Category Archives: Expat

Richmond: Hollywood-on-Thames…

This will be a walk down memory lane for me, as I recall my July trip to Richmond, a leafy suburb of London and my former home. I wax nostalgic about our first expat assignment and the friends we made there.

Richmond has earned the nickname “Hollywood-on-Thames” because of the high concentration of celebrities who have been spotted in the area. Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie called Richmond home while filming in London, as did Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Johnny Depp and many others. (

I was never lucky enough to run into any of those stars while I lived there, but I did spot Mark Ruffalo and Ricky Gervais walking along the Thames – on different days, mind you. For some reason, they don’t seem like great drinking buddies.

And one day as I walked out of the courtyard of my apartment complex, Javier Bardem & Penelope Cruz passed right by me on the way to my building. No, I did not fall all over myself when they walked by. I didn’t even gawk…much. There was a beautiful penthouse for rent in the building, so I surmised they were there to take a look at it. They did not choose the flat, which was just as well. There was no guarantee I’d be able to keep my cool the next time I ran into them.

Richmond UK Thames view
Who wouldn’t want to live here? Penelope and Javier really missed the boat. That penthouse has a fantastic view!

Richmond was also recently named the happiest place to live in London ( It’s no wonder why. With numerous top-quality restaurants and great shopping within walking distance, it has a very upscale but still quaint atmosphere. Does it sound like I miss it much?

Luckily, Hubby’s job takes us back through London occasionally, so I am able to catch up with friends and get my Turner View fix. Even Mark Ruffalo couldn’t resist tweeting a pic of this view.

Turner View Richmond UK
The view immortalized in paintings by artist William Turner and others. Mick Jagger & Jerry Hall shared a house with this view, that is until they got divorced. She got to keep the view along with a hefty divorce settlement.

My first weekend in Richmond, I met a lady named Betty and she invited me to join in with a group of ladies who met every Wednesday at a different pub in the area. She called it Wine Time Wednesday, and I could hardly contain my excitement! Another name the group went by was A.W.O.L, or American Women on the Loose in London. Let me tell you, they were a fun group! We traversed London from one side to the other, taking in shows, going on hikes and checking out any new event that came to town. My experience there would have been very different – and a lot less fun – without these gals. Given that our initial activity was meeting in pubs, I would be remiss if I did not post a few pics.

Richmond pubs
One of the many pubs in Richmond. You could go to a different one every night of the month, though you would soon need bigger clothes – and a new job..
Richmond Pubs
The pub culture is one of the most charming things about the UK. Most flats are the size of a postage stamp, so a pub is a great spot to get out and enjoy some company – and a pint or two.
Richmond Pubs
Yep, another pub. Can’t help mah-self. But, check out those flowers!

Here are a few more pics of the place we Wine Time Ladies liked to call Disneyland…

Richmond Bridge
Some very dapper folks head out for a nice row on the Thames.
Richmond Bridge
Richmond Bridge. Honestly, I have so many pictures of this bridge that it borders on the ridiculous. I even bought a painting of it. This was our favorite weekend coffee spot.
View from Richmond Bridge
View from Richmond Bridge. This spot is always a hive of activity, with musicians, boat-makers, cyclists, runners, and families out enjoying the day.
Terrace Garden Richmond UK
No green area is wasted here. This is the Terrace Garden just down the hill from Mick Jagger & Jerry Hall’s place.
Richmond UK
Flowers, flowers, everywhere!

A short walk down the Thames is the village of Twickenham, home of British Rugby. While a huge, modern rugby stadium dominates the area, there are still plenty of quaint, narrow streets filled with restaurants and, you guessed it, more pubs.

Twickenham is known for Eel Pie Island, a small island in the middle of the Thames which was the site where many Rock 'n Roll legends got their start. Now Eel Pie Island is an artist colony.  This pub is a nod to those glory days.
Besides Rugby, Twickenham is also known for Eel Pie Island, a small island in the middle of the Thames with deep Rock ‘n Roll roots. Many big names got their start at a dance hall there in the 1960’s, such as The Who, The Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton. These days, Eel Pie Island is an artists’ colony. The name of this pub is a nod to those glory days.
Church Street Twickenham
Church Street in Twickenham, and more lovely flower baskets.
Twickenham Church Street The Fox Pub
Church Street is a pedestrian street filled with restaurants and pubs. The Fox Pub is no bigger than the average American bedroom, but hordes of people crowd in every weekend to hear live music.

Richmond has been a magnet for notable people for centuries, including Kings and Queens. The remnants of the former Richmond Palace are located on the Thames, just down from the bridge. While the shape and trim on these buildings hint at their royal heritage, only artists’ renderings can show how grand it once was.

Richmond Palace.
The remnants of the former Richmond Palace, built in the year 1500. Queen Elizabeth I and Henry VIII both lived and died here.  The palace was torn down around 1650 and the materials were used elsewhere.
Richmond Palace
Plaque outside Richmond Palace.

My computer is filled to overflowing with images of Richmond, as are my memories of our first expat assignment. Most of my Wine Time friends have moved back to the USA, each one going through the difficult repatriation process. As one such Wine Timer tearfully prepared to leave, her husband said, “Sorry honey, our time in Disneyland is over. The park is closing.”

Thankfully, many Wine Timers now live in Houston, so the friendships live on. As often as we can, we gather to visit and recall our many Richmond adventures. Comparing notes on celebrity sightings, recounting the many pubs we visited and the interesting people we met in them, and trading travel expertise are all good ways to relive our time in the Magic Kingdom. Now, if only I had been able to invite Penelope Cruz to tea, my experience would have been perfect!

©2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

I’ve Got Some Oceanfront Property…

It’s been so long since my last blog that catching up is going to be a challenge. The best approach, I reckon, is to just pick up where I left off. My memories are getting a bit hazy, but thank goodness for pictures and my trusty Google Calendar. Without these two things, I would never remember where I’ve been and when!

In July, we headed out on the company boat of our friends, Mr. & Mrs. G. We knew fishing was going to be unproductive, so we planned to cruise along Mussulo Beach, nibble on some lunch, and take in the sights along the shore.

There are some very nice houses along Mussulo. According to the boat captain, most are owned by prominent generals and other government officials. Many of them look like small hotels, complete with dozens of tables and loungers set up on the shore. Most appeared empty except for occasional workers making repairs and wandering ladies selling various wares..

Luanda Angola Mussulo
One of many residences along Mussulo Beach

This lone potential customer is getting the hard sell from some ladies selling fabrics and dresses.

Luanda Angola Mussulo
Come on, buddy. Buy something. These ladies are having a slow day!

These young ladies were selling bread and eggs along the beach.

Selling eggs in Luanda Angola
I can hardly carry my eggs in a bag without dropping them, but this young lady has no trouble carrying them on her head.


Luanda Angola
Taking a break from tidying up the beach. The sand makes a nice spot for a siesta.

From our previous trips out, we have learned that proper boating etiquette has not yet made it to Luanda. More than once on this trip, we were almost run over by a fellow boater determined to have the right of way. Yikes!

Boating in Luanda
Get outta my way! My beer is getting warm on the beach!

If they weren’t zooming towards us, they were zooming around us. This is up close and personal, folks.

Boating in Luanda
Boating etiquette? Never heard of it.

After cruising around for awhile, we spied a shanty town precariously perched on the side of a cliff. From a distance, the colorful window coverings captured the imagination.

Luanda shanty town
Oceanfront property of all kinds can be seen in Luanda.

As we approached, however, the reality was a bit less charming. I wondered why the windows on these buildings were so tiny, when they could have a very nice view of the water. But of course, I was looking at things from a first-world perspective.

You see, there was no glass in these windows.

The small size was to protect against rain and a persistent sea breeze – and for structural integrity, I imagine.

Shanty town Luanda Angola
Lack of land makes for some very odd building sites.

Navigating through this maze of buildings would be hard for us from the flatlands, but these residents seemed to make their way without a problem. Technically, these houses were oceanfront property, but one hard rain was liable to wash them right into the water!

As I’ve said before, there is always something interesting to look at while out and about. Case in point, the words on the boat below translate to “Mana does not want problems with your husband.” There is definitely a story there!

Humor Luanda Angola
Who is Mana and what has he (or she) done to the local husbands?
Luanda Harbor
Thumbs up is a universal greeting – we hope!
Luanda Angola
New and old in close proximity.

Looking for the beauty in a place like this can be a challenge at times, but as long as you view Luanda through the eyes of a photographer, it rarely disappoints.

Sea Birds Luanda

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Cannon Shots and Making Pickles – just another day…

Overlooking the bay of Luanda is the Forteleza de São Miguel, the oldest building in the city and certainly the most impressive. It was built in the late 1500’s and was a self-contained town for many years. Later, it became the hub for the slave traffic from Angola to Brazil – a dark time in the history of this country, but one that is important to remember. Today, the fort serves as a military museum and boasts a beautiful view of the city and coast.

Fortaleza de Sao Miguel
A view of Fortaleza de Sao Miguel from the air (from The city has changed a great deal since this photo was taken (pre-2012). Now, there are dozens of huge skyscrapers being built and the Marginal along the waterfront is complete.

Unfortunately, a developer is rapidly hiding this landmark by building a shopping mall smack-dab in front of it. We complain about the lack of zoning in Houston, but I cannot imagine any developer being granted the rights to build in front of such an important building. Just another example of how money is the supreme power in this country.

From our balcony, our view is also being obscured by the building of yet another skyscraper – but a tiny sliver remains. A few days ago, a friend was visiting me and we heard a very loud explosion. A few seconds later, another loud boom. We rushed to the balcony to see if a bomb had gone off somewhere. Gunshots are heard periodically around our building, but normally they are at night and never this loud.

With so much going on in the third-world these days, loud explosions are never good. Even fireworks give me the heebie-jeebies lately. But, looking down at the people milling about on the street, everyone seemed unfazed by the noise. Thank goodness, we thought. People running for cover is not what we wanted to see. Then, as we turned our eyes to Fortaleza, we could see a ball of fire and smoke, and a split second later, another boom. As we looked closer, we saw men in uniform gathered along the thick fortress wall, obviously lighting up the still-functional cannons. Oh, okay! So those are soldiers and this is a controlled display of firepower, not the latest news story about terrorists.

We had heard that the President of France was in town for a visit, so clearly the military was just showing off a bit. We assumed – though not confidently – that the canon balls were blanks. Here in Luanda, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a guy with an AK-47 strapped to his chest. Men with loaded guns are everywhere, all dressed in a variety of uniforms. With the Angolan’s obsession with  weaponry, it would not be surprising if real cannon balls were flying. Like I’ve said before, never a dull moment…

While finding guns in Luanda is apparently an easy task, finding certain food items is not. For example, dill pickles are not available here. It may be hard to believe, but they were hard to find in London, too.  When we lived there, I actually brought back a quart-sized jar in my suitcase – in bubble wrap, of course – and prayed the jar did not break and spill pickle juice all over my clothes.  I simply could not abide those sickly sweet things called gherkins found in the UK.

Nope. The pickles I grew up with are so sour they make your eyes water, crunchy, kosher dills – and nothing else will do on my sandwiches.  So, what’s a picky pickle-eating girl to do?  Why, make her own, of course! So, I looked up a recipe and pulled together all of the ingredients.

The pickling cucumbers were so cute, I had to get them. Those peppers, however, are anything but cute. They are bloody hot!
The pickling cucumbers were so cute, I had to get them. Those peppers, however, are anything but cute. They are jalapeño hot!
Dill Pickles - African Style!
Dill Pickles – African Style! This is the pickling liquid – vinegar, veggies, and spices.
Twenty-four hours on the counter and then into the fridge they go. Yummm!
Twenty-four hours on the counter and then into the fridge they go. Yummm!

In case you were wondering, the pickles came out perfectly – very tart and spicy. Of course, I always took such items for granted in the US, but it’s these little touches of home that keep me sane here in Luanda. Cannonballs may be flying, but I’ve got dill pickles on my sandwich, so life is good!

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Teacher, teacher, teacher…

For me, Wednesday mornings are nerve-wracking, but Wednesday afternoons are the absolute best. Why the focus on a single day of the week? That is because on Wednesday mornings I teach English to Portuguese-speaking girls at a local orphanage.  I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but I found myself volunteering to do this through the American Women’s Association (AWAA) here in Luanda. You should know, I am not a teacher. My degree is in Geology. And, I don’t speak Portuguese, although I am learning it slowly through this these precious kids.

My only experience with teaching was about fifteen years ago, as a substitute teacher in our local school district. I only did it six times, and it was for a different school and grade each time. When I signed up to be a substitute, I was told the regular teacher would always leave me a lesson plan, and all I needed to do was show up and fill in for the day.

Nope. Never happened.

Each experience was the same. I arrived to find there was no lesson plan, and I was face-to-face with a room full of twenty-three or four kids, all expecting me to know what I was doing.

It was terrifying.

The last time I taught, it was for a third grade class in one of the less-affluent elementary schools in our district. The class had its usual collection of overly-energetic kids, but there was a particularly disruptive boy sitting on the first row. For the entire morning, he could not keep his hands off his fellow students, would not stay in his seat, and refused to complete any of his work. After lunchtime, I gently took him aside and asked if perhaps I had failed to send him to the nurse to take his medicine. You see, I knew many kids on Ritalin, and if ever there was a child with ADHD, this boy was it.

He narrowed his eyes at me and said, “What do you mean, medicine? I don’t take medicine. I’m telling my parents!”  I never went back.  Teaching was just not for me. Some people have math anxiety dreams, public speaking anxiety dreams, or showing-up-somewhere-naked anxiety dreams. For years after that, I had teaching anxiety dreams.

So, you may wonder, why in the world would I volunteer to teach English to a bunch of Portuguese-speaking orphans? No, I have not lost my marbles. The answer is: because I am able. Because I have the time, and they need every bit of help they can get. You see, English may give them a leg-up on getting a job when they are older. Luanda has many hotels, businesses, and English-speaking expats. In each of these situations, a little English would be a big plus when seeking employment.

There are a number of orphanages in Luanda, and they all have more kids in them than they should. The orphanage where I volunteer is called Mama Muxima, and it is run by only three nuns. There are over four hundred kids in school attendance, but some of them live in the surrounding barrio, and come only for the classes taught by the nuns. The one hundred kids who do live there range in age from toddlers to age seventeen. Once they reach the age of eighteen, they have to leave. What happens to them then is very uncertain. Of course, that is very tough to swallow, but there is no denying that Mama Muxima is an amazing operation.

So, how do only three nuns care for and teach that many kids? Each child is on a very strict schedule and the older kids all have chores to do. They have morning and afternoon classes. In between, they clean and do laundry. They help with the cooking and tend to the younger kids. And, you have never seen a happier, and more well-behaved group.

Who pays for all of this?  I’ve been told the majority of their funds come from the church, private donations, and business donations. The AWAA supports them financially as well, through funds raised on twice-yearly craft fairs, dues, and other donations.

Yes, the orphanage is an amazing operation, but it is anything but plush. There is no electricity in most of the buildings, and the plumbing is often broken. Up until recently, the nuns themselves were living without a functional bathroom. The older kids had to haul water upstairs in buckets to the nun’s bathroom so they could wash and use the toilet.

Recently, the AWAA provided the funds to install water purification equipment. Prior to that, the children were often sick from bad water. The kids sleep in buildings with open holes near the roof for ventilation. There are no screens, mosquito nets, or bug spray to prevent bites. As a result, kids often come down with malaria, too. Like I said, this is not the Waldorf-Astoria, but these nuns do so much with so little, and these kids are the recipients of their dedication.

I am by no means the only English teacher at Mama Muxima. The AWAA provides a number of volunteers who teach English, sewing and crafts, all on alternate days. This certainly lessens the load on the nuns, but they are still responsible for the vast majority of instruction. You should know that many of the members of AWAA are not American. We have ladies in the group from all over the world.  It has been so much fun to interact with such a  diverse group of women!

The Wednesday morning class is made up of girls between thirteen and fifteen years of age. I have a daughter, and let me tell you, teenage girls are a different animal. They can be moody, stubborn, and just plain mean. Thankfully, my daughter has grown into a lovely young woman. But, her early teenage years were not a lot of fun. I am sure my own mother would not have fond memories of my teenage years, either.

But, the girls I teach are unlike any American teenagers I have ever encountered. Every single one of them – and my class can have up to fifteen – are polite, helpful, and eager to learn. When I arrive at the orphanage, they come out to greet me, and help carry in my bag and supplies. The class is held in a room with tables and chairs, but no electricity. Often, the girls straggle in, many of them tired from their chores and regular classes. But once they all arrive, they are happy to see me and ready to learn.

Like all kids, they get bored with being lectured to, so we play games and sing songs. They thought the Hokey-Pokey was hilarious.  I used it to teach them right from left and parts of the body. Today we played a game with opposite words (hot, cold, young, old…). I had pictures of these opposites, put the girls in a circle, had them close their eyes before I gave each a different picture, and then had them open their eyes and race to find their opposite. Great fun!

During a previous lesson, my fellow teacher and I were working on numbers and telling time. We gave them a handout with pictures of blank clocks, and they were supposed to depict whatever time we told them, by drawing in the hour hand and minute hand. Surprisingly, they had no idea what to do, even though they knew their numbers fairly well. Finally, we realized that they had never learned how to read a face clock!  None of them own watches, so it should have been obvious to us, but of course we were looking at things from a first-world perspective.

I mentioned that all of the girls are well-behaved, but there is one young lady in the class who can be a bit of a challenge. I don’t know how long she has been at Mama Muxima, but she has a terrible burn scar that covers the front of her neck and part of her chest. One can only imagine how hard her life was before she came to the orphanage.

Every time I have taught, she persisted in loudly calling out, “Teacher, teacher, teacher!” whenever I was trying to answer questions from the other students. When I would walk over to see what she needed, she invariably asked the same questions about where I am from, and how old my kids are.  Then, she would tell me she likes my watch – a very inexpensive one with a rubber wristband that I picked up in the airport. I think these are the only things she feels comfortable saying in English, and that is why she asks them over and over.

Today, she did not show up to class until we were almost finished with our lesson. As expected, the minute she sat down came the usual “Teacher, teacher, teacher” followed by the same questions. The difference today was that we had three other ladies there to help teach, and our group of kids was smaller than normal. Usually, I teach with one other lady or on my own.

So today, when this young lady started in on her questions, I pulled together all of my supplies and we had a little one-on-one lesson on opposites. She was focused and interested, and when we finished, she asked me to draw a star on her paper. For this, I was rewarded with a huge smile. Clearly, all of the “Teacher, teacher” stuff, was just her way of getting some individual attention – a rare commodity at an orphanage. What a blessing that I was able to give it to her today!

After class, I headed to the grocery store in the usual Luanda traffic. It took almost an hour to travel only a few miles, which meant I had plenty of time to people-watch and think about my morning. While sitting dead-still in this bumper-to-bumper mess, a tiny, barely-clad little girl tapped on my window, begging for money. Her hair had a reddish tint to it that I later learned was a sign of malnutrition. Looking around at several others wandering the street, I had a stark realization.

In this country, wracked by extreme poverty, the children at Mama Muxima are incredibly lucky. They may be orphans, but they have a roof over their heads and plenty of food to eat. They are in school, and learning how to take care of themselves. They are not begging for food, standing in the middle of dangerous traffic hawking cheap trinkets, or carrying around huge, heavy baskets of vegetables for sale. Instead, they are loved and tended to, as all children should be.

Now, back to why Wednesday mornings are nerve-wracking and Wednesday afternoons are so wonderful. Since this teaching thing is very far outside of my comfort zone, I spend every Tuesday night and Wednesday morning frantically pulling together enough broken Portuguese to explain my lesson, and hope that Google Translate is not steering me wrong (which it frequently does). Of course, I could start earlier, but that is not how I operate, apparently.

However, once the lesson is done – and especially when I have moments like I had today – it feels so great to help these kids. It isn’t much, and it won’t drastically change their situation, but I am sure they see how much all of us volunteers care for them. It truly does take a village to raise a child, and I am happy to be a small part of the village caring for these girls.

If you want to know more about Mama Muxima, here is a link to their Facebook Page:

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

South to Namibia…

This past week, we travelled south to our neighboring country of Namibia. The first leg of the trip took us to the largest city, Windhoek, where we spent the night at a lovely B&B called the Olive Grove Guest House. The next morning, we caught a hopper flight to the Sussusvlei area of the Namib Desert, which is located about an hour south of the city. When I say a hopper flight, what I really mean is that we flew there in a wind-up toy.

Truly, I have never been in a smaller plane. It was a four seater – including the pilot. Looking back at the photos, I am amazed that I crawled into the back seat and strapped myself in without being sedated first. Take a look at the photo. Would you get into this thing?

2015-04-01 14.36.54

Thankfully, our pilot seemed very competent and professional, and had been flying in the area long enough to know the peculiarities of flying over desert thermals. He was young (no danger of heart attacks) and jovial (no anger management issues) and Scottish (just all around good folks). Once I got over the initial shock of flying in a tin can – and not exactly a shiny new one at that – I relaxed and prepared to enjoy the flight.

We had been given a baggage limit of twenty kilograms per person, and the pilot stuck firm to that number – with good reason. With only three small duffel bags, there was not an inch to spare in the tiny cargo hold!

The third passenger was a lovely lady of about sixty-five who hailed from San Antonio, Texas – of all places. Her retirement gift to herself had been a several months long vacation across Africa. Surprisingly, she had traveled much of it by boarding cargo ships – something we did not even know was possible. Imagine spending weeks on the open ocean with only the ship’s officers and a mostly Filipino crew as your companions. She had nothing but good things to say about her cabins on the various vessels she had boarded, and seemed outgoing  enough to make friends in any situation. I’m sure she saved a few pennies by traveling this way –  and made some amazing memories as well.

By the way, her bag was smaller than either of ours and she had been traveling for three months. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, packing light is something neither of us have mastered!

The flight turned out to be great fun, as we flew very low and close to mountains, all the while skirting the scattered thunderstorms.

2015-04-01 15.09.46
The area was unusually green due to some recent rainfall.
2015-04-01 15.56.25
Nearby thunderstorms mean rainbows, too!

A few little bumps along the way weren’t enough to rattle us, and the beautiful scenery was our own in-flight entertainment. The landing was perfect, and a jeep was waiting when we arrived to take us to our lodge, the Little Kulala.

A short drive across the stunning desert landscape provided our first game sighting, when an ostrich ran across the road right in front of the jeep. That ostrich was speeding along, kicking up dust in the process. I’m not sure our jeep could have out run him!

2015-04-01 16.38.50
Just an ostrich in a big hurry to get somewhere!
Little Kulala Lodge. A lovely setting, friendly staff and wonderful food!
Our private patio with a great view of passing springboks, ostriches, and oryx – and an ice-cold plunge pool!
View from the top of our bungalow, which featured a “star-bed” where one can literally sleep under the stars.
2015-04-01 17.36.01
Now, this is the place to write a blog! No writer’s block here!

They served up a lovely afternoon tea and then we headed out with our guide Simon for a private sundowner. The rain stayed in the distance and provided for another gorgeous rainbow and a beautiful sunset.

Incredibly vivid rainbow, which was visible all the way to the ground. Can you spy the pot ‘o gold?
A Sociable Weaver’s nest. These little birds build very complicated nests that can house eighty or more birds.
2015-04-01 18.53.37
Simon found the perfect spot for us to enjoy our sundowner drinks. Not another sole in sight!
Now that’s a sunset! #nofilter

After a delicious dinner, and a few animal sightings around the lighted watering hole just beyond the open-air dining area, we headed back to the bungalow, intent on sleeping under the stars. We were surprised to find a nearly full moon made for a too-bright setting. It was a bit like sleeping with a flashlight shining in your face, so reluctantly we gave up and headed inside.

Hubby had purchased a special lens to take some star photos, but the bright moon nixed that as well.  Undeterred, we set the alarm for 4:00 am in order to catch a few shots after the moon went down and before the sun came up.

We awoke to find the moon was still up, but managed to get a few shots anyway.

The Southern Cross. Click on the image to enlarge.
Orion as seen just before sunrise.
The Milky Way.

We had a big day ahead of us, so there was no going back to sleep after taking photos. A hot-air ballon ride was planned for sunrise – if the weather cooperated, which it often did not.

But, at 4:30 am, the weather looked promising. The sky was clear, and the wind was calm as well. As we headed to breakfast, we hoped to soon be floating overhead in yet another tiny compartment…

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

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:

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:

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

The Southern Cross…

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand now why you came this way. – Crosby, Stills and Nash.

As we stood on our balcony in Cape Town, my husband pointed out the Southern Cross in the dark African sky.  A wave of emotion took me by surprise as I gazed at those four stars.  Maybe it was because – as the song goes – it was my first time to see this constellation, which is not visible from most of the northern hemisphere. Or perhaps it was because it brought back fond memories of listening to the song, one of my favorites, from so many years ago.  Mostly, I think it was because I have been struggling and searching for a reason as to why we are now living in Africa, a place I never thought I would visit, let alone move to.  After living here for six months, I am still in a state of disbelief.

Of course, the obvious reason we are here is for my husband’s job.  But, the bigger question for me is: why was this opportunity placed in our path? For those of you who have read my blogs thus far, it may appear that we moved here only to go on vacation. Some of you have said you don’t think my husband works at all! While it is true that we have seen some beautiful places, day to day living in Luanda is anything but beautiful. Moving here to go on great vacations is really doing things the hard way. You don’t buy a cow to get a glass of milk. And Luanda is a real pain-in-the-ass cow.  This is considered a “hardship” location for many reasons: it’s dirty, dangerous, smelly, ridiculously expensive and the work is difficult and frustrating.  We would have to be daft to move here just to go on exotic vacations.

Of course, there is the monetary aspect of an Angolan posting.  We are provided a nice “uplift” for living here. But for me, that is not enough to move to a place like this, thousands of miles from family, friends, and all that is familiar.  Money is nice, don’t get me wrong, but money is cold comfort when you can’t walk two blocks for fear of being mugged, or spend days with a belly ache because you trusted food you shouldn’t have. So, if it was not for the vacations and not for the money, why did we move here?

I believe that God – and not my husband’s company – put us here for a reason.  Now, my ego is not so inflated as to believe that I am here to change the world. I’m not a change-the-world kind of gal.  I’m quiet and fairly shy and more than a little lazy.  God has his work cut out for Him just getting me out of bed in the morning and out the door. But, I do believe He had a reason for putting us here.  That reason, although still cloudy, is beginning to take shape.

Strangely, I turn to Hollywood to make my point, by way of the movie Yes Man, with Jim Carrey.  For those of you who have not seen it, Jim Carrey’s character learns through a series of crazy events, that when we say “yes” to opportunities – especially if they exist far outside of our warm and fuzzy comfort zone – the result is something amazing and completely unexpected.  Although the movie never references anything other than a cosmic, karma-esque reason for this, the point is clear: it’s not life that gets us, it’s our reaction to it.

Back in Texas, we attended a church for many years that we really enjoyed.  Through that church and also through our neighborhood, I had participated in a number of bible studies through the years, but I had never taken part in a study by Beth Moore.  I had heard much about the energetic Mrs. Moore, and had always wanted to do one of her studies, but had never accepted any of the opportunities that presented themselves – and there were many.  I was saying “No” and not saying “Yes”. If you have never heard of Beth, take a moment to look her up on YouTube.  That tiny Texas dynamo could motivate anyone.  Less than a week after moving here, one of the lovely angels who lives in my building invited me to come to her bible study class.  Imagine my surprise to learn they were doing a Beth Moore study!

Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Full of piss and vinegar (as my dad used to say), Beth seemed to cut straight through all of the religious fog to reveal an undeniable point: all of us are put here to serve God’s purposes. If we will only be still for a moment, open our hearts and listen, He will reveal what that is for us. It may have taken a move to Africa for me to finally join a fellow Texan’s bible study, but now I see it.  Yes is good.  Yes leads to good things happening in your life.

While it is great that I have benefitted spiritually by this move, surely that is not the only reason I am here.  God calls us to help others, and there is so much need here – really so much that it can be overwhelming. What can one person do? Take a first step and then see where it leads, that is all any of us can do. Through the lovely ladies I met in my bible study, I decided to help teach English at a local orphanage.  This activity takes me far outside of my comfort zone, so saying “yes” to this was a little tougher than it was to the bible study. You see, I’ve got a very soft heart and it gets broken easily. I’ve done loads of volunteer work over the years, but have generally avoided dealing directly with kids in difficult situations. I just can’t take it. An orphanage here is a surefire heart-breaker.  The depth of poverty in Angola is something most people in the western world will never see.  I will be shedding tears – buckets of them – at the plight of these kids. But there is a reason I was given this opportunity and so I said “yes”.  Maybe one of these kids will be helped in some small way by my participation.  If so, then it will be worth every tear.

My purpose in writing this blog is not to toot my own horn. Considering the amount of need here, teaching a class is a tiny drop in the bucket. My purpose is just to encourage others to say yes the next time an opportunity knocks on the door.  Especially if the first instinct is to say no.  Just trust that by embracing the opportunities that appear, good things will be the result, even though they may not be visible directly.

The lovely angel who invited me to her bible study left Luanda several months ago.  Her husband had been suffering from a nasty cough for almost a year, and during a trip home to the U.S., doctors discovered that it was cancer. They have remained in the U.S. until his treatment is complete. Ever cheerful, they inspire others merely by being examples of the willing servants God wants us to be. Even while dealing with a very sick husband, she had made the effort to reach out to me, a newcomer, and had a huge impact on my life as a result. She doesn’t know what she set in motion with the simple act of inviting me to her bible study, just as I may never know how my actions will impact others after I leave.  In the meantime, I will do my best to make those interactions positive, and then trust God to create the good that comes next.

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Oh, When the Shark Bites…

Sharks have never been my favorite sea life, even though I am a scuba diver from way back.  I won’t say how far back, but my original certification documents were lost in a fire at the PADI office sometime in the 1980’s. They were kept on microfilm, you see. All of this is to illustrate that I am generally very comfortable in and under the water. My selective fear of sharks is a result of my very first open-water dive in Cozumel, Mexico, so may moons ago. There I was, a newbie diver, trying to juggle fifty-plus pounds of bulky equipment and perform a perfect “giant-stride” entry off of the boat. Yeah, right. Grace was not my strong suit then, and it still isn’t. Instead, I splashed into the water with all of the finesse of a watermelon falling from a two story building. Mask askew and completely disoriented, I took a moment to get myself organized. When the bubbles cleared and I took my first breath of cold, compressed air, the first thing I saw were two shadowy figures about 50 feet away. Yes, they were sharks, and I was certain I was going to die.

Obviously, that did not happen. Duh.

Instead, the two sharks simply turned and swam away, and I was left with a permanent fear of those sleek, gray killing machines.  Well, maybe that is a little overdramatic, but I really, really don’t like sharks.  Apparently, I need to speak up more forcefully about my deepest fears, because what did my husband sign us up for on a romantic trip to Cape Town, South Africa?  Yes, Shark Cage Diving.  Just take me out back and shoot me.

But I’m a big girl and no hissy fits ensued.  However, I did start praying for bad weather, a broken down boat, a sudden onset of fever – anything to avoid getting into the freezing cold South African water where you are guaranteed there will be sharks. Keep in mind, these are not little sissy sharks, we would be in the water with Great Whites.  They make movies about such beasts.  Oh, and by the way, I really, really don’t like cold water either.

The day came for our trip and we arrived in Cape Town to beautiful weather.  Darn it.  We were scheduled to go diving early the next morning. My husband in his wisdom had planned it early in the trip, bless him, so we could get it over with and then enjoy our vacation. Upon arrival to our hotel, the concierge told us our dive had been cancelled due to a very windy forecast for the next day. Oh, joy! I tried hard not to break out in a happy dance. Then she said they had rescheduled it for the following day, which was forecasted to be perfect weather. Crap.  Now I had another twenty-four hours to fret.

We spent our now free day enjoying the beauty of Cape Town, including a tram ride up to the top of Table Mountain.  It really is a lovely city, very clean and modern – and cheap. Cape Town has very reasonable prices for hotels, restaurants and shopping, especially when compared to Luanda or most major European cities. Here are a few photos of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront area and Table Mountain:

Beautiful Table Mountain with a view of our hotel, the Cape Grace.
Lovely view from our room at the Cape Grace. My yacht is the big, white one – in my next life…
The tram to the top of Table Mountain.  The floor rotates so everyone has a great view on the way up!
The tram to the top of Table Mountain. The floor rotates so everyone has a great view on the way up!
The view from the top!
The view from the top!
There is a trail to the top for those people with excessive amounts of time and energy.
There is a trail to the top for those people with excessive amounts of time and energy.
One of a very interesting group of characters.
My hubby, the King of the Hill.
My hubby, the King of the Hill.

The next morning, my prayers went unanswered as we awoke to a clear, calm day. Hubby made it clear that Shark Cage Diving had always been very high on his bucket list, so I finally decided to fake a smile and go along.  This act was not entirely altruistic, I must admit. I’m still hoping for diamonds as a reward.

We were picked up at our hotel along with a group of four quite rotund British tourists, two women and two men.  I don’t say this to be in any way derogatory, but I was certain that the tour company would not have wet suits large enough to fit either of the men.  Already waiting in the van, was a very quiet Indian couple, who had planned this excursion for the wife’s birthday.  She seemed particularly excited and he, well, looked about as excited as I was. It was a two hour drive to where the boat would be picking us up in Gansbaai.  Along the way, we learned that only one of the British men was planning to dive.  The rest of the group was only along to take pictures. I breathed a sigh of relief to know that we would not be crammed into a cage with them, lovely and friendly as they were.

When we arrived at the pick up spot, it became clear that the number of people on the boat was going to far exceed the people in our little van.  No less that forty people were gathering to board.  They served us a small breakfast, and showed a short introductory film about the dive.  Then, they sized us up individually for our wet suits, masks and booties.  While we were waiting our turn for sizing, I overheard our Indian friend ask one of the workers if they had any motion sickness medicine, which of course they did not. Uh-oh, with my luck, he will definitely be in the cage with us.

After everyone had been sized, they led us to the boat and we headed out to a pre-chosen spot to begin the dive.  The shark cage was already in the water and chum (that disgusting mix of fish parts, etc.) had already been churned around in the water prior to our arrival. Here are a few shots of the location and cage:

Our boat for our three-hour tour.  Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, the tale of a fateful trip...
Our boat for our three-hour tour. Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, the tale of a fateful trip…
Attaching the cage to the boat.
Attaching the cage to the boat.

Who’s first, we all wondered.  The crew began calling out names, handing out our wet suits and putting us into groups.  Luckily, we were not in the first batch.  I needed to see if they survived before I stuck my tootsies into that water.  As the first group entered the cage, the crew tossed a batch of dead fish tied to the end of a rope into the water.  They also had a wooden form that supposedly looked like a small seal, at least to a shark.  Within minutes, the first sharks arrived as the crew taunted them with the fish-on-a-rope.  As the sharks got close to the fish, the crew yanked it away, in an effort to draw the sharks closer to the cage.

Here fishy-fishy…
A game of "catch the fish" between the crew and the sharks...
A game of “catch the fish” between the crew and the sharks…
Almost got it!

Each time, as the shark got close to the cage, the crew yelled “Down, left!” or “Down, right!” so the people in the cage could go underwater to see the sharks up close.  This was all very exciting to watch from above, as we could see what was coming and doubted the people in the cage had any idea.

Finally, it was our turn to enter the cage.  We wriggled into our wet-suits and took the plunge.  The water, although quite cold, actually felt refreshing after the effort of cramming my sweaty body into a too-tight suit.  As predicted, immediately to my left was my green-around-the-gills Indian friend and his wife, grinning with glee.

Taking our turn as lunch in a cage…

The first shark approached and we dove under the water to see the impending jaws of death.  Instead, we saw this:

The only thing visible in the murky water were the small bait fish attracted by the chum in the water.

Again and again, we held our breath and dove down, trying in vain to capture a photo of a full set of teeth.  This was the best photo we got:

If you squint and look closely, you can make out the shape of the back end of a shark.  Not exactly a National Geographic worthy photo, but proof nonetheless..
If you squint and look closely, you can make out the shape of the back end of a shark. Not exactly a National Geographic worthy photo, but proof nonetheless..

The entire twenty or thirty minutes we were in the cage, our Indian friend shivered so violently that it was actually shaking the cage, all the while saying, “C-c-cold, I’m so c-c-cold.”  Poor guy, I don’t think he got much out of the experience.  His wife was freezing as well.  She asked to be let out of the cage early when it became clear that the best views were above the water anyway.

When our time was up, we all climbed out of the cage and the next group climbed in behind us.  Immediately after they closed the cage, a huge and very fast shark managed to grab the fish-on-a-rope. A vicious tug-of-war ensued, as the shark thrashed and spun about, slamming into the cage.

This group got a little more excitement than we did, which was A-OK with me!
This group got a little more excitement than we did, which was A-OK with me!

There were several more groups to follow.  At one point, I looked down to see our very large British friend taking his turn in the cage. Unfortunately for his fellow cage-members, he was doing his own version of chumming the water. Enough said about that, but I was hugely thankful that I was not in there with him.

