Sunday, December 28, 2008

Seasons Greetings and a Happy New Year

Best wishes to everyone - we return to Angola and our adventures a week into the new year.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Week 20: Relaxing at Rio Longa & Flying Out

Dec 13 – 21, 08

Saturday was a quiet day at home – drying off everything that had been soaked in the flood, including all the electrical stuff. However, although one of the multiplugs worked after drying out, one didn’t & there is still no life in my laptop adaptor. Fingers are still crossed that a new adapter bought in the UK will bring my laptop to life again. Lots of people flew out for their holidays – we said goodbye to them as they left for the airport. The residential area was getting quieter by the hour!

Sunday wasn’t much busier than Saturday – I spent a couple of hours making the most of the lack of people around to try to catch photos of the birds flying around the grounds & the lizards that somehow survive the regular mosquito fogging. (Actually the big black slugs seem to survive that too). We were leaving early the next morning for our holiday at Rio Longa, so we organised breakfast & packing on Sunday evening so we would be ready to go on time.

We left for Rio Longa just after 8am on Monday morning & promptly got stuck in traffic. Our driver did a U-turn & then drove us out via the back roads & successfully managed to avoid the main traffic before we hit the main road south again. The trip was fast and easy, and when we arrived at the dock just by the Rio Longa bridge, the boat from the lodge was waiting for us already. We were taken to the lodge in a small powerboat, but the driver kept close to the banks so it was great for taking photographs – we saw a couple of goliath herons – they are such big birds & surprisingly well camouflaged in the reeds. As usual, Bill & I had reached a sharing agreement with the long lens – he would have it on the return trip as I had it on the trip in. It was a wonderful trip – we saw lots of birds & lots of purple flowers – the water hyacinth were all flowering (yes I know this is a noxious weed, but the flowers are really beautiful).

When we got to the lodge it seemed as if we were the only people staying there – we had lunch (they had got the message that we were vegetarian) and then took a kayak across the lagoon to the beach. The waves were really wild – it didn’t look particularly safe to either of us for swimming, so we took a long walk along the beach instead. Just like last time, there were hundreds of crazy crabs on the beach – running in & out of the surf. This time we didn’t see one with a feather – that obviously was a crab in thousand (or more – the beach is covered in them), but we did see a “crab of war” as two crabs were each tugging on opposite ends of a piece of dead fish skin. We saw the remains of a dead fish – almost totally stripped all the flesh of it. I can see now why whole dead fishes aren’t such a common sight on the beach – the crabs must reduce them down to bare bones in just a few hours.

After our beach walk we returned to the lodge & about 5pm we went out in the boat again – a couple of local women working a the lodge were taken up towards the village by the mouth of the river, & we came back along the banks of the mangroves looking for birds & any reptiles. Once again, no crocodiles, but we did see vultures and lots of herons & kingfishers.

Dinner was very tasty, but our solitude was gone as a big group of people had arrived in time for dinner also. Afterwards we retired to our bungalow to crash – Bill read for a bit with the headlamp (there is no electricity at all in Rio Longa, the lighting is all by candlelight).

We had planned to get up early, but it just didn’t happen. Instead we got up in time for breakfast – as we were walking to the lodge, I saw the cat (kept to keep rats away) playing with something at eh base of a palm tree. When I took a closer look, I saw it was a giant crab – the biggest land crab I’ve ever seen – it must have been close to 15 cm wide and was standing up maybe about 10 cm off the ground. Although it didn’t like the cat, it stood its ground & the cat soon got bored & left it. I took a few photos & then noticed the sand around the palms was tracked with what must be these giant crab tracks – there were a heap of them. I don’t know if they come out & walk around at night, or just very early in the morning – it was the only one we saw.

After breakfast we went out “bird stalking” in the kayak. This is something we have now perfected to a fine art – the person with the camera & long lens sits in the front of the kayak, while the other person does most of the paddling. When a bird is spotted, the paddling goes as quiet as possible & tries to steer the kayak as close to the bird as possible without disturbing it. Because the kayak is so quiet to move, this works really well for getting great shots of the bigger birds, but the little birds are always so small through the camera. We went up the side of the lagoon next to all the mangrove trees & were rewarded with seeing lots of kingfishers and bee-eaters. We even saw what we think is a “go-away bird” up on one of the palm trees. When we have gone past all the mangroves, we find a sandy bank, ground the kayak & then swap seats & do it all over again in the opposite direction. It’s a great way to spend the early morning & so cool to see so many birds up close.

When we got back from our paddling, we found Bora & Tina had arrived already – they are staying in Luanda for the whole holidays & we knew they would be coming for our second day at the resort. We hadn’t expected them so early though – they’d left Luanda about 6:30 & as a result hadn’t had any of the problems we’d struck with the traffic.

We had lunch with them & after lunch they sat and read on the veranda while we went for another paddle up the beach side of the lagoon, where we beached the kayak & then walked along the beach until we reached the headland at the south end of the beach. It was a very long walk – well over an hour to get to the rocks – which were essentially just shells stuck together with sand. We’d left our sandals in the kayak, and the sand here was burning our bare feet, so we had to retreat just meters from the actual headland. The beach is stunning – pristine clean, 2 – 3 hours to walk from one end of it to the other (at least) and not another soul on it except for us!

Although we’d taken water with us (& drank quite a bit of it) we were hot & tired when we got back to the lodge. We sat & read for the rest of the afternoon & then showered & changed for dinner. We had dinner with Tina & Bora again, it was nice company and it made us feel less “excluded” as the other guests were having a Christmas party and unwrapping presents!

We were the last to leave (we found out the next day that the party people had left early in the morning) & despite the lack of air conditioning, or even a fan, the rooms are more than cool enough for a good nights sleep. Once again though, we didn’t get up early & simply were in time for breakfast again (although we were earlier than the other two). We did the same kayak trip as the previous morning – out along the mangroves & this time we were lucky enough to see the pygmy kingfishers hiding in the papyrus – they are so small that despite their bright colours, they are really easy to overlook.

After we got back, we relaxed for the rest of the morning – reading old magazines & enjoying the breeze & the beautiful view. We had another leisurely lunch and got ourselves ready for the boat trip back to the bridge to pick up our bus back to school. Disappointingly, we had yet another crocodile free trip, although we did see several big birds.

The bus was waiting for us, so we were on the road back to Luanda very quickly. The trip takes just over 2 hours & we made good progress despite a truck having a tire blow-out just in front of us as we were going up a hill & a 10 minute break at the lunar lookout as Bora & Tina hadn’t seen it before.

It felt strange to be home – especially as we are almost the only people left living on campus. We had planned to have a big day trip the next day, but as we realised how tired we were from the long trip back, we decided to be kind to ourselves & just stay at home to pack & get ready for our flight out on Friday. We were very pleased that we’d gone to Rio Longa – the price is unbelievable, but everything is relative, & we felt that it was well worth the money to have such a relaxing get away. Certainly we couldn’t afford to do it every month, but a couple of times a year isn’t out of the question.

Thursday morning we slept very late (for us anyway) & when Bill went to cancel our trip was told that it wouldn’t have been possible anyway as there were no drivers! Just as well we hadn’t got up at 6am to go out for the day! We spent the day organising stuff we needed & just taking it pretty easy again. We are definitely in holiday mode!

Friday has to be the absolutely worst airport experience of my life. We had no water on Thursday evening & it hadn’t come back on by the morning, so we weren’t able to have showers before going to the airport. Our bus was waiting for us on time & despite some quite heavy traffic, as our route was through a busy shopping area, we made good time. We’d allowed ourselves heaps of time, so the slow trip into the airport wasn’t stressful - & it allowed us to really notice what was going on. Christmas is obviously a big thing in Luanda & we saw lots & lots of people by the side of the road with stuff to sell – either to passersby or to people in the slowly moving cars. Just to give you an idea of what was on sale – here is a list of what I saw (typical of any day I guess except for the Christmas stuff):

  • 2009 diaries
  • Apples
  • Babies car seat
  • Balls (soccer, basket etc)
  • Bananas
  • Bathroom shelves
  • Batteries
  • Beach chairs
  • Car tools
  • Children’s stickers
  • Christmas decorations
  • Christmas trees
  • Clocks
  • Dog leashes & muzzles
  • Electric fans
  • Fairy lights
  • Fake Rolex watches
  • Fishing rods
  • Gas bottle hose
  • Ice cube trays
  • Ironing board
  • Irons (not the same person)
  • Large mat
  • Large size calculators
  • Mangoes
  • Men’s jackets
  • Multi-plugs
  • Music CDs (probably pirates)
  • Netting (for screens)
  • Newspapers
  • Paintings
  • Pillows
  • Popcorn
  • Portable barbeque
  • Pots for plants
  • Rat traps
  • Remote controls
  • Steering wheel covers
  • Toilet rolls
  • TowelsWooden masks

We arrived at the airport just after 8:30 am (for a 2:30 flight) & it was already totally packed in the outer section where you have to queue & wait until your flight is ready to check-in. There were a total of 5 flights listed, but we couldn’t find a line for our flight – we waited for about an hour, during which time nobody seemed to go into the airport proper, & it just got more & more crowded. The tension just continued to mount as people were being held back & several flights got delayed. After about another hour, Bill decided to move us up to the front, where we were eventually able to push our way into the main airport when the security people weren’t looking. It was just completely crazy – people were screaming to be let in, the security staff weren’t letting anyone in despite how close it was getting in to the real check-in times & there was a big group of people like us that were just sneaking in anyway.

