Friday, May 30, 2008

Angola is a traffic scofflaw!

Here's an interesting blog post from the NYT's City Room. It talks about the diplomats in NYC missions who abuse their immunity and rack up huge fines parking violations.

On a top-ten list, Angola is at number 10, owing the City of New York $421,505.63! Bad, but not as bad as Egypt, which owes almost $2 million.

Monday, May 26, 2008


One thing I really like about the DR is that baseball is #1 here. The other day I went exploring in the neighborhood around my apartment and ended up in a nice park nearby. It reminded me a bit of Riverside Dr in Manhattan- lots of families nearby having picnics and people running around.

I saw a group of kids playng baseball and decided to sit and watch for a bit. It apeared to be semi-organized but it was mostly about 50 kids and one adult trying to keep calm. The kids on the team were about 7 - 10 years old, but there was a group of about 5 older teenagers who were hanging around causing trouble. The coach got really mad and chased off the teenagers, but it was too laste because all the other younger kids had all gotten worked up and were jumping around showing off.

So, what would any Little League coach do in such a situation? Why, take off his belt and start popping the kids in the behind! I'm not one for spanking, but I have to admit it was pretty funny and it sure worked like a charm. (The kids weren't hurt and they were laughing.)

Pics from Jamaica

I haven't had much time to post because I don't have internet at home yet and I am insanely busy at work, so I don't have much to report. By popular demand, here are some pictures from my trip to Jamaica a few weeks ago. (DR pics to come soon!)

These pictures are for my friend Loren, still in Angola! :)

This is from a beach in Montego Bay. I am probably one of a handful of people (non-Jamaican, of course) who go to MoBay for work, not pleasure. This is a hotel beach, right along the "Hip Strip", the tourist stretch. It was expensive- over $10 for a chair and umbrella, but with a view like this it was worth it.

Not pictured is the Official Jamaican Bobsled Team Cafe. Yes, such a thing exists. I admit that I had a veggie burger and Red Stripe there. This is the big Red Stripe sign on the way out of town.

This is a house we visited near Mandeville, in central Jamaica. It's a beautiful area. This house belongs to an elderly woman. She received boards and zinc from us but then hired someone to fix it and supplemented it with hurricane straps. (Hurricane Straps are simple bolts and metal straps that can reallt keep a roof together in a strong storm. Slowly I'm getting used to this emergency repair talk.)

The road leading up to the house.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Just one of many differences between Angola and Jamaica

Yesterday I had one of those experiences that made me realize that Angola really is a different place and that it changed me- in this case for the worse, I fear!

The Lobito ShopRite was both satisfying and frustrating at the same time. On the one hand, it was great because it was a Western style grocery store that let me kill some of my consumer urges. On he other hand, like every other establishment in Angola, it was plagued with problems. For example: I would see a new product on the shelves and there would be no price attached to it. I would ofen decide it was worth it, take it to the cashier and attempt to pay. Usually the cahsier would try to scan it 5 or 6 times and call up a supervisor when it would not scan. The supervisor would usually say it wasn't in the system so I couldn't buy it. Some version of the following conversation would usually happen:

Supervisor: It's not for sale.
Me: So, it's on the shelf but it's not for sale.
Supervisor: Right.
Me: So why is it on the shelf?
Supervisor: Because we will sell it eventually.
Me: Why not wait to put it on the shelf until it has a price?
Blank looks all around...

This happened all the time and what was most frustrating was the total indifference and unwillingness to help the customer in the situation. The first time it happened I didn't say anything, but it happened so often I began to say something, trying to express my customer dissatisfaction. Never seemed to make a difference, but then again, as the only big supermarket in town, there was no real incentive to listen to customers.

Fast forward to Jamaica. With the proximity to the US, supermarkets here stock tons of American products. I'm currently in Montego Bay- for work, believe it or not. After 2 weeks of traveling, I'm quite tired of eating in restaurants, so yesterday I went to a large supermarket to get something for dinner. I was quite excited to see some mozzarella string cheese, so I picked two packs and some crackers and veggies.