All in all, it was a fun and very interesting day and not as scary as I expected.  Despite all of my fretting about sharks and cold water, the scariest thing about the whole experience was knowing that if I ever were fool enough to go swimming in that freezing water again, there would be no way to see a shark coming. That and the prospect of the crew pouring chum directly onto the people in the cage, which does happen occasionally, I’m told.

When we got back to shore, they previewed a short video that one of the crew had made during our trip.  I had not noticed him filming, the sneaky guy.  Of course, we bought a copy so we can relive our day, especially if we ever need a reminder NOT to go swimming while in South Africa.

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Starting over…

After a two month hiatus, I am finally back to blogging.  My time in Houston was the usual “running behind the train” kind of craziness, with little time for writing.  I don’t know whether this trip home was particularly busy, or maybe I have lost all time-management skills, but I found myself in a constant panic to get everything done. Multiple doctor and dentist visits, car repairs, flying and driving to visit family and friends, shopping, and visiting the hairdresser have been part of every home visit since becoming an expat in 2011.  Why visit the hairdresser, you may wonder?  It took me over two years to work up the nerve to have my hair cut while living in London, which is arguably one of the most fashionable places on earth.  Allowing an Angolan hairdresser to chop away at my tresses will not happen anytime soon!

This being my first trip home since moving to Luanda, I also added buy supplies for any possible unforeseen situation to my to-do list. You think I am kidding? I collected a vast array of items over the course of two months, and then on my very last day in Houston, I went to no less than seven stores.  On that day alone, I filled up an extra suitcase – probably as my driver was on his way to take me to the airport. The idea that I would have to live for four months without taco seasoning or A1 Steak Sauce was just too horrible to bear.  And forget about living without my favorite shampoo.  That thought actually kept me awake at night!  So I crammed a small grocery and beauty supply store into four very heavy bags.  Truth be told, I am not alone in this compulsion.  Every expat gal I know does the same thing, and most of us arrive back on foreign soil to find plenty of taco seasoning – and at least four bottles of A1 Steak Sauce – hiding in the back of the cupboard.  Just par for the course, I’m afraid.

My solo trip back to Luanda required two overnight flights and an eight hour layover in London.  I’m proud to say, I put that eight hours to good use, visiting the shower and spa facilities in the lounge, taking a nice little nap, and grazing my way through the airport.  Not a bad day, really.  On both flights, I watched every movie I had not already seen and managed to get a few hours of sleep.  Once I finally arrived in Luanda, at 4:30 am, I learned the hard way that luggage trolleys are a hot commodity in the baggage claim area.  After securing a spot in the queue, I waited patiently for more carts to be brought in.  Apparently, the line was only for beginners.  As a few carts were brought in, people rushed from everywhere to snatch them up.  Tossing my southern manners aside, I joined in the melee and wrestled a cart away from a weaker fellow passenger.  Don’t judge.  Okay, so she was old – but my bags were much heavier.  Here in Africa, it’s survival of the fittest, you know.

Once outside of baggage claim, my sweet husband’s smiling face was a very welcome sight in the even-more-chaotic scene. Hordes of jet-lagged people searched frantically for their drivers, while struggling to maneuver their luggage carts through the crowd.  I followed glassy-eyed as Hubby took charge, found our driver, and lead me to the car. On the way to our apartment in the early morning light, I was overcome with the sense that I was completely starting over.  The hard-won experience and confidence that I had acquired during my previous time here had all but evaporated.  I felt like a fresh-off-the-farm newbie once again.  This is not an easy place to live, and it takes more than a little hutzpah to survive and thrive here.  I am happy to say that, despite four days of jet lag and general disorientation, I am finally back in my groove. Hunting/gathering, disinfecting veggies, cooking – these skills are all slowly coming back to me.  I cooked exactly two meals during my two months in Houston, and one of them was Christmas dinner, so I am a little out of practice.  The search continues for very basic recipes that a kindergartner could make.  If you have any that might fit the bill, please send them along!

The day after I arrived was a clear, warm Sunday morning, and we were awoken by glorious worship music coming from the Marginal.  An enormous crowd had gathered under a large white tent.  They spent the next several hours listening to a succession of preachers and singing praises to our Lord.  Even from a distance, we could see they were dressed in their Sunday finest, dancing happily and enjoying the lovely day. What a nice welcome back!

Celebrating the founding of the city of Luanda and the swearing in of a new archbishop, Dom Filomeno Vieira Dias.
Celebrating the founding of the city of Luanda and the swearing in of a new archbishop, Dom Filomeno Vieira Dias.

Yes, I was happy to see that the constant stream of entertainment coming from the Marginal had not changed.  But other things will be changing around here, thanks to the free-falling price of oil.  For one thing, there will be fewer expat ladies for me to pal around with.  In a normal oil market, there would be new people moving in as others move away, but not with the industry struggling as it is.  Lower gas prices are a positive switch for most people, but here in the oil patch, they only mean one thing – downsizing. Many of the friends we made are headed home, and I am deeply saddened to see them go.

We’ve been on this Oil Boom & Bust roller coaster for more than 25 years, so we know the drill – pardon the pun.  Things will turn around.  They always do.  Until then, we will dig in and focus on the positive.  Case in point: my visa requires me to leave the country every thirty days, and that means we will have several trips to exotic African locales coming up.  I wouldn’t want to find myself on the wrong side of the law, after all!  Stay tuned to see where we go on our first “forced” vacation…

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

One Night in Cabo…

This past weekend, we spent one night in Cabo.  No, not Cabo San Lucas, but rather Cabo Ledo – which is about as close to Cabo San Lucas as we are going to find in Angola. Cabo Ledo boasts a lovely crescent-shaped stretch of beach, and is one of the best excursions from Luanda.  It can take two to three hours to get there, depending on very unpredictable traffic.  You never know what diversions will be encountered on the way, and whether or not your driver will know where he is going.  More on that later…

Saturday morning about nine o’clock, our personal driver picked us up.  I will call him Mr. Mellow, as he drives about as fast as an eighty-year-old woman, and never seems the least bit ruffled by anything.  Just outside of town, we encountered the usual bottle-neck of street sellers, and I had a chance to snap a few photos with my phone – very cautiously, of course.  In Luanda, displaying a phone is discouraged due to the risk of someone smashing your window to steal it, especially when stuck in heavy traffic.  Risk aside, there is always so much going on along the road, that I really wanted to capture all of this chaos and commerce!  It is truly unbelievable what people are selling: hangers, home-made yogurt, brooms, portuguese/english dictionaries, and a few porno videos thrown in for good measure.