Once we got into the main part of the airport, our flight wasn’t listed at any of the check-in desks, so we ate our packed lunch (this is an airport with virtually no food facilities) & when our flight finally came up on the check-in screens, we were about 10th in line in the queue. You’d think that it would be almost over by this time, but each person who went up to check in took at least 30 minutes! There was no air-conditioning in the airport, the whole place was completely packed, & people were still trying to push in. It got really nasty – by this time almost everyone has been in a queue for about 4 hours (including children & babies) & there is no end in sight despite being so close to the check-in counter. We stood in that queue for over 2 hours before we finally got to the desk. Although we were Ok for time, it was obvious that the flight was going to be delayed. We asked about our connecting flights & they told us the flight from Windhoek would be held for us & that they would contact KLM to let them know that we would be arriving in Johannesburg late. The good thing was that they were able to check our luggage all the way through to Manchester, so when we finally left the counter, we were feeling reasonably optimistic. That was until we saw the queue for immigration – it was at least 4 people wide & stretched half way around the airport. It took about another hour & a half to get to the front of that queue to get our passports stamped & put our bags through the x-ray machines. By this time Bill’s shirt was completely soaked though – you could hardly see a dry spot on it - & our patience had almost worn out.

The scene in the departure lounge wasn’t much better than what we’d left, except that we weren’t in a queue – no sign of our flight boarding, so we just had to sit (on our cabin bags) and wait it out. People were smoking everywhere, the 8am flight that had been delayed still hadn’t left, and neither had any of the other flights for the day. We finally got on the plane about 6:30pm – we’d been at the airport for 10 hours!

Typically, Bill & I hadn’t been given seats together, but the flight to Windhoek is relatively quick & we were looking at the time & trying to calculate if we could still make our KLM connection in Jo-burg. We thought that if we left really quickly on the Jo-burg flight, we might just make it, as it didn’t leave until midnight. However, when we got into the Windhoek airport, there was a lady calling for all passengers transferring to Johannesburg. All my initial optimism was crushed – they’d let the flight go & we had to stay the night in Windhoek & they’d put us on the 11 am flight in the morning – well & truly too late for our connection!

We went through a special fast track lane in immigration & then collected our bags (at least they didn’t get lost like some people’s) & proceeded to the passenger services. The initial lady we spoke with had told us that they would help us arrange new flights for the connections we’d lost, but when we actually got to the window, the women only wanted our details to confirm our Air Namibia flight in the morning & wasn’t prepared to do anything about our onward flights. That’s when it got nasty – we were tired & had had a hell of a day & this was literally the last straw. Bill demanded to see the manager, & after rather too long, he came out to give us the same story – nothing they could do, wait for tomorrow morning to try to get onward flights etc etc. Bill got angrier & angrier, I got more & more upset, we knew that with it being so close to Christmas, the chances of getting seats on another flight weren’t going to be good & neither of us wanted to leave it unresolved until the next day. Eventually, the manager took our tickets & offered to ring our travel agent (who is based in Namibia) to try to get new flights for us. That was the breakthrough we’d been waiting for – we didn’t have a phone that worked & couldn’t do it ourselves. After about a 5 minute wait, he came out again to say that the travel agent thought she could get us on the KLM flight the next day & would get back to us in ten minutes or so with a confirmation. It was a long ten minutes, but eventually she rang back (this was about 9:30 at night) to say we were both confirmed on KLM the next night, all the way to Manchester!

After that, we were taken in to the city (a 50 minute drive) to a hotel for the night. The hotel dinner buffet had stayed open for us to eat (there was a total of 21 people who’d missed their flight – including some who’d been bumped off the Cape Town flight despite reconfirming their flights). The food wasn’t great, but at least we were able to eat something as it had been a very long time since anyone had had anything to eat. Bill rang his mum to let her know we’d be arriving 24 hours late (hopefully) & then we both crashed for the night. Not a good day at all!

Saturday morning we had breakfast & then were transferred back to the hotel. The trip to the airport gave us a taste of how beautiful the countryside is in Namibia – we will definitely come back for a longer trip! Check in was a breeze (no comparison at all to the previous day’s experience) & they were able to check our bags all the way to Manchester again (a big relief). It was simply a matter of waiting for our flight, which left spot on time & then, once we arrived at Johannesburg, spending the day at the airport waiting for our midnight flight. Although it was a huge waste of time (we couldn’t pick up our boarding passes until 8:30 pm & therefore still a little stressful as we didn’t know for sure that we’d be on the flight) the airport has enough facilities that a long wait is bearable.

Queuing for our boarding pass was a bit stressful as the line was very slow moving. Interestingly, almost everyone in front of us had also come from Luanda & had similar tales of chaos to our own experience. But, once we got to the desk, we got our boarding passes (for both flights), our luggage details were processed & everything finalised. We were very relieved & then it was just a matter of waiting the last 3 hours or so until boarding.

The flight to Amsterdam was about 10 – 12 hours & all though the night. After the previous 2 days that we’d been though, we both were able to sleep quite a bit during the flight. Once we got to Amsterdam, Bill was able to ring his mum & confirm that they’d be able to pick us up at Manchester.

So, after more than 48 hours since leaving home to go the airport, we finally arrived in Manchester (with all our luggage) & we were able to put the whole experience behind us & start to look forward to getting ready for Christmas.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Week 19: Pilgrimage to Muxima

Dec 6 – 12, 08

Saturday was another quiet day at home – I discovered a cool site my yearbook kids will be able to use to make colourful movies from photos for big events at school. I spent most of the day playing around with it, so I could show them an example of what they can do. Bill was happy to play guitar & read again. We were very glad we’d left the Christmas party early – there were a lot of tired looking people around. Despite trying to avoid it as it gets closer to the holidays, we had to go to Shoprite for supplies – normally Saturday afternoon is the worst possible time to go with the aisles filled with people and check-out queues that can last for over half an hour. We don’t know if everyone else is now also avoiding Saturdays, but when we went, the supermarket was the emptiest we’ve ever seen it. We were able to race around & get what we needed & then go through the till in no time. Still not a favourite thing to do on a Saturday, but it was definitely bearable. One of the reasons we just had to go was that we needed to make our lunch for Sunday as we were leaving early for a big excursion with a group of other teachers.

Sunday was a really early start as we left school at 7am. We drove through a part of the city I hadn’t been through before – almost due east. We joined up with the old railway line – with a train still sitting at one of the stations – but never leaving. The Chinese have the contract to renew the railway line & get it functional again – we certainly saw lots of work. Early in the morning, the traffic was good so we got out of the city in good time (still an hour – it’s a big city). We drove out to Cabala – a village on the Kwanza river. This is where our guide for the day – Senor Serafim Quintino, was going to hire the two boats we would need to take us up river to Muxima. We waited around the village for a bit, lots of great opportunities for photos as the local women and children walked past going to the river and back.

After the initial transactions had taken place, we walked down to the river ourselves & then while we were waiting for the final details to be sorted, it gave us a chance to look around the local market a bit. Women & children were down at the river doing the washing (clothes & themselves) & rather bizarrely, there was a group of Chinese men fishing off the side.

We needed 2 boats for the 11 of us – 6 in one boat & 5 in the other – we were in the boat with 5, one of which was Serafim & he sat right up the front, so we had only two people on each seat as opposed to the rather uncomfortable looking three in the other boat.

The trip took us a good two hours upstream, it was an overcast morning, which probably saved us from getting badly burnt, despite the sunscreen. The Kwanza river is one of the borders of Kissama National park & the same baobab scenery was dominant in the background. The edges of the river were grassy weeds – with lots of waterbirds & several crocodiles. We also passed many small villages – just a few huts in a clearing, & people out fishing and lots of mango trees with ripe mangoes hanging off them (very similar to the baobab flowers & fruits actually). We saw African openbill storks, spur-winged geese, fish eagles, grey herons & black-headed herons as well as great egrets. It was a very nice trip, although just a tad long. (Bill has a rule that says every water trip is at least 30% too long and as usual, he was spot on about this one too.)

Finally, we saw Muxima in the distance - it has a Portuguese fort built up on the hill facing down the river & as it is painted white, it stood out in the distance. There was a church under the fort (also white) which is one of 5 pilgrimage churches in the Luanda area - although we weren’t there at the height of the pilgrimage season (that is in September) it was still crowded with pilgrims. Serafim told us that This town had always been a holy site & was the centre of the local animist faith – which is why the church had been initially built. The fort had been built to secure the slave trade that came via the river & also to keep the local tribes under control.

When we arrived, we carried our lunch stuff to a covered jango (roofed pavilion) & Serafim arranged for a couple of locals to mind it for us as we explored. While we were waiting for him to organize that, Bill & I checked out the trees around the central square – they were full of village weaver birds – bright yellow birds with black heads that were so noisy its hard to believe. They are social birds – there must have been hundreds of them. We went up to the fort first as the church was still in session.

There used to be a church up at the fort also, and although that is long gone, there were signs that the pilgrims were covering their bases & leaving petitions there also.

The fort had the usual cannons pointing both downstream (the way we had come) and upstream. Not long after we got to the fort, big black clouds came in & it started to rain lightly. We have had so little rain, it is hard to remember that it is actually supposed to be the wet season – only 2 of us had an umbrella (& not Bill or me – it was definitely a wake-up call).

