Friday, May 23, 2008

Have You Ever Drunk a Cloud?

High along the jagged cliffs of Serra Malagueta Natural Park, a series of green nets billow in the wind, like a half erected modern art installation. They are, in reality, fog collectors that harvest water from the clouds that shroud the park in almost year-round mist. The technology is simple: water collects along the mesh surface, forming droplets that fall into a gutter below. The water passes through a tube, arriving in a tank to be distributed to communities.
How much water could that possibly provide? More than you might think. Fog contains .05 to 3 grams of water per cubic meter. Serra Malagueta, which receives only about 900 mm of rainfall per year, has a semi-permanent layer of “stratocumulus”—low lying clouds—pushed upwards from the coast by the mountains themselves. Thanks to these clouds, Serra Malagueta’s 120 meters of netting (8 installations) produce approximately liters per day, with production reaching 75 liters per meter of net per day in the rainy season. That’s a big help for the park’s 488 families, who rely principally on local springs, wells, and private cisterns for their water. As rainfall diminishes and ground sources dry up, 80% of the community continues to work in agriculture, making fog water a much needed alternative.
Fog collectors were first developed in Chile in 1987. Before researchers installed nets in Chungungo, this high-fog, low-precipitation community had always depended on trucked-in water. Now it is able sustain itself and even grown crops and trees. South Africa, the Dominican Republic, Israel, the Canary islands and Nepal are also benefiting from this ingenious technology.
The benefits are manifold. Fog water is free from microbes that contaminate ground water, requiring no treatment. Construction materials—mesh, plastic tubing, and wood or metal poles--are cheap and readily accessible worldwide. The most challenging aspect is positioning the nets accurately.
Despite the enormous potential, fog harvesting does not constitute a major source of water in Cape Verde. While 1133 hectars are considered sufficiently foggy, fog is currently harvested only on Santiago (though experiments have been conducted on Fogo, Sao Vicente sao Nicolau, Santo Antao and Brava as well). With steep desalinization costs, dwindling sub-soil resources, and abundant foggy areas, fog harvesting may yet become a viable solution for highland areas. National output potential is estimated at several million meters cubed of water per year. At that rate, a lot more people may be drinking clouds in the near future.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Slaves, Victualling, and Tourism

Eking a living out of these dry islands has never been easy: with no rain and no natural resources, existence has often been precarious in Cape Verde. Still, there were certain points in Cape Verde’s history when it did make economic sense for people to live here. In the 16th century, the lucrative slave trade along the Guinea coast turned these islands into an important trading center. Slavers who wanted to avoid the dangerous coast could pay a higher price for pre-selected, baptized slaves here.
Years after the decline of slavery, the coal-powered transatlantic shipping of the 19th century made Sao Vicente’s natural port an important victualling station. Its deep, calm harbor, halfway between Europe and South America, was an ideal spot to stop for provisions.
When steam, and later airplanes replaced coal on the world stage, it seemed Cape Verde had again lost its financial base. But in reality, a new era of industry was emerging with tremendous economic potential. Mussolini built an airport on Sal in 1939, for better access to Latin America. It returned to Portuguese hands in 1945, but a powerful phenomenon was underway.
Thanks to the airport, Sal became the major refueling point for South African Airlines, which was barred from most African countries, in protest of its apartheid regime. To lodge SAA staff, Georges Vynckier, a Belgian businessman, built the “Pousada Morabeza”, a small guest in 1967. Europeans began visiting and discovered the endless, white beaches of Sal, more lodgings were built to accommodate them, and the tourism industry began in earnest.
Hotels, condos, resorts and golf courses continue to sprout up on Sal today, but this promising industry—which registered 11.7% growth in 2007--is spreading to other islands as well. Boavista now draws some of Sal’s devoted beach-lovers, while hikers marvel at the stunning topography on Fogo and Santo Antao. The music scene and colonial history draw others to Praia and Sao Vicente. If carefully managed, tourism may herald an era of unprecedented prosperity for these infertile, windswept islands.

"Badiu with Cracked Feet, Sanpadjudu with Potato Bellies"

Ethnic conflict may be the story of many countries in Africa today, but this old saying is perhaps the extent of ethnic rivalry in Cape Verde. It compares the Badiu, who inhabit the southern islands, to their northern counterparts, the Sanpadjudu. Both are descended from the same mix of African tribes and Portuguese that settled the islands 500 years ago. They speak dialects of the same Creole, root for the same soccer teams, and vote for both political parties.
Yet there are notable differences. The quaint farmhouses, the lighter complexions, more lusophone Creole, and Portuguese-influenced morna of the north indicate the more “European” aspect of northern culture. In contrast, the darker complexions, more African Creole, and the thriving traditions of continental origin—from the raw beats of the batuk dance, to the intricate patterns of the pano de terra weaving—denote the vibrant African traditions still alive in the south.
It is said that Sanpadjudus look down on their southern counterparts as less “sophisticated”. Badius would counter that their culture is more authentically Cape Verdean, pointing out that singers from both regions usually choose to sing in Badiu Creole. ALUPEC, the current Creole alphabet, is modeled on the Badiu dialect.
These time-old stereotypes are rooted in the very origins of the names. Badiu most likely comes from the Portuguese word “vadiu” or “lazy”. It is said that the Badiu slaves ran away from their masters to farm their own plots along the steep ridges. When Portuguese masters would demand their labor, Badius would refuse. Their subsequent label “Badiu” persists as a proud symbol of defiance, even as their alleged “cracked feet” belie the truly formidable Badiu work ethnic (or lack of sophistication, as the Sanpaduju might say).
The origins of the word Sanpaduju are more obscure. Many think the term comes from the phrase “são pa’ ajuda”, “they are for helping.” This may refer to the Santiago-inhabitants who were convinced to emigrate northward, to populate and cultivate the Barlavento islands, which did not garner a sizeable population until centuries after the settlement of Santiago. Their “potato bellies”, according to Badiu lore, refer to the only crop that they managed to cultivate, despite their alleged laziness.
These stereotypes mostly serve as fuel for good-natured teasing. As Heavy H, a Sanpaduju rapper sings, “Sanpadjudu ku Badiu, nos tudo, nos e kul” (Badiu and Sanpaduju, all of us, we are cool”).