Filed under: *Travel Diary
so jimmy has malaria and salmonella poisoning. we took him to the hospital yesterday in lobito after spending the afternoon in luongo, a neighborhood of mud huts and cinderblock houses on a bluff looking over the start of the benguela railway in negrao (where we will catch the train to cubal on wednesday – the train only leaves on tuesdays, wednesdays and fridays.)
i got jimmy to the clinic at the port and he was seen by a russian doctor who felt his belly and said he had to get a blood test and come back the next day. he wasn’t allowed to eat until then. unfortunately we misunderstood and thought he had to come in for the test at three in the afternoon, while what the doctor meant was that he should get tested in the morning and bring the results to him at 3. so the night turned out to be long and amazing – like pretty much every night in its own way since we’ve been here.
filomena drove us in to lobito – i think because she felt responsible for his salmonella, seeing as she served us scrambled eggs in the morning and we’re pretty certain they were the culprits (i didn’t eat any and seem to be fine). she dropped us off. we convinced the lab techs to do the test even though they only do the blood tests in the morning. begging went a long way and they went ahead and drew blood – apparently jimmy has a real thing about needles… which tickled everyone in the lab to no end. filomena then picked us up and drove us off to her friend’s house who cooked for us and let jimmy sleep in their bed.
when we arrived, there was george, a cook for sonangol (angola’s state petroleum company) with one blind eye and a pot belly getting his hair braided into corn rows by alfonsa. alfonsa has been doing this since she was a little girl and is a real talent. george said i should have mine done, i agreed and took my seat when she finished with him. Her friend, Malouca, which means «crazy girl» (real name Bella) showed up after finishing school and hung out with us. I had set up the camera to film myself getting my hair braided so I could show my mom, and Malouca made a special effort to sit next to me so she was also in the shot.
filomena and jimmy went back to the hospital to get the test results and run them by the russian doctor while i was getting worked on by alfonsa. turns out the russian doctor left for benguela in the meanwhile and wasn’t there to go over the lab results. which sucked, of course, but according to everyone around the table, wasn’t particularly uncommon. so jimmy wrote to his friend woo, i called my dad and the others rang up some cuban doctors who lived in the neighborhood.
alfonsa finished my hair and she and malouca said there were some chinese guys who lived in the neighborhood and they would introduce me if i wanted. i said sure and headed off with them as jimmy waited for the cuban doctors to show up and read his blood results.
it turns out the chinese guys were filipinos from manila who were working in a motor repair shop and living together in the hood to save money. it was after work and they were all sitting around a table playing cards while one of them, benny, a bit older and more refined, came outside and talked with me. i tried to convince alfonsa that if she really wanted to study english, here was benny, who spoke perfectly and lived in her neighborhood. he could give lessons. she didn’t seem convinced. he was a lovely and soft man with long delicate fingers and quite a cultured way of holding himself. he talked about his daughter back home and his decision to come to africa to work for a couple of years. we talked about the balikbayan box that josephine dorado once told me about – the obligatory care-package box that the filipino diaspora has to send back to family in the philippines. benny thought it was hilarious that i knew what it was, but he assured me that the rules for the filipinos in africa were different from those in chicago or miami or barcelona. they didn’t have the box there. the mail service was too uncertain and besides, people back home didn’t covet the angolan knickknacks and name brands the way they did things from the united states or europe. so all he could send back was money. and that’s why the guys were there – to make money to send back home. i shot an interview with benny. not sure how good the sound was, but whenever i log it, i’ll see if i can post it somewhere. he was a lovely gentleman.
malouca went home and alfonsa and i walked back to the apartment. when we got there, the cubans had arrived. three doctors. one guy and two women. the man, carlos was easily covered with the most bling i have ever seen adorning a medical professional. he looked like a walking nativity scene crossed with Nelly’s Grillz. the other two doctors were visting from ganda and where definitely more subdued in dress. the white one, lacey was loud and joked that her name was lacey but that doesn’t mean she’s lazy ha ha ha, and maria, the other one was quiet and still, wearing a perpetual poker face. at any rate, they were good tropical doctors, knew that jimmy not only had salmonella but malaria as well and told us what drugs to take.
we finished our beers and roared out to the pharmacy – taking george with us. the lady of the house insisted by the time we left that she was my angolan mother, that she loved my hair, made her son, gil gil say hello to her new white son, gave me a kiss and sent us on our way. george it turns out is madly in love with a guy name ze and we were to drop him off at ze’s house. ze is white guy who lost his brother and father in the war who has dedicated himself to social projects in angola. he’s angolan, white and openly gay. he doesn’t have front teeth because one day someone rang his doorbell in the middle of the night and smashed him in the face when he opened the door. i’ll interview him tomorrow. george has known him since they were kids and loves him. calls him his lover. but they aren’t together. he just wishes. that’s what filomena says, anyway. they all know each other since they were kids. benguela is probably the most racially mixed placed we visited or will visit in angola. the portuguese made a strong stand there – as a matter of fact, benguela is home to the armazem de escravos – the largest slave warehouse in this part of africa.
from here, countless numbers of people were shackled and sent across the ocean to brazil and the caribbean (who eventually migrated up into north america or made their way back to africa as brazilians). this lovely pink building is one of the principle heads of the middle passage hydra that has shaped america, