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Experience #4 - Luanda, Angola

First of all, as we could only get a short term visa, we didn’t stay much in the country and didn’t have enough time to find change makers. But even though it was an amazing experience.

Even with a very high expectation to know Angola’s culture, the Angolans surprised us. Positive and negatively. The contrast that we search so much in order to learn from different realities seems to be practically incomprehensible is this country.

Angola had his independence from Portugal declared in 1975. What was supposed to be a transitional government among the three local guerrillas groups became a civil war that lasted twenty seven years. Yes, 27! It just ended with the death of one of the leaders in 2002, when the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) assumed the power with the president José Eduardo dos Santos. It is a Presidential Republic and the same leader has been in power for thirty five years. Elections exist, but with a dominant party and a rooted corruption is hard to believe its legitimacy. Our Latin friends Venezuelan well know that….

There is a sick idolatry imposed to the president and its party had the Soviet Union and Cuba support, in war times. Simple socialist coincidence? In the other hand there is no press censorship and there are brave journalists openly criticizing government’s incapability. This way their possible democracy is very questionable! Angola is the 25th most corrupted country, according to the Transparency International list. Aware of this revolting aspect, it’s exasperating to know that Angola is one of the biggest petrol and diamonds producers worldwide. Therefore, it’s easy to consider that a big share of this money goes to the characterless ones.

The first conclusion is that the desire for power can be the most destroyable feeling of mankind. In that land of extremely lovely people, civil war left inhuman consequences. Almost three decades disrespecting human beings, taking life as it was like eating a piece of bread and hurting people’s soul and body for eternity. This provokes me an uncontrollable feeling of sadness to think that this endless and inconsequent acts happened to have the power to rule, to be the owner of a certain land in this planet and to make ambitions come true.

With this “knock out“ given, it would be important to state that this is not a personal judgment of these people who fought for their rights and for their people. But only to those who in a point in time believed that would make sense to use weapons, tanks and bombs as a form of more straightforward negotiation to solve disagreements…

Let’s breathe!

Just like a signal from the universe to not lose hope, the first experience we had was impressively positive. When we got to the city of Lubango, heading to Luanda, angel Paulo appeared. An extremely kind and generous Angolan man. When we asked for help, he guided us through the town for thirty minutes and promptly put himself to take us to the bus station. If it wasn’t enough, he managed to find two seats in a fully booked bus… And if really wasn’t enough, when I messed with the money to pay, he took twenty dollars from his pocket to complete the missing part and didn’t accept us paying him back. Ok, done, I thought: I have to call the Vatican, canonization extension.

In moments like that, I believe the blessed people are put in our way to strengthen us. In my hunt to demystify these appearances, after thanking him twenty times I asked for his email to keep in touch and give him back somehow in Brazil one day. We sent him a message in the following day and the email doesn’t exist… Conclusion: we met the angel Paulo from Angola.

The following adventure to feel the local culture was so fun that we laughed endlessly and well remembered our wonderful home country, Brazil – cheers for the Portuguese colonization! – Here it goes, our bus experience in a few words: 1. The departure happened one hour late due to five warm discussions arguing who would seat where, so warm that a guy called out another to fight outside the bus; 2. One of the passengers was a live chicken, very silent at least; 3. A guy listened to loud music in his mobile while he was singing, well; 4. Another guy took a cooler full of cider that totally blocked the aisle; 5. We had to watch three ironically funny movies (because they were so bad) as the volume was loud, very loud; 6. We were so cold, as the driver didn’t care about the complaining shouts, that we had to turn on our computer to use the battery heat… What an adventure!

In reality the 1.200 km long travel revealed us a very unfortunate fact. There, poverty is all around. Every time we looked out the window we saw villages visibly vulnerable without sanitation and electricity. Garbage is a public calamity even in the noblest areas of the city, what is a clear consequence of the lack of consciousness and basic social education. More than visual pollution, it’s very sad for the several diseases it generates, floods and destruction, that affect always the needy.

In any metropolis the contrast between the more and the less wealthy is constant, but believe me, I never seen more shameless than in Luanda. Firstly there are shacks, unfinished houses and buildings under construction every block. Independently from the region we were, when we looked to any where we saw a home without basic conditions to live in.

As a consequence of unemployment, there are informal street markets and hawkers of many product types everywhere. The ones that called out our attention are the young mothers with their children wrapped to their backs and merchandise equilibrated over their head, acting very naturally. They are very friendly and our constant approach saying “good day, how are you?” in portuguese of course, dropped any foreigners barrier.

I, particularly, have a problematic attachment to ridiculous boast and status show off. I’ve always believed that the industries of movies, soap operas and TV commercials that cultivate the famous desire to the unnecessary were the worst guys for our misunderstanding of “having or not having”, but it looks like the war could be worse. One peculiar characteristic of Luanda is that there are a lot of very expensive cars. Way more than in São Paulo, where there is a high concentration of those.

The point here is not the personal like in the automobilist market, but the joke is that 90% of these vehicles were driven pompously by men with a military uniform. This is the most official statement of corruption and “I don’t care about the people”… I didn’t resist to ask what value we were talking about to buy one of those toys and I heard from US$ 700 thousand. Fortunately I was not armed in that moment, as I would restart the war just there… I concluded that what the war destroyed the most were principles and values of these people.

Another proof of this misplaced blazon, going against the severe social inequality, is that the city was elected the most expensive to live in the world and won again in 2014 (uhu!), according to Mercer consulting. Even looking for the cheapest places, the prices we saw were absurd. It’s comprehensible if we think that there is not a developed market for all classes due to a very young economy, being the country war-free for only twelve years. And naturally because the bribery taxes industry should still be in its full force!

Let’s breathe deeper now!

In one of our conversations with people on the streets, we talked to a public transport driver, so called “candongueiro”. After learning from each other we got to the final stop. Getting down we noticed we forgot to pay, suddenly the driver said “this time in on us”, meaning they wouldn’t charge us. Then they closed the door and left. Gabi and I were chocked again with the generous kindness and almost didn’t believe what we just saw in a country where there is so much suffering. Joy!

Even more incredible is that we had another generosity experience in a street market. Looking for soap, we found a little barrow with a lot of white soaps. A tender young girl was selling four units for one dollar. As we didn’t want to take so many, we asked her to charge one dollar but give us just one bar. She was initially confused, but when she understood we wanted just one, she didn’t blink and said “ah, just one you can take it, is a gift from me”. Just like that, coming from a girl that fights for survival with challenges we cannot even imagine. I’m still asking myself how can a simple gesture means so much for what the world really needs?

In our continuous search for the regions in the city with more simple people doing good, we went to “Mercado 30”. A huge street market where people sell all types of things, such as food, clothing, car parts, refrigerator and CD. We couldn’t find out an official estimate, but I can say, confident, there were more than ten thousand people. It is located far from the city center, we took one hour to get there after three candongueiros. Being the only white there, we perceived upfront that I was seen as an albino avatar and Gabi as a Scandinavian. But we didn’t feel in danger at all. After long walks excited exchanging looks and words, we stopped to talk to Maria Pedro, a very kind and good mood woman. She was born in another city, Malanje, but lives in the district of Viana, in Luanda, since 1981.

She had seven children, but today four are alive. Maybe due to the war or diseases, but she didn’t want to talk much about this and we respected, of course. Having many children is common, under the reason that they will help to maintain the family in the future. So far this is one of the most concerning popular beliefs that we’ve know, but I intend to discuss this separately in another moment.

As in similar situations we have been since the beginning, it impresses us that despite all the difficulties she was spontaneous and visibly joyful and laughed about all. It might be just their personality, but still made us think that there, in the extreme point of poverty in the world the melancholy and sadness are less usual symptoms… As we speak we noted that her basic problems are lack of electricity and water. Regarding money itself, what concerns her more is education and being capable to pay their children’s school. Naturally in the current circumstances of the country, public education doesn’t work for everyone.

Exactly in this topic she felt more easy-going and inspired us a lot. Being corruption and selfishness the most harmful factors against the potential social equality, she told us in a very natural way that what is missing in Angola and in the world to solve this is just love. It may seem a childish conclusion, but there, to register a child in a public school, way beyond the waiting list and lack of vacancies, what guarantees the enrolment is a bribe. But wait a second! The person that represents the government demands money from people who don’t have it, just to execute his elementary function of educating the future leaders? Yes and very unfortunately we know it doesn’t happen only there.

The subtlety is in the thrilled way she told us “what is missing is love” and this has a very essential truth. And she kept telling us about many other situations in life where this feeling could be the solution. It was a gentle nudge to everyone who commonly use “I love you”, can only look to his own belly and try to take advantage of everything. It’s missing a lot of love for who needs it the most to survive and we should think twice about this concept. What is love for you?

Thank you all who contributed to these experiences and inspirations.

Have fun!



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