The rain had mostly dried up as we came back down the hill, but it was a false illusion, as not long after we reached the jango & started to eat our lunch, it started to really pour down. The little kids were funny – they ran around in the rain as if it was a shower. Everyone else stayed under shelter waiting for the rain to ease up.

We had finished our lunch, the rain was slowly easing up, so we decided to walk up to a new “hotel” complex - we’d seen these bright blue roofs from the boat as we’d arrived. Just walking the ten minutes or so to the hotel got us soaking wet & our feet totally covered in mud – the dry sand that we see everywhere turns into instant cloying mud as soon as it is wet! The hotel had clean toilets (a very welcome find) although the ladies had a couple of very agitated swallows who didn’t like the intrusion at all! We sat out the rain in the restaurant (the whole place seemed a little surreal – apparently it is completely filled up during the height of the pilgrimage – but it seemed totally deserted when we were there. Fortunately, the rain did ease off, & we were finally able to go and visit the church Although the service was over, the church wasn’t empty. Behind the altar was a statue of Mary (“Mama Muxima”). This statue had been taken from the church during the civil war, & its return from Luanda started the pilgrimages to the church. Most of the Pilgrims are women, praying for their families. Behind the church was an area where they had tents erected, had fires for cooking and the bushes were all covered in their washing.

Because we had waited out the rain, we were a bit behind schedule, and we had to leave for our trip down river back to Cabala. Fortunately, the rain had truly stopped – none of us were looking forward to a boat trip in heavy rain! Bill had my long lens for the trip back, which did go a bit faster than the trip upstream, but was still too long (especially for bottoms sitting on wooden planks). Bill got some great fish eagle shots & we saw more crocodiles.

The sky was spectacular – huge with big clouds & ironically, this is when the sun came out & people got sunburnt! We arrived back at Cabala close to when we were supposed to, but the trip back home was much slower as we hit very heavy traffic once we got into Luanda. However, it was a great day and we were very glad we’d gone despite getting drenched & arriving home totally wiped out.

I had to write a test for my y8’s before going to bed & the rest of the week was virtually as busy – I had to make decisions about what I wanted to teach next year & I’d scheduled a test for the y9’s on Tuesday also. Thursday (the last day of school) was a half day for classes – all the kids from y7 up were playing soccer to raise money for the orphanage that the CAS students go to. The aim is to raise enough money to provide all girls in the orphanage (girls only) with a complete set of new clothes, including shoes, for the new year. Every class had raised US$100 (although my homeroom had a bake sale & managed to raise $170) to contribute to the fund. In January, the plan is to have some adult corporate games & raise a lot more extra money to add to what the kids have contributed. So I spent 3 hours out in the hot sun, taking photos for yearbook. Bill was both a referee and played for the teachers team, but disgracefully, they lost the final against the year 12s – with lots of excuses about hearing a whistle that hadn’t been blown (the games were 6 a side & two half pitches were being used at the same time). Also a teacher & a student got sent off for a very unfortunate incident involving foul language on the student’s part. Apart from that, it was a very successful afternoon, although I can’t help but wonder at the sanity of scheduling soccer games during the heat of the day when there is only a small amount of shade for the kids when they come off the pitch.

The afternoon in the sun took its toll – a group of us went round to a friends place to sing carols – Kim (the primary music teacher) brought along the keyboard & Bill decided at the last minute to bring his electric guitar (despite not knowing any of the chords & earlier vowing not to play under those circumstances). It was a very nice party, the Spanish teacher had printed off words for some carols in Spanish, & the Portuguese teacher had done the same. We also were given sheets with the English words (just as well or I don’t know how many people could have sung along otherwise). Bill coped really well with reading off the chords as he went & Kim was well in her element. But, by 9:30 everybody was ready to go home & sleep, even the teachers who normally can stay up all night during the weekend.

On Friday, some teachers had already left for the airport & Bill & I went into town to finally post the Christmas cards I had made about 3 weeks ago, but we hadn’t managed to get in to post. We had the usual argument with the lady in the post office – my cards are laminated & she is convinced that the stamps will slide off. Eventually she gave into us, the stamps stick well, but I guess can be soaked off easily – the first post cards I sent from here to mum arrived without the stamp (although no one else reported that they didn’t have stamps) & most seem to have arrived OK. We spent an hour or so at the roof-top bar of the Hotel Continental over-looking the open square. It is a great spot for people watching, without them being aware they are being watched.

When we got home, we had a shock waiting for us – there had been a power cut during the afternoon and by mistake our cleaner had left a tap in the kitchen open (no power = no water). When she came back much later, our place had completely flooded – we found all the rugs hanging up outside, bags etc also – but all the electrical cords on the floor – the multi-plugs & my laptop adaptor had been completely soaked. The power had flipped off, but my laptop is dead. We won’t know until we can get a new adapter if the laptop itself is OK or if it was also damaged by the power surge. The school has said it will pay for anything permanently broken – we have our fingers crossed that we will get my laptop up & running when we get to the UK in a weeks time.

The last 19 weeks has really caught up with us, and although we haven’t got sick like a lot of other teachers, we are just totally exhausted & went to bed early again after watching a movie.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Week 18: Party Season

Nov 29 – Dec 5 08

Saturday was a typical quiet & lazy day with the exception that we were going to the St Andrews Ball for the evening. Apparently it is the only real ball that expats go to in Angola, and we very nearly missed out on tickets – it was only because a couple of people had bought some & then made alternate plans that we were able to buy the tickets off them. Dinner was included in the US$100 price & we’d checked to make sure that there would be vegetarian food. So we got dressed up (Bill opting for Malaysian silk shirt rather than a shirt and tie – we loved Malaysia for the fact that local batik is considered formal wear, equivalent to tails & tux, so we thought we’d stick with the concept). There was a bus leaving school at 7pm for a 7:30 start. The ball was in a hotel in a compound not too far from school, so it seemed an appropriate time. We drove to Jo & Marek’s place to pick them up as well – making a total of 4 couples & Maggie who was going by herself. However, the driver couldn’t seem to find the compound we were headed for & we drove around in circles & down dead alleys before heading half way into the city to take a u-turn to put us on the right road. The whole area where the ball was being held is currently (for ages) under road construction & the problem seemed to be that it was on a one-way road headed back to school & therefore very difficult to get to from school, despite the fact that we pass it every time we come home from the city. So it took us over an hour before we finally arrived & then we still had to get past the security check.

However, once we arrived, we found our table & proceeded to relax. There was no dance music when we arrived & when it started it was Scottish country dancing (I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised – it was the St Andrew’s ball after all). The first dance was the “Gay Gordon” & we bravely tried to copy what the couple in front of us were doing – but we were hopeless & ended up giving up & watching from the side. The next few dances were even more complex, although it was fun to watch. There was some “disco music” but they had got a year 11 boy to act as the DJ & he really didn’t have a clue about what sort of music to play. Bill & I managed to have a few dances, but really, it wasn’t great. Dinner was very good though & we danced a bit more afterwards. It was a fun night & well worth the money. We plan to go again next year, but vowed to make sure that we have lessons in the dances first!

Sunday, I had to write primary reports – it took me all day. However, it was very nice to get them all out of the way. Bill had a great day playing guitar & reading!
The week was tiring – it is funny how towards the end of term, everyone gets more & more tired & tempers start to fray. Everyone is counting down to the last day next week.

The week ended with a high spot although, Friday night was the school Christmas party. We’d been asked weeks earlier for our preference for vegetarian food, so we knew there would be a good meal to eat. It was quite a formal evening – everybody dressed up – especially the local staff. There was DJ here as well – we were blasted with what sounded like Angolan trance music from within 50 meters of the cafeteria. But, after everyone had eaten (a veritable feast that included whole crabs for the brave), people got up on the dance floor & danced - & danced well. The locals were fantastic dancers & keen to dance. It was very interesting – the Angolan men were dancing with their wives & girlfriends & almost all the western guys were outside pretending not to know their wives and girlfriends who were inside dancing as well. Bill was one of the notable exceptions – we danced quite a lot, but the effects of 17hard weeks caught up on us & we were ready to go home by 8:30!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Week 17: Eland in the Garden

Nov 22 - 28, 08

Kissama photos slideshow

We had an early start as we had booked the 4-wheel drive for 7am. Of course there was no sign of the driver that early, but we were on our way about 7:30. The drive out of the city was relatively fast (the main road south seems to be permanently congested) & then we had a really good run out to the entrance road to Kissama. We didn’t see any animals along the roadside apart from a few lizards & a few birds (& lots of starlings). The road was noticeably wetter than the last time we’d been & more of a challenge for the driver. We passed a car which had obviously gone as far as it could before turning around and abandoning the attempt. The lack of animals was wonderfully compensated for when we arrived at the fenceline surrounding the inner area of the park. There was a female bushbuck right there on the road next to the fence – I was able to get out of the car & walk up to the fence to take photos of it browsing in the bushes.

Once we arrived at the park headquarters, it didn’t take us long to put up our tent. There was a troop of vervet monkeys around our campsite & we got the distinct impression that if we weren’t careful, they would steal our lunch out from under us. about 3pm. We walked down to the river (about 30 minutes I guess) & took lots of photos – overhead eagles (Bill got those – he had the long lens), butterflies & various insects. It was much hotter than the last time we were here a month or so ago. We made the terrible mistake of not carrying water with us & by the time we arrived at the river, we knew we’d messed up. The trip back up the hill wasn’t very pleasant, with both of us feeling decidedly dehydrated, but fortunately we weren’t so far from camp. When we got back we both drank 1.5 litres of water each & vowed to never let that happen again!

After re-hydrating we still had a couple of hours until we could go out on safari – so Bill found a quiet spot to read, while I took my camera around the headquarters. I know he enjoyed the peace, & I had a great time – I saw more monkeys, amazing stick-like crickets that had wings like butterflies, cool cactus flowers & purple-banded sunbirds (which just happened to come & pose for me in the cactus flowers).

I noticed a crowd of people standing in the garden with cameras, so I wondered over to have a look & you can imagine my surprise when I saw 3 eland munching on the bushes. The male, who was as big as a large bull (very big in other words) was less than 10 metres away. The crowd took their photos & disappeared again, while I stayed to watch. What a magnificent creature! I got to within 5 meters of the male (the female had a young calf & they were much shyer) – I backed off first – he was so big, I was scared. The bull had an orange tuft of hair on his head & when he was under a bush & you couldn’t see his antlers, his face looked very cow-like (jersey cow to be exact). He had a huge blue-grey burlap – the flap of skin at his chin & then the rest of him just seemed like a large bull. When he walked, he clicked (this is typical, it is mentioned in my guide book, but I don’t know what part of him was making that noise). I realised that he had only one antler – because the broken one was mostly on the far side from me & I hadn’t initially noticed. The female & the calf also had antlers, which have a straight shape with a deep spiral groove twisting around it.

I went to find Bill & gave him my lens so he could take some photos also. The elands had hardly moved – we saw their footprints all around that area of the garden. Like me, he was only prepared to get so close, although he got some wary looks, the animals were more concerned about eating than being frightened by puny humans with cameras.

It was getting very close to the time we’d been told that the safari truck would go out so we returned to the area where it departs from & then waited about an hour before being told that the big truck wasn’t going to go out (not enough people I think) & instead we would be going out with a group of people on a tour. They had 2 extra spaces in their luxurious stretch landrover. The organiser of the tour was Mario from Eco Tur & it cost us the same $20 each it would have on the safari truck, but in a lot more comfort. Also (the best part) there were sunroofs over each seat, so we able to stand up through the roof & get the most fantastic view.

We had agreed that Bill would have the zoom lens on Saturday & I’d have it for Sunday. So I took landscape pictures in a way I’d never managed to from the roofed-in safari truck & Bill was able to take photos of (surprisingly little) wildlife that we saw. It was a bit disappointing in terms of animals – we saw a few herds of eland and the odd single animal, an ostrich which we chased down the road (they can run really fast), lots of birds of various kinds, but no elephant or giraffe or zebra.

We stopped for drinks about half way around & we were still out when the sun went down & were able to catch the spectacular sunset from our roof-top view. The landrover gave a much smoother ride than the truck (not so surprising really) so it was a very pleasant couple of hours out. The people we were riding with were working for one of the oil companies & were having a great day trip including breakfast at one of the luxury lodges on the way to the park. They weren’t staying the night, but heading back to Luanda soon after the safari finished. It was their first trip to Kissama, although they had been in Luanda longer than us.

We had to start cooking relatively quickly so we could set up while it was still light. The very nice thing about camping at Kissama is that you can use a covered Jango (thatched shelter) with lights and table and chairs. Very civilised. That’s about when we realised we’d made another bad mistake – for the first time ever, we’d forgotten all our mosquito repellent things. Normally we burn coils in our cooking jingo but without them, we were attacked by mosquitoes. Fortunately we did have clothes to cover up in.

The tent was very hot (don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to camp in summer) & much worse, we had a few mosquitoes in it. They will always bite me given a choice between me of Bill & I had a miserable time with mossies buzzing in my ears all night. Eventually the temperature dropped in the early morning & I got some sleep, but Bill was up about 5am for the dawn chorus & I was up not long afterwards as the sun was heating the tent up again. We decided to postpone breakfast until after we’d gone out on safari, & as we were walking over to the truck, we saw the bull eland clicking his way through the campground. What a cool start to my birthday!

The truck left close to 6am while it was still quite cool & we saw an amazing number of animals – mostly all antelope, but in large groups rather than as solitary animals. We think we saw more than a 100 animals in total – definitely our best ever trip despite the lack of the more “dramatic” animals.

As you can tell from the photos, it is still very dry, although the wet season is supposed to have started. Maybe that is why we saw so many animals – we don’t know, but it was wonderful to see such large numbers when you think about the history of the park.

It was hot & threatening rain when we got back to camp for breakfast. In fact, it started to rain just a bit after we’d eaten, so we took the tent down in case it got wetter & then retreated to the jingo with easy chairs to wait for our driver to arrive to pick us up. Bill was happy just to read again, while I took my camera out around the grounds to see what I could find.

I had a great time – I saw a posing dragonfly, an agama lizard – the first decent sized lizard I’ve been able to take a photos of here, lots of pretty flowers and the female sunbird (not nearly as glorious as her mate that I photographed the previous day). I also spent ages trying to take a decent picture of the big carpenter bees that were collecting pollen from a flowering tree right outside the restaurant. The lady who runs the place was obviously impressed by my patience, as she came out to tell that the tree was unique to the park. She told me its name, but I didn’t catch it properly – after trawling on the net for a few hours, I think it must be a sub-species of Bauhinia petersiana which normally have very similar white flowers. The yellow, bell-shaped flower is also a Bauhinia species.

Our driver eventually arrived – he told us that the traffic getting out of the city was particularly bad. Our trip out of the park was once again animal free, but for a while we were driving behind a ute totally full of people standing up in the back with just each other to hold onto, bouncing along the rough road in the sun. Our air-conditioned land rover never looked better!

On our way back, we once again stopped at the lookout point over the sandstone escarpment on the coast. No matter how many times you see it, it is always breathtakingly dramatic.

Despite a good fast trip for most of the way, we eventually hit the traffic jam which had delayed the driver in the morning. They had closed one side of the highway, so only one direct could move at a time. The lines of cars was backed up for ages!

Once we finally got past the roadworks, the traffic was still heavy so our driver asked if he could take an alternative route back to school. The way we went was through a poor residential area – the road was only wide enough for one car, so if something came the other way, you had to drive up the side of the road to let it squeeze past. But we made good progress & we were home to hot showers & fresh clothes by mid afternoon.

After such a brilliant weekend, the rest of the week was essentially mundane – the usual shopping, washing & school work. I helped update the school’s recruitment brochure with photos that had been taken this year & generally improve its graphical layout. It was a rush job as it had to in to the printers by Wednesday morning.

Friday was another early close, but we turned down an invite to go camping on the beach again. I’m still covered in mosquito bites & we were planning to go into the city to post xmas cards. However, we couldn’t get a bus, so in the end, just had a relaxing afternoon at home.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Week 16: Out & About in Luanda

Nov 15 - 21, 08

On Saturday we got a school bus to take us down to the Marginal with the plan to walk around a section of the city we hadn’t explored yet & have lunch. Bill’s twisted ankle from his soccer game limited our options somewhat. We knew where we wanted to explore & walked around for about an hour at the most before he simply couldn’t keep going. So we backtracked to the Intercontinental Hotel which sits one block back from the Marginal, and has just recently been renovated. It has a roof-top bar that we wanted to check out for view, general ambiance and food. Despite it being a very hot & sunny Saturday afternoon, the bar was virtually deserted. It had a great view looking down over a main pedestrian square (with a “map” of Angola laid out in huge rocks). We spent maybe a couple of hours there reading our books & watching people pass by. The final of the Angolan soccer season was due to start later in the afternoon (the stadium is about a 5 minute walk from the hotel) & we saw a huge police presence – blocking off roads around the stadium so no cars could go down, so traffic under where we were sitting got pretty congested at times.

There was also a good view out over the marginal, ilha & the bay in-between. The haze that existed when we first arrived in Luanda has virtually gone – so we had a clear view of all the container ships sitting out in the bay, waiting to be allowed to unload.

The rooftop was divided into three sections – the bar itself in the center, tables overlooking the square where we sat, & on the other side the toilets & a series of deck chairs, and an outdoor shower. No sign of a pool, but maybe that is still to be completed. Along that side of the roof, was a series of local paintings such as you see at Benfica market, with telephone numbers (possibly of the artist?). As there was absolutely no one around, I took advantage of the situation to rather cheekily take a few photos so you can see what the local art tends to look like.

To me much of it looks very similar to what we saw in Zanzibar, although the baobabs seem typically Angolan countryside. It is all very stylized.The bar only did sandwiches for food, so we walked back to our favourite pizza restaurant before heading back home. The pizzas are very good & it always amazes us that we manage to eat one each.

Sunday was a quiet day at home – we both had to go to school to get ready for Monday (Bill still had reports to write). The rest of the week was typically uneventful with the exception of Thursday night. The teachers were playing the gardeners at soccer & nothing would have dragged Bill away from playing, but I decided to go the Angola Field Group’s Thursday evening meeting at the Viking Club for the first time. The main incentive for me to go wasn’t the programme (a local movie about AIDS & HIV in Angola) but the fact that there was going to be a series of things being sold & I had xmas shopping on my mind. There was a bus-load of us going in & we arrived in the city just after 7pm. There was a DVD on Kuduru – a local music & dance style for sale (I didn’t buy), a bilingual (Portuguese & English) photo book on Angola (just published this month) which I did buy, as well as lots of craft items made by local orphanages. There were very cute African dolls with their baby tied on their back (unfortunately I couldn’t think of anyone the right age to give one too), table napkins, aprons etc made out of local fabric. I bought myself a small handbag made of crochet & coke can rings! Having gone for the shopping (& spent a ton of money within 15 minutes) I would have been quite happy to go straight home for an early night, but we stayed to watch the movie “A Strong Heart”. It was an hour long, in Portuguese, but with English subtitles. It was focused on discrimination faced by those with AIDS or HIV. It was excellent – I think it is the best film on AIDS/HIV that I’ve ever seen. I’m really glad that I got a chance to see it. I’m a little ashamed that I haven’t gone to any other of their presentations. So despite arriving home after 11pm, it was a very worthwhile evening & I’ll make a point to try to go more often.

