African American in Africa: Ann in Cabo Verde
Meet Ann, who's currently living and working in Cabo Verde. Originally from New York, a vacation to a west African island chain turned into the move of a lifetime!
On Your Move to Cabo Verde
Where in Cabo Verde do you live?
Praia city, Santiago Island.
When did you first visit the African continent and what were your first impressions?
I first visited Ghana I think in 2001, 2002. And I have to say it was a bit of a letdown, maybe because I had extremely high hopes. I was in Accra and I felt it was dirty and electricity was also a problem. I saw some people defecating on the street in the relative open. At one small beach house, I stayed in the staff actually dumped garbage into the ocean.
I didn’t go on any of the tourist outings. I stayed in the city and lived there for about two months. I wanted to get a feel of the city rather than the attractions.
How did you end up in Cabo Verde?
I literally came for a vacation and wound up staying, in short.
How long have you been living in Cabo Verde and how long do you plan to stay there?
I have been here almost six years. I am not sure how much longer I'll stay. I do need to spend a longer period of time with my family in the States soon. But even if I leave, I will find a way to come back regularly, especially since my husband’s family will be in CV.
What are you doing professionally in Cabo Verde?
When I first arrived here I was just freelance writing. Then about three years ago I started teaching English to professionals with a company here started by an American man who came with Peace Corps. He married a local woman and together they launched the professional English language teaching company. So now I teach English and write.
Can you describe your experience immigration wise, of moving to Cabo Verde?
It was a very easy process. There is no real waiting period.
On Professional Opportunities and Entrepreneurship
Any professional advice for potential expats?
I would say test it out first. I have known a couple of other Americans who wanted to move but they failed to test the waters first and it didn’t work out. It is difficult to find jobs and there aren’t many conveniences (but that is changing). So I’d say first try to think about jobs. It’s tough for locals to get jobs, so imagine how it is for a foreigner.
Learn Portuguese (or the language of the country) if you want to do any consulting with the government. This is an opportunity because the government here is always looking for outside consultants especially concerning sustainable development issues.
What industries are potentially hiring the most, if any?
Hospitality. There needs to be better training in this sector. Cabo Verde knows this and is looking towards ways to improve the sector. Also English language teaching.
Would you say Cabo Verde has a lot of entrepreneurial opportunities? Can you list some examples?
Oh wow. Many. Though it is a small market, the country is developing so rapidly and so there is a need for many things.
When I first got here I thought a laundromat would be great because many people still wash clothes by hand but electricity was super iffy and expensive. Now the electrical situation has greatly improved and a couple of people have actually opened up dry cleaners and there is one laundromat.
There is a big market in clothing. Consumers here love brand names but most American clothing is brought second-hand. Cosmetics and beauty products are in high demand, especially from the States.
Better forms of inter-island transportation with more private ferry services (there is only one right now) are also needed.
How easy is it for a foreigner to start up a business?
This is sticky because a lot of Cabo Verdean Americans even complain that the process is hard and too long, though the government says they are working to streamline the process. For locals is it a bit easier.
On EveryDay Life
What's life like in Cabo Verde for you?
One day is never the same, but at the same time, it is very relaxing. The society here is very complex and I am always learning something new about the culture - even still. I love seeing the ocean every day. The weather is great. I am NOT a fan of cold weather. I have made many friends and there is always lots to do even though it is a small place.
Were you welcomed as an African American? Or as an American in general?
Yes, even though there are very, very few African Americans here. There are probably less than 10 on this island. But there are more Americans. Here in Cabo Verde people really do like America and Americans. Many of them have relatives in the States. In fact, America has more Cabo Verdeans living there than there Cabo Verdeans on all the islands. One downside, some think all Americans are rich - LOL.
What do you love the most about living in Cabo Verde?
Being able to be outdoors a lot, the friendliness and courtesy of the people. And that I have a better life balance now.
Favorite memory so far?
Easiest things to adjust to?
Most difficult things to adjust to?
Things move slowly here and that can be frustrating. Most shops and offices shut down during lunch, which is 2 ½-3 hrs long. This can mess up your day if you need to get paperwork or even something from a certain store and you have to wait until after lunch.
What is your social life like in Cabo Verde?
During the end of my first year here I made a few Cabo Verdean friends and I went out a lot (there is a big nightlife here) - to clubs, to festivals, to lots of restaurants. After I met my husband, I became more of a homebody.
Can you share a few details on the cost of living in your community?
I am currently living in an upper middle-class zone (community). My rent is about 300USD per month. Electricity is about 60USD a month and groceries range depending on what's available. A lot of food is imported as it is an island nation, but I spend about 100-200USD a month.
Before getting married, I lived in a poorer community. This turned out to be more expensive in the long run. There, my monthly rent was about 250USD and electricity was around 70USD a month. The cost of groceries was higher as I mostly shopped at a small more expensive convenience store since a larger grocery store was further away.
How long do you plan to stay in Cabo Verde?
Indefinitely. I may return to the U.S. to spend time with my family, but I would like to return to CV.
What has living in Cabo Verde taught you? Or how has it changed you?
So many things. It taught me patience. It taught me to pay more attention to others. It taught me to stop and enjoy life. I don’t know if it changed me more as it has made me re-focus my life.
Do you think enough African Americans visit the continent?
I think many visit Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, and South Africa. But there are so many other countries to check out as well, especially Cabo Verde. Cabo Verde was actually one of the most vital stops on the transatlantic slave trade route, a fact they are now trying to promote to encourage Black Americans to visit. It was a final stop before going to the Americas.
What would you say to encourage more of them to visit?
Most Americans have an ancestral country they can go to, but African Americans get a whole continent! There is so much to explore. Spending time where people of color are the majority and the ones in control will give you a totally different feeling.
Best advice for someone who wants to move to Africa?
Make sure you have a source of income. Be prepared if you are heading to a developing country for certain hardships. Remember there will be cultural differences, but most of all have an open mind. Try to understand the ways of the location and respect the differences.
Is there somewhere we can follow your experience?
An American in Cape Verde on Facebook
Thank you Ann!