When I got to the check-out, the cashier tried to ring up the string cheese but it wouldn't go through. The bagger tried to track down the price, but he came back with a familiar reason- it wasn't in the computer so they couldn't sell it.
Me: So it's one the shelf but it's not for sale? It shouldn't be on the shelf if it's not for sale.
(Here's where things go differently...)
Cashier: Yes ma'am, I'm so sorry. That shouldn't have happened.
Bagger: We're very sorry. You're right
Cashier: Sorry for the inconvenience.

Whoa! I immediately began to feel very badly for making an impolite comment. It was just so nice to have decent customer service after almost two years of horrible customer service. I guess I can drop the defensive shield I developed in Angola. At least until it happens elsewhere!

Friday, May 09, 2008

As if being mother ain't hard enough...

Save the Children has recently released its 2008 Report on the World's Mothers. Things don't look good for the mães angolanas:
Bottom 10:
143/Sierra Leone

See the report for indicators.

Just a story to show how hard it is to give birth in Angola. I'm friends with a Cuban couple in Lobito, the husband being a doctor in the better clinics and hospitals in town. His lovely wife was pregnant and went into labor the first week of March. I was in Luanda and on the road back to Lobito when I got a frantic phone call from my friend Anne. "Where are you and what is your blood type?!"

It turns out that the wife had a fine labor but then in recovery started to bleed profusely and needed a transfusion. Unfortunately, there was no blood to be had in Angola's 2nd largest city. Luckily, with a few phone calls, they were able to track down a few donors and she got her transfusion.

Now, keep in mind that my friend was married to one of the best doctors in town and had all of Lobito's resources at her disposal (no matter how pawltry they were). Now replace my friend with a poor woman from Canata, one of Lobito's worst neighborhood, and replace the private clinic with the state hospital, and imagine what would have happened.

The importance of Houston to Africa

Here's an intereseting article in the New York Times about the growing importance of Houston to Africa.

Did you know that Houston is Luanda's sister city?

With an average 2 travel day trip to get to Houston, I'm still bitter I never got on the Houston Express.

Bob Geldof vs. Angolan Politicians Pt. 2

Here's an article in English that sums up fairly well a lot of the brouhaha surrounding Bob Geldof's comments in Portugal that Angola is a country run by criminals. One thing I do agree with the anti-Geldof people about is that he should have been more specific in his target- who exactly are the criminals? (Besides airport SME agents.)

Where to begin?!

1. The Portuguese bank that held the event, the Banco do Espírito Santo (BES) is scrambling to disassocitate itself from the comment. The Grupo Espírito Santo, owner of BES, just happens to have huge investments in Angola. Oh, and President dos Santos'daughter is apparently a major shareholder or partner in Grupo Espírito Santo! Whoops!

2. In the meantime, Luis Mira Amaral, the president of a competitor bank of BES in Angola, Banco BIC, made sure it was known that he thought Geldof's comments were "totally irresponsible"and that he "did not know the Angolan reality." Again, I'm not totally convinced that Mr. Amaral knows Angolan reality either! He throws the war around as an excuse- I'm not sure that's an admirable excuse. In fact it makes it worse- politicians were stealing while a war was going on. How does that make it better? Anyway. He also offers this pearl of wisdom:
Há dois tipos de pessoas: os gestores que sabem do que falam e os artistas de
rock que serão competentes ná sua area, mas se calhar noutros áreas nao tem
competência nem o conhecimento para falar.
There are two types of people: managers who know what they are talking about and rock stars who might be competent in theirarea but in others don't have competence or knowledge [needed] in order to speak.

Really? Those are the two types of people in this world?!

3. At one point, the Portuguese press agency, Agenica Lusa, said that the Angolan ambassador to Portugual got up and left the conference at the moment the comments were made. Apparently they were wrong- the ambassador wasn't ever at the conference- so they issued an "apology" (in the words of the Angolan press agency Angop). So Angop publishes an article about the apology, taking up 5 paragraphs to explain how Agencia Lusa made sure to apologize. No infraction upon the image of Angola- no matter how small- shall go unpunished!

4. Another Portuguese businessman, Joe Bernardo, made statements in favor of "Angolans" and against Geldof. What I love about this article is that although they admit this guy has no ties to Angola whatsoever, he somehow has the authority to say that Geldof reveals his ignorance when it comes to Angola. Pot-kettle-black.

