Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wild Wild Lobito, Pt. 3: The Most Dangerous Block in Restinga

Nice neighborhood establishment with fun for the whole family? Or TRIANGLE OF VIOLENCE!!
The rolote is the little hut to the right. This is the view from my apartment veranda.

Yesterday I ran into a friend who asked if I had heard about the confusão at the rolote (or “sin shack” as my friend Lisa L callsthem- a great description) in front of my house. This is the same rolote whose guard shot at the car that attempted a hit and run a few months ago. This is on the same street where I heard gunfire at 5 am a few weeks ago.

The latest incident to occur in this little nexus of violence involves some drunk expat oil company employees. You see, for some reason, the vast majority of the expat oil workers love the rolote in front of my house. Most of them are skilled laborers (electricians, metalurgists) from Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, and a handful of other European countries. They come here for 3 months at a time and then leave. Why do they love this rolote so much? The service there, like every other place, is atrocious. Unlike other rolotes this one is far from the beach and any nice ocean breeze. It’s next to a playground, so there are kids running around at all hours of the day and night. My theory is that they feel at home there because there is a constant stream of horrible eurotrash techno music- the same song over and over and over and over again. These ex-pats are constantly there drinking. I see them in the morning eating breakfast, at noon eating lunch, and of course at night drinking and eating.

So on Sunday, there was a big match in the Portuguese soccer league. Porto, one of the more popular teams, won, so Angolans were going crazy. This rolote has a projection screen TV that shows most European league games. (Now that I think about it, the games, as opposed to the techno music, are the draws.)

A group of Angolans were getting a bit rowdy in front of the table of ex-pats. One Angolan guy and one English guy exchanged words, and the Angolan “challenged” the English guy to hit him. Rather than hit him, he apparently got out his Leatherman and slashed the guy’s stomach open, injuring some internal organs.


Apparently the English guy is in jail and awaiting trial. Not the best way for an oil company to win over the locals. The Angolan guy was in surgery for 5 hours but in the end is apparently okay.

What is it about my block? It is calm and generally safe… really! I live in what is considered the best neighborhood in Lobito. It certainly is the most expensive, and one where the majority of expats live. To me, it's perplexing that these things have happened here. Perhaps I'm just naive.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Irresistible? Or freakish?

What about this says, "Pull me!"?

Time spent in Oshikango, Namibia: 4 hours (including at border posts)
Number of times hair pulled by curious Namibian women: 4
Times I found it funny: 1
Times they found it funny: 4

And I'm not even blonde!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How Things Work Around Here: Angolan Airline Edition

Benguela Airport

This morning I got up at 5 am to get ready for my trip to Ondjiva. Check-in was at 7, but we had to pick up my colleagues and the airport is an hour away. We get to the airport at 7:15 and start to wait for the Gemini Airlines rep to come so we can begin check-in.

Around 8, the rep finally shows up. The following events took place:

Rep: I announce that as of today, the Luanda-Benguela-Ondjiva flight has been moved from 8 am to 1 pm. Come back at 11 for check-in.
Manuel Jose (my favorite driver): Why didn't you advise us of this change?!
Rep: Hey, you should have called the office to confirm the flight. That was irresponsible of you.
Manuel Jose: I DID call and confirm the flight, at 5 pm yesterday.
Rep: Oh. Um.
Manuel Jose: And you take down every passenger's name and phone number in case there are any changes, so you can call them and inform them of the changes.
Rep: That's just a formality.
Manuel Jose: This is very unprofessional.
Rep: Well, we weren't informed of these changes until 6 pm yesterday!
Manuel Jose: So you had plenty of time to call every one.
Rep: Yes.
Manuel Jose: But you didn't.
Rep: No. Of course not. You had to call and confirm the flight.

And so it goes....

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Disappearing for a while...

I'm heading out into the field to visit a new project in Ondjiva, Cunene. Cunene is Angola's southernmost province, bordering Namibia. Cunene is quite different from Benguela both culturally and geographically, so it should be interesting. It's cold there! (Although I'm still not sure what Angolans mean by "cold" so we'll see if it gives me any relief from the heat and humidity of Benguela.)

