Week 7

Week highlights:

Saturday spent the afternoon with Yves, the interim ambassador and the ambassador’s wife on a driving tour on the north side of the island. In the evening headed out to the Pirata with a crew of friends from the café.

Tuesday Jorge publicly announced my project, showing images and giving my name on national television. The news here is surprisingly pervasive, as everyone I meet now says, “Oh, I saw your project on television.”

Wednesday visited James’s childhood home in Praia Francesa. By pure coincidence his parents would be backyard neighbors with the terminal, per my design. Received their enthusiastic approval of the project. Also met Ned Seligman, director of the NGO Step-UP and former director of the Peace Corps in Sao Tome. He is very knowledgeable on the topic of American development interests in Sao Tome and can be a good partner for the University of Illinois.

Wednesday and Thursday sat in on meetings with U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Roger Binder and Mr. Allan Storm, representing international civil/military aviation issues from the Pentagon. They are traveling to Sao Tome, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon and Angola laying foundations for an air security enhancement program in the Gulf of Guinea. The United States intends to offer equipment and training to the participating nations, with the goal of making air communications and monitoring systems compatible and granting the nations sovereignty over their airspace. A similar program was already implemented in a group of former soviet block nations and is underway in Latin America. In the case of Sao Tome, this program would mean greatly enhanced safety, security and efficiency, and the offer was enthusiastically welcomed by the airport administration. I presented my airport terminal project to the group as well, making them aware of the drastic security and safety breaches resulting from the currently insufficient ground infrastructure. They recognized the importance of these infrastructure improvements and noted that many of the airports they had visited had similar deficiencies.

Later Thursday I was interviewed and photographed by a local newspaper regarding the airport project.

Friday met with Elsa to show discuss some initial design concepts for her new house. She is currently renting and is anxious to begin work on her own residence.


Week 6

Week highlights:

Saturday spent the day with Elsa (director of finances at the airport), Deodato, their daughter, and a few other friends at Deodato’s roça, a 45 minute drive into the center of the island. A much-needed day in the country. The terrain and flora were breathtaking. The food from my hosts was excellent. The poverty of the roça inhabitants was equally shocking and I realized that the standards of health, sanitation, nutrition, and education are drastically different in the city and on the roças. The inhabitants of the old plantation buildings were thrilled to welcome an American, probably aided in part by the fact that at noon on Saturday they were drunk on palm wine.

Monday presented my design to the manager of TAP in Sao Tome, to the director of tourism in Sao Tome, and to the director of Mistral Voyages, a tourism agency in Sao Tome.

Tuesday met a builder and turned over the design of the doctor’s house to him to begin construction.

Wednesday through Friday spent a considerable amount of time at dinner and in meetings with a group from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, as well as the interim U.S. ambassador and . The group’s primary purpose on this trip is to plan a border security improvement program, which they will begin enacting in October. They were very interested in the airport project for reasons of security, immigration and customs control and were anxious to help guide the airport toward U.S. development funding channels.

Thursday met U.S. Senator Russ Feingolf (D-WI), Chair of the Subcommittee on Africa in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The Senator was stopping over in Sao Tome for one night, en route to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Yves invited me to be part of a small welcoming committee at the airport.

Week 5

Saturday- Spent a relaxing day at a party in Condi with Helcio and some of his other friends.

Sunday- In the morning went with Elsa to visit a plot of land she recently purchased. She has asked me to design her residence. In the afternoon I was invited for lunch with a handful of Santomean guys I met at the party last night. Ate at the house of Djamillo, a Sergeant in the military, then spent a relaxing afternoon living the leve-leve pace of life, watching some Santomean music videos, conversing, drinking wine at a shop nearby. They were great hosts and thrilled make friends with an American.

Monday- Spent most of the day working on the doctor’s house. Was invited to lunch at the home of Thalia, a Peruvian-American woman who spent her career working in development for the United Nations, in various countries around the world. She also taught African History for a time at Columbia University. Also at lunch were Maria Joao, owner of the café, and Anne, a Rwandan woman who will be stationed in Sao Tome for six months as a representative of International Alert. The food was delicious and conversation fascinating. It was a relief to spend an afternoon simply speaking English.

Tuesday- Spent the morning redecorating a wall of the café with Fred and MJ, plastering it with Portuguese music and movie posters. In the afternoon Jorge, Elsa and I presented the airport project to Kenneth Tripp, the director of Voice of America in Sao Tome. He enjoyed the project and had many useful suggestions about how the airport can generate income for itself. Ken will pass the design on to the U.S. Embassy in Gabon for their consideration. We conversed for some time about the need for the United States to put more development effort into Sao Tome. Taiwanese projects abound, and Portuguese, Spanish, and French efforts are visible. The United States, however, has done very little to help Sao Tome since the construction of VOA. A project of the status and visibility of the airport could solidify good relations between Sao Tome and the United States.

Wednesday- In the morning visited the summer school program initiated by the English Students Association of Sao Tome & Principe. About 300 students of ages between 10-18 voluntarily attend classes, which focus primarily on English. I was very impressed with the operation. The program is organized and taught by a handful of 20- to 23-year-olds, who maintain order despite class sizes over 40 students. The concrete building of the national high school reverberates noise such that teachers have to shout at all times. They have three old books from which they make all of their lesson plans. The students have no materials. What is most impressive, though, is that these young teachers are working for free. They say they are doing it for the development of Sao Tome. Their behavior was very professional, and their request for financial or other material support was calm and sincere. When I said it would be difficult to help for this summer session, they were disappointed but readily shifted focus to establishing a future relationship with the University of Illinois. I sincerely hope we can aid their initiative. In the afternoon I met with Yves Reme, per my initial request, to present my design for the airport. Yves, by coincidence, received a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Illinois-Chicago. The project grabbed his attention and he called in the Coronel of the Coast Guard, Armando Corrie, to see the project as well. Yves, like Ken from VOA, would like to see more American efforts here in Sao Tome. He does not think tourism and enterprise will ever improve without first improving of the airport. The first phase of the project could be done relatively cheaply and still greatly improve the efficiency, image and even income of the airport. Yves vowed to “sell the project hard” to both Santomean and American decision-makers.

Thursday- Holding true to his promise, Yves called me in the morning and asked me to come to his office and present the project to Jose Viegas, Mayor of the city of Sao Tome. We stressed the need to coordinate transportation planning at the airport with city transportation planning, which may involve a bus system in the future. Yves also stressed the two benefits of this student project in particular: 1) It is free for Sao Tome. 2) It is apolitical. In my short time here, I have come to appreciate that this second point is the most important. Surveyed the work of the U.S. Navy Seabees on a new dock for the Coast Guard, then headed off to happy hour at the café. Later ate dinner with Yves and a crew of foreign aid workers at the Pirata Club.

Friday- Yves and I presented to Natasha d’Alva, manager of TAP (Air Portugal) in Sao Tome. A new airport terminal and an extended runway would be of great advantage to TAP, and would allow them to bring larger planes with greater frequency. TAP has sold all of its Airbus-310 planes, and will replace them with the Airbus-330, a larger model. Sao Tome’s airport will not be able to handle the A-330, however, so it will revert to A-320, a smaller plane than the A-310. With less seats, prices will likely rise, while the number of potential tourists and business people coming into Sao Tome will drop. On a positive note, Natasha had already heard of my project previous to today, and even knew that it had received the approval of Jose Carvalho, esteemed international airport consultant and former director of Lisbon’s airport. Natasha will pass my project to decision-makers at TAP, noting that it has the approval of Carvalho. In the evening had dinner at the Miramar Hotel with Yves and a handful of Portuguese and Spanish foreign aid workers and volunteer teachers, then to a party, again at the Pirata.

Week 4

Saturday– Spent a relaxing day with Jorge. Checked the work at his apartment, fixed an electrical problem on my motorcycle, spoke with Alzira about the design for her house. Spent a long time discussing Santomean political culture, which is a very different ballgame from American politics and involves much more face time and personal relations (or grudges). In the evening went to the café, where I met an American man who works in the financial department of the embassy in Gabon, but will be completing his term of duty next week, and also met a pair of young doctors doing work down in Angolares.

Sunday– Went with James and a couple of his friends to a festival in Neves. Spent most of the day passing between various houses, eating a full meal at every place we visited. The festival seemed to be primarily an excuse for Santomeans to make a pilgrimage to Neves to visit whatever friends and family they have there. My Portuguese is improving. When Santomeans speak to me directly, I communicate well, but when they speak together, it is still hopeless.

Monday– Spent the day reworking and improving the phasing plan for the airport, so that a tarmac passenger bus is not necessary until Phase 2. Moved between my apartment and the Café Companhia, my home away from home. There are always interesting people passing through the café, today a British woman whose husband works for an oil company and whose son engineers airports in England, so we had plenty to talk about.

Tuesday– In the morning Arnaldo and I met with Antonio Aguir, director of all building projects under the Minister of Infrastructure. I presented my project, in Portuguese, and at the end Antonio expressed great interest in the design. He suggests I speak with Consulmar, the Portuguese airport consultant responsible for the $2 million, Taiwanese-funded master plan of the airport. The search for funding begins now. Met with Jorge for a couple hours in the afternoon to discuss a game plan for the funding search. Back to the café in the evening to do work on Alzira’s house. Today’s café personality: a Peruvian/American and a French expatriate.

Wednesday– Slow day, mostly spent design Alzira’s house, which has become an challenging exercise in local building practices, site integration, and cost efficiency.

Thursday– Most of the day continued work on Alzira’s house. In the evening, met for three hours with Helcio’s older sister, who is a structural engineer. She also worked for a time at an institute responsible for management of public construction projects. Discussed technical issues about construction in Sao Tome, including codes, labor requirements and project management. Showed her my design, and she, being an engineer, scrutinized its technical details, identifying practically every issue I had left unresolved at this stage of design. It was very informative to speak with a Santomean professional from the building industry.

Friday– Spent the afternoon working on Alzira’s house, taking a quick excursion to see the beautifully-designed garden and home of Thalia, the Peruvian/American expatriate. Got a call in the evening from Jorge, saying that labor negotiations at the airport went very well and a two-day strike has been largely resolved. Spent the evening at the Delores discotheque with various friends, including Yves Reme and two Americans who are in Sao Tome doing a project to map the ocean floor around Sao Tome. This project, funded by the U.S. Navy, is being enacted in developing countries around the world. Aside from improving shipping safety, they explained, this navigational aid will lower the insurance costs for shipping, and thus lower the price of imported goods.

Week 3

Saturday night- Had dinner and drinks with Yves Reme and friends, including the Seabees. Then went to a party at a renovated colonial mansion in the city, the Casa Amarelha. It was hosted by Nora, an Argentinian architect who lives and works in Sao Tome. The party was attended by about 30 people representing Sao Tome, Portugal, Spain, America, France, Switzerland, Taiwan, Argentina, Rwanda, Kenya, and the Azores – foreign aid workers and teachers mostly. Giant speakers played music from all over the world, and a dance floor was set up in the front lawn. Everyone seemed to know everyone, and I realized I’d stepped into a Santomean subculture of expatriots.

Sunday- Met with the English Students Association of Sao Tome and Principe, on waterfront in front of the high school. They have 150 students interested in taking English courses during school breaks and even have arranged teachers, but are in need of funding to purchase teaching materials. Specifically, they are looking for $300 to purchase English materials to begin teaching immediately this summer. Could be a future endeavor of UIUC.   Later toured a chocolate factory/shop with Yves Reme and a handful of the Seabees. It is run some very serious Frenchmen and use locally harvested and processed chocolate. They spoke of Hershey’s the way architects and planner talked about Wal-Mart. I guess everyone has their cause in life.

Monday- Began work on designing a house for Alzira, the doctor with whom I stayed during my first week in Sao Tome. I am making friends at the Café Companhia and enjoy working there in a social atmosphere. The owner, MJ, is a Portuguese-American from Berkeley, CA, and goes out of her way to introduce me to people, which I greatly appreciate.

Tuesday- Toured Voice of America, accompanied by Helcio. First walked through the technical facilities, including power plant, control center, and antennae, which broadcast radio programming in numerous languages, covering an area from South Africa to Algeria to Somalia and even parts of the Middle East. Sao Tome has one of the newest VOA broadcast stations in the world and can be picked up by a standard AM radio, as opposed to some older stations which only generate shortwave signals and are being phased out. Briefly met the new director, Ken Tripp, who was pleased to hear about UIUC’s involvement in Sao Tome.

