Sunday, May 23, 2010

“Beat and Wind” from Japanasia

Feb 20 2010
We saw this advertised just a few days before it happened – a special event organised by the Japanese Embassy. We didn’t have much information about it except the title, but as an avid fan of live Taiko (drumming) from Japan, we signed up for the bus that was going to it without hesitation. Bill hasn’t seen Taiko drumming before but was easily convinced he’d enjoy it.

The concert was quite different to what I’d expected – I thought it would be like a Kodo show (a hugely popular Taiko group in Japan) with lots of drumming on traditional taiko drums – in a very Japanese style. Although there were a few taiko, there wasn’t any of the size you’d see in Japan (I guess flying those big drums around the world isn’t that practical) and the music was less Japanese than Central Asian. However, despite this, it was still a fantastic concert that we both thoroughly enjoyed.

Japanasia consisted of just three musicians – Ryutaro Kaneko was the leader & the taiko drummer, Yasukazu Kano played a Japanese flute –the shinobue and finally Haruhiko Saga played Central Asian “violins” and even did some throat singing!

After the opening act when all three performed, the most wonderful Angolan group came on stage – unfortunately I don’t know what they were called. They also did lots of drumming (and some singing & dancing) & were so spectacular that it was worth going out just to see them alone.

The whole night was superb – I found it a bit difficult to take photos with my sling but we’d been lucky (or cheeky) enough to get front row seats. Bill soon abandoned me & moved right up to the edge of the stage to take his photos!

There were a few speeches at the end (where I understood much more of the Japanese than the Portuguese translation) and then there were drinks & nibbles provided by the Japanese embasy. All in all, it was a fantastic evening that we thoroughly enjoyed.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Carnival festivities

February 2110
Carnival was right after I got back from South Africa (travelling by yourself with an arm in a sling brings out the best in people) and although my shoulder was very painful & the amount of movement allowed by my sling was quite limited, we were determined not to miss it. We booked a car to take us down for 2pm with an arrangement to pick us up 2 hours later – we figured that would be more than enough time to take photos but would get us home well before it got riotous.

Having a “big” camera at carnival is an amazing experience – just like last year we were mobbed by people asking us to take their photo, when we asked people if we could take their photo, they almost always said yes. In fact one of the biggest issues we faced was more & more people crowding in on the photo we were trying to take. Also it was quite crowded – so many people in a small space.

There were many more police & security people around this year – although we were on a different section of the Marginal. We got to see some samba teams practising their dance, which was very cool. Everyone just looks so excited and happy.

Costumes were similar to last year – there seemed to be quite a few guys wearing condoms as part of their outfit & as always, lots of guys dressed up as girls. There was a man whose costume was hundreds of clothes pegs & another had a tie made from a loaf of bread with fish embedded in it! Very weird.

It’s hard to judge the mood precisely when you can’t speak the language – I felt most people were happy to have us take their photos, but there is an underlying current with some others – they pose, but you get the feeling that their attitude is more aggressive.

The timing of our return home was just right – it was getting much more crowded & as it was it took ages for our driver to be able to get in to pick us up.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Catching up at last

Sorry – health & work issues have kept me from keeping my blog up-to-date so I will start to catch up with some back-dated posts for the last 2 months. Mostly it has been a quiet time with my right arm in a sling limiting what we have been able (or wanting) to do. Despite this I found I could use my camera if I was careful, so we went to Carnival again, a wonderful evening of Japanese music & then I went back to South Africa just before the end of the school term to get assessed by my surgeon again. Then off to Tanzania for a very welcome holiday & then back to Luanda again for the final months of school. Unfortunately bad health is still an issue for us, as Bill has been diagnosed with pneumonia and is now into his second week off school. We’ll both be glad when we are feeling fit & well again.
(The slideshow is photos of African "babies" taken in various locations - I put this together for a preschool teacher who was looking for photos for a calendar she was making.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Medical Adventures in South Africa

Well, I am in Johannesburg on medical leave to try to sort out my right shoulder. It has been troubling me for close to 6 months now, and I’d hoped to be able to delay treatment until the summer holidays. But the last 2 – 3 weeks has seen both the pain and the immobility get significantly worse – to the extent that I had to do something about it.

