Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Off to Zambia

I'm leaving today for Luanda and to Zambia on Friday. I'll be at a regional training in Lusaka. As usual, I'm ridiculously excited to be leaving the confusão of Angola.

Looking back over the past year, I've had the fortune of traveling to 2 other African countries (Cape Verde and South Africa- 3 if you crossing the border into Namibia for 4 hours). Like my trip to South Africa, this one is work-related, but thanks to the difficulties of getting in/out of Angola, I get a weekend in Zambia to do whatever. The consumer in me wants to shop at the mall, but hopefully I can also get out and see other things. (Really, I'll probably just shop!) Someday I hope to actually be able to visit these countries for pleasure.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Plane crash survivor

When I found out I was coming to Angola, everyone at my grad school told me to get in tough with Nate. He graduated from SIPA a semester before I did and was working in Mbanza Congo (northern Angola) on a malaria project. I did, and he gave me excellent advice on living and working in Angola. We've kept in touch via email but have yet to meet face-to-face.

When I first heard about the crash (see previous posts), I immediately contacted him to see if he was okay. He wrote this in response:

"Actually, I was on the plane. It was pretty crazy, but I'm fine."

He keeps a blog and has this post about the experience and the aftermath.
Then we hit. All hope for a normal landing was out the door in a split second. We hit hard. The whole plane shook and the oxygen masks fell down. People started screaming. The landing gear must have broken at this point and we shot off down the runway with no brakes and out of control. Then I heard something hit the plane. I put my head down and covered it with my hands, with a vague feeling of waiting for something to hit me. I don’t remember anything after that until I felt the plane stop. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and looked up. The front of the plane was gone. I looked to my right and saw part of the plane blocking the aisle and the people on the other side unconscious with blood running down their faces.

It's terrifying. It shows the absolute worst of Angola. I've read it about three time s and still can't believe it.

MY complaints about the trouble this crash has caused me in trying to go home on vacation seem really insignificant after reading his post. Now, I hope this trouble is gone quickly just so Nate can get home. He deserves it.

Monday, July 09, 2007


I’m discovering that reciprocity is a big deal in Angolan culture. When the Portuguese banned Angolan drivers licenses because Angola is one of the few countries in the world that is not a party to the worldwide convention that standardizes traffic rules, did the Angolan government discuss ratifying this treaty, like the rest of the world? No! The solution, of course, was to ban Portuguese driver’s licenses, which resulted in a huge, country-wide crackdown on Portuguese drivers. (This crackdown was the cause of my near-“arrest” a few months ago. Driving while white, I guess.)

To some extent, I can understand the need for retaliation in this particular instance, given the colonial history and the fact that since independence Portugal had accepted Angolan licenses. Why the ban, all of a sudden? (For the record,I disagree with this because Angolan drivers are absolutely, incontrovertibly bad drivers.) But the latest attempt for reciprocity with Europe just seems hot-headed and stubborn.

A few posts ago, I spoke of the biggest news this year, the big TAAG crash in Mbanza Congo. As if it weren’t bad enough that the crash killed 6, including the administrator (mayor) of Mbanza Congo and an Italian priest, the crash happened on the very day that the European Union banned all TAAG flights on the grounds of maintenance and safety violations. Bad timing, to say the least. TAAG maintains that there is nothing wrong with their planes and that the EU’s ban is baseless. (Again, HOURS LATER a TAAG plane crashed, killing 6 people.)

Now comes word that the Angolan government, in an act of reciprocity (!!), has decided to ban all flights from European carriers! I am truly dumbfounded by this. Sure enough, the Angolan Civil Aviation Authority took away British Airway’s license to fly into Angola. (Not Air France’s or TAP, the Portuguese airline, for some reason.) Apparently, the president, José Eduardo dos Santos, is the voice of reason and has reversed this reciprocal ban, but it’s not clear what will happen, as BA still says it's not allowed into Angola. There is no reason for this except for vanity. Eye for an eye, indeed.

This ban is causing havoc in the Angolan airline industry. I happen to be TRYING (trying is the operative word here, folks) to arrange for my home leave in September. At this point, I need- forget want- to leave Angola for my health, both mental and physical, and go home. The first flight option I got was perfect- it fit directly into my leave dates and was on TAAG on the way out, returning on British Airways. D’OH! British Airways is the best option for me, since there is a direct Houston-London flight, and would have to spend less precious vacation days actually flying (2 days each way, opposed to 3 each way with the other options). With those flights out of the picture, it looks like I will have to spend up to 6 days traveling (total for both legs) and overnight in either Lisbon or Johannesburg. What a mess.

Of course, the remaining airlines are smart. They are not offering more flights to the EU and making a fortune in the process. The cost of those 3 day trips to get back home? Over $3000!

Just my luck that all of this is occurring when I am trying to get out of the place!

