Friday, August 8, 2008

Week 1: Arrival & Introductions to school & Luanda

August 2 - 8, 2008

We flew into Luanda airport on the British Airways flight from London Heathrow, arriving in the early hours of Sat 2 August. Stamping of landing cards & immigration went smoothly & a lot more quickly than we had expected. Bill’s lack of a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate was craftily got around by us going up separately to get the landing cards stamped & both of us using my card.

Our suitcases took time to emerge but ALL arrived – intact as well. By the time the last bags appeared on the carousal, Tony B the head of school & the school’s security chief had arrived in the baggage hall, soon followed by Tony M, the high school head. Their presence allowed all the trolleys to be managed more easily (Jo & Marek had more bags than us) & more importantly, we were able to avoid customs & with remarkable ease we found ourselves in the car park to be greeted with cold drinks & 3 buses to transport us & our bags.

We met another returning teacher: Carolyn – head of primary, and a newly arriving family Kim & Tomi with Ella (4) & Sami (1) (the ONLY children on the plane). The trip out to school from the airport took about 20 mins at 6am & once arrived, we got our bags & our keys & were introduced to our new home. It is a one bedroom apartment with a kitchenette on the dining room/ lounge. It is small – it clearly is designed for one person & we are struggling a bit with space. However it has a patio facing a garden & we had a celebratory bottle of champagne outside watching the early morning birds. We named everything – “raggety edged butterflies” “squirrel birds” etc. The garden faces into the “fishbowl” – a large baobab tree that is in the middle of a lawn that all (or most) apartments are arranged around.

We slept for about 4 – 5 hours & then walked to the nearest supermarket to change US$ to Kwanza ($1 = 75 Kz) & managed to spend about $75 on what felt like virtually nothing. We spent the afternoon unpacking & went to a welcome barbeque held in school grounds that evening. There we met several other new teachers as well as some of the staff at school.

Sunday we went to the bigger supermarket in the morning – we did a big shop & spent almost all the $200 we initially changed. We looked around the mall next to the supermarket but everything looked very expensive. That took way longer than possible to imagine – the check out queues alone were about 30 mins long. Then, after dropping off our shopping, it was back in the buses for a sea-side restaurant (without much for vegetarians). It was nice to sit & see the sea & watch all the people in the area. It was obviously a popular place to go for well-off locals. There were a family of little girls playing in the sand who were very cute with their hair in braids.

On Monday we had a trip into Luanda finishing with a meal in a Lebanese restaurant. The traffic was pretty bad in places & we cut short some of the itinerary due to the kids in our bus. The views out the window of the bus were fascinating – people trying to sell all sorts of things to passing cars, women carrying impossible loads on their heads with babies tied onto their backs with bright African fabrics.

We drove past a soccer stadium & a game must have been just about to start. Not very far along we meet crowds of youths running & chanting through the streets (supporting their team). They were accompanied by several army trucks full of soldiers carrying guns, but it seemed pretty peaceful.

There is construction going on everywhere – including the roads themselves.

Tuesday morning we all piled into 2 buses & headed south for the highlight of our orientation – 2 nights at a lodge on the “long river” or Rio Longa. It took about 2½ hours to drive to the river – past spectacular scenery & then about 30 mins on a boat to the lodge – seeing 2 crocodiles along the way!

The lodge was great – Bill & I had our own “hut” complete with warm shower & bathroom. All meals were provided & despite no electricity, it was blissful. It was so nice to see some nature & get away from Luanda for a bit. The lodge was virtually on the coast, facing a lagoon full of water lilies & water birds (& crabs) & the beach itself was an easy kayak across the lagoon. I had a field day with my camera & Bill & I went out stalking birds by trying to silently glide up to them in the kayak.

The beach also had crabs galore & it was just incredibly scenic. It was too cold for me to go swimming, but some of the others did. We did a boat trip along all the mangrove trees (looking for more crocodiles, but finding only kingfishers & fish eagles).

We drove back to Luanda on Thursday (more stunning scenery along the way) & found ourselves a bit more comfortable in our apartment.

Friday was a day at school – a tour, and a 2 hour talk by a doctor about Malaria & other health issues. It was very good. We also got info from the HR lady & received our medical insurance cards etc. Nothing particularly exciting, & to be honest teaching still seems a million miles away!

We are hoping to be able to move into a bigger apartment around Nov/Dec time & certainly I think we can cope OK in the mean time. Bill has met some people who are keen about being in a band, so even that is looking positive at the moment. The biggest drag is inconsistent internet connection, something I really hope gets sorted out soon. At least one or other of us seems to be able to get online at the moment, although never both of us at once! We went out & bought a mosquito net after the malaria talk so that will allow us to turn off the air conditioning if we choose. We have found many things we need (no lentils yet) so are starting to feel that life will be OK here (& despite the high cost of things, we still expect to save a heap of money each too).

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