Cape Verde Has Wonderful People And Many Pleasant Memories

On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
       Chronicles of a Footloose Forester        
By Dick Pellek


 C is Cape Verde

A three-year sojourn to the windblown islands of Cape Verde came shortly after a 20-word telegram of a job offer was accepted by telephone, and the subsequent packing was completed.  By all means, the nature of the job was briefly explained in an interview with the US Department of Agriculture project officer in Washington, D. C., on a three-day job hunting trip early in 1980. But it seemed too casual when the man behind the desk opened a drawer to retrieve a list of possible employer representatives.  He asked, “how about the University of Texas? No, they got the last one... well then, how about New Mexico State University?” It was OK with the Footloose Forester, so after a quick call to Las Cruces, New Mexico, it was confirmed that they would be his Participating Agency Service Agreement employer representative.  The Footloose Forester has never yet set foot in Las Cruces, although he often roots for the Lobos to crush the Texas A&M Aggies.  

To this day, the Footloose Forester remembers the Cape Verdeans as his favorite Africans.  There are no tribes there, but there are various groups that are distinguished more by color differences than by hints of tribalism. Cape Verde as a nation came into existence only after more than a hundred years of Portuguese rule, and the fact that escaped slaves who hid for years in the rugged hills could not be recaptured or tamed. Slaves were sought as deck hands on whaling ships, and the historical imprint of the whaling industry in the United States would take one directly to Plymouth and New Bedford, Massachusetts where more Cape Verdeans live today than in any city of Cape Verde. Formal independence came only in the 1960s when Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde were freed of Portuguese rule.  To their credit, nearly all of the armed fighters came from Guinea Bissau, but the diplomats were mostly Cape Verdeans. A Cape Verdean became the first President of Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau.

As the gentlest of people the Footloose Forester has ever known, that is also to their everlasting credit. It was easy to love them, and he and his wife Thu did.  Daughter Lucy Pellek was a Christmas present to them in 1983, some months after she was born in a cement warehouse in the desolate valley named Flamengos, on the Island of Sao Tiago. That building is still standing and can be viewed on a Google Earth satellite photo at map coordinates N 15°09′ 17.90″ and W 23° 38′ 10.64″.  Lucia was the name that Footloose Forester gave her nearly eight months after her birth and well after he and Thu were asked to be godparents.

Naming a godchild was one of their responsibilities. The long delay before baptism was uncomfortable for everyone but it took so long because the parish priest refused to baptize her until the natural parents completed religious instructions to his satisfaction. They were nominal Catholics but did not attend regular service because they lived so far by foot from the nearest church. After the priest was satisfied with their intentions to raise her with religious values, Lucy was baptized in the coastal village of Calheta do Tarrafal.  Soon afterward, Lucy came to live with the Pelleks at their newly built home at Sao Jorge dos Orgaos, a research facility where the Footloose Forester carried out his assignment as Soil Conservation Specialist.



Cape Verde is a poor country filled with wonderful people


Lucia Gomes Aguiar became Lucia Pellek after an in-country adoption process that took only five weeks. We had previously tried for five continuous years to adopt a Vietnamese girl from an orphanage in Viet Nam, but that adoption attempt ultimately failed. Then we tried for a full year to adopt a girl from Korea, but we were finally turned down because we were considered too footloose for their liking. So it was remarkable that the Cape Verdean adoption was finalized, from start to finish, in only five weeks.   

Thu will be remembered there as Dona Thu, the Asian lady who introduced purple sweet potatoes to the country.  It is not a reckless claim. Thu’s mom in Hawaii sometimes ignored the phytosanitary rules of the US Department of Agriculture by sending us fruits and vegetables in the mail.  One time the package contained several sweet potatoes. Thu saved some of the growth buds and propagated them in a jar.  Later, she gave them to our neighbor who was the farm manager; he, in turn, then distributed them to local women who grew the vines and later planted the rooted material. The following year one of the Cape Verdean women announced that the experiment had been successful and returned to Thu a basket of large, delicious tubers that were heretofore unknown in Cape Verde. And from that time, the purple sweet potatoes were known as Dona Thu’s variety. Mom had also sent along a half dozen mangosteens, the favorite tropical fruit of Footloose Forester.  Mom was always unpredictably generous. 

Dona Thu was also generous with sharing rides. We had a pick-up truck that we shipped from Pennsylvania and when there was not enough room in the cab, she would let folks hop into the open bed.  One of her riders, however, was one she looked for and one who sometimes waited for her.  He was a farmer who lived in a tiny village just at the bottom of a steep hill outside of the main town. He would wait by the side of the road or walk slowly with the support of two shovels, used as crutches because he was severely crippled.  Sometimes she would see him standing there as she descended the hill; other times she would see him making his way along the road on his way to his field. As she approached she would slow down and stop.  He would stop and without looking at her approach he would softly call out, “Is it Dona Thu?” In addition to being crippled in both legs, he was blind. That bond with the farmer named Gomes and that memory will never disappear.  No wonder the Cape Verdeans loved Dona Thu and no wonder that the Footloose Forester wanted her in his life and in his memoirs.

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