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.