Sunday, January 31, 2010

Luanda celebrates 434 years

The city of Luanda celebrated its 434th birthday yesterday afternoon – making it one of Africa’s oldest cities. (The City of Luanda day was on Monday.) The Angola Field Group sent out general invitations to the celebrations downtown in the large square close to the marginal.

We arrived about an hour and a half after the festivities started (we wanted to avoid the midday heat) and were just in time to catch the end of a capoeira demonstration. These people are incredibly highly skilled & it is fascinating to watch. We were a little surprised at the small turn out – we saw people from the Angolan Field group of course and several other teachers from school, but the audience seemed to be mostly “tourists” (as such exists in Luanda) with few locals. This is a shame, as the event was organised to raise awareness about the need to preserve Luanda’s cultural heritage – in particular the old buildings (many of which are in a state of disrepair) that date back to Portuguese colonial times. There were bus trips and walking tours organised and the later were well attended by kids in particular. Bill & I didn’t really want to sit in a bus (even though one of the bus tours was in English), so I can’t say what the tours were like.

About five minutes after the capoeira had finished, we saw a big group of people coming into the square. This was one of the dancing groups that take part in Carnival – and they were all dressed up for the event. It was fantastic – they were enthusiastic and cheerful and the dancing was very spirited. Great for taking photos! Afterwards we got a few more shots, but they left quite quickly and there didn’t seem to be much else happening soon. The heat was pretty intense, and we figured we were happy with what we’d already seen, so we decided to give up while we were ahead, and go home. It was a very nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon though.

Friday, January 29, 2010

African Cup of Nations: Party Time

I am not a football fan – in fact I avoid football (or soccer as I’ve always known it) as much as possible. However, the African Cup of Nations is being hosted by Angola & it is unavoidable. The competition started while we still in Thailand, so we missed the opening ceremony that the other teachers got to see. What we didn’t miss, as it made front-page news, was the shootings at the Togo team in Cabinda. Not good publicity just as the school was trying to hire new teachers. Hard to explain that no sane person would consider going to Cabinda & quite why Angola thought it would be a good place for the Cup of Nations, who knows?

Once we got back, it was all excitement as it seemed Angola had a real chance of getting into the quarter-finals, & from there, well anything was possible. Bill succumbed (he is a real football fan) & paid over the top to go to the Angola vs Algeria match that would determine Angola’s fate. I was happy to stay at home. I saw the last 15 minutes of it on TV & even I could tell that it was abysmal – some sort of match-rigging had taken place & neither side was trying to do anything except waste time & play out a 0 – 0 draw that would guarantee both of them a spot in the quarter finals. Bill’s comments when he got home are mostly unrepeatable, except for “it’s the worst football game I’ve ever seen in my entire life” – which is saying something for someone who has been going to live games since he was about 4!

Despite this ill omen, we had already put our names down for tickets to the quarter-finals – for me it would be my first ever live match (remember I am a kiwi & soccer doesn’t count for much back home). The game was on Sunday & as luck would have it, the Monday was a school holiday (City of Luanda day), so there was no stress about getting home at a reasonable hour. In fact, the consensus was that the traffic jam back into Luanda would be so bad (2 hours the night Bill went) that we would have a barbeque at the stadium after the match & only attempt the drive home a couple of hours after everyone else.

So, on Sunday we got dressed for the game – me in an Angolan T-shirt & Bill in an Angolan flag! We got to the stadium early (also in an attempt to avoid the jams), so Bill & I took our camera’s into the crowd. Bill had learnt from his experience during the week that any camera of decent size (ie bigger than a cigarette packet) was not being allowed into the stadium – he’d come home without a single photo as he’d had to return the camera to the bus for the game. We’d come prepared – our SLR’s for the before the game shots, and a couple of small cameras to try to get into the stadium.

The atmosphere outside the stadium was typical Luanda on a party day – everyone was dressed up & having a good time. People were asking us to take their photos or happily posing – just like at Carnival. The most outrageous thing we saw was a goat on a lead dressed up in Angolan colours! (We saw this outside the stadium – I doubt the goat was allowed inside!). (Bill disagrees and thinks the guy in drag who did the “hula hoop” for us to photograph was more outrageous)

The place was a sea of red and yellow and black (the colours of the Angolan flag). After about half an hour of taking photos, we had to retire our good cameras & then try our luck with getting the smaller cameras through security. It was touch and go – I had a compact camera with a 200mm lens that they just didn’t want to let in – but eventually they gave up trying to tell us it wasn’t OK & let us go. Security was very tight & everything was very well organised. I was impressed with the new stadium – lots of toilets, lots of places to buy water & food etc & tight checking of tickets so that you had to sit where your ticket was & not just where you pleased.

The stadium was a sea of red & yellow (it turned out that the few Ghanaian supporters at the match were sitting underneath us, so we couldn’t see the little patch of orange that was there). When the game started, there were still a lot of empty seats (traffic jams) but by 20 minutes into the game, most seats were filled. We wondered how much most people paid for their tickets – we were on the very back row, right behind one goal & our tickets said 300 kwanza (about $US3) – but we paid Kw 1000 each and I am sure others paid much more.

I can’t comment much on the game, except it went much faster than I’d been dreading & it wasn’t nearly as bad as the other game (but still quite dismal, with many good chances badly missed). Angola had the most opportunities, but failed to do anything with them. Ghana had one real chance and scored – and that was the end result: 1 - 0 to Ghana. The crowd wasn’t happy, but the mood was still good as we exited the stadium. Considering Angola was out of the cup, everyone seemed to take it very well.

We got our barbeque going & as the coals burnt down, we watched the traffic crawling back towards the city. Despite the fact that it made it a very long day, the barbeque was a great success and when we finally packed up to come home, the trip was less than half an hour and we were able to collapse into bed having already eaten.

So, such was my very first live football match – and frankly, probably my last! Lots of colour and atmosphere, not much excitement on the pitch, but still a great day out. I’m sad for Angola that it won’t go further, but if you play that badly…..

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A New Year in Bangkok

We arrived in the heat and humidity of Bangkok – what a shock after the snow and cold. However we think we were lucky to get out, as the winter UK weather just hasn’t got better. We were also badly jet-lagged (the layovers in Dubai and KL probably didn’t help) so crashed very early in the evening after attending our orientation meeting for the job fair.

We had a busy fair with lots of interviews and we also managed to catch the presentations of the schools we were particularly interested in. We also attended the presentation for our school, so people could come and ask us questions about life at the school or in Angola. There seemed to be lots of interest, which is a healthy sign for the school.

After much wrestling with the decision, we finally decided on Sunday to accept job offers for a school in Dubai. Despite taking hours to decide, and talking to as many different people as we could about it, once we made the decision, it felt like the right thing to do for us now. We are really excited. Ironically, it will put us much closer to the boys in Tanzania – about 5 hours vs the current 36 hours plus!

Our flight back was on Monday, so Sunday evening we visited Pantip Plaza for our “techie” fix, followed by a great Indian meal. On Monday morning we got up early and caught the ferry to Wat Arun – the temple of the dawn. Although we definitely weren’t there for dawn, we did catch the early morning light on the river and at the temple. We’d both been to the temple before, but it is so photogenic that it was an obvious choice with just a couple of hours to spare.

Our flights back to Angola were uneventful, but the stop-over in Dubai airport took on a new meaning now we know we’ll be using it so often! We arrived in Luanda around 3pm on Tuesday and Bill was one of the first in the immigration line – we were through in about 15 minutes – an all time Luanda record for us. We were very surprised to find that the luggage hall had been over-hauled since the last time we flew in – it now boasts 3 “proper” luggage conveyer belts and they even have signage up saying where to expect your bags. That in itself would have been a huge improvement, but to our total surprise, the bags started to appear not long after we arrived there. We actually got our bags & were out of the airport in just under an hour from landing – that is nearly 3 times faster than normal! (Unfortunately, when we swapped notes with other teachers, it appears that this record speed is not consistent – despite the new conveyor belts, some people still had a two hour wait for their luggage).

So, jetlagged again (although not as bad as the other direction) we had another very early night with a three day working week to deal with the next day. Back to school…

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Winter Wow!

Who would have guessed – in amongst all the global warming hype we arrived in Manchester to a scene covered in snow! In fact, on our flight from Dubai, all we could see from the time the sun came up as we flew over Europe was a sea of snow. Snow everywhere. Luckily our flight wasn’t significantly delayed, by the time we got to Manchester the airport had been open long enough to clear most of the back-log.

Although it snowed more the day we arrived, from then on it was really just sub-zero temperatures with frosts & no snow – so the snow didn’t melt & the footpaths became dangerously icy & everyone walked on the roads instead.

By Christmas, it was still icy and much of the snow was gone, but with the boys with us for Christmas morning & the whole family for Christmas dinner it was a wonderful day. After Christmas we visited Bill’s aunts and cousins in Scotland – many of whom he hadn’t seen for nearly twenty years. They made us feel very welcome & the snow up there was still thick. The kids had a great time with snow-ball fights & learning how to roll snowballs to make snowmen. They even got to go sledging down a hill behind Bill’s cousins house.
After just 12 short days, the boys flew back to Paris to their mother & we flew out the next day. But our last morning in Manchester we woke up to about 7 inches of fresh snow on the ground! No one could remember seeing so much snow for years. It was so weird – everything was strangely quiet as the schools had been closed & many businesses as well. Cars were trapped & supplies of grit to clear the roads almost exhausted by the series of heavy frosts and icy roads. Bill & I took our cameras out to the nearby park & found what seemed to be half the population making snowmen. And not just families with kids either.

With all the snow, we were a little anxious about our flight out, but with an 8pm departure we hoped we’d have no problems. As it turned out, we were lucky – Manchester airport opened about 1pm & our departure was delayed by only about an hour.

We are currently in Dubai airport waiting for our flight through to Bangkok for the job fair. Here’s hoping it goes well!