Explain Whales (parts dois & três)…

With so much happening since I arrived in Luanda six weeks ago, it has been a challenge to keep my blogs up to date in chronological order.  Being a Type A person, this is making me a bit twitchy.  But wait – I just realized it’s Thursday!  Crisis averted.  I can call this a Throwback Thursday Blog! Whew, now I can breathe…

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going whale watching twice in one week.  This first trip was at the invitation of Mr. & Mrs. Boss Man and also included another delightful couple, some friends of ours from London who had also just moved here.  I will call the second couple Mr. & Mrs. Tea and Jambalaya, as he is a proper Brit and she is a down-home gal from Louisiana.  This combination is both surprising and entertaining. For them, opposites attracted in the best possible way – but I would have given my right arm to witness that first “meet the parents” event!

On Sunday morning, the six of us headed out on the same boat as Hubby and I had the week before, but this time we were not having any luck finding whales.  The weather was also not cooperating. Strong winds and choppy waves made for a very rough ride.  After two hours of being slammed about by the waves, we finally spotted some whales in the distance.  Thank goodness!  I was afraid this was going to be a bust for Mr. & Mrs. T&J.  The ride also became much more pleasant as the wind began to die down and the sun peeked out from behind the low, gray clouds. Moving closer, we were able to get a really good look at the group of about four or five whales.  When you can see and hear them breathing, it is quite an experience! Just love that sound!

We followed this pod of whales for quite some time, but the thrill of proximity was quickly wearing off.  We wanted to see more than just lazy swimming and an occasional tail sighting.

DSC_0092
Scanning for whales…
P1020222
They were close enough for us to see the spray and hear them breathing.
DSC_0079
Lots of tail sightings…

Things finally changed when Mrs. Jambalaya announced that she could speak to whales.  You think I am joking?  She proceeded to make Animal Planet-worthy whale sounds as proof of her abilities.  Almost immediately, we saw our first whale breech!  This happened several more times after that.  I am now a true believer!  That Cajun girl has an amazing talent:

P1020232
Mrs. Jambalaya – aka, The Whale Whisperer!
DSC_0097
Doing a backwards jump…
DSC_0112
A strange, twisting jump…
DSC_0117
Excellent form, Mrs. Whale!
DSC_0102
Rolling along…
DSC_0099
Buh-bye! Show’s over, folks!

After this amazing display, we stopped at a nearby island called Mussulo, where there is a small beach resort and restaurant.    Although the service was lacking and the prices were sky-high, there was always something interesting to look at while we waited for our $40 pizzas.  There never seems to be a shortage of good people-watching here in Luanda!

P1020276
Mussulo Beach.
DSC_0131
Lots of folks selling things. This gal was selling swimsuits.
DSC_0129
A lady selling some colorful African fabrics.
DSC_0126
A herd of pigs wandered the marshy area behind the restaurant.
DSC_0125
The local girls often have their braids decorated with colorful beads.
DSC_0123
Ladies selling fabric and beach clothing. Luanda city is visible in the background.

The second whale watching opportunity I had that week was with a group of British ladies.  Go figure, I live in London for three and a half years and only make one British friend.  I move to Africa and have a whole boat-load of them in a couple of weeks!  And what a fun group they are, too!  We didn’t have much luck with the whales, despite absolutely perfect weather and water as smooth as glass.  Oh, we saw plenty of whales, but I guess they saw us first and decided to frolic elsewhere.

No worries.  When the going gets tough, tough expat ladies go to lunch!  We headed again to nearby Mussulo Beach, but this time we ate at the fancier restaurant set a bit back from the beach.  Apparently, there is also a small hotel hidden there amongst the trees.  We will have to come back for a quick weekend getaway if the clamor of the city gets to be too much. I so enjoyed getting to know these ladies, and their British accents were a welcome reminder of my time in London. Sparkling conversation coupled with yummy food (and plenty of wine) made for a very enjoyable afternoon.

I’ve learned that expat life here in Luanda is all about focusing on these little islands of tranquility amidst the sea of chaos. These moments can be found on a boat, on a beach, or just by spending an lovely afternoon visiting with new friends… DSC_0133

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

One Night in Cabo…

This past weekend, we spent one night in Cabo.  No, not Cabo San Lucas, but rather Cabo Ledo – which is about as close to Cabo San Lucas as we are going to find in Angola. Cabo Ledo boasts a lovely crescent-shaped stretch of beach, and is one of the best excursions from Luanda.  It can take two to three hours to get there, depending on very unpredictable traffic.  You never know what diversions will be encountered on the way, and whether or not your driver will know where he is going.  More on that later…

Saturday morning about nine o’clock, our personal driver picked us up.  I will call him Mr. Mellow, as he drives about as fast as an eighty-year-old woman, and never seems the least bit ruffled by anything.  Just outside of town, we encountered the usual bottle-neck of street sellers, and I had a chance to snap a few photos with my phone – very cautiously, of course.  In Luanda, displaying a phone is discouraged due to the risk of someone smashing your window to steal it, especially when stuck in heavy traffic.  Risk aside, there is always so much going on along the road, that I really wanted to capture all of this chaos and commerce!  It is truly unbelievable what people are selling: hangers, home-made yogurt, brooms, portuguese/english dictionaries, and a few porno videos thrown in for good measure.

