This will be a walk down memory lane for me, as I recall my July trip to Richmond, a leafy suburb of London and my former home. I wax nostalgic about our first expat assignment and the friends we made there.
I was never lucky enough to run into any of those stars while I lived there, but I did spot Mark Ruffalo and Ricky Gervais walking along the Thames – on different days, mind you. For some reason, they don’t seem like great drinking buddies.
And one day as I walked out of the courtyard of my apartment complex, Javier Bardem & Penelope Cruz passed right by me on the way to my building. No, I did not fall all over myself when they walked by. I didn’t even gawk…much. There was a beautiful penthouse for rent in the building, so I surmised they were there to take a look at it. They did not choose the flat, which was just as well. There was no guarantee I’d be able to keep my cool the next time I ran into them.
Luckily, Hubby’s job takes us back through London occasionally, so I am able to catch up with friends and get my Turner View fix. Even Mark Ruffalo couldn’t resist tweeting a pic of this view.
My first weekend in Richmond, I met a lady named Betty and she invited me to join in with a group of ladies who met every Wednesday at a different pub in the area. She called it Wine Time Wednesday, and I could hardly contain my excitement! Another name the group went by was A.W.O.L, or American Women on the Loose in London. Let me tell you, they were a fun group! We traversed London from one side to the other, taking in shows, going on hikes and checking out any new event that came to town. My experience there would have been very different – and a lot less fun – without these gals. Given that our initial activity was meeting in pubs, I would be remiss if I did not post a few pics.
Here are a few more pics of the place we Wine Time Ladies liked to call Disneyland…
A short walk down the Thames is the village of Twickenham, home of British Rugby. While a huge, modern rugby stadium dominates the area, there are still plenty of quaint, narrow streets filled with restaurants and, you guessed it, more pubs.
Richmond has been a magnet for notable people for centuries, including Kings and Queens. The remnants of the former Richmond Palace are located on the Thames, just down from the bridge. While the shape and trim on these buildings hint at their royal heritage, only artists’ renderings can show how grand it once was.
My computer is filled to overflowing with images of Richmond, as are my memories of our first expat assignment. Most of my Wine Time friends have moved back to the USA, each one going through the difficult repatriation process. As one such Wine Timer tearfully prepared to leave, her husband said, “Sorry honey, our time in Disneyland is over. The park is closing.”
Thankfully, many Wine Timers now live in Houston, so the friendships live on. As often as we can, we gather to visit and recall our many Richmond adventures. Comparing notes on celebrity sightings, recounting the many pubs we visited and the interesting people we met in them, and trading travel expertise are all good ways to relive our time in the Magic Kingdom. Now, if only I had been able to invite Penelope Cruz to tea, my experience would have been perfect!
It’s been so long since my last blog that catching up is going to be a challenge. The best approach, I reckon, is to just pick up where I left off. My memories are getting a bit hazy, but thank goodness for pictures and my trusty Google Calendar. Without these two things, I would never remember where I’ve been and when!
In July, we headed out on the company boat of our friends, Mr. & Mrs. G. We knew fishing was going to be unproductive, so we planned to cruise along Mussulo Beach, nibble on some lunch, and take in the sights along the shore.
There are some very nice houses along Mussulo. According to the boat captain, most are owned by prominent generals and other government officials. Many of them look like small hotels, complete with dozens of tables and loungers set up on the shore. Most appeared empty except for occasional workers making repairs and wandering ladies selling various wares..
This lone potential customer is getting the hard sell from some ladies selling fabrics and dresses.
These young ladies were selling bread and eggs along the beach.
From our previous trips out, we have learned that proper boating etiquette has not yet made it to Luanda. More than once on this trip, we were almost run over by a fellow boater determined to have the right of way. Yikes!
If they weren’t zooming towards us, they were zooming around us. This is up close and personal, folks.
After cruising around for awhile, we spied a shanty town precariously perched on the side of a cliff. From a distance, the colorful window coverings captured the imagination.
As we approached, however, the reality was a bit less charming. I wondered why the windows on these buildings were so tiny, when they could have a very nice view of the water. But of course, I was looking at things from a first-world perspective.
You see, there was no glass in these windows.
The small size was to protect against rain and a persistent sea breeze – and for structural integrity, I imagine.
Navigating through this maze of buildings would be hard for us from the flatlands, but these residents seemed to make their way without a problem. Technically, these houses were oceanfront property, but one hard rain was liable to wash them right into the water!
As I’ve said before, there is always something interesting to look at while out and about. Case in point, the words on the boat below translate to “Mana does not want problems with your husband.” There is definitely a story there!
Looking for the beauty in a place like this can be a challenge at times, but as long as you view Luanda through the eyes of a photographer, it rarely disappoints.
There is always something interesting to see in Luanda. The landscape of the city is changing rapidly, with huge skyscrapers going up everywhere you look. Ten years from now, Luanda will be unrecognizable. I won’t be here to see it, of course. My days in Angola are limited, and that is why I look around with such interest. That, and the fact that it is so very different from any place I have been before.
To that end, Hubby and I enjoy walking along the Marginal on the weekend. Despite the occasional waft of cringe-inducing odors from the bay, it is a great place for people-watching and helps alleviate the claustrophobia caused by living within eye-shot of the office. Currently, there are dozens of photographs from around the world displayed along the walkway. This may seem like no big deal, but this city only has three or four museums. They are all focused on Angolan history and not readily accessible to the average Joe. One of them that I visited, the Natural History Museum, is locked behind tall iron gates. It is only open occasionally and rarely has electricity. It is very good to see something available to the average citizen free of charge, that also offers a bit of education about the rest of the world.
Today, my driver Jesus and I headed up to one of my favorite grocery stores, called Valoeste. It is in a higher-income part of the city, where many of the embassies are also located. Most of the people who shop at Valoeste are wealthy Angolans and diplomats, so the store has a very extensive selection of imported and hard-to-find items. I am always amused at the behavior of some of the wealthier fellow shoppers I come across. Invariably, if I am bagging up a larger than normal amount of something – anything – it always attracts a crowd. Before I know it, I will be pushed aside as three or four other ladies will suddenly decide they need the item too, despite the fact that they had ignored it a few moments before.
It happened again today. I was bagging up sixteen apples to take to the orphanage tomorrow for my students. All of a sudden, another woman nearly knocked me over in her quest to get the apples first! I just laughed and held my ground until I had finished bagging up what I needed. It has happened so many times, I’ve come to expect it now. Besides, I was younger than she was, so I was pretty sure I could win in a fight, if it came to that.
As I was checking out, the cashier began to fuss, speaking quickly to another cashier and pointing at her screen, obviously aghast at the price for one of my items. When I looked at the screen, I saw that my little four-pack of yogurt was 2,000 kwanzas – about fifteen dollars! I needed yogurt, but not that badly! I quickly pulled out the item and thanked the cashier for the heads-up. Just then, the crazy apple lady appeared behind me in the line. Again, she shoved her items nearly on top of mine and almost pushed me over. Elbows are great in situations like that. I just turned my body and stuck out my elbow to prevent her from going any further. Like I said in my last blog. Luanda is full of combat shopping…
Now that I have been here for almost a year (can’t believe it has been this long!), I feel much more comfortable making my way through this concrete jungle. It does get exhausting at times, fighting for survival (and apples), but what a great experience it has been! Seeing another side of the world, so very different from the US, has opened my eyes in a way I never thought possible. I’ve learned some valuable survival skills, too. The next time someone tries to steal my produce in a supermarket, they might just find themselves taken down. Hakuna Matata, my arse. That’s only for Disney movies!
Until we moved to Angola, neither of us had ever heard of the tiny island nation of São Tomé & Príncipe. Apparently, we are not alone in this, as São Tomé is largely undiscovered by American tourists. Located off the coast of Gabon in western Africa, it is the second smallest African country. A few European and Chinese tourists have made their way to its lovely, palm-lined shores, and last week we traveled there as well, to celebrate our twenty-ninth anniversary.
São Tomé & Príncipe is a former Portuguese colony, which gained its independence in 1975. Since that time, the country has struggled to find its way financially, as so many former colonies do. You see, when the Portuguese left, they took with them the knowledge and contacts used to mass-produce and trade the coffee and chocolate grown on the island, which were its major source of income. São Tomé & Príncipe was once the largest cocoa producer in the world. Now, the buildings used in this process are half-empty and falling apart. Several countries have invested in São Tomé through hotels and various businesses, but investment dollars are coming in slowly and have not alleviated the lack of jobs.
Currently, there is fifty-five percent unemployment and an increasing birthrate in this mostly-Catholic nation. The government is trying to build up the fledgling tourism industry to fill in where coffee and chocolate production has dropped off. The island certainly has the raw materials needed for tourists: dramatic scenery, blue waters filled with colorful fish, and lovely, friendly people.
While São Tomé does not appear to suffer from the extreme concentration of wealth and corruption of many other African countries, it still faces an uphill battle should foreign investment and tourism not materialize.
São Tomé is by far the most remote place we have been to date. Luanda actually feels civilized in comparison! Not that the island is unsafe for tourists. On the contrary, we were told by our hotel manager that it is quite safe. What made it feel so remote, is the fact that flights are few, and tourists are in the distinct minority on this country of nearly two-hundred thousand people. English-speaking tourists are even rarer. In São Tomé & Príncipe, the residents speak Portuguese, Creole, and a little French.
On previous vacations, we have always spotted at least a few other American tourists, no matter where we have been. The truth is, while many of us try to “blend”, we still manage to stick out like a sore thumb! This trip was the one exception. During our five days in São Tomé, we never saw another American or British tourist. And yes, you Brits stand out, too!
Not that the lack of Americans is a bad thing, mind you. We had the feeling that we were fortunate to visit São Tomé now, while it is still somewhat of a secret. I found myself lamenting the inevitable junky souvenir shops, crowds, and commercialism that come with an increase in tourism. For now, the island is still unspoiled, and we were able to see how the São Toméans really live.
Our lovely hotel, the Club Santana, is located about a half-hour north of the main town on the island. Set amongst lush vegetation and palm trees, the resort consists of thirty or so bungalows placed high on a cliff above a lovely beach, pool and restaurant. The clear, calm waters offer great snorkeling and diving, too.
While lounging in the clean and well-appointed beach area, sipping our tropical drinks, it would be easy to forget that we were in a small, poor, African nation – except that immediately adjacent to the Club Santana there is a small encampment of fishermen and their families. This made for an interesting backdrop, as we watched the fishermen come in and out of the village in their dug-out boats with hand-stitched sails.
Our first afternoon there, we took a Jon Boat ride to a tiny nearby island to do some snorkeling. The island looked like something out of a movie, it was so perfectly formed and topped with pretty palm trees. The water around the island was quite deep (we could not begin to see the bottom), but pretty coral grew on the rocks and we saw some colorful fish as well.
On our second day, we headed out for a São Tomé island tour with a local guide, named Nilson. He spoke excellent English as he mapped out the day for us, starting with a trip to a cocoa processing facility, then a drive up to Mount Cafe to see where coffee is grown, and lastly a visit to a local fishing village. As we drove through the cocoa processing area, Nilson pointed out former slave housing and overseer buildings, most of which looked abandoned. We parked in front of a large, run-down warehouse and walked inside, our eyes straining to see in the near dark.
One lady stood over a table filled with cocoa beans, sorting through them, and then bagging up the ones that passed her quick inspection.
She was more than happy to pose for pictures, as was another man who assumed the role of tour guide for his facility. He walked us around, from one nearly empty building to another, showing us the process of fermenting and then drying the cocoa beans, and seemed very proud of the work they were doing.
By the sheer size of the buildings, it was obvious that this was once a huge industry for São Tomé, but without ready customers and the business knowledge required for trade, things had definitely slowed to a trickle. Unlike the US, there were no gift shops or t-shirts available here. We did manage to buy some São Toméan chocolate, but only in the airport as we were leaving.
Next, Nilson drove us to the coast and an area called Boca do Inferno, a blow-hole formed in the volcanic rocks by crashing waves.
We saw a man bagging up sand along the beach, and Nilson said he was stealing the sand to sell to people building houses. With fifty-five percent unemployment, you could hardly blame the guy. On the way up to see Mount Cafe, we stopped to see a lovely waterfall and then continued up, finally reaching an area where clouds swirled through the very tall trees.
After walking around a bit and learning about the different kinds of coffee grown there, my husband said he was feeling ill. He admitted that he had felt dizzy all morning, but thought it would pass. We asked Nilson to take us back to our hotel, which was about a half hour away. By the time we got back to the hotel lobby, Hubby was feeling even worse. The hotel manager offered to drive us to the local clinic to see the doctor. Once you reach our age, it is not smart to brush aside such symptoms.
Let me tell you, this was unlike any clinic I have ever seen. In one open room in the middle of the small run-down building, there were about eight beds lining the wall, and all had ladies of various ages laying in them. The young woman in charge, who the manager said was a doctor, showed us into her cramped office and took Hubby’s blood pressure. Then, we went to the small room in the back of the building, for a finger prick to check his blood sugar. After a few short questions, translated for us by the manager who had kindly stayed with us, the doctor shrugged her shoulders and said there was nothing she could do for him. Looking around at the lack of equipment and staff, we knew she was telling the truth.
We asked what we owed her for the exam, and she told the manager it was 10,000 Dobras, roughly the equivalent of forty-five cents! In this country, where the average annual income is less than three hundred dollars a year, we should not have been surprised by any of this. We gave her about ten dollars, which she accepted reluctantly, and then we were on our way back to the hotel.
Thank goodness, the dizziness went away after a short rest. After much discussion, we determined that it must have been caused by a bad reaction to the malaria medicine we were both taking. I had experience dizziness with the medicine on previous occasions, but Hubby had never had a problem before. But, he had taken two pills the previous day in an attempt to change from a morning dose to an evening dose. A little too much Portuguese wine with dinner probably played a role as well.
Okay. Bullet dodged. Note to self: do not get sick while one vacation in a tiny, third-world nation.
That evening, we enjoyed a lovely beach-side buffet dinner, complete with live music, and thanked our lucky stars that Hubby was back to his usual healthy self.
The setting of the hotel is quite lovely, so we soaked in every detail and enjoyed listening to the waves and the music. The weather was perfect, with no mosquitos in sight – a real treat coming from Texas where they are huge – and hungry.
On our last day, we climbed over the rocks that marked the end of our resort property to distribute some toys we had brought with us to the island. As we approached the “village”, the five or six kids that we had seen playing on the beach disappeared amongst the buildings, and we wondered if we had scared them off.
But, as we approached the main village dwellings, dozens of kids came out of nowhere, all running excitedly towards us! Uh-oh, this is not good. We didn’t have enough toys to go around – a cardinal sin! As expected, the kids who got to us first were all smiles, but the others were decidedly not. Oh well. Our intentions were good anyway. Another note to self: next time bring twice as many toys!
After a final evening of relaxation on the beach, followed by a lovely sunset, it was time to grab a few hours sleep before our 1:30 AM wakeup time. The 5:15 AM flight back to Luanda was the only option for several days.
The airport was a lesson in patience, as the check-in process was painfully slow and all done by hand. Our boarding passes were even hand-written on blue paper! Then, we had a two-hour wait for the customs agent to arrive. After another hour wait in the boarding area, we finally boarded the plane and had a quick nap on the way back to Luanda.
Travels in this part of the world are all about managing expectations and staying calm when things don’t go exactly as they would in the US or Europe. I’d like to say that is how I handle things every time, but those of you who know me would probably say otherwise! Nevertheless, I do try to take each place for what it has to offer and ignore the things that fall short.
Despite a few bumps, I’m happy to say, São Tomé exceeded my expectations considerably. I hope others will soon enjoy this lovely island paradise while it is still unspoiled and charming – just remember to bring lots of toys…and stay healthy!
The wonders of this country never cease to amaze me. This past weekend, we went out boating with our friends Mr. & Mrs. G and saw another fascinating sight just north of Luanda called Shipwreck Beach. The term “Skeleton Coast” is a familiar one to many of us, but for me, I did not know exactly what it meant until I moved to Africa. On our recent trip to Namibia, we skirted the southern end of this famous stretch of coastline, but were not far enough north to see any of the hundreds of shipwrecks scattered along the shore. The wrecks in Namibia were caused by submerged rocks and the legendary fog that routinely blankets the Namibian coast. In Luanda’s smaller-scale version, the wrecks were caused by man, rather than by Mother Nature.
Shipwreck Beach is an area of impressive cliffs, golden sand, and dozens of huge, rusty, abandoned ships. There are several theories as to how they came to be marooned here. Some say they rusted away from their moorings in Luanda Bay and drifted to the beach. Others say they were deliberately sunk by the departing Portuguese troops as they were forced out of the city – a sort of “up yours” after a bad break-up.
Shipwreck Beach can be reached by car, but the beach area is not entirely safe, so it is best seen by boat. Since I had never seen it before, Mr. & Mrs. G offered to take us there after we tried our luck at whale-watching and fishing first. After an hour or so of cruising and a lovely lunch, we had encountered neither fish nor whales, but we did come upon a large pod of dolphins.
Honestly, in a contest between fishing and dolphin-watching, Flipper is the clear winner every time. What could be more fun that watching those friendly, intelligent mammals frolic in the wake of the boat?
And when one particularly frisky guy decides to jump up and splash us – not once but twice – all cares of the day just vanish away.
After playing with the dolphins for awhile, we headed towards the coast, and a huge cliff complete with a red and white lighthouse came into view.
When the seas are high, the waves crashing along this cliff are quite impressive, according to Mr. & Mrs. G. I was just as happy to have calm seas, however, as big waves can also mean feeling a little green-around-the gills.
As we sailed along this impressive cliff, the rock color changed from buff to a chalky white, and it bore a remarkable resemblance to the White Cliffs of Dover.
Soon, a few shipwrecks appeared in the distance.
The ghostly, abandoned ships looked like the perfect backdrop for the next post-apocolyptic blockbuster. One can only imagine Mad Max racing along the beach as hordes of bad guys pile out of these rusting hulks to join the chase.
What tales these ships could tell, about the men who sailed them and how they came to be forever stranded on the beach. For now, they serve as a reminder of the wastefulness of war and the scars men leave on our beautiful planet.
Once we were past Shipwreck Beach, we entered Luanda Harbor, with plenty of huge ships of its own. Luanda Harbor is one of the few places in the world where a small boat like ours can get up close and personal with huge container ships, and no one seems to notice or care.
Near the marina, there is a sailing school that operates on the weekends. It is always great fun to see the local youth learning to sail, and a nice way to conclude our day out.
From rusty shipwrecks to tankers to tiny sailboats, there is always something to see in these waters!
Overlooking the bay of Luanda is the Forteleza de São Miguel, the oldest building in the city and certainly the most impressive. It was built in the late 1500’s and was a self-contained town for many years. Later, it became the hub for the slave traffic from Angola to Brazil – a dark time in the history of this country, but one that is important to remember. Today, the fort serves as a military museum and boasts a beautiful view of the city and coast.
Unfortunately, a developer is rapidly hiding this landmark by building a shopping mall smack-dab in front of it. We complain about the lack of zoning in Houston, but I cannot imagine any developer being granted the rights to build in front of such an important building. Just another example of how money is the supreme power in this country.
From our balcony, our view is also being obscured by the building of yet another skyscraper – but a tiny sliver remains. A few days ago, a friend was visiting me and we heard a very loud explosion. A few seconds later, another loud boom. We rushed to the balcony to see if a bomb had gone off somewhere. Gunshots are heard periodically around our building, but normally they are at night and never this loud.
With so much going on in the third-world these days, loud explosions are never good. Even fireworks give me the heebie-jeebies lately. But, looking down at the people milling about on the street, everyone seemed unfazed by the noise. Thank goodness, we thought. People running for cover is not what we wanted to see. Then, as we turned our eyes to Fortaleza, we could see a ball of fire and smoke, and a split second later, another boom. As we looked closer, we saw men in uniform gathered along the thick fortress wall, obviously lighting up the still-functional cannons. Oh, okay! So those are soldiers and this is a controlled display of firepower, not the latest news story about terrorists.
We had heard that the President of France was in town for a visit, so clearly the military was just showing off a bit. We assumed – though not confidently – that the canon balls were blanks. Here in Luanda, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a guy with an AK-47 strapped to his chest. Men with loaded guns are everywhere, all dressed in a variety of uniforms. With the Angolan’s obsession with weaponry, it would not be surprising if real cannon balls were flying. Like I’ve said before, never a dull moment…
While finding guns in Luanda is apparently an easy task, finding certain food items is not. For example, dill pickles are not available here. It may be hard to believe, but they were hard to find in London, too. When we lived there, I actually brought back a quart-sized jar in my suitcase – in bubble wrap, of course – and prayed the jar did not break and spill pickle juice all over my clothes. I simply could not abide those sickly sweet things called gherkins found in the UK.
Nope. The pickles I grew up with are so sour they make your eyes water, crunchy, kosher dills – and nothing else will do on my sandwiches. So, what’s a picky pickle-eating girl to do? Why, make her own, of course! So, I looked up a recipe and pulled together all of the ingredients.
In case you were wondering, the pickles came out perfectly – very tart and spicy. Of course, I always took such items for granted in the US, but it’s these little touches of home that keep me sane here in Luanda. Cannonballs may be flying, but I’ve got dill pickles on my sandwich, so life is good!
Cruising around on a boat with blue skies and good friends – not a bad way to spend the day. In fact, it’s the best way here in Luanda to escape the city and relax. Since returning from my trip to the states a week ago, I’ve been lucky enough to go out on the company boat twice. The first time was with some lovely ladies who live in my apartment building, and the second time, hubby and I headed out with our friends, Mr. & Mrs. Adventurous.
It is winter now in Luanda, and thus, the days are getting shorter and the weather is cooling off. The fishing season has all but ended, but the whales have yet to arrive. Still, you never know what wonders will be seen while cruising around.
I love seeing the city from the water. The crescent-shaped Marginal with its tall buildings, a marina filled with huge yachts, and palm-lined walking path, almost looks like the French Riviera. It may take a hefty dose of imagination and some squinting to see it, but the resemblance is there.
The trip from the marina through the bay and past the port is always interesting too, though not exactly postcard pretty. Virtually everything consumed in this country comes from somewhere else, and it all comes in to this one very poorly organized port. The bay is littered with all manner of tankers, drill ships and container ships, waiting to deliver their cargo. As our tiny boat passes through the shadows of these enormous, rust-covered vessels, they look almost deserted. The only sign that they are not abandoned is the bilge water pouring out of a pipe in the hull.
Once out of sight of the port, Luanda looks like any typical vacation spot, with its deep blue water and yellow sand beaches. We always cruise along the shoreline, looking at the houses, boats and people playing on the beach, and then head off to open water to see what the day will bring.
My first trip, with the ladies, brought neither fish nor whales, but we did see a number of sharks lazily swimming along the top of the water. This certainly made me think twice about taking a swim! Thankfully, the water was too cold. Once we had tired of cruising around, we headed to Mussulo Beach and enjoyed a lovely lunch at the restaurant/hotel there. It is always a pleasure to spend time with these gals, whether on the boat or not, and it was a perfect way for me to reacclimatize to Luanda after being gone for so long.
For our second trip, we were blessed with more sunny, cool weather. After cruising around for about a half hour, one of our boat motors started making a rattling noise and had to be shut off. The boat has three motors in total, so there was no worry about getting back, but we all knew that this breakdown would take the boat out of commission for several months. In fact, it takes so long to get parts brought in, that it could be well into October before it is up and running again. The second company boat is also broken, and has been for some time, so this could be our last boat ride for awhile.
Regardless of how long the repair takes, this was the last Luanda boat ride for Mr. & Mrs. A, who are retiring and moving back to the states in about a week. We all hoped this trip would bring something extra special to send them off properly, and we were not disappointed.
After cruising around at a very slow speed, due to the loss of our engine, we spied some dolphins in the distance.
Although we weren’t able to race to where they were, they were certainly not playing hard-to-get. We puttered along and easily caught up with them. Then, we meandered through the huge pod, while they jumped and played all around us.
We had seen a similar-sized pod on a previous trip with Mr. & Mrs. A, but those dolphins were much smaller – and all were headed in one direction quickly. These dolphins were huge and seemed to enjoy playing around the boat. There were also some comedians in the group, especially one fella who delighted in jumping just off the bow of the boat, turning sideways, and splashing down, drenching us all. He did this over and over again, as we squealed from being hit with the icy cold water.
I would have loved to snap some photos of his antics, but I had my camera tucked into my shirt to keep it dry. We did get plenty of shots of them just under the water and riding along beside us, and I certainly didn’t mind getting soaked. Just seeing those acrobatics was more than worth the goosebumps!
After more than a hour of dolphin play time, we headed to another stretch of beach, a bit more remote than where I had been a few days before. We anchored the boat and brought our lunches on to the beach, set up chairs and umbrellas, and just enjoyed having our toes in the sand.
There were several other large pleasure boats already anchored there, one of which also pulled a jet-ski. This made for some free entertainment when the jet-skier headed out pulling a guy along on a wakeboard. The jet-ski driver was obviously inexperienced. We could see – and hear – that the wakeboarder was none too pleased at his lack of driving skills! Over and over, the driver sped up and quickly slowed down, which caused the wakeboarder to jerk forward and then bog down in the wake and fall. Oh well, it was fun for us to watch, even if it was not any fun for the guy at the end of the rope.
After walking the beach to look for shells, tossing a frisbee and flying a kite, it was time to head back to the city – very slowly, of course. None of us minded the extra time it took to get back, as the weather was still so pleasant. We will miss going out on the boat for the next few months, but will certainly miss Mr. & Mrs. Adventurous a lot longer than that. Luckily for us, they are retiring to a place not far from where our son lives, so we plan to visit them in the near future.
Although activities like these are special indeed, it’s the people who make these postings so memorable. In our short time here, we have connected with some great folks. Our numbers may be getting smaller, but I have no doubt that the “stayers” will work just that much harder to look out for each other. That’s just what expats do!
This has been a rough re-entry to life in Luanda. A few days ago, I arrived back in Angola after six weeks in the good ‘ole USA. Laughing with treasured family and friends, enjoying wonderful meals out, and shopping till I dropped, I had completely settled back into my old life. And much needed time with my kids had refilled that empty place in my heart.
A fourteen-hour flight brought me back to Africa, and the chaos of Luanda. Of course, it was wonderful to see my husband again, as I had missed him terribly while away, but a severe case of jet lag had put me into a full-blown pity party. After four days, with no more than a couple of hours of fitful sleep at a time, I awoke this morning in a less than chipper mood.
To top it off, the situation in this country has deteriorated sharply due to plummeting oil prices. The economy here is overwhelmingly dependent on oil revenues, the lack of which means cuts to social aid and fewer jobs. In addition, the lack of incoming dollars means less money to import goods and rising prices.
The people here are suffering and petty crime is on the increase. Stories of recent attacks on expat women are running rampant in our ever-shrinking circle, and this made me none too happy to be back. One such story really had me worried. A woman was attacked while sitting in traffic in her locked car. The assailant had smashed the window and punched the woman while grabbing her purse. Very scary stuff!
Walking into my kitchen this morning, I greeted my housekeeper, whom I had not seen since my arrival. She smiled, clearly happy to see me, and then proceeded to tell me I looked “mais gorda”, indicating with her hands that my backside had expanded from all of those wonderful meals at home. I was appalled, and it clearly showed on my face, but she quickly said, “Oh no, Madame, ees beautiful!” Oh well, I guess it was to be expected after six weeks of Tex-Mex and not a day on the treadmill.
Still smarting from her comment, I headed down to meet my driver for a trip to the grocery store. I may be “mais gorda”, but we still needed food for the week. My new driver is a sweetheart, but he speaks very little English. I told him which store I wanted to visit, and even wrote it down, but he had never heard of it. This irritated me, as it was a large and well-known store, and I did not like the idea of driving around in circles on these crazy and clearly unsafe streets.
Unfortunately, I could not give him directions. In this city, it is very difficult to learn your way around as a passenger. Drivers frequently take numerous switchbacks and maze-like streets to avoid the insane traffic. My previous driver took a different route every time we went somewhere, and so, except for a few main roads, I rarely know where I am. Of course, having no sense of direction may be part of my problem, too.
The only option was for my driver to call the dispatch office and ask them where it was. He spoke in Portuguese, so I did not know what was being said, but he seemed satisfied with the directions he was given. As he started out, the main road was familiar to me, but then he drove into narrow streets filled with sinister-looking pedestrians. This made me more than a little nervous, as visions of assailants smashing my window swirled through my mind. My typically overactive imagination was running full-tilt, as I fidgeted and held my breath, looking at each passerby with suspicion. At long last, we arrived at the store and I finally unclenched my fists. All of this round and round had given me a pounding headache to go with my sour mood.
My grocery list was small and filled with very basic items, but several of my items were nowhere to be found. There were tons of hard-to-find veggies available however, so I bought them even though they weren’t on my list. I had heard grocery shopping had become even more hit-and-miss than ever, and my hoarding tendencies really kicked in. As if life here wasn’t hard enough! Now, I won’t be able to count on even the basics when I go shopping!
This is just too much, I pouted. How can it be that there is no stick butter or canned tomatoes? Finally, after several hours and three stores, I gave up and we headed back to my apartment – with a full load of veggies, but no butter.
As we drove along the main road back to town, I saw a man standing at the very top of the hillside which ran along the road. The top of the hill contained a shanty town, and the residents there regularly tossed all of their garbage over the side of the hill. This gave the appearance that this man was standing on a mountain of trash.
Then, something unexpected happened. He began to dance. Here this man was, living in a shanty town, surrounded by refuse, and he was dancing. What a blessing to be reminded that joy can be found in even the most dire circumstances. Never in my life had I been snapped out of a pity party faster!
The awakening continued.
It occurred to me that my maid was being genuine when she said I looked beautiful to her. Packing on a few pounds meant that I had a healthy appetite, plenty of good food to eat, and the leisure time for my body to hold on to those calories. In her world, many people were not so blessed. Pants that were too tight and a lack of stick butter were laughable problems compared to those she faced on a daily basis.
At that moment, I said a prayer of thanks for the reminder of how lucky I am. Life in Luanda can be a challenge, but I trust that He will keep me safe while I am here. And clearly, the Big Man is looking out for my health, too. How wonderful that He presented me with such beautiful veggies instead of more butter for my bloated backside!
I may not be the quickest on the uptake, but even I can’t miss such clear reminders that He is watching out for me, as we make our way through this crazy new life. Now, off to cook a healthy meal so I can fit into my clothes again…