São Tomé, like the calm sea, rolling softly on the beach of Ana Chaves Bay, remains quiet and almost frozen in time. As if we had retreated 30 years. Or maybe more.
Marks of the past are everywhere. The streets are wide and without traffic. And the low houses of colonial origin, show, in many cases, the air of abandonment.
Here in this paradise, the second smallest country in Africa, with about 150 thousand islanders, the past is still present.
The Taxi Driver
The past can be a taxi, used for more than 3 decades, dragging around the capital.
Cruz is 30 years old, and the taxi that makes his living, is older than the man.
In São Tomé, the price of gasoline is always very high. It’s almost as expensive as in Europe – a luxury for a country where the minimum wage evaporates, because you earn just some 50 Euros per month.
While Cruz is driving between the busy swarm of yellow-green taxis, he’s telling me that it’s not only gasoline that makes him tighten his belt every month. Apart from fruit, vegetables and fish, everything is expensive – at least for the 4 mouths Cruz needs to feed at home.
On the market, inflation seems to feel sorry for the vendors. Cruz confesses later, that he can only fool his fate of poverty, because he works a double shift.
His is a life sleeping in a hurry, quite different from the one Hélio Quaresma leads. An unemployed painter, who works as a cab driver when he’s got gasoline. Hélio has been unemployed for 1 year. Today his whole future seems to be in shades of gray. Hélio has no idea with what money he will wake up tomorrow. In these complicated days, it’s his brother that often helps.
30 years old, and lucky to work at a hotel on the Ilhéu das Rolas island on the equator, Augustinho earns about 200 Euros per month. Money that has to help fulfill his dream.
The dream is merely a balcony – one day it will be the best room in his small wooden house. After 8 years of work, and travelling to Portugal and Senegal, where he received training in hotel management.
On days off Augustinho dedicates his time to his family of wife and daughter, and his friends. Sunday in Sao Tome is like this: quiet and easy (leve-leve as is the saying), with all the time in the world for resting, for the friends, and music. A good day to meet Santa Margarida.
The Plantation Worker
The plantation of Santa Margarida is a few kilometers from the capital. And from what they say, it’s managed by the President, Fradique de Menezes. It is here that Leite Eugénio, a 30 year-old plantation worker lives, in a Roca in the countryside, where they used to put the contractors during the colonial era.
There’ no bathroom. Water and light are rationed. In the world of statistics, Leite Eugénio is one of those, that lives, or rather survives, with less than $ 1 per day. The table at his house, and the stomachs of his family know well – what it’s like to have 20 euros for 4 people.
João Morais is a Portuguese journalist since 1989, with 15 years of experience as a radio reporter, now working as an Editor for TVI Television. This story was first published on Jan 19, 2007 on TSF – Radio. For the Portuguese radio version listen here.