Home > Uncategorized > First Impressions and then some…

First Impressions and then some…

I landed in Luanda, Angola a little over a week ago. It feels like I’ve already been here a month. My fellow MBAs, Tom and Eric, met me at the airport. Immediately after dropping my stuff off and freshening up at the pensão, I was shuttled to a Chinese restaurant on the Ilha to meet my future boss and some of the other MBAs who’ve been here for a while. The next morning at 7am, I was ready to make the 6-8 hour car ride up the coast to Benguela. The ride itself was rather uneventful, except for passing some abandoned military tanks on the side of the road and being stopped by the polícia a minimum of 5 times to make sure our driver had the proper documentation. As far as I can tell, our driver was able to escape without having to pay any tips to the police officers.

In Benguela, I live with an Angolan family – a woman named Dona Bella, her 2 grown sons and her 2 nephews. I sleep in one room, while D. Bella and her 2 nephews sleep in the room next to mine. I still haven’t quite figured out where the 2 sons sleep, although I am rather certain that I am taking at least one of their rooms… They are a gracious and accommodating family; some talk to me more than others, though hopefully they will start warming up to me soon. I`m also pretty sure that D. Bella is trying to fatten me up for the locals.

The rest of the time I’m at Nancy’s English School learning Portuguese – or rather the Angolan version of Portuguese, which is quite different than Brazilian Portuguese in many more ways than just the accent. I have class with 3 different professors 6 days a week, 4-6 hours a day.  After the first full week, my brain felt like it was going to explode.  But, I think I´m getting somewhere.  Only time will tell, and by time, I mean 5 weeks, which is when I am expected to be fully functional and consulting to Angolan businesses in Luanda.

I don’t know what to make of my first impressions of Angola. I was given the direst of descriptions and told to expect the worst. I armored up and was ready for who knows what. All I can say is: Angola isn’t THAT bad, people! Of course, I only spent 1 night in Luanda and Benguela is one of the nicest provinces in all of Angola. It’s rather pleasant and safe here. The people are friendly and relaxed. Nobody bothers me while I walk down the street, not even to ask for money. This is probably the first thing that struck me that was different about Angola. Perhaps precisely because it is non-touristy, Angolans tend to be more curious and want to talk to me or do Michael Jackson impressions, rather than try to sell me something. (I am one of 4 Americans living in Benguela at the moment. I bet you can guess who the other 3 are. Hint: Nancy of Nancy`s English School is also an American.) On the other hand, I don`t think I can say I`ve ever been in a country as run-down as Angola – although that`s all about to change and rather quickly.

It would be impossible to miss the utter and rapid transformation that Angola is experiencing at the moment. From the moment I first boarded my flight from Brussels to Luanda, Chinese construction workers have been an ever present reminder of their interests here. Last year, Benguela hosted an African basketball tournament. In just 2 weeks, the Chinese came in and replaced dusty, pot-holed roads with brand new paved roads, including all of the little side streets. There´s an impressive new bridge (too expensive and too impressive perhaps) linking Benguela with nearby Lobito, making the journey much easier from the previous 1-lane bridge that connected the 2 cities. Right now, Benguela is one big construction zone in preparation for CAN 2010 this coming January – the African Cup of Nations. All of the sidewalks are in the process of being torn up and replaced with brand new ones; a new stadium and new hotels are being built (by the Chinese of course). As Nancy mentioned on one of our first nights in Benguela, the recession really hasn`t affected the boom in Angola. Instead of going full steam ahead at 150%, it´s now going at 90%.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an interesting article on Angola, linked here, talking about the opportunities in Angola. I have only been here 1 week and yet, optimism for Angola´s recovery and growth is as palpable as the days are hot. This is not to say that the challenges of living in a developing country do not exist here.  I have already been rushed to the nearest clinic to get malaria-tested (on my 4th day here, I started coming down with malaria-like symptoms!), the power is constantly going out and I take bucket showers at my house or come to Nancy`s to take semi-warm showers.  The malaria test came back “negativo” by the way, so nothing to worry about – just a 24-hour bug.

Hope all is well in your corner of the world!

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Mary Lehrman
    October 1, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    Thanks for keeping us in the loop. Sounds like you have quite an adventure ahead. I’ll be pulling for you from afar!

  2. October 5, 2009 at 12:03 am

    Anneliese! You are so well respected by the people at Thunderbird. It is as if I’m trying to follow in your steps here. 🙂 We’re interested in the same thing – private equity investment in Sub-Sahara Africa. I’m excited to follow your time in Angola. Do add pictures!

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