A Travellerspoint blog

June 2006


Yes, I do work.

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I haven’t written much about work because I’m not really sure what I’m doing. For the first week I did a lot of reading. I came in wanting to be able to help the WFP office in whatever way I could, but it seems that everyone is too busy, or doesn’t speak very much English. Or if they are one of the previous two, they are going on vacation soon. So I am continuing forth with my focus group study.

Iºm trying to organize focus groups for participants of a WFP program that distributes take-home food rations for women that attend prenatal and postpartum health care.

But I feel a bit crazy at times. Today was particularly frustrating. I was told that it wouldn’t be a problem that I didn’t speak Portuguese. But I am finding it to be a problem. The health centers staff speaks only Portuguese. The coordinating WFP staff speak very little English and the same is true for the partner NGO group.

On the plus side, my Portuguese is improving. (But not fast enough) I have to write emails all the time in Portuguese and have to ask someone to edit it to make sure it makes some sort of sense. But I feel like I can only do that for so much longer. As I mentioned before… everyone is pretty busy.

Right now, I’m working on the IRB application to submit by the 28th. Then as long as I get approval on the study on July 12th, I will conduct 8 focus groups; 4 in Luanda and 4 in Huambo, the central highland area. Well, I myself won’t be conducting them. (Back again to the language barrier.) I have arranged for the facilitators to lead the focus groups, but (language barrier) then I need help translating the recordings of the sessions as neither of the facilitators speaks English. That’s where I’m hitting a brick wall at the moment.

But all the action should happen in July, if all goes according to plan. Ha! The simplicity of plans…

I’ll keep you updated.

Posted by hsustyle 02:02 Archived in Angola Comments (3)

Apologies for the lag

constant (and fast) internet is a luxury

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Apologies that I’ve been so bad with the blog. It’s a bit of a problem when I don’t have email at home and didn’t bring anything to carry documents from home to work… I tried to update last week, but the floppy I borrowed malfunctioned…

Posted by hsustyle 01:54 Archived in Angola Comments (1)

New things

and things I had forgotten

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This weekend I had a whole new set of new experiences. On Saturday, Arlete, a friend of hers, and I, headed south of Luanda to a town that has an artisan market. There were lots of statues and carvings and masks. Plenty of jewelry too. Unfortunately, a lot of it was ivory, which I don’t feel right purchasing. I ended up buying a pair of malachite earrings for a steal. (At least I think so.) I miss bargaining, but I try not to be too ruthless.

On the way back to Luanda, we went out to lunch at a restaurant where I had “fuje” for the first time. It’s the traditional staple across southern Africa, by different names. It’s made of maize meal and is a thick, sticky consistency. It has the grit and moistness of polenta and the sticky gelatinous character of mochi. Enjoyed it quite a lot with the “carne” meat stew, but it’s a bit too filling. I still prefer rice.

I’m also finding that I stick out a lot. But then I knew that was going to happen. Everywhere I go I’m “chinesa” or “Shanghai” (I’m not exactly sure why they all know that city…) It was like that at the market and also at the beach on Sunday.

Itºs winter now, so I guess itºs too cold to go to the beach for Angolans, but I found it perfect. Warm in the sun and cool in the water. The beach wasn’t crowded and hardly anyone was swimming. The beaches have more garbage than the beaches in the States, but I found it pleasant anyway.

And I found that I like fiction again. Nikki lent me Love in the Time of Cholera. And omg is it a good book. Finished it in two days. Will probably read it again… more than once.

Posted by hsustyle 02:00 Archived in Angola Comments (0)

Sorry I haven't written...

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I try to write entries at home and then take them to work, but my floppy stopped working...

Anyway, this article was in the NY Times last week. Gives a pretty accurate rendition of the slums of the city.

Where I live isn't as bad, but many of the neighbors carry thier own water and there isn't any sewage system as far as I can tell. Arlette has her water brought in and has her own generator...

Will post some entries tomorrow I hope...

Posted by hsustyle 01:25 Archived in Angola Comments (0)

Is plastic wrap edible for some species?

I don't think so.

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Arlete lives in an unpaved, dirt area off a main road. (Many areas in the city are unpaved or poorly paved.) The houses vary in size and quality. Some houses are made of cement like Arlete’s while others are more scraps of random building material strapped together. It’s very rural while being urban at the same time. Many people carry their own water every morning and throw their used water out in the street. But the houses are crammed all together and children are in the streets all the time. Then there are goats and chickens and dogs and cats all over the place too. A rooster crows every morning at 4am and wakes me from the weird dreams I get from the malaria medication.

