Tag Archives: Africa

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

São Paolo and Benfica – not your average trip to the mall…

Combat Shopping  – everyone should try it at least once. Not many trips to Macy’s require guards and a translator, unless you are Kim Kardashian, of course. But here in Luanda, some of the best shopping is found in the most dangerous places. There is a part of town called São Paolo where the locals go to buy amazing African fabrics at rock-bottom prices. Unfortunately, it is strictly off-limits to our company’s drivers. I was able to go two years ago, when I was here on my look-see trip. Apparently, that trip was a fluke – a result of a new and inexperienced driver falling under the charms of the gal showing me around town.

Once I moved here, I knew that would not happen again. Quite frankly, I am not that charming. To go back to São Paolo, I would have to go with someone from another company.  A couple of weeks ago, I finally got an invite to go. The lady who organized the trip (I will call her Mrs. S.) is a fellow seamstress and member of my bible study. I have been helping her make purses and casserole carriers to sell at the semi-annual craft fairs sponsored by the American Women’s Association. The proceeds from these sales are donated to a local orphanage, and I love to sew, so it is a win-win. It also gives me a reason to buy more fabric that even my husband can’t complain about.

For our trip to São Paolo, Mrs. S arranged two vehicles, complete with a guard and driver for each vehicle, plus a translator. Five helpers for five expat ladies – pretty good odds, I figured. I readied myself for the trip, hiding money in various pockets, stuffing my ID and phone in my bra, and spraying myself thoroughly with mosquito spray. I carried several large bags to bring back my treasures, snacks for the drive, and lots of wet-wipes.

Wet-wipes are an absolute necessity here. Every trip to the grocery store, golf course, or really anywhere, will leave you feeling grimy and in need of a good hand-washing. Even handling the Angolan paper money requires a wet-wipe afterwards. I don’t want to know why this money is so filthy, but I have actually considered tossing it in the washing machine. Money laundering for hygienic purposes – now, that is a new twist!

Our group of five ladies rendezvoused in the lobby of our building. A security official also met us in the lobby for a safety briefing, explaining the dangers of the area and introducing our guards and translator. We piled into a large van, with the second vehicle following close behind, and we were on our way. Initially, we arrived at a street which was not familiar to those of us who had been to São Paolo before. Also, it was much too far from the shop we were planning to visit. The driver suggested we park the car and walk to the shop, but he was quickly vetoed by Mrs. S., thank goodness.

São Paolo
São Paolo street vendors, just off the main street.
São Paolo
São Paolo market area. This is one-stop shopping – sort of like an outdoor, scary, muddy Walmart.
São Paolo
São Paolo – the produce department.
São Paolo
São Paolo – the toiletries and accessories department.

Reluctantly, the driver turned onto the incredibly muddy and rutted main road of Sao Paolo, which was teeming with pedestrians, merchants, and other vehicles. All I could see were foot-deep mud puddles that I doubted we could navigate around with so many people on the sidewalks. Thankfully, the parking gods were with us, and we were able to find a place to park which was within eye-shot of the shop – and it had a mostly mud-free path to the entrance.

Once parked, the guards got out of the car first, then us gals gathered our wits and climbed out as well, staying as close together as possible. One guard led the way, one was in the middle and the translator walked at the back. The street was so crowded that people were literally pressed up next to us. We had to push our way through the crowd and move quickly to avoid being separated. It reminded me of my one-and-only trip to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, except that these people were not drunk college kids intent on getting plastic beads. We knew that the crowd in Sao Paolo was full of pick-pockets, and so we held on to our bags tightly.

We made it into the shop and up the stairs safely, and finally relaxed. Our translator said we were free to wander from booth to booth and shop to our heart’s content. As before, the sheer variety of fabrics was overwhelming, but the merchants were fairly patient as we made our selections. There were many local ladies shopping there as well. Sao Paolo is a wholesale area, if you will. The local shoppers are there to buy fabric to re-sell on the street in other parts of the city. Some of the ladies were friendly to us, making positive comments about our selections and suggesting coordinating fabrics. Others seemed irritated that we had infiltrated their turf.

We spent more than an hour picking out as many fabrics as we could carry, most of which cost about twelve dollars for a six-yard piece. The prices had definitely gone up since my previous trip, due to the devaluation of the kwanza, but they were still a bargain.

Just before we were getting ready to leave, there was a loud scuffle in one corner. A policeman was pulling one of the local ladies towards the door, while she yelled and pleaded in protest. I was not entirely sure what was happening, until our translator explained that the lady had been trying to take fabric without paying.

We waited until things calmed down and then headed back to the car, heavily laden with all of our treasures, and moving closely together. Once back at our apartment building, we spread out our purchases to show each other. Between the five of us, we had bought almost fifty fabrics, and no two were the same. We were all happy with our haul and none of us had lost a wallet in the process. Success!

Another combat shopping area in Luanda is a large craft market called Benfica. I have blogged about it before, but had a very interesting return visit there just a few days ago. On my previous trip to Benfica, I bought a lovely pair of carvings – a Pescador (fisherman) and a Zungueira (lady who carries things on her head). They are both beautifully carved from a dark wood and quite detailed. The lady even has a little baby tied to her back. The real  Zungueira ladies are so amazing, with impossibly heavy and awkward items balanced on their heads and tiny, sleeping babies tied to their backs. It is one of the things I will remember most about Angola, and so I really wanted a carving to remind me of them.

When I bought the carvings, I asked the artist if it was okay to take a photo of him with his creations. He was happy to oblige – although he doesn’t look very happy in this photo!

The artist with his beautiful Pescador and Zungueira carvings.
The artist with his beautiful Pescador and Zungueira carvings.

It is a good thing I had his photo, because shortly after buying the carvings, both of them began to split as the wood dried out. The artists work, live, and sell their items without benefit of air-conditioning, and so when they are brought into a cold apartment, they don’t always fare very well. I had hoped to have them repaired, but not speaking Portuguese, I had no idea how I would find the artist again and negotiate the repair. Benfica is a huge market and I did not even know the man’s name.

As luck would have it, I have a new driver who speaks perfect English, so he is my own personal translator. His name is Jesus (pronounced zhay-zooch), and let me tell you, he is a treasure. Jesus could talk anyone into anything. I should call him Mr. Charming, but his actual name is just so fitting. Best of all, now I can say Jesus takes the wheel – literally and figuratively. Carrie Underwood would be so impressed!

So, Jesus and I went to Benfica armed with my photo and began to ask the other artists if they knew the man. It didn’t take long to find someone who knew his name, Guerra, and his phone number. Jesus called Guerra and asked him to meet us at the market. Guerra obliged and said he would arrive in a half hour. So, with a half hour to kill and surrounded by treasures of all kinds, I managed to find a few more things to add to my collection.

African treasures (L-R): a “fly-swatter” made from carved bone and horsehair, a village chief’s scepter, a neck rest (ouch!), and a musical instrument called a Kalimba, or thumb piano.

Guerra arrived right on time and said he would fix my carvings – for a price. Of course, he needed money to cover the materials, cab fair to the store to buy them, and lunch. I’ve lived here long enough to expect things like this, so it was no big deal. The hardest thing for me was leaving the carvings with Guerra, and trusting that he would show up two days later with them properly repaired. Jesus, with his million-dollar smile, was all high-fives and handshakes with Guerra, so I shouldn’t have worried. We went back two days later and both my Pescador and Zungueira were as good as new. Thank you, Jesus!

While I occasionally miss the huge, clean, air-conditioned malls of the US, they certainly don’t have the conversation pieces I am finding here. And you know, that fly-swatter will get a lot of use during the hot, buggy summer in Texas!

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Going Off-Grid in São Tomé and Príncipe…

Until we moved to Angola, neither of us had ever heard of the tiny island nation of São Tomé & Príncipe. Apparently, we are not alone in this, as São Tomé is largely undiscovered by American tourists. Located off the coast of Gabon in western Africa, it is the second smallest African country. A few European and Chinese tourists have made their way to its lovely, palm-lined shores, and last week we traveled there as well, to celebrate our twenty-ninth anniversary.

São Tomé & Príncipe is a former Portuguese colony, which gained its independence in 1975. Since that time, the country has struggled to find its way financially, as so many former colonies do. You see, when the Portuguese left, they took with them the knowledge and contacts used to mass-produce and trade the coffee and chocolate grown on the island, which were its major source of income. São Tomé & Príncipe was once the largest cocoa producer in the world. Now, the buildings used in this process are half-empty and falling apart. Several countries have invested in São Tomé through hotels and various businesses, but investment dollars are coming in slowly and have not alleviated the lack of jobs.

Currently, there is fifty-five percent unemployment and an increasing birthrate in this mostly-Catholic nation. The government is trying to build up the fledgling tourism industry to fill in where coffee and chocolate production has dropped off. The island certainly has the raw materials needed for tourists: dramatic scenery, blue waters filled with colorful fish, and lovely, friendly people.

Sao Tome cocoa plant
This is how chocolate starts, and the rest is…temptation!

While São Tomé does not appear to suffer from the extreme concentration of wealth and corruption of many other African countries, it still faces an uphill battle should foreign investment and tourism not materialize.

São Tomé is by far the most remote place we have been to date. Luanda actually feels civilized in comparison! Not that the island is unsafe for tourists. On the contrary, we were told by our hotel manager that it is quite safe. What made it feel so remote, is the fact that flights are few, and tourists are in the distinct minority on this country of nearly two-hundred thousand people. English-speaking tourists are even rarer. In São Tomé & Príncipe, the residents speak Portuguese, Creole, and a little French.

On previous vacations, we have always spotted at least a few other American tourists, no matter where we have been. The truth is, while many of us try to “blend”, we still manage to stick out like a sore thumb! This trip was the one exception. During our five days in São Tomé, we never saw another American or British tourist. And yes, you Brits stand out, too!

Not that the lack of Americans is a bad thing, mind you. We had the feeling that we were fortunate to visit São Tomé now, while it is still somewhat of a secret. I found myself lamenting the inevitable junky souvenir shops, crowds, and commercialism that come with an increase in tourism. For now, the island is still unspoiled, and we were able to see how the São Toméans really live.

Sao Tome washing by the river
Washing day by the river…
Sao Tome
Two local cuties!
Sao Tome
See how handsome you are!

Our lovely hotel, the Club Santana, is located about a half-hour north of the main town on the island. Set amongst lush vegetation and palm trees, the resort consists of thirty or so bungalows placed high on a cliff above a lovely beach, pool and restaurant. The clear, calm waters offer great snorkeling and diving, too.

Club Santana Sao Tome
A view of the Club Santana pool and beach area.
Sao Tome Club Santana
Club Santana Bungalows set among the trees.
Sao Tome beach
Club Santana beach area. Ahhhh!

While lounging in the clean and well-appointed beach area, sipping our tropical drinks, it would be easy to forget that we were in a small, poor, African nation – except that immediately adjacent to the Club Santana there is a small encampment of fishermen and their families.  This made for an interesting backdrop, as we watched the fishermen come in and out of the village in their dug-out boats with hand-stitched sails.

Sao Tome
The village next-door to Club Santana
Sao Tome fisherman
Local fishermen in the bay…

Our first afternoon there, we took a Jon Boat ride to a tiny nearby island to do some snorkeling. The island looked like something out of a movie, it was so perfectly formed and topped with pretty palm trees. The water around the island was quite deep (we could not begin to see the bottom), but pretty coral grew on the rocks and we saw some colorful fish as well.

Sao Tome
Our Jon Boat captain gets a little fishing in on the way to our snorkel site.
Sao Tome
The tiny island just a short ride from our hotel.
Sao Tome
Exploring a cave that runs right through the island.
Sao Tome
Colorful fish and coral…
Sao Tome
The coral almost looked like flowers!

On our second day, we headed out for a São Tomé island tour with a local guide, named Nilson. He spoke excellent English as he mapped out the day for us, starting with a trip to a cocoa processing facility, then a drive up to Mount Cafe to see where coffee is grown, and lastly a visit to a local fishing village. As we drove through the cocoa processing area, Nilson pointed out former slave housing and overseer buildings, most of which looked abandoned. We parked in front of a large, run-down warehouse and walked inside, our eyes straining to see in the near dark.

One lady stood over a table filled with cocoa beans, sorting through them, and then bagging up the ones that passed her quick inspection.

Sao Tome cocoa
Sorting through cocoa beans.
Sao tome cocoa
Cocoa beans dried, sorted and ready to sell…
Sao Tome cocoa
The people of Sao Tome were all very friendly and happy to welcome tourists like us…

She was more than happy to pose for pictures, as was another man who assumed the role of tour guide for his facility. He walked us around, from one nearly empty building to another, showing us the process of fermenting and then drying the cocoa beans, and seemed very proud of the work they were doing.

Sao Tome coffee
The facility also processed coffee beans.
Sao Tome cocoa
This oven heated up a large area above, which had cocoa beans spread out on it. The roasting green fruits are called breadfruit. We tried it, and it was definitely an acquired taste and texture!

By the sheer size of the buildings, it was obvious that this was once a huge industry for São Tomé, but without ready customers and the business knowledge required for trade, things had definitely slowed to a trickle.  Unlike the US, there were no gift shops or t-shirts available here. We did manage to buy some São Toméan chocolate, but only in the airport as we were leaving.

Next, Nilson drove us to the coast and an area called Boca do Inferno, a blow-hole formed in the volcanic rocks by crashing waves.

Sao Tome boca do inferno
Boca do Inferno, a small blow-hole formed in the rocks.
Sao Tome
Lovely coastline by the Boca do Inferno.

We saw a man bagging up sand along the beach, and Nilson said he was stealing the sand to sell to people building houses. With fifty-five percent unemployment, you could hardly blame the guy. On the way up to see Mount Cafe, we stopped to see a lovely waterfall and then continued up, finally reaching an area where clouds swirled through the very tall trees.

Sao Tome
São Nicolau Waterfall.
Sao Tome coffee
Coffee beans growing in the mist.
Sao Tome Mount Cafe
Mount Cafe, where coffee is grown on the island.

After walking around a bit and learning about the different kinds of coffee grown there, my husband said he was feeling ill. He admitted that he had felt dizzy all morning, but thought it would pass. We asked Nilson to take us back to our hotel, which was about a half hour away. By the time we got back to the hotel lobby, Hubby was feeling even worse. The hotel manager offered to drive us to the local clinic to see the doctor. Once you reach our age, it is not smart to brush aside such symptoms.

Let me tell you, this was unlike any clinic I have ever seen. In one open room in the middle of the small run-down building, there were about eight beds lining the wall, and all had ladies of various ages laying in them. The young woman in charge, who the manager said was a doctor, showed us into her cramped office and took Hubby’s blood pressure. Then, we went to the small room in the back of the building, for a finger prick to check his blood sugar. After a few short questions, translated for us by the manager who had kindly stayed with us, the doctor shrugged her shoulders and said there was nothing she could do for him. Looking around at the lack of equipment and staff, we knew she was telling the truth.

We asked what we owed her for the exam, and she told the manager it was 10,000 Dobras, roughly the equivalent of forty-five cents!  In this country, where the average annual income is less than three hundred dollars a year, we should not have been surprised by any of this. We gave her about ten dollars, which she accepted reluctantly, and then we were on our way back to the hotel.

Thank goodness, the dizziness went away after a short rest. After much discussion, we determined that it must have been caused by a bad reaction to the malaria medicine we were both taking. I had experience dizziness with the medicine on previous occasions, but Hubby had never had a problem before. But, he had taken two pills the previous day in an attempt to change from a morning dose to an evening dose. A little too much Portuguese wine with dinner probably played a role as well.

Okay. Bullet dodged. Note to self: do not get sick while one vacation in a tiny, third-world nation.

That evening, we enjoyed a lovely beach-side buffet dinner, complete with live music, and thanked our lucky stars that Hubby was back to his usual healthy self.

Club Santana Sao Tome
Lovely buffet dinner by the beach

The setting of the hotel is quite lovely, so we soaked in every detail and enjoyed listening to the waves and the music. The weather was perfect, with no mosquitos in sight – a real treat coming from Texas where they are huge – and hungry.

On our last day, we climbed over the rocks that marked the end of our resort property to distribute some toys we had brought with us to the island.  As we approached the “village”, the five or six kids that we had seen playing on the beach disappeared amongst the buildings, and we wondered if we had scared them off.


But, as we approached the main village dwellings, dozens of kids came out of nowhere, all running excitedly towards us! Uh-oh, this is not good. We didn’t have enough toys to go around – a cardinal sin! As expected, the kids who got to us first were all smiles, but the others were decidedly not.  Oh well. Our intentions were good anyway. Another note to self: next time bring twice as many toys!

Sao Tome
Happy kids with their new toys. I hope they will share them!
Sao Tome
All smiles with his prize!

After a final evening of relaxation on the beach, followed by a lovely sunset, it was time to grab a few hours sleep before our 1:30 AM wakeup time.  The 5:15 AM flight back to Luanda was the only option for several days.

Sao Tome
Lovely sunset view over the bay.

The airport was a lesson in patience, as the check-in process was painfully slow and all done by hand. Our boarding passes were even hand-written on blue paper! Then, we had a two-hour wait for the customs agent to arrive. After another hour wait in the boarding area, we finally boarded the plane and had a quick nap on the way back to Luanda.

Travels in this part of the world are all about managing expectations and staying calm when things don’t go exactly as they would in the US or Europe.  I’d like to say that is how I handle things every time, but those of you who know me would probably say otherwise! Nevertheless, I do try to take each place for what it has to offer and ignore the things that fall short.

Despite a few bumps, I’m happy to say, São Tomé exceeded my expectations considerably. I hope others will soon enjoy this lovely island paradise while it is still unspoiled and charming – just remember to bring lots of toys…and stay healthy!

2015-07-10 07.55.23

© 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 https://culturaeviagem.wordpress.com). 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

They call him Flipper…

Cruising around on a boat with blue skies and good friends – not a bad way to spend the day. In fact, it’s the best way here in Luanda to escape the city and relax. Since returning from my trip to the states a week ago, I’ve been lucky enough to go out on the company boat twice. The first time was with some lovely ladies who live in my apartment building, and the second time, hubby and I headed out with our friends, Mr. & Mrs. Adventurous.

It is winter now in Luanda, and thus, the days are getting shorter and the weather is cooling off. The fishing season has all but ended, but  the whales have yet to arrive. Still, you never know what wonders will be seen while cruising around.

I love seeing the city from the water. The crescent-shaped Marginal with its tall buildings, a marina filled with huge yachts, and palm-lined walking path, almost looks like the French Riviera. It may take a hefty dose of imagination and some squinting to see it, but the resemblance is there.

Bay of Luanda, Angola
View of the Marginal and Luanda Bay, with ships visible in the distance.
Luanda Marina
Large yachts in the Luanda Marina.

The trip from the marina through the bay and past the port is always interesting too, though not exactly postcard pretty.  Virtually everything consumed in this country comes from somewhere else, and it all comes in to this one very poorly organized port. The bay is littered with all manner of tankers, drill ships and container ships, waiting to deliver their cargo. As our tiny boat passes through the shadows of these enormous, rust-covered vessels, they look almost deserted. The only sign  that they are not abandoned is the bilge water pouring out of a pipe in the hull.

Luanda Port
One of many oil-related vessels in the Luanda Port

Once out of sight of the port, Luanda looks like any typical vacation spot, with its deep blue water and yellow sand beaches. We always cruise along the shoreline, looking at the houses, boats and people playing on the beach, and then head off to open water to see what the day will bring.

Luanda beaches look as tropical as any Caribbean island.

My first trip, with the ladies, brought neither fish nor whales, but we did see a number of sharks lazily swimming along the top of the water. This certainly made me think twice about taking a swim! Thankfully, the water was too cold. Once we had tired of cruising around, we headed to Mussulo Beach and enjoyed a lovely lunch at the restaurant/hotel there. It is always a pleasure to spend time with these gals, whether on the boat or not, and it was a perfect way for me to reacclimatize to Luanda after being gone for so long.

For our second trip, we were blessed with more sunny, cool weather. After cruising around for about a half hour, one of our boat motors started making a rattling noise and had to be shut off. The boat has three motors in total, so there was no worry about getting back, but we all knew that this breakdown would take the boat out of commission for several months. In fact, it takes so long to get parts brought in, that it could be well into October before it is up and running again. The second company boat is also broken, and has been for some time, so this could be our last boat ride for awhile.

Regardless of how long the repair takes, this was the last Luanda boat ride for Mr. & Mrs. A, who are retiring and moving back to the states in about a week. We all hoped this trip would bring something extra special to send them off properly, and we were not disappointed.

After cruising around at a very slow speed, due to the loss of our engine, we spied some dolphins in the distance.

Luanda dolphins
Just a few of the dolphins we played with. They were all around us!

Although we weren’t able to race to where they were, they were certainly not playing hard-to-get. We puttered along and easily caught up with them. Then, we meandered through the huge pod, while they jumped and played all around us.

Luanda dolphins
A perfectly synchronized jump. I’d give them a 9.5!
Luanda dolphin
Smile, Mr. Dolphin. You are on Candid Camera!
Luanda dolphin
Showing off for the camera!
Luanda dolphin
I think that one is looking at me!
Luanda dolphin
Playful dolphins racing the boat…


We had seen a similar-sized pod on a previous trip with Mr. & Mrs. A, but those dolphins were much smaller – and all were headed in one direction quickly. These dolphins were huge and seemed to enjoy playing around the boat. There were also some comedians in the group, especially one fella who delighted in jumping just off the bow of the boat, turning sideways, and splashing down, drenching us all. He did this over and over again, as we squealed from being hit with the icy cold water.

Luanda dolphin
Jump, jump!

I would have loved to snap some photos of his antics, but I had my camera tucked into my shirt to keep it dry. We did get plenty of shots of them just under the water and riding along beside us, and I certainly didn’t mind getting soaked. Just seeing those acrobatics was more than worth the goosebumps!

Dolphin jumping
He got some air on this jump…
Luanda dolphin
Checking us out, up close and personal…
Luanda dolphin
They were all around us…

After more than a hour of dolphin play time, we headed to another stretch of beach, a bit more remote than where I had been a few days before. We anchored the boat and brought our lunches on to the beach, set up chairs and umbrellas, and just enjoyed having our toes in the sand.

Mussulo Island, Luanda
A beach on Mussulo Island.

There were several other large pleasure boats already anchored there, one of which also pulled a jet-ski. This made for some free entertainment when the jet-skier headed out pulling a guy along on a wakeboard. The jet-ski driver was obviously inexperienced. We could see – and hear –  that the wakeboarder was none too pleased at his lack of driving skills! Over and over, the driver sped up and quickly slowed down, which caused the wakeboarder to jerk forward and then bog down in the wake and fall. Oh well, it was fun for us to watch, even if it was not any fun for the guy at the end of the rope.

Luanda beach
Let’s go fly a kite!
Luanda beach
The fishermen in the boat on the left had caught some cuttlefish.

After walking the beach to look for shells, tossing a frisbee and flying a kite, it was time to head back to the city – very slowly, of course. None of us minded the extra time it took to get back, as the weather was still so pleasant. We will miss going out on the boat for the next few months, but will certainly miss Mr. & Mrs. Adventurous a lot longer than that. Luckily for us, they are retiring to a place not far from where our son lives, so we plan to visit them in the near future.

I have no idea what kind of bird this is, but it was huge!

Although activities like these are special indeed, it’s the people who make these postings so memorable. In our short time here, we have  connected with some great folks. Our numbers may be getting smaller, but I have no doubt that the “stayers” will work just that much harder to look out for each other. That’s just what expats do!

Luanda dolphin
A farewell jump with the Luanda shoreline in the distance.

©2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Snap out of it…

This has been a rough re-entry to life in Luanda. A few days ago, I arrived back in Angola after six weeks in the good ‘ole USA. Laughing with treasured family and friends, enjoying wonderful meals out, and shopping till I dropped, I had completely settled back into my old life.  And much needed time with my kids had refilled that empty place in my heart.

A fourteen-hour flight brought me back to Africa, and the chaos of Luanda. Of course, it was wonderful to see my husband again, as I had missed him terribly while away, but a severe case of jet lag had put me into a full-blown pity party. After four days, with no more than a couple of hours of fitful sleep at a time, I awoke this morning in a less than chipper mood.

To top it off, the situation in this country has deteriorated sharply due to plummeting oil prices. The economy here is overwhelmingly dependent on oil revenues, the lack of which means cuts to social aid and fewer jobs. In addition, the lack of incoming dollars means less money to import goods and rising prices.

The people here are suffering and petty crime is on the increase. Stories of recent attacks on expat women are running rampant in our ever-shrinking circle, and this made me none too happy to be back. One such story really had me worried. A woman was attacked while sitting in traffic in her locked car. The assailant had smashed the window and punched the woman while grabbing her purse. Very scary stuff!

Walking into my kitchen this morning, I greeted my housekeeper, whom I had not seen since my arrival. She smiled, clearly happy to see me, and then proceeded to tell me I looked “mais gorda”, indicating with her hands that my backside had expanded from all of those wonderful meals at home. I was appalled, and it clearly showed on my face, but she quickly said, “Oh no, Madame, ees beautiful!”  Oh well, I guess it was to be expected after six weeks of Tex-Mex and not a day on the treadmill.

Still smarting from her comment, I headed down to meet my driver for a trip to the grocery store. I may be “mais gorda”, but we still needed food for the week. My new driver is a sweetheart, but he speaks very little English. I told him which store I wanted to visit, and even wrote it down, but he had never heard of it. This irritated me, as it was a large and well-known store, and I did not like the idea of driving around in circles on these crazy and clearly unsafe streets.

Unfortunately, I could not give him directions.  In this city, it is very difficult to learn your way around as a passenger. Drivers frequently take numerous switchbacks and maze-like streets to avoid the insane traffic. My previous driver took a different route every time we went somewhere, and so, except for a few main roads, I rarely know where I am. Of course, having no sense of direction may be part of my problem, too.

The only option was for my driver to call the dispatch office and ask them where it was. He spoke in Portuguese, so I did not know what was being said, but he seemed satisfied with the directions he was given. As he started out, the main road was familiar to me, but then he drove into narrow streets filled with sinister-looking pedestrians. This made me more than a little nervous, as visions of assailants smashing my window swirled through my mind. My typically overactive imagination was running full-tilt, as I fidgeted and held my breath, looking at each passerby with suspicion. At long last, we arrived at the store and I finally unclenched my fists. All of this round and round had given me a pounding headache to go with my sour mood.

My grocery list was small and filled with very basic items, but several of my items were nowhere to be found. There were tons of hard-to-find veggies available however, so I bought them even though they weren’t on my list. I had heard grocery shopping had become even more hit-and-miss than ever, and my hoarding tendencies really kicked in. As if life here wasn’t hard enough! Now, I won’t be able to count on even the basics when I go shopping!

This is just too much, I pouted. How can it be that there is no stick butter or canned tomatoes? Finally, after several hours and three stores, I gave up and we headed back to my apartment – with a full load of veggies, but no butter.

As we drove along the main road back to town, I saw a man standing at the very top of the hillside which ran along the road. The top of the hill contained a shanty town, and the residents there regularly tossed all of their garbage over the side of the hill. This gave the appearance that this man was standing on a mountain of trash.

Then, something unexpected happened. He began to dance. Here this man was, living in a shanty town, surrounded by refuse, and he was dancing. What a blessing to be reminded that joy can be found in even the most dire circumstances. Never in my life had I been snapped out of a pity party faster!

