Foreign in Ex-Pat England

I notice the stuffy British couple on the flight from Sao Vicente to Sal. I make every effort to ensure our eyes do not meet. I remember his unpleasant excitement at gossip when overhearing the kindly Danish lady and I discuss my situation on Santo Antao: ‘Did I hear you lost your passport?’ Fortunately it seems they are trying to avoid my gaze as much as I am theirs.

We land. Bounce. Land. The neo-colonial army of tourist jets is lined up against the terminal building: Tui, Tui, Thomas Cook, Tui.

The airport building is exactly as it was in 2008. I continue to avoid the British couple at the taxi rank. Within seconds, I’m approached by a kindly young British lady holding a child. Would I like to share a taxi?

The British lady isn’t really British. Born and bred in Bristol and married to a Brazilian, she lives in Portugal. They moved there after the Britain voted to leave the EU. Portugal was kind and gave them citizenship. Meanwhile May was creating her ‘hostile environment’. Her little son is a British dual national. But while she is with her Brazilian husband there will be no right of abode in Britain for them. Too hostile a hostile environment.

In Santa Maria, everyone is white. At least every customer. Skin colour darkens by occupation. Taxi drivers and street sellers are the blackest; the most Senegalese or other African. Cape Verdeans occupy a middling position – except the smattering of children who beg for food on the beach. The transient white population is king, only employed here as a tour rep or property salesman, otherwise on holiday. Hassle is everywhere: ‘boy, boy … you lost? I guide you … I help you’. I guess it’s a small price to pay for the inequality that I critique but in which I am complicit.

I walk along the beachfront. It bears little resemblance to 2008. The hotel I stayed in with my family remains. The amount of ongoing construction work is identical. Yet the tourist industry has spread with vengeance. The beach has been literally and racially whitewashed: literally by the clinical new buildings and restaurants that grow miraculously from the ashy volcanic land; racially as the white tourists of 2008, separated from a ‘local’ beach by a pier, have now parasitically multiplied their way along, colonising the full expanse of sand.

I’m hungry, but I have no desire to take part in the neo-colonial experiment. I walk away from the beach and into the centre of the town. After much wandering, I find an authentic-looking African restaurant. Unsurprisingly, it is empty: authenticity doesn’t sell here. I ask which language I should speak: on Sao Vicente and Santo Antao the lingua Franca for a non-Portuguese speaker is French. Here it is English. Yet in this restaurant, it is French. I ask where the owner, Kossivi, is from: He’s Togolese. Perhaps, here too, is a migration story similar to the British-Brazilian family in Portugal (is he married to one of the Cape Verdean women he works with?) Perhaps not.

I order food and sit outside. In the emptiest restaurant of the week I eat the tastiest and most authentic meal – a beautiful curry of fresh fish and rice. I ask Kossivi what he’s doing on this dry little capitalist island and whether he misses the richness of Togo, its greenery, and its co-operative socialist spirit: ‘Tellement,’ he replies. ‘So much’. ‘Here,’ he says, ‘there is only money.’

As I eat, the cement mixers build roads for white tourist feet to walk along as they assess the quality of shop and food products on sale for them. There is brief respite when a lorry pulls up outside the restaurant. Two black men (of course – they’re working) step down. Kossivi asks for some tuna. There isn’t any. One man calls the other a ‘sai sai’ [womaniser]. My head turns – the word makes me homesick for a country that is not my home – in 2006 my Senegalese friends and I used to call each other sai sai as a kind of insult or compliment, depending on our aspiriations. I begin speaking the little bit of Wolof I know. We laugh together, and then I hear Kossivi tell them I’ve been to Togo.

So this is how I find myself surrounded by British nations, homesick for Senegal rather than Sheffield whilst my flights to Senegal and Sal are subsidised by the system of touristic exploitation from which I try to distance myself at the very moment at which I buy into it: I would not have the money to visit Sal or Senegal were it not for Thomas Cook.

I write this on Amilcar Cabral street, named after the man who dedicated his life to independence for Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. What would he make of all of this?

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