Cabo Verde, January 15, 2011
Today was the first day of our Sankirtana mission in Cabo Verde. Cabo Verde is a young country. It was a Portuguese colony for several centuries until it became independent in 1975. As far as I know this is the first time that a Sankirtana party comes to this small African country. The four team members for this mission are: Radha Govinda Prabhu, Rupa Vilasa Prabhu, Dina Sarana Prabhu and myself. Radha Govinda runs a centre in Porto (Portugal) together with his wife, Gopala Priya Devi Dasi, for the last 20 years. He is one of the pillars of ISKCON Portugal. Rupa Vilasa is a Portuguese brahmachari, who likes spiritual adventure and has enthusiasm to share Krsna Consciousness with others. He has a friendly gentle nature. Dina Sarana was born in Ukraine and is living in Lisbon for several years. He is married to a devotee from Gujarati background, Damodara Priya Devi Dasi. Both of them are kind souls and very sincere devotees. I am very happy to be in the company of these three wonderful devotees.
We reached Cabo Verde late last night. During our flight we distributed our first Bhagavad Gita and three small books. We gave the Bhagavad Gita to Mr. Godinho, the general manager for Cabo Verde Airlines in Lisbon, who helped us to get the cheapest fares possible. I gave the three small books to the stewardess team. Particularly, there was one Cabo Verdian stewardess, Myléne, who expressed appreciation for India when she saw me wearing Indian robes. It turned out that she knew about Krishna and yoga. She has arranged a contact with a lady who has been teaching yoga. Today Radha Govinda fixed an appointment with this yoga teacher for tomorrow, Sunday evening, in order to explore what we can do for them.
Our flight from Lisbon was delayed for a few hours. Radha Govinda has made several preparatory arrangements. There was one Mr. Alcides waiting for us at the airport. Mr. Alcides is the president of a youth association named Youth Association Black Panthers. Mr. Alcides came with Eduardo, a young man who belongs to this association and who, so far, has been very capable and helpful. We stayed the first night in a nice Eurolines hotel and today at noon time Eduardo brought us to a football association related to the FIFA. We are renting two rooms in this place. We can also use a shower room, kitchen, and refectory. No other people seem to be occupying rooms these days. So we have our own space. The facilities are austere, but not extreme.
We used the first day to settle and to start getting a feeling for our field of action. Eduardo, Mr. Alcides’ right hand man came punctually at noon time to help us move from the hotel to our fixed base for our first leg of the trip in Praia, the capital of Cabo Verde. When we reached our place, many things were missing and it took time to make the practical arrangements. There were no proper facilities for cooking. In the kitchen we had been promised, for example, the gas bottle was empty and some pieces that connect the stove with the gas bottle were missing. In addition, we lacked ingredients and it was Ekadasi day. It took a long time until Dina Sarana and Rupa Vilasa managed to prepare a subji with sweet potatoes, squash, and few other vegetables. We ate lunch at 5.00 pm.
After lunch we decided to go for a walk to the “Plateau”, the central part of Praia, in order to inspect the area before having an evening meeting in which we intended to define our strategy. Our place is very well located. The Parliament is across the street, and the Plateau is located only five to ten minutes walk distance. The National Library and a cultural centre are also very close. We were told by Mr. Godinho to be careful at night, that is from 6.00 pm onwards, as it seems that there are active thieves around the city after sunset. We walked around the main plaza and a main pedestrian street. National elections are scheduled to take place on February 6. We found that in the main street a group of people had started campaigning in favor of one of the candidates for the post of Prime Minister. The way of campaigning had some similarities to a Harinama party, but with a different object of glorification. People were dancing, playing drums, and singing. Seeing this I thought that people of Cabo Verde would easily relate to public Kirtan. During our walk we distributed four small books to people who approached us to inquire. In the main pedestrian street, there was also a group of Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art developed during the slavery period, which is disguised as dance and musical performance. The leading person in the singing group called me and complimented us by saying that he was very happy to see us in Cabo Verde. He gladly accepted a small book I offered him. Nadine, a journalist of a weekly journal, also stopped us and asked for how long we plan to be in Cabo Verde. She wants to interview us for the next issue which will be published next Friday. We exchanged contact details and will fix an appointment tomorrow or day after tomorrow by phone. Luckily Dina Sarana brought a mobile phone and bought a local phone card so that we can use it when we need it. I purposely avoid having a mobile phone, but I must admit that sometimes they are really useful.
Some people were greeting us by saying “Namaste” and folding hands, which, in the beginning, was both pleasantly surprising and puzzling for us. Shortly after, we found out that, by Krishna’s arrangement, we have reached Cabo Verde in an excellent time. The main TV channel is showing a Brazilian novel entitled “Caminhos Da India” (“Paths of India”). It is very popular and has made people very receptive to Indian culture. It seems that Krishna is mentioned regularly in the film and that it also includes many traditional Hindu ways, which makes people feel at ease with and attracted to us.
After our first exploratory evening walk, which gave us anticipation and enthusiasm, we made a general plan for the next twenty days and a specific one for next day, Sunday. We have calculated that in order to distribute the 1600 small books and 100 Bhagavad Gitas we have shipped beforehand, we should distribute an average of 100 small books and 5 Bhagavad Gitas per day. We decided that tomorrow we will go out on Harinama and distribute more than 100 small books we brought in our suitcases. Hopefully on Monday we will be able to collect, from the port of Praia, the sixteen boxes of shipped books.
