Friday, October 13, 2006

Two minutes of fame down, 13 left to go

Yesterday I attended a forum in Catumbela, a small comuna about 15 mintues away from Lobito. As a Fellow, I am usually sent to conferences, trainings, etc. because as an organization it's politically useful and usually I am the only one who has time to go to them. Either that or no one wants to go. Sometimes I have a hard time telling which one it is! Unfortunately, yesterday’s forum was one where I was checking my watch ½ into the event.

I had high hopes. The forum was organized by the Department of Family, under the Women’s, Demibolized Soldiers, Former Combantants’ and Veteran’s Program; apparently one office is enough to cover all groups. Its title was “Rural Women’s Provincial Forum: Investing in Women Guarantees Stability in Our Communities.” It was supposed to start at 9, but there was no action and around 10 am everyone started to get anxious. The governor of Benguela (the province where Lobito and Catumbel are located; also the name of a city 45 minutes away from Lobito) was supposed to come and open the session. It was a good example of the political sensitivity and respect for higher-ups that exist in Angola: there was no way the forum could start without this guy, but it was soon clear that the forum was not number one on the governor’s list of things to do for the day. At 10:30 the governor and his entourage rolled in- among them was my buddy from the last training I went to, the mayor of Lobito, who happens to be a huge professional wrestling fan (Hulk Hogan is his favorite). With his arrival, the forum officially started. A group of women and men from a nearby village paraded in with local products: fruits, vegetables, sugar cane, collard greens, a goat and a case of pineapple Fanta. (Not sure why the Fanta was thrown in there...) Then they performed some traditional dances, which was awesome because the elderly men and women were the most enthusiastic and really got into it. The governor gave a little speech and then was immediately on his way out the door.

Then the forum started. The schedule had listed all these topics regarding women’s issues: women and microcredit, women and the environment, women and health, and women and community development. Sounded great… except the people they invited didn’t speak about women, with the exception of the microcredit lady and a woman from Oxfam. At one point the man speaking about commercial leaders in rural areas said emphatically, “We need MEN to step up and act like MEN! We need entrepreneurial MEN!” Then he sort of caught himself and said, “Uh, and women, too.” Also frustrating was the complete lack of control over the speakers and those people questioning them. They collected all the questions to be answered, then read them and then every single panelist answered them regardless of the fact that the panelist before them had said the exact same thing! The questions posed were done in an open mic way; given that no one from the government ever really listens to anyone, local leaders and NGOs took the opportunity to voice their complaints vociferously. The result of all of this was that the lunch break, which was supposed to be at 1:00, did not happen until 3:00. I should have taken this as a sign that lunch was to be missed, but like everyone else I was ready for it when it came. Ready, that is, until I picked up my plate and saw chunks of hair (fur, really) on the several piece of pork that were in my stew. I just ate the rice. Luckily, a meeting to discuss a funding opportunity for a new project with one of our partners has come up for tomorrow morning, so I will have to miss the end of the forum.

The good to come out of the forum? A lot of the attendees from surrounding villages spoke in Umbundu, which I enjoy listening to- it's a very melodic language- despite not understanding a single word. I talked quite a bit with the microcredit lady, who had some interesting things to say about the future of microfinance in Angola. We exchanged phone numbers and she invited me to come visit some clients with her. And, continuing the trend I set in Honduras by appearing briefly on “X-0 Da Dinero” and my two friends’ commercials on Lencavision, I made it onto Angolan TV! The local news was at the event, and came up to me and stuck the camera right in my face. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to look deep in thought and fascinated by the panelists, so out of sheer embarrassment I turned red, smiled, and kept looking at the camera as if to say, “hi, how are you?” (It was no more than two feet away from me and blocking my view of the speaker, so I really couldn’t do much else.) Sure enough, on the Benguela Province news hour, there I was. Today, Benguela local news; tomorrow, the world! (Or at least Angola...)

1 comment:

Fran said...

Hi, Leslie! It's been fun to follow your Luanda blog from my safe cubby in Westchester. I wonder what the take among your colleagues there is about the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus. I keep reading about women (in particular) who have to take out one or more additional loans from others charging the usual exorbitant interest in order to pay Grameen's 20% interest. He doesn't sound like such a hero to me. What is the modus operandi of the microcredit people you are encountering?