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.


Anonymous said...

Lovely pictures, Sue!! Well done!


flavia said...

Dear Sue:

I love your pictures. I am in Houston, Texas, USA.
We teach language classes, would you know of a Portuguese teacher in Luanda?.
One of our students have moved there with his wife and would like to continue with his Portuguese classes.
Could you possibly help us?
Thank you in advance!

Flavia Schroeder
Language Training Director
F.S. Language Services, Inc

Sue said...

Hi Flavia

I have copied your message & sent it to everyone in the school community, so maybe you will find someone. Unfortunately, we don't have a Portuguese teacher ourselves yet.


Sue said...

Hi Flavia

I have emailed you a contact email. Hope it works out.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sue,
I lived in Lobito for 2 years in 1995/96. Now I would like to visit Angola again with some friends. But Luanda is soo expensive these days... Do you have an idea where we could stay in Luanda for an affortable price (guesthouse, B&B, Campsite, Mission)?
We also would like to visit Muxima, I have never been there, but your report makes me hungry...

Thank your for your site!
Ralph (

Anonymous said...


We are a global mobility management company assisting our customers relocating internationally. As part of our services we also provide our customers with language training. Currently we are recruiting Portuguese teachers in Luanda. Our requirements on teachers are:

- a native Portuguese speaker
- a qualified teacher
- a minimum 2 years experience in teaching Portuguese

Do you know of anyone that will satisfy these criteria?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,