I went to the doctor in the SOS clinic in Luanda, and after 2 x-rays and an examination, he decided that I would need to be diagnosed in South Africa. He had hoped to send me for an MRI in the main SOS hospital in the Ilha, but the machine is broken, so he wasn’t able to do much more than refer me to SOS Johannesburg with a request for an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon.

This happened about a week or so ago – I had to cancel the first appointment they made as it was so soon that I couldn’t get a flight. I arrived here on Tuesday (after another hellish airport experience – just as I was beginning to think they’d got it sorted) only 2 hours late. My appointment was for Wednesday morning, and that’s when things started to go badly wrong for me. The doctor I saw was convinced he knew what was wrong with me – after about 3 minutes of my walking in the door. He didn’t test the extent of the immobility of my arm, nor did he ask about location of pain. He already “knew” what was wrong anyway.

I tried to tell him about the surgery I’d had on my left shoulder almost exactly 5 years ago – I’d ignored all early warning signs back then and as a result had gone swimming one evening – to wake up the next morning with NO movement at all in my left arm. Panic time! I was in Kuala Lumpur at the time & the specialist I saw was excellent - & no problems with getting x-rays or a MRI. I had a sharp bone spur that had damaged the tendons in my shoulder joint – the photos he showed me after surgery are implanted on my brain – tendons all frayed & splayed around looking like they had been hacked apart with a blunt knife. About 50% of my tendon had been cut through - he removed the spur as well as stitching up my tendons during arthroscopic surgery.

Unfortunately, my copy of his surgery photos are in storage in KL along with most of the other stuff I couldn’t take to Luanda – so I couldn’t show him or any other doctor what I was talking about. I did bring the MRI x-rays to Angola (which I didn’t think were necessary to take to SA as it was the wrong shoulder) but had the MRI report with the diagnosis on it. I’d shown the same report to a specialist I’d seen in Manchester the day before we flew out to Thailand just last month, as well as the doctor in Luanda. Although both needed imaging to confirm diagnosis, they both thought it was probably a similar problem with my right shoulder.

But not the doctor I saw on Wednesday – he told me “I don’t believe it” & that it was impossible for a projection to damage tendons the way I’d described. He sent me off for x-rays and an ultrasound, neither of which seemed to be very helpful for a diagnosis. The ultrasound doctor said she couldn’t see signs of tendon damage & that it wasn’t something like tendonitis. My follow-up visit with the doctor after the tests didn’t go well at all. He still believed his initial diagnosis, even when I told him I felt he hadn’t examined me sufficiently or looked for other possible conditions. I explained how vulnerable I felt as I wouldn’t be able to return to Johannesburg in a month if he was wrong & that there was no possibility of proper care in Luanda itself. He ignored me – even though I was in tears by this time (I don’t handle confrontations well). He said all I needed was a cortisone injection & that I would regain instant mobility & lack of pain in my joint, followed up with some Physiotherapy and I had to never write on the whiteboard again and I had to get new pillows to sleep with.

What happened next is one of the worst things that has ever happened to me. I was still crying when he injected my shoulder from behind. It was incredibly painful. He instructed me to wave my lower arm around to move the solution in my joint & then asked me to raise my arm (the only thing he had asked me to do during the earlier consultation). I lifted it, and it was about 10% better, but I could still feel it catching. When I told him that, he grabbed my arm himself, shook it a bit & then lifted my arm for me. Maybe a total of 15 – 20% improvement, but nothing like the “total cure” he’d promised. When he let me go, I tried putting my arm up my back (something he hadn’t looked at) & it was still the same – no higher than waist high. He seemed shocked when I told him this. For the first time he touched my shoulder (other than to put the injection in) & asked where it hurt. I told him the pain was in the front of my joint – I had no pain at the back. The pain (as the other doctor’s I’d seen had realised) was located at the head of my biceps. It seemed to surprise this particular doctor – but he wasn’t fazed – he simply got another syringe & put more cortisone in – directly on the tendon (& left me with a nasty bruise). I was crying so hard by this time that I was actually shaking – but he never ever acknowledged how upset I was – to the extent that he didn’t even offer tissues!

