3000 kilometres later…

It’s now been more than a month since I arrived in Angola.

Thoughts so far…my first thought is that I wish I’d brought more warm clothes! The town I’m living in is fairly high up and it’s actually chilly as I leave the house before dawn each morning, so much so that I’m wearing my pashmina scarf to stay cozy.

There are lots of similarities to Mozambique in terms of the landscape, like these random rock formations which just appear on the horizon of an otherwise pancake flat landscape – just like in Mozambique.

This one is called German rock (apparently after a German bloke who jumped off the top of it!).

The food is similar – remember Xhima? Well here its called ‘fundge’.

Similar music and love of Nigerian ‘Nollywood’ movies.

Similar religions – the Church of “Jesus Christ is the Man” is here too,

And the climate is similar. It’s good to be back in a land of awesome skies and its rainy season at the moment so I’ve been driving under lots of angry skies (usually just before being battered by yet another awesome thunderstorm).

So nothing too different to Mozambique…apart from the people of course!

The Angolans certainly have their own quirks and traditions. There is however a much more obvious attitude towards pride and saving face. Angolans are incredibly proud people, in fact it has been heard Angolans categorically stating it is in fact THEM who speak the proper Portuguese and not the Portuguese themselves!

On the language front, I’m remembering more Portuguese than I thought I would and although some of the words are different I’m not as bad as one of my colleagues who regularly reverts to Spanish – in fact my Portuguese is now definitely stronger than my Spanish – although I do once in a while say a word I learnt in Mozambique and receive some odd looks for confused Angolans!

As ever our national staff are incredibly tolerant of my awful grammar and ability to speak only in present tense and will indulge me as I prattle on before then desperately raising an eyebrow to their colleague as they attempt to figure out what on earth I am wittering on about.

I have been out in the field a little (interspersed with efforts to get my head around spreadsheets which would blow your mind). As I feared my days of traipsing round minefields day after day are now just a distant memory but it’s important I have a good idea of what is going on in the field so I am determined to not spend my days confined to an office and end up as some ‘armchair general’.

If nothing else, I can claim being confined to an office is a health risk for me – I randomly get very achy legs if I sit in my office chair for too long. I firmly believe my body’s way of categorically reminding me that I am just NOT meant to be an office bod!

I have got a BIG programme to manage here – 650+ staff and 5 locations over a huge area (Angola is about 5 times the size of the UK).

The town I’m living in was fairly beaten up during the war. Some buildings still wear their scars, like this block of flats which had its top blown off yet astonishingly is still fully occupied by hundreds of residents!

But equally it seems every week a new house is renovated so the town is definitely on the mend.

Even for its slightly rough around the edges appearance, compared a couple of my previous postings it is very civilised – there is a half decent supermarket for starters which although has tear jerking prices at least sells gin, chocolate and fresh veg (my priorities being in that order of course!)

So after 3 weeks of driving round with the exiting Programme Manager, we completed our 3000km round trip in the capital for meetings with ambassadors and Government Ministers  – oo la la!

I am responsible for keeping our mineclearance programme “on the map” so to speak when it comes to embassies and donors deciding how to spend their money which generally means small talk with diplomats. I have even brought a suit with me for such occasions – although I can’t remember the last time I wore a suit so I no doubt look as uncomfortable as I feel when I am wearing it.

Anyhow, with meetings and visits done and dusted and last Friday night’s ceremonial passing on of the Programme Manager phone and the handover is complete. This programme is now MINE!

African thunderstorms rock my world

I just went to bed then got up again.

I KNEW I was going to do that. I knew that I should have just taken my laptop to bed with me. I know that sounds strange but when you have to go through the total palaver of tucking in your mosquito net, getting up and down in and out of bed is such a mission that you rarely forget to take everything you need with you as your climb under your net.

I regularly sleep with my torch, alarm clock, book, hand cream and on occasion my laptop, scattered around me as I sleep!

Anyhow even though I had properly tucked myself in for the night, I was compelled to untuck, grab my computer and re-tuck…and why you ask?

