Wednesday, August 18, 2010

13 - Kidnapped

Lobito candongueiro station
 The train back to Benguela, so confidently announced by the guy at the station, doesn't leave until 1710, so it's back to the blue and white candongueiros in the parking lot nearer the slums. Here I'm kidnapped by over-enthusiastic body-snatching conductors requesting the pleasure of my company. As a score of hands and arms grab at me, I risk having my hands going in one van, my body in another, and my head in a third. Freeing myself from the gridlock with a few mock kicks and growls like a bantam gorilla, I make a bee-line for the one with most people in since it will leave first. Again the driver is reckless but skilled as we zoom past a new stadium built in the middle of nowhere for the recent African Cup soccer tournament.

Market at Benguela's candongueiro station
Thinking it'll be fun to stay on till the end, I land up in Benguela's candongueiro 'station' miles from the centre, in a large dust-enveloped mud square which also serves as an open-air market for absolutely everything - even ovens, washing machines, electronics, sofas, all sold from awning-covered open-air stalls.
Back in the centre I'm getting bored once more, so I think I'll get myself arrested again. But here nobody seems to give a damn when I start taking photos of a palatial government building.

Benguela's Palacio das Bolas administrative building

Sitting minding my own business and watching the sun go down at the Porta Avioes (aircraft carrier) restaurant on Benguela's waterfront; a little kid approaches wanting to polish my shoes. As I demur he passes his hand over his tummy and says 'I'm hungry,' a common come-on here. But before I can react the waiter tells him I'm about to eat, puts a pushing hand on his little shoulder and firmly directs him on his spindly legs to the curb.

After dinner he turns up again, smiles winningly with the whitest of white teeth and says 'You've eaten now.' I let him clean my shoes for his price of 50 kwanzas (about 50 cents). He works away, pulling the top off a bottle with his mouth and spraying out some soapy stuff, banging his little box for me to present the other shoe as professionally as a maestro calling his orchestra to order. After some more applications of polish and rubbings with rags, all accompanied with masterly conducting, the shoes still look dull but at least they're no longer caked in dust.

He says he's 13 - but looks much younger - and that he lives with his brothers. He's bare-footed. Most people here at least have flip-flops. I give him 100 kwanzas and off he trots in his ragged little camouflage T-shirt with GAP written on it. With all the oil and diamond wealth this country has, and it's eight years after the end of the wars already, you'd think that...

Sunset from the 'deck' of the Porta Avioes

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