Tag Archives: Luanda

Starting over…

After a two month hiatus, I am finally back to blogging.  My time in Houston was the usual “running behind the train” kind of craziness, with little time for writing.  I don’t know whether this trip home was particularly busy, or maybe I have lost all time-management skills, but I found myself in a constant panic to get everything done. Multiple doctor and dentist visits, car repairs, flying and driving to visit family and friends, shopping, and visiting the hairdresser have been part of every home visit since becoming an expat in 2011.  Why visit the hairdresser, you may wonder?  It took me over two years to work up the nerve to have my hair cut while living in London, which is arguably one of the most fashionable places on earth.  Allowing an Angolan hairdresser to chop away at my tresses will not happen anytime soon!

This being my first trip home since moving to Luanda, I also added buy supplies for any possible unforeseen situation to my to-do list. You think I am kidding? I collected a vast array of items over the course of two months, and then on my very last day in Houston, I went to no less than seven stores.  On that day alone, I filled up an extra suitcase – probably as my driver was on his way to take me to the airport. The idea that I would have to live for four months without taco seasoning or A1 Steak Sauce was just too horrible to bear.  And forget about living without my favorite shampoo.  That thought actually kept me awake at night!  So I crammed a small grocery and beauty supply store into four very heavy bags.  Truth be told, I am not alone in this compulsion.  Every expat gal I know does the same thing, and most of us arrive back on foreign soil to find plenty of taco seasoning – and at least four bottles of A1 Steak Sauce – hiding in the back of the cupboard.  Just par for the course, I’m afraid.

My solo trip back to Luanda required two overnight flights and an eight hour layover in London.  I’m proud to say, I put that eight hours to good use, visiting the shower and spa facilities in the lounge, taking a nice little nap, and grazing my way through the airport.  Not a bad day, really.  On both flights, I watched every movie I had not already seen and managed to get a few hours of sleep.  Once I finally arrived in Luanda, at 4:30 am, I learned the hard way that luggage trolleys are a hot commodity in the baggage claim area.  After securing a spot in the queue, I waited patiently for more carts to be brought in.  Apparently, the line was only for beginners.  As a few carts were brought in, people rushed from everywhere to snatch them up.  Tossing my southern manners aside, I joined in the melee and wrestled a cart away from a weaker fellow passenger.  Don’t judge.  Okay, so she was old – but my bags were much heavier.  Here in Africa, it’s survival of the fittest, you know.

Once outside of baggage claim, my sweet husband’s smiling face was a very welcome sight in the even-more-chaotic scene. Hordes of jet-lagged people searched frantically for their drivers, while struggling to maneuver their luggage carts through the crowd.  I followed glassy-eyed as Hubby took charge, found our driver, and lead me to the car. On the way to our apartment in the early morning light, I was overcome with the sense that I was completely starting over.  The hard-won experience and confidence that I had acquired during my previous time here had all but evaporated.  I felt like a fresh-off-the-farm newbie once again.  This is not an easy place to live, and it takes more than a little hutzpah to survive and thrive here.  I am happy to say that, despite four days of jet lag and general disorientation, I am finally back in my groove. Hunting/gathering, disinfecting veggies, cooking – these skills are all slowly coming back to me.  I cooked exactly two meals during my two months in Houston, and one of them was Christmas dinner, so I am a little out of practice.  The search continues for very basic recipes that a kindergartner could make.  If you have any that might fit the bill, please send them along!

The day after I arrived was a clear, warm Sunday morning, and we were awoken by glorious worship music coming from the Marginal.  An enormous crowd had gathered under a large white tent.  They spent the next several hours listening to a succession of preachers and singing praises to our Lord.  Even from a distance, we could see they were dressed in their Sunday finest, dancing happily and enjoying the lovely day. What a nice welcome back!

Celebrating the founding of the city of Luanda and the swearing in of a new archbishop, Dom Filomeno Vieira Dias.
Celebrating the founding of the city of Luanda and the swearing in of a new archbishop, Dom Filomeno Vieira Dias.

Yes, I was happy to see that the constant stream of entertainment coming from the Marginal had not changed.  But other things will be changing around here, thanks to the free-falling price of oil.  For one thing, there will be fewer expat ladies for me to pal around with.  In a normal oil market, there would be new people moving in as others move away, but not with the industry struggling as it is.  Lower gas prices are a positive switch for most people, but here in the oil patch, they only mean one thing – downsizing. Many of the friends we made are headed home, and I am deeply saddened to see them go.

We’ve been on this Oil Boom & Bust roller coaster for more than 25 years, so we know the drill – pardon the pun.  Things will turn around.  They always do.  Until then, we will dig in and focus on the positive.  Case in point: my visa requires me to leave the country every thirty days, and that means we will have several trips to exotic African locales coming up.  I wouldn’t want to find myself on the wrong side of the law, after all!  Stay tuned to see where we go on our first “forced” vacation…

© 2015 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

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!


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:


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

Now What?

Recalling our first week here, my first thought was, “Now what?” Months of preparation and worry had brought us here.  Organizing our stuff, making lists, shopping for essentials…I am really good at these things, especially the shopping part!  But the thought of getting settled into a routine, making new friends and finding ways to occupy my time was very daunting.  Little did I know that a host of angels lived in my building.  My husband’s boss and his wife – I will call them Mr. & Mrs. Boss Man – are a wonderful, gorgeous Canadian couple, whom we have come to really enjoy.  Unfortunately, they are on their way out of the country.  Another couple, I will call them Mr. & Mrs. Adventurous, are the kind of people who always find the coolest, off-the-beaten-path activities and delight in taking on a place at its roots.  Yes, they will be leaving soon, too.   Such is the friendship-life of an expat.  You make a friend and then they leave.  But, just as people are always leaving, there are also new people continually arriving.  Expats are an inherently friendly bunch, and know how to hit the ground running.  Never knowing how long you will be in a place makes you all the more anxious to get started exploring.  No time like the present.

That first weekend, Mr & Mrs. Boss Man took us out to a very fancy restaurant on the water called Cais de Quatro, a lovely open-air place with great seafood and sushi.  At night, it looks over the Luanda skyline, with all of its large, well-lit office buildings.  If you squinted a bit (to block out the building cranes and other eyesores), you could pretend you were looking at the New York skyline.  The food and conversation were both delightful, and we finally took a full breath and relaxed into our new lives.

2013-09-09 17.59.49

Sunday morning, Hubby and I went for a walk on the Marginal, a newly refurbished stretch of coastline in front of the main part of the city.  In a place where walking more than about a block is strongly discouraged, this little four mile walking area is a God-send.

View of the Marginal.
View of the Marginal.

Every one of the people we saw, except for the occasional guy passed out on a bench from a Saturday night of drinking, was just out enjoying the day.  Walkers, runners, bikers, roller-blading children, and couples with strollers were such a nice sight to see!  I was so worried that I would feel like a caged animal in my apartment complex – the “Cruise Ship on Land”, as the residents call it.  Our eleven story apartment building is connected to an even taller office building by a pool deck, complete with a bar area, grills and plenty of space to entertain large groups.

View of the office building from our tenth floor flat.
View of the office building from our tenth floor flat.
View of the pool deck that connects our flat to the office.  Not a bad commute!
View of the pool deck that connects our flat to the office. Not a bad commute!

The walk went well, except for the occasional waft of a terrible smell from large pipes emptying something-we-won’t-talk-about into the bay.  Smells are just part of life here.  I will have to put my American sensitivities on the back burner and just deal with it.  After the walk, as we were approaching the entrance to our building, a very agitated young man began yelling at us in Portuguese and walking quickly towards us.  Hubby picked up the pace and we managed to slip into the building just before we were intercepted.  Not gonna lie – that scared me a bit.  Hubby said there is usually a Tango Delta car parked out front (identifiable by a reflective strip on the car door), and that I can knock on the car window for help, if that ever occurs again.  Good to know.

The next week was spent unpacking my suitcases, getting to know some of the ladies in the building (did I mention they are angels?), and visiting a few grocery stores to stock the pantry.  When we came on our look-see visit one year ago (relocations take extremely long here, due to a cumbersome visa process), the grocery stores I saw were small, poorly-lit, smelly (I know, got to ignore this!), and more than a bit short of what I considered cooking essentials – that is, convenience foods.  I’ve never been a great cook, mostly because I am just lazy and would rather go out, and living in London just played right into that.  All of the grocery stores there have row after row of pre-made meals that are really delicious and very high quality.  After three years there, I could count on one hand the number of times I made a meal that required a measuring cup or recipe.  If it required a heat source (i.e. a microwave) then I considered it cooking.  Pure bliss!

The grocery stores here have improved vastly from one year ago, but the convenience foods have yet to arrive.  Folks, I gotta learn to cook.  This is not an easy thing for a fifty-something gal who is more than a little spoiled.  However, before you can buy food, you need CASH.  This place runs on cash, cash, and nothing but cash.  And the banks are not the place to go and get it.  As instructed, we had brought from the US our stack of clean, new $100 bills – strapped to our bellies in a money belt.  One morning, I grabbed five bills, took a deep breath and walked out of the building to the corner money-changer-lady named Luisa.

She sat on a chair, accompanied by a half-dazed boy laying across a motorcycle, and was dressed in yards of colorful African batik, with her head wrapped in a coordinating fabric.  I walked up to her, stuck out my hand and introduced myself.  She looked at me like I was definitely from out of town.  Just give me the money, she clearly thought.  I fumbled through my pockets and pulled out the bills, more than a little alarmed when she immediately got on her phone and started yelling something in Portuguese.  I had no idea what was happening, so I stood nervously, looking over my shoulder and waiting for someone to try and rob me.  Hello, you numbskull, I finally realized.  Luisa was holding the cash, not me, and she was not the least bit nervous.  After what seemed like twenty minutes, but was probably only about five, a young man came running up with a large bag full of cash.  There must have been thousands in that bag!  Luisa gave me the Kwanzas, I said a quick “obrigada” and headed back inside.  Mission accomplished.  We will not starve today.

The pantry was stocked, mostly from local grocery stores, but also through street produce sellers.  These ladies carry large buckets on their heads of wonderful, fresh avocados, tomatoes, bananas and the like.

Bananas anyone?
Bananas anyone?

You simply hand them whatever you want to spend and they fill up a bag for you.  I bought a bag of about eight beautiful Roma tomatoes for $2.00 – a real bargain as they would have been triple that in a store.  This particular lady, who was sitting cross-legged in the street, had a toddler nursing at her breast the whole time she was picking out my tomatoes.  She kept swatting at him, but he would not let go.  Kids!  What are you gonna do?

The rest of the week was spent learning how to disinfect the produce (my new best friend is bleach), fumbling through a few recipes found online, and then the week was done.  I felt like a local already – not!

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved