It has been almost 2 months since I’ve moved to S. Tome & Principe. A small archipelago in west Africa, where the equator line stumbles in the middle of it. The green scenery is astonishing, the beaches are lovely, the people are simple… and the buildings are colonial ruins. In fact you can clearly see, hear, touch or feel the 500 year of colonial empire.
There is so much to say about this little country but something sad to see is the inability to move on. Like a brutally abused abandoned child. The trauma is so heavy and it seems like you can only notice if you have had the chance to live or educate yourself somewhere else. Far away from this reality, outside of this isolated bubble. The theme of the country is living life ‘leve leve’ which translates to ‘slowly slowly’. If you ask someone; ‘how do you do?’ ‘leve leve’ is usually the answer. Perhaps this is the only way to live in an isolated place, theoretically free but hugely dependent on so many ways.
A lot of the huge colonial houses called Roças were abandoned since 1975 (independence from Portugal) and have been like that ever since, rotting away. Some locals use it as their house or for all sorts of other unknown activities. Some people may ask why doesn’t the government do something about it? which is a fair question but when you think about this in the deeper level it is actually a silly question. It is like asking a prisoner who have never seen a book to read. Maybe a rather dramatic analogy but in fact it is infuriating to me to hear this kind of comments; Why are African people so lazy?, why are they just a bunch of corrupts? why aren’t they using their resources? Maybe because someone else used it all and still owns it today. Maybe because 40 years aren’t enough to rebuild a 500 year wiping off of cultural and social structure, traditions, self-worth and dignity. It’s also foolish to blame everything on colonisation, but no one knows what this reality would be without it.
The schools are still teaching the Portuguese Programme – history, culture, you name it… The other day my mum have told me she was teaching the name of the flowers to the kids and it was appalling to know that these were only Portuguese/European flowers that don’t even grow here, most of these kids (maybe none) have seen these flowers. In my opinion, it only perpetuates the colonial culture/structure. Aren’t the flowers growing here good enough to make it to the programme? It is clear that this may cause a rejection of what is ours, what grows in our country and is easily accessible. There was a local kid I met in a trip to the south who refused to speak the language of São tome, he said that this language was unknown to him, that he was born in the city so he doesn’t want to speak it. And now tell me how do we fix this? Because is broken…. Most of these kids don’t even know what their ancestors went through and maybe some would say is not important, that there is an urgent need to move on. But I think that solution isn’t viable. You can certainly move on with an open wound but you will only move ‘slowly slowly’. São Tomé is crying for help but the work needs to be done from within.