2014-10-25 10.17.48
Would-be merchants lay down a blanket to peddle their wares along the road.
2014-10-25 10.17.24
Angolan women are amazingly graceful and strong. I’ve seen them run across three lanes of traffic with babies on their backs, huge baskets on their heads, and dragging a child with each hand. Yikes!
2014-10-25 10.00.05
Running the gauntlet of street sellers. Peanuts, anyone?
2014-10-25 10.18.11
Getting ready to hoist a heavy bucket of sugar cane back onto her head, with a small round of rolled fabric as the only cushion.
2014-10-25 10.18.36
A local gossip session. The lady on the right is clearly not impressed…
A baby sleeps peacefully, while mom and big sister conduct some business.
A baby sleeps peacefully, while mom and big sister conduct some business.

Mr. Mellow drove his usual easy-going pace and we reached the resort in about three hours. Hubby was a little anxious to get there, but I was happy looking out the window along the way.  Just part of the fun for me.

Our resort, called Carpe Diem (love the name!) is made up of about fifteen small cabins, an open-air restaurant and a row of palapas on the beautiful beach.

2014-10-26 08.06.44
The cabins are very basic, but there is hot water and A/C.  What else do you need?
DSC_0225
Lovely beach with a mostly Portuguese crowd. There are one or two other resorts a little further down the beach.
A very nice pool, but everyone there opted for the beautiful beach instead.
A very nice pool, but everyone there opted for the beautiful beach instead.

We enjoyed walking along the beach and just relaxing for the day.  Colorful wooden fishing boats dotted the sea in front of us. From one side of the resort, we watched a few groups haul these large boats onto shore with their catch for the day.

No speed boats or oil derricks to be seen here, just local fishermen hoping for a good catch.
No speed boats or oil derricks to be seen here, just local fishermen hoping for a good catch.
These old wooden boats must be heavy as lead.  Just look at how many men it took to get this boat onto the beach!
These old wooden boats must be heavy as lead. Just look at how many men it took to get this boat onto the beach!

Evening brought a beautiful sunset followed by a delicious dinner, with very attentive service by the manager of the resort, name Mr. Dias.

DSC_0151
Lovely cool evening and not a bug in sight!
DSC_0159
One of about fifty sunset shots we took…
DSC_0178
Delicious meal of local lobster and fish.

All during dinner, there were music videos playing on a large screen.  We noshed to Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Celine Dion, and others – all American and British artists.  The Portuguese crowd seemed to know all of the songs, and sang along with gusto.  This always amazes me!  We have heard American Top 40 tunes in virtually every country we have visited, even in places where very few people speak English!

After dinner, a few Spanish and Portuguese dance tunes worked their way into the mix.  This made for free entertainment, as some very energetic couples soon got up to dance.  Later (after more alcohol was consumed) a few of them wound up in the pool – involuntarily and with clothes on, of course.  For hours, we just drank in this surreal scene.  Such a strange life we are leading – sitting at a beach restaurant in West Africa, watching a Portuguese crowd gyrate to American music! The world is indeed a very small place.

It was a great night and way too much delicious Portuguese wine was consumed, thanks to an excellent recommendation by Mr. Dias.  The next morning, we were awoken by a flock of Weaver Birds, building their nests in the trees by our cabin. It was a clear, cool morning so we enjoyed our last few peaceful hours by the beach, before it was time to head back into the  maelstrom of Luanda.

DSC_0215
African Masked Weavers. The males weave the hanging nests and then try to entice a female to move in.
DSC_0217
So colorful!
2014-10-26 08.28.50
Our breakfast companions. Several peacocks wander around the grounds and restaurant.

Unfortunately, Mr. Mellow does not work on Sundays, so we had to arrange a car through Tango Delta for the ride back to Luanda. About ten forty-five, the driver called to say he had arrived (in very limited English).  After searching for him for several minutes, Hubby gave him a call.  Uh-oh. Apparently, wherever the driver had “arrived” was nowhere near us.  Unable to decipher what the driver was saying, Hubby handed the phone to the parking lot attendant, who took a full ten minutes to direct the driver to our resort.  An hour and a half and several phone calls later, the driver finally showed up.  I didn’t mind the wait so much, but the two hour, white-knuckle drive back was another story!

At first, the driver was very distracted, weaving all over the road and looking at me in the rear view mirror.  Keep your eyes on the road, buddy! Maybe I have gotten used to Mr. Mellow, but it also seemed like we were driving entirely too fast.  I’m not sure how I will readjust to Texas highway speeds on my next visit home!  At seventy miles per hour, I had a death grip on the door and could not look out of the front window.  Of course, the fact that we criss-crossed the center line repeatedly did not help me to relax!  After about an hour, the driver began to shake his head and rub his eyes in an effort to stay awake.  Aargh!  Where is Mr. Mellow when you need him!  I will never complain about his granny driving again.  Okay, I know never to say never, but this time I really mean it!

Once our hearts stopped pounding from the drive back, we realized what a nice twenty four hours it had been.  We will definitely return, but next time we will offer to pay Mr. Mellow extra to drive us both ways.  After getting Tango Delta’d like we did, it is worth whatever he asks.  And who knows, maybe a Celine Dion CD would sweeten the deal for him…

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist…

Shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist – and you know I am all about saving money.  As a child, whenever my mom told my father that she had bought something on sale, my father’s response was always, “Woman, you are saving me right into the poor house!”  Well, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.  I have done my share of hunting for bargains that I really did not need.  But while the tide has turned in my husband’s favor with regards to my cooking, I now have the upper hand on the shopping front.  People, my husband has moved me to Africa.  The way I look at it, shopping is a matter of sanity preservation.  Besides, there is some really cool stuff here! No more shopping for African-inspired items.  It’s time to buy the real thing.

