Belgian Expats is a weekly interview series in which I talk to Belgians who’ve built a new life abroad. This week, Nathalie tells us about moving to Cape Verde.
1. Hi, Nathalie! Please quickly introduce yourself. Tell us who you are, where you’re from, where you moved to and when/why you moved.
My name is Nathalie, I am 23 years old and am working as a travel guide for Dutch and Belgian tourists in Boa Vista. I moved to Boa Vista, Cape Verde on the 25th of June in 2014. On my 18th birthday, I started working in tourism as an entertainer.
Two seasons later, I started to realize that my heart did not really belong in Belgium, but abroad. After a study trip to Cape Verde when I was in college, I kept contact with some people from Boa Vista and after graduating I decided to take my chances. I moved to Boa Vista and have not left since. However, in the meantime, I did go on a vacation to Belgium twice already.
2. What did you expect from Cape Verde and life there before moving? Did those expectations hold up?
I expected to arrive in paradise, with people who are always friendly, where there’s no stress whatsoever and where everybody helps each other. By moving to a holiday paradise, I expected to be able to be on a permanent vacation myself. These expectations only partly came true.
People are very friendly, but only when you speak the language and really get to know them. They can be pretty distant towards strangers as well. Besides, the part about being on a permanent vacation did not come true of course… To survive you need a job, which means you need to keep up a certain routine. As a hostess, you are in between the relaxed Cape Verdeans and the stressed Europeans.
3. What’s the biggest difference between life in Cape Verde and life in Belgium?
People here are content with less. Life is pretty expensive and wages are low, which makes this no easy place to live for the locals. However, there is a lot of work here, that is why a lot of Cape Verdeans from other islands move to Boa Vista. People in Belgium are really materialistic, while Cape Verdeans are happy with whatever is available, which is a big relief.
4. What’s the best part about living in Boa Vista?
I have always felt more at ease in smaller groups of people, and this is exactly what I found in the small community of Boa Vista. When you are meeting friends for drinks or dinner in Belgium, it is necessary to agree on an hour and place in order to meet each other. If somebody is running late, you automatically feel uncomfortable waiting around alone.
While when I leave my home here in Boa Vista, I already know half of the people on the street. Here you don’t really need to agree on an hour or place before meeting each other because you know you’ll just run into everybody either way.
Other than that, the weather is a big plus as well of course!
5. What do you like least about living in Boa Vista?
After having lived here on the island for a while, you’ll start to notice that small communities do have some disadvantages as well. Everyone knows everything about you, and they are constantly talking about it. Besides that, things pretty much stay the same around here, nothing really changes. Every week there’s the same live music in the exact same place and people go out to the same disco every week.
This isn’t a problem for people who are staying on the island for only two weeks or so because that way you get to know new people really fast. But after living here for 2 years, I prefer just staying home on a Friday night.
6. What do you miss most about Belgium?
The typical stuff… of course in the first place, I miss my family and the delicious Belgian food. I always deliver a lengthy list to my parents before coming to Belgium, that way they know exactly what to prepare for dinner or where to go out to eat. A traditional stop is, of course, the fry house, where I buy fries with a kipcorn and a Bicky burger. When my parents are coming to visit, I always ask them to bring a box of typical Belgian chocolate sea shells, a bag of candy from the Kruidvat, Kriek and Duvel beer.
Besides all that delicious food, I miss going shopping with my mother. Here in Boa Vista, there aren’t that many clothing stores (which is probably a good thing, that way I don’t get tempted to spend half of my salary). When I’m in Belgium, I just buy everything I will need for the coming year.
I just started planning my wedding. It is a pity that I couldn’t go shopping for my wedding dress together with my mother. But in the meantime, we found someone in Belgium who is able to make my dream wedding gown by hand… However, it is still sad that because of the distance it isn’t possible to share that special mother-daughter moment.
7. Is there something about Belgium that you don’t miss at all?
What I don’t miss is the bad weather, the rain, the distance between people and the stressed environment. When you are entering someone’s home here in Boa Vista, they will always offer you something to eat, or at least something to drink. While in Belgium, you’ll have to make arrangements beforehand, before just making a short visit to friends or even family.
8. Do you think you’ll stay in Cape Verde? Or is there a chance you’ll move abroad again someday?
At the moment I am not thinking about leaving Cape Verde. It all depends on the development of the islands, in Boa Vista they are currently very busy with working on an extension for the hospital and improving schools and education. There is no university in Boa Vista, while they do have some on the other islands.
My fiance isn’t originally from Boa Vista, which increases chances we’ll move to another island in the future or who knows, maybe even to another country. In either case, it has to be a place where it’s warm outside all year round. We’re planning to leave on a holiday to Europe for a few weeks, after our wedding. I want him to see how and where I grew up. Of course, once we’ll have children things like quality of education and hospitals are going to be extremely important.
9. Do you have any tips or advice for other Belgians who consider moving to Cape Verde?
Cape Verdeans can be a bit reserved at first, that’s why it is best if you have an open attitude towards everything and everyone. It is important that you try to speak the language as well because that is the only way to really be accepted by the community.
Besides, getting a residence permit isn’t easy in Cape Verde. You have to have a lot of different documents: ranging from a clean police record to medical documents, insurance, employment contract…
Additionally, everything has to be translated to Portuguese and police here aren’t mild. When something needs to get done, it could easily take a couple of weeks as well. My fiance made an application for a passport, for instance, something they said would take a month approximately. Meanwhile, he has been waiting for more than 4 months.
Also, life in Boa Vista is quite expensive. Rental prices are high, and water and electricity aren’t cheap either. When you are thinking about moving here, it is best if you already have a job. Without a regular income, it could get too expensive to stay here. I actually have seen several determined Belgians arrive here to leave again with a couple of thousand euros less…
10. What are some tips you would give to people who are traveling to your region/city? Things they should visit or eat?
You should definitely see the typical tourist sites such as Cabo de Santa Maria (the famous shipwreck), the Deserto de Viana (a desert with sand from the Sahara) and the beautiful Santa Monica beach, which is the 5th most beautiful beach in the world and definitely worth a visit!
Also, the capital Sal Rei, which is often being compared to a small village. Daily fishermen leave at 6 in the morning to return with huge fresh tuna and other fish. The women are waiting by the side until they return with the fish. When they arrive the women carry the fish inside the fish market on top of their heads. A beautiful sight and perfect for taking some typical photos!
Quads are a regular means of transport here on the island, so a quad ride is a nice bonus while you’re here. If you prefer a calmer alternative, cabs in Boa Vista are actually pick-up trucks. You’ll have to sit in the back to get from A to B, a lot of people really enjoy these cab rides!
If you want to get a taste of the typical Cape Verde, you’ll have to try the national dish cachupa. It is a mix of beans, maize, meat, fish and vegetables. Cape Verdeans eat it at any hour of the day: morning, lunch or dinner. Besides cachupa, you can try the typical goat cheese if you prefer a lighter meal.
Cape Verdeans like to drink a nice glass of grog (rum with 45% alcohol) or ponche (grog with honey) now and then. The exotic cocktail caipirinha contains grog as well, ideal if you are spending a day on the beach. I highly recommend trying the coffee and wine of Fogo (another Cape Verdean island) as well!
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This interview was done by Paloma García Miranda, a talented Master’s Student of Business Communication who’s helping Sofie out here on WonderfulWanderings.com.