More on the kid who robbed 50 Cent

According to MTV, 50 Cent's necklace is safe and sound with him. Hmmm.

According to Angonoticias, the police are still on the search for the missing necklace, valued at over US $1 million. The kid is in jail awaiting trial. As a suspect he had 3 options: prisao preventiva (preventive jailing) which keeps him in jail unti he goes to trial; liberdade privisória (provisional liberty) which is akin to being on bail; or plain old liberdade, freedom based on a lack of evidence. Smartly, they kept the guy.

What's interesting is that the article notes that the guy is part of a very influential family in Angola, one that has a strong presence in politics and the arts. In previous articles they have mentioned his name- Bruno Carvalho- directly, but now suddenly he's just "the suspect." Hmmm. Divaldo Martins, the head of Luanda province''s Police Department had this to say:
"Nao se trata de um delinquente habitual e este episódio pode ser enquadrado no ambito de situacoes semelhantes em que fas de artistas tentam a todo o custo obter objectos dos seus ídolos."

"This is not a case of a repeat offender or delinquent, and this episode can be classified as one of [many] similar situations in which fans of an artist will try at any cost to get an object from one of their idols."

Now, I'm a fan of Willie Nelson, but when my family and I went to Branson, MO (The New Nashville!) and saw Willie Nelson perform at the Ozark Theater, I did not jump up on stage and try to steal one of his many bandanas.

I'm sure this qualification by the police commander has nothing to do with the important connections this guy's family has. I'm sure had it been a street kid or son of a vendedora ambulante (street vendor), he would have the same response. (Sarcasm should be obvious.)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Why Jamaican Kids Are Awesome

This morning I went to visit a partner of ours in Old Harbour. We were working in the office of a school auditorium. It happened to be Teacher's Day today, so there was a little ceremony to honor them. At one point, the place went nuts- at first I thought the kids were screaming "CHOCOLATE! CHOCOLATE!" but it turns out they were screaming "DOMINIC! DOMINIC!"

I asked the accountant what they were screaming for, and she said this kid Dominic was a guitar genious. Sure enough, Dominic, who looked to be about 10 years old, grabbed a guitar and hopped up on stage. And then, in a momen of awesomeness, proceeded to play RHINESTONE COWBOY, by Glen Campbell! And then a lot of the kids started to sing along! Awesome, Dominic.

Bob Geldof vs. Angolan Politicians

I haven't been able to find the exact quote by Bob Geldof, but he apparently said that Angola was "run by criminals" at a sustainable development conference in Lisbon (Angolan article here). Angola replied with utter outrage!

Again, this is all according to secondhand sources, but Geldof cited new housing complexes in Luanda that are more expensive than houses in London. The Angolan prime minister, Aguinaldo Jaime, had this to say:

"He showed total disrespect for Angolan people and the remarks are unfortunate,"
Jaime told Angolan radio station RNA. "He does not know Angolan reality.
He does not know (for instance) that Angola's government has invested heavily in
the construction of affordable social houses."

The irony is clear. Which is a bigger insult to the Angolan people: that Geldof said aloud what most Angolans already think, or that PM Jaime is pretending that Angolan officials are not corrupt and reconstruction is right on track in Angola? I agree that Geldof may not know Angolan reality, but I'd bet that Jaime doesn't either.

Jaime argued that Geldof was referring to private investment so his evidence was faulty. That may be true- the luxury houses being constructed in Angola are definitely out of the reach of most Angolans. Outside of that, I haven't seen a lot. Granted, I haven't seen a lot, but the only new construction going up in Lobito was hotels in the nicest part of town, not in Canata or Bela Vista. But then again, it may not matter:

An official with Imogestin, the real estate company that runs government's social housing programme told AFP on condition of anonymity that some supposedly affordable houses "go for 180,000 (US Dollars), still out of reach for most Angolans."

Monday, May 05, 2008

50 Cent Robbed in Angola! UPDATE

The guy who stole 50 Cent's chain in Angola was turned in- by his family!

According to this article, his family saw him on television and turned him in on Sunday afternoon. (The concert took place on Wednesday.)

