Day 1: Boston to Cape Verde

On a chilly winter morning, I embarked on what might be Massachusetts only in-state flight. Every Friday at 9am, Cape Verde’s struggling national airline TACV carries a payload of homesick Cape Verdeans visiting family and friends, bearing gifts large and small testing the limits of their checked baggage limits.

The morning was full of surprises, beginning with the sight of an Icelandair plane parked at the gate that was ostensibly boarding my flight. After staring a while out the window, the gate agent assured me it was the right place: Icelandair recently had taken a 51% stake in the airline to explore using Cape Verde as an alternate mid-Atlantic hub for their business. Indeed, walking on the plane I was greeted by the sight of two large pilots with ice-white blonde hair, and a cabin lightly brushed with minimalist Icelandic design.

My second surprise: other than the pilots, I was the only person on the flight who didn’t have roots in Cape Verde. The woman sitting in front of me, indulging the curiosity of everyone on the plane, turned around and asked me where and why I was going, commenting “I think you’re the only white person on this flight”.  It took us less than two minutes of talking to find out she was friends with my innkeeper in Praia, Cape Verde’s capital. A few texts later with my innkeeper, and I had an airport pickup arranged and a guarantee I’d be treated like family.

My third surprise: when the plane hurtled into the air, the captain said, in his clipped Nordic English, that would take us a little more than six hours to reach distant Cape Verde. In less time than many flights to San Francisco, I would be worlds away.

Arriving late at night at Praia’s small, neat airport, my innkeeper kept her promise, sending an expressive friend of hers who taught me several expressions in local Crioulo (Cape Verde’s language with roots in Portuguese) on the way to the property. Excited to be brought into Cape Verdean life so quickly, I diligently memorized the local way to say “yes”, “no”, “hello”, and “how are you doing”, only to find out in two days that these expressions served me little purpose on other islands other than to mark me as an outsider.