no guts…no glory

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!

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19 thoughts on “no guts…no glory

  1. What a fascinating post. Now Angola is starting to sound downright interesting. I’m flabbergasted by the prices. I wonder what the cost of shipping like, 40 pounds of Community Coffee to the joint would be worthwhile? Miss you guys. We are looking to see you Labor Dayish.

  2. Yikes! Wow. . . *shudder* Even with a COLA, I don’t know if I could mentally handle the cost of living there. But truly — what an interesting place and interesting time. . .

  3. It’s nice to hear that Luanda is a modern city~should make it much easier to maintain a positive outlook and stay healthy~a huge plus! First I’ve heard of the Angola Rodeo and I’m sorta glad you lost the shirt…And yes you do have a pretty nice big sis! LYTP mom

  4. Oh man. I laughed. I cried. THAT was a good one. The hits just keep coming from you. I am not going to lie- if I DIDN’T have two babies right now, I think I would be jealous of the challenge you face. It’s really, really wild… and exciting. Oh, the stories you’ll soon have to tell! I can’t wait to read them! So… what’s for dinner?

  5. Looking forward to hearing about your adventure. It sounds so exciting. Call sometime. Would love to catch up before overseas makes phone chat impossibly expensive, esp in the world’s most expensive city.

  6. When you cheerfully plunk down $11+ dollars for a box of cereal without even blinking you will know you have acclimated to living there.

    When showing around a newbie to post in Jakarta she was aghast at the price of a jar of coffeemate flavored creamer, I think it was $8 for the small jar. A few months later I caught her tossing several jars into her shopping cart when the store got a special shipment of American products She just grinned and shrugged. What are you going to do? Besides I had a $7 box of poptarts for the kids in my own cart, couldn’t really say much.

    1. I don’t think I’d have a problem paying $11. From what I’ve been told, it’s more like $40 for a box of cereal. “just add a zero to the end” of what you pay in the states. We will surely be using every ounce of our consumables shipment. Too bad 1000 # will be taken up by dog food.

      1. To give you a bit of a yardstick, my colleague and I went out for dinner one night at a fairly mid-range place. We both had the same thing: small glass of white wine (the cheapest on the menu) and a plate of curry on rice (nice, but nothing to write home about). 60 US dollars plus tip and taxes.

        Personal pizzas at the little terrace on the street downtown are about 25-35 dollars each, USD.

  7. Wow, Angola sounds tremendously interesting! I can’t wait to learn more from you. But ouch, yes, the prices are truly unbelievable.

  8. I am still thinking about this and I just don’t understand….can you shop where the Angolans shop? Surely they aren’t paying these prices! Are the options either food from the side of the street for Angolans and restaurants for expats- nothing in between? Can you not eat the street food? very curious over here….

    1. Those are “Angolan” prices.

      If you live in Luanda, you usually have money. More iPhones, iPods, Hummers, and Porsches than you have ever seen in your life. Honestly, it’s the oil money. The poor live outside Luanda.

      The Gini coefficient for Angola is 62. There are arguably only 2 countries with greater income inquality, Namibia and Equatorial Guinea. By comparison, Canada has a Gini score of 32, and the United States 40.

      And come to think of it, I don’t think I ever saw street food anywhere… Weird. They do have teeangers selling (peddling?) mani-pedis though.

  9. Kate- I am SO glad you found my blog. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate having a resident expert out there fielding these questions!
    Bfiles- it’s blowing my mind too. But apparently I’ll be able to afford good looking toenails.

    1. No worries! It can super scary planning for a post that no one seems to have any solid information about. I think that feeling is universal to all the Foreign Services!

      If only I could find an equivalent for Saudi… 😀

  10. this is just too fascinating. Kate, are you going to Saudi next? I think Hannah at a slow move east was posted there but not sure which city. http://hannahdraper.blogspot.com/
    and no street food? Now that’s a bummer. But it’s true, at least your toes will look good (for $85??).

    1. Looks like Saudi is up next, after 2 full years of language training, but they haven’t confirmed yet (the interminable waits are not limited to the US Dept of State, let me assure you!)

      Thanks for passing on the rec of hannah’s blog. I found her blog soon after it became public, and I think I’ve made my husband memorize at least part of it 🙂

  11. It’s Friday, and that means that the Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up – and you’re on it!

    Here is the link:
    http://bit.ly/aic8FC

    (If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)

    Thanks!

    1. Forgot to change the link in the disclaimer. Sorry here is the corrected version.

      It’s Friday, and that means that the Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up – and you’re on it!



      Here is the link:
 http://cyberbones.blogspot.com/2010/06/weekly-state-department-roundup.html



      (If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)

Thanks!

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