Wednesday, August 11, 2010

6 - Down and Out in Addis and Luanda

D's Guest House in Addis is right up my street, even if it's on a dirt path. For $29.95 I'm picked up at the airport, I get breakfast, and there's hot water in the shower. So what if there are large burn holes frozen in mid-melt in the plastic toilet seat, likewise in shelf over the basin, odd wires sticking out shabby walls - and I can't get the TV to work.

Meanwhile on the cheap in Luanda means $35 to be met at the airport and taken about four miles through horrendous traffic, and down another dirt path (I seem to be into dirt paths this trip) to the Soleme guest house, a nice cozy place - where I pay $154 for a shabbyish room with a/c (but it's pleasantly cool at night so I won't need it), a hot water shower, breakfast and a TV that I still can't seem to work. No wonder Luanda is billed as the most expensive city in the world. A sub-par hotel here goes for $300 to $400 a night.

There are scads of Israelis on the plane from Addis to Luanda, some shadier looking than others, especially a steelily grey-eyed gent looking like a Russian KGB agent. Mossad on another Dubai-style escapade using Eskimo passports? Diamond smugglers seeking a fortune from eastern Angola? Who knows, they might actually be doing something legit in oil or construction, assuming those are ever legit, or agriculture. A nosy Hebrew 'what are all you Israelis doing here?' from yours truly to a peroxide blond lady of a certain-plus age brings forth 'they work.' An even nosier 'in what?' elicits the same 'they work.'
The Marginal with colonial National Bank building

Luanda must have been a beautiful city in its heyday - the pink colonial upper city overlooking, logically, the lower city, and the Marginal corniche running along the bay, with the low narrow strip of the Ilha or Island (an island no more since they built the causeway) on the far side with lively hotels, eateries and bars. Former beauty at the cost of vicious colonialist exploitation.
Close-up of National Bank

Decrepit high-rise next to colonial building in downtown Luanda
There's a lot of construction going on now, but the roads are rutted, huge crumbling, slum-like Cuban-built apartment buildings are draped in miles of washing, and vast slum congeries of crowded, cramped concrete boxes and hovels carpet the outskirts. What a price for all the stupid post-colonial, ideological warfare that tore the city apart.

According to Transparency International Angola is among the most corruptly-run countries in the world (it figures at 158 out of 180 countries on the latest published index) - and doubtless would have won the same accolade had the losing side won. Meanwhile the ordinary Angolan, who seems very friendly (a guy at the airport refused to take a dollar when I asked to use his cell phone), suffers on. Extraordinarily graceful women walk down the streets as if parading on a catwalk, balancing huge crates of fruit on their judiciously swaying heads and lively babies on their hips.

Luanda's graceful women

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