A couple of weeks back, a foreign service blogger who hosts a periodic “round-up” of FS blogs put out the call for blog submissions from the community highlighting the five best and worst things about our current posts. I don’t normally participate because I can’t seem to get on-topic posts up in time to be included (case in point). I decided to take a stab at this one anyway since I felt it was particularly useful for those courting Luanda as an option in this shifting and turbulent world economy. Keep in mind if you are with the oil companies, chances are you will be living south of the city in gated communities. You will most likely have a personal driver. It’s likely you will be handsomely compensated. This is an entirely different experience than being here as a first tour FSO.
Regular blog readers know that this past year and a half has been hugely challenging for me. Relatively new marriage, new mom, totally new identity. My circumstances are pretty unique. As such my perspective follows suit.
- The biggest blessing about this post might be the fact that it is rumored to be one of the most difficult ones in the foreign service. After our tour here is up any onward assignment should be a breeze. If you ever catch wind of me complaining, you have my permission to clobber me. Many lessons have been learned and I pray that I carry them with me. I have taken so much for granted in my life that it’s embarrassing.
- Time to develop your hobbies. Always wanted to learn to knit? Do you have visions of yourself as the life of every future campfire, confidently slipping your harmonica from pocket to lips as your awestricken friends delight in your hidden talent? In Luanda you’ve got two years worth of evenings and weekends to hone your craft. I recently finished a cute little cardigan for a friend of the Bushbaby who is leaving post next week. I am starting my very first (extra simple) sweater for myself. And when Snakes isn’t napping underneath the chevron throw I made last month, he’s busy practicing harmonica chords.
- The weather is nice for around 6 months of the year. It’s overcast but temperate. The other six? Unrelentingly hot and humid.
- You can save money. Despite the fact that Luanda is the 2nd most expensive city in the world, you really can save money. Unless, of course, your idea of an irresistibly good time is clubbing til dawn. In which case the cost of living and hardship adjustments to your salary will barely dent your bar bills. With our clubbing days behind us, we’ve been able to squirrel away a decent down payment for a house in DC.
- Good professional experience for Snakes. Also, with few exceptions, mostly every EFM (spouses of FSOs or USAID workers) is able to get pretty interesting and well paid jobs either at the embassy or with the CDC.
- It’s more difficult and expensive than I imagined to travel regionally. There’s no such thing as $70 weekend fare sales. Our recent 2.5 hour flight to Namibia was over a grand for the two of us. Local travel is discouraged by the RSO unless you organize a group of vehicles and the satellite phone. Not always the easiest thing to plan a quick and anonymous weekend getaway. And let’s be honest, if you’re going with half of your beloved colleagues, is it really a getaway?
- Traffic is a HOT MESS. Always pack food, water and a book or magazine every time you leave the house. You will be stuck in traffic, the question is only for how long. I’ve never seen anything like this. The only rule of the road seems to be that there are NO left turns. Whenever I’m out driving I’m overwhelmed with the feeling that I just can’t get there from here. Most of the embassy community is scattered throughout the city and spend hours locked in traffic on their daily commutes. This goes for school aged children as well since the International School is in the southern suburb of Talatona.
- Household help is comparatively expensive. I imagine many of you must be rolling your eyes at that one, especially since I’m not employed outside of our home. But trust me when I say that it is an absolute necessity. This city is filthy dirty and with two big dogs (one very drooly) it doesn’t take long for our house to become an embarrassment. We have a housekeeper who comes 3 times a week, 6 hours a day and it costs us around 600 USD per month.
- Isolation. ad nauseam. You all have heard me blather on plenty about this one. I’ll spare you.
- Boredom. There’s really not much to do besides go to the embassy and walk in circles. I’ve always agreed with that old saying that only boring people are bored. I revisit that theory daily.
We have seven months remaining. I know there will be things I’ll miss. And unfortunately, I know I’ll complain again too soon. But to be perfectly honest with you, I crave the simple freedom to just kick back by a campfire sipping a decent bourbon while the Bushbaby catches a snooze and Snakes plays the blues.