2017 Grateful 28

I was born asking questions. Seconds after I popped into the world, I opened my mouth and screamed whhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! Nothing much has changed in the intervening years. I particularly like when I get to meet people from countries I’ve never been to and (almost embarrassingly) places I know very little about.  My geography is atrocious. I went to Costa Rica last month thinking I was going to South America. I was utterly confused when, driving in to Istanbul from the airport a few years ago, I saw a sign welcoming me to Europe. And sure didn’t I move to Hungary thinking it was by the sea. The mind boggles. I’ve long since come to terms with this failing and have accepted that I’m missing the geolocation gene that might just help me figure out where I am and where I’m going.

In Geneva this week as part of DiploFoundation’s CD Multi programme, I’ve met people from 17 countries I’ve yet to visit: Mauritius, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Malawi, Benin, Cameroon, Uganda, Cabo Verde, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Suriname, Fiji, and Cook Islands. I’ve met people before from everywhere except Cabo Verde and Benin, so of these two countries I know even less than usual, if nothing at all. Apart from a vague notion that they’re in Africa, somewhere, I was clueless.

In conversation one evening, I got to ask about Cabo Verde.

I was right in thinking we were talking about what I knew of as Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony about 500 km off the west coast of Africa. But what I hadn’t realised is that it’s not one land mass but a series of 10 small islands  with the main airport in Praia on Sao Tiago (Santiago). All but Santa Luzia are populated. The islands don’t have much going for them in terms of natural resources. What land there is not suitable for crops, and drought is a challenge. In the last century, 200 000 people died as a result of droughts which gave rise to mass emigration so that today, more Cabo Verdeans live outside the country than inside, with a sizeable diaspora in Portugal, the USA, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Luxembourg. Reminiscent of Ireland in the famine days, and indeed countries like Romania today, emigrant remittances play a huge role in the local economy.

Back in 1975, when the country achieved independence, there was talk of unifying with Guinea-Bissau, but a coup in G-B put paid to that idea. Classified as an LDC (least developed country, i.e., a country that exhibits the lowest indicators of socioeconomic development, with the lowest Human Development Index ratings of all countries in the world) it was upgraded by the UN in 2008. A poster child for political and economic stability, this upgrade seems to me to be something of a poisoned chalice. Once out of the LDC bracket, many sources of funding dry up. Better off countries who actively support LDCs in their efforts to develop divert their funding to those still in the group. There is (and I could be wrong) a three-year transition period, a weaning off, after which the stabilisers are removed and the country is left to its own devices. But is that long enough? I wonder.

Cabo Verde, now classified as a SIDS (a small island developing state), is feeling the pinch and the pressure of going it it alone. Yet increased efforts to attract the tourist dollar and develop the infrastructure that goes with this are slowly paying off. In reading various reports, it would seem  that there is huge potential for start-ups, for young entrepreneurs who have a vision for the future. With an 87% literacy rate (considerably higher that of sub-Saharan Africa at 61%), there is cause for optimism. And as a tourist destination, something tells me that I’d like to see it before it makes the popular list of places to go and is overrun, swallowed up by sameness.

Black sand beaches. White sand beaches. Volcanoes. Great creole food. And the music…. I’m a few years too late to see the great Cesaria Evora live, but the national music genre, Morna, is something I could listen to. It’s a fusion of Portuguese, African, Brazilian, and Cuban – a form of blues. Nick Mayes did a great piece in The Guardian on it a few years back. Worth a read.

I’ve been trolling the Net, looking at pictures, reading blogs and articles – a first for me. I don’t plan. I go. But now, I’m planning. And to show I’m serious, I’ve done the unthinkable and added a travel category to this blog before visiting. What a great start it would be to 2018.

It’s been a busy week. Lots happening. I’m grateful for the education, the conversation, and the inspiration. And to anyone who would limit travel, curb immigration, or advocate a stay-at-home policy, to you I say stop – and think. Don’t deny me the opportunity to meet, to learn, to experience. So much of the world’s attraction lies in its diversity; we just need to get out a little more.