- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

FAJA D'AGUA, Cape Verde Islands In a quiet bay surrounded by looming cliffs, a concrete cross decorated with pebbles stands in tribute to 53 islanders who disappeared almost 60 years ago in a desperate bid to reach the United States.
Life goes on as usual around the memorial set in a rock garden under the shade of coconut trees. Women fry fish over open fires in front of pastel houses as men laugh and argue over glasses of liquor distilled from local sugar cane.
But the tragedy of the Matilde still casts a shadow over Brava island, where for more than 150 years people have dreamed of a better life on the far side of the Atlantic.
Pictures of the dead hang in the stone church at Faja D'Agua, from which the boat set sail. Its dashing young captain stares out confidently from a black-and-white photograph framed with sea shells in his son's living room.
Henrique Rosa was just 10 when his father's ship left in 1943 with men from some of Brava's most prominent families, hoping to escape the drought and famine that were ravaging Cape Verde.
Exactly what happened to the Matilde was not known, but its passengers never were heard from again.
"Since that day, I have never mentioned going to America again," said Mr. Rosa, who lost five relatives on the Matilde.
Giving up dreams of sailing like his father, Mr. Rosa scratches a living from a dry and rocky farm high on a cliff overlooking the sea.
Older islanders recall a time when these mountains were covered with mangos, bananas, oranges and coffee.
"It was completely green," said Joao Monterio, who spent years working in the United States before returning to his homeland. "You could sit with a girl under a tree, and God himself wouldn't be able to see what you were up to."
But during the 1940s, the rains dried up, and famine spread through the islands, killing tens of thousands of people.
Anyone with a bit of money was trying to get to the United States.
Mr. Rosa's father chipped in with his brothers to buy the Matilde, a rickety old ship once used to carry salt between the islands.
The child watched the men patch it up as best they could. Determined to go with them, he sneaked on board and settled in the galley with a book to read. There, he says, he started hearing water bubbling into the boat.
He was frightened and fled to shore. From there, he watched the ship with blue patches on its sails set off on its ill-fated journey, and started to cry.

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