The books from my awesome, generous and thoughtful sister have arrived. As a result, I am having a hard time taking care of much else. I find my self entirely distracted, eager to soak up as much information as I possibly can about this fascinating country. Until last month when the bid lists came out, my extent of “Angola knowledge” was limited to the prison rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. I had the pleasure of attending this maximum security hootenanny back in the late 90s when I was living in New Orleans. That’s one t-shirt I wish I’d have hung onto, especially now.
We’ve been contacted by FSOs currently stationed there and others who’ve completed the assignment. A Canadian diplomat, who finished her tour in February, left a comment on my last post and generously offered to answer any questions I have. She calls Angola “an intellectually fascinating country.” After all of the brow-furrowing post reports I’ve read I was delighted to hear, “The infrastructure in Luanda is, frankly, amazing. They are really putting the oil money they’re swimming in to good use- really good (and surprisingly clean!) roads, nice buildings, etc. The situation is really different outside Luanda though- the poverty and lack of infrastructure is obvious, and there is a painful disparity between it and the capital.”
Unfortunately she confirmed rumors of Luanda being one of the most expensive cities in the world. She advised, “You’ll get used to it. Eventually you just sort of stick an extra zero on everything in your head.” I had read that a head of cauliflower costs around $35. (!) I’m starting to view the prices at DuPont circle farmer’s market as TOTALLY reasonable. ($7 for a spindly bunch of asparagus? Wow! Is that mismarked?? What an excellent deal. Rhubarb for 10 bucks a pound? Unbelievable! Fill the bag! I’ll make jam!! Kale, $5 a bundle?? Stop pulling my leg!) Snakes had lunch yesterday with a fellow FSO (with a recent Angolan tour under his belt). From him, we learned that when you go for drinks with friends (and I’m not talking a frat-party Patron-soaked binge here), everyone throws down $100 bill, and often that does not cover the check. Fortunately, we are allowed a COLA (cost of living adjustment) to help compensate. I just wonder how long it will take for my mid-western sensibilities to give way, loosening my white knuckled death grip enough to part with $200 for a burger and fries.
The email from the Canadian diplomat concluded by saying, “I hope this helps. Luanda isn’t an “easy” post by any measure- but it’s a really worthwhile one. I would consider you really lucky to be going- you’re going to be heading into a really energetic country going through a lot of changes all at once, and you get a front-row seat.” With that, confirming my suspicion that this is a way better ticket than the one I had for the prison rodeo over a decade ago. Yeeee-ha!