Saturday, June 30, 2012

Apples And Oranges

The King is dead... long live the King! Twenty-two days ago, I officially completed my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Ten days ago, I once again rose my right hand, swearing my allegiance to the United States, and officially started my service as a Peace Corps (Response) Volunteer. After almost two weeks in this new country, with this new assignment, I finally feel ready to reflect a bit on what it is like for me here. Of course, so much is new... but some things are pretty much the same.

The first thing I'll say is that my reign as the Luckiest Man Alive continues, uninterrupted. I had some doubts about the streak continuing when received my travel itinerary... not exactly lucky. In their infinite wisdom—an frugality—Peace Corps routed me from Oakland, California to Seattle Washington, to Miami, Florida to Panama City, Panama, to Barranquilla, Colombia. Did I lose you there? For those of you who are not sure how ridiculous this flight plan is, I have prepared ap map, using a mural painted by a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Colombia. Like I said, some things are the same. This itinerary was eerily similar to my odyssey back home from Cape Verde—also a four-leg, thirty-hour journey.


After the first three legs of my journey, I met two other soon-to-be Response Volunteers at the boarding gate in the Panama City Airport. Jarrett (Massachusetts), and Eric (North Carolina) are also working with Fútbol Con Corazón as Youth Outreach Specialists. I knew my lucky streak was still in effect when I found my seat on the plane... 1A! This time, when we landed, our Country Director and the Director of Programming and Training had cleared security, customs and immigrations and were waiting for us on the catwalk, just on the other side of the plane's door.

Last summer I flew to Cape Verde with twenty-four other Trainees, then spent much of the following nine weeks with them in training before being sworn in as Volunteers. Even after that, I lived in a community within walking distance of six other Volunteers, and worked and lived with one of them (wuddup Rory?!). Last week I arrived with two other Candidates, and after a one-hour meeting with the Country Director, we swore in as Volunteers. After a few days of orientation sessions and administrative nitty gritty, we were installed in our respective communities and I didn't see them (or any other Americans) again until last night (a week later).

I felt another big difference the first time I stepped foot inside Carrefour, a gigantic all-you-can-buy style store with a produce section unlike anything you could scavenge on the ten islands of Cape Verde. Granted, this store is nowhere near my house, and we normally buy our produce from random sellers who walk through town with a bucket full of avocados, or a donkey-pulled cart full of mangos. 

Perhaps the biggest similarity is that once again I have a beautiful host family that has has made me feel like I’ve finally come back home after being away for a long time. Once again, I have a ten year-old sidekick/brother, whose name, ironically, is Jaime*. My host mother, Chabela, is the unofficial Godmother of the town, and serves as an elected member of the Junta Comunal.** We live with her son (Jaime), her nephew, his wife, and their baby, who happens the be one the most tranquilo and bazofo*** infants I have ever met.

Unlike Cape Verde, I will be living with my host-family for the duration of my service in Colombia, as opposed to just during a nine-week training period.**** My new community has more than a few things in common with the first communities where I lived in Assomada, Cape Verde. Twenty-four hour music blasting on the weekends—except now it is Vallenato, Salsa, Reggaeton and Champeta, instead of Funaná, Zouk and Reggae.

Once again, I’ve been blessed with a work environment full of competent folks who love what they do, and who are excited to have me join their team. Once again, I am working with youth... the difference is that in Cape Verde, youth means 18-35 year olds, whereas here, I work with 6-15 year olds.

Perhaps the biggest difference this time around is that I don’t feel like I’m in the Peace Corps, whatever that means. Or, maybe it would be more accurate to say that I rarely think about Peace Corps here. With all due respect to the powers that be, I think this is a good thing. It just means that instead of thinking about paperwork and protocol, I am immersed in my work, and at home in my community. If I close my eyes at work (and pretend that it isn’t a billion degrees Farenheit with 101% humidity), and listen to the sounds of a hundred kids chasing soccer balls and each other around the pitch, then I could easily imagine myself back home. It just feels so much like what I’ve been doing—what I’ve grown to love, and what I’ve become pretty good at. Call it Child Development using soccer as a vehicle for blah-blah-blah... or call it herding cats. Either way, it’s my thing—something that I have no trouble rolling out of bed to do everyday. Which is fortunate, because my workdays here a long, plenty and hot, and the kids don’t cut you any slack.