He then wrote me a referral letter for a physiotherapist (saying I had tendonitis) & wrote a prescription for anti-inflammatory pills & painkillers (“to take only if I needed them”). That was that – said I should stick around until my scheduled flight on Tuesday in case I needed to see him again, but the impression I got was that he thought my problem was solved.

I was in such a mess when I came out of his office to pay the bill, that his secretary came round to give me a hug! I got the prescription filled, had lunch in the hospital cafeteria & tried to absorb what had happened. I was in tears again when I talked to Bill that evening – he was really mad. I went to bed, but couldn’t sleep & at midnight, got up to write out what had occurred & my concerns about it.

When I woke (after about 3 hours sleep) in the morning, I was horrified that my mobility behind my back was actually much worse than it had been the day before. I went to the physiotherapist that morning and she was wonderful. I told her what had happened & how scared I was. She recommended I get a second opinion & gave me the names of two shoulder specialists to try. She was able to improve the mobility of my arm and certainly made me feel much calmer & not so terribly alone. When I got back to my guest house, I wrote to SOS Johannesburg (who have been in contact with me every day asking how things have been going) and asked them to try to get an appointment for me with one of these doctors as soon as possible. I slept much better knowing that I would get a second opinion before going back.

Today I got a phone call from SOS at 8:10am to say I had an appointment at 9:00. I was out the gate 5 minutes later & fortunately the traffic wasn’t too bad so I arrived at the hospital in time. I’d had the forethought to pick up my x-rays and ultrasound on a CD the day before (what a wonderful technology), so I was able to show the new doctor those. I tried to briefly explain what had happened & he checked my arm mobility, did a confirmation ultrasound & diagnosed the same problem as my left shoulder! He said that I had a large amount of tissue swelling (which I think is a result of the injections I got) but he didn’t think the tendons were as badly damaged as they had been in my left shoulder when I had surgery then.

Everything happened very fast – he booked me for surgery on Monday morning & asked me to delay my flight back until Saturday. I had to cancel the appointment I had with the physiotherapist, but went to see her anyway to tell her what had happened. She said that if the tendon damage is less, I will probably recover much faster than last time. I left her to get in touch with school to contact the insurance company to try to organise payment for hospitalisation costs (this had been done earlier but of course for the hospital of the first doctor!) So, I’m going to have surgery in 3 days time but I feel 100% better than I did on Wednesday when the only thing wrong with me was that I was a teacher! I know now that I will get better – my recovery for my left arm was wonderful – full mobility in every direction & no problems with it ever since. So I am optimistic about this arm too – although the physiotherapy situation in Luanda isn’t good. I’m hoping that I will be able to do much of it myself.

The really sad thing about all of this is that I will miss Bill’s birthday on Sunday. I have some presents hidden for him, but can’t get what he really wants until we get back to the UK in June. I haven’t found anything great for him here either. I hope what I’ve managed to get will at least give him a bit of a birthday feeling (even though I don’t think it will last for long as they aren’t very exciting). I made the newspaper clipping at the beginning of this post to let him know that I was thinking of him. This is from the Newspaper Clipping image generator - a great site if you are more imaginative with words than I am. “Monster” was Bill’s band nickname when he was in KL.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Luanda celebrates 434 years

The city of Luanda celebrated its 434th birthday yesterday afternoon – making it one of Africa’s oldest cities. (The City of Luanda day was on Monday.) The Angola Field Group sent out general invitations to the celebrations downtown in the large square close to the marginal.

We arrived about an hour and a half after the festivities started (we wanted to avoid the midday heat) and were just in time to catch the end of a capoeira demonstration. These people are incredibly highly skilled & it is fascinating to watch. We were a little surprised at the small turn out – we saw people from the Angolan Field group of course and several other teachers from school, but the audience seemed to be mostly “tourists” (as such exists in Luanda) with few locals. This is a shame, as the event was organised to raise awareness about the need to preserve Luanda’s cultural heritage – in particular the old buildings (many of which are in a state of disrepair) that date back to Portuguese colonial times. There were bus trips and walking tours organised and the later were well attended by kids in particular. Bill & I didn’t really want to sit in a bus (even though one of the bus tours was in English), so I can’t say what the tours were like.

About five minutes after the capoeira had finished, we saw a big group of people coming into the square. This was one of the dancing groups that take part in Carnival – and they were all dressed up for the event. It was fantastic – they were enthusiastic and cheerful and the dancing was very spirited. Great for taking photos! Afterwards we got a few more shots, but they left quite quickly and there didn’t seem to be much else happening soon. The heat was pretty intense, and we figured we were happy with what we’d already seen, so we decided to give up while we were ahead, and go home. It was a very nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon though.

Friday, January 29, 2010

African Cup of Nations: Party Time

I am not a football fan – in fact I avoid football (or soccer as I’ve always known it) as much as possible. However, the African Cup of Nations is being hosted by Angola & it is unavoidable. The competition started while we still in Thailand, so we missed the opening ceremony that the other teachers got to see. What we didn’t miss, as it made front-page news, was the shootings at the Togo team in Cabinda. Not good publicity just as the school was trying to hire new teachers. Hard to explain that no sane person would consider going to Cabinda & quite why Angola thought it would be a good place for the Cup of Nations, who knows?

Once we got back, it was all excitement as it seemed Angola had a real chance of getting into the quarter-finals, & from there, well anything was possible. Bill succumbed (he is a real football fan) & paid over the top to go to the Angola vs Algeria match that would determine Angola’s fate. I was happy to stay at home. I saw the last 15 minutes of it on TV & even I could tell that it was abysmal – some sort of match-rigging had taken place & neither side was trying to do anything except waste time & play out a 0 – 0 draw that would guarantee both of them a spot in the quarter finals. Bill’s comments when he got home are mostly unrepeatable, except for “it’s the worst football game I’ve ever seen in my entire life” – which is saying something for someone who has been going to live games since he was about 4!

Despite this ill omen, we had already put our names down for tickets to the quarter-finals – for me it would be my first ever live match (remember I am a kiwi & soccer doesn’t count for much back home). The game was on Sunday & as luck would have it, the Monday was a school holiday (City of Luanda day), so there was no stress about getting home at a reasonable hour. In fact, the consensus was that the traffic jam back into Luanda would be so bad (2 hours the night Bill went) that we would have a barbeque at the stadium after the match & only attempt the drive home a couple of hours after everyone else.

So, on Sunday we got dressed for the game – me in an Angolan T-shirt & Bill in an Angolan flag! We got to the stadium early (also in an attempt to avoid the jams), so Bill & I took our camera’s into the crowd. Bill had learnt from his experience during the week that any camera of decent size (ie bigger than a cigarette packet) was not being allowed into the stadium – he’d come home without a single photo as he’d had to return the camera to the bus for the game. We’d come prepared – our SLR’s for the before the game shots, and a couple of small cameras to try to get into the stadium.

The atmosphere outside the stadium was typical Luanda on a party day – everyone was dressed up & having a good time. People were asking us to take their photos or happily posing – just like at Carnival. The most outrageous thing we saw was a goat on a lead dressed up in Angolan colours! (We saw this outside the stadium – I doubt the goat was allowed inside!). (Bill disagrees and thinks the guy in drag who did the “hula hoop” for us to photograph was more outrageous)

The place was a sea of red and yellow and black (the colours of the Angolan flag). After about half an hour of taking photos, we had to retire our good cameras & then try our luck with getting the smaller cameras through security. It was touch and go – I had a compact camera with a 200mm lens that they just didn’t want to let in – but eventually they gave up trying to tell us it wasn’t OK & let us go. Security was very tight & everything was very well organised. I was impressed with the new stadium – lots of toilets, lots of places to buy water & food etc & tight checking of tickets so that you had to sit where your ticket was & not just where you pleased.

The stadium was a sea of red & yellow (it turned out that the few Ghanaian supporters at the match were sitting underneath us, so we couldn’t see the little patch of orange that was there). When the game started, there were still a lot of empty seats (traffic jams) but by 20 minutes into the game, most seats were filled. We wondered how much most people paid for their tickets – we were on the very back row, right behind one goal & our tickets said 300 kwanza (about $US3) – but we paid Kw 1000 each and I am sure others paid much more.

I can’t comment much on the game, except it went much faster than I’d been dreading & it wasn’t nearly as bad as the other game (but still quite dismal, with many good chances badly missed). Angola had the most opportunities, but failed to do anything with them. Ghana had one real chance and scored – and that was the end result: 1 - 0 to Ghana. The crowd wasn’t happy, but the mood was still good as we exited the stadium. Considering Angola was out of the cup, everyone seemed to take it very well.

We got our barbeque going & as the coals burnt down, we watched the traffic crawling back towards the city. Despite the fact that it made it a very long day, the barbeque was a great success and when we finally packed up to come home, the trip was less than half an hour and we were able to collapse into bed having already eaten.

So, such was my very first live football match – and frankly, probably my last! Lots of colour and atmosphere, not much excitement on the pitch, but still a great day out. I’m sad for Angola that it won’t go further, but if you play that badly…..

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A New Year in Bangkok

We arrived in the heat and humidity of Bangkok – what a shock after the snow and cold. However we think we were lucky to get out, as the winter UK weather just hasn’t got better. We were also badly jet-lagged (the layovers in Dubai and KL probably didn’t help) so crashed very early in the evening after attending our orientation meeting for the job fair.

We had a busy fair with lots of interviews and we also managed to catch the presentations of the schools we were particularly interested in. We also attended the presentation for our school, so people could come and ask us questions about life at the school or in Angola. There seemed to be lots of interest, which is a healthy sign for the school.

After much wrestling with the decision, we finally decided on Sunday to accept job offers for a school in Dubai. Despite taking hours to decide, and talking to as many different people as we could about it, once we made the decision, it felt like the right thing to do for us now. We are really excited. Ironically, it will put us much closer to the boys in Tanzania – about 5 hours vs the current 36 hours plus!

Our flight back was on Monday, so Sunday evening we visited Pantip Plaza for our “techie” fix, followed by a great Indian meal. On Monday morning we got up early and caught the ferry to Wat Arun – the temple of the dawn. Although we definitely weren’t there for dawn, we did catch the early morning light on the river and at the temple. We’d both been to the temple before, but it is so photogenic that it was an obvious choice with just a couple of hours to spare.

Our flights back to Angola were uneventful, but the stop-over in Dubai airport took on a new meaning now we know we’ll be using it so often! We arrived in Luanda around 3pm on Tuesday and Bill was one of the first in the immigration line – we were through in about 15 minutes – an all time Luanda record for us. We were very surprised to find that the luggage hall had been over-hauled since the last time we flew in – it now boasts 3 “proper” luggage conveyer belts and they even have signage up saying where to expect your bags. That in itself would have been a huge improvement, but to our total surprise, the bags started to appear not long after we arrived there. We actually got our bags & were out of the airport in just under an hour from landing – that is nearly 3 times faster than normal! (Unfortunately, when we swapped notes with other teachers, it appears that this record speed is not consistent – despite the new conveyor belts, some people still had a two hour wait for their luggage).

So, jetlagged again (although not as bad as the other direction) we had another very early night with a three day working week to deal with the next day. Back to school…