Friday, September 22, 2006

If only I knew how to kill a chicken...

September 16, 2006 (I've been out of the office and internet-less for a while!)

Last week I went out into the field to visit our programs in the municipality of Cubal. Several of the villages in the municipality wrote micro-project proposals and received small amounts of money to fund their grants. The projects range from cattle (bulls, cows, goats) production and livestock raising, grain mills, school construction, and other community enhancing activities. Each community formed a Community Development Group and performed assessments (PRAs, for you SIPA/EPD people!) to determine which project the community needed the most. These micro-projects are part of our peace and reconstruction program- there was heavy fighting in and around Cubal and several of the displaced people are (or are in the process) of returning to their villages. These assessments were important because they were done not along political lines but through other grouping- by age, gender, profession, etc.

Anyway… several of the communities choose to buy grain mills as their community development project. Grains- manioc (yucca), corn and sorghum- form the base of Angolan food. They are finely ground down and used in making pastes, porridges, and other foods. In many small villages, women spend up to four days grounding out these flours by hand- it is back-breaking work, usually done on top of large rocks or in large mortar and pestles. Most families use up to 20 kilos a week- you can just imagine how strong these women are. In some fazendas (large farms) there will be a mill available for a fee of about 10 Kuanzas (US$0.01) per kilo, but they are far away from most villages and not worth the time to go out there. So as a solution, some of the communities have opted to buy generator-powered mills to free up time for the women- to dedicate to other chores, of course! (How thoughtful!)

The communities predict that the mills will bring money to dedicate to other projects- helping the elders of the community, buying cattle, etc. However, this is the first economic enterprise in many of these places, and much institutional knowledge was completely destroyed in the war. In other words, they really have no idea how to run a business. So when I sat down with all the projects when I first arrive, this project in particular was glad to see that I had experience working with microenterprises in Honduras. Although I didn’t bring any training materials with me, thanks to the glory of the internet and my memories of charlas up in the Opalaca Mountains, I cobbled together a basic accounting and business planning training to give to the three community organizers we hired to oversee these projects.

I needed to go out to one of the comunas (villages) that would be receiving a mill and speak to the people running it so I could get a better idea of what it was that they needed. From the Cubal office, we headed to Catapi, village of about 15 families. The “road” up there was terrible; I use the term “road” loosely, because it’s more like a wide footpath. Thank goodness for 4-wheel drive! We arrived at the village and it was clear that I was quite the attraction. Everyone in the village came over to sit with us under the tree (except the kids, who were in school; although the teacher came over too, so who knows who was supervising them). My coworkers introduced me in Umbumdu, the traditional language of the region, and one by one the people in the comuna introduced themselved to me, starting, of course, with the soba, the traditional, elected leader/person of honor (in the picture, the man in the green suit jacket). When my coworker said I was American everyone went, “ahhh!” and started to clap. The soba personally thanked me for all the hard work the U.S. government did to end the civil war in Angola and for all the help and money the government had given to Angola in its reconstruction efforts.

I asked my questions- I won’t bore you with the details, but basically they haven’t planned too much but are enthusiastic and have thought out *most* of what they should have, so I think they will be okay. If they can do the basic accounting, it will be a big challenge, but a good first step. I asked to see the structure they were building to house the mill. They were hard at work, and I asked to take a picture. Immediately everyone ran to be in the photo- I ended up taking around 4 because more and more people were running to be it. At the end, they once again applauded. There was a little girl, around a year and a half, who was absolutely terrified of her (in the picture, the baby is with her mother in the red-striped shirt). I would look at her and she would cry, as her mother shook me hand (with her tied to her back), the baby swat at me. I thought it was a curious baby swat so I took her hand and smiled, and she started screaming bloody murder. I am very scary. As we were leaving, the soba tried to give me a live hen as a sign of thanks- I had to decline it, if nothing else only because I don’t know how to slaughter it. I wowed them with my “twapandulo” the one word in Umbundu I know (“thank you”). It was a great visit- helpful, exciting and full of new experiences.

The training went well- they said it was good and that it would help the communities. That’s all I can hope for. In all, the site visit was great, and made me feel professionally USEFUL, which is something I haven’t felt in a while!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

God Bless ShopRite

(I wrote this a while ago and haven't had a chance to post it. I've been in ny apt for a week or so now...)

September 10, 2006

I have officially moved into my apartment! Without any remorse, I said goodbye to Hotel Turimar and dropped my suitcases off at my apartment. I then went with a coworker to ShopRite, a new South African supermarket that opened only a week ago. I cannot stress enough that ShopRite has revolutionized Lobito. ShopRite is an American-sized supermarket, with prices that more people can afford. (As opposed to the other supermarkets, which only foreigners and rich Angolans could afford.) Later, a French woman told me that she went near closing time, which is around 6 pm. There was a mob of people outside clamoring to get inside the parking lot- they were so “enthuastic” that they broke down the metal gate. But they still didn’t get in to buy that cheap, fresh bread! Like 90% of the things sold in Angola, the products are from Portugal, Brazil, and South Africa. Not too many American brands- in fact the only ones I found were Coca-Cola (of course) and Snickers. Mmm. I did find South African peanut butter, which is not bad.

After the ShopRite we went to the antithesis, o mercado chapangueira, Lobito’s largest outdoor market. For the first time since I have been here, I really felt like I stuck out- I was clearly the only foreigner around, and promptly had five kids following me, asking for money or trying to convince me to buy their plastic bags. I enjoyed it- it was nice to be in a real market again, see what Angolans buy (everything from red palm oil to Crest toothpaste).
There’s another young American woman in town, and she invited me to her birthday party on Saturday. I met a ton of the ex-pats in Lobito- the ones I’ve seen driving around in Land Rovers and swimming in the one pool in Lobito (in fact, the party was at the house with said pool). Mostly French, but also a large number of South Africans, sprinkled with one other American, and a Danish guy and his Filipina wife. ¾ of the crowd were oil employees, which was interesting for me- definitely a different mindset, although not the greedy capitalists I had prejudged them to be either. It was nice to meet people. Some day I will have Angolan friends too!

I didn't bring any cookbooks (too heavy), so I'm in the market for recipies with any of the following ingredients:
and your usual beef and chicken. There aren't too many spices, but I can make do.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

"The World Passes Through Here"

Well, it only took 12 days for me to get sick! I'll spare the details, but yesterday I woke up feeling gross and after showering and getting dressed, thinking I would be fine, I made one too many trips to the bathroom and called in sick. As much as I was sick in Honduras, you think I'd be used to a little stomach virus, but it always takes so much out of you. My coworkers were very nice and constantly called to see if I needed anything. My officemate, a French woman who happens to be an RN, came by to visit, bearing gifts of saltines and rehydration salts.

I'm posting some pictures of Lobito I took this weekend. The first is a sign that says "Lobito: The World Passes Through Here." Now, you might laugh... until you see all the Portuguese, Brazilians, Norwegians, and Americans that live here, mostly working for oil companies. The sign was used as a blockade for Lobito Day then taken down. The second is a picture of a sculpture that is in the port. There's no explanation for her, just one of those things something thought would look good among all the tankers. The third is a picture of the bay side of Restinga, the peninsula-like neighborhood where I will be living. (The other side is ocean.) My coworker lives steps away from here and has some kayaks that he takes out to go fishing. It's still too cold to go swimming (according to the Angolans- it's about 72 degrees right now), but in a few months it should be great.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Alas, I am still stuck at the Turimar Hotel in Lobito. This place is decent, but I am getting really anxious and am ready to move into my apartment. A coworker and I stopped by Friday afternoon (9/1) to check on it- it’s looking much better, with new floor and wall tiles, and the new washing machine, stove, and hot water heater are there too. Not installed *just* yet, but in the apartment. Exciting! However, the bathroom was in a real mess and didn’t look like it would be ready soon. Hopefully I can move in by next weekend, since it looks like I will be going out to the field next week.

Yes, I already have work to do, which is nice. I will be conducting a train-the-trainer session for a group of community leaders. These leaders will be running a grain mill business, something new to these communities. Because of the 30 yr civil war, most businesses were destroyed (along with homes, etc) and there's no real business culture here. This is where I come in- I’ll be giving a training on basic accounting and creating a business plan. I’m happy to: (a) feel useful; and (b) be doing something related to microenterprises even though that is not one of the specific projects that we run in Angola.

Yesterday (Saturday 9/2) was great day: I walked up and down Restinga. As you go down to the end, you can see the more fashionable, fancier houses. Some of them are brand new, a sign that investment is coming back to Lobito. On the way back to the hotel, I ran into Mark, an American coworker. He invited me back to his house to hang out for the afternoon. It was incredibly nice to just be able to relax at a home, even if it wasn’t my own home! His Angolan girlfriend, Domingas, made calulu and funge for lunch. Calulu is a stew made with dendem (red palm oil; dendĂȘ in Brazil), okra, and other veggies. Funge is harder to explain; it’s made of finely ground up corn, water and salt, and then pounded into a paste. Try to imagine a cream of wheat that’s really dry, and you get the idea. It has no flavor, but it absorbs what ever it’s eaten with and is quite filling. Domingas says it tastes better when it’s eaten with your hands.

That night was the big Lobito Day celebration. The presidential visit rumors proved false, but it was still quite fun. There was a stage set up for live music and tons of vendors selling beer, barbequed chicken and meat, and popcorn. The music ranged from the ridiculous- a woman with a horrible voice that was effectively booed off the stage; to music sung in Bundu, one of the local traditional languages; and to kizombo, the most popular Angolan music. The most thrilling moment of the night was a fireworks display. This truly sent a shock through the crowd; Domingas said they only do fireworks on New Year’s so this was a big deal. Compared to displays in the States, it was average, but for Angola it was AMAZING. I loved seeing how excited everyone got- hearing the squeals and laughter was as exciting to me as the fireworks were to them.