Angola: nicer than you’d think

After having no internet for almost a week and knowing I won’t have it again for at least 4 days, I feel like I have to write the next post now. But I’m not ready! I meant to take some photos to post and show How Nice Huambo Is. But so far I only have photos of Coartem malaria meds and a rapid diagnostic test. So I will tell you a little bit about how nice Huambo is.

There are wide, well-paved roads in the center of town, many of them tree-lined. There are parks with grass and decorative plants. There is a main square with fountains, a children’s playground, a chess table and–get this–a bike rack! You hardly see any bikes here, but it’s actually a really pleasant place to ride a bike. Except for the whistles. Speaking of whistles, no one pays any attention to you at all EXCEPT when you are a woman in shorts on a bike. You can walk down the sidewalk (because yes, there are sidewalks! and crosswalks! and cars stop if someone is in the crosswalk!) and not one single person tells you that you are white. It is altogether unlike Africa as I know it. The main drawback really to living in Huambo is that all the locals are so much more fashionable. And the water and electricity comes and goes, but the air is clear, you can walk outside day or night, and as a former Portuguese colony, they have really good coffee and fresh bread. And as a tropical country, they have the mango and avocado and papaya and thunderstorms that are pretty impressive, even when you are out riding a bike in one.

Published in: on October 30, 2009 at 7:12 PM  Leave a Comment  

I will absolutely never, ever… okay, maybe.

For a number of years, one of my career goals was to not go to Nigeria. Then in a moment of weakness/unemployment, I agreed to go to Lagos in October 2008. I was only there for two weeks, staying in a fairly low-density area not far from the airport. The hotel was pretty poor value, but it was kind of like being in a college dorm again, but this time full of pilots from developed countries who would spend half their time flying planes in Nigeria and the other half back home, a South African film crew, and other random people you tend not to meet in countries where you can leave your hotel at night. But it was in a neighborhood where I could walk around during the day, taking care not to fall into an open sewer or walk into a wire dangling from an electrical pole and shooting off sparks. Aside from one four-hour trip across town and back for a 15-minute meeting, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. The people I worked with were really sharp, hard-working, and friendly; the local food was good; and I never once felt I was in danger of losing my life or winning a million dollars from a prince.

This all could mean only one thing: I had to pick a new country to never go to. One of the South African film crew suggested Angola. He gave some pretty convincing reasons that I can’t remember exactly, but they definitely involved streets full of dead animals and garbage. There are lots of things I fear or don’t like, but dead animals and garbage are up there with inadequate sanitation and drug-resistant syphilis. And since it was pretty likely that an African country recently emerged from a decades-long civil war also had inadequate sanitation, I figured Angola was a pretty good choice for the One Country I Will Never Go To, and so I declared it in October 2008.

From May to August this year, I took five vacations: the County Kerry, Poland, London, France and Italy. I had a contract that allowed me to work for essentially unlimited days until September 1, but in 4 months I spent nearly 2 months on holiday. I came back from three wonderful weeks in Italy on August 19, ready to work 12 hours a day to get ready for the close of the ten-year project, and on August 20 got an email from DC saying, “You’ve been a great help. We don’t need you any more.” I counted up how much money I’d spent on my five holidays, and began to panic, so when a friend sent me the terms of reference for a two-month consultancy in Angola, I thought, Angola is the One Country I Will Never Go To. There is clearly not even a decision to make. But simultaneously I thought, This could be a great opportunity. Because I have some trouble making up my mind. So I thought about it for a few days, sent an enquiring email, and with shocking speed ended up with a contract where I agreed to do something I wasn’t quite sure I knew how to do, in a language I don’t really speak, in a place I fear and where the average number of rainy days exceeds Dublin’s, for two months, with a massive pay cut.

In the six weeks it took to get visa and travel sorted, I spent a little bit of time studying Portuguese and learning EpiInfo, and a lot of time telling everyone I saw that I was going to Angola for two months. And then suddenly I was here (okay, 40 hours in transit is not so sudden, but I was barely conscious the last 24), and it’s actually pretty nice. But you’ll have to wait for the next post to find out more.

We just moved house so at the moment have no power or hot water or enough water pressure for a shower, but the de-miners down the street let me take a shower at their place, and I have a brand new ultra-powerful headlamp.

Published in: on October 30, 2009 at 6:56 PM  Leave a Comment