The awakening continued.

It occurred to me that my maid was being genuine when she said I looked beautiful to her. Packing on a few pounds meant that I had a healthy appetite, plenty of good food to eat, and the leisure time for my body to hold on to those calories. In her world, many people were not so blessed. Pants that were too tight and a lack of stick butter were laughable problems compared to those she faced on a daily basis.

At that moment, I said a prayer of thanks for the reminder of how lucky I am. Life in Luanda can be a challenge, but I trust that He will keep me safe while I am here. And clearly, the Big Man is looking out for my health, too. How wonderful that He presented me with such beautiful veggies instead of more butter for my bloated backside!

I may not be the quickest on the uptake, but even I can’t miss such clear reminders that He is watching out for me, as we make our way through this crazy new life. Now, off to cook a healthy meal so I can fit into my clothes again…

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

The Road Warriors of Pungo Andongo…

The Road Warriors of Pungo Andongo could be the name of a post-apocalyptic Hollywood movie. Instead, it was just us – four expats in the back of two Land Cruisers, flying down a remote Angolan road, swerving around potholes, and dodging more goats than I have seen in my lifetime. In short, it was just a typical weekend for us, since moving to Luanda.

Our weekend started out innocently enough. At the invitation of our lovely friends, Mr. & Mrs. G, we planned to travel roughly six hours east of Luanda to the province of Malanje, where we would find the breathtaking Kalandula Falls and the Piedras Negras of Pungo Andongo (otherwise known as the Black Rocks). Mr. G’s company requires them to have a second vehicle (with driver and guard) on every out of town trip, so we were lucky enough to be asked along to fill the empty back seat of their second car.

They picked us up bright and early Saturday morning and we began the long trek east. The first hour or so was the usual  obstacle course through Luanda’s ever-present traffic, which rivals that of any city in the world – only with a deadly twist.  Too many cars, not enough roads, few traffic lights, and no crosswalks for pedestrians create a very dangerous situation. It is very common for people to  be hit and killed while attempting to cross the street. Plus, there are no true “lanes” of traffic here. Most drivers take the lane markings and speed limits as merely a suggestion, and generally ignore them.  After all, why limit the road to four cars across, when six or seven can fit? And why slow down for that lady with a basket on her head and a baby on her back? She shouldn’t be there anyway. As a passenger in the back seat, I generally avoid looking out of the front window. My blood pressure is high enough.

Once we made it though the log-jam, our drivers picked up speed, gunning the engine to seventy, eighty or more miles per hour, frequently slamming on the brakes to negotiate tire-puncturing potholes, herds of goats, and people making their daily treks to market or a nearby village. All of these potholes were on a new road, mind you. In recent years, many roads have been built cheaply and quickly by Chinese construction companies operating here. Judging by the size of the potholes we saw, this road will be impassable within a year or two. No matter. Someone undoubtedly made a pretty penny off of the project, so it’s all good.

We all wondered how, with so many goats wandering freely in the roads, we never saw one get hit by a car – accidentally or intentionally. After all, these people have so little and barbecued goat can be very tasty! Why not just run over a goat and get a free meal? The answer to that is simple: the penalty for hitting a goat is roughly fifty dollars – a near fortune – and the offending driver does not even get to keep the goat! The rule is, the driver must put the fifty dollars under the dead goat for the owner to collect. Supposedly, all of the locals know which goats belong to whom, and so there is no confusion.  Gotta love seeing the honor system at work, even in such a difficult environment.

While the road left a lot to be desired, the scenery was spectacular: green, lush fields giving way to densely forested mountains. Along the way, we passed village after village, each one made up of thatched-roof homes built from mud bricks.

2015-03-07 10.48.55


In between the villages were makeshift farmer’s markets, offering  buckets of avocados, tomatoes, onions, sugar cane, and cassava, a starchy vegetable that is an Angolan staple.



After about three hours, we stopped to stretch our legs at a small, but fairly modern town called Cacuso. The manager of the hotel there welcomed us warmly with coffees and juice, and seemed to enjoy using his excellent English.

A hardhat or a helmet?  It’s both!


A local gal selling homemade yogurt.

It was a refreshing and welcome break from the white-knuckle drive, but soon we were on our way. The remaining portion of our drive we travelled on much better roads, mostly built by the Portuguese many years earlier.

As pretty as the scenery was, we were anxious to get to Kalandula Falls, reportedly the second largest by volume in Africa. At long last, we pulled into the falls parking area and were immediately approached by some local lads offering their expertise as guides for the hike down to the river. They were very polite and respectful, so we took one of them up on his offer.

Mrs. G’s Angola guidebook (yes, there is such a thing!) said the trek to the base of the falls would take about twenty minutes to climb down and thirty-five minutes to hike back up. Since it was already after one o’clock, we decided to set up some chairs and eat our lunch before we began. We had always heard that the people outside of Luanda  were very different, and this trip has certainly confirmed that. No one approached us for money or food, and we were able to eat in relative peace. Our “guide” even sat patiently while we finished our lunch.

Once we were done, we put away our food and chairs and walked to the top of the falls, easily identifiable by the spray seen a short distance away . Clearly, we did not need a guide for this part of the walk, but he led us along anyway. We were amazed to see the magnificent expanse of water, no doubt at a higher than normal volume due to recent rain. And we had ordered up the perfect day to see them, too. We even had a rainbow to welcome us!

Spectacular Kalandula Falls!
Looking from Kalandula Falls down along the Lucala River.
Beautiful rainbow over Kalandula Falls.
Our “guide” and guard wait patiently while our hubbies get the perfect shot!

Once Mrs. G and I peeked over the falls and down to the river, it was clear this was no twenty minute walk down, despite what the guidebook said. Slick rocks and muddy paths meant a surefire tumble for a klutz like me. There being no medical care for many hours in any direction, we both decided this was not the place to break an ankle. Instead, we found a shady spot with the falls as our view, put our toes in the water, and let our husbands make the climb down. Both guards were itching to go as well, as neither of them had seen the falls before. One of the guards was wearing dress shoes, so Mrs. G nixed the idea, and the poor guy was relegated to sitting with us women.

After visiting and enjoying the view for a very long time, there was still no sign of our hubbies. I would have been worried except that they were accompanied by a very capable guard – and an expert guide, of course. Finally, they both showed up, drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. It was – as we had suspected – a very difficult climb down. Both of them agreed that it was very pretty at the bottom, but I was happy to have stayed put.

Although the day was not too hot,  the air-conditioning in the car was very welcome, and we settled in for our drive to the town of Malanje, where we would stay for the night. Along the way, we attempted more photos of roadside scenes, but traveling at eighty-plus miles per hour made that a bit tricky. Thankfully, as we pulled into town, we had the chance to snap a few more photos of daily life:

A lady carries sugar cane on her head, while some men attempt to repair an AC unit, balancing precariously on a rickety ladder.


No car seats here! The woman in pink is carrying an infant on her lap. Clearly, the lady on the right does not approve!


A typical scene in this mostly male-centric society. The women work tirelessly selling fruits and veggies, while many of the men relax.

We were relieved to find that our hotel was clean and modern, and that they had a record of our reservation – although there were a few tense moments as they struggled to find it.  It had been a long day and our drivers and guards all had relatives in the area. We rushed off to dinner so they could have some time to visit with their families after we were done.

Dinner at a local cafe was mostly edible, and none of us had any ill-effects during the night, so we counted ourselves lucky. Going to any new restaurant in Angola is a crap shoot (pardon the pun), so our requirements here are much more basic than back in the states. If the food doesn’t make you sick,  the restaurant qualifies as five star!

After a restless night, due to the Malarone we were taking to prevent Malaria, we awoke to part two of our trip: a visit to the Piedras Negras du Pungo Andongo, a very unusual geologic formation of enormous conglomerate boulders. The Black Rocks protrude from the lush, green valley as if frozen in time. Not surprisingly, there are many ancient legends as to how they came to be.

Piedras Negras as seen from the distance.

We parked our cars and hiked up to a small observation point on top of one of the larger boulders. What a view!

Piedras Negras


Piedras Negras with a view of a reservoir formed by the Capanda Dam on the Kwanza river.

We were chased back to our cars by a thunderstorm, but managed to get a few photos before we decided that being on top of a bald rock was not the best place to be. The hike back down was a bit slippery, but the rain cleared in time for a quick lunch before our drive back to Luanda.

There were two or three small dwellings near the picnic area, and nine local children had some small orange fruits for sale to visitors. Another group of tourists bought the lot before we had a chance to get some, but we did manage to interact with the kids by way of sharing our lunch and offering them some treats. Again, they were very polite and respectful, with the older children guiding their younger siblings to the front to get the treats first. So nice to see!




We had passed around individual packets of Oreo cookies, and were amused to see them eat the cream from the middle and leave the outside cookies neatly stacked on the table. It is doubtful that they had ever tasted Oreos before, as they are rarely available, even in Luanda. Clearly, their tastes run to more natural items. The fruit and veggies were eaten in a flash!

The drive back was the fastest and most terrifying of the trip, as the drivers attempted to make it back to city roads before dark. Granted, there are just as many potholes in the city, and they can do just as much damage to a vehicle. However, the roads we were traveling on had the added danger of large trucks avoiding similar potholes, but on the opposite side of the road. This was a game of “chicken” that we all wanted to avoid, especially in the dark. Many of the trucks carry containers which are not tied to the trailer in any way. We saw many such containers, both with and without their trailers, laying along the side of the road. One can only guess that the truck driver misjudged a particularly deep pothole and wound up missing his cargo – or worse.


I never thought I would be relieved to be in the crawl of Luanda traffic again, but I truly was. We didn’t quite make it back before dark, but we did make it home in one piece – thanks to our driver, Mario Andretti. We came away from our trip with many new memories and a better understanding of this beautiful country.  Although most of it is still scarred from decades of war and poverty, there are so many natural wonders here. We feel very blessed to have the opportunity to explore Angola, especially when accompanied by such special friends – and a driver with quick reflexes…

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Here fishy, fishy…

One thing I have never been a big fan of is fishing. It’s just not my thing. It requires patience and a very dull sense of smell, neither of which I possess. However, when faced with very limited choices for weekend activities, fishing is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, as my daddy used to say.

As mentioned in previous blogs, one of the perks of our posting here in Luanda is the use of the company boats for whale watching in the winter and fishing in the summer. We went on several amazing whale watching trips right after we arrived last September, but now those fabulously rotund mammals have left our local waters and so fishing is our only choice.  I really enjoy riding in the boat, especially on a nice day, so when we were invited on two recent trips, I happily went along.

Our first trip was at the invitation of a couple whom I will call Mr. & Mrs. G. They work for another company, and we met through mutual friends shortly after we moved here. Mr. & Mrs. G are the best kind of expats: gracious, friendly, and always up for an adventure. On the morning of our fishing trip, we planned to meet Mr. & Mrs. G at the Marina, located a few short miles away. We allowed ten minutes to get there, but had not counted on the infamous Luanda traffic. Eight o’clock on a Saturday morning should have been smooth sailing, right? Wrong. We have since learned that for every event in this city, streets are simply closed and no detours are provided. I can only assume people are expected to sit in their cars and just wait until the event is over!