To that end, today I went with a group of ladies to a local craft market called Benfica, about a half hour south of town.  It is a busy, covered, outdoor market filled with row after row of artists peddling their wares, from paintings to wood carvings, and even some illegal items to boot.  If you have ever been to a bazaar in Mexico, or something similar, then you know that as soon as you look at something for more than about 3 seconds, you have now entered into a negotiation.  And heaven forbid you touch something!  Well, you might as well just get out the cash, because it will be yours!

Yes, Benfica is home to some master negotiators and they do not like to take no for an answer.  Hubby and I had found that out the hard way a few weeks earlier, when we made a quick stop on the way to the beach. We were so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of exotic goods and overzealous salesmen, that we only stayed for about fifteen minutes. No. To do this place right, I knew that I would have to go back with a pro – someone who had lived here awhile and knew what things typically cost.  And preferably this pro would be a woman.  Men seem to get all hung up in the “need vs. want” argument.  That can really slow things down.

The drive to Benfica means you get to play chicken with some street sellers.  These guys are fearless!
The drive to Benfica means you get to play chicken with some street sellers. These guys are fearless!
Luanda's answer to London's black cab, the ubiquitous blue taxi.
Luanda’s answer to London’s black cab, the ubiquitous blue taxi.

We arrived at the market to find that it was much hotter than any of us expected.  Immediately upon getting out of our air-conditioned cars, we all began to sweat – or “glow” as we Southern girls say.  Let me tell you, I was glowing like a pig.  Africa is hot y’all – and it is not even summer yet! We began on the end of the market that held many colorful paintings and beautiful African batik fabrics.  A young man dressed in some of this bright fabric came up to greet us.  One of the ladies knew him, and he would be our “helper” for the day, acting as interpreter and negotiator.  Of course, since I do not speak the language, I have no idea if he was actually bidding the price up rather than down, but it certainly was nice to have someone there who spoke English!

Our guide for the day.
Our guide for the day.

Things started out well.  I bought some beautiful fabrics and felt pretty good about what they cost.  Not cheap, of course, but certainly reasonable.  Now came the real challenge: gorgeous carvings of every description, from elephants to giraffes to masks of every size. How do you ever decide!

Photo0008
Whew! Lots to see!
Photo0009
Beautiful carvings out of exotic woods. These animals are about knee to waist-high.
Photo0010
Alligator purse, anyone? How about some ivory? No thanks!
Yes, that is a leopard  skin hang in there!  Poor kitty!
Yes, that is a leopard skin hanging there! Poor kitty!
Photo0014
Walking past some African antiquities.

As it turns out, the decision was made for me.  I saw a beautiful Sable Antelope, also called a Palanca, carved in a deep, ebony wood.  This is the national symbol for Angola, so I knew that I wanted one eventually.  I picked it up to get a closer look and wham, bam, I was handing the artist a large stack of bills!  It’s like someone else was speaking through my mouth, it happened so fast.  Somehow, I had managed to get him down to half of what he originally quoted me, but only because that was literally all I had in my wallet!  Apparently, I’m really good at negotiating when I am broke. Oh well.  Regardless of whether or not I was ready to buy, I do love my new pet.  Isn’t he purdy??

2014-10-24 00.35.14

At the end of the day, I learned a lot and came away with something I really love. But next time, I think I will keep my hands in my nearly empty pockets, because at Benfica – you touch, you buy.  And I’d like to actually remember negotiating for whatever I bring home!

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Three Stooges Plumbing…

Plumbers seem to be the same the world over.  When you need one, they can be your best friend or your worst nightmare.  Here in Angola, they tend to fall in the latter category.  When we moved into our apartment one month ago, I noticed a mildewed spot on the caulk around the bottom of my toilet.  No big deal, but obviously there was a small leak there that needed to be repaired, and so I sent in a maintenance request.  My shower flow switch is also stuck in the shower position, and I am unable to get the water to come out of the tub spigot.  Again, no big deal.

Since I submitted the request over a month ago, I have asked four or five times when I could expect a plumber to show up.  Each time, I was told they would come in a day or two.  Things run on a very different time schedule here, and the repairs were not critical, so I did not press the issue – but I did want to get it fixed eventually.  When will I learn to leave well enough alone?

Today, at 4:00 pm three “plumbers” showed up to fix the leak, which appeared to require nothing more than a little caulk. They all crowded into my tiny bathroom, while I continued making dinner in the kitchen.  About ten minutes later, one of them rushed in and mimed the motion for a mop (I forgot to mention that they only spoke Portuguese).

This cannot be good.

A few minutes later, they all came out of the bathroom, pointing at their watches and talking very quickly.  All I understood was “amanha”, which means tomorrow.  It was quittin’ time, and they had to go.  “What do you mean, you have to go?”, I said.  Blank stares.  “Is the toilet fixed?”, I asked.  More blank stares.  This conversation was going nowhere, so I got out my computer and typed in my questions via Google Translate.  They looked at the screen and scratched their heads, so I tried rephrasing my questions.  Nothing.  Finally, one of them decided to try his hand at this Google Translate thing, and he began to type very slowly.

When he was done, and turned the screen my way, I was able to decipher from the somewhat jumbled words that they did not have any caulk (why would a plumber have caulk?).  They would have to come back the next day.   Oh, and by the way, the toilet was now non-functional, as they had yanked it out of the floor before they realized they had no caulk.  Brilliant.  And also the base is now cracked and they cannot get another toilet because this one came from the USA.  This just gets better and better. Again, they promised they would fix it tomorrow.  Oh sure, that’s gonna happen.

Before they could rush out of the door, I reminded them about the shower.  Yes, I’m a slow learner.  Reluctantly, they went back into the bathroom.  Squeezing through as they blocked the doorway,  I discovered the floor was a half-inch deep in water and muddy footprints.  Nice.  I pointed out the shower switch, showing them how it was stuck in the shower position.  The head stooge stared at the switch for a moment, and then leaned closer to the switch, while turning on the water.  You guessed it.  He was immediately soaked as the cold water sprayed out of the shower onto his head.  Yep, that is why I called, Curly.  Sputtering, he rattled off a few more words I did not understand, and then they were all gone, leaving a wet, muddy trail out of my door.

140wyah.jpg

Now, what do you think the odds are that I will have a functional toilet – or shower – anytime soon? Just this week, another expat lady told me about the time three guys showed up to change a lightbulb in her bathroom.  Yes, I did say three guys.  They wound up walking out of her bathroom half an hour later carrying her now cracked bathroom sink, and leaving a gaping hole in the ceiling where the light fixture had been. I think I’d better get settled into the guest bathroom.

Anyway, after they left and I had cleaned up the messy floor, I went back to cooking dinner.  One of my ingredients was some cream of mushroom soup in a little pouch, which I was very excited to find on my latest shopping trip.  Not sure whether or not to add water, I typed the cooking directions into Google Translate:

“Deite a sopa num tacho e queca em lume brando, mexendo de vez em quando.”

This translated to:

“Pour the soup in a pot and get laid on low heat stirring occasionally.”

What can I say?  The guys at Google certainly have a sense of humor.  I don’t want to know what Google did to my questions for the plumbers.  Maybe I’d better ask my husband to be here when – or if – they come back tomorrow…

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Home is…

Where is home?  That should be an easy question.  At least it is for most people. Home could be where you were born, or where you spent your childhood years.  As greeting cards and throw pillows say, ‘Home Is Where The Heart Is’. But, what if your heart is in more than one place?  Being an expat means having a heart in pieces.  Not that our hearts are broken, necessarily.  Rather, we feel pulled in more than one direction – all of the time.  When I am here, I feel like I should be there, and vice-versa.  This feeling of restlessness is just par for the course, I’m afraid.

As expats living in Africa, my husband and I are here without our children, who are grown and establishing their own homes back in the states.  Of course, we miss them terribly and hate missing big moments in their lives, or missing events for dear friends and extended family.  Luckily, since we became expats three and a half years ago, we have managed to be there for most major holidays and events, but certainly not all of them.  We knew going into this new lifestyle that missing things would be part of the deal, and we tried to prepare for that eventuality.  But even with all of our preparation, there have been tears and temper-tantrums – and my kids have had their moments too!  That is the downside to expat life.  More accurately, that is the rip-your-heart-out-and-stomp-on-it side to expat life.  None of us wants to disappoint those we love, and being absent for big moments is a painful thing. No way around it. But, where there are clouds, there are silver linings, and expat life has some that truly shine.

The biggest upside for our family has been the opportunity to travel with our kids to places they never would have gone otherwise.  During the three years we lived in London, they were able to join us on ten European vacations. Chevy Chase, eat your heart out!  I certainly hope they appreciate how unusual that is. Only Brad & Angie’s kids can claim more overseas vacations that that!

Another upside to our living overseas, has been to “allow” our kids to figure things out for themselves.  I have always been a “helicopter” parent.  Yes, I admit it.  When my kids were younger, they climbed on the school bus every morning and I followed right behind.  I was the PTA Queen/Homeroom Mom/Volunteer Lady and spent almost as much time at their school as they did.  This continued for most of their growing-up years.  I’m sure they wondered if they would ever get away from me!  Because I was always there, it was easy for them to rely on me to solve their problems.  I’m a fixer.  It’s what we helicopter moms do.  Even as they got older, I was still always there if keys were locked in a car, etc, etc, etc.  But something wonderful happened when we moved away. My kids began to fix their own problems!  Imagine that.  Seeing them become capable and resourceful adults has been a beautiful thing.  I always knew they had it in them.  I just needed to get out of their way.

Yes, there are pros and cons to being an expat, and then there are some aspects that are neither positive nor negative.  They are simply facts of life for many of us.  As my kids have become adults and moved to different cities for both colleges and careers, we have become a scattered family.  We all have to go where we can earn a living.  Since my husband also travels for work, it is not unusual for the four of us to be in four different cities – and even four different countries, at times! Thank goodness for internet and social media.  In these technology-filled times, many would say that home is wherever their WiFi connects automatically!

So, what is home to me now that I am living in Africa? My answer is: no matter where I am, it does not feel like home until all four of us are sleeping under the same roof.  That roof may be in Paris, or London, or Munich, or even Houston, Texas.  As long as we are together, it feels like home.

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

To wait, to hope…

This is our second expat assignment, and our first where we have been offered the services of a driver and maid.  Here in Luanda, a driver is a necessity, as it is not safe to walk anywhere, except a small area along the waterfront called the Marginal.  The maid service is purely a luxury, one which I have not had for many years.  Truth be told, I have always preferred to clean my own house, mostly because I’m a bit of a neat-freak and usually wind up cleaning behind the maid.  But, twist-my-arm, I will suffer through having a maid while I am here.  Poor me, right?

If I had to sum up Luanda in one phrase, it would be the verb “to wait”.  The simplest tasks take an inconceivable amount of time to complete here. My driver has the patience of someone who has dealt with this waiting every day of his life.  Even now, his job is to wait – for me.  He sits in his car all day, waiting for a call from me or my husband, asking to be driven somewhere.  On our way to wherever we are going, there will be traffic – crazy traffic.  Drivers squeeze their cars in front of one another with no regard for any rules.  We creep along, inches at a time.   More waiting.  When we get where we are going, again my driver waits in the car.  Is he bored by all of this waiting?  Not visibly.  He appears to be perfectly content to pass the hours in the car.  From what I have seen, he considers this a good job and is thankful to have it.

He is not unique in his attitude.  No one here seems the least bit unnerved by waiting ridiculous amounts of time for just about everything.  In the US, I can open a bank account and have a debit card in my hand in about an hour.  Here, we have been working on opening an account for about two months!  Aargh! More waiting.  I will surely have a stroke if I don’t just accept the pace of life here! Patience is a virtue I clearly do not possess.

In Portuguese, the verb “to wait” is “de esperar”.  This also means “to hope”.  Somewhat ironically, my driver’s wife is named Esperanza.  What does she hope for?  Perhaps she hopes for the same things I do: happy children, health for my loved ones, and good friends. More likely, her hopes are for everyday things I take for granted: food on the table for her family and a roof over their heads.  Being surrounded by good people just doing their best to make ends meet, well…it sure makes my problems seem small.

My maid is another example of this patience and acceptance.  As young and pretty as she is, I can only imagine how different her life would be, if she had been born in the US or any other western nation.  With small children to take care of and no husband to help her, life is incredibly hard.  She needs this job to feed her family. When I came home the other day, she was sitting in my tiny hall closet, waiting for the dryer to be finished so she could fold the clothes before she left.  I was appalled!  Of course, I immediately told her it was perfectly fine for her to sit at the table, and I served her a piece of cake to make my point.  It was such a strange feeling to walk in and find her sitting there in that dark closet, full of cleaning supplies and wet clothing.  Even now, the picture is still fresh in my mind.

Dealing with “staff” is a new thing for me.  Obviously, it is also one that makes me a bit uncomfortable.  One thought has stuck in my head ever since I saw my maid in that closet: but for my fortunate birth, I could very easily have been in her place.

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Substitute this…

Since moving here one month ago, I have been hoarding food like the apocalypse is coming.  If I find something recognizable, I buy it no matter the cost.  Last week, at one of my go-to grocery stores, I spied a small pack of eight flour tortillas sitting in the dairy case.  Astonished, I quickly grabbed it, checked the expiration date, and then – with a bit of trepidation – checked the price.  They were eight dollars!  Even in the UK, I never paid more than about two bucks for a small pack.  Oh well, whatcha gonna do?  A girl’s gotta eat.

Today, I found them crammed in the back of the fridge behind more recent treasures.  Better use ’em before I lose ’em, I decided, pulling out my trusty Chicken Enchilada recipe and gathering the ingredients.  Chicken – got it.  Onion – of course.  Cheese – yep, we’re good.  Sour cream, cream of mushroom soup, chopped green chiles – nope, nope and not a chance.  Okay Cheryl, time to get creative.

It will be shocking to those who know me, but I actually made a cream sauce with some hot chili peppers, red bell pepper, onions, milk, seasoning and a little cornstarch. Sometimes, I amaze myself!  I broiled the chicken breasts, chopped them up and mixed them with the sauce.  Then rolled the mixture in my prized flour tortillas, topped them with the rest of the sauce, grated some cheese on top, and Velada!  That is Portuguese for Voila, by the way.

Our sour cream topping will be homemade as well.  Just a little vinegar added to milk and cream and some time at room temperature and BAM, you have sour cream! This cooking thing is kinda fun!  You just have to approach shopping like a treasure hunt, ignore the prices and prepare for the worst.  Realistically, they can’t all be home runs.  I’ll squirrel away some spaghetti sauce in the freezer for the inevitable dud.  Until then, I’ll continue my experimental cooking – and say a prayer of thanks for a patient hubby!

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Making Gumbo in Africa…

I don’t cook – I order.  It’s not that I can’t cook, mind you.  I simply choose not to. My poor husband has lived off of pre-made meals and take-out for the past five years, ever since my youngest child went off to college.  I am sure out of sheer desperation, he moved me to Africa so he would get a home-cooked meal.  Smart move, fella!  Clearly it has paid off.  Since landing in Luanda about three and a half weeks ago, I have cooked more meals that I have in the past five years!  Sadly, this is not an exaggeration.

Yes, the tide has definitely turned.  Right now, I have a huge pot of delicious chicken, shrimp and sausage gumbo bubbling away on my stove.  The last – and only – time I made gumbo, it was 1988 and Hubby and I were newlyweds living in Anchorage, Alaska.  One of our favorite couples was moving to Lafayette, Louisiana and we were hosting a large going away party for them.  Just like in Texas, everything is bigger in Alaska, and so this meant we were expecting about sixty people for dinner.  Clearly, I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew.

“I’ll make gumbo!” I declared to one of my friends, who was helping me plan the dinner.  “Are you sure? Have you ever made it before?” she asked, a bit too quickly.  “How hard can it be?” I said, “It’s just a big pot of soup, basically.”  Foolishly, I was not a bit worried about cooking for sixty people.  Even more foolishly, I was not worried about cooking Cajun food for real Cajuns.  Many of our guest were from Louisiana, and had eaten their share of world-class gumbo.  Word soon spread that a Texan, and a first-timer at that, was attempting to make this delicate and time-honored dish.

The morning of the party, a very large woman, whom I had never seen before, showed up unannounced at my door.  “I’m here to make the roux,” she said, brushing past me to head to my kitchen.  Dumbstruck, I followed meekly behind her and watched in amazement as she proceeded to work my kitchen like she owned it.  This gal knew a thing or two about Cajun cooking.  And, by her sheer size, I guessed she knew a thing or two about eating it, too.

She stood at my stove and stirred the roux for a full 30 minutes, saying little.  She was there to do a job, not make small talk. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the roux had reached a lovely golden brown – the color of a brown paper bag, by her description.  Her job was done.  She had saved the roux from certain ruination, and all was right with the Cajun world.

I have to admit, it was a good thing she showed up.  I would have given the roux about five good stirs and then moved on – or worse, gotten distracted and let it burn.  Quelle horreur!  That would have been a disaster of Hurricane Ike proportions!

I’m happy to report, both the party and the gumbo were a big success, but I have never attempted to cook a roux again.  The idea of another stranger showing up at my door was enough to put me off the idea.  Last week, on one of my marathon hunting/gathering sessions to multiple grocery stores, I found some Hillshire Farms smoked sausage – and did a little jig in the aisle when I did.  Finding American products here in Luanda is like finding gold!  And today, I came across some gorgeous okra at another store.  The seed was planted. I decided to give gumbo another try – but only after bolting my door and drawing the curtains closed.

Here are a few photos of my progress:

DSCN6441
The basic ingredients – not always easy to find here in Luanda, especially the sausage.
My roux after stirring it for thirty minutes over low heat.
My roux after stirring it for thirty minutes over low heat.
The finished product!   Dee-lish!
The finished product!
Dee-lish!

Cher, let me tell you, it was worth the wait!  Coo-Wee, this dang gumbo is so good, I think I will call it yum-bo! Paul Prudhomme would be proud! Bon Appetite!

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Wine Tasting for Dummies…

Cat Pee.  Dirty Socks. Wet Dog.  Did you know all of these “notes” are present in some very fine and expensive wines?  We learned this and much more at a Portuguese Wine Tasting event held on Friday night in the community room of our apartment building.  Sure, I had been to wine tastings before.  And truth be told, I had probably consumed wines with worse notes than those previously mentioned – especially in college.  I wonder what notes are found in Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill.  Frat House?  Bar Bathroom?  No matter, I have finally outgrown the world of convenience store wine and, after our session on Friday night, am one step closer to knowing how to properly “taste” wine.  And no, just pouring it in the right glass is NOT enough.

After learning about the event, we were very excited to go and taste some great Portuguese wines.  We have been to Portugal twice and have come to enjoy the excellent wines there, especially those from the lovely Douro Valley.  When we arrived at the community room on Friday night, however, I was surprised to find that this was not just a “show up and taste” event.  The room was decked out with long tables set with an assortment of different glasses, a stack of handouts about the notes present in wine and other crucial information, plates full of bland crackers to clear our palates between tastes, large spittoons (that I was sure would go unused), and some very mysterious tiny, numbered bottles.  We took our seats and faced the large screen, obviously set for a slide show, and waited.  And waited.

The event was due to begin at 6:00 pm.  It was now 6:30 pm and most of the sixty-odd seats were still empty.  Shortly after 6:40 pm, our moderators, both degreed Portuguese wine experts, declared that the remaining participants, mostly Angolan, would arrive at some point.  This is Africa.  Even for such a high-falooting event, the start time is merely a suggestion.

Our moderators (I will call them Mr. White and Mr. Red) proceeded to run through a very detailed description of how our nasal passages and tongues work together to process tastes.  There were slides, pictures, and even a little game where we sniffed the contents of the mystery bottles and tried to decipher what they were.  Luckily, there was no Cat Pee involved!  About 7:00 pm, the remaining participants sauntered in and immediately began to talk amongst themselves, oblivious to the slide show and lecture going on.

Mr. White and Mr. Red struggled to keep control of the increasingly restless crowd.  Where is the wine, we all wondered? One-by-one we each got up to nibble from the plates of appetizers set on the bar, and checked our watches to see how much longer this was going to last. Finally, after an hour and a half of very in-depth discussion, the first glasses of wine were poured. Hallelujah! The addition of wine did nothing to improve our attention, but it certainly made for a more jovial crowd! As they say, ‘wine goes in and happiness comes out’.

We began with a lovely sparkling wine, worked our way through various whites and reds, and finished with a sweet, port-like dessert wine. Along the way, we discussed the notes detected in each wine and whether or not we liked them.  But…more education was clearly needed before we could be considered “qualified” to properly taste wine.  At one point, one poor misguided soul asked what kind of cheese would go with a particular wine.  “That is another class”, Mr. White snapped,  “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

Really. What an amateur.

All kidding aside, and despite the slow start, it was a fun and informative evening and we met some very nice folks.  Of course, we bought some very nice wines as well and look forward to our next get-together.  In the meantime, I will do my best to sniff out the notes in any new wine I try.

But, at the risk of labeling myself as unsophisticated, if I come across a Chateau St. Cat Pee, I am giving it a pass…

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Ellies, Kudus and Giraffes, oh my!

Thump, thump, thump, goes the bass.  Unintelligible words weave through the techno beat.  The music is  so loud, I can feel it in my chest.  Am I in a nightclub? A party?  Sadly, no.  I am sitting in my living room with the windows closed tight.  It is Sunday night at 10:30 pm, and the music from the Marginal is just warming up.  This will most likely go on for hours, as it has the previous four nights. No sleep for me, I’m afraid, so I’ll just write another blog!

