Thursday, August 02, 2007

Add one to the list of places I have cried in Angola

Sunset in Zambia. I did not cry here.

-My office

-My house

-The beach volleyball court

-In the car after getting stopped by the immigration cops

NEW!- Luanda domestic airport

My family will tell you I am a crybaby. During high school I was a mess and would cry at the drop of a hat. I mellowed out in college and later in life, but it seems to have all gone away in Angola. I don’t know if it’s the stress of living in Angola, but I seem to cry easily here and often in situations that don’t deserve the emotional effort required by shedding a tear. Sometimes they work to my advantage, especially in this macho society.

Angola is hard to fly in and out of. My training in Zambia ended on Friday and I left for Johannesburg early Saturday morning (got up at 4:45 am). My priorities in Jo’burg were shopping at the Eastgate Mall and seeing my SIPA friend Karena, who is working in Jo’burg. The mall was oh-so-nice, so I didn’t get a chance to take a nap before meeting Karena at her house before dinner. Dinner was a restaurant that had a floor for salsa dancing, so we stayed until around midnight dancing. I was quite pleased. However, this meant very little time for sleep, as I had to repack my suitcase with my new purchases AND get up at 5 am to catch my flight. I only had about 8 hours sleep in two nights before catching my flight to Luanda.

Why is this important? I was completely exhausted when I got to Luanda. I had been up since 5 am (on less than 3 hours of sleep), had a layover in Windhoek, Namibia, and all I could think of was getting home. I knew there was a good chance of me getting to Lobito in one day, so I was very excited about sleeping in my own bed and playing with my cat, Willie.

My bags were literally the last ones to be put on the luggage conveyor belt. I didn’t get out of the international airport until 2:20 pm. I thought the last flight left at 5 pm, but our frantic driver, Firmino, informed me that the flight was supposed to leave at 3 pm! Banking on the fact that every single one of the flights (international and domestic) I have taken in this country has left at least ½ hour late, I held hope that I would make it.

Getting into the ticketing area, there was no one at the check-in counter. We went to the migration check-point and the immigration guy waved us on, telling us that the Sonair check-in guy was in the passenger waiting room. Firmino went into the room to ask the check-in guy if there was still a possibility that I could get on the flight. Sonair Guy said that I could still check in, but that I had to hurry as the little busses that take passengers to the airplanes. Firmino rushes to get my bags from the hallway and bring them in. The guy in charge of the waiting room suddenly stops him and says, “You can’t bring those in here.” Firmino, whose job it is to make sure I get on the plane, hurriedly tries to explain that I have to get on the plane and tries to push pass. Waiting Room Guy gets an attitude and starts yelling in Firmino’s face. I try to intervene, because Firmino is getting angry and I sense trouble. I try the humble approach, “Oh sir, I’m so sorry, I just got in and my colleague here is just trying to help,” etc. etc. Waiting Room Guy wouldn’t even look at me, and continued to yell at Firmino. I notice another couple from the same flight I was on come in the waiting room, and Waiting Room Guy waves them on. Seeing this, Firmino tried to push past the guy, but Waiting Room Guy PUSHED Firmino away.

This is where I lost it. I had just been in Zambia, where people were so friendly and polite and here is this guy on an ego trip, preventing me from going home. He had no reason to get violent with my coworker; he just wanted to feel important. My desire to get home coupled with my exhaustion pushed me over the edge. The tear started rolling and didn’t stop. The embarrassing thing is that the room was full of people already staring at me thanks to the pushing.

However, this roomful of people jumped to my defense, restoring my faith in Angolans. “What SHAME!” shouted one woman. “Why are you making this poor woman cry? What are you gaining from this?!” Then, a well-dressed man walked up to Waiting Room Guy. He must have been an important chefe (big boss) because all he did was walk up to him and say, “You will let this woman and her bags get on the plane.” Waiting Room Guy suddenly got shy and said, “Sim, senhor.”

I got through and managed to get my bags and body to the tarmac in front of the buses taking passengers to the plane. The other people in my same position and I were just waiting in front of the buses- we were not being allowed on, but the buses (full of passengers) weren’t moving. After about 20 minutes we finally are allowed on the bus. A woman starts yelling, “This is disrespectful! You are holding us up for a foreigner! Passengers have rights!” This, of course, only started my tears again, which had only just stopped. Other people hushed the woman, but it still hurt. Ach. Made it on the plane and got some quality time with Willie before crashing at 8:30 pm.

Welcome home!

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