Monday, December 31, 2007

Driving is a dangerous thing...

Today I'm the office finishing up two accident reports that occurred within 5 days of each other. Before you go thinking I've adapted to the Angolan driving style, neither of them were my fault!

Accident #1: Two friends and I were sitting in my living room at 10:15 on a Sunday night. We heard a large crash and the sound of breaking glass. We rush to the balcony to see two drunk guys on a motorcycle, somehow attached to the back of my car. (Reminder: I live on what I like to call the Most Dangerous Block in Lobito, right in front of an outdoor bar.) Now, there is a security guard posted to my building that is supposed to intervene in situations just like this- he was totally absent, of course. The three of us quickly ran downstairs to see if there was any damage. We tried to make it down there before the bandidos got away, but as we were exiting the stairwell they fled. I passed the guard, who was standing in the carport the whole time, why the heck he didn't stop the guys, and he slurred, "Oh no, they hit it and ran away!" Yep, dude was drunk. Now, we had time to hear the accident, run to my balcony AND make it down the stairs before the two guys left, so the guard had plenty of time to at least go over and stop the guys from leaving. Luckily there was little damage- just a broken license plate light. Oh yeah, there were about 30 witnesses at the bar and no one did anythign either.

Accident #2: Not five days later, the SAME two friends and I were coming back from another exciting trip to ShopRite. The set-up is so difficult to explain, so I will just say that there was some road construction going on, and a traffic cop was directing traffic down a side street. I knew there was a way to get to the street I wanted as long as I continued straight. Many of the other cars that had been diverted were making U-turns down a second side street. One of these cars making a U-turn was in front of me. I could tell right away that he was going to make a U-turn without looking behind him- and not see me coming. I honked to get his attention but it was too late and he slammed into the side of my car, right between the two passenger-side doors. Luckily, no one was hurt in either car.

I pulled over immediately and was pissed off. However, I saw that the other driver was wearing a blue uniform. "PLEASE let that be a security guard," I thought. Sure enough, with my luck, it was a senior police officer. I haven't had good experience with police officers, so I was a little worried. I quickly checked to make sure that I had my passport(s), NY driver license and international driver license- luckily I did. "BE NICE, it's a cop!" I hissed to my friends.

Luckily for us, the officer was very nice and immediately assumed responsibility for the accident. There was no need to call the police so we were able to take care of things right there.

Accident #3: We had to wait for our org's fleet manager to show up so that he could coordinate the repair work with the officer. It was taking a while, and the officer started to get antsy. I was trying to keep the guy calm because everything had been going well up until this point. As we were waiting, I see a taxi van totally sideswipe a motorcycle. the guy on the motorcycle fell right down. It was really scary because it looked like he was hurt. However, the guy jumped up- he was actually wearing a helmet!- and started cursing. To the motorcyclist's luck, there happened to be a cop- the guy who had hit me!- at the scene already. The taxi driver pulled over, surprisingly, and they worked out whatever needed to be done.

Legislative elections, finally?

As the NYT reports, the government has finally scheduled legislative elections for September of 2008. This is a huge deal here. The last elections in Angola were in 1992. When the opposition party/rebels UNITA lost, they plunged the country back into war, a period that ended up being the most devestating.

People here are wary of elections. They associate elections with war and I've heard some people say they'd just rather not have elections. A few months ago, while in the interior, I spoke with some internally displaced people who were from the Huambo area. I asked why they hadn't returned to Huambo after the war ended, and the guy said, "Well, they keep saying they're going to have elections. Why should I go back, because the war will start again with elections?"

There's no real danger for the war to start again, from what I understand. There might be minor conflicts in UNITA strongholds, but the ruling party (MPLA) will likely sweep the elections. The real, interesting election will be the preseidential one in 2009.

If they actually have elections, that it. The government has been promising free and fair elections every year since the war ended. My boss has a calendar from 2004 still that says, "2204: The Year of Elections!"

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Return of the Dreaded Boas Festas

Around this time last year I wrote about the boas festas phenomenon. Boas festas means happy holidays; this time of year is generally when employers give out holiday pay. The expectations are not limited to employers- anyone who looks like they have any sort of money will be asked for money. It works like this: the requesting party will say "Boas Festas!" and then hold out his or her hand.

I should be used to it by now, but I'm always a little astounded when it happens. Here are this year's boas festas highlights:
  1. In the ShopRite parking lot, a teenage girl tried to sell me some dish rags. (Note to vendors: the Angolan equivalent of Wal-mart is NOT the best place to be selling things.) When I said no, she then said, "Amiga, boas festas!" Oh, well- I didn't want to five you money in exhcange something of value, so let me just give it to you for free!
  2. There is a mad rush on food and beverages during the holiday season, so I went to the last shop in town that was selling reasonably priced cases of beer. (Reasonable price = US$20 for a 12 pack as opposed to US$30.) At this particular shop, you tell the clerk what you want, pay for it, and get a receipt to take to the dispatch in the back. They then wheel the goods out to your car. When the guy finished loading the beer, he held out his hand and said "Boas festas!" Annoyed, I said, "Okay, obrigada e boas festas para ti tambem!" (Okay, thanks and happy holidays to you also!") He looked confused, like he wanted to tell me that I was supposed to give him money, but he caught on and prefered to them mock with his friends. They might have thoguht it was funny, but who had the money?
  3. And this year's audcity winner goes to the young kids who live near my coworker Bernie. Christmas Day he heard a knock on his door and opened it to find a group of kids standing there. They held out their hands and in unison said, "Boas festas!" a la trick-or-treating. Bernie, who had no idea who the kids were, just laughed and shut the door.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Oh, really?

Here is an... article? press brief? in its entirety from the NYT:
Angola: Actors Mistaken for Robbers

Two actors were shot dead while filming a crime drama on the streets of a crime-ridden suburb of the capital, Luanda, when the police mistook them for armed robbers, their director said.

That's it. I can't decide which is more perplexing: the fact that the actors were mistaken for robbers or that the NYT was so desperate for news from Africa that they were willing to post a one sentence item that pretty much says nothing. (Which crime-ridden subrub? Movie actors? Shot by whom? Etc., etc.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Tale of Two Visas

I’m currently in Zambia, assisting the country program here on a large, multi-million dollar proposal they are writing for USAID. (More on that later.) It’s always interesting to get out of Angola and do a little bit of comparing between it and other African countries. What sticks out the most right now is the way the two countries handled tourist/ordinary visas.

