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!



  1. Gil said,

    April 1, 2011 at 3:59 am

    Hi there,

    It almost feels like I know you, having read your entire blog start to finish. Don’t worry I’m not a stalker, I promise. I was approached by someone offering jobs in Mozambique about 2 weeks ago, doing exactly what you do. I have a military and private security background and I have been looking for a change in direction and pace so to speak and I was intrigued by the idea of doing something with actual quantifiable if not immediate results so I started doing some research, mostly checking out the afore mentioned individual and his credentials. Good thing I did, because it seems he is a bit of a dodgy character. I got this little gem of information from a mutual friend in the industry. So dodged, (pardon the pun) that particular landmine.

    I did however come across an article about you and your work in moz on woman on the road, which led me to your blog and in turn led me to the HALO Trust. Now I did my homework, thought it all through and I partially blame you and your blog for this. But after calling the HALO offices in Washington and speaking to a man named Andrew on Wednesday and being told there was going to be a global campaign for recruits starting at the end of the week… Well long story short, last night I emailed my resume and officially applied (trying to beat the rush as he put it).

    I’m a South African and in the Pretoria area for the moment, if you have the time and absolutely nothing better to do, I’d love to pick your brain on some more insider info, who knows I might be a colleague one of these days.

    Thanks for the great blog and the insights into your work and the people you’ve met and helped. I enjoyed it immensely and it’s very inspirational, or maybe I’m just in a sappy mood, either way keep up the good work.

    • misshelen said,

      April 1, 2011 at 6:57 am

      Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and many thanks for your comments. You are right, this work is very tangible – its one of the reasons I was attracted to it. You will be given plenty of information should you interview with HALO which will help you make a decision about whether this kind of work is for you or not. Best of luck with your application and maybe we’ll see you in the minefields soon!!

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