Home > Uncategorized > Rules of the Road: Dining and Entertainment Guide to Benguela

Rules of the Road: Dining and Entertainment Guide to Benguela

Angolans are, by and large, creatures of habit. There is one way of doing things, one type of cuisine, one type of dancing and it is my observation that anything “new” seems to be disregarded. I first noticed this strange curiosity observing the pedestrian rules of the road. I should first mention that Angolans are crazy drivers. There really aren’t any rules and anything goes – other than a man directing traffic atop a candy-striped pedestal in the busiest of intersections – there are no stoplights or stop signs in Benguela. However, pedestrians wishing to cross the street have 2 options: either use one of the sparsely scattered crosswalks around the city or risk their life with oncoming traffic. It is only when using a crosswalk that a pedestrian is safe. In fact, these crosswalks are the implicit stop signs in Benguela. If someone even has an inkling of an intention to cross the street, cars stop and let the pedestrian pass. You may be thinking, “Okay…….,” but there are so few of these crosswalks that most of the time a pedestrian has no choice but to take the 2nd option – risk their life. Motos (mopeds) turn a corner without regard to pedestrians and what was once deemed a safe time to cross the street, after looking both ways, suddenly becomes a death trap. All you get is a holler which I can only imagine means “May you rest in peace!” This is why I’m even more intrigued to the respect cars give to pedestrians at crosswalks.  If there is no crosswalk, then may God be with you.

Dining

Let me tell you about dining options in Benguela. There is Portuguese food. Every restaurant has the exact same items on its menu. Some try to translate their menu into English, adding a touch of comedic value to make me favor that restaurant over another. If you get tired of Portuguese food, you may go to an Italian restaurant, but they only serve Portuguese food there as well. There is a Chinese restaurant in Benguela that nobody goes to – they had to add Portuguese food to the menu to gain some legitimacy in the town. “So what exactly is Portuguese food?,” you may ask. It always starts with an appetizer of green olives, which the waitress automatically brings to the table then charges you for later. A typical meal consists of a thin slice of beef with rice and french fries. Sometimes, rice and black beans or red beans. The fried chicken is also pretty good, also served with rice and french fries. And then there’s the fish. After living in Asia, I’m used to being served fish that looks at you; this doesn’t really bother me. Even so, the fish isn’t really a favorite among my colleagues and I, yet somehow it gets served to us more than once a week. The other day I found a restaurant that, along with the to-be-expected menu items, also served pico de gallo. My taste buds welcomed the variety.

Every single grocery store in Benguela sells the same things. I’m convinced that every family has the same mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, and packages of cheese and ham in their refrigerators. You can also buy olives at the grocery store. Other than that, grocery stores have rows and rows of cookies and crackers and you can buy some fruits and some vegetables from ladies standing right outside the store. If you want more variety, you have to drive to another town where there is a Shop-Rite. Cooking options are quite limited and even if I wanted to make something other than Portuguese food, I would have a hard time of it.

This leads a business-minded person to think of all the opportunities that could exist in supplying new items to grocery stores or perhaps opening up a restaurant that, oh I don’t know, served something other than Portuguese food. In my short time in Benguela, I have come to realize that such foolish thinking would only lead to failure. Let me provide an example. This weekend I was hanging out with several Angolans at an apartment and they brought out a cake (it happened to be my birthday that day!). This cake, purchased at Shop Rite, was imported from Portugal! My first thought was to wonder why something as simple as a cake had to be imported and couldn’t be made locally. Then I quickly recalled the offerings at the grocery store. As we ate the cake, the conversation turned to how curious the cake tasted – like nothing they’ve ever tasted before. The cake itself was made of alternating layers of cream and cake. They had several bites, put their forks down and concluded with a “hmmm….I don’t like it.”

Nightlife

After spending 3 weeks in Benguela, it was decided that it was high time to experience the Angolan nightlife that everyone speaks so highly of. While dining options are heavily influenced by the Portuguese, the nightlife in Angola is famed for its Brazilian influence. At 12:30am, people start going to the nightclubs and party till 6am. I met up with my coworker, Tom, at an outdoor bar with lots of trees and fauna, aptly named Tropical Bar, where the Cucas only cost Kw.100 (~$1) and foosball tables provide easy entertainment. I thought this would be a premium bar. When we first got there, everyone was watching an Angolan futebol game on TV. Angola lost, everyone streamed out, and Tom and I were the only ones left in the bar. Around 11pm, the waitress came over to tell us that the bar was closing. Huh. We walked around looking for another bar but they all seemed to be closed. Double huh. Where do all the people who go to the nightclubs and party from 12:30am to 6:00am hang out?? Apparently not Tropical Bar.

We finally made it to the discoteque around 1am. It was empty, but very nice inside. It’s the first place I’ve been to that resembles anything in the States. People started streaming in around 1:30am and waiting. Waiting for the kizumba to start. Prior to kizumba, very danceable hip-hop music is playing but nobody is dancing. Sometimes it seems that a few people WANT to dance – a subtle swaying of the hip here or a shaking of the shoulders there betrays an ability to dance to hip-hop. The minute kizumba starts playing, couples fill the dance floor. Kizumba is a form of slow dance with slight movements of the hip. Everybody does it. The music itself is Latin/Brazilian-inspired and you would expect to see more salsa or samba type moves, but nope, just a slow dance. We left around 3am, to which my Angolan stepdad said to me this morning, “You came back very EARLY, no?”

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