The visa I have now for Angola is a multiple entry visa that is good for 2 years, with stays of up to 90 days. In other words, until I get my work visa I must leave every 90 days and am technically a “consultant” according to my employer in Angola. (Consultants are allowed to perform work in Angola on an ordinary visa because they are technically not residents.) This is how it must be done until I get my work visa. Work visas are even slower to process than other visas, so it’s sort of an open secret in Angola that many foreigners- NGO employees, oil workers, whoever- use these ordinary visas in the meantime. The ordinary visa differs from country to country- the one I have is specific to the US, apparently. My visa expires in July, so I hope to get my work visa before then. If not… who knows what will happen!

I’ve entered and left Angola several times on this visa. Each time the immigration official looks at each and every entry and exit date, sees that I am in compliance and lets me go through. I’ve never had a problem… until Thursday.

If there was any doubt that Angola used to be a Soviet-backed state, then the internal immigration controls should erase it. Every time I or any other foreigner flies domestically, we must present our passport and visa. It’s a pain, but not such a big deal. Thursday I flew from Benguela to Luanda. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently using my expired passport containing my valid Angola visa, attached (via paper clips) to my current, valid passport. When the immigration folks took a bit longer than usual to authorize me to fly, I assumed it was because of the passports. The female official began to ask me how many times I’ve entered and left Angola. I answered honestly, that it has been several times, but that the last entry was on 25 Oct so I was in compliance

Then all confusão broke loose! The woman explained to me that I have been in Angola for more than 90 days. According to her, the visa that I have is valid for ONE 90-day stay in Angola, to be used between the dates printed on the visa (between 17 July 2006 and 17 July 2007), and during those 90 days, I could come and go as I pleased. Let's say I came to Angola for one week then went back to the US- according to her logic, I would only have 83 more days to come back to Angola. According to her, since I had clearly been in Angola for a grand total of more than 90 days, I was breaking the law.

I pointed out to her that the date on the visa was for 2 years, and that it was for multiple entries of 90 days each. She wouldn’t budge, however, and called her colleagues over to confirm. She explained her position to them, and they all nodded their heads in agreement.

At this point, I was completely dumbfounded. Either my employer, the Angolan Consulate in Houston and immigration officials in Cunene and Luanda are ALL completely wrong, or this band of paper-pushers in Benguela who are paid to know these visas simply do not know the visas. This is a common problem in Angola. People who are paid to enforce the laws- police, bureaucrats, state lawyers- don’t usually know the laws of the country. Luckily I’ve avoided any real problems associated with this ignorance up until now.

I was getting very upset and angry. One moment I was taking deep breaths to not burst out into tears and the next moment I was trying my hardest to stop rolling my eyes and not say anything to insult them. (How do you tell someone they don’t know how to do their job? It ain’t easy!) I supposed it’s possible that they are right- but how would I have slipped by so many other officials for over a year? Unlike other countries I’ve been in, Angola is very serious about who they let in their country and how they monitor them. (My employer must send a copy of my passport, visa, and entry stamps to a local immigration office every month.)

Luckily, my favorite driver, Manuel, was with me. Manuel has helped me out with visa problems at the Benguela airport before. He knows all the people and has a very nice, calm way of not taking crap from anyone. I decided to follow his cue and simply stop talking and crossing my arms. It seemed to work. They backed down on their threat to take me into custody (my second threat of being taken into custody in this country!) and let me go. As they stamped my ticket, they said that I had to call their immigration headquarters in Luanda and get an explanation. Yes folks, if they don’t know the law, it’s YOUR responsibility to call THEIR supervisors and get an explanation.

I was very upset about this. I like Angola but sometimes the hassles overwhelm you and you just want to scream. That, coupled with a 4 am wake-up call in order to make check-in at the airport in Luanda, put me in bad mood on my way to Zambia. Zambia requires US citizens to buy a $100 visa, available upon entry to the country. During my last visit in July, I bought one that was good for 3 years. However, that was in my old, expired passport, so I assumed that I would have to buy a new visa.

When I presented my new passport to the immigration officer, he asked if I had ever been to Zambia before. When I said that I had, he asked about my old passport with the visa. I had it with me, so I presented it to him. He said, “Well, you shouldn’t have to pay for a new one. Let me just transfer it to your new passport. Is that okay?” I was floored by his flexibility and shocked at his politeness! It certainly restored my faith in bureaucrats. At least Zambian bureaucrats.

UPDATE: I wrote this last Sunday. In the meantime, my collegaues in Luanda and Benguela have visited the immigration supervisors in their respective cities and, indeed, have confirmed that the Benguela immigration officials' interpretation of my visa is incorrect. We'll see what happens next...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"Misadventures" in Angola

My friend Lynette forwarded me this article from Newsweek about China’s presence in Africa. To my surprise, the article started with a Chinese work camp in Catumbela, home of the best ice cream in Benguela province. Unfortunately, the journalist said that Catumbela was in the central highlands, several kilometers from Lobito. Wrong! Catumbela is about 15 km from Lobito, right on the water. I just drove through there this morning. Perhaps he meant Alto Catumbela, which is on the way to Huambo, but that’s like confusing Columbia, South Carolina and New Columbia, Pennsylvania. Similar name, completely different place and context.

That wasn’t the only thing that made me scratch my head and say, “What?” For example,
Even China's success in Angola is creating headaches for its businessmen. The
handful of business hotels in Luanda are booked months in advance. Good luck
finding a cab—the city has only one official taxi service—or renting a car,
which can go for as much as $12,000 a month. Rents for houses in Lobito are double that.
Really? Rents here are outrageous, but the highest rent I’ve heard of is US$12,000 for a 2nd story, full floor apartment, outfitted with WiFi and brand new American-style appliances. I believe the US$24,000 for a place in Luanda, but even in Lobito it seems a bit much.

The rest of the article seems to mesh with what I’ve heard and read. Now I know where they get those rice noodles for the new Chinese restaurant in Benguela:
State-owned Chinese companies prohibit any type of fraternization between their employees and Angolans. If a worker becomes romantically or sexually involved with a local, he's quickly hustled back to China. "Africans and Chinese think differently," says Xia Yi Hua, a regional director for China Jiang Su, a massive construction conglomerate with offices across Angola. Xia has been in the country for four years, and his company still sends him shrink-wrapped packets of Chinese food from back home, along with regular sets of chopsticks. Everything in his office comes from China. One coffee table is made of Angolan wood, he admits, but he flew in a Chinese carpenter to fashion the table.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Willie's Gender Crisis

I'm no vet. (Surprise.) I'm not familiar with the feline anatomy and I've only ever had female cats.

I have some friends staying with me while they are in between apartments. It's nice to have the company around. My friend Mark asked if my cat was a boy or a girl. I said, "I'm pretty sure she's a girl." And with perfect comic timing, he replied, "We'll, I'm pretty sure those are gonads. She's a boy."

Sure enough, I looked a little closer, and Willie is indeed a boy cat! I feel a bit dumb, and now really glad that I gave her/him a masculine name.
Here he is doing is latest trick. When he's crazy and biting, I put him out on my veranda and shut the door. He really hates it so it usually calms him down. During Thanksgiving preparations I got tired of him nipping at my feet so I put him out there and went back into the kitchen. 20 seconds later he strolls in like nothing happened. Then I discovered that he can now use his claws and climb through the (formerly) slight gap between the mosquito screens on my veranda doors.

A Different Chinese Invasion...

Today I was all excited to write a post about the Chinese in Angola that had nothing to do with shady government contracts, building stadiums and providing cheap goods. Then I came across this slideshow on the BBC website that I thought I should post. (There's even a Benguela railroad pic in there!) So post is not entirely different from all the others.

HOWEVER, yesterday I had the most exciting China-in-Angola experience to date: I ate in Benguela's first Chinese restaurant! Bernie, the new Fellow, and I went to Benguela for a partner meeting. We ran into Nancy the English teacher who confirmed that the restaurant was finally opened.

It was completely deserted when we walked in, but they were indeed open. It is one of the nicer restaurants I've been in in Angola (not hard considering that most restaurants in Lobito are open-air and on the beach, meaning lots of sand and cats running around), at least in terms of decor. The employees were both Chinese and Angolan and Chinese music was playing in the background.

We were both excited to see rice noodles on the menu, since that is a luxury not found outside the Chinese worker camps. When we ordered, the waiter asked if we really wanted to order the same dish, "You see," he explained, "You're not supposed to order Chinese food like that." We former-NYC residents and frequent visitors to Chinatown were miffed by that remark.

The simple noodles took over 45 minutes to arrive, but they weren't bad. I'd put them on the same level as a local Chinese take-out joint in Washington Heights. For Angola, it's great but mainly because it's our only option.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Angolan Thanksgiving

My first turkey ever!

It’s hard to believe, but I celebrated my second Thanksgiving in Angola last weekend. Last year I spent a quiet evening with some American oil workers. This year Stella and I organized a huge Thanksgiving party. I started with the idea of having a dinner for CRS friends, but then the guest list exploded into about 25 people- not including around 8 children.

Pumpkin pies

I was a little concerned about having enough food for all those people, so we planned a huge menu: two turkeys, mashed potatoes (3 kg!), sweet potatoes, green beans, homemade rolls, stuffing, pumpkin pie and apple pie. We also asked people to bring a dish to round out the rest.

Truly international! In this photo we have Cubans, Angolans, Zambians, Armenians, South Africans and -of course- Americans.

That morning, I woke up around 7 and started cooking. I did not stop until 3:00, when the turkey was finally done. I had never made a turkey before so I was a little worried, but it actually turned out very well. I made two pumpkin pies from frozen pumpkin from ShopRite- they were delicious, if I do say so myself. Everything else turned out wonderfully also.

Turkey carving, Armenian style!

We didn’t have football, but we did have South Africa vs. Wales in rugby, as you can see below. Springboks won!

Around 9 pm I crashed. I managed to make it down the stairs and crawl into bed. It was a great day.

Even the kids were pooped at the end of the day!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Two articles on Angola

From artist John Keane's artwork on children in combat done for Christian Aid

The first is actually a slide show from the BBC News website. Christian Aid, a UK NGO commissioned the artist John Keane to do a series of artwork on Angolan children and the war. The Christian Aid website has a nice write-up about the exhibition- I highly recommend taking a look- this is the type of stuff I see in my work, not oil riches or a booming economy. Or if you happen to be in the UK, take a look for yourself. According to the website:
Children in Conflict will run until 16 February 2008 in the new contemporary
£6.7 million extension at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, which opened this spring,
and will tour the UK in 2008.

The second article is one from the Economist on the future of Angola's oil reserves. According to the Economist:
Angola continues to post strong growth rates, thanks to the booming oil sector.
However, the industry is going to start shrinking from 2010 according to
government figures, and it is far from clear that Luanda has an alternative
growth strategy.

And you know if that's according to government figures, it's probably sooner than 2010! It doesn't paint a pretty picture.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Willie and the Whale

One of the biggest surprises coming back to Angola was to see just how big my cat, Willie, has grown! She's still a little terror- loves to bite and scratch in spite of my efforts to train her not to- but she has calmed down a bit and seems to really enjoy just sitting on my veranda watching cars go by. Here she is in action with her favorite toy:

Hard to believe she was ever this tiny! (And calm...)

In other exciting animal news, I finally saw my first whale in Lobito! Everyone kept telling me about all the whales and dolphins they have seen- mostly in the ocean but even in the bay upon occasion. For some reason, I've just missed seeing whales and dolphins many times.

But last Sunday, Stella, Sergey, baby Aram, Bernie and I went to Gama Beach (seaside restaurant with good caipirnhas) in Compão. Suddenly there was lots of excited shouting and pointing on the beach. We asked the waiter what all the commotion was, and he said, "Baleia (whale)! Big fish!" It was hard to see with the white caps, but I finally caught a glimpse of a tail hitting the waves, soon followed by spray from a blowhole. I didn't see the tail again, but I did see the spray several times. I have no idea what type of whale it was, but it was exciting nonetheless!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Señora Presidente

When I lived in Chile, I closely followed national politics there. To me, it was so interesting to be in a country where discussions of democracy and human rights were debated- perhaps it was just because I was in an university setting and had very political friends, but I remember talking about the dictatorsp with a number of people, both opponents and supporters.

I was there when Pinochet assumed his "Senator for Life" position (something he made sure to put in the constitution, ensuring his role in government after he stepped down from the military) and when Ricardo Lagos won the first round of presidential elections in 1999. I went with my good friend when she voted for the first time (separate facilities for women and men, interestingly enough).

I was pleased to see this NYT article on Michelle Bachelet, the current president. I haven't been able to follow Chilean politics as much from Angola, but I am very curious to hear how she is doing. Politics aside, her personal accomplishments are impressive. I personally like this quote from the article:
During the presidential campaign in 2006, Bachelet liked to say that “as the old joke goes, I have all the sins together. I am a woman, a Socialist, separated and agnostic.”

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Child "Witches" in Angola

Picture of "witch" orphan from New York Times

In today's New York Times there is an article about the troubling and disturbing practice of labeling children as witches. Sadly, this is very commong in Angola. Witches are a big deal here, as I've mentioned before. Even in Lobito, a large city, I hear stories about witches. They aren't as horrible as the ones mentioned in the article, but they show that such notions persist even in urban areas.
The worst thing is that these children are simply poor and often times their families can't (or won't) care for them:
But officials attribute the surge in persecutions of children to war — 27 years in Angola, ending in 2002, and near constant strife in Congo. The conflicts orphaned many children, while leaving other families intact but too destitute to feed themselves.
“The witches situation started when fathers became unable to care for the children,” said Ana Silva, who is in charge of child protection for the children’s institute. “So they started seeking any justification to expel them from the family.”