Well today I came to visit one of the new compounds we recently built. Part of my job is to check that everyone else is doing their jobs so I spend a lot of time asking why are you doing that? Or why are you NOT doing that?!

After a long day it’s now 8 o’clock and time for lights out (as in ‘generator switch off time’) and after several hours of distant growling and grumbling thunder slowing creeping towards the camp, the tap has been turned on, the heavens have opened and the storm has finally hit us.

I’m sitting in a little room, the last one in a block of 6 – imagine something like lots of little brick sheds side by side – with a tin roof over my head. The walls are thin and I’ve got the most twee (but actually fairly ineffective) pink lace curtains.

It’s like camping but without being crouched over getting soggy in a leaking tent – and yes if you cast your mind back I have in fact done just that during one of these torrential African thunderstorms…

The rain utterly pounding down on my tin roof is deafening, the lightening forks lighting up the black sky through my window with thunder loud enough to crack the glass.

And it is without a doubt one of the best places I’ve experienced a true African thunderstorm.

International Women’s Day

Today is the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day

Ma…’3 kids under the age of five‘ I think has been uttered on more than one ocassion round the dinner table (even if your abandonment of two of those three in John Lewis did result in a life long fear of lifts). An impressive feat nonetheless and I think you’ve turned us out ok, don’t you?

Sisters…happily married, successful careers, places to call home and beautiful babies (or baby-on-the-way). Need I say more!

Ankles…your own boss! You have worked hard to get there, you deserve all the success you are achieving.

Girlfriends…if the future of the human race was left up to me we would be en route to extinction. Your bravery (and love of rugrats) is keeping us on track.

Aunty Mo – the coolest nun going and a fantastic advice giver.

Ladies – you, amongst many other women in my life, are all an inspiration to me!

Happy International Women’s Day!

As for me…I have been on the move yet again and have arrived for Women’s Day in Luanda, the Angolan capital. As it is happily coinciding with Angolan Carnival the town is alive with music, masked children and lots of dancing on the streets.

After hours and hours in a hot dusty landrover we arrived at the office accommodation to find a filthy bathroom, most lightbulbs missing and not a drop of water to qunch our parched mouths! So I am spending Women’s Day scrubbing the bathroom before I can have a shower….well you know what they say “A woman’s work is never done”!

The town built from shipping containers!

It’s not a huge surprise I suppose considering that I am in a port town but it really does look rather odd. Houses, offices, shops…all in some shape or form an adapted shipping container!

I’m in Lobito, Benguela province. The landscape and energy zapping heat is unbelievably similar to my old Moz location in Tete except for Lobito is on the Angolan coast.

It feels an absolute world away from the other provinces I have been zipping around during my minefields visits. Winding down the hillside into Lobito town it strangely looks exactly how I would imagine Israel or Jordan to look.

Instead of usual dark red African soil brick houses, houses here are the colour of Mediterranean sand.

 

Dotted across the landscape, they are precariously perched on the side of the hill looking like the slightest gust of wind would send them toppling down into the sea below.

 

 

Even the local church is balanced on the edge of a cliff!

As you enter the town however life reverts from my imagined Middle East back to Africa…bustling minibus stands, street side clothes sellers, women carrying immense loads on their heads – usually with a baby strapped to their back!

We arrived at the compound yesterday after a long and dusty journey and lo-and-behold our compound is made out of….yes you’ve guessed it…shipping containers, just like the rest of the town. I was immediately convinced that without a doubt this is HALO’s most obscure compound.

We actually took the place over years ago from another charity and to be fair the shipping container concept was theirs.

The office block is 2 containers with their sides chopped out and a roof and floor between them to create 3 offices.

My sleeping accommodation is this container with plywood partitions creating ‘bijou’ sleeping quarters.

The kitchen is another roofed space between 2 containers, the radio room another container with the huge end doors welded shut and a window and door cut in to its side and the generator housing…yes you’ve guessed it – a container with the side chopped off!

It’s actually a very creative use of shipping containers.

And obviously being just that little bit more quirky than any other compound I have seen – I LOVE it!