Every morning when the WFP car picks me up, we drive by an empty lot littered with trash. In it are all the animals, eating the trash. One day we paused for a moment and I watched a chicken try to eat what appeared (to me at least) to be a large piece of plastic wrap. I’m not sure how an animal could survive after eating plastic wrap all day…but I’m pretty sure the chicken lived another day - to attempt to eat a tin can or something else non-edible.

Unfortunately, for me, that damn rooster also continues to live.

Posted by hsustyle 01:59 Archived in Angola Comments (0)

On the random lack of electricity

and how to get out of a minefield...

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On Saturday we went to Arlete’s friend’s house where she needed to work on a group project. I studied my WFP documents and Portuguese, but after about an hour, the lights went out. It was obvious that everyone was used to it. A lantern was lit and we waited. When the lights didn’t come back on, we decided to return to Arlete’s.

I asked Arlete how often and how long the power went out and she just shrugged. She replied that it could be half an hour of it could be all night. It could be as often as every day or not for two weeks. Some people have their own generators so that they don’t have to deal with the outages.

Arlete has one for the house and I’ve become accustomed to the times that it’s on and the times that it’s off. It’s actually quite nice. When I come home from work, no one is usually home yet and the generator isn’t on. I take a moment to lie down and relax. Then I try to read my ever-growing pile of program documents or other books on nutrition and health that Edith has given me. Or if I’ve felt particularly unable to communicate at work, I study some Portuguese. I sit out on the patio until the sun goes down and I start getting bit by mosquitoes.

Yesterday I finished an informational booklet on mines. Do everything possible to avoid any area that has signs of mines (which is logical for most people I think…) BUT if you inadvertently end up in a mine field - you need a long blade of grass, a pen and a lot of patience. The blade of grass to find trip wires, the pen to prod through the dirt for mines, and the patience so that you don’t kill yourself.

Useful information.

Posted by hsustyle 01:57 Archived in Angola Comments (0)

No Portuguese, no problem

For a few things that is...

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When I left work on Friday, I thought that I would have nothing to do but sit around the house all weekend. But I ended up having a great time.

I did study a lot of Portuguese, but also got out a bit. On Friday I went to dinner at Arlete’s cousins apartment. The host, Bella, was a HOOT. Loud and dramatic and funny – even if I didn’t know what was being said. Bella and Cila, another cousin, both spoke a bit of English so we had a good time joking and laughing with and at each other.

But the highlight of the weekend was definitely, Sunday night, the eve of Angola’s first soccer match in the World Cup!

That day was crazy. Everyone was on the streets in the colors of the Angolan flag, red, black and yellow. It was like the Fourth of July, Angolan style. Patriotic shirts, patriotic pants, crazy hats, headbands that said VIVA ANGOLA!, little flags and huge flags. We drove through a roundabout that had a monument and two guys had climbed on top and were waving a huge flag. As fate would have it, I didn’t have my camera.

I went with Arlete to a party at her friend’s apartment. It’s funny, in Angola, the buildings are all really old, but people fix up their apartments so that you’re surprised when you step into the apartment from the dirty, smelly stairway. The apartment was at the top of the building and they had the rooftop patio set up for the game. There was a huge spread of food – rice, vegetable, stew, desserts and a giant salty dried pork leg. I guess it’s a traditional Portuguese item. You cut off a piece of meat and chew on it and wash it down with a swig of beer. But I wasn’t there for the food (although it was good) – we were there for the game. And they had a projector set up with a huge screen so we could it better.

The game wasn’t on when we arrived, so we ate, drank and danced! There was great music from Angola, Spain, Brazil, Congo… Cila, I found out, loves dancing as much as I do.

There are two Angolan dances that I need to learn. Conzumba, I think, which is a three-step partner dance. Then another dance that I forget the name of – all I know is that it literally translates to “hard butt”. You only move your hips, like Polynesian or hula dancing, but it’s more suggestive. I tried, but I think I miserably failed. Maybe I can’t learn it. Maybe it has something to do with Angolan gene expression that I will never have.

Anyway, Angola lost. There was lots of jumping up, cursing, yelling, and screaming (Did I mention that I love the passion of the World Cup?) But in the end, everyone thought that the team played well, considering it was their first appearance at the World Cup against their former colonial ruler.

Over the weekend, I learned that there are a few things that you can enjoy even if you don’t speak the language of the people around you: laughing, dancing, and a love for the World Cup.