On this particular morning, there was a very small “fun run” which had brought the traffic to a complete standstill. After back-tracking and trying several different routes, we still ended up sitting in dead-stopped traffic, only marginally closer to our destination. Frustrated and late, we briefly considered walking the remaining two blocks to the marina, but thought better of it when our driver said it was not a safe area. A quick glance out of the car window confirmed his assessment.

Finally, after more than forty-five minutes, the event ended and the traffic started to move. We arrived at the marina to find Mr. & Mrs. G waiting patiently. Another lovely couple had also joined them, and we boarded the boat with high hopes and visions of fish on the grill that night.  It was a lovely day: slightly overcast, cool and only enough breeze to make it comfortable. We cruised around for several hours, in search of fish.

I was perfectly happy just riding along, visiting with the ladies and munching on the yummy snacks Mrs. G had brought along. But, clearly the boys were getting restless. For some reason, the group had decided that I needed to reel in the first fish – if one ever decided to take the hook, of course.  I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later, so I made myself ready by strapping on the fighting belt and preparing myself for the epic battle.

At last, a dorado (or mahi-mahi) went for the bait and I grabbed the fishing rod. Wow! I had no idea how weak I was! Clearly, I need to start lifting weights. If my difficulty in reeling him in was any indication, he was sure to be a whopper. Or she – who can tell? Sadly,  he was no whopper, but he was a respectable size – at least big enough to keep. And best of all, I didn’t lose him.

A tasty dorado. Mr. G is having fun getting some underwater footage with his GoPro, too.

There. Job done. Now, back to solving the world’s problems with the ladies.

Over the course of the next hour or so, a few more fish were caught by the guys on board. I’m not sure how the other two gals got out of fishing, but no matter. My catch meant that hubby and I ended up with some tasty fresh fish for dinner, and even some to share with our driver. All-in-all it was a fantastic day.

My dorado. He looks a bit beat-up, but he sure tasted good!
My dorado. He looks a bit beat-up, but he sure tasted good!

Our second fishing trip was at the invitation of Mr. & Mrs. Adventurous, another one of our favorite couples here. These two intrepid travelers are just back from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Honestly, when I think of all they do, I feel like a slug. They are just the motivation I need to spend some extra time in the gym and take the stairs up to my tenth floor flat.

Well, maybe not every time…

The weather for this second trip was also very nice, a bit more overcast but nicely cool as a result. We met up with Mr. & Mrs. A in the parking lot of the marina. There was no traffic on this morning, thank goodness.

Jesus, the driver for Mr. & Mrs. A, reminded them that his wife trades kisses for fishes, and he was counting on them to help a fella out. As far as we knew our driver was only looking forward to a tasty meal, should he be getting some fish from us!

We headed out on our company boat, just the four of us. About an hour into the trip, we spotted some dolphins in the distance. As we drew nearer, it was clear that this was no ordinary pod. This group was made up of hundreds of dolphins, speeding along, jumping and playing. The captain maneuvered our boat right in the middle of the pod and matched our speed to the dolphins. Mrs. Adventurous and I climbed onto the front of the boat to get a better view of this amazing sight.





Honestly, I could have ridden alongside them for hours, it was so fun to watch them leap and slap the surface with their bellies as they landed. As we leaned over the bow, we could see them cruising along under the water within a foot of the hull, enjoying this game of chase. Many of the dolphins had pink bellies, which I later read is the result of very warm conditions, or even a general state of excitement. They certainly looked excited to me, leaping and launching themselves out of the water with a frenzy! We sailed along as part of the group for about twenty minutes, until the captain decided it was time to get back to the pursuit of fish we could actually catch. And so, we left our friends behind and turned the boat in search of some delicious dorado.

We cruised around looking for the “weed line”, where an inflowing river runs into the predominant ocean current. Weeds – or trash, in Luanda’s case – collect in this confluence. In fact, in Luanda, so much trash collects that the weed line is very easy to spot, even from quite far away. Large wooden pallets, buckets, plastic bags, and flip-flops of every size and color bobbed along in the water. I have seen many  barefooted people around here, and now I know where all of their shoes are! Theoretically, the weed line attracts bait fish, and they in turn attract bigger fish. This theory did not work for us, however, as we dragged our lines through that muck for hours and never had a single bite. We did hook a cute hot-pink bra though! And it looked to be about my size. Too bad it fell off the hook.

As entertaining as it was to see what ended up floating miles offshore, after several hours we decided we’d had enough and headed back to the marina. On the way, we spotted several small fishing boats and moved closer to see what they were catching. The fishing gods were with those fellas, as we watched them toss fish after fish into their small boats. They had set out long stringers which were now loaded with Carapau, an oily fish similar to a mackerel.


Our captain was very happy to learn that the fishermen would sell nine of these fish for only two-thousand kwanzas, the equivalent of about twenty dollars. He seemed puzzled that we were not interested in buying some as well.

I’ll admit, I considered it – but only for a moment.

Making a decent meal is a challenge for me on my best day, and using gourmet ingredients. Surely, anything I had made with those oily fish would have wound up in the trash bin.

Though we didn’t wind up with any fish – and Jesus would not be getting any kisses – we will always remember the thrill of riding along with those dolphins.  Maybe after these two experiences, I need to reevaluate my distaste for fishing. Of course, I know not every trip will be as fun as these two were. But as they say, a bad day fishing is better than a good day at the office…or in my case, a good day hunting and gathering through the mean streets of Luanda.

© 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

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