Circle. I was sixteen, and I haven’t been able to sit my behind still since.

Writer Paul Theroux says that “travel [is] flight and pursuit in equal parts.” For me, that exchange trip was an escape from the mundane nerdiness of my known existence and, yes, social rejection from my classmates at the decidedly hood high school I attended. But it was also the start of my as-of-yet unquenched desire to know people, places, values, emotions, experiences different from those which I am familiar. To see the sun dip below the horizon for only an hour each night, eat reindeer, and take a picture at the Arctic Circle. To straddle the Equator on its hot, dusty run through Ecuador. To parasail over a cow pasture outside of Medellín and ice skate on a Caribbean mountain top outside of Caracas. To see flying fish leap out of the water on a 24-hour ferry ride amongst the islands of Cape Verde, where at least fifty people vomited on the floor during the trip and one crippled old man slipped and fell in it. To have intense, week-long romances in Cuba. To have intense, two-day romances in Rio only to find out my date was a prostitute and to end up getting the price reduced by half and paying for it and realizing, damn…that was some good sex. To have a place to stay on every continent. To see myself in the faces of summer campers in Santo Domingo, New Years revelers in Havana, and Carnavaleiros in Salvador da Bahia. To catch an OutKast video at a flea market in Paris or at a bar in Bogotá. To see and smell and feel and taste the world; good, bad, and indifferent. To know that, by the time I see every place I haven’t been, it’ll be time to revisit the places I haven’t been to in years. To see the possibility of an airport departure board and, a short while later, to be propelled through the sky towards another delicious uncertainty. To fucking live, and to be forever beholden to that pursuit of life.

That is why I travel.
Photo “Departures” by carovald.
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Why Fly Brother?

Because people of color – particularly black Americans – are traveling overseas for work, fun, or education more than ever before, but most travel-related magazine, newspaper, and Internet articles speak from a voice and perspective that I just can’t relate to.

Because people want culturally-resonant information that offers them insight into the ins-and-outs of traveling under the radar in Havana, but conspicuously in Hong Kong. And people want to know what being black means outside of the US.

Because I don’t care bout no damn top ten Irish pubs in New York, and I don’t personally think that Copenhagen has a lock on the most attractive people in Europe. I wanna know about the top ten salsa clubs in LA and see all the shades, from coal to cream, that grace the hotties in Paris.

Because I grew up with Southern black marching bands and HBCU homecomings and found the same energy, spirit, rhythm, and soul at a Vai-Vai samba school rehearsal in São Paulo.

Because we ought to see more of the world, and we ought to encourage and help our mamas, sisters, granddaddies, frat brothers, favorite cousins, play cousins, ‘cross-the-street neighbors, college classmates, and Shaunda’s lil brother who just turned fifteen to do the same.

Because James Weldon did it. And Josephine. And Baldwin. And Du Bois. And Langston. And Zora. And Malcolm. And Barack.

Because the world ought to know more about us than Flava Flav and Diddy.

Because I don’t experience the world via a culturally “neutral,” “color-blind,” “American” matrix. I live life in full color, just like I travel.

Welcome to Fly Brother.

Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and “like” me on Facebook! You can subscribe, too! ;-)