Big show in Lobito

Most of my weekends in Lobito involve watching TV, going to the supermarkets, and cooking. That’s about it, unfortunately. This weekend was slightly more eventful, thankfully. At ShopRite I saw a poster advertising a show by Yola Semedo at a local restaurant at the tip of the peninsula. Yola Semedo is a big kizomba artist and happens to be from Benguela, so the event looked promising. I made plans with Juan, my boss and big kizomba fan, to go.

We had three options for tickets:

  1. US$130 for a table for 4 people, including a bottle of whiskey
  2. US$90 for just a table for 4 people
  3. Regular entry, at Kz. 1000 ($13) for the ladies and Kz. 1500 ($20) for gents. (Sorry, boys!)

We, of course, chose the cheaper option.

According to the restaurant, the show was to begin at 11 pm. We took this to mean midnight. We show up around 11:30, and the place is completely deserted and quiet- no music, no lights, nothing. At first we thought we had the wrong place. Finally, around midnight the DJ starts playing some music. The restaurant itself is very small, but had turned the surrounding beach area into a makeshift concert area. The perimeter was marked by a not-very-strong straw fence. Juan and I looked at the stage and suddenly realized that there is no band equipment, no mic set-up, so it looks like the show will be starting much later.

Around 1 am the crew from Alto Nível, a music/youth show on TPA. Now, I happened to just be watching Alto Nível before leaving for the concert, and was not impressed. On this particular episode, the host, a middle-aged man with Tom Sellec-esque mustache (pictured here) was interviewing Tito Jackson. Yes, Tito Jackson, Michael’s brother!! For the first question, the host had the temerity to ask Tito - in horrible English- if he was rich. Tito was confused and asked him to repeat the question. The host said, “You! Michael Jackson! Many money! You many money like Michael!” Surprisingly, the interview ended there. Obviously this guy has not been following MJ’s finances these days. So when I saw the host at the show, I threw him dirty looks. Nobody disrespects Tito like that- nobody!!

Soon, we hear a lot of confusão and see fighting at the entrance. The “security” is overwhelmed by people trying to get in. They are surprised that the straw fence has not held in the throngs of Yola fans.

Finally, around 2 am, Yola shows up. And starts singing along to recorded music. Geez. Angolans don’t seem to mind when they get cheated with canned, recorded music instead of live music. At least she was actually singing, which is more than what usually happens. Immediately, many of the regular ticket holders bum-rush the stage and seated table area, pissing off all the rich people who spent $130 on over-priced whisky. Juan and I congratulate ourselves on our wise decision to be cheap. In the middle of her second song, a fan- young guy with a macho swagger and hip-hop gear- gets up and greets Yola with two kisses on the cheek- while she is singing. She handles it well. Security is lax, to say the least.

After the third song at 2:30 am we leave. As with many things here, at least I can say I got a good story out of it.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Umbundu Lesson of the Day

Okasi logo panga nwe? Okasi loco sucula!

Umbundu is the language of Benguela and Huambo provinces, among others. I would love to learn it but I haven't had the opportunity. I try to pick up as much as I can from colleagues. I can say the basics, like "Thank you," "How are you" and "I'm just doing the wash" (see caption of picture above!). Today I learned the following:

Sikaleta- Bicycle (play on Portuguese word for bicycle, bicleta)
Jamba- first born twin
Ngueve- Second born twin

I learned these because we were paying project salaries and these words were all people's last names. As in, Pedro Bicycle. Julia First-Born-Twin. Awesome!

Last names here are very interesting to me. There seem to be three major classifications of last names: Portuguese, first names, and traditional.

Portuguese: A lot of Angolans with traditional Portugues names (Esteves, Semedo, Oliveira, etc.) have some familial tie outside of Angola. Some might have Portuguese mixed blood or might be from Sao Tome or Cape Verde, where the majority of last names are Portuguese.

Traditional: Several Angolans (the majority?) have traditional last names, like Ngueve, Kasisa, Catumbela and Tumbulo. They are descriptive of the places they were born (Catumbela is a town) or of birth order (aforementioned Ngueve). There are lots of other meanings, but I unfortunately don't know enough Umbundu to know what they mean.

First names: For a long time, this confused me. A lot of people have first names as last names, like Manuel Jose (Jose being the last name) and Isabel Maria (Maria being the last name). I asked my boss, Francisco Eduardo (FE), why this was and he told me the following story.

FE was a smart student, so his father decided to send him to the best school that he could. Before he did, his father said, "There's no way that you will be successful with that Umbundu last name. Aquilo n
ão da!" So his father, Eduardo, gave him his own first name as Francisco's last name for official documents. Apparently this was rapant during colonial times, when being seen as from the "interior" (i.e., not the city, not Westernize) was a very bad thing indeed.