Posted by hsustyle 01:56 Archived in Angola Comments (0)

Finally in Angola!

Thurs night and Friday

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After about 4 hours of sleep, I had to get up to get back on the bus back to the airport. There, my experience with TAP was not much better than the night before. There was much more confusion, further delays, and they refused to give me a meal voucher. Ugh. I, in turn, refused to buy expensive airport food and ate the mini Mars bar I had saved from the flight from Newark. (Sadly, I knew that its high glycemic index would not keep the hunger away for long… Haha, that’s for my dietetic interns!)

When I finally got on the plane, I sat next to a British guy headed to work on the offshore rigs near Luanda. I learned a lot about offshore oil production, and from how he described Luanda, I felt that I was headed to Hell on earth. (I won’t go into what he said, but, I am not exaggerating that much.) The view as we descended into the airport made me feel even worse. Luanda is as monstrously sprawling as Los Angeles – but instead of suburbia, it is shantytowns for as far as the eye can see.

Ever since I decided to take this internship in Angola, I have wavered between thinking that it is the greatest idea in the world and thinking it is the worst idea I’ve ever conceived. Landing on the runway in Luanda was a “worst-idea-ever” moment.

The airport reminded me of the old Dhahran airport. Rushing around, barely any English, and scary military/police guys. But I got through, and was thankful to see my bag (The British guy predicted that it would not arrive at all, and that maybe it would show up back in Boston with anything of value stolen from it.)

I wasn’t able to contact anyone about my delay, so I was afraid that there would be no one to pick me up. I was so focused on the crowd outside the exit that I didn’t notice the WFP driver until he tapped me on the shoulder. Then I saw his WFP sign and big smile and all my anxiety for the moment disappeared.

When we turned off onto a dirt road and at a door in a concrete wall, I must admit, I was a bit scared to see my new home. But the house was clean and simple. Reminded me a lot of my grandmother’s house – containing all the necessities, and not needing the luxuries.

The empregada (housekeeper) let me in and I picked up that Arlette, my host, was at a friend’s house. When Arlette arrived, her English was much better than I expected and I tried my best to profusely thank her for her hospitality. We ended up talking for a long time that night in broken Portuguese and English about lots of things – the US, Angola, the Angolan government, her family, nutrition, HIV, education. It was great. I’m really glad to be living with her.

My first day at work was interesting. Mostly doing HR/IT stuff. And since it was Friday, they only work a half-day. Took two huge binders home to read over the weekend.

Posted by hsustyle 13:30 Archived in Angola Comments (1)

How not to travel...

Don't travel on TAP.

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If all had gone as planned, I would be in Luanda by now. But… flight was delayed last night until the morning.

It’s good that I speak English (although it would be better if I spoke Portuguese…) You take for granted that English is the automatic second language in many counties. If things are translated at all, it’s in English. Point being that important airport/flight status announcements are translated into English (albeit, somewhat poorly…)

But even before they translated the announcements, I knew from the groans that something was definitely wrong. We were herded out the gate, then waited in line to go through customs, then waited in line to get on buses to a hotel, then waited in line at the hotel to get a room key. I think you get the point -- there was a lot of waiting. Oh… and there were 200+ of us.

On the bright side, the bathroom in the hotel room was one of nicest I’d ever seen. I figured I wouldn’t be seeing one that nice for two months (or the rest of my life) and indulged in a bath!

Posted by hsustyle 11:30 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Bom dia!

Good day! (from Lisbon)

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Goodbye New York.

Hello Lisbon!

Arrived in Lisbon @ 8:45am. Thought my connecting flight to Luanda was @ 11:40am, but it was at 11:40PM… Fabuloso! That gave me 12 more hours than I thought! More than enough time to go into the city. So I dumped some weight from my carryon at the left luggage booth and caught the next bus into town. On the bus, met a German girl living in London and we decided to make a whirlwind sightseeing day of my 12+ hours.

We headed down to the historic part of town where we did it all, by train, by bus, but – mostly by foot! Stopped for lunch at a pastelaria (bakery) and when we were all tuckered out, had dinner by the sea! The city was beautiful (and expensive…), and completely different from what I expected. I thought that it would be more modern, but my perception may be skewed from the fact that I spent most of my time in the older part of the city. The weather was awesome – warm in the sun with a cool breeze. (Obviously my skin hadn’t seen a lot of UV lately, because I headed back to the airport with a T-shirt tan and a sunburn across the face!)

Right now, it't too much trouble to put pics on my blog. you can see all the pics on my flickr account.

Posted by hsustyle 08:45 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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