Pura Vida,


* One of my real brother's name's is Jaime... except, at 6'6" he is a little two big to be my sidekick.

** Community/Town Council

*** Bazofo - Kriolu Kabu-verdianu... meaning well-dressed, fresh-pressed, GQ, so-fresh-and-so-clean, fitted and kitted, etc... observe the mohawk.

**** Did I mention that there was no nine-week training period?! Hah!

***** Map of Colombia by Rubén Barios... Map of the World by Anderson Oliveros, Jean C. Pacheco, Matthew Callagan (RPCV) & Carolina Buitrago (RPCV)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

As The World Shrinks

I can’t tell if the world is actually shrinking, or if I am just learning to appreciate how small it has always been. No matter how far away from home I travel, I rarely feel like it is far away. Even better, I’ve been lucky to have so many homes away from home over the years. Some of these second homes have been just minutes away from my real house in Oakland. At other times I have been taken in by people and families in Costa Rica, Guahan, New Zealand, South Africa, Cape Verdeand now, Colombia. There will always be those awkward moments, but they are heavily outweighed by the moments that can turn any four walls and a roof into home base.

After leaving Cape Verde earlier this month, I got to spend a week back home in the Bay Area. It was pretty much perfect. I spent a lot of time with some of the very people who have provided me with a home away from home over the years. Dinner at the home of Chuck and Paula Collins, where I was a quasi-perpetual boarder while going to high school in San Francisco. Thank you for the fish, and thank you for sparing me so many long commutes home after soccer practice and other "extracurricular activities." Also, there was a long-overdue meal shared with Eddie and Helena Wasp, who would open their home at Lake Tahoe to my family every winter when I was little. Thank you for every snowball fight, ski lesson, and fireside game of Pictionary. Sidebar: I think it's time for a cultural renaissance centered around the revival of old-school board games.

I also got to spend a few hours with my "music mama," Ayana. From age two, Ayana was my first piano teacher, and so much more. Thank you for opening your home, filled with student-sized instruments for me to explore: the piano, the drums, the guitar, the trumpet, the violin.*

I was surprised to realize how I was not spending my time. For example, I never once stepped foot inside the Bladium—in fact, the only soccer I played was during an impromptu "Intro to Kicking Things" clinic with my nephew on the back porch. He is showing promise. Also, I never really "went out." No concerts, no dancing, no late nights at the bar. I am a little surprised that I didn't put more energy into eating at all of the places that had been causing my home-sickness inducing food cravings during the past year. We started off strong with a Zachary's pizza party for the family on Sunday—in fact, I was eating leftover deep dish pizza for breakfast lunch and dinner well into midweek. I did make it to one of my favorite restaurants in the world, Tamarindo, where I shared Mexican Tapas and assorted tequila-based beverages with my friend, Alex.

After living for a year without direct access to a grill, you know I had to take advantage of being home during the BBQ season, which, in the Bay Area, lasts from June until the following June. We managed a modest three grilling sessions during an eight-day stretch. The first was courtesy of Bumbalo and Sara. You may remember them as the proud parents of Charlie and Chance, two of "My Favorite Dogs in the World." Now they have an actual real live human baby named Tyler, so David has become the first member of my immediate rat pack to be a daddy. The chicken was juicy and the baby is a cutie. Good luck at the wedding next month, and I'm sorry I can't be there for it.

The second BBQ was in honor of my brother’s birthday. His menu request: grilled steak, grilled asparagus, potatoes and corn. Two Webbers and six hours later, everyone was stuffed, and almost everyone had gone home. Happy birthday, Jaime, and our most sincere apologies to the neighbors.

The final BBQ was truly the Coup de grâce, hosted by my sister and her boyfriend at their house in North Oakland. I do feel bad that I didn’t get to socialize a little more while there—I spent the first hour destroying my brother, Barry, in a too-easy game of bones. When he finally got in line to domino, and “won” a round, he set a new world record for the sorriest collection of dominoes collected from the hands of your opponent. Literally, when he went out Trevor, Unity and I coughed up six of the most worthless dominoes in the game. His bounty: a grand total of 13 points (yes, we let him round it up to 15). Please enjoy his expression of non-triumph, be we enjoyed it so much that we took pictures. He handled it all with amazing grace. Truthfully, the real reason that I slacked on the socializing is that I took a nap at 9pm—the kind of nap that lasts until the next morning.

When I wasn't scarfing down grilled goodies, I was doing my best to see all of my peoples. Of course I missed a few folks due to time constraints, but I'm not worried because I know I will be back. The more I travel, the more I feel the world shrinking. But each time I come back to Oakland, I become more and more convinced that you can only have one true home.

On Tuesday I arrived in Barranquilla, Colombia, and all I can say is... chevere. Unfortunately, security precautions prevent me from posting the name of my barrio, but trust me—it is a beautiful place filled with beautiful people. Well... that’s all I have to say about that.***

Pura Vida,

* No, I cannot still play all of these instruments, but I'm flattered that you would even consider that possibility.

** No, that is not his real name.

*** No, that is not really all I have to say about Barranquilla. I guess I just felt like quoting Forrest Gump, plus I need a few more days before I start processing it all. Next week I will be writing more about life here in Colombia, so please stay tuned.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Almost a year ago, I flew across the country to Boston for “staging,” before shipping out Cape Verde to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer. After a full day of orientation, we boarded the plane at Logan Airport. We were a group of 25 Trainees, and suprisingly, no “chaperones.” The Peace Corps staff in Boston bid us farewell, and deputized a few of us to handle the logistics until we landed in Cape Verde and met our new trainers and supervisors. Since I was one of two people in the group that already spoke Portuguese, I was one of those group leaders. Because of this, I ended up being first off the plane, and the first people I met in country were the Country Director and the Safety and Security Coordinator, who were waiting for us at the Immigration counter.

Fast forward to June 2012, and I feel like the same thing has happened in reverse. Since the Peace Corps Program in Cape Verde will be closing this year, each of the 25 first-year volunteers were given the option transfer to a different country to complete our second year of service. The 22 volunteers who accepted this offer have been assigned to Moçambique, Namibia, Togo, Benin, and Colombia (that’s me!). My assignment is as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, which is actually a different program than the “normal” Peace Corps. This means that while everyone else is transferring, I have technically completed my service, and will be starting a second tour of duty.

In my last days in Cape Verde I had a series of exit interviews and a small mountain of paperwork to complete. At the end of my final interview with the Country Director, I received an official copy of my Description of Service (DOS), signed and stamped with the Peace Corps seal. This document is pretty much what it sounds like, but it also serves as a letter of recommendation for my future pursuits. As the ink dried on my DOS, the word FIFO popped into my head. First in, first out.*

I am writing this post from Oakland, California... I survived 30 hours of travel back home, via Lisbon, Newark, and Salt Lake City. I have about a week to say hello and goodbye to all the people I love here, and to stuff my face with as much of my favorite food as possible. Last night (and this morning) it was Zachary’s deep dish Chicago style pizza. Yes. Time is of the essence, and the last thing I want to do is spend all week talking about what I’ve been doing in Cape Verde. With that in mind, I thought it might save some time if I shared my actual Description of Service on this blog. I also thought it would interesting since most of my posts don’t get into the nitty gritty of my actual work as a volunteer. So, here goes:


Andrew F. Williams
Republic of Cape Verde 2011-2012

After a competitive application process stressing technical skills, motivation, adaptability, and cross-cultural understanding, Peace Corps invited Mr. Williams to serve as a Small Enterprise Development Volunteer in the Republic of Cape Verde.

Mr. Williams began an intensive 9-week pre-service training on July 17, 2011, in Assomada, Cape Verde, located on the island of Santiago. The program consisted of language training, technical skills training, health education, cross-cultural communication and integration, and area studies training. As part of the technical training, Mr. Williams co-facilitated multiple projects in Fonte Lima, the town where he lived with a host family. His primary PST project involved working with the local community association to identify and prioritize needs, with an emphasis on transferring project management skills to the association’s leadership. The final products of this work included the design and implementation of a community survey and a formal Project Plan for the launch of a vocational training program (tailoring/sewing). His secondary PST project was working with two other volunteers to organize and lead a series of aerobics classes at the local soccer court.

The Pre-Service Training program included:
  • 145 hours of Technical Training in SED disciplines, including project management, meeting facilitation, and micro-finance;
  • 123 hours of formal instruction in Cape Verdean Creole ("Southern" dialect);
  • 28 hours of Stand Alone Cross-Cultural Training ;
  • 15 hours of Medical Training;
  • 12 hours of Safety & Security Training;
  • 7 hours of Administrative Training.
On September 17th, 2011, Mr. Williams completed training and was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. He was assigned to Mindelo, a port city of 70,000 on the northern island of São Vicente. “Northern” Creole is predominantly spoken there, although classrooms, formal meetings and professional communication are conducted in Portuguese.  Mr. Williams served as the Warden for the São Vicente region and its seven volunteers, acting as the point person for communication with the Peace Corps national Safety and Security Coordinator.


The Centro de Juventude – São Vicente (CEJ-SV) is one of a network of centers throughout the country, operated by the Ministério de Juventude (Ministry of Youth). The CEJ serves Cape Verdeans aged 18-35, offering professional training classes, enrichment programs, academic support, counseling, and outreach activities to the surrounding communities of São Vicente. Mr. Williams’s primary responsibility was to teach and co-facilitate classes with the goal of increasing the students’ ability to earn a living.

In addition to teaching formal classes, Mr. Williams worked in a one-on-one setting with individual aspiring entrepreneurs to help them develop business/project plans. These projects included artisan furniture, graphic design, and fish exporting businesses, as well as a non-profit youth center. Specific activities in these one-on-one sessions emphasized goal setting, SWOT analyses, basic accounting, proposal writing, and document translation.

Mr. Williams also participated in the general activities of the CEJ. These projects included:
  • the design and implementation of a comprehensive survey of the members associations of the São Vicente League of Youth Associations (LIGA-JUV);
  • a Volunteer Fair, showcasing the member organizations of the Network of Mobilized Volunteer Organizations (REDE);
  • outreach workshops on various topics, including sexual health and crime prevention.

Mr. Williams worked in direct partnership with the CEJ Psychologist (his counterpart), and the regional coordinator of the National Volunteer Program (PNV/UN Volunteers). He reported directly to the Coordinator of the CEJ, Manuel Lopes Fortes. Most importantly, Mr. Williams worked as part of a large team of CEJ Volunteers, including host country nationals and another Peace Corps Volunteer.

Language Skills 
Mr. Williams achieved an advanced competency level in Southern and Northern Cape Verdean Creole during his service and effectively used Creole to communicate in his work at the CEJ, and in his community in general. In addition, Mr. Williams relied on previously acquired Portuguese competency to teach classes and to participate in planning meetings, workshops and professional/government-sponsored conferences. In his Language Proficiency Interviews (LPI) in April 2012 Mr. Williams scored “Advanced High” in Creole (Lang Code 411) and “Intermediate Mid” in Portuguese (Lang Code 116).


Soccer Coach 

Mr. Williams’s experience and training as a soccer coach and player led him to get involved with several clubs in Cape Verde. He was primarily affiliated with Gremio Desportivo Amarante, one of the First Division/Professional clubs in Mindelo. At G.D. Amarante he served as the head coach of the under-17 development team, and as an assistant coach for the under-15 and under-19 teams. His primary responsibilities included planning and leading training sessions, with the goal of developing players for the Senior Team. He also engaged in skills-transfers with the other coaches, including sharing and translating training materials from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and other resources. Additionally, Mr. Williams had the opportunity to work with Falcões do Norte (Mindelo), Corinthians (Mindelo), and Pedro Badejo (on the island of Santiago).

This is to certify in accordance with Executive Order No. 11103 of 10 April 1963, that Andrew F. Williams served satisfactorily as a Peace Corps Volunteer. His service in Cape Verde ended on June 8, 2012. He is therefore eligible to be appointed as a career-conditional employee in the competitive civil service on a non-competitive basis. This benefit under the Executive Order entitlement extends for a period of one year after termination of the Volunteer’s service, except that the employing agency may extend that period for up to three years for a former Volunteer who enters military service, pursues studies at a recognized institution of higher learning, or engages in other activities that, in the view of the appointing authority, warrant extension of the period.

Signed June 8, 2012:

Valerie Staats 
Country Director 
Peace Corps/Cape Verde 

Andrew F. Williams
Peace Corps Volunteer
Cape Verde (2011-2012)


Pura Vida, 


*The other first-year volunteers will be transferring to their new posts over the course of the next few months.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


I haven’t had any breakdowns yet. No midnight cold sweats. I had my last day of work as a volunteer in Cape Verde last Friday, and so far I have yet to experience the pains of withdrawal. Then again, it’s easy to avoid withdrawal when you're on vacation It’s not like I’m plopped down in front of computer in a Peugot-sized cubicle, staring down the beginning of the next chapter of my life. Hardly. Instead, I’ve been using my last few days in Cape Verde to see the country and see my friends before I head out.

Last weekend was a chance to (re)visit the island of Santo Antão. I went for the day in March when my Dad and Lita were in town, but I couldn’t leave this country without sleeping on “the most beautiful island in Cape Verde” for a least one night. Especially since it is just at 45 minute boat ride from where I’ve been living on São Vicente. Not surprisingly, the island lives up to its reputation, and the grogue and cheese at O Curral were just as good as I remembered. This time I only had a few tastes, and the moderation allowed me to enjoy the long walk back down through the valley to the coastal town.

I’ve never been a junkie for hiking, but I do love a long, long walk. When I used to guerrilla marketing for all types of musicians and companies, I used to cover some serious ground in different cities across the country. Harlem to Soho. Santa Monica to Hollywood. A sticker here, a poster there. The best part of these walks is letting your legs switch over to autopilot, freeing up your mind to wander to wherever it’s been wanting to go. I felt the same feeling while scaling the volcano on Fogo a month ago. I felt it again on Monday morning as I walked along the north coast Santo Antão, from Ribeira Grande to Vila das Pombas. Along with those few hours, highlights from the trip included dinner at Ti Lello* with “old” and new friends, and my first caipirinha de maracujá.

Really, it’s no surprise that the withdrawal symptoms haven’t kicked in yet, but when they do come, I know what I will miss:

My Cape Verdean soccer family at Gremio Desportivo Amarante and all the knuckleheads that I’ve had the privilege to work with here...

My coworkers, colleagues, friends and students...

My little girl...

In the meantime, I’ll be doing a lot of walking mixed with a whole lot of nothing, letting my mind and body wander to their destinations of choice. There will be plenty of work do, plenty soon.

Pura Vida,


*Ti Lello is an excellent and authentic Italian restaurant in Vila das Pombas, featuring handmade pastas, good pizzas, gelato and more. Plus, the owner/chef will come to your table to demonstrate some pretty impressive card tricks while you wait for your food.