I also met with a handful of U.S. embassy employees who have their office at VOA. Presented my project to them, and they were very impressed. Nelson de Assunçno works in the financial department of the embassy and was very interested in the project. He intends to put Jorge and me in contact with an American delegation who will be in Sao Tome later this month, to try to generate interest in this development project. U.S. development efforts in Sao Tome have been very limited and not very visible in the country. Much could be done to strengthen ties with this stable and geopolitically strategic African nation. Spoke with Nelson for a long time about American interests in Sao Tome and learned information for my research paper. I look forward to talking with him more.

The one visible effort the U.S. is making here is through the work of the Navy Seabees, who did construction work on two schools, built an operating room at the hospital, and are currently building a dock at the seaport. On the way out of VOA, I met Chris, a diver with the Seabees. He gave me a tour of their camp, on the VOA grounds. While it is certainly not the Miramar Hotel, they have everything they need to live comfortably, including their own power, food and communication equipment. The only thing they take from here is water.

In the afternoon visited James’ English class. Also spent time at the café, where I met a few people working with International Alert, an international political watchdog group with its base in London.

Wednesday- Was scheduled to have a meeting with the director of building projects at the Ministry of Infrastructure, but urgent labor issues at the airport demanded the attention of Jorge and the airport administration.Instead spent the day working on the design for the Doctor’s house and met with James to talk computers. Also had a great conversation with Phil Vernon, Director of Programmes– Africa & Peacebuilding Issues for International Alert. Discussed the geopolitical significance of Sao Tome and the urgent need to maintain citizen involvement in government decisions.

Thursday- Labor issues continued at the airport, so I continued work on the Doctor’s house. Also began preparing information to send to a professional architecture firm, should my airport project move toward realization. Attended the weekly happy hour at the Café, where I conversed with Portuguese, Spanish, and American friends. Arrived home to find out that our water tank had run empty and would not be filled until a truck came tomorrow afternoon. The Keynans were concerned at how fast the 7000 liter tank had been used up, and I asked myself, “When in the U.S. do we ever express concern over the rate with which we consume water?”

Friday- Continued labor issues; continued design on Alzira’s house. In the afternoon was invited by a friend to place basketball in the city. I was impressed by their level of play, and I’m sure they were not impressed with mine. These guys would hold their own very well on the streets of Chicago. In the evening met with Alzira to discuss her house. She generally likes the design, but it needs to be done in phases according to her financial situation. We discussed revisions and I will meet with her again soon. Was finally able to speak with Jorge in the evening, who expressed optimism at resolving the labor crisis at the airport and hopes to move on my project this week.

Saturday morning-  Met with the Minister of Infrastructure to show him my design for a new passenger terminal at the airport. As we drove through town on the way, we saw that the old market had been demolished overnight. Taiwan recently constructed a new one a couple blocks away, but a handful of vendors were resisting moving. So the Minister of Infrastructure had ordered its midnight demolition, ala Mayer Daley with Meigs Field in Chicago, though with much broader public support. Elsa and Arnaldo, from the Empresa Nacional de Aeroportos e Seguranca Aerea (ENASA), also attended our meeting with the Minister. I presented to him informally on my laptop, sitting to his right, speaking Portuguese, with Jorge sitting to his left ready to translate when needed.

We presented the project as one non-binding option amidst the larger planning scheme of the airport, which has been influenced by multiple professional consultants. The project is my Master’s Thesis and represents a full year of design work. As a student I have been able to explore aspects of the design that are often neglected in professional practice, where design time and efficiency can be limiting. I have investigated how to design a building appropriate to Sao Tome, in regards to climate, materials, and labor. The design respects the history and current identity of Sao Tome and simultaneously seeks to create a modern image for the budding young nation. I have worked outside of political affiliations and seek only to design in a manner respectful to Sao Tome, adherent to the philosophies of Critical Regionalism. It is currently only a student project, but I have worked with numerous professors and practicing professionals. The design, while still in the conceptual phase, is realistic. It includes a phasing plan and describes a phased growth process which coincides with extension of the runway. There is historic precedence of student architecture projects becoming built reality, and we allow for the possibility that this project could be carried into professional practice and developed further.

The Minister liked the design. He (without any commitment) expressed interest in investigating it further and conversing with professionals, as a possible component of the overall planning scheme of the airport. He proceeded to the next obvious question: how much will it cost and how will it be funded? I look forward to witnessing and participating, however I may be of use, in the process of development funding for a project that could be of great benefit to the economy and cultural identity of Sao Tome.

Another Santomean architect was also coincidently on hand at the Minister’s office, and when I presented it to her, she received it very enthusiastically, appreciating the depth of thought I have put into the design. It was a successful morning.

Week 2

Saturday- Up early and went to the airport where, miraculously, my lost luggage from the previous week had arrived. Then headed out to meet Helcio in Guadeloupe. He walked me around town, introducing me to family and friends, including his friend Stephane, who is a junior deputy in the Parliament, ranked #54 out of 55. Also met his uncles pet monkey, which he had rescued when it fell from its mother as a baby. Then Helcio, Stephane and I headed out to Neves, a fishing village 20km away, where we ate giant crabs and drank local beer. Then headed up to a plantation, where we ran into some friends, so decided to stop and have a drink, which became a three hour stop. One of the friends was Nelson de Assuncao, who works for the American embassy, and he invited me to visit Voice of America next week. In the evening, Stephane invited Helcio and me to a birthday party for one of his students (he teaches at the high school). We were served course after course of local food while we watched the girl’s family and friends dance on an outdoor patio. At one point a drunken uncle decided it would be funny to make the white kid dance, so I coerced onto the dance floor and engulfed by a hefty, drunken aunt and made to dance. Despite the terror, I managed to hold my own and by the end of the night received applause for my valiant effort to dance like a Santomean.

Sunday- Headed out with Helcio to a lively street festival in the town of Madelena, maybe 8km up the mountain. Witnessed street performers doing a Congolese dance, saw the President of the Republic, tried a locally brewed sweet liquor, ate fish and drank Sagres. Met Helcio’s friend Dede, who invited us to a party after the festival. The party was at a historic house nearby and was attended by a number of important historic figures in Sao Tome, including several current and past government officials, plus an old woman who survived a bloody slave revolt in the 1950’s and later wrote the Santomean national anthem. One woman, the former secretary to the president, invited us all to a meeting between government officials and Santomean youth this coming Wednesday. Also ran into Henrique Pinta de Costa and was able to converse with his for a time, in Portuguese.

Monday- Spent the morning working on a website with Cesaltino from the Marlin Beach and then went to lunch with him at a restaurant nearby. In the afternoon headed to the Café Companhia to work on my project and use the internet. The electricity went out while I was there, so instead I spent a long time talking with a man named Fred, from the Azores, who is in Sao Tome doing research on goat farming. In the evening went for a run on the beach and worked at the apartmnet.

Tuesday- Worked at the apartment on a phasing plan for the airport terminal the whole morning, then headed into the Café in the afternoon to continue working. While there I met a young man named Benicio, who is president of the English Students Association of Sao Tome and Principe, an organization of high school aged students who are organizing English classes during summer vacation.

Wednesday- Continued work on the phasing plan for a large part of the day. In late afternoon Helcio and I went to the townhall-format meeting we had been invited to on Sunday. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the future of Sao Tome post-debt-forgiveness, and to hear the needs and desires of the younger generation. One speaker spoke on the definition of a citizen in a democratic society, another on the role of the family, and another on the process of modernizing Sao Tome, including its relation with the “developed” world. In the evening had dinner with Fred and went out for a time with a group of Portuguese teachers. Went to bed exhausted from a full day of speaking Portuguese.

Thursday- Spent most of the day working on the phasing plan at the apartment, stopping for a time to practice Portuguese with the maids. In the afternoon sent some of this work to Jorge’s consultant in Kenya. Spent the evening at a party at the Café, where I was introduced to a Santomean sub-culture of European expats and foreign aid workers. Bounced between English, Portuguese, Spanish and French, and by the end of the night I was so mixed up I could hardly form sentences in English. Met a number of interesting people though, including an Argentinian architect named Nora, who now lives in Sao Tome doing historic preservation and small private projects.

Friday- Went out to the airport in early afternoon to meet with Jorge. He scheduled a meeting for tomorrow morning with the Minister of Infrastructure to present my project. Stayed with Jorge much of the afternoon and discussed final details about my presentation. Spent the evening putting finishing touches on the presentation, in preparation for an important day tomorrow. Tomorrow will decide if/how the airport terminal project is to move forward.