Thursday, August 19, 2010

14 - On the Road – Again

Roadside view
I'm mid-bus for the journey from Benguela to Lubango and my neighbour is an ample young lady with a 20-month-old girl in her arms. I try to make eyes with the baby, who is terrified by the white monster grimacing down at her and starts bawling for all she's worth. Mum takes out an ample breast and stuffs a large nipple into the toothy mouth – sucking sounds, peace, quiet. In fact every time the little darling starts to cry on the nine-hour journey, out comes a nipple.

The road is tarred apart from a couple of rutted dirt sections, and the bus manages to zip along even if its interior has seen better days. The arid coastal plain gives way to greener savanna as we climb - a huge bowl of yellow grasses, trees with cupola-like canopies and baobabs with their bottle trunks and tangled branches sprouting on top like the writhing snakes of some drunken Medusa's head – all surrounded by jagged crags looming blue-grey on the horizon.

Impromptu market at bus halt

But why do they keep all the windows shut? Every time I open it a crack, the woman in front snaps it shut. I think I'm going to have a little border war with her. Meanwhile there is a minor mutiny going on down-bus, with shouts of 'stop stopping all the time' as the drive picks up an odd straggler here and there – 'this is meant to be a direct bus, we'll arrive tomorrow.'

At a mid-way stop at Chongoroi women swarm on with trays of fried chicken and pineapples on their heads, and little boys mill around with live chickens in their arms. A little further on a herd of cattle, the bulls with huge wide-set horns, slows our progress. The little girl starts bawling again. Out comes the tit, stuffed into a toothy mouth. I think I'll start bawling as well.

A house with a view on road to Lubango
Statue of Christ above Lubango
And then, there it is, a white spot 1,000 feet up on the Chela escarpment overlooking Lubango, Christ the King. The mid 20th century statute has been compared to the iconic Christ the Redeemer poised with outstretched arms atop the Corcovado overlooking Rio de Janeiro. But this one is much smaller and looks rather silly from the city, more like a measly simple cross. From up close, it is slightly more impressive.

But it is not enough that he was crucified, he's been shot as well. During the war when the ruling MPLA was stationed atop the escarpment, the rebel UNITA took pot shots at the Son of God. He's now got crumbled finger tip on his outstretched right arm, a nose that seems to be going nicely leprous and a surfeit of charming dimples on his chin.
Christ's nose and chin the worse for warfare
The centre of Lubango is pretty, all colonial pink buildings and trees with golden-red flowers, and the climate is very pleasant. At over 3,000 feet it's even pretty chilly at night.

Security and crime are also apparently a concern; again the advice is: don’t go out walking alone at night. There's a guard to greet you at the bus station, playing with his sub-machinegun like a drum majorette with her baton. But he turns out to be very useful when muggings gets into a fight with a nasty guy trying to push ahead in the ticket queue, all mock lunges, menacing grimaces and growled curses – quite unlike the antithesis of the usual friendly good-humour. Further into the centre, a truckload of private security guards barrels down the main drag, all geared up like Darth Vader.

In a sight common throughout the country, little kids line up along the road sides, waiting for some kindly drivers some kindly drivers to stop so they can rush across on their way to school. On their heads or gripped in their tiny hands, they carry their own little plastic chairs – the schools do not provide them.

Lubango's flowery streets

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