Here's where it gets suspicious:
Despois de se entregar, o jovem assumiu ter sido o autor do furto mas disse ter perdido o colar logo de seguida.
After turning himself in, the youth took responsibility for being the author of the crime, but said he lost the necklace soon after.

Oh, how convenient! The article says the necklace was worth over 600,000 Euros. Yes, I'm sure the guy "lost" it! Smart guy- he gets street cred for being the guy ballsy enough to steal a necklace off of 50 Cent in front of thousands of people- AND by probably waiting until after he sold it, he gets to profit from it!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Jamaica at the movies

For the best 4 days I've been battling a nasty head cold that has largely sidelined me from anything outside of work. This is unfortunate, considering that Kingston is only an hour away from some great beaches, but I really couldn't drive myself anywhere. I rested all day yesterday and this afternoon decided to go see a movie.

I saw "Iron Man"- pretty impressive that Jamaica gets a new movie the same weekend it is released in the States. About an hour into the movie, it comes to a grinding halt. The lights came up, and a commercial for nachos came up on the screen. Intermission! Half the audience left to get snacks. 10 minutes later the picture came back on. Weird.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

50 Cent Robbed in Angola!

Wow. This is pretty brazen. According to this article, 50 Cent was in the middle of performing a concert in Luanda when a "fan"passed through the stage security, hopped on stage and STOLE A NECKLACE OFF OF 50 CENT! And you know it wasn't just any old necklace.

50 Cent and G-Unit refused to continue with the show unless the necklace was returned. Obviously, that was the end of the show.

Here's one video of the event taking place (fast forward to around 1:40, although if you want to hear an Angolan attempting to rap in English, listen to the whole thing). The owner of the camera pretty much sums it up: Porrra! Ese maluco! (Sh*t! Dude's crazy!)

Oh, and he was appearing at the Festival Internacional da Paz- International Peace Festival. No need to point out the irony.

Jamaica so far

With my new job, majority of the projects I manage are located in Jamaica. The last week I've been going around the island getting to know the various partners and projects they run with our financial assistance. Luckily I was able to travel with the colleague who had been managing the projects temporarily. He brought his wife and it was great to have fun people to go around with.

I'm probably one of a handful of people who have traveled to Jamaica without setting foot on a beach. I'm surrounded by water but since we work in poor areas, we go far away from the water. Although I've yet to see the ocean from anywhere other than the plane, I have been able to spend a lot of time in the mountains, which are absolutely beautiful.

The largest of our projects here are reconstruction projects in response to Hurricane Dean, which hit Jamaica in August 2007. Although many houses here are made of concrete, roofs are often made of just zinc sheets and wooden boards, so when the storm hit many people were left without adequate shelter. We distributed zinc sheets, boards, tarps, construction materials, etc through our local partners.

We began the visit in Kingston, meeting with all the big-wigs. We visted one of our projects with Mustard Seed Communities, Jamaica. They work with mentally and physically disabled children who have been cast out from their families.

After two days in Kingston, we went to Mandeville. The Mandeville to Kingston trip was my first test of left-side driving. I drove to Mandeville and later around Manchester Parish. I thought I was driving well until our poor partner contact, Kevin, said to me, "Leslie you are making me very very nervous." Whoops! Apparently I was driving a little too close to the left side of the road. Eventually I got my spatial judgement back, if nothing else to put Kevin at ease.

Our next stop was Montego Bay. MoBay is better known for its resorts and tourism, but it is also Jamaica's second largest and most dangerous city. We visited a high school where our partners run an after-school education project.

This trip gave me my first taste of Patois. Although we all technically spoke English, I could barely understand pure Patois. I love the sound of it and hope to learn a bit of it. Here are some examples:

Patois: Were dat ol'daddy? Him dat live up der hill?
American English: Where's the elderly man who lives up that hill?

Patois: Da wind done come and mash up dis 'ere 'ouse.
American: The storm came and ruined this house.

Now I'm back in Kingston, this time alone, my colleague and his wife having gone back to Ecuador. I'll make the same loop next week, this time tackling the much less interesting issue of financial management. Exciting! I don't have my camera cable with me, so pictures will have to wait until I get back to Santo Domingo.