Monday, November 26, 2012

Getting out on parole

I think this year marks my 10 year anniversary of my first trip to Angola. For the past 10 years I have been visiting at least twice a year staying usually for a week or two at a time.  My first impression of Luanda was something I never managed to shake despite seeing how Luanda was progressing as a capital and building itself up brick by brick. Buildings where people lived in squalor and literally threw their toilet waste from the windows were turned into buildings where the sunset over the Ilha is mirrored into the faces of Angolans striving for a better life. The number of building cranes over the skyline of Luanda is probably the highest I've ever seen in any city, a sign of a developing country that had been torn apart by a civil war before and is now building itself up.

My travels to Luanda felt to me like a death sentence. I was here for work and on weekends I stayed in the staff house which is walking distance from the Marginal but never leaving it. Weekends were terrible torture with no access to transport and with clear instructions not to venture outside the staff house due to security issues. The only entertainment I had was the Internet and staff house swimming pool. Discussing the latest mugging that was recorded in our safety records made escaping from the “prison cells” of the staff house sound like a bad idea. The Marginal was a no-go zone and despite the fact that construction work prevented anyone from walking there, the company’s “Welcome Booklet” didn’t encourage it either. In a period of ten years I never walked alone in the city of Luanda and I dreaded any upcoming visit to Angola.

I am again in Luanda over a weekend and the Marginal which were closed for most of the last couple of years has officially been opened. Instead of chewing through my wrists again this time I decided to break free and go explore no matter what the consequences might be. My current state of mind is screwed up for more than one reason and I needed to pick myself up.  At 10’0 clock this morning the gates of the staff house opened in front of me and I ventured out on my own to go see the new Marginal. I crossed the main street where the traffic lights show the countdown in seconds to when the light is going to change, something I have never seen before in my life. Waiting for 70 seconds before the walking man  turns green can take some getting used to, but I didn’t want to cross on a red light thinking that I might as well use the new technology that was put in place for a reason. I suddenly felt alive in Luanda like a prisoner who has just been let out on his first parole. It was like a new world opening in front of me and the feeling of being sentenced when my presence in Luanda was requested quickly disappeared.

The new Marginal is basically the walkway in front of the city facing the bay area. Once an area where muggers took shelter and preyed on foreigners has been turned into a pleasure zone for the people of Luanda to enjoy. Young people were playing basketball, doing the stuff that most kids would so in South Africa, with benches, parks, play grounds and enough area to roller blade, ride bike or skateboard until the sun goes down. I walked for about an hour from the one end to the other and back and wasn’t approached by anyone begging for money or making me feel uncomfortable.  I uttered a few Bon Dia’s and was friendly greeted back. It looked a lot like Sea Point in Cape Town and the vibe was not far removed either. One thing I did notice though was that there were no tuck shops to buy cool drinks or water. I needed this because with more than 30 degrees Celsius minutes after ten a clock I could not help but wonder why there are no shops around. I noticed a few mobile police stations and even though I usually stay clear of anyone in uniform in any African country I didn’t feel threatened by them either. I guess the amount of people walking their dogs and taking their kids out made me feel much more relaxed. I took a few pictures and decided that on my next visit I am bringing my roller blades along. A weekend in Luanda does not have to be a prison sentence anymore. It took me ten years to get out and I am planning on staying out. The other issues that Luanda still has I will try and solve with the same attitude I saved myself with this weekend.

New buildings (oil companies)

Fort of São Miguel of Loanda.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderlik. As ons nou net vir JZ hier kan weg kry...
    NS. Hoekom is daar nie karre in die strate nie?