During my first year in Tarrafal I lived in three different flats. It was in the third one where Nilda and my friendship grew the most.
“Mar di Baxu”, the smaller one of Tarrafal’s two beaches, lay right at the end of the village center and if you approached it from the side that I liked most, you would reach it through a tree-lined walk. A bit before these trees lay my third Cape Verdean home, on the ground floor of an unfinished one story building.
Objectively speaking, I can’t say a lot of good about this house: the facade’s white paint fell off the walls, the small terrace in front of the house was made from cracking cement, the chicken that lived in the back of the building cried not often but exactly whenever I was trying to rest and my bed was so rusty that only sitting on it made the most suspicious noise that in turn you could hear all over the street.
Two of the four hotplates and the stove’s oven didn’t work, the mosquito net that covered the window was only half its size and when the rains came in September the water entered the room (the flat) and fell onto the only shelf inside which made it mouldy and unusable.
The machine that pumped the water inside the tank on the roof made the noise of a starting tractor every second day at 5.30 a.m. (the time my neighbourhood was supplied with water) and the beautiful green tree in front of my “terrace” was a potential hideout for the village gangsters, according to everybody who had seen the house (and the tree).
Yet louder than the chicken and the roaring tractor and more annoying than all the mosquitos together, was my landlord every second weekend, making love to his lover (not his wife!) Saturday nights in the unfinished first floor right above my flat on a bed that was equally badly oiled as mine. “Maria, Maria, oh God!” he’d scream and I never knew whether “Maria” was his lover’s name or if he cried out the words “Ave Maria” as a lot of Capeverdians do in moments of deep shock or surprise.
However, it’s the truth when I tell you all: during my nearly five Cape Verdean years I’ve never felt as happy as within those four walls. Part of this unexplainable yet undeniable joy were most probable Nilda’s almost weekly visits.
The first few times she came she ordered coffee and I ‘d serve it to her with sugar and milk which she often didn’t have at home because she had no fridge.
Then, without remembering exactly how that started, when Nilda visited me on a weekday let’s say around 11 a.m., she started to request for the Pontxe I had, a thickened grog with condensed milk and diverse flavours li and a percentage of alcohol that exceeded my age. “Don’t you have to work?”, I’d ask her then and “Of course I have to work”, she’d answer me. Then she’d throw up her glass and empty it and expell her loud delightful smile.
When we’d sit like this at home together (Nilda on my only chair, me on the rusty bed) she’d usually grab the opportunity to ask me all kinds of private questions that everybody who knew me in the village would anyway ask me all the time: “Don´t you want a boyfriend?” “Don’t you want children?” “Then when are going to have a child?”“Aren´t you afraid to sleep all alone here?”
And so here’s the thing about Cape Verdean women, about my beautiful Cape Verdean friends: they sell the coconuts, the fruits, the fish, they wipe the streets, the houses and the public spaces, they look after the elders and the children at home, they cook for the families and at the restaurants, they organize the weddings and birthday parties, they wash the dishes, cut the meat and sometimes kill the chicken too, they breastfeed the babies and carry them to work, they are in charge for their families and their business and since they were born they not only have to bear the expendable comments of all kinds of men in the streets but the general still persisting sexist opinion that women are not as strong as men.
With their nerves, strength, dedication and faith, they are the force that keeps the islands alive and yet many of them are afraid to sleep alone for this is what they’ve been told all their lives: that a woman can’t do everything a man can do, that a woman needs a man to be complete and safe.
As for me, I’d always answer my curious, worried Nilda: “Of course I’m not afraid to sleep alone.” Yet many nights when the wind rushed through the gangster’s tree and unknown noices from the streets entered my home, I wished for her graceful body lying next to me.
If you’d like to read more about my charming friend and other
beautiful Cape Verdean ladies please pass by again next week!
If you’d like to subscribe to my email list, I’d be happy to
let you know when my next story is out.
Thank you for your interest in my work.