Living in a Minefield…

Going to the grocery store should not be a hazardous activity, but here in Luanda, there are pitfalls and stumbling blocks everywhere you go.  Just today, as I was walking out of the grocery store, to my left stood a soldier with a machine gun. To my right, several men walked quickly towards me, sizing me up and shouting in Portuguese. I assumed from their demeanor that they were asking for money, which quickened my steps. Just as I approached the passenger side of my vehicle, with my driver inside and engine running, I narrowly missed falling into a three-foot-wide, six-foot-deep, open manhole. This could have been the end of me. Going to a hospital here is as dangerous as any accident.

No, Luanda is not a safe place for a klutz like me. I fall down – a lot. A bad ankle is the usual excuse for these spills, but mostly I am just too distracted by what is around me to watch where I put my feet. My favorite story about this legendary klutziness recalls my first date with the cutie-pie who would later become my husband. He is one of the most graceful and athletic people I know, by the way.

It was a date to go water-skiing. Don’t get ahead of me, now. The two of us had been set up on this date by another couple. The girl was a friend of mine from grad school, and her boyfriend was one of my hubby’s co-workers. Everything was going along perfectly until the two guys tried to launch the boat from a very steep boat ramp, something both of them had done many times before.  Suddenly, the boat launched itself off of the trailer and began to float away. While all of this was going on, I was walking towards the water, enthralled with all of the commotion, and of course my hot date.

The next thing I know, I am flat on my back laying in dead shrimp. While I had been gawking at my hubby, I had stepped right off of a four-foot embankment, and landed right in the middle of two young boys who were fishing with the stinky shrimp I had just squashed. Not one to admit pain, I jumped right up and declared, “I’m Oookayyy!”, doing my best arms-in-the-air, Olympic dismount gesture. How embarrassing! Here I was wearing my brand-new bikini, preparing to dazzle this handsome guy with my skiing prowess, and I fall down like a bumbling idiot. One thing is for sure, I made an impression that stuck.  We did wind up getting married, after all. Years later, my husband told me that his first thought was, “She’s clumsy, but she’s tough!”.

All of this is to say that I am ill-equipped for life in such a hazard-filled place.  There are no clean, even sidewalks here. There are holes and rocks and mud puddles. The mud puddles especially need to be avoided.  You don’t want to know what is most-likely floating in them. I’ve found the best shoes to wear here are FitFlops, those very unattractive rubber platform sandals that allow for walking slightly above the muck and can be hosed off and disinfected later. In addition to concentrating on all of the hazards on the ground, one must also watch out for hazards coming from all sides: crazy drivers that have no intention of stopping, potential muggers and the occasional stray dog. Sometimes, it is just too much for my ADD mind to handle!

In all seriousness, while I speak of Luanda as an urban minefield, there are many real, actual minefields still remaining in this country, mostly in outlying communities. In fact, Angola is still one of the most heavily land-mined countries in the world.  Following the end of the decades-long civil war, many land mines have been removed, but an estimated ten million still remain. Let that number sink in a moment. Ten million land mines. Imagine the damage they can do. And they are not designed to kill. They are designed to maim.  Many, many people are seen with missing limbs, even in Luanda.  It is a terrible tragedy that is entirely man-made.

Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by MAG (Mines Advisory Group), a non-governmental British and American organization that leads a de-mining effort in Moxico, eastern Angola. Understandably, the process is long and dangerous. Money is short for training and equipping these brave workers. They are making progress, but it will be many years before their work is done in Moxico alone. Of course, donations are sorely needed so they can continue their work and rid these communities of mines. Here is some more information about MAG:

http://www.maginternational.org/where-mag-works/angola

Other international organizations, such as HALO Trust, work in different parts of the country. Princess Diana was famously photographed walking through a land mine area while here on a visit with HALO Trust.  Fortunately, Prince Harry has continued Diana’s work through his visits to Angola. Here is their website as well:

http://www.halotrust.org

Of course, a klutz like me would be more of a danger than a help in clearing land mines. There is not enough protective gear around that would make me safe in such a situation. But, I can certainly contribute monetarily and plan to do so.  In the meantime, I will be stepping very carefully as I travel around the city of Luanda. As interesting as it could be, I don’t really want to write a blog about an Angolan emergency room, thank you very much.

Now, back to that water-skiing trip.  I am happy to report that I did dazzle my date, and the other couple too, with my skiing prowess. In fact, with each fall – and there were many – those comedians on the boat yelled out, “That’s a 9.5!” or “That’s a 10!”  Yes, I did fall spectacularly, but I also got back onto those darn skis until my date, with his infinite patience, had finally taught me how to slalom ski.  And I didn’t even lose my brand-new bikini top in the process.

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

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