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Benguela armazém

Interesting metalwork at the entrance of the armazém

About two weeks ago my friend and I went to Benguela for the day. I go to Benguela quite a bit for work, rarely for pleasure. I’ve become a Lobito snob- our beaches are better, our restaurants are better- what could Benguela offer that Lobito couldn’t? Well, according to my friend and Benguela resident, Nancy of Nancy’s English School, the answer is: a Chinese restaurant/massage parlor! It’s not open yet, but I’m anxious to try it.

I gave my friend the same tour that Nancy had given me a few months back. This time we poked around the old armazém (warehouse). Rumor has it that the armazém was a slave warehouse. I asked the artist at the local art school about this and he said it wasn’t true- that a lot of people think it was literally a building with slaves just crammed in there, waiting to be bought. He says it was more like a passage point, where they were held after being brought in from the interior. He did confirm that the docks were in fact used by slave ships heading to Brazil.

Here are some pictures of the armazém. Note the current day use as a garage for someone’s car. There’s a sign outside the building that says Museo de Arqueologia AUDITÓRIO (Archeology Musem: Auditorium). Guess not!
Museum? Or...
Parking lot?

Remnants of the old slave docks

Friday, November 09, 2007

Life ain't so bad after all

Last weekend I had the pleasure of receiving a visit from my Peace Corps sitemate, who happens to work in Luanda. I hadn't seen the guy in over 6 years! He was blown away by Lobito and the life here. I did more in the long weekend he was here than I normally do all week! His enthusiasm was infectious, and I've been a lot more positive about being here since then. I've even revived my 5:45 am running schedule. Getting up at 5:30 ain't so hard when you're greeted by a sunrise like this. (Okay, this is an old picture is from the balcony of my old apartment, but you get the idea.) Maybe I'm still high from my time at home, but life ain't so bad in Lobito. At least it's not Luanda!

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Yet another airline to avoid. From
A plane carrying more than 100 people made an emergency landing in South
Africa after an engine fell off during takeoff from Cape Town on Wednesday,
officials said.

"I heard this huge bang, and he said, 'That's our engine that's just fallen
off.' I couldn't believe it. He had to repeat it to me," she told SAPA.

There were no injuries.

Improve vocab and donate rice- at the same time!

I came across this neat website, You take a vocabulary quiz, and for every word you get right, will donate 10 grains of rice.

FreeRice has two goals:

  1. Provide English vocabulary to everyone for free.
  2. Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.

This is made possible by the sponsors who advertise on this site.

A good way to procrastinate and do something good at the same time.

Monday, November 05, 2007

To the Baggage Handlers at OR Tambo International Airport

I’m sorry- really, I am.

When they told me I might have to wait up to 4 weeks to get my 3 suitcases, I automatically assumed the worst. I’ve heard many a rumor about theft in the Johannesburg airport- about wily workers who can get around suitcase locks and unmercifully take things like prescription medication.

But not you! Oh, how I was wrong. My suitcases arrived to Luanda on Friday, albeit a week later. When I finally got them in Lobito, not a thing was missing. So, thanks for not stealing. I appreciate it.

But I still will never take SAA to the US again.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

South African Airlines is out to get me

South African Airlines is out to get me

I never considered myself to be an unlucky or lucky person- just normal luck, I guess. Lately though, the tide has turned for the worse. Last week during my return trip to Angola, I had possibly the worst luck I could have had.

My flight from Houston to Washington left late. I arrived with only twenty minutes to make my connecting flight to Johannesburg. I ran up to the gate with my boarding pass and they directed me to the ticket counter to get my passport verified once again. After anxiously waiting in line, I was finally called over to the agent, who promptly ignored me. As the people behind me in line sped past, I tried to get the woman’s attention. I like to think that I am a polite person, but perhaps I asked, “Excuse me, ma’am?” in a nasty tone because she responded, “You need to wait.” She was having a conversation with her supervisor, and all I could hear was, “…before we close the gate… passengers need to get off… unload bags… no more passengers on the plane.” What?!

Apparently, the plane was too heavy. They weren’t letting any more people on the plane- boarding pass/ticket or not- until they could resolve the weight issue. They found 12 suckers- sorry, I mean, volunteers- to give up their seats for a free ticket. (Having done this once before I know it is more of a hassle than it is worth.) As I finally boarded, they assured us that if we were on the plane, so were our bags, and we were, in fact, NOT going to crash into the Atlantic. Great!

We then proceeded to sit on the tarmac for an hour. No explanation, other than that we were experiencing some delays. We finally take off, and the 15 hour journey began. I was able to sleep a bit, which was nice. As we prepared to land, I looked at the “Local Time at Arrival” on the screen: 1520. Whoops! My flight to Luanda was scheduled to leave at 1550. I prepared myself for the worst.

As I ran to the international transit check-in lounge, I could see the TAAG screen on the monitor. Filled with hope, I ran up to the counter and presented my ticket. As I did, the TAAG logo changed to an Olympic Airways flight to Athens logo. The guy looked at me as if I were crazy and said, “That flight is already in the air.”

Somehow still calm, I checked in with the South African Airways people. The guy looked at my ticket and said, “We are not responsible for putting you up in a hotel because this is an illegal booking. There is only one hour for an international connection. Whoever did this is responsible.” With immense satisfaction, I showed him the address of the South African Airways office in Ft. Lauderdale that issued me the ticket.

They put me up in an acceptable hotel that was at one point nice, but by the time I got to it, it had passed its prime. By now, I realized just how stinky I was going to be the next day, because I had no change of clothes. Luckily I had saved the travel toothbrush from SAA, so I could at least brush my teeth.

As I checked in the next morning, the ticket agent asked about my bags. He took my claim tickets and said, “Okay, they’ll be fine.” Excellent! I don’t know if my body knew something before I did, but I began to feel ill and immediately ran to the bathroom, where I puked. In the end, I managed to get on the flight alright, feeling better.

Ah, the joy of arrival in Luanda. Always a genius, the Angolan government has decided to change the way you get your passport stamped. Unlike most other countries in the world, Angola no longer distributed custom forms on the plane for you to fill out with plenty of time. No, no! You must first get in line to show your proof of yellow fever shot to the agent in the airport- THEN get your customs form- THEN fill it out- THEN get in line for the immigration control. Of course there is only one agent with papers for the entire plane and crew, so you can imagine how long it must take.

I got through immigration with no problems, which was surprising. I got the little cart of my three bags- I paid US$180 extra in the US to have a third bag checked- and was relieved to be back in Angola and on my way home.

