Thursday, August 31, 2006

In Lobito- finally!

I have finally arrived in Lobito, the city where I will be spending the next year. Getting here was interesting. The domestic airport in Luanda looks rather like a bus terminal. In true Soviet style, you must pass through several checkpoints before getting on the plane. There is the checkpoint to go to the ticket counter; the checkpoint at the ticket counter; the immigration check point (yes, even domestic travel requires immigration paperwork); the checkpoint to get the bus to the plane; the checkpoint to identify your luggage before they load it; and, finally, the checkpoint to get on the plane. The Lobito airport is really just an air control tower and a table set up outside for- you guessed it!- another checkpoint.

I haven’t had much time to explore yet- I arrived late afternoon on Tuesday and went to work at 8 the next morning. I am staying at a hotel until my apartment is ready. They said it would be ready by Friday, but after looking at it yesterday, I highly doubt it. The apartment itself is nice, but currently filthy and lacking any appliances I would need (fridge, stove, etc.). I will be living in the bairro of Restinga, which is the most upscale neighborhood of Lobito. Restinga is on a peninsula of sorts: the ocean in on one side, and the bay/port is on the other. I think upscale in Luanda would follow most Westerners’ perception of upscale- but not in Lobito. Some of the houses are quite nice, but not so luxurious looking (except maybe the ex-pat oil workers’ houses). The building my apartment is in would be in the worst ghetto if it were in the US- here it is quite nice. The best thing about my apartment is the view from the veranda. I am on a 5th floor walk-up (I don’t know how I’m going to get my luggage up the stairs!), and have a great view of the bay, ocean, and my rich neighbor’s house. Should make for some good spying!

This Saturday is Lobito Day. Supposedly the President is coming, which should be interesting. The entertainment in Lobito is provided by relotes, little shacks that have a few tables and chairs set up, serve food and open up a little dance floor. Right before I arrived the government shut dozens of them down and in their place put up signs that say “Lobito is a city that likes cleanliness.” (This, of course, in a city where you have roaming packs of goats that eat the trash.) Many people think this was done in anticipation of the President’s visit. A coworker doesn’t think he is coming, because they would have fixed the potholes (crevasses, really) in the streets where the celebration will be held. We shall see!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Luanda: The only city with more Hummers than Houston

I have arrived safe and sound in Luanda, after a 30 hour journey. It was quite long and included an 8 hour stay in Terminal 4 of Heathrow airport. The only thing for me to do was walk the length of the terminal; in all I probably walked 5 miles that day. I hoped the walking would help me sleep on the plane, but no such luck. On the flight there were several foreigners, mostly European (Portuguese, English, and Norwegian) and employees of oil companies. When we got to the immigration area, we had to get our health cards, complete with Yellow Fever vaccination, stamped by an official. The lines were extremely long- except if you were an oil company employee. Those lucky few just presented their cards and said, “Chevron” or “Total” and were directed to shorter, quicker lines.

I am still a bit jet-lagged (ready for bed at 6 pm). The staff here has been very nice; coming in on their days off to take me out to eat and make sure I am adjusting well. I have gotten two driving tours of Luanda so far; not sure what to think so far. Some parts could pass for Brazil- colonial buildings along palm-lined, waterfront streets. Most of it, however, is a reminder that this is one of the poorest countries in the world. Actually, that’s not quite accurate; there’s plenty of money, it’s just in the hands of a select few. For example, one notable thing about this city is the number of luxury cars. Perhaps it’s just the contrast against the jalopies, but there are tremendous numbers of fancy cars: BMWs, Hummers (I've seen 5 so far, oncluding one decorated with the image of the 2006 Angolan World Cup team), Mercedes, Audis, and Porsches. I’ve never seen anything like it in the developing world.

The saddest thing about these expensive cars- and the junky ones, too- is that no one knows how to drive them. In the three days that I have been here, a car I have been in has been hit twice (minor hits, thankfully) and witnessed two other hits. Meu Deus! Driving in this city is truly an adventure- one I hope to never undertake.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A tradition as old as dirt

I had the pleasure of attending the Iowa wedding of two good Peace Corps friends this weekend. It was a great time all around, enhanced by a visit to the Iowa State Fair. The top three highlights of the fair were:

THE BUTTER COW: A life-sized cow carved entirely out of butter
THE BIG BULL: The super bull of the fair, weighing in at over 3000 lbs. It was a big as a rhinocerous!
FRIED TWINKIE ON A STICK: Exactly what it sounds like. Not so tasty, but worth it for the bragging rights.

A healthy dose of Americana before heading off to Angola!