The Angolan Field Group have their own blog at:

Friday was the usual hectic day with yearbook club & then packing to get ready to go camping in Kissama for my birthday weekend.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Week 15: International Day

Nov 8 - 14, 08

Saturday was International Day at school – opening at the rather civilized time of 2 pm, giving everyone involved in setting up country stalls plenty of time to do it without having to sacrifice a sleep-in.
Bill didn’t need to do anything, although there aren’t a huge number of Brit’s in the school, they hadn’t asked for teacher help. Not so for me though, with no NZ families, it was left to the Kiwi teachers on the staff to organize a stall for the day. I begged out of manning the booth, claiming responsibility for taking yearbook photos, but I did my share by producing several sheets of NZ-themed stickers to be used on the kids “passports”, as well as helping with the set-up of the stall. There was quite a lot of “inherited” stuff – fabric, flags, pictures etc, so it was mostly a matter of setting things up. A couple of teachers had made and iced about 80 afgan biscuits to give away & several of the teachers had items they’d bought back for display (a toy pukeko, a Maori doll, a flax kit etc).

After getting everything ready, I left to take photos of the chaos of getting ready for the Parade of Nations which would start the day off. (Experience of many other International days has taught me that this is one of the most fraught times for kids). Sure enough, I saw lots of despairing parents trying to force their little ones into a costume they didn’t want to wear, and lots of unhappy kids. The PTA organize the whole day & I don’t think the mum who was trying to organize all the countries for the parade was having a good time! Typically people turned up well over half an hour later than they were supposed to, but the parade actually got started only about 15 minutes late. This is the first school where they have let EVERYONE who wants to be part of the parade – so many parents and babies took part also. It also meant that the biggest nationality groups had huge crowds of people in the parade, whereas other countries had as few as two people.

After the parade, which did a circuit of the main playground, there were dances by kids from different countries. It was obvious that some countries are fiercely competitive about this & everyone is trying very hard to outdo each other. Fortunately, most of the kids looked as if they were enjoying themselves. The dances themselves were great & many countries managed to get almost all the kids from that country on stage (which is a real achievement when the ages vary so much). Another unique (in my experience) tradition is that the dance acts were interspersed by national costume demonstrations where the MC read out the descriptions of the clothes, where they came from, what they were called & when they would be worn etc. The audience was great and it was much more interesting than it probably sounds.

The stalls from each country had food and drink to try & they all had stamps or stickers for the kids passports (which you can see around their necks in some of the photos). After the dances, it was time to check out all the stalls (& get a drink as it was a very hot afternoon). A local martial arts group (Capoeira which is Brazilian-African) gave a display and some of the smaller kids gave it a go. (Everything was very slow motion – I don’t know if this is normal or was just for the display). The final act was bizarre – it was a local Angolan singer and two dancers who were performing a local style that was frankly risqué. Certainly not the most appropriate of performances for a school function. The adult males seemed to love it, almost everyone else was a bit bemused by the whole thing.
The dancers were very scantily dressed, all three were tattooed, and the dancing involved lots of body shaking! They drew a big crowd, so maybe the singer was quite famous – I never caught her name of the style of dance.

Another surprise was that the day ended on time - around 5pm, with the clean-up happening very efficiently and quickly. We were happy to go home & crash.

Sunday was another lazy day with report writing and accompanying marking hanging over our heads. A couple of teachers were flying out early Monday morning for PYP course in Mumbai, India, so we wrote a long list of food & spices for one of them to try and get for us.

The week was very nicely broken up by Independence Day – a national holiday on Tuesday, so we had the day off. Of course, with all the procrastination of the weekend, we both spent the day in school marking & getting grades for reports. The rest of the week was insanely busy & frankly passed by in a whirl.

Bill had a students versus teachers soccer game after school on Friday, where the teachers whipped the students 5 – 2. Unfortunately, Bill fell & badly twisted his ankle during the game & then had to leave the game (he was playing on the teachers side) to coach the kids as they were behaving so badly. So he wasn’t particularly happy afterwards.

Friday evening all the teachers had been invited to the official opening of the new apartment block (that has 14 units for teachers). The show apartment was open for inspection & there were copious amounts of food and drinks at the pool for everyone. Bill & I ate lots of cheese (virtually the only vegetarian option) and then left for an early night.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Week 14: The Baobab Tree Flowers

Nov 1 - 7, 08

What a wonderful way to start a weekend – waking up on a beach & going for an early morning swim! The water temperature is so much warmer than just a month ago, although it is a bit “refreshing” when you first go in; it is very pleasant to swim in. The waves are fun & there were a heap of fish literally jumping out of the sea.

After our swim we went for a walk along the beach & right under the cliffs I found some fossils! Very cool! I am sure they are ammonites. I found both a big one (about 6 cm) and a small one (about 2.5 cm). It makes up for our inability to find sharks tooth fossils at shipwreck beach.

We returned to the campsite to make breakfast – eggs & vege burgers – with Bill as chief cook of course! We are borrowing school camping equipment to cook with – buying our own set is on our increasingly large shopping list for the UK at xmastime.

After breakfast the sun started to get very hot, so we went for another swim, took the tent down ready to go home, & then went back swimming again. Bill had another (unsuccessful) go at trying to surf, but this time he foolishly forgot to wear a t-shirt so by the time he gave up, he’d given himself quite a bad rash from the top of the surfboard. A rash shirt for him is another item on our list!

The bus to pick us up arrived about an hour late – about mid-day. By then the beach was already starting to get quite crowded & it was getting very hot. We were more than ready to get out of the sun & the heat & return to Luanda.

The rest of Saturday went by quietly & on Sunday we went into the City to have pizza lunch down on the Marginal after a drink at the rooftop bar of Bahia (we decided we weren’t keen on another banana pizza, which is why we went next door to eat). Very mellow! We also had Monday off school as it was the day of the dead & although we probably should have done more school work, we both had another relaxing & mostly lazy day. I finally got the blog I’ve been meaning to start up & running – initially with just the first few of these weekly missiles. But it means that I have everything all in one place & easily accessible for anyone who is curious about our lives here. It is tricky to embed photos the way I can in this document, so instead I have slideshows running along the side. You can click on them to see the slideshow as bigger pictures, hosted on a different site.

The week at school went by quickly as always – Saturday is International day, so everyone is getting ready for that. It is a PTA event, so fortunately, not a lot of extra work for us, although I had to help out the Kiwi contingent as it is only teachers.

What has been a fascinating thing this week is that the baobab tree has started to flower. They have the most unlikely flower buds – they look like long green fruit hanging down out of the branches. The buds start off small (the size of a small kiwifruit) & get larger and rounder each day. Eventually they get to about the size of a baseball, - still hanging down from the tree on a stalk about 30 – 40 cm long – and then they are ready to open.

The baobab flower buds only open at dusk – so just on sunset, you can see the biggest of these buds starting to split open at the bottom. The flower inside is pure white, so you can see the white contrasting with the green bud. The whole process of the bud slowly splitting open to reveal the flower inside takes around an hour – by which time it is pitch black. The white flowers stand out clearly in the darkness, & then the bats come – it is a bat pollinated flower. The flowers only last one night – by morning they are looking brown & worse for wear. So far I haven’t detected a scent, but the conditions haven’t exactly been ideal – so far all the flowers have been high up in the tree & the only slightly lower one that has flowered so far did so on a night with a strong wind – not ideal for taking photos as it swung around in the wind, with the light getting poorer & poorer by the minute. I haven’t managed to really catch a good photo of the flower “popping out” yet – because as the bud splits open, once it gets to a certain point, it peels back suddenly as the flower falls out of it. It is just amazing to watch the process & the baobab tree has become a gathering point at dusk for those of us (new teachers – the others have done the same thing in previous years) trying to get a good photo.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Week 12 & 13: Tanzania with the boys & back in Angola

Oct 18 - 31, 08

Saturday morning was a bit stressful – both Bill & my phones had died from lack of battery & the hotel couldn’t provide us with an adapter plug for the South African socket. We asked for a wake-up call, but of course it didn’t come! Fortunately we woke early & were able to have a very quick breakfast before catching the shuttle back to the airport. Check-in was as easy as immigration the night before, & this time we actually got boarding passes with seats next to each other!

Jo-burg airport was very nice but unfortunately a lens for Bill was outrageously priced & that was the main thing we wanted. Bill did get a replacement sunhat for the one he lost last time we were at Kisama. We also picked up a South African plug adapter for future use, but otherwise we were happy to just sit in a “real” airport & wait for our boarding call.

The flight to Tanzania took about 4 hours & once we arrived it was straightforward to fill out the visa application (US$50 each) & get issued with a visa on the spot (Angola could take lessons….).Interestingly, although they have just recently changed the rules to make it compulsory, we didn’t need to show our yellow fever certificates.

Once out of the airport, Bill found a taxi driver to take us to our first choice of hotel (remember we hadn’t been able to organize this in advance) & I was able to take local money (Tanzanian Shillings) out of the ATM machine (a huge relief). We also got our plane tickets to Zanzibar sorted for Monday for the 4 of us. The first hotel we went to was booked & the second had a vacancy for just one night, but it was hot & we decided it was better to take the hotel for one night & then ring around for the next rather than drive around in the heat.

The hotel was a nice choice as they had an Indian restaurant! They were also able to book us a hotel for the next night so we didn’t need to spend time trying to find one for ourselves. It was reasonably late in the afternoon, so Bill was only able to arrange a time to meet the boys in the morning.

The next day after we had switched hotels, Bill picked up the kids by himself & they went to a place with games for kids. I went over to meet them briefly – long enough to see Bill outrageously cheating at mini golf (I can’t help it if I’m lucky!...) & then I left them to a (rare for the boys) fast food lunch.

Our flight to Zanizbar was late afternoon on the Monday, the boys arrived just before it was time for us to go to the airport. The flight was just 20 minutes long (small plane) & we were picked up by the hotel taxi & taken from the airport to the hotel on the northern-most tip of the island.

We noticed how green the island is (coming from an arid country) & a noticeable muslim influence.

The hotel was right next to a fishing village & was in the process of expansion –
they were building pool-side units, as well as upgrading the pool. We had two beach-side chalets next to each other. The sea was full of dhows – the traditional arab fishing boats with a single sail (& outriggers). The sunset was stunning & we ate at the hotel restaurant. Despite Bill’s worries about how the boy’s would accept my presence, the day had gone quite smoothly. The biggest problem we had with the hotel was that the beach was covered in seaweed & it wasn’t exactly ideal for the boys to play in. Bill took the boys the next day to a beach that they knew (this was their third or fourth trip to Zanzibar), while I stayed behind to relax at the resort. The beach they went to was much nicer for the boys, so he booked us in for the next two nights.

After another stunning sunset, we moved hotels the next morning to a beach on the East coast – where the sand was just immaculate – pure white coral powder! It was much nicer for the boys to play in & the sea was less busy with fishing boats. The water was a delightful temperature & we went snorkeling ever day. The flip side was that it was more touristy, but it wasn’t to much hassle. Interestingly enough, the touts were almost exclusively Maasi from Arusha, much further inland in Tanzania. They were selling beaded souvenirs and their very distinctive style of paintings. Despite all the stuff for sale, it wasn’t cheap & we didn’t actually end up buying anything!

The boys played predator & prey in the sand, built sandcastles & Enzo worked on perfecting his hand-stands & Bill built his muscles by spending hours tossing the boys around in the sea. It really was a lovely holiday & hopefully both boys realized that nothing has changed between them & their dad by my presence.

We flew back to Dar on Friday afternoon and our flight to Jo-burg left Saturday morning & we discovered that there was no money exchange in the airport (how’s that for method to ensure you spend money in the airport shops!) so we bought a load of African music CD’s with the Tanzanian Shillings we had left over.

We hadn’t booked a hotel for the night as we had a vague idea of staying in an airport lounge, as our flight was quite early the next day. However, we discovered a lounge would cost us about the same as a hotel, so we backtracked out of transit & found ourselves a close hotel with free transfers both ways. As we’d got up at 4:30am & South Africa is 1 hour ahead of Tanzania, we were ready to eat & go to bed by about 7pm! Despite having to get up equally early again in the morning, we were very grateful we’d had a bed to sleep in. We were at the airport early enough to one of the first to check in – so we not only got seats together, we got a window seat on both flights. The airport had a great bookshop and a good pharmacy also. So we managed to spend our Rand quite easily, despite not getting a lens for Bill.

Unfortunately we struck lots of low clouds, so the window seat was a bit of a non event. We landed in Namibia & had a couple of hours at the airport there before boarding our flight for Luanda.

Coming into Luanda was interesting – the plane flew up the coast past Luanda – all the way to shipwreck bay (we could see the stranded boats really clearly) & then circled in low back over Luanda before landing.

Luanda airport was much less intimidating second time around (having proper legal status helps too) & rather quickly we were out of the airport to find one of the school buses waiting So we arrived back home mid afternoon Sunday, with school again on Monday! (and a ton of work to do). The week at school was essentially uneventful (except for the absence of 3 teachers who had been bumped off their TAAG (Angolan Airlines) flights despite reconfirming & turning up at the airport early! Apparently it happens all the time. The bonus of the week was that it was 1) early close Friday & 2) that Monday of next week is “day of the dead” & is a public holiday (which had been missed when the calendar was put together) so we had a 3½ day weekend to look forward to!

Despite initial misgivings (feeling pretty tired out) we decided we would still go camping at Cabo Ledo on Friday night to help break up the weekend. So straight after lunch on Friday we were hastily throwing together the stuff we would need to go camping & started loading the bus up at 2pm. It was a very different crowd of people from the last time we went (almost all new teachers) so it was a quite different experience. For a start, when we arrived, it was almost full high tide & the high ground we had camped on last time was covered in the sun shelters the locals build. So we had to camp close to the lagoon, further down the beach. It was also VERY windy – almost as soon as we got our tent up, the wind caught it, so we ended up weighing down every peg with big rocks (which fortunately were in good supply).

However, once we’d eaten, the week crashed in on us & we were the first to bed – well before 10pm! (Shows our age).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Week 11: Hanging-out for holidays

Oct 11 - 17, 08

The weekend was another “stay-at-home” one; we went into the city for lunch on Saturday – at a place called Bahia. It is right on the marginal – so it overlooks the bay. It is on three levels – we went up to the “rooftop” to have our lunch. It is a very relaxed place & a cool place to hang out for an hour or so. We only took my small pocket camera, so the photos are a bit hit & miss, but you can get the idea.

We had the vegetarian pizza – a rather ominous-sounding concoction in the menu – eggplant & banana being two of the main ingredients! Due to lack of other options as much as anything else, we braved it & much to our surprise, it was actually quite tasty. Not that we’re going to add banana to any of the pizzas we make at home, mind you, but it certainly it is something we could happily order again in the future. After lunch we found a small supermarket close by (I’d spotted it when we’d driven past going to shipwreck beach) & we were absolutely delighted to find pesto! (Do you get the impression that we are becoming besotted with food? Its simply that so much of what we have taken for granted is just not available here - & of course, what you don’t have is what you miss the most!)

Although we only spent a couple hours in the city, it was a nice break away from campus. Just to prove the previous weekend’s cooking wasn’t a fluke, I made naan bread when we got home & we had a wonderful dinner of curry & naan on Saturday night.

On Sunday I had to mark some tests & write some reports. Bill joined a group of teachers to go watch a soccer game in the city – Angola vs Niger as part of the qualifiers for the World Cup in South Africa. Due to a combination of paranoia (trying to blend in with the crowd with white skin) and just genuine support for Angola, almost everyone turned out in Angolan colours. This photo was taken just before everyone jumped on the bus to go into town.

The first stop was for a few drinks along the Ilha, waiting for the time to go the stadium, which is right down town.

You can get an idea from Bills photos what the crowds were like – all supporting Angola because of course the visas are impossible for anyone to get, so any Niger supporters who may have wanted to come were just out of luck!

Crucial to the local support was the Angolan Brass Band who played randomly throughout the game. The Angola team won the game: 4 – 1 but the last goal was such a blatant offside that there was a huge upset – so huge infact that the riot police had to storm onto the pitch!

At the end of the game, Bill managed to con his way down onto the pitch, claiming to be a photographer with nothing more than my little camera, the size of a cigarette packet - & was even able to get into the players tunnel as the local media were interviewing the players as they came in off the pitch! Talk about cheeky! Of course his biggest regret of the day was not having a better camera with him! I was sorry I hadn’t been able to go, but I did get my reports written, which was something.

The week at school was a short one, with Thursday being a parent – teacher day. For us it was drop-in rather than interviews, I saw alot of year 5 parents (give me parents of older kids any day!). Bill had a nice relaxing day while I was busy the whole time (I teach a lot more kids than he does as the primary classes are much bigger than the secondary ones). Thursday evening was the first chance we’d had to pack for our holiday & due to internet & Skype problems we were only able to confirm accommodation for our first night in South Africa & nothing at all in Tanzania.

Friday morning was an early start – our flight left at 2:30 in the afternoon – we left school to go to the airport at 7:30 in the morning! The trip to the airport took just over 1 hour – so you can see were very early. The system at the airport is unlike anything I’ve ever seen – in the main “hall” of the airport are queues for each of the flights going out that day. As we were so early, we were at the start of our queue. (we were flying Air Namibia to Windhoek & then Johannesburg) We weren’t allowed into the check-in area until the security guy let us through – which wasn’t until after midday. Although we were at the front of the queue – we weren’t the first to check in as about 10 people had bribed their way in front of the line (we saw the money change hands – someone told us later that it costs about US$200 to do that). Despite being there so early, we weren’t able to get seats together – there were a heap of school families on the flight & apparently they had block-booked their seats! We will obviously have to try & sort out this booking-seats-in-advance for future flights! In case you are still wondering just why we arrived so early – the man sitting next to me on the flight to Windhoek told me that a friend of his (who arrived at the airport about 12) was the first to be bumped off the flight, & that the following 2 days flights were also fully booked, so he wouldn’t be able to fly before Monday!