The project I'll be visiting is an HIV/AIDS prevention project. This is quite new for us, because unlike Benguela province, where prevalence rates are at 5% or so, the prevalence rate in Cunene is estimated at 30% or higher. This is largely due to its proximity to Namibia, which has an official prevalence rate of 20% but is more likely to have 40%.

One "benefit" of the war in Angola was that the borders and transportation routes were effectively shut down, so while the rest of southern Africa was dealing with a horrible AIDS crisis, Angola was not. However, once the borders opened after the end of the war, all that changed. Because there is so much movement in Cunene, HIV spread rapidly there.

This will be an interesting trip.

Love your neighbor? UPDATE

This morning Francisco, our Head of Programming, comes into my office and says, "Leslie. Tell me about your Portuguese neighbors." I was obviously curious, so I asked why he wanted to know about my neighbors. He had just received a phone call from the university where they teach, requesting that we hook them up to our generator and water supply permanently. Did they offer any money? Compensation? No- they asked under the guise of being good neighbors and helping out the poor professors.

I told him the story, and then Sergey, my coworker and upstairs neighbor came in with tales of more abuse. His wife, Stella, is one of the sweetest, kindest people I have ever met, so it didn't surprise me to hear Sergey say that she would lend the maid sugar upon occasion. But when it started happening every day, Stella stopped lending, realizing that she was being taken advantage of. The crazy maid, of course, reacted by calling Stella selfish and rude.

After hearing the stories, Francisco called the university and told them that because of un-neighborly behavior on their part, we would not provide any services to them and that they should pay for services themselves. What a novel concept!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Love your neighbor?

Quotidian life in Angola can be difficult. My living conditions have improved significantly since moving out of the huge apartment building, but I still face some challenges. I still live off a generation 75% of the time and have a slight trickle of water to shower with 9 times out of 10. But a perk of ex-pat living is that I have a support staff that takes care of these things. I don’t really know how Jesús, our handyman, does things. He just moves a few wires and suddenly I have power again. Fine by me!

We have a monster generator for the two apartments we rent in our six-unit building. If I were a neighbor, I might be a bit resentful of us- it does make noise and given the quality of Lobito’s power supply, it’s on a lot. For a while, I’ve suspected that Jesús has hooked up the other apartments in the building to the generator. (My employer has leases on the two apartments for several years, so Jesús has gotten to know the neighbors and helps them out when he can.) I, for one, am not one to begrudge someone electricity. Most of the neighbors are quietly thankful, never complaining about not turning the generator on quickly enough, respecting the “only Leslie, Stella or Sergey has authorization to turn on the generator” rule. (After all, we do pay for it, albeit down the line.)

Not my next door neighbors. I live next to two Portuguese university professors. (Yes, Lobito has a university!) I’ve only seen them a handful of times, and they seem nice. Their empregada (maid), however, is a terror. Lately I’ve been noticing that someone has been telling the guards to turn on the generator, even though we have general power and water. After several days of this, I asked Doutor, the awesome young guard, who was telling him to do this. He pointed at my neighbors and said, “Rosa.” I explained to him that only the three of us can tell him to turn on the generator, and that if there were any problems to tell me. Sure enough, the next day (Saturday), I hear a ruckus downstairs. Seconds later, I hear a pounding on my door; it was Rosa, the maid from next door. She immediately starts yelling at me, telling me that I have no right to instruct the guards to ignore her requests to turn on the generator, because without the generator, they have no electricity or water, and the women next door are professors with degrees, so how dare I disrespect them!

At first I was confused- was she really angry at me for not allowing her to steal from us? And then I was even more confused because I had city-supplied electricity and water, so why didn’t she? I explained this all to her, but she was adamant. “Call that boy Jesús!” (Jesús is in his late 30s- hardly a boy- but he has polio and walked with a profound limp, so people tend to treat him differently.) I got Jesús on the phone and passed it to her. She yelled some more, then gave it back to me. Jesús’ judgment of the situation was that “essa senhora está maluca,” or “that woman is crazy.” Agreeing with him and fearing any more confrontations, I told the guard to turn on the generator.

Later we found out that their handyman had uninstalled their apartment’s pump and connected it directly to our generator. As a result, they only had water when our generator was on. We had to do a clean sweep of all other connections, and Jesús disconnected all other apartments’ connections to our generator. I personally was scared that the quietly appreciative neighbors would be angry, but they weren’t. As one of them said to Jesús as he was disconnecting her line to our generator, “Não pensam, só falam.” (They don’t think, just talk.) That neighbor is actually quite nice, and I think Jesús reconnected her to the generator a few days later. I’m all for sharing. In the meantime Rosa continues to give me dirty looks.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Laugh of the Day

In Angola, when you temporarily forget someone’s name or don’t know their name, you say, “o coiso” or “a coisa” – “the thing” with the appropriate gender article.

My name here is very difficult to say. The most common pronunciations are “Leez-lee” or “Lazy.” (Yes, Lazy.) As a result, most people simply don't learn my name or forget it very easily. (In fact, the woman who has cleaned ny house for the last 7 months still doesn't know my name, in spite of me telling her several times and casually saying things like, "The other day some one told me, 'LESLIE. It's hot, isn't it LESLIE?'")

There are three guards that watch over our apartment building. Yesterday as I was coming home from work, the guard started calling out after me, “Dona Coisa! Dona Coisa!”

Which, loosely translated, means “Ms. Thang.” Awesome.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Wild Wild Lobito, Pt. 2

Pic from US State Dept. Confiscated guns waiting to be destroyed in Luanda. www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/pix/b/71805.htm

Early Saturday morning, around 5:30 am, I awoke to the sounds of gunfire. I heard two gunshots, then lots of shouting. I went back to bed.

I left to pick up my friend Anne’s kids, as I was babysitting for her that morning. On my way out, I asked the guard what all the commotion was. Apparently, burglars attempted to break into the house catty-corner to my apartment building. The guard encountered them and started shooting. No one was hurt. But no one was caught, either.

On the one hand, I feel very safe in this city, especially on Restinga, the peninsula where I live that is like a small, sleepy town. On the other hand, I this is the second shooting tht has happened within a block of my apartment! This makes me feel better about being in bed by 10 most nights, so I'm not on the street with all the bandidos.

Awesome Structures in Angola Series: Part 3

Following the spirit of Part 2 in the series is this house. My friends Mark and Domingas live across the street from it. It is “abandoned” in the sense that the owners of the house- whoever they may be- don’t live there or do any sort of maintenance on the house. The house, however, is occupied by squatters, although they’ve been there long enough for the term to be misleading. The house is located on the bay side of Restinga, a few blocks past my old apartment. Like so many houses in this city, you can tell it was once a beautiful, elegant home, probably left during independence. I like this house because it reminds me of the banana company houses in Tela, on north coast of Honduras. (I tried finding images on Google Image, but surprisingly couldn't find any pictures of the Chiquita buildings.)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Sign in the picture says, "Careful: Monkey bites". Notice that our little friend is running free, outside the cage.

Yesterday was a holiday here in Angola- Labor Day. I went with my French friend Anne and her two adorable kids, Weni and Kadja, to Catumbela, a nearby town. Catumbela has a restaurant with the only decent ice cream I've encountered in Angola. They even had peanut ice cream, which was excellent. It's no Blue Bell ice cream, but then again, nothing but Blue Bell is...

We also stopped by the "zoo" in Catumbela. I've heard about this "zoo" before, but was dubious because when I asked what animals they had, people would say "oh just some monkeys and crocodiles." Hmm. I didn't have high hopes to begin with, but it turned out to be worse than I expected!

The fences that once sealed off the small park were torn down due to road constuction work close by. The place looks like it was just abandoned, leaving the animals there to fend for themselves. There was no sign of the crocs. Plenty of monkeys, however. Two of them somehow got out of the giant cage and were running lose. Surprisingly, they behaved themselves and kept their distance from us, except when they hopped into the bed of the truck we were driving. Still in the cage were about 5 other monkeys. The monkeys outside the cage were rummaging around the trash heaps for food. Not sure what the ones inside the cage do. Coitados.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Angolan Author Wins Prize

Saw this article on the BBC News website today. there's no bookstore in Lobito, so I haven't seen this book. Nice to see that an Angolan author gets recognition, though.
The Book of Chameleons by Angolan journalist and author Jose Eduardo Agualusa has won this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
...Boyd Tonkin, judge and literary editor of The Independent, called it "a delightful, moving and revealing novel about modern Africa".