segunda-feira, 29 de março de 2010

RIP Beemer

In 76, when I completed 18, I got my driving licence and my dad gave me a white, lovely, amazing, beautiful, used BMW. That car had 2 accidents while we were together. The first one was in 77 and it was not my fault. I was parked on the street, waiting for someone, when a great bit truck went by at high speed. The top of its trailer caught a large branch of the tree above me and it came crashing down with an incredibly loud noise! The driver didn’t even notice and didn’t stop. I had a terrible fright! Especially when I looked back and saw that my back seat had totally disappeared! In its place there was the largest tree branch I had ever seen! I was very lucky to escape. Despite all the drama, the car recovered well, after a long stay in a garage.
I can’t say the same about the other accident, in 1980. This one was only my fault in the sense that if I had not loaned the car to a careless driver, the accident might not have taken place. It was Luis’ birthday and he decided to go with 2 friends to get some beer for the party. The accident happened on their way back. Although he denied it, I bet my last dollar they were speeding and they might have been drunk too! Suddenly, an animal crossed in front of the car. He couldn’t avoid it, and as his front tyre went over it, the car flipped over. He just walked, and so did one of his friends, but the 3rd guy was thrown out of the car and “cleaned” the tarmac with his back, so he had to spend the night in hospital. Despite the accident being quite bad and the car having been completely destroyed, all in all they were very lucky. Luis said it had been impossible to avoid the rhino, the others were convinced it was a goat but he insisted that if it was a goat then it was the size of a rhino and he only regreted he no longer had a car to take it home and roast it in the bbq for the birthday banquet!

segunda-feira, 9 de março de 2009

An Italian job

When I resigned from TAAG, I went to work for an Italian company. My friend Gisela, who worked for them, got me an interview and I managed to bag the job.
It was a building construction company, and it had contracts with the oil companies.
I can say, without exaggeration, that it was one of the companies where I learned most. Granted, maybe not essential stuff or anything I really needed to know, but nevertheless it was very educational. One of the things I learned there, was that the oil companies need buildings to store mud. In fact, that was one of the most important income sources for us. At the beginning, I thought I might have misunderstood. However, after seeing documents in French and English I had to accept that mud stores was exactly what they built in Angola.
It was also there that I learned a very important fact about Italians: they need large, spacious offices – in fact, a lot larger than the ones where we were installed in the Rua Mouzinho de Albuquerque. Unfortunately, the office was quite small. As a result, the Angolan staff always seemed to be in the wrong place – between 2 Italians - which was very bad for our health because when they talked we had to try to get out of the way of their hands and arms. The worst was that they often didn’t talk, they argued nearly to the point of physically attacking one another – and they didn’t care much if we were in the way!
It was at this job that I learned to speak Italian, even though it wasn’t strictly necessary, as the “official” language was French. However, I’ve always been very curious about foreign languages. The point is that they allowed us to go shopping for food at their supermarket and it was extremely annoying not to know what I was buying. A little like when we went to Croatia 2 years ago and my daughter asked at the supermarket if we needed some “putar” – but when I asked what that was, she replied she hadn’t a clue, but the package was pretty! To be truthful, I have to admit that there was another reason to learn the language. I was sure that I could understand Italian (OK, maybe not every word, but most of it) and what I didn’t know I thought I could guess, with the help of the other languages I spoke. However, one day I found out that was not true. They used frequently the word “pomeriggio” and I was convinced it had something to do with apple jam (don’t blame me, blame the French!) The day I found out it was actually “afternoon” I decided it was time to learn Italian! I found it quite easy, although my vocabulary of swear words increased much faster than the rest! Most of the vocabulary I acquired with my colleagues I didn’t even know in Portuguese!

sábado, 29 de novembro de 2008

Fish and quince

As you know by now, the diet in Luanda after 75 was varied: fried fish...or fried fish...or still fried fish which was always served with rice! However, depending on what trading goods you had – money was worthless – and whether you knew the right people, sometimes you could get other stuff. People who worked in the cigarette factory, for example, could swap their cigarette packs for beer with someone who worked at the beer factory. Bottles of beer could then be swapped for a chicken, or a turkey. The supreme merchandise was whisky, the real stuff, not the one everybody made at the garden shed or the one you could buy by the litre in plastic bottles! A bottle of whisky, together with something a bit more trivial, like sugar or potatoes, would be worth a whole pig! Unfortunately, the pigs, eating the same as we did had a disgusting fish taste! It was even worse than eating fried swordfish everyday! Anyway, that didn’t last as the few pigs still around in Luanda were quickly eaten and became extinct! When I started working for Schlum, I either went home or to the beach at lunchtime, but the foreign staff who had no reason or time to go home got a takeaway from the Petrangol canteen. Lunch was always fried fish heads with tomato rice and quince jelly (???) – don’t ask! One of my friends, a French engineer, only liked the jelly so he would swap his fish heads for more quince. The mystery of the fish heads puzzled the engineers, so they decided to find out why the fish only had heads and where on earth did the rest go. They went undercover to the kitchens and discovered that the cooks ate them before serving the heads to the staff!

quinta-feira, 6 de novembro de 2008

Teaching and learning

In 76 all uni students in Luanda had to teach in secondary schools due to the lack of qualified teachers. I was assigned to 2 schools. Obviously, I was really bad – I was not properly qualified or trained and there was no curriculum. However, one problem I did not have to face was lack of discipline from the kids. I was 18, hardly older than some of my pupils, but they were lovely and they all respected me. At the time, I drove a used BMW my dad had bought me and they absolutely loved my car. They would follow me out of the school and say: “Miss, you drive so well! Can you give me a lift, miss? Just a ride to the beach, miss!” The father of one of my pupils owned a shop and everyday he would bring me a lollypop, a rare delicacy in those days. It became a joke among my sister’s friends. Whenever someone asked if they knew Sacha’s sister the answer was “She is the one in the BMW with a lollipop?” I quickly learned never to tell them to write about a free theme. I spent many evenings laughing aloud like crazy while I read their compositions! Out of everything my pupils wrote, my favourite sentence was: “Comrade President Neto is considered immortal because even though he is dead he appears on telly every night!”
And please don’t ask me how I had time to work, study, teach and still lead a very busy social life....I think the days then had a lot more hours than nowadays! At least 36!


When Mike was working in Luanda, he was very sad because there was nowhere he could go to climb. He wanted to go to Pedras Negras, but it was too far away from the capital and the roads were too dangerous. One day he decided that if he could not climb on mountains, he could climb….the baobab trees! So we went looking for baobabs right for climbing. We looked, and looked, trying to find the ideal baobab tree. Some had big biting ants, others were not steep enough…… We were nearly giving up when he saw the perfect climbing baobab. An old man was sitting on the shade. As soon as he saw us, immediately tried to sell his baobab fruit. I wasn’t too keen, the fruit is very, very sharp and I really didn’t fancy it that morning. However, to help the old man and to give Mike the chance to try that fruit he did not know and was very curious about, I bought it. Mike tasted it and I asked him what he thought. His answer was: “You know what? When I want to feel like my teeth are growing a beard, I’m sure I’ll find a more pleasant way to do it, without having to eat THIS!”

quarta-feira, 5 de novembro de 2008

My first real job was with TAAG – before that I was a teacher but that job doesn’t count and anyway it’s part of another story I’ll tell later. As you may know (or not) TAAG stands for Angolan Airlines, or “Take Another Goat” as the english expats loved to refer to the company, a joke about the company logo which looked like a goat. My work was not very glamorous. I wasn’t a crew member, my feet were firmly on the ground. I belonged in the company’s headquarters, on the fifth floor of the TAAG building, next to Hotel Tropico. I worked for the Finance Department, in the Interline office and it was there that I met my best friend, one of those friends one makes for life; one of those friends we may not see for over 20 years but when we meet again it’s like we saw each other the previous day. Our job was to accept (or refuse) invoices from other airlines for TAAG tickets flown by them. How many rows we had with some companies who thought they could trick us! Whenever I visit a travel agency today I realize what an easy life the staff enjoys. They put into the computer the start of the trip, the destination, the dates and….Hocus Pocus! They’ve got the price! We had to know how to calculate the price of a trip. We had some HUGE green manuals, which gave us the distance in miles between A and B and sometimes C, D etc and with the help of a troglodyte calculator, (huge too) we had to work out the cost! (when my daughters heard this story, they wanted to know if I was born while dinosaurs still roamed the earth!) The IT department (TAAG was very ahead of its time) took the whole tenth floor and used some monsters they called computers, which worked with perforated cards. Working for TAAG was sometimes fun, albeit for a very low salary. Sometimes we would go in groups to have breakfast at the hotel next door – it was always eggs and ham, but in those difficult times of food shortages it tasted delicious! At 5PM everybody went home – very quickly and all at the same time! The lifts were always so full they wouldn't stop on the ground floor, they would go straight to the basement. The problem was that the only way to get out of the basement was….in the lift........ and sometimes it was already 6PM when we finally managed to get out of the building. It’s interesting to note that I was always much more afraid of those lifts than the curfews, the prisons, snipers, assaults, robberies, …… There were a lot of jokes about the safety of TAAG’s flights which was unfair, as the maintenance and pilots were provided by TAP, the Portuguese airline. There may have been some scary moments, but nothing special, really..... and there was a story about how in an emergency in a flight from Sal to Havana the crew discovered that the oxygen mask boxes were kept closed by superglue, but I’m sure that was just a rumour spread by the enemies of the revolution!..... However, the two things everybody agreed upon was that God was Angolan and supported TAAG football club!

quinta-feira, 9 de outubro de 2008

A blog about Angola would not be complete nor would it make any sense if I didn’t mention my childhood or teenage years, if I didn’t say anything about the time prior to the independence.
Geographically speaking, Luanda was a paradise. It was a paradise with problems, due to the big social differences. I’m proud to say that my parents always tried to help people who were victims of those differences and thanks to their attitude, they made friends for life – friends who welcomed them in Luanda with open arms, when they went there on holiday in 2006.

What can I say about those special and unforgettable years? Where to start?
I have wonderful memories of the first 17 years of my life. Precious souvenirs I keep under lock and key in my mind......just in case one day senility decides to creep in and do a monkey in a china shop! I had a more carefree childhood and adolescence than my daughters. And even though they find it very hard to believe, I was happy without TV, mobile phones, computers and internet. Without designer clothes and ipods.
I played in the streets with my friends, cycled and roller skated in the street too. These memories are precious as I am and always have been totally hopeless in sport: I played basketball but I was never good at it; my coordination – or lack of it – between my eye and my hand (left) is appalling, so I was never any good at tennis or badminton; I can swim, but not in a competitive way and my daughters think that watching me skiing is one of the funniest things in this world….well, I’m sure you get the gist! However, I was very good at roller skating, better than most! And I loved it! Unfortunately, roller skating was not in my mother’s list of appropriate sports for a girl, so she enrolled me in ballet, where I always felt like a hippo out of the water! We were 3: I was the middle one, my little sister was 3 ½ years younger than me, and my big sister, 7 years older. To tell the truth, she was not really my sister, but my cousin, but I cannot remember myself without her and she always felt like a big sister to me. My mother was very strict and a disciplinarian and she did not let us enjoy any freedom. We had to go to bed at 6PM and she would make sure we got up at 3 or 4AM to study. My mother had a theory that we would learn better that way, after a good long night sleep. It might have been true if I had gone to sleep at 6, but as I couldn’t, I would read in the dark until much, much later. We weren’t allowed to invite friends over or go to their houses, which never stopped me, really, I would go anyway, I just made sure she didn’t find out. Parties were a definitive no, no. There were boys (OH!) there! In my mother’s handbook “How to bring up my daughters” boys were to be avoided like the plague! Thanks to that I grew up feeling quite inadequate and terribly shy around them....and unable to understand them, although I have a feeling I cannot really blame my mother for that.
We were rebels but quiet ones! I still laugh whenever I think about how my big sister would go out at night and my mother would not give her a key to check what time she would return. Except that my mother would fall asleep and when my sister came back she knocked on my window and I would go and open the door.
Despite the lack of freedom, I had a happy time. I remember and I miss the endless summers, my friends, my high school colleagues, the Sundays spent on the beach….
I remember the first time I fell in love, at first sight (of course!), a “coup de foudre” when I was 10 and I remember being sure it would be forever! And it was!………Almost!