Our third weekend in Luanda brought yet another unexpected activity – a safari!  Mr. & Mrs. Boss Man invited us to go with them on a two day getaway, which included a boat ride on the beautiful Kwanza River, followed by a safari and overnight in Kissama National Park.  We were very excited to see the park and river, but didn’t hold out much hope for the safari.  We had been on a “real” safari in South Africa a year ago, and were surrounded by hordes of animals of every kind.  After seeing the “Big Five” in such a setting, this was sure to be a letdown. Or at least, that is what we thought…

Angola is not Kenya or Tanzania.  Angola is still recovering from a twenty-seven year long civil war, which decimated the country and only ended in 2002.  As is the case with many wars, this war resulted from a power vacuum.  The Portuguese, who had ruled Angola as a colony for four hundred years, were forced out in the early 1970’s.  Their absence created a political vacuum, and rival Angolan factions fought for control of the country.  Neither side cared about what the war was doing to the country or the people, they simply wanted to win. Huge ships were sunk off the pristine coastline to disrupt the flow of goods.  Millions of people were displaced.  Over half a million civilians died.  Remember the photos of Princess Diana walking through an area filled with land mines?  That was here in Angola.

The people were so desperate during that terrible time, they used the “safari” animals for food and sold off their ivory.  Finally, after twenty-seven long years, the leader of one faction died and the other became the victor by default.  He has been president ever since.  Enough of Angola’s history-in-a-nutshell.  Suffice it to say, safari parks are very low on the priority list for this country.  However, one program has reintroduced these gorgeous animals into Angola. It was called Operation Noah’s Ark and it began in 2002 in Kissama National Park, only two hours south of Luanda.

Our transport for the trip, a specially outfitted jeep, arrived at our apartment at 6:00 am on Saturday morning, with a Spanish couple (I will call them Mr. & Mrs. Barcelona) already seated inside.  The rest of us crawled in and we began our journey south.  Along the way, we passed the same chaos we had encountered on our way to the deserted beach the previous weekend, including an impromptu roadside market that brought the traffic to a complete standstill.  Finally, we pushed though all of this and reached the open road.  Our first stop was a stunning overlook of a coastal area called Miradouro da Lua, or Lunar Landscape.  Formed by simple erosion through multicolored layers of rock, the result is nothing short of amazing!

DSC_1143
Miradouro da Lua
DSCN6259
What a view! The deserted beach goes on for miles in either direction.
Glossy Starlings with the lovely beach in the background.
Glossy Starlings with the lovely beach in the background.

After we had taken plenty of pictures, we hopped back into the jeep and headed to the Kwanza River Lodge for lunch, followed by a boat ride on the river.

Kwanza River Lodge
Kwanza River Lodge
Look closely and you will see a Goliath Heron
Look closely and you will see a Goliath Heron
A local fisherman
A local fisherman

Cruising slowly along the river’s edge, we spied monkeys and monitor lizards, as Fish Eagles soared overhead.  What a lovely, peaceful start to our day.  We had the river to ourselves, with only an occasional fishing boat in sight.

After the boat ride, we piled back into the jeep to drive the remaining hour on the dirt road to Kissama Lodge.  Hubby and I were seated in the back row of the jeep, which proved to be like a very bouncy roller coaster at Disneyland.  It was exhausting!  At times, we bounced so high that Hubby actually hit his head on the roof! We aren’t the quickest learners, but finally discovered that the seat belt is there for a reason. It really helped if we cinched it down tight.  One knot on the head is enough for anyone!

DSC_1182

Once we reached the lodge, we dropped our bags in our cabins and then headed out on a game drive. The top of the jeep popped up to reveal an opening, which enabled viewing from a standing position while still providing shade.  Very nice!

Jeep in front of a huge Baobab tree.
Jeep in front of a huge Baobab tree.

During the drive, we spotted a large group of ten to twelve giraffes, a large herd of wildebeests, two elephants, countless bushbucks, several gorgeous kudus, and a small herd of zebras.  There are over 150 elephants in the park, but with only a few jeeps covering the entire three million acre park, it is easy to miss them.  We were so impressed with the obvious health of the animals and the progress made in growing their numbers.  Here are a few of the animals we saw:

Hello, big fella!
Hello, big fella!
Giraffes and a Baobab tree.
Giraffes and a Baobab tree.
DSC_1209
A shy, little Bushbuck.
DSCN6335
Elephants. Hey, guys? Where’s the rest of the family?
DSC_0010
Zebras on the run.
DSC_0031
A beautiful Kudu.
Say Cheese!  A very happy Wildebeest...
Say Cheese! A very happy Wildebeest…

After several hours of near constant game sightings, we headed back to the lodge for a lovely group dinner. Mr. & Mrs. Barcelona proved to be a fascinating couple.  Both are biologists and DNA specialists.  He is primarily a researcher and she is working with the crime lab in Luanda, schooling them on the use of DNA to solve crimes.  Both also venture into remote villages around the globe. Their goal on these trips is to collect DNA samples (typically hair) from the villagers in order to trace their heritage and relationships with nearby villages.  What a very interesting life they have!

After dinner, we headed back to our cabins for a shower and a good night’s sleep – neither of which happened!  The lodge itself is situated on a gorgeous bluff overlooking the Kwanza River Valley.  Although it is a world-class location, the cabins themselves need a lot more work to be comfortable.  The electricity switched off and on all night and the water in the shower was ice cold.  But given the remote location, difficulty and cost for this kind of facility, we weren’t bothered by the less than five-star accommodations.  We just pretended we were camping!

View from the Kissama Lodge
View from the Kissama Lodge

The next morning brought another game drive and more sightings of similar animals.  Then it was time to head back to Luanda before lunch.  What a delightful weekend, and how wonderful to find a place like this so close to the city!  We will definitely be back again, but next time we will bring a flashlight – and some baby wipes!

