The Luanda Airport as a Vignette of Angola
- The car arrives to bring me to the airport.Late. Despite the fact that I confirmed thrice the time it should arrive.
- We hit traffic. Various traffic laws are brokenavoiding said traffic.
- Police, rather than being at intersections wheregridlock occurs, stand in themiddle of the highway, which has no lane lines painted, aggressively gesturingand yelling at motorist to CONTINUE STRAIGHT! MOVE!
- First security check, my printed reservation andpassport are taken. 2 people puzzle over the passport. The man has about 10rosters of passengers in front of him. He is searching for my name by hand. Hefinds it. Puts a little star next to my name and sends me on my way.
- I check in. My bag is overweight by 5 kilos(books and paperwork!). I ask how much it will cost. $150 USD. I reply that Iwill remove the 5 kilos as I have another bag I can check. Ah, I can fix theproblem. Nevermind then. Overweight is ok.
- I pass through customs and am gestured into asmall room. I’m asked if I speak Portuguese. I say I understand but speakSpanish. Head shaking. I’m asked if I have money. Well yes. I do. I’m asked ifI have Kwanzas (national currency), if I have dollars. To put all of it on thetable. (My fear of what will happen if I lie and am searched is greater than myfear of losing the money.) I pull out over a thousand US dollars and moreKwanzas. Do I know that I’m not allowed to take Kwanzas out the of country? Ido, I planned to spend them in the airport. My kwanzas are seized (over $125USD), thankfully my USD is returned. I am informed that if I will be returningto Angola within one week I can get them when I return. I reply that I will notreturn. Apparently I have offended them, I’m asked why I won’t return. Iexplain. I ask for a receipt for the money they will take from me. They act asthough they don’t understand, although I’m sure I have the vocabulary right aftercollecting receipts for 5 weeks. So some people will give up $125 with nowritten record? Either everyone else knows better or I’m missing an opportunityto give a gaseosa (literally – soda, actually – bribe) and keep my money. Moneyis taken. Receipt is received.
- I go upstairs to a bare but clean room with twosmall walk up counters with a variety of fried foods and alcohol. I look. I goto the open buffet. A hot option (pasta, chicken etc), plus a cold option(salad or bread) plus dessert plus soup is $50 USD. But if I just want a hotoption it’s $35.
- I return to the counter and ask how I may payfor my food. I’m informed that either Kwanzas or dollars will do. When I replythat I’d pay in Kwanzas but someone just took all mine she smiles and says wellI suppose you’ll pay in dollars then.
- I order. It’s microwaved. I pay too much. It’snot bad for here. At home I’d pick frozen Ellio’s pizza over what I’m eating.But the olive has no pit, that’s a plus.
- Iam in a room with apparently 4 internet signals, none of which can I access.
- Tablesaround me slowly fill up, the room is full of men from Portugal, men from Brazil.And then there are American men, they sound like they’re from Texas. None ofthem is under 250 pounds. I seetwo women and one table of non Anglo/Caucasian/White men.
- I’vegot another 2.5 hours until my flight. I was told to arrive as early aspossible because “you can never be too early to the airport in Angola, anything can happen”.
Luanda downtown from the fortaleza, a mix of construction, colonial architecture and unfinished buildings that are now homes for thousands of squatters.
In another direction, homes and soccer and the ocean under a permanently white sky. The vast majority of Luanda residents live in inappropriate shelters made with inappropriate materials (confirmed by most recent survey, over 80%)