Sunday, 16th January 2011
After our morning program and breakfast at our base, we went to the Plateau full of anticipation for our first Harinama in Cabo Verde. We carried mrdanga, kartalals, and a harmonium that, according to Dina Sarana, was personally made by Aindra Prabhu, the outstanding 24 hour kirtaniya of ISKCON Vrindavan. We took also more than 100 books “Krsna the Reservoir of Pleasure”. We had planned that we will sing for awhile and when people would gather around us, Dina Sarana and Rupa Vilasa would pass around books to the people. While they distribute the books Radha Govinda, our best Portuguese speaking mission member, would speak a few words and request that those who have money should contribute for the books. What it really happened, however, was quite different. Firstly, there were not many people in the street, at the beginning. We found out that people were attending the church. Only children were around. We were told that the Mass will end at 11.30 am and that then more people will come out. We decided to start singing and “warm up”. Gradually people started to come; most of them showed genuine interest. At some point we stopped the kirtan and tried to put into practice our plan. Radha Govinda started to speak according to what had been decided the previous day. It became evident, however, that these persons were extremely eager to receive what we were offering –they were literally taking the books from our distributors´ hands by force. In addition, we noticed that the vast majority of them were not able to contribute. All of us unanimously agreed that, considering the limited time we have, the poverty of the people, and overall, their enormous interest, it was best to adjust the strategy. We decided to freely distribute the small books, kindly sponsored by European devotees, to everyone who shows genuine interest. We trust that no books will be wasted.
At the end of the morning Harinama we met a nice couple, Sanza and Susana. Sanza teaches philosophy to students in their last years of Secondary (16 to 18 years old). As many people of Cabo Verde do, Sanza was studying outside his country in order acquire knowledge and skills that he can use in developing his homeland. Susana, his wife, is from Coimbra, Portugal. Both of them were extremely amicable and they accompanied us from the Plateau to the place we are staying. We have agreed that next Friday we will go to the school where Sanza teaches and that we will speak to his students about our tradition. He is enthused about the idea and so are we. It seems that we will speak to two groups of 60-70 students each time, and that next week we can speak to another two groups, if we like.
On the way to our place, Sanza took us to see a statue of Amilcar Cabral, a powerful personality in Cabo Verde and Guinea, who is credited for having achieved that Cabo Verde and Guinea Bissau are respectively recognized as independent countries. Amilcar Cabral was assassinated in 1973. He did not manage to see the results of his work and ideals, as Portugal granted independence only in 1975. It is still a mystery who was behind the plot that caused his death: whether the Portuguese, the Cape Verdians, or his own countrymen from Guinea Bissau.
In the afternoon we went out on Harinama again. As soon as we sat on the floor (we are using a nice blanket given to us by Krishna Puja Devi Dasi from Portugal), and before we started to sing, many curious people came to us and asked permission to sit with us. Radha Govinda Prabhu briefly introduced us and what we were going to do, taught them the maha-mantra, and invited them to sing along, which they did with gusto. The afternoon was even better than the morning. More numbers came who expressed interest. Many of them were personally welcoming us to Cabo Verde and expressed happiness that we were playing nice music. At the end of this Harinama session we had finished the more than one hundred books we carried in our luggage.
Radha Govinda and I had to stop at 5.30 pm because we had a couple of appointments at 6.00 pm which had been arranged my Myléne, the Cabo Verdian stewardess we met when entering the country. We walked to an area named Achada de Santo Antonio, a medium to high class neighborhood. There we met with Myléne and two educated mature ladies who have opened a yoga cultural association named Prana. Any and Dulce are cousins of Myléne and they asked us many favorable questions. At the moment their association is not very active because it is expensive to rent a suitable place to teach yoga. They told us that there are many people in Cabo Verde who are interested in yoga, but that what they can contribute is too little to maintain their own place. We agreed that we will inform them when we have fixed our public programs and Dulce will circulate the information among their people. During our meeting, Susana, the philosophy teacher´s wife, also joined us. She came to make sure that we reached our appointment safely. She also wanted to take us to meet one of her friends, a Spanish lady who owns an Indian restaurant, “Lotus” along with her husband, Aju, an Indian man born in the Canary Islands. After our meeting with Myléne and her cousins we took a taxi in order to reach the restaurant safely. Susana told us that at this time of the evening it was risky to go by walk. Recently she had been robbed by some men who carried knives.
We had a very nice meeting with Emilia, Aju, and Susana. We broaden our perspective on the reality of Cabo Verde by hearing the views of three foreign people who are living and working in Cabo Verde for many years. Their main challenge was to cope with the general low moral standards, the lack of family responsibility of the people, their insufficient cleanliness habits, and the shortage of water and electrical power some times. I thought that they were too negative, but it gave us another perspective of the local social situation, so that we do not become unrealistically optimistic. Emilia asked us if we can bring her a japa mala, which we promised to do as soon as we can.
We reached our base by taxi at 10.00 pm, where we had an analysis of the day with our colleagues Rupa Vilas and Dina Sarana.