Home > Uncategorized > The past is always with us…but the future holds great promise

The past is always with us…but the future holds great promise

Wednesday December 2, 2009

A blog entry has been long overdue. I apologize. This is a bit late.

Thanksgiving is the time of year when Americans gather around family and loved ones to celebrate and give thanks for all the blessings in our lives. We also watch (American) football and stuff our faces with turkey all day long. This year I indulged in not one, but two, bountiful turkey dinners with the people who will be my family for the coming year. And yes, both times I ended the evening in a sleep-inducing food coma. This year, like most years, I am thankful for the friends in my life who are always with me no matter the distance, for the doors that have opened to cut a clear path for me, and for the willingness to go through those doors and trust that the Lord will be with me every step of the way.

Many of you reading this blog don’t know much about Angola. I wouldn’t say that I do either, nor can what follows do justice to Angola’s past. But, it is important to have an idea of the events of the past in order to understand the context of some of the observations I may write. As a Portuguese colony, I’ve heard it said that Angola was prosperous. In addition to its vast natural resources of oil, diamonds and precious metals, it also was a big exporter of coffee and had a very active and abundant agricultural sector. Shortly after independence from Portugal in the mid-70s, Angola broke out into a nasty civil war that would last close to 30 years. The MPLA, the party in power, already had a strong following on the coast and believed that they needed to capture the central region of Angola to set up their base, hence making it easier to extend their reach into the eastern and northern provinces of Angola. For this reason, most of the fighting occurred in the central provinces in land that was traditionally fertile and agriculturally productive. Many people (if not most) left their farms and their livelihoods to seek safety in the coastal regions. I believe something like 80% of Angola’s population lives on the coast; the rest of the country is sparsely populated. Even though there has been peace for the last 7-8 years, people have not returned back to their homes in the country-side. There are opportunities in cities like Luanda that don’t exist if they were to go back home. Opportunities for education, health care, and of course, jobs.

Even though Angola is no longer a Portuguese colony, its reach will continue to permeate the culture in Angola for years to come. The Portuguese colonized countries to be used as stopping posts along their trade route to the Far East. And so you have Angola, a land of Portuguese-speakers, surrounded by French- and English-speaking countries. When Angolans travel, their most popular destinations are Portugal, Brazil and South Africa. And also Namibia which is supposed to be wicked cheap. The point being that the cultural connection with the “old world” is still strong. The language barrier between Angola and its surrounding countries will continue to keep Angola separate and distinct; and it will continue to be mysterious to the outside world. As I have mentioned in a previous blog post, Angolan music and dance are both influenced by and are an influencing force for Portuguese and Brazilian music and dance. This weekend I went to a bar on the Ilha that had live music from Cabo Verde (also a Portuguese colony) – it was lovely! Brazilian flags are seen everywhere and capoeira is widely practiced. All of this and more is what prompted one of my friends to reply that Angola is not “real Africa”, but rather a “Little Brazil”.

The more I find out about other expats here, the more I realize what an amazing opportunity it is for me to even be here! Angola is extremely transient and not always necessarily by choice. It is particularly difficult to get a work or tourist visa to get into Angola, as anyone who has tried can tell you. The average stay is around 1 year. It is just as hard and frustrating to get a work visa renewed as it is to get one the first time around. Apparently special consideration is given to people working at NGOs – we get a 1 year visa. Everyone else’s work visa permits them to stay in Angola for up to a year, but they must leave the country every 3 months. In the last month, several business trips have been postponed due to visa delays. Some of these business visitors were trying to come to Angola to explore potential partnerships and opportunities to do business here. I’ve also already known several people who will be leaving us soon due to either visa issues or their job being transitioned to an Angolan (not exactly a bad thing, but still sad for me all the same). I actually wouldn’t mind staying longer, given the right circumstances.

It is not only difficult for people to get into Angola, but also goods, including (gasp!) gasoline. Sonangol, the state-owned oil company, has long lines at the pump all of the time and it is not uncommon for them to run entirely out of gas. Ironic? Why yes. Yes, it is. While Angola is Africa’s largest exporter of oil, it doesn’t yet have any refineries to make the oil usable to put into your car. It currently imports more oil each year than it exports. Luckily, there are plans to build a refinery which would, at the very least, cut out the costs of importing its domestic oil usage. Hopefully, it will also have the production capacity to refine enough oil for export. Thus, minimizing the effects of Angola’s declining terms of trade. (According to “dependency theory,” exporters of raw materials will always remain underdeveloped and dependent on exporters of finished goods.) As for other goods, due to Angola’s barren farmlands and years of non-investment to diversify from the oil industry, it must import just about EVERYTHING. Once again, the main importers of goods into Angola (from my observations) seem to be Portugal, Brazil and South Africa, with a Mozambican product thrown in every once in a while for good measure. These goods can sit on cargo ships outside of the main ports for up to 4-6 weeks before they are let in to the country. Apparently, residents of Luanda stockpile certain items if they see them at the grocery store. I have yet to learn which items are to be considered a treat and which ones I can consider staples, but I’m learning. 🙂 I’ve already tried to look for certain items I bought in the previous weeks only to be disappointed by an empty shelf. Which all ties back to Thanksgiving. This year our hosts were assured to please their guests with a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings because they ordered their groceries directly from South Africa. The second, potluck-style Thanksgiving wasn’t too shabby either, so thumbs up to Angola for being able to comply with even the most demanding of palates.

Angola is an interesting place. You can’t really expect everything to work all of the time. Heck, my entire cell phone network was out all day yesterday, rendering me a prisoner in my own apartment – couldn’t call a car service. But for now, the novelty has not worn off, and I am truly thankful for each passing day in this country that is so separated from the outside world.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. PEDRO
    December 10, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT ANGOLA IS REAL AFRICA. THE SENIORS,MAJORS SONS OF ANGOLA(THE TRUE ANGOLANS)HAVE THEIR CLANS(LUVILA,MVILA),VILLAGES, ZUMBU,ETC. THEY HAVE THEIR LANGUAGES SUCH THAT UMBUNDU,KIMBUNDU,KIKONGO,CHOKUE,ETC,THAT DIEGO CAO CAME FIND IN 1482. FURTHER,THE MPLA LEADERS HAVE BEEN IN EXIL,AT CONGO BRAZZAVILLE,RDCONGO(ZAIRE),ZAMBIA,WHO SHARE SAME COSTUMES,LANGUAGES,DANCES,MUSIC,ETC,WITH ANGOLA.THE ANGOLAN CULTURE IS AFRICAN NO PORTUGUESE,OR BRAZILIAN, AS SEING THE INSANE PERSONS,OR MENTAL ALIENATED,ETC.

    • inangola
      December 10, 2009 at 2:38 pm

      Pedro, I didn’t mean to offend. These are only my observations, which is all that I am qualified to write about. Of course, I would love to learn more about real Angolan culture. After all, I didn’t come to Angola to live in “Little Brazil.”

      • PEDRO
        December 10, 2009 at 7:37 pm

        DEAR SIR,SORRY DON’T CONSIDER THAT AS OFFEND. THE BIG PROBLEM IS,THE PORTUGAL SUCH PERSISTANT BIG BOSS-OWNER OF ANGOLA UNTIL PRESENT, DON’T ALLOW ANGOLAN GOVERNMENT TO TEACH ANCESTRAL HISTORIES IN SCHOOLS,AS I LEARNT KONGO-KINGDOM’S HISTORY IN CONGO.

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