Sunday, March 1, 2009

Week 28: Carnival

Feb 23 – March 1, 2009

This was not a good week for my health – by Monday after school I was so sick that Bill insisted I take one of our home Malaria tests. Neither of us really thought I had malaria, but it seemed silly not to make sure. I slept virtually all afternoon & quite late in the next morning, as we had the day off school for Carnival. Now, I know I should have stayed in bed, but Carnival was one of the things we’d been looking forward to seeing – since even before we arrived in Angola, and there was just no way I was going to stay home & miss it!

There was a lot of confusion over what time the parade would start – we heard lots of contradictory times, but we thought 2pm seemed to be the consensus. We left home at 11 am as we weren’t sure what the traffic would be like, & of course had a clear run into the city. We didn’t see much on the way in that would indicate that it was carnival – I expected to see everyone dressed up, but it wasn’t like that all. The marginal was just as quiet – the place was deserted, so we ended up going for a drink in Bahia, where we could look out & see what was happening. Along the marginal were lots of tents set up for temporary bars/restaurants, but they were pretty deserted too.

After we’d been in the city for about an hour, people dressed in masks & costumes started to show up, so we left the rapidly filling up bar & hit the street. I can’t say that I was feeling the best, but I was thoroughly drugged up with cold medicine & still determined to survive the day.

We walked along the marginal & before we’d gone very far, people started to stop us to get us to take their pictures – we were virtually mobbed by people begging us to take their photos – no matter how reluctant people might normally be to have their photos taken, obviously doesn’t apply during carnival. It felt friendly and good natured & mostly quite safe, although we had a few incidents with people trying to take stuff out of our bags (nothing much was in them, but we wanted a bag to put the cameras away if we felt we had to) and someone literally tried to take Bills camera off him! After one of the first incidents, a plains-clothes policeman materialized at the scene & it started to look ugly – we got out of there as fast as we could! Realising that we couldn’t get separated at all, we stuck together as much as we could & just kept our “antennae” on high alert. Despite the odd scare, we still felt pretty secure with the cameras out & the people asking us for photos seemed genuinely happy to pose.

Many people were wearing masks – most of which were feathered. But we saw lots of strange costumes & quite a few kids not dressed up at all (but still posing for photos). To be honest it was really refreshing to be open about taking photos – we had expected to be using the long lenses to “sneak” photos of people – I don’t think either of us took a single non-posed photo the whole afternoon. As we walked along we met up with another group of teachers who’d come in about an hour later than us – they’d sat down at one of the roadside “restaurants” for lunch. We joined them as they had shade & there was still no sign of the parade starting. We waited another couple of hours (taking more photos) until we decided to move towards the covered seating that had been erected for dignitaries & (we guessed) people who had bought tickets. People were gathering there, and the footpath was filling up with kids & families sitting on the edges. We joined them & could tell that in front of the seating, a “performance” was taking place – some sort of set act by the looks of it. When they finished, they walked/danced on past the crowds, but it quickly disintegrated into a mass of people rather than an actual parade.

The gap between each group was quite long & I was starting to wilt quite badly – I’d been on the go for hours when really I should actually have been in bed trying to get better. Also, the crowd on the road was starting to get ugly – Bill was trying to film it & frankly it just scared me. So after a bit of discussion, we decided we really had seen the best of what the day had to offer & to leave while we were still ahead (we were concerned about people getting drunker, fights getting uglier & the mood shifting regarding photos). So we headed home – me to bed.

Over the rest of the week I slowly got better, Bill’s chopped thumb continued to break open & bleed (because he hadn’t got stitches in it), so we were a bit of a miserable pair. We did however accept an invitation to be part of a team for the PTA quiz night on Saturday evening, which meant that Bill had to forgo a local soccer match that he would have otherwise gone too because the timing was too tight.

On the weekend we decided to have a quiet day on Saturday & then investigate the mouth of the River Kwanza on Sunday. The quiz night was a fundraiser that included dinner & wine as well as the quiz competition. We were an all-teacher’s team, including the head of school, but we’d lost one of the original team members as she hadn’t got back from the soccer game in time (so I was very pleased that Bill had decided to skip it). We found another teacher at the last minute & managed to come up with a team name “nits of the round table”. Dinner was spaghetti bolognaise & for us vegetarians (there were 3 at our table) spaghetti with homemade pesto. The quiz structure was a little unusual as the format had the same categories for each round (mathematics, world news, current events, entertainment, sports etc) – 1 question per topic each & as the quiz progressed the questions increased in value from 10 points to 50 points by the end. The questions did get harder (mostly) as the rounds progressed & in the middle of it all was a spelling bee and a random game of poker. Not to brag, but our team was in the top 3 for the first couple of rounds & then we were in the lead & managed to stay there! We were the winning team by the end of the competition & went home with a bottle of “champagne” and some chocolates.

Sunday was a hot sunny day – perfect for going to the beach. We’d got directions for where we wanted to go, so were reasonably confident we could find it. The place we wanted was on the far side of the Kwanza River & then past the salt pans so that we ended up close the mouth of the river itself. It is quite similar to Rio Longa – there is a big sand-bar at the mouth with an almost lagoon behind it – in this case the river was flowing a bit more directly into the sea than it does at Rio Longa. The river & the beach run parallel to each other with just a 10 metre strip of sand between them. The beach side had big pounding waves – not that enticing to swim in for either of us, but the river side was calm (no crocodiles in sight or prints) & just delightful to swim in. We were in the river within 10 minutes of arriving! After our swim we sat and had a cup of tea watching the waves on the sea side & then we walked up the river bank until we found a nice little stretch of beach, shaded by palm trees, where we sat & had our lunch, followed by another dip. Now I know that theoretically there could have been lots of crocodiles lurking in the water, but we didn’t see a single set of prints, the water was shallow & clear & the risk just didn’t seem very high – and the water was great – warm & fresh & just great to swim in.

On our way home we took a sidetrack to check out the Kwanza River Lodge – we found the car park totally packed with cars & the restaurant and veranda inside was just as full. As we walked in we saw Jamie & Franco (who we did our geological trip with), which just goes to show I guess just how small the expat community in Luanda really is. We only stayed for a quick drink – we sat on the balcony almost exactly across the water from where we’d had our lunch. There were kids playing in the water (also not too concerned about crocodiles) and a professional photo shoot of some local models in swimwear. It was all go!

We were quite happy to leave & get home so we could get ready for our next week of school.