My relief was short-lived, for not long after I got to the baggage area did the handler com out yelling, “Acabou! Não tem mais! It’s over! No More!” As in, unloading of the flight’s baggage has finished and there are no more suitcases. Wonderful. I go to the claim line to fill out my form of missing baggage.

I got to the agent and he asked what happened. I said, “Perderam a bagagem. My luggage is lost.” He responded in a typical Angolan way: “Não, não se perdeu. Só que não veio. It’s not lost. It just didn’t come.” Of course he could give me no guarantees of when it would come or with which airline, so I was out of luck.

Trying to be positive, I thought, “Well at least I don’t have to check bag for my flight back to Lobito.” I went outside to meet the driver, and he said, “Hurry! The flight is supposed to leave in an hour! Check-in’s already closed!” I had nasty flashbacks to the last time this happened, but I just tried not to focus too much on the nice shower and change of clothes that was waiting for me.

Since I didn’t have any bags, they let me through without much complaint. The flight was 2 hours late, but finally at 1700 they called us for boarding and we got out onto the tarmac. We boarded the plane and started to move- about 100 meters. Then a flight attendant comes on the speaker and says, “O vôo está cancelado. The flight is canceled.” A minor uprising ensued, and several angry passengers demanded to know what was going on. We weren’t given an explanation, of course; just that it was canceled and we had to be at the airport the next morning at 5:30.

By then I was ready to burn my clothes. It was Thursday night and I had been wearing them since Tuesday. I had no deodorant, no conditioner, no other toiletries, nothing to sleep in. I was not happy. However, I was too tired and jet-lagged to really care, and at out guest house I fell asleep at 6:45 and slept until 5 the next morning.

From there, I didn’t have any more problems. My luggage has still not appeared. I don’t have any of the things I bought in the US- clothes, shoes, presents, medicines, toiletries, contact lenses, DVDs, etc- and the longer it takes, the less hope I have of seeing them. This happens a lot- I’m surprised it’s the first time it’s happened to me. I bought locks and put them on everything, but I’m sure the airport workers are smart enough to get around them.

I’ve not heard any info on where they could be. I suspect they didn’t make it on the flight I was on to Johannesburg, due to the weight issue and my delayed flight from Houston. However, SAA in the US can’t give my parents any information, and conveniently, the office in Luanda doesn’t have a phone.

Welcome back to Angola.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Angola in the Americas

Here is an interesting article about the only known Spanish-based creole language, Palenquero, from Colombia. Much of the structure has origin from the Congo River basin area.
Palenquero was strongly influenced by the Kikongo language of Congo and Angola, and by Portuguese, the language of traders who brought African slaves to Cartagena in the 17th century. Kikongo-derived words like ngombe (cattle) and ngubá (peanut) remain in use here today.
Kikongo is spoken in northern Angola, whereas in the Benguela area people speak Umbundu. However, there are similarities. For example, the Umbundu word for peanut is ginguba, similar to the Kikongo ngubá mentioned above.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Growth and Poverty

Luanda, from New York Times article

There's an interesting article in today's New York Times. In spite of increased spending on reconstruction and economic growth, many Angolans still live on less than $2 a day. There's nothing new or shocking in the article and they cover all the basics: Chinese, corruption, bad roads, poverty, and Western oil executives who shy away from the press because they are afraid of the government. There's a nice slideshow with the article. My favorite picture is the one above, which nicely shows the contrast of utter ruin and the oil boom.

Dos Santos visits Castro

President Dos Santos visit Fidel in Havana. Photo from

Well, I'm still stuck in the US, so I'm out of the Angolan news loop. I just saw this article, dated Sept. 23:
HAVANA, Sep 23 (AP): Cuba published a photo Sunday of a standing, smiling Fidel
Castro looking heavier but still gaunt as he met Angola's president, the first
head of state to see the ailing 81-year-old since June.

I was browsing in a Barnes & Noble, waiting for a friend and came across The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit and Desire, by Tom Zoellner. My friend was late, so I got through most of the chapter on Angola. I can't vouch for the whole book, but the chapter on Angola was pretty interesting. Zoellner talks about the role of the Cuban military in aiding the MPLA fight off UNITA. I admit I'm hazy on the specifics, so look for the book for the actual details, but protecting foreign-held oil sites was a big priority for the government, since oil revenue funded (and still funds) most government expenditures.

So how best to put to use the communist, Cuban military? Why, protecting capitalist yanqui oil companies! Yes, while in Angola the Cuban miltary was sent to protect the likes of Chevron and Texaco. Oh, the irony...

There are still lots of Cubans in Angola. Apparently, it's fairly easy for Cubans to get a visa to Angola, so many have immigrated to Angola. I know of at least 15 Cubans in Lobito who have done this, 3 of which are doctors. COnversely, Cuba is a popular destination for Angolans to attend university. A nice young female doctor whom I saw for my stomach trouble had done her medical degree there. She asked me about my last name and if by any chance I was related to Haydee Santamaria, hero of the Cuban revolution.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Disco will save us all

Boney M pic from

One of the things I like best about living in other countries is seeing which pop songs are popular and why. In Angola, its Akon and Beyonce. In Honduras it was Christina Aguilera song from "Moulin Rouge" and Journey.
When I lived in Chile, I would hear this one song, "Rivers of Babylon" by Boney M OVER and OVER again. (What would we do without YouTube? Here's a video.) It's a truly infectious song- and very cheesy. But I've never heard it outside of Chile. The first time I heard it, I asked a friend who sang it. He looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Don't you know Boney M?!" He was intent on proving how little I knew and proceeded to stop 5 random people on the street if they knew who sang "Rivers of Babylon." Every single person he stoped knew the answer.
I love listening to that song because it reminds me of the time I spent in Chile, some of best times of my life. Whenever this song came on- in the discoteca or in a private party- the place would erupt. Even my Chilean pololo (boyfriend), who singlehandedly put to rest the myth that all Latin men are good dancers, would jump up and bop along.
Georgia has drafted in 1970s disco icons Boney M in its battle to regain control over the tiny separatist region of South Ossetia. Our correspondent says the Georgian authorities want to show the South Ossetian separatists that life would be better and more fun if they returned to government control.
I think they're on to something...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bed Nets to Fight Malaria

Here is an interesting article from the New York Times about the debate on free vs. social-marketed bed nets used to fight malaria. The article does a good job of laying out the two sides.

Basically, the social marketing camp says if you market bed nets as a branded good and charge a small, nomial price, beneficiaries will take better care of them, use them as directed, and NOT get malaria. I saw this in Honduras, although not with bed nets. In the market, vendors would sell USAID vegetable oil in big cans labeled USAID: GIFT OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. Everyone wanted to buy this oil, claiming that it was better because it was from the US- never mind that it was likely low-quality surplus oil that would never be sold in the US! The point is that people were willing to pay more for something basic they judged to be of superior quality.

The free distribution camp points out that those who are the most adversly affected by malaria are the poorest of the poor. Is it fair to make a poor mother choose between buying food or a bed net? The article bring up a point I hadn't considered: in a small village, unless everyone uses a bed net, the mosquito will simply move from the netted-bed to the next available unnetted-bed.

I'm not sure which side I am on. I lean towards the social-marketing side, just because of what I saw in Honduras. Those same cans of vegetable oil distributed by USAID were given free of charge to people. Rather than use them for their own consumption, recipients would just go the the market and make a buck!

I'm happy to say that I haven't had malaria yet, in spite of the fact that I don't take any medication. I do, however, use a bed net!

This works for me, at least!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Luanda - Beijing on TAAG

Starting October 23, TAAG (the infamous national airline of Angola) will start a Luanda-Beijing route. (Link to article in Portuguese.) Unfortunately it's just a charter flight, but it's indicative of the growing relationship between China and Angola. According to my sources (sources = random people in my office prone to gossiping), it's so they can ship in more Chinese prisoners to build the railroad! (Gotta love China rumors.)

TAAG is also increasing their flights to Addis Abba and Dubai. No word on the Luanda-Houston route.

Monday, October 08, 2007

More delays...

As predicted, I have had to extend my stay in the U.S. It's due to a combination of factors, really, but mostly due to health reasons. One of the important things I needed to do at home was get my health checked out. I won't go into details because it's not a topic for polite conversation, but something didn't quite check out and I had to go in for minor surgery last Friday. No big deal- everything went well and I am on my way to a full recovery. However, this means that I have to stick around a little longer for follow-ups and recovery.

Tomorrow, Oct. 9, was my scheduled departure date. Even without the surgery I would not have been able to leave, because I just got my passport about 1/2 hour ago! I now have an extra two weeks to begin the work visa process. Hopefully it will go smoothly. I have complete faith in the Houston consular office, since they were very efficient last year when I applied for my visto ordinario.

The good news about all of this is that I get to go to my friends' wedding in New Orleans! I'll be leaving a few days afterwards, on the 23rd. I must say, I am anxious to get back to Angola- especially to my cat, Willie, who has been so lonely all this time! Six weeks is a big chunk of time to be at home, a little too long to be hanging out on my parents' couch catching up on TV. But I am glad that I am able to get well in the comfort of the US!

Monday, October 01, 2007

It's not just Angola...

My fears that my passport renewal would not go smoothly came true, but not for the reason I thought! Just take a look at the path my DHL package (containing my passport!) took in order to get to Luanda:

9/19: Package departs NYC
9/25: Packages departs for London (meaning that it sat in NYC for SIX DAYS)
9/26: The most traveled package in history goes to the following places: Brussels, Belgium; Lagos, Nigeria; Libreville, Gabon
9/27: Package arrives in Kinshasa, DRC and goes BY BOAT to Brazzaville, Congo
9/30: Package finally arrives in Luanda and is delivered on 10/1.

Not exactly the 4 days they guaranteed.

But it's not just DHL! I requested a transcript from Columbia. It was sent via USPS on 9/21 and still has not arrived. The doctor's note I need was sent 9/28 and has not arrived. I live approximately 15 blocks from my house.

I might have to extend my visit home after all...

Monday, September 24, 2007

NYC 2007

This is how fast my trip went by.

I'm back in Houston after 10 days in NY. I lived in NY before leaving for Angola, so it felt like a homecoming.

Spencer Finch piece at Mass MoCA

First on the agenda was a road trip to North Adams, MA to attend the wedding of my good friends Liz and Greg. It was at the Mass MoCA, America's largest comtemporary arts musuem, a beautiful space for the event. They had an excellent exhibition by Spencer Finch. It was a beautiful wedding, very reflective of who they are as people.

At the hairpin turn in North Adams

I spent the following week in NY, revisiting my old haunts. I didn't visit any museums or do anything touristy; for me it was more important to see friends. And shop, shop, shop!

Cesar and me

Arie and me

Under the Brooklyn Bridge at night, after eating a ton of Grimaldi's pizza.

Jade and me

All in all, it was a wonderful visit. A bit too wonderful, actually! It was bittersweet to be around so many real friends whom I have known for years. I don't exactly have that in Angola. And of course, New York City is the greatest city on earth, so how can I not miss it?

Mmm, funge!

One question I've gotten a lot while at home is, "What do you eat in Angola?" Well, my bouts with salmonella have made me wary of eating out, so I tend to eat at home and eat the same things over and over (beans, pasta, soups).

While in Luanda, my coworkers included me on their lunch order. Here's what we had:

FUNGE: The staple of the Angolan diet. It can be made with corn meal (funge) or with yucca/manioc flour (bombô- not sure if this is correct spelling). I've had both and prefer funge. People say it's like polenta- but it is not like polenta! Neither really have any flavor, so you eat it with whatever food is on your plate. It of course tastes better when eaten with your hands.

BEANS: Having spent two years in Honduras, you'd think I would have had my fill of beans, but I can't get enough of them! I especially like beans in Angola, beacuse they are made with dendem, or palm oil. (Yes, Brazilians, it's called dendem here, not dendê!) Dendem gives the beans a heavy, delicious flavor.

STEWS: Angolans love their stews, and I don't blame them! This particular one is made with goat meat- not my favortie, but it was good. A national favorite is kalulu, made with okra.

Monday, September 10, 2007

At home!

I'm at home in Houston for a few weeks on my annual home leave. Plenty of Tex-Mex, BBQ and shopping! I probably won't be posting much- no exciting stories about gun shots outside my windows or crazy visa problems.

This vacation gives me a much needed rest from work and Angola. I've been home only a few days, but already I feel engerized. Hopefully it will carry over when I return to Angola!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

How things work around here: Passport/Visa edition Pt. 2

I thought things couldn’t get more difficult as far as my visa went. I should have known better!! On Thursday I followed up with our HR director to make sure that I had everything ready to submit the visa once I got home. She handed me a memo and said, “Oh, I just got this today.” The memo said that in order to process ANY visa, the passport needed to have at 18 months validity until it expired. My passport, of course, expires in 11 months.

Oh, the confusão!! I’ve read several articles about how the new requirement of a passport to enter the US from Canada and Mexico has put a major strain on passport agencies and people have had to wait several months for passports. So we called the US embassy to see what we could do. The solution to the problem is so incredibly complex and will literally cost hundreds of dollars. Here it is:

· Fly to Luanda Monday, instead of Wednesday as planned. Renew passport at the embassy. They will hand it back to me right then and there with a receipt which must be presented with my current passport to get the new one. Thursday I get on a plane and go home.

· But wait! If my current passport is with me in the US, how will my colleague in Luanda be able to pick my new one up? Upon arrival in the US, I will have to DHL my passport to our office in Luanda.

· But wait! How will I get my new passport, which I need to process my work visa? Our office will then DHL both passports back to me in the US. I’ll submit my new passport for the work visa.

· But wait! How will I travel to the US if my new passport is in the Angolan embassy (or who knows where it will be)? They don’t actually need the passport after the initial processing, so they will release it back to me and I’ll travel back to Angola using my current visa (visto ordinário). When the actual paperwork is done and my work visa is ready, I will DHL it back to the US so it can get the work visa put in it.

· But wait! How will I use a visa that is in my no-longer-valid passport? Allegedly, I can just present the valid visa in the old passport along with my new passport and I will be let in the country.

I am extremely suspicious of this last part. I don’t see how this will be accepted by the Angolan government, but many people assure me this is very common. We’ll see.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Happy Anniversary

Me, one year later, with Bernice of the Sheenan tropa.

As of 4:30 am this morning I have been in Angola exactly one year. It’s been an eventful year, to say the least- one of the most challenging I’ve had.

And how did I celebrate this milestone? I think I broke my toe! I wish I could say it was doing something exciting, but I was just cleaning and jammed my foot into my chair.

UPDATE: Sergey, the former EMT informs me it is not a break, but a bad sprain. Still limping and getting an awesome bruise, though.

Angola wins AfroBasket

Even garbage trucks have come down with AfroBasket fever!

Angola with their trophy, from

As predicted, Angola kicked but and won the AfroBasket tournament. Cameroon gave them a run for their money, tying at several points in the game. But by the end of the third quarter it was clear who was going to win. When it was finally over, Lobito erupted. Cars and motorcycles started the procession around town, with constant honking and bodies hanging off screaming.

The game was over before 9 p.m. but I knew the partying would go on for a long time. However, by the time I went to bed (around midnight) most of the activity had died down. Except next door. For some reason, two of the young men that live in the house next to mine (who were making such a ruckus a few weeks ago) felt the need to carry on the party. Their form of merrymaking was the noisemakers that Unitel the cell phone company, gave out as the tournament started. Remember the noisemakers you got at kids’ birthday parties, the ones you blow into and the paper uncurls? Imagine that sound, magnified by 30 bazillion. These two guys sat and blew these things all night long. They only took a break to take a deep breath and start again. Just when I thought they were getting tired, a car would drive by honking reminding them that they too should be making as much noise as humanly possible. I finally got some rest after 3:30 am.

Apart from that, I got a kick out of seeing how happy everyone was. I think Americans are spoiled by how awesome we are in pretty much everything (ha ha) and forget that winning a tournament can be a big deal. Angolans are very proud of their team, as they should be.

Here is a not-very-visible video from my camera, but you get the idea:

And here is one complete with sirens. No, those cops are not keeping order, they're celebrating!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My best friend in Lobito

Willie is growing up. She’s in her biting phase, which appears to be somewhat permanent. I’m trying to train her not to turn her teeth on me, but it’s a challenge. She just really likes to bite, and my hands are too tempting. She gets mad that I leave her alone during the day. I hate to think what she'll do when I'm on my home leave! However, when she’s not biting she’s the sweetest kitty in the world!

She doesn't have blue eyes anymore, so her name makes less sense than it did before. I mostly call her "bandida" (bandit) because she's usually biting me or not using her litter box like she's supposed to.

AfroBasket Comes to Angola

Angolan team in action against Central African Republic. Angola is in the white jersey. Photo from

FIBA’s AfroBasket Tournament is currently taking place in Angola. (FIBA = Federation of International Basketball) Everyone in Angola has Afrobasket fever, including me. Whoever wins this tournament is automatically qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games.

Angola got a lot of attention last year for their surprising qualification for the World Cup. But what I didn’t know before coming here is that Angola is a basketball powerhouse, the best in Africa.

The tournament is taking place in various provinces, including Benguela. The stadiums were built by the Chinese. People were doubtful it would be done on time- in Benguela they didn’t start building until 4 months ago. Any animosity Benguela residents had towards the Chinese were washed away when they entered the sparkling new stadium. Suddenly the Chinese are master builders, helping Angola in their reconstruction efforts!

The goodwill is understandable. Angolans are very patriotic and this is their chance to show off. Things are going very well in the tournament, both in the logistics and the basketball. My American friend Nancy, who owns an English school in Benguela, had the chance to meet the Moroccan team and their head coach. She said he was amazed at everything in Angola: that everything ran so smoothly, that the food was so good and- believe it or not- that things ran on time! (Okay, I had a nice chuckle over that one.) But there’s definitely an air of pride in Lobito, with 7 out of 10 people wearing Angola shirts.

And the fact that the Angolan team is laying the hurt on everyone else certainly helps! The first game I watched was against Cabo Verde. Their win was overwhelming: 100 – 44! It was actually a bit embarrassing, bordering on the unsportsmanlike, because the Angolan team just kept dominating, keeping the better players in and doing fancy dunks.

I’m even staying up past my bedtime right now, watching Angola struggle against their strongest competitor yet. (It’s 10:30 pm. I certainly don’t have the social life I did in New York, that’s for sure.) At the beginning of the second half, they re only winning by 7 points! Their competitor even has an American college basketball player (for the University of New Orleans). Their competitor? Central African Republic. What? Who knew! They’re pretty good, actually.

I’m watching the game on a South African channel. There is an American announcing and a South African accompanying him. During the half, they had a former Angolan team player, talking about Angola. He had this to say: “Oh, Angola is a very popular place for foreigners to take their holidays. And there aren’t that many poor people. If you look at normal Angolans, you will see they have money.” Oh, so it’s normal Angolans that have money! Better not tell that to the 70% of Angolans living below the poverty line.

UPDATE: Angola "barely" won the game, 78-51. Considering that they won their others games by an average of 44 points, CAR was their first real challenge. Angola has now qualified for the quarterfinals.

Kids do the darndest things

These kids frequent the little playground in front of our apartment building. They also “guard” cars at one of the local supermarkets, and I pay then about US$0.75 to watch over my car when I’m there. I can’t figure out if they are street kids or if they actually have a place to sleep. Even if they don’t sleep on the streets, they certainly don’t have any adult supervision. They are very sweet kids, just without any support emotionally or financially. Sad and all too common.

