"Western Africa" story # 29

Bubaque, Guinea-Bissau           November 6, 2012

While on the island of Orango, I got the opportunity to sit down outside a house and "do nothing" and talk with some Bijago men. I rarely had the time to do this on Bubaque. Besides, I suspected the conversations had little to do with the traditional lifestyle I was interested in.
     So, what did these men - some of whom came from Bubaque - talk about?
     Professional soccer players in European leagues and the money they made. Someone said that a certain player, possibly Cristiano Ronaldo, earned 94 million Euros a year.
     One guy was impressed. He said, "That's a lot of money," in a way that suggested he could comprehend every cent of it.
     I knew just what he was thinking:
     "That could buy a lot of fish."

In defense of the Bijagos, I should say that I'd already had a great conversation that day with two forty-year-olds. They were the sons of men who'd helped Evangelical missionaries translate the Bible. We discussed culture, language, societal change.
     What else was I going to say in defense of the Bijagos? Which accusations would I make? Did the Bijagos have a good lawyer? We'd find all this out ... in an episode of MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!! that focused on a very small and special culture.
     So, start playing that bombolon drum! Call the people of the village around. The village orator had something to say.
     "Ahem. Cabaros and canhokams! Difuntu women and Ya-kenyen, especially. I present to you ... The Top 5 Worst Things about the Archipelago of the Bijagos!"

     An alternative title for this story was: "Good-bye, beggars, and go to hell."

     Shortly after moving to my new neighborhood in Bubaque, I came across a young boy sitting on his porch heaving in agony. I would've liked to have helped him, but I didn't know how. So, I just walked far enough away that I couldn't hear him anymore.
     My former neighbor Ricardo came, around this time, to report to me the death of a baby from our old neighborhood. Oh, no! Had the mother had enough money to go to the hospital? Yes, Ricardo had seen them there a few days earlier. Why'd the baby die? Nobody knew.
     Some people had gone blind in one or both eyes. Some were missing limbs. (Were they landmine victims from the mainland?) Others had gimpy legs. Domingos Norte's wife, who cooked for me, had her gimpy leg due to a vaccination.

     Was I nothing more than a color to you people!?

     These things represented change in the Bijago world.
     Many young men were kind and intelligent. Others seemed lazy, spoiled, lost.


HONORABLE MENTION included: too much CAJU WINE DRINKING; LOUD PEOPLE; and Guinea-Bissau's BAD REPUTATION, which seemed unfairly earned.
     Okay. Get the Candere girls up and dancing in a circle! It was now time to celebrate ... The Top 5 Best Things about the Archipelago of the Bijagos!

     Even though they bothered, pestered, and annoyed me, I never would've told the beggars to go to hell. I maintained self-control, waved them away with a smile, and maintained friendly relations. This was the way things were done here.
     People never spoke badly about others, and because of this it was difficult to imagine there ever arising a human conflict. Even if there were a human conflict, the Bijagos believed spilling another's blood was an offense punishable by the gods.
     Everyone wished to be friends. Father Luigi's thesis wrote of the Bijago philosophy: "Friendship is a gift from God, more precious than a wife or son."

     "So long, Bijagos, and thanks for all the fish." That was this story's second alternative title.

     On my second-to-last day in the archipelago, I gave pens and notebooks to the six families of my old Bijago neighborhood.
     In an act that meant a lot to me, I wrote short letters in Bijago in each book. They included simple phrases like, "Where is Pedro? He's at the port," and, "How is Baby Awa? She's great!" and inside jokes like, "Chicken. Get out of the house!" I became saddened when I saw that some families may not have appreciated this. (Maybe they couldn't read?)
     Pedro the Fisherman appreciated it greatly. He invited me to sit with him and the neighborhood elders. Soon, they were discussing the prices of gasoline and fish, and I didn't understand much. I said good-bye to kind Pedro, and went to visit my new girlfriend.
     I could speak about simpler things ...
     One day at the market, I had an enjoyable conversation with a woman I had great respect for. I turned to walk away. But, there was a dog standing right in the middle of the market!
     He had a shaggy gray face. In the middle of his face were black eyes that seemed senile and confused. I walked past him, but turned and announced to my friend: "Ebote." Girls selling vegetables laughed, because I'd said, "Dog." I walked onward. But, I turned again to say: "Ebote esene." The girls laughed again, because I'd said, "The dog is beautiful."


HONORABLE MENTION included: TUMMY BRACELETS; THE CUTEST KIDS; and OLD, GUINEAN MUSIC. A few of my favorite musicans included Ze Carlos, Super Mama Djambo, and Dupla Forumba.

Some evenings, my girlfriend Tida and I liked to sit outside and listen to the radio.
     Tida had to compete for my affections with a dark, poofy-haired four-year-old who was either her sister or niece. This girl, Djenabo, repeated my name over and over but otherwise said little. When Tida wasn't around, Djenabo liked to climb on me and curl up on my lap.
     One time, a song by Guinea-Bissau's favorite singer, Justino Delgado, came on. In the dark evening, it was soulful, soothing, romantic. Wonderful.
     Tida's petite, perky body, the grayish color of baobab fruit, wore a bleached white skirt and matching, shoulderless blouse. We got up from our chair to slow-dance. Djenabo slow-danced with another girl a short while.
     These two girls separated. They each grabbed the backs of my or Tida's legs, hugged us from behind, and slow-danced with us.
     Occasionally, little Djenabo exploded a cackling, chuckling madman's laughter. This surprised and delighted me.
     What a loving girl.
     Man, these Guineans were harmonious!

more from the archipelago to come,
Modern Oddyseus

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