Anyway, the flight to Windhoek was about 2 hours I think & unfortunately neither of us was sitting next to a window, which is a shame as we would have flown directly over the school. But looking out the window as we flew into Windhoek airport, it looked like a very cool place but absolutely in the middle of nowhere – it looked as if we landed in the middle of the desert. Obviously we weren’t the first people to think it kind of surreal, as they made an announcement once we landed that we couldn’t take any photos of the airport due to security reasons! We had about 45 minutes before our flight to Jo-burg, but although our luggage had been booked all the way through, we had no boarding passes for the second flight. It was a bit stressful, queuing again for new boarding passes (still no seat together), but we got into the departure lounge a good 10 minutes before the flight boarded! Once on the plane, a man came to my seat & asked to see my boarding pass – we both had the same seat! His friend was also doubled up in the row in front! The cabin attendant was looking a bit stressed, but fortunately this flight had a few empty seats – so I asked if I could sit with “my husband” & we were both moved to the emergency aisle next to the wing exit where there were only 2 seats instead of 3 and we had twice as much leg room! So that was a nice flight to Jo-burg – also only about 2 hours I think. At the airport it was obvious we were back in the land of the modern – our bag arrived quickly, immigration was painless & we were able to change money easily & there was even a shuttle to take us to the hotel (which we hadn’t known about but a taxi driver told us!).

The hotel was only about 10 minutes from the airport & we crashed pretty early – it had taken us 12 hours to get there with just 4 hours or so of flying time!

So – at the end of week 11 in Angola, we were in our third African country (I know, 1 hour in Namibia is pushing it a bit!) & definitely feeling the “it’s not a developing country” type of culture shock that life in Luanda has already given us. (You won’t know the symptoms as you live in this world already, but our 10 minute taxi trip had “look, a McDonalds & take-away Pizza”, and “there’s traffic lights”, not to mention the existence of taxis!)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Week 9 & 10: A couple of quiet weeks

Sept 27 – Oct 10, 08

Camping out on the beach was a great way to start a weekend. Bill got up early and went for a very long walk – almost to the next bay. Breakfast was a leisurely affair with good coffee, home-baked cakes and fried eggs!

The surf had improved overnight enough for the surfer boys to go surfing, although the water felt way too cold for me still to even contemplate a swim. Bill also gave it a miss. Our transport back to school arrived early so it easy to pack everything up ready to go home. The plan was to leave the beach before lunch so that we still had most of the weekend free. The trip back was uneventful aside from a noticeable presence of traffic police. We kept passing police cars & although we weren’t stopped we were getting curious about why the increase in their presence. As we got closer to Luanda, the traffic got pretty heavy & the going much slower (we were however moving much faster than the people trying to get out of the city!). We saw yet more traffic policemen standing in the middle of the road, stopping drivers & handing them some kind of leaflet. We were so curious by now, that we got our driver to ask them what they were looking for. The policeman said that they were doing a driver awareness campaign & handed us a bunch of his leaflets. They covered everything from telling drivers of shared taxis to turn their music down for the comfort of their passengers, to don’t overload your motorcycle or car or truck to wearing seatbelts. We shared the posters out – some teachers wanted them for using in class & others, like us, just for a quirky souvenir.

The rest of our weekend was pretty quiet – it had been so nice to get out of the city on Friday – it felt like the weekend lasted forever, but truthfully we were starting to feel pretty tired from the combination of adjusting to a new country, all the travelling we’ve been doing and the teaching. We were happy to just stay in, read a few books & relax.

The weather is getting noticeably hotter, the school gets electricity from the town supply & has diesel generators as a back-up. One generator literally blew up about a month ago, so we have been surviving on one generator for the school. Of course Murphy’s Law applies here too, so since we’ve had only one generator, the town supply has been very erratic & for days on end it has cut out. That leaves the school trying to run on the power supplied by the lone generator. To keep it from being overloaded, we have to keep the air conditioners off. So these last two weeks have been hot with classes in hot & stuffy rooms with no air conditioning at all. The school buildings are well designed with wide eaves so at least we don’t get direct sunlight pouring in, but it has added to the general feeling of fatigue that is becoming more noticeable.

The “normal” 2 day weekend was also very quiet – the only thing we had planned was going into the city on Saturday night for dinner – in a Chinese restaurant that had been recommended to us. It was a bit of a surprise – very red & Chinese (typical restaurant I guess but looking very out of place here). They had a reasonable selection of vegetarian food & the place was very busy (with lots of Chinese eating – always a good sign). The food was very good & the bill (we went with LOTS of money) wasn’t too bad given the prices here. Actually it was a very successful evening & although we just didn’t feel up to staying out & going clubbing with some of the other teachers, (who left the school much later than we did) we felt as if we had done something with our weekend.

Sunday was a cooking day – I found a recipe for soft tortillas on the internet & as we haven’t been able to find anything like that at all so far, we decided to join virtually everyone else here & go into self production. I actually made the tortillas & Bill cooked them & we had Mexican for dinner! Actually the whole weekend was a food treat as on Friday we had lentil soup for the first time here also. This is one of Bill’s most wonderful recipes, but we haven’t been able to get any red lentils. One of the teachers who lives in the city saw some in a shop & bought us a few packets, so that has been a real treat. Of course, when we asked her to get more packets, they were already sold out. We’ve learnt that things come in & then disappear – you just have to grab (& horde) stuff when you see it. Neither of us have ever had cupboards so bulging with dried & canned food, as the hording instinct kicks in real fast!

School keeps us busy during the week & Bill plays soccer with other teachers twice a week after school as well as once with the kids (as coach) also. Wednesday evening was the grudge match as the parents tried to take revenge for the thrashing they received from the teachers last time. They were so desperate to succeed that the “parents” team was re-invented as “parents + big sons who play soccer at school” in an effort to out-run the teachers. Despite a very good start by the teachers (& a stunning goal by Bill), the run-them-off their-feet strategy did work at the end, resulting in a 4-4 tie.

So, that really is pretty much all that happened – we are hanging out for our mid-term break when we fly to Tanzania to spend a week with the boys. Everyone is a bit nervous about how it will go, but the thought of shopping in Johannesburg airport (stocking up on stuff we can’t get here) & then a week on a beach sounds pretty enticing. We can’t wait.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Week 8: A camping we shall go!

Sept 20 – Sept 26; 08

Saturday was an early start to get loaded up into the 4-wheel drive to take us to Kisama National Park. There were 7 of us going in total – Jo and Marek, Tony & Juliette, Heather (a kindergarten teacher who arrived this year with us) as well as Bill & I.
Jo & Marek were investigating another access route into the park & were travelling with Tony & Juliette in their car as they had been that way before. Jo & Marek will be taking kids to the park in a couple of weeks, but some of the oil companies won’t allow their families to cross over the bridge that is on the normal route to the park. The way they went involves a completely different road & finally arriving at the park by boat. So it was just Heather, Bill & I in our car, but we took most of the other’s gear as they knew they would be walking from the river up to the camping spot.

We arrived at the park without seeing any animals (I think increased people to the park have had its effect) & got our tents up before catching a ride on the safari truck. We really wanted to see elephants, but despite the best efforts of the trackers, saw no more than lots of elephant poo. We did see a wilderbeast though. However, we didn’t see giraffes or anything much else so it was a bit disappointing. Lots of cool birds as always though! Bill & I were sharing my camera as his big zoom lens is broken – so some of these are his shots.

We cooked as usual, although Tony & Juliette ate in the restaurant. The next morning we went for another ride in the safari truck – and this time we did see elephants – we didn’t get good shots as they were right in the trees – quite close – they had a small baby with them. In fact we were too close for the comfort of the rangers (because of the baby I think) so they moved us on quite quickly.
Back at the campsite, we relaxed until it was time to go home - & during that time I saw a troop of vervet monkeys come through the trees, as well as a very cute squirrel.

We got home around 4 on Sunday, totally feeling as if we had a wonderful break. Although we didn’t see as much wildlife this time, it still is a very beautiful place to relax in & feel as if we are far, far away from school. We really noticed how much greener the park was (from a month ago) and also, how much clearer the air is (less haze). The park’s baobab trees still haven’t started to leaf, but the tree at school is now covered in leaves. The extra vegetation makes it harder to see the animals of course. But it is such a cool weekend. Marek & Jo have everything set-up for the kids to go camping in a couple of weeks, so we have our fingers crossed that they will see a lot of animals as they will be there during the week when there are much less day trippers.

The week just flew by (school is like that) & the special treat this week was that it was “early close Friday”. This school year is the first time that the school has been in session on Fridays afternoons. The history to this has been that it has been so difficult in the past to find food & stuff that teachers needed an afternoon a week to do the basic shopping or go into the city. Since the new supermarket was built just around the corner, those days are now gone (well sometimes it’s hard to find things – I was able to buy my first box of matches this week in 2 months). However, to allow people to get to see the doctor or whatever, there is one early close every month. Bill & I had planned to go into the city for dinner, but we were invited to go camping with a group of other teachers on Cabo Ledo (the surfing beach). We left at 2pm on Friday afternoon & arrived at the beach by 4. As it was a Friday night, there was absolutely no one else there. The beach is quite shallow & it has changed drastically since we were last there. The lagoon that the local boys were playing in last time was gone completely. There were 11 of us in total (6 tents) & not a huge amount of high land for pitching a tent. We claimed a piece of high land (I knew I wouldn’t sleep if I thought there was a possibility of the tide coming into the tent during the night) but 3 tents went up on the high tide zone.

One tent (closest to the sea) had to be shifted at 3am when the tide came in! The other tents were just far enough back not to need to move. We both slept through the whole thing! I was very glad we had pitched our tent where we did. Bill thought I was being well over cautious, but even he admitted in the morning that he was glad we hadn’t had to do a move in the dark with the tide at our heels!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Week 7: Shipwrecks, Slavery, Shopping & Soccer

Sept 13 – 19; 08

We had a relatively quiet weekend with a lazy day at home on Saturday and a return trip to Shipwreck beach on Sunday. We’d had such a short time there last weekend (due to the amount of time it took for us to find it) so we thought we’d go back & have a proper day of it.

We got there in good time (despite having to wait for an hour for our car – long story that doesn’t need repeating). We had made a picnic for the day & walked as far along the beach we could, where we stopped & ate our lunch. The weather was great – much sunnier than the previous weekend – which is what we had been hoping for. We explored around the cliffs behind the beach, but unfortunately didn’t find any fossils!

It was another nice week of school, with Wednesday off due to a national holiday, – Hero’s day. We asked around but it seemed as if nothing was planned for the day in the city – no parades or anything like that. So instead we organized a bus for the day & went out to visit the slavery museum. This is located quite close to the Southern edge of Luanda & is actually a church right on the coast. As a museum it was a bit of a zero – it had no artifacts to speak off apart from some large cooking pots (or at least that’s what we think they were) and a few canons. The inside had photocopied pictures from books or maybe other museums on the state of slavery in Africa. The church wasn’t used as a fort or holding place for slaves, but every slave shipped from Luanda (& it was one of the biggest slave exporters in Africa) was taken to the church just before being loaded onto the slaves ships, so they could be baptized! I’m not sure whether it was to ensure that any slaves who died at sea would go to heaven, or whether it was important that they were “Christians” when they arrived at the other end, I don’t know. The hypocrisy stinks regardless. Despite not having “anything” to put in the museum, I think it is good that they have kept the church standing as a memory of what happened on the site.

After the slave museum we went back to Benfica – the local souvenir market. Bill bought another couple of masks, but we both were able to take photos to give you an idea of what it is like. There are lots of paintings for sale, as well as the wooden carvings & masks & some Angolan national football shirts. Also – the more unpleasant side – ivory & cat skins! At least there were no live monkeys this time!

The trip home from the market was the typical weekend traffic jam around this area – what should have been a 15 minute trip maximum took well over twice that long – and our driver took a shortcut as well!

Friday afternoon the school took part in the international day of peace celebrations by playing football (some UN organization’s idea). As I am in charge of yearbook, both Bill & I took our cameras into school to get some photos of the event.

Friday evening we were busy packing for another trip to the national park.
Video of Shipwreck Beach - please be patient while it loads.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Week 6: Shipwreck Beach & Luanda

Sept 6 – Sept 12; 08

What a relaxing long weekend! Four and a half days long – most of it admittedly spent at home, but we did get away for the day on Sunday – two days after the elections. Actually, as the polling booths ran out of ballot papers, & some opened late, the election was extended for another day & voting took place on Saturday as well as Sunday. It was very quiet around where we live & when we drove through Luanda early on Sunday morning (all the voting tents were already down), everything seemed quiet there too.

Sundays adventure was to find the “shipwreck beach” that we had heard of. Teachers had been in the past & reported on a surreal experience of many boats mysteriously beached on the shore – all at one location. However directions were vague & it seemed that it had been several years since anyone had been. We (naively as it turned out) requested a driver who knew the way to drive the four wheel drive. As soon as we got in it was obvious that our driver didn’t know anything – he didn’t even know the way to Jo & Marek’s apartment. It took a bit of explaining (thank goodness Jo speaks quite a bit of Portuguese already) that we weren’t going shopping & that we were in fact heading through the city to the other side (north).

Once we got going, the drive into & through the city was fast and easy (traffic in the city is the main reason why nobody really goes north of Luanda (we live right on the south edge of the city, so going south is usually straightforward). There is no bypass in the city at all – so we actually had to drive down to the marginal & then around the port to hit the coast road north. It was an interesting trip – our side of the city has lots of expats (which is why the school is there of course) & flash, expensive housing to go with it. Of course we see lots of poor local “slum” areas as we go into the city, and the housing on the north side was very much the same – just no “well off” housing in amongst it! Instead, there were lots of factories – including the coca cola factory!

We’d been told that the turn off we wanted was about 2 hours away & that it would be clearly marked. Amid the initial confusion with our driver over where we were going, we somehow were given the name of the beach in Portuguese. Our driver regularly stopped & asked directions (all of which were correct & happily given) & sure enough, about an hour or so out we saw the clearly marked road to the beach we were headed for. We quickly left the sealed road & bounced away along a dirt track for another half an hour or so. Eventually we arrived at a small fishing village which vaguely rang a bell with some of the directions we’d been given. However, we couldn’t see any shipwrecks! We proceeded to drive along the coast, but nothing looked promising. We passed a “tourist complex” on the beach so we decided to call in & see if we could find anything out. The complex was right on the beach & was very nice. The beach was a great swimming beach too with lots of sun shelters & seating etc. Hardly a soul there. Fortunately, we did meet a Portuguese man who spoke perfect English & when we told him we were looking for the shipwreck beach, he immediately knew what we were talking about. Turns out the name of the place we had been given was exactly where we had ended up, but was not the name of the shipwreck beach! He was able to give us both the correct name and directions – we had well & truly overshot the turnoff we needed!

As there was a nice restaurant there, & we were pretty sick of bouncing around in the car, we decided to have a hot snack & drink before heading back towards Luanda to try to find the illusive beach. Once feeling a bit restored & fortified with a much better idea of where we were going, we backtracked to the main road. Expecting that we had overshot the turnoff by at least half an hour, we were somewhat surprised by Bill’s announcement that the dirt track turn off in front of us (closed off by a wire) was the way we were meant to go. How did he know? He had seen some shipwrecks on the coast. So, we managed to persuade the driver to go through & we found ourselves in a newly constructed village. From there, we could clearly see the ships on the coast, but we couldn’t seem to find a road to get us to them. Eventually, we had to give up & we were back on the main road again. However, not much further on there was a real turn-off & our driver (who surely by now was thinking we were totally crazy) was able to ask for directions so we knew we were finally on the right track. I’d love to report that we simply drove straight to the beach, but between taking the correct turnoff & actually ending up on the beach, we took three more wrong turns! The school has installed GPS on all the school transport & we couldn’t help but laugh at how strange our “blip” must look with all the backwards & forwards paths we were taking.

But, despite all the wrong turns, we did eventually end up where we had set out to go – even if we’d arrived about 2 hours later than we thought we did. We took our picnics along the beach & walked past several of the stranded ships. It really was a strange place. There were a lot of Angolans there swimming or enjoying a day at the beach & we saw people fishing off the deck of one of the boats that was partly on land. A hole had been cut into its hull so people could climb inside & access the top deck. Of course Marek & Bill (being boys) had to climb through as well. Neither Jo nor I had the slightest urge to follow them!

We had our picnic along the beach, but it remained overcast the whole day & we were both a bit disappointed with how our photos turned out. However, Bill did discover what was going wrong with his photos – his telephoto lens is kaput – so he is borrowing mine (swapping lenses) until we can get him a new one. But at least now all his photos are now turning out OK. We actually were only at the beach for about an hour total – we hardly had a chance to explore properly, but our driver had been so patient with us that we didn’t want to risk getting back to school late (after his change of shift).

What really surprised us was how fast it took us to get home – it had been such a long-winded journey but we were back at school just an hour & a half after we left the beach. So close, yet so far when you take a heap of wrong turns!

Monday was another day off school – another very quiet one with our only outing to the supermarket (in a fruitless search for eggs – we hadn’t been able to buy any for days & days).

Tuesday was back to school & a few more new kids whose parents had decided not to come back to Angola until after elections (never mind that they miss a month of school). For some reason it has been a tough week at school – Bill in particular has found it hard – Wednesday was a particularly bad day, but it improved as the week progressed (despite Bill having to teach “with Aliens” in the science department). Today (Friday) saw the start of “clubs” a one hour a week extra curricula time for kids to sign up for. Bill is running “band” and has two bands he is going to work with. Part of the bad day on Wednesday was being told that the club can’t actually use the music room (you know, the one with the instruments etc in it) because there was a class next door! (Now we believe that actually most of the rooms in the high school are empty because there are no proper classes going on, so quite why the “class” can’t be moved is more than we can understand). But it didn’t make for a good moment!

My club is yearbook & quite how I ended up running yearbook is something I don’t quite understand. (I thought I might be able to help out someone else doing it!) So I had my first club meeting today also. Went OK – I think I have a keen bunch. We are going to make a DVD yearbook instead of a book to avoid the problems experienced last year with having it printed in the US, then having 200 of them DHL-ed to Angola (can you even begin to imagine how much that must have cost?) only to have it sit in customs for over 4 weeks & finally being released AFTER the end of school – so none of the leaving kids got one! We hope to be pretty self sufficient with production so that as a bottom line, everyone will get one at the end of the year.

Next week is another 4 day week (it is a national holiday on Wednesday) & we have booked the 4-wheel drive for Sunday to take us back to Shipwreck beach so we can explore a bit more (& see if we can find any of the reputed shark teeth fossils in the cliffs there). Tomorrow is a catch up with work & chill out & relax day.