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Published: September 11th 2007
This is how Pippi Longstocking would live if she was an African. Of course her name would be : mPeppe nGoLongoStockbo, then.
Somewhere north of Tsumeb
in northern Namibia
influence ceased. I found myself back in the African
cultural heartland - unorganized, dirty, crowded and vibrant.
After some lame attempts by the Angolan
border-police to extract bribes, I was inside the country, swarmed by teenage moneychangers.
In a dirty 4x4 a fat white man with a wry face, sat jammed between the seat and the steering wheel, which sank into his belly.
He would take me as far as Xangongo
for a beer, he said, which sounded great to me although I had no clue where it was.
Big fields of late-summer grass would glow with a pink hue in the sunset and the great Baobabs
would rise from the plains like petrified monsters.
Along the roadside there were only a few houses, but the fat man assured me that a stone throw or two into the bush there would be hundreds of small mud houses. The Angolans knew better than to live next to the road after more than 30 years of war.
I happened to enter the country on the five years of peace anniversary. Five years ago Jonas Savimbi
- the UNITA
leader was found and shot, which
Hitching in the Chinese dust
To get paid, the Chinese that rebuilt the road on the stretch between Ondjiva and Xangongo had purposedly waited with adding the last layer of tar to the road. Which had made the 150km stretch, very dusty and potholed again.
marked the end of the long war, and now there were few signs left of the dreadful war. All I saw was an old rusty tank, resting in a sea of twilight-mist as we turned off the dusty main road to a small informal bar, where I paid for my ride with amber N'gola
The Chinese were busy rebuilding the road between Santa Clara
and Xangongo and hadn't yet added the last layer of tar, a tactic to make sure the corrupt government would eventually pay. I couldn’t make up my mind if I was amazed or extremely worried about the speed the fat man kept during the 150 km of dusty and potholed corrugations that was there.
The fat man was building gravel roads in the rural area south of Xangongo and I was welcome to pitch my tent at their camp.
At the camp there were some 15 Kavango
road workers which I stayed chatting to for two days, as the fat man went back to Namibia for Easter eggs and family reunions.
Xangongo truly had a laid-back village-charm to it, but I wanted to get deeper into the country, so after two nights
Flowers and tanks
Five years of peace have done a good job to this tank.
by the campfire I said goodbye to the road workers.
After two hours of faint hitching attempts an Angolan family stopped in a white pick-up truck. I had no idea what the man was saying but somehow we agreed on a price and before we took the long and very bad road to Lubango
- he stopped by his house for two glasses of whisky with his mates. I cursed him for downing that whisky since it would have done far better use down my throat, calming my nerves, since he drove far worse, much faster and far more reckless than the fat man. I clung to the door side in the backseat with white knuckles, and as we stopped two hours later in a small village, I hurried to down three beers.
The driver had four and a half himself, of which two was drank behind the wheel while arguing with his wife, avoiding potholes the size of mine-shafts and changing music, at the small stretches of tar that allowed the CD-player to give sound. Cuban
and Angolan songs and for me he played Backstreet Boys especially. When he put on Lenny Kravitz
“I want to get away”
On the most popular shortcuts through the townships, entrepeneurs would have the classical African goods on display: Ovo and Klin washingpowdersachets, Lukewarm Coke and Fanta, Assorted candy, big chunks of soap and cigarettes a piece.
couldn’t but agree.
As we entered Lubango I somehow made him understand I had nowhere to stay and no wish to pay 50 USD for a shabby pit, and somehow he managed to make me understand he would take care of me.
I helped him off-load two thirds of the car load at his wife’s house. Chinese low quality furniture, toys to his four kids, tacky porcelain dogs (all with chipped ears), kitsch plastic flowers and a lot of liqueur to himself.
One third of the load remained on the car as he told me to get in.
He drove me to the other side of town, to an empty apartment where I helped him to unload the exact same goods.
We were at the house of his secret mistress Mercedes
, with whom he also happened to have a two year old son.
She’d been living in Luanda
- at a safe distance from his wife - until three weeks ago when the government moved her down to Lubango, to a brand new flat without electricity or running water (of course).
We went back into the car and went to his two other mistresses; one who got a Chinese made
Charlie and the Factory
A discontinued facory in Lubango's outskirts, and a boy.
popcorn machine called PartyTajm
and the last one who got a bottle of cheap whisky - that Marcel
(my “friend”) with little doubt would drink himself.
He squeezed her hard on her monstrous breast that seemed to suffocate inside her 40E + cups that was splitting at the seams, and said something I pretended not to understand. Unfaithful people are always of dubious nature, and this guy took the prize, but I didn't want to bite the hand that fed me. So I gave him to two thumbs up and an undernourished smile.
He wanted to take me to a “Disqoteqa
”, but with his drinking habits and the Angolan price for a beer, I decided to play tired, to save my wallet from such a dive.
Back in the flat I showed Mercedes some recent photos, and by mistake she saw the pictures of Marcel and his real wife. I tried to cover it up with a bad lie: “Signora de ristoranta de Xangongo” I said but she saw straight trough my lie. After that our relationship was (at the best) frosty.
The next morning as she confronted him I sneaked out of the flat for a few hours.
Old Sekelaga on her way back home from the market. Outskirts of Lubango.
The city was fully busy celebrating the crucifixion of their religious leader, some 2000 years ago. Every church was filled to the brim, and there were long queues of eager worshippers - all dressed in white cloth - outside the churches. This process continued throughout the nights and throughout the whole Easter weekend.
As I got back to the flat Marcel was gone and a man with biceps that could crack my head like a nut sat in my room. His name was Tony
and I asked him what he did for a living. He grabbed an imaginary rifle, aimed it in my face, and pulled the trigger.
” He smiled and I notice that his teeth had the same yellow colour as his eyes.
He made clear that we should leave. I didn’t know where to, but I joined him in the car.
I felt like one of the characters in a Henning Mankell
Crime-novel just about to be found on top of a heap of garbage in the outskirts of some unnamed shantytown. Then the rest of the novel would be about my parents hiring some middle-aged Sherlock to solve the case - which didn’t really calm my
nerves as I sat next to him in the car, with a knot of tension in my stomach.
” He said and pointed on him, then me, as we parked the car outside a bar.
It was obvious that I should pay for the beers, and as I was halfway through my first Cuca
We drank until my pocket money was finished then he took me to the military base and showed me some tanks and his military friends.
Of course all my worry and anxiety was without ground - but with the solid language barrier I carried around - my trip through Angola was bound to be full of constant misunderstandings and awkward situations.
Tony then took me to the girlfriend with the huge lungs where Marcel was waiting.
He was in a good mood and called her Signora Volvo
and we got drunk while watching Brazilian
weekend entertainment shows on a TV that was identical to the one his wife and Signora Mercedes had. Everyone on TV seemed to have had some bizarre plastic-surgery, and as I got bored Tony took me home to Mercedes flat, where she waited for him with a lit candle
After a hard days work
A lone businessman wlaking back to the south-western suburbs after work. Lubango.
and two cakes she’d baked. As she saw me, she went straight to bed.
I have heard it said that, “A prison is a home if you have a key.
” This wasn’t true with Mercedes. She would still not leave the flat. She would only sit there with her and Marcel’s child waiting for him the whole day, with other women coming and going. Her housemaid would buy her food and carry up water to the flat.
The next day I left at sunrise and didn’t return until sunset. As I got back Marcel was there promising Mercedes that he would spend the night there - he just had to drive to his wife for a quick lie first…
It was Monday morning and I waited until Marcel had left before I packed my bag and left. Outside, a tanker was filling up the petrol station and a sweet smell of cheap petrol got stuck in my clothes as I walked past. The weather was cool and beneath the light fog that clad the city, one could feel that the city was back to work after a few days of lethargic Easter.
I had lunch with a Finnish
In the country with the highest infant mortality rate in the world. A happy sign at the Benguela market.
delivery nurse (something the country with the highest child-mortality rate in the world definitively needs) I’d previously met at the border. She was very compassionate and offered me a place to stay for the night. The next morning she dropped me off outside the main hospital and I started walking to the waiting point where one could catch transport to Namibe’
. After 20 minutes I decided to walk up the mountain and try to get a lift later on, instead of just stand there wasting my time. Three hours later I’d reached Humpata
on foot. The nature on top of the mountain was beautiful, gently undulating grassland and farmers toiling their fields or grazing cattle. For a moment I decided that I should walk the whole stretch, 187km, on foot. But as a car stopped and offered me a ride, my chafed feet willingly accepted.
Soon we started to descend the mountain on its western side and the views were nothing but stunning. At the foot of the mountain, women of the Mucubal
ethnic group stood along the roadside selling milk, in their truly unique garments - a string or two tied above the breast, and innumerable necklaces clustered together
European Hairpin curves
The snakey roads at Leba on the road leading from Lubango towards Namibe' and the coast. Probably the best road in the country, it had been donated by the EU a few years back.
As we closed in on Namibe’ I understood why they called this the skeleton coast, I wouldn’t have lasted for more than an hour of walking, with the small bottle of water I’d been given by a missionary.
The communal campground (the only place in town charging less than 50 USD) was booked by MPLA
for a three day celebration of how good the government was, and busloads of kids were brought in for indoctrination. After wandering the town for a couple of hours I met a guy that offered me to sty in his house. I left my stuff in his house and walked down to the port office to ask for boats leaving in any possible direction.
The Port Captain took me to the local zoo to show me the unhappy animals and told me there was a boat leaving in a day or two for Lobito
. He’d been a gunner in a tank fighting for MPLA for five years, killing several USA-backed UNITA rebels, he explained. I’d spent 10 months as a gunner in a tank myself, so we compared weaponry and tactics of war for another couple of beers, until he felt very
Praia de Namibe'
Long sandy beaches is the trademark of the Skeleton Coast. Perfect to laze by for a few hot hours.
guilty for what he’d done and took his kids back home.
Everyday I went down to the port office I was told that the departure was postponed. I was frustrated with myself since I should have known better than trusting an African about departure time. I know how the concept of time floats on this continent, and still I was naïve enough to actually believe that the boat would depart the next day. In the boys’ flat they did nothing but watched Brazilian soap-opera - from dawn until dusk.
After three days I was ready to give up on the boat idea. I packed my bag and was ready to leave as two officers from the immigration office stood outside the flat.
The corrupt officers were looking for a bribe. And someone had told them where the only tourist in town staid. My host was getting arrested for not reporting to the immigration office that he had a stranger in his house. Of course there was the opportunity for him to settle everything quick for 20 USD, or he would pay 100 USD down at the station - they threatened him. He told me it was nothing to worry
Kabila; the friendly chef
The happiest man I ever met. He worked as the cook on the ship serving beans & rice, beans & potatoes, beans & pasta and beans & bread. He had saved money for a long time and bought a TV and VCR-player that the whole crew sat spellbound to.
about and that it was all a weak lie, as they took him down to the police station. I walked down to check one last time if the boat was leaving today, and to my surprise it was. Deolinda Rorigues II
was a smaller cargo vessel that only served within Angola.
I got a berth in the officers’ cabin and a few hours later, we weighed anchor.
The sea was calm and at sunset a school of dolphins joined us for some acrobatics. As I woke the next day, expecting to be in Lobito, I found out that my friend Honoratu, the port captain, had never sailed the journey himself and misjudged the length of the cruise by a full day.
Life onboard was calm, the boatsmen were all very friendly and curious about the weird white guy that was riding on their vessel. I went through their video collection of dubbed American
action and gangster movies with Malaysian
I had my share of snuff-tobacco and saltwater humidity met, and after the sun sank into the ocean, somewhere in the direction of Brazil a light rain fell.
Everyone except the captain went to bed, and at some
Captain Mingo and his ship
Captain Mingo was a man of smiles, too. He'd been captain on the ship for 18 years and knew every nook and cranny of the steel vessel.
point in the night, as I lay in my berth fighting my antimalarial-pills for some sleep, the plinker-plotter outside my window turned into a mild drizzle as the captain stopped the engines.
We had reached Lobito.
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