When holidaying in a paradise country, it’s rather difficult for one to see further than its beauty, especially in this high tech era when the mind is set up to think about those nice pics that will soon delve on social networks, making half of the world envious.
However, today, in order to show you how mass tourism and All inclusive offers can jeopardise an Island, I decided to strip myself –again- of any prejudice and guide you on a journey that will take us beyond the alluring beaches and endless dunes of my birth place Boa Vista, Cape Verde Islands.
Boa Vista came to the spotlight a couple of decades ago when the first Italians investors came over to the island. Their arrival was announced in sorts as the beginning of success for the “Island of Dunes”, which for years was completely ignored and forgotten by the central government, though displayed an enormous potential.
It was only in 2007 that the international airport was inaugurated, and after that, the giants of the world tourism like Tui Travel found this gold mine.
It was a cunning plot set up to benefit the All Inclusive hotels and ignore the needs of an island that was still pleading for decent electricity and water supplier and where the healthcare was the poorest in the country. Instead, the Minister of Tourism made people believe that was the right way to promote the island.
Now, let me show you what’s happening 7 years after.
Our first stop: Holandinha (little Holland )
I was taken by a friend who on our way warned me about the heart-breaking scene I was going to witness. So I knew it was nothing comparable to the Netherlands but quite the contrary. It was a huge dump where the hotel’s rubbish is sent and had became a source of food for some unemployed and pig farmers living nearby and using the scraps to feed their pigs and also feed themselves. The name -Holandinha- was just a fancy way to hide the shame of working and living in such a place. But what those people probably don’t know is that currently the Dutch and so many others western tourists are coming every day to the Island making Boa Vista the most important place for tourism. The figures show that the Island is the 2nd most important for the Cape-Verdean GDP. I wonder if we could fight against the tourism industry and the corrupted government who are trying to make us slaves and if we could explore our unique resources, we could be, indeed, like the Dutch: pedal freely in the right direction.
While I was digging into my future ideations, I knew the crowd there – women and young men – were getting ready for the next truck load.
As soon the truck popped up on the horizon, the youngest boys ran as if they were heading to grab their soul, I saw one crawling onto the dumping bed, his fellow friends queuing next to the car and preparing to fight for the first black bag to come out. In the past, one person was stabbed to death over a dispute for the food.
That day, things were more passive, the ladies were avoiding the first clash, moments later everyone seemed to be more comfortable in front of my camera and through the lens I saw their hands diving and digging for leftovers of lasagne, fruits, seafood rice avoiding things like dirty diapers and tissues. The overwhelming scenes lasted minutes long and in between laughter and shouts I saw some feeding on a “pret a manger” sandwich, others peeling oranges and some already licking their lips after trying a creamy dessert, ignoring all possibilities of diseases.
Most of them were from the main island, Santiago, drawn by the promises of a job in the tourism industry but instead, ended up living in the filthiest and poorest place I ever been.
I glanced at the scars on their hands from broken bottles, they told me, but I wonder for how long this system will wound their soul and leave them in this extreme poverty.
They are victims of a very lucrative and corrupted business called All inclusive Tourism which only allows them only to share the leftovers from western tourists.
Barraca – Bairro a Boa Esperança
Barraca is a slum located at the outskirt of Sal Rei “city” and it is home to more than half of the population in the island, which is estimated to be around 14 thousand. The first inhabitants of the neighbourhood came over 10 years ago to feed the system that was in demand for labourers but were forced to work for the hotels.
The island wasn’t prepared to deal with an overnight crowd of workers and because of the miserable wages at the hotels, people were force to illegally build their own houses despite the fact that Boa Vista is one of the most expensive places in west coast of Africa.
I used to avoid this reality until I realised I was ignoring 90% of the hotels’ workers. They come from different islands in Cape Verde likewise from Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, and Guinea Bissau.
They are adventurers who came to earn an average of 230pounds a month just to be chefs, gardeners, security guys and lifeguards at 4 or 5 stars hotels like Royal Decameron, Riu Karamboa or Riu Touareg.
William, a Ghanaian artist, took me through the grey unfinished houses of the slum, where everything was lacking; running water, sewage, toilets and where drugs and prostitution are easily accessible.
I saw kids playing on their own without their parents who, every day, from morning to evening, strive to make sure tourists have the holidays of their dreams.
The situation is Boa Vista is rather complicated. The healthcare is poorer than it was 15 years ago. It is unthinkable, for an Island with more than 10 thousands people, that there is no proper hospital.
According to the health ministry the population is not sufficient enough to justify a permanent specialist like a paediatrician, gynaecologist or cardiologist. If a woman needs to see a doctor for any reason, she would have to wait months, or if she can afford it, pay to fly to another island.
Obviously, within the hotel is another world, where a tourist’s life has more value and permanent foreign doctors provide 24 hour medical assistance.
Everything could be easily changed or avoided if the new generation had a proper education, but when I went to visit the primary and high school, I was shocked to see that the students were using the same facilities I used 25 years ago. Although the teachers hold a strong yearning to get the pupils on track, are limited by the absence of books and computers.
The system is so old-fashioned; on average each classroom has 33 students, where they spend only four hours a day in class, without reading a single page of a book, the start of an education that could change their life.
When you look at the education system you understand why people cannot fight for more. The football might be free to keep people entertained, but access to more crucial information is denied due to the absence of newspapers or a free local Radio. Those who might be willing to speak out are afraid of retribution by local authorities and as well hotel managers. There are cases of indecent assault and racism at the hotels but authorities are turning a blind eye, choosing to view the situation as perfect.
The tourism industry is monopolised by the giant TUI Travel, that uses all its power to guarantee huge profit margins.
Tourists in all inclusive hotels can even leave their wallets at home, and if they chose to undertake activities like whale watching, diving, tours around the island, the money will remain with the foreign agency belonging to TUI travel.
I left my country outraged that my people are being treated like second-class citizens by the government and barbarically exploited by investors.
In a country where a huge percentage of the population can speak more than 3 languages, somehow the situation has left them mute in articulating the words of freedom.
Nevertheless, as one of them, I found an inner strength to cope with this heartbreaking situation and write about my birthplace without any prejudice. It is another warning of what can happen in a country without a proper education system, from which people can be empowered to fight for their rights. The responsibility extends to foreigners to think about how to book your next holidays to make it sustainable for the people of the country. I urge you to see things from a different angle, see beyond the beauty.