2014-10-25 10.17.48
Would-be merchants lay down a blanket to peddle their wares along the road.
2014-10-25 10.17.24
Angolan women are amazingly graceful and strong. I’ve seen them run across three lanes of traffic with babies on their backs, huge baskets on their heads, and dragging a child with each hand. Yikes!
2014-10-25 10.00.05
Running the gauntlet of street sellers. Peanuts, anyone?
2014-10-25 10.18.11
Getting ready to hoist a heavy bucket of sugar cane back onto her head, with a small round of rolled fabric as the only cushion.
2014-10-25 10.18.36
A local gossip session. The lady on the right is clearly not impressed…
A baby sleeps peacefully, while mom and big sister conduct some business.
A baby sleeps peacefully, while mom and big sister conduct some business.

Mr. Mellow drove his usual easy-going pace and we reached the resort in about three hours. Hubby was a little anxious to get there, but I was happy looking out the window along the way.  Just part of the fun for me.

Our resort, called Carpe Diem (love the name!) is made up of about fifteen small cabins, an open-air restaurant and a row of palapas on the beautiful beach.

2014-10-26 08.06.44
The cabins are very basic, but there is hot water and A/C.  What else do you need?
Lovely beach with a mostly Portuguese crowd. There are one or two other resorts a little further down the beach.
A very nice pool, but everyone there opted for the beautiful beach instead.
A very nice pool, but everyone there opted for the beautiful beach instead.

We enjoyed walking along the beach and just relaxing for the day.  Colorful wooden fishing boats dotted the sea in front of us. From one side of the resort, we watched a few groups haul these large boats onto shore with their catch for the day.

No speed boats or oil derricks to be seen here, just local fishermen hoping for a good catch.
No speed boats or oil derricks to be seen here, just local fishermen hoping for a good catch.
These old wooden boats must be heavy as lead.  Just look at how many men it took to get this boat onto the beach!
These old wooden boats must be heavy as lead. Just look at how many men it took to get this boat onto the beach!

Evening brought a beautiful sunset followed by a delicious dinner, with very attentive service by the manager of the resort, name Mr. Dias.

Lovely cool evening and not a bug in sight!
One of about fifty sunset shots we took…
Delicious meal of local lobster and fish.

All during dinner, there were music videos playing on a large screen.  We noshed to Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Celine Dion, and others – all American and British artists.  The Portuguese crowd seemed to know all of the songs, and sang along with gusto.  This always amazes me!  We have heard American Top 40 tunes in virtually every country we have visited, even in places where very few people speak English!

After dinner, a few Spanish and Portuguese dance tunes worked their way into the mix.  This made for free entertainment, as some very energetic couples soon got up to dance.  Later (after more alcohol was consumed) a few of them wound up in the pool – involuntarily and with clothes on, of course.  For hours, we just drank in this surreal scene.  Such a strange life we are leading – sitting at a beach restaurant in West Africa, watching a Portuguese crowd gyrate to American music! The world is indeed a very small place.

It was a great night and way too much delicious Portuguese wine was consumed, thanks to an excellent recommendation by Mr. Dias.  The next morning, we were awoken by a flock of Weaver Birds, building their nests in the trees by our cabin. It was a clear, cool morning so we enjoyed our last few peaceful hours by the beach, before it was time to head back into the  maelstrom of Luanda.

African Masked Weavers. The males weave the hanging nests and then try to entice a female to move in.
So colorful!
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Our breakfast companions. Several peacocks wander around the grounds and restaurant.

Unfortunately, Mr. Mellow does not work on Sundays, so we had to arrange a car through Tango Delta for the ride back to Luanda. About ten forty-five, the driver called to say he had arrived (in very limited English).  After searching for him for several minutes, Hubby gave him a call.  Uh-oh. Apparently, wherever the driver had “arrived” was nowhere near us.  Unable to decipher what the driver was saying, Hubby handed the phone to the parking lot attendant, who took a full ten minutes to direct the driver to our resort.  An hour and a half and several phone calls later, the driver finally showed up.  I didn’t mind the wait so much, but the two hour, white-knuckle drive back was another story!

At first, the driver was very distracted, weaving all over the road and looking at me in the rear view mirror.  Keep your eyes on the road, buddy! Maybe I have gotten used to Mr. Mellow, but it also seemed like we were driving entirely too fast.  I’m not sure how I will readjust to Texas highway speeds on my next visit home!  At seventy miles per hour, I had a death grip on the door and could not look out of the front window.  Of course, the fact that we criss-crossed the center line repeatedly did not help me to relax!  After about an hour, the driver began to shake his head and rub his eyes in an effort to stay awake.  Aargh!  Where is Mr. Mellow when you need him!  I will never complain about his granny driving again.  Okay, I know never to say never, but this time I really mean it!

Once our hearts stopped pounding from the drive back, we realized what a nice twenty four hours it had been.  We will definitely return, but next time we will offer to pay Mr. Mellow extra to drive us both ways.  After getting Tango Delta’d like we did, it is worth whatever he asks.  And who knows, maybe a Celine Dion CD would sweeten the deal for him…

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?  Well, these days a name (a blog name, anyway) needs to be bought and paid for.  I loved my original blog name “African Cowgirl”, but so did another gal – and she paid for it first.  To be fair, she is a real, true-blue cowgirl from Africa.  I, on the other hand, am not an everyday, put on your chaps and spurs kind of cowgirl.  I am a native Texan, grew up riding my horses instead of riding a bike and did actually herd cows – once…

They were a little smelly for me.  Here I go with the smell thing again!

So…I came up with another name – Lass O’Luanda.  This is partly a reference to my many hours spent on a horse (lasso) and to my fondness for the quirky and varied pub names we encountered while living in London.  One of our favorites was the Lass O’Richmond Hill.  I suppose I could have taken on another of my favorite pub names, The Shy Horse (the sign outside actually had a very sheepish-looking pony on it), but that name would not fit me at all and, more importantly, made no reference to this wonderful new place that I live.  And so, I have now duly purchased my new name and am printing up stationary and ordering monogrammed towels as we speak…

Welcome to the Lass O’Luanda Blog.  Have a pint on me!

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved