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.