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Explain Whales…

If swimming is supposed to be such a great way to get in shape, then explain whales. – Author Unknown (but clearly not a fan of exercise!)

One of the most fun things we are able to do here in Luanda is go whale watching.  Hubby’s company has two boats that are available for whale watching and fishing.  The first one I love, the second one…eh, not so much.  All you have to do is sign up to go and then show up.  My second week here, I was invited by Mrs. Boss Man to go out with a few other ladies on a “Bubbles Cruise” to see if we could find some whales willing to pose for a picture or two.  The name “Bubbles Cruise” referred to the fact that she was bringing several bottles of champagne with her.  Well, okay!  This added a new dimension to the trip!

We fixed up some sandwiches, packed our sunscreen, stuck on our sun hats, and then headed to the boat.  Food is provided by the crew, but apparently no one risks eating it.  Not that it is spoiled, necessarily.  But here, you always need to know a food’s history.  Do the ingredients come from a sanitary environment and are they stored a the proper temperature?  Not surprisingly, the boat crew does not provide a resume for their sandwiches, so we just bring our own.

Oh, and just FYI: sunscreen only works if you use it.  More on that later…

About twenty minutes outside of Luanda’s busy harbor, we spotted a pod of four or five gray whales lazily swimming along. It was impossible to tell if they were males or females, but there were a couple of babies in the pod.  They surfaced three or four times, teasing us with the hope that they would breach, and then disappeared under the water.  This happened time and time again. Each time, furious scanning of the horizon ensued, and we all took bets as to where they would surface next.  When they reappeared, the boat driver would gun the engine and race to their new location.  This was really fun (for about two hours), but too many pictures were being snapped of the backs of whales. Come on fellas, at least show us some tail!

DSCN6223

The most excitement we had during that time was when one of the ladies lost a shoe overboard (don’t ask, alcohol was probably involved) and then two gals lost their hats as the drivers raced to catch up with the whales.  We weren’t fishing, but the crew got some use out of their gaffing hooks that day. And I’m sure had a good chuckle about it, too.

It's a Shoe Fish!
It’s a Shoe Fish!

After several hours of this, and two bottles of champagne, all of us needed to use the loo on the boat, but none of us wanted to be the first – partly because we didn’t want to miss anything, but mostly because the loo isn’t always Tidy Bowl clean.  Finally, Mrs. Boss Man ‘took one for the team’ and ventured below.  Those sneaky whales must have been watching her! No sooner had she gone downstairs then one of the whales decided to breach.  Of course, all I saw was the splash:

DSCN6232

Mrs. Boss Man heard our screams of delight, and scrambled back upstairs.  With that, began a wonderful display of airborne acrobatics.  First one jumped and then another and another.  How those huge mammals are able to launch themselves completely out of the water, I will never know. I can barely drag my fat butt out of a swimming pool using a ladder. Swimming IS good exercise! Who knew?

Mama shows her baby how it's done!
Mama shows her baby how it’s done!
Now, it's Junior's turn.
Now, it’s Junior’s turn.

What a great day on the water!  To see something like this just about anywhere else in the world would have cost us a fortune, and the boat drivers would have been required to stay a specified distance away.  Here, the drivers can (and do) run the boats practically on top of the whales.  From the stories we have heard, you wonder why the whales don’t just get sick of the intrusion, and give the boat a bump just to teach a little lesson.  I certainly would!

Anyway, we had a great time and I felt very lucky to have seen such a rare sight in my second week as a resident.  Mrs. Boss Man has been on many boat trips in her three years here, and had never seen the whales breach before.  Lady Luck has truly been in my corner since I arrived!

Now, back to the use of sunscreen in Africa.  Folks, I grew up in Texas.  I know to be careful in the sun.  Africa sun puts Texas sun to shame.  I always put sunscreen on my face and hands (gotta protect against wrinkles and sun spots, you know) but have never worried about my legs.  In my entire 50+ years, I have never had a sunburn on my legs – until that day.  My legs were actually blistered!  Here I am, two weeks later, and I have what appears to be an extreme bermuda-shorts tan on my legs, plus permanent sandal strap marks on my feet.  Really attractive, let me tell you.

I can’t explain what made those whales breach after hours of swimming along contentedly.  Perhaps they knew we were not leaving until they gave us a show.  However, I did learn a very important lesson that day.  Always wear sunscreen – and a tight hat.

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?  Well, these days a name (a blog name, anyway) needs to be bought and paid for.  I loved my original blog name “African Cowgirl”, but so did another gal – and she paid for it first.  To be fair, she is a real, true-blue cowgirl from Africa.  I, on the other hand, am not an everyday, put on your chaps and spurs kind of cowgirl.  I am a native Texan, grew up riding my horses instead of riding a bike and did actually herd cows – once…

They were a little smelly for me.  Here I go with the smell thing again!

So…I came up with another name – Lass O’Luanda.  This is partly a reference to my many hours spent on a horse (lasso) and to my fondness for the quirky and varied pub names we encountered while living in London.  One of our favorites was the Lass O’Richmond Hill.  I suppose I could have taken on another of my favorite pub names, The Shy Horse (the sign outside actually had a very sheepish-looking pony on it), but that name would not fit me at all and, more importantly, made no reference to this wonderful new place that I live.  And so, I have now duly purchased my new name and am printing up stationary and ordering monogrammed towels as we speak…

Welcome to the Lass O’Luanda Blog.  Have a pint on me!

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved