Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Leaving Luanda

Go ahead and hum Leaving Luanda to the tune of Leaving Las Vegas (I'm leave luuuuanda, lights so bright, I'm leaving Luuuuuanda, I'm leaving for good). Here's a little description of what happened on my way home. I wrote this right after everything happened, perhaps why my exasperation comes through a bit strong.  It lead to several exasperated phone calls, but most importantly they let me leave and I'm home again.  Thanks a million to everyone for the support as always, I couldn't do it without you.

The Luanda Airport as a Vignette of Angola

  •         The car arrives to bring me to the airport. Late. Despite the fact that I confirmed thrice the time it should arrive.
  •     We hit traffic. Various traffic laws are broken avoiding said traffic.
  •     Police, rather than being at intersections where gridlock occurs,  stand in the middle of the highway, which has no lane lines painted, aggressively gesturing and yelling at motorist to CONTINUE STRAIGHT! MOVE!
  •     First security check, my printed reservation and passport are taken. 2 people puzzle over the passport. The man has about 10 rosters of passengers in front of him. He is searching for my name by hand. He finds it. Puts a little star next to my name and sends me on my way.
  •      I check in. My bag is overweight by 5 kilos (books and paperwork!). I ask how much it will cost. $150 USD. I reply that I will remove the 5 kilos as I have another bag I can check. Ah, I can fix the problem. Nevermind then. Overweight is ok.
  •       I pass through customs and am gestured into a small room. I’m asked if I speak Portuguese. I say I understand but speak Spanish. Head shaking. I’m asked if I have money. Well yes. I do. I’m asked if I have Kwanzas (national currency), if I have dollars. To put all of it on the table. (My fear of what will happen if I lie and am searched is greater than my fear of losing the money.) I pull out over a thousand US dollars and more Kwanzas. Do I know that I’m not allowed to take Kwanzas out the of country? I do, I planned to spend them in the airport. My kwanzas are seized (over $125 USD), thankfully my USD is returned. I am informed that if I will be returning to Angola within one week I can get them when I return. I reply that I will not return. Apparently I have offended them, I’m asked why I won’t return. I explain. I ask for a receipt for the money they will take from me. They act as though they don’t understand, although I’m sure I have the vocabulary right after collecting receipts for 5 weeks. So some people will give up $125 with no written record? Either everyone else knows better or I’m missing an opportunity to give a gaseosa (literally – soda, actually – bribe) and keep my money. Money is taken. Receipt is received.
  •      I go upstairs to a bare but clean room with two small walk up counters with a variety of fried foods and alcohol. I look. I go to the open buffet. A hot option (pasta, chicken etc), plus a cold option (salad or bread) plus dessert plus soup is $50 USD. But if I just want a hot option it’s $35.
  •     I return to the counter and ask how I may pay for my food. I’m informed that either Kwanzas or dollars will do. When I reply that I’d pay in Kwanzas but someone just took all mine she smiles and says well I suppose you’ll pay in dollars then.
  •      I order. It’s microwaved. I pay too much. It’s not bad for here. At home I’d pick frozen Ellio’s pizza over what I’m eating. But the olive has no pit, that’s a plus.
  •      I am in a room with apparently 4 internet signals, none of which can I access.
  •     Tables around me slowly fill up, the room is full of men from Portugal, men from Brazil. And then there are American men, they sound like they’re from Texas. None of them is under 250 pounds.  I see two women and one table of non Anglo/Caucasian/White men.
  •       I’ve got another 2.5 hours until my flight. I was told to arrive as early as possible because “you can never be too early to the airport in Angola, anything can happen”.

 Luanda downtown from the fortaleza, a mix of construction, colonial architecture and unfinished buildings that are now homes for thousands of squatters.


 In another direction, homes and soccer and the ocean under a permanently white sky. The vast majority of Luanda residents live in inappropriate shelters made with inappropriate materials (confirmed by most recent survey, over 80%)

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