Painting together in Tarrafal!
Updated: Apr 11
How bringing painting opens doors but also creates unexpected problems.
Ten paintbrushes, ten pencils, four boxes with gouache and a paper block that is all I brought to a child I had promised we would paint together. At the hour of the appointment he was waiting for me with a friend. I lay two towels on the sand and give them a paper, paintbrush and pencil. Instead of sitting on the ground they sit on a fisherman’s boat. I don’t think further. It looks to me they will be more comfortable there. Other children come as they see them drawing. An older fisherman is staring at me, a bit like wanting to ask me something. I ask him: “Do you also want to draw?”. Still shy he answers: “Yes”. He takes his material with a big smile and sits on another boat.
Seeing the joy of these children and young adults as they paint, is another dream that comes true. Meet other cultures through Art.
The next day they are waiting for me as I come. The same happens as the previous day. This time, the mothers are helping their children, the young adults their siblings. The boat is full.
Suddenly one says: “Guys we have to stop, the owner is crossed, he called the police.” Everyone hurries up taking the material to another place and goes on painting. Meanwhile I had started to clean the hull. They join me. First the adults and very soon all the children. The owner comes shouting at us, then the police officer. He wants to talk to me. I begin telling him it is my fault, I didn’t think further when they all sat on the boat. I recognize my mistake, and am sorry for creating this problem. I did propose them to paint on the ground, but with my poor kriol couldn’t prevent it. Still now we were cleaning his hull properly. The officer is very kind. He directly thanks me for recognizing my error. The boat is a private property. I agree. He also thanks me for finding a solution, and for doing this for the people. “Go on please, we appreciate you are doing that for our people, but please do it on the sand and in little groups to respect the Covid measures. For me the case is closed.” The owner has another opinion when I want to show him the hull is clean. He shows the stains, shouting at us, telling we don’t have respect. Every time he shows a paint stain, they clean behind. Until he shows a strain that was already there. One of the young fishermen gets angry. “It was already there! We cleaned your hull where we smeared it with paint!” The others join him. I get more and more nervous, try to calm the owner down, but he doesn’t want to change his mind. “If I need I will pay for the paint, but I want to talk in presence of the Policia Maritima.”
I go back to the others. They are nervous. Me too. I begin to cry feeling guilty. The women come around. One tells me that she feels very ashamed for what happened and asks me to excuses them. “You are doing a good job, and look how he treated you! We are very thankful, please come back!” The other women come around me, “please don’t cry, Eugenia, tranquil, cool, all will be good!” I tell them not to worry, I am nervous and will go for a rest on my boat. “Tomorrow all will be forgotten.” Everyone helps me to put my dinghy in the water and wave me goodbye as I row back to Giulia. As I look, the man’s boat is the only one to shine in the night.
The next morning, I decide to go myself to the Policia Maritima, realising the owner is trying to take advantage to have me paint his boat. I take pictures to compare them with the one I took before.
At the office, the police officer has the same reaction as his colleague and smiles when he sees how clean the hull now is. “Yes, you are right. You all did a good job. Besides please go on, we appreciate a lot what you are doing for the youth, to keep them away from little criminality.” I am relieved and also impressed by their humanity and care for their people.
I also officially ask the authorisation to use a space of the municipality to paint – that a mother pointed out the day before. They directly accept.
Even though it was a difficult situation for me - I tend to avoid conflicts- I am glad I pushed myself to find a solution. I learned a lot on how to prepare better an activity outside.
The same evening, we are painting on the ground around the building. Fishermen rest and repair their nets there. I am nicely surprised when one of them takes a paper to draw, and then another one, a third… it is a joyful mix of young and old. Once the pencil is in their hand, the time stops, they are so focused that you don’t hear a voice. I am touched to see them relaxed and peaceful. Proudly they show me their drawing explaining it is a farm with a chicken laying an egg, their boat, fishes, Cabo Verde.
I feel thankful for what ten paintbrushes, ten pencils, four boxes with gouache and a paper block brought into life.
I am thankful for their trust.
These people are rough from outside because they have a rough life. As soon as you give them attention and time I realise they are very sweet an open-minded. Painting is a universal language, and here even more. I have not seen many places where the people even adults, take their time to paint and show us again how important art is for our well-being, as here in Cabo Verde.