Last Friday I was sitting on the playground benches with my neighbor Stella, watching her 20 month old son play with the boys. I tried to secretly take pictures of them, but as soon as they saw the camera they went crazy. They started doing these crazy hand signs, and I was a little afraid they were throwing gang signs. I asked them what the signs meant and I just got confused looks. One said, “It’s Os Nigas!” and they got all excited and started to scream “Os Nigas! Os Nigas!” I had no clue what they were talking about so I asked one what Os Nigas meant. He got really embarrassed because he clearly had no idea what Os Nigas was and the other ones started to laugh at him. An older boy, clearly a leader, said, “They are rappers!” And it suddenly dawned on me what Os Niga meant in Portuguese. (Add another “g” to the word and you’ll get it.)

I tried to convince them not to say that word, that it was very bad, but to no avail. Just another American cultural export, unfortunately.

This is how they look when they are not trying to be OGs.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Yet Another NYT Article on China in Africa

But, surprisingly, it doesn't mention Angola! China is in favor with Angolans these days, due to the success of Afrobasket construction.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Explosive, Exciting News in Food Security

Unloading sacks of flour in Cubal

(Or, “With this title, could I possibly be nerdier?”)

CARE has announced that it will no longer accept US government (USG) food aid! This is major news for those of us in international development. If CARE is successful, it could possibly change the way international development organizations provide food aid.

Basically, it works like this: the USG sells subsidized, surplus US agricultural products to NGOs overseas. These NGOs usually sell the goods in local markets, in turn using profits to fund projects- a process called monetization. The goods must be transported on US flag bearing ships. (This is common with USG funds; if I, as a project manager whose salary and benefits are paid for by a USG funded-project fly home with project funds, I am obligated to fly on a US carrier if one is available, no matter what the cost.) There are a lot of politics that go into this policy, having to do with US agricultural subsidies designed to help US farmers. CARE’s argument is that these imported commodities distort local markets and unfairly disadvantage local farmers.

The IHT article linked above lays out both sides’ argument well. In my personal opinion, the policy is inherently flawed. However, it does provide millions of aid dollars that would not otherwise be available. Sadly, most development NGOs are desperate for funding and will take it in whatever form it appears.

The big question for me is how exactly CARE plans to continue to provide food security aid in the countries where it works without accepting USG money. They’ve talked about doing local, sustainable projects that will provide money. This may work, but I doubt it will work on a scale that will provide millions of dollars. They speak specifically about Kenya, but what about other countries, like Niger? I don’t know much about Kenya, but it seems to be somewhat stable and have more infrastructure when compared to other countries. I’m pretty sure Niger wouldn’t provide sufficient aid dollars.

It should be noted also that CARE is one of the powerhouse development NGOs- well-known with lots of donations rolling in. (Donations which I’m sure will rise significantly when people read articles about their decision.) I doubt that smaller NGOs without CARE’s resources would be able to take such a decision.

Our program in Angola does not have any monetization projects, although our programs in other countries rely heavily on monetization projects for funding. During the war I know we received significant USG food aid, but I believe it was not monetized but given directly to people suffering. Joint Aid Management (JAM), another NGO here in Benguela, does accept it and is one of the organizations that actively support the USG policy. For Angola, their decision makes sense- to an extent. They provide food to local governments, schools and hospitals. With the exit of the World Food Programme, JAM is the main provider of food to schools and hospitals (NOT the government). Without that USG aid, how would they get their food? Most of the agricultural sector was completely destroyed in the war and has not recovered. Angola continues to import just about everything when it comes to foodstuffs. I’ve never even seen locally produced milk- it comes from South Africa or the EU! There is no market to destroy in Angola!

Having said that, is food aid stunting the growth of the Angolan agricultural sector? If USG food aid was absent and Angola forced to produce on its own, would Angolan agriculture grow more quickly? It’s not clear to me what the answer is. In any case, I’ll be looking for information on the results of CARE’s decision.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

How Things Work Around Here: Broken Bathroom Pipe Edition

Two Saturdays ago I woke up to find water all over my bathroom floor. In my groggy state I blamed it on the cat, but I don’t even think she an pee 10 L in one night. I looked up and saw that my ceiling was dripping water all over the place, meaning that a pipe in the apartment upstairs had burst. The upstairs neighbors weren’t at home, so there was nothing I could do.

I called our housing coordinator to see what could be done. It was a Saturday, so I wasn’t expecting much, but I did hope that at least someone could come to rig up a better water collection system or something like that. When I explained the situation to our guy, he said, “Oh I know what the problem is, Princess. You left a faucet on!” Um, no, that actually was not the problem. I was annoyed that he thought that it was just stupidity and forgetfulness on my part, but as the “princess” of the office (only female expat) I am used to these macho assumptions. He said he would stop by, but I knew he wouldn’t. In the meantime, I was emptying buckets of water every half hour or so. I called again Sunday to remind him it was an emergency, and he said he would stop by. I knew he wouldn’t. And he didn’t.

On Monday, I saw him and reminded him. “Oh yes, Princess! I forgot!” He and Jesús went over to check out the ceiling. When he got back he stopped by my office and said, “Oh Princess! It’s a very bad situation! You should have told me!” Huh!? ARGH! He assured me that it would be fixed by Friday.

My assumption was correct- a pipe for the apartment above me burst. Unfortunately, this meant that it was not a job we could do, but a job that the building owner was responsible for. Over a week later, nothing has been done. The leaking has subsided somewhat, but my bathroom is in an absolute state of disaster. It’s no use cleaning because it gets dirty as soon as I finish cleaning. Chunks of the ceiling are falling down- luckily there is a small roof over my shower because otherwise I would be showering in falling cement.

When I followed up with the housing coordinator on Friday, he was surprised to learn that nothing had been done. I gently reminded him that he had said he would speak with the building owner every day until it was fixed. Blank look… “Oh yes, Princess! He says it will be done.” Seeing that nothing had been done on his part, I resorted to what I hate to do- email with a CC to his supervisor and the big chefe. I’m still of the school of thought where you should assume that people will perform their jobs as required, in spite of being in Angola for a year now, where things (and people) don’t work this way. I’m a lowly manager, not a big chefe- I know the situation would not have lasted this long had it been one of the big bosses with this problem. The email with CCs got an immediate response as of Friday afternoon, but nothing has been done. I might have to get obnoxious in order to have it fixed.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Some tidbits on the health of Angolans

Job training?

CNN reports that TEN people have been stricken with polio in 2007. Don't go around thinking polio has been eradicated from the earth, like I did before coming to Angola.

I wish this article was in English! Basically, it talks about how Angolan women make a living carrying things on their head. In the article, one woman states that she carries bags of cement on her head for between 300 - 500 Kwanzas (between US$4 - $6.67). That can't be good for your spine. A lot of people justify the presence of Chinese workers in Angola saying that Angolans would not do the same work the Chinese do. I've never bought that argument, given cases like this one. Carrying heavy things on your head is not an easy way to make a buck, that's for sure.