Another Day in Luanda

I sent H to deliver carrot cakes around and he sent me a text saying he’s been invited to stay for a drink and has decided to leave me alone for a little while. And that’s 45 mins ago. Great, boys united.

Anyway, security warning has been going on the past few days. We’re strongly advised to stick to home in lights of election campaigns. Some friends are gearing off for a short holiday, H and I, we’re preparing our emergency bag: water, biscuits, important documents. Growing up in a country that experienced political turmoil not too long ago, I’ve experienced fleeing a place I called home (back then). I’m not worried about not being able to flee the country should anything happen. I’m worried about the local people that I’ve grown to know and care about. That’s what makes me nervous.

Often I ask H if we’re doing international assignments to “dangerous” places for money. Solely for money? Well, frankly speaking yes. But in terms of career development, it’s also better for H. It’s like getting paid more for doing challenging jobs, having wider portfolio and besides, we’re still young, who doesn’t want to see the world?

And though it’s not easy to admit it, I like how Angola is keeping us firmly rooted, on what matters the most and what is meaningful. I’ve seen Africa in TV, I’ve seen slums in Luanda from inside a car, but up till I walked up the alley, I really don’t know how life is when you are poor.

I recently volunteered with AfriCare to give polio vaccination to children below 5 yo. In the other parts of the world, polio vaccination is usually given for a child below 2. Anyone older is probably not as useful or effective anymore. And do you know how we ask a child their age? Besides point blank (more like guessing games), we also ask them to do the arm-to-ear test. If their arm can’t touch their ears over their head, they are then deemed as below 5 and need to be given (oral) vaccination. The children who need to be vaccinated the most are the children who live in slums. The ones whose parents are occupied and despite the posters, public announcement, word of mouth, they aren’t exactly running to get their infants and toddlers vaccinated. This is where we come in.

In small groups, we walked in and out the big road to the little alleys. To what appeared as an abandon destroyed house but actually occupied by several families. We walked to little girls not older than 10 yo washing dirty dishes (and missing school) to toddlers minding themselves on the road side without adult supervision. We entered homes that is not bigger than 20-30 sqm that housed more than 7 adults and children combined. We walked by putrid garbage, smelled stench, stale air and stepped on puddles. We saw open wounds with pus oozing out on children and adults alike. I couldn’t even joked and said “I deserve a good meal after this.” Because really, what do I deserve? I remembered showering thoroughly and scrubbing out every single dirt, but I couldn’t wash away what I saw.

Luanda pisses me off royally at times. Like today when the mascarpone I paid so dearly turned out dry and cakey, almost ruining my carrot cake. Like buying fresh fish only to get diarrhea, or going to a fancy restaurant and return with severe case of food poisoning. There is no guarantee. The best you can do is watch yourself and say your grace on bended knees. Because really, why was I born to my parents and not to say, a couple in Angola?

After almost two years here, I finally make my peace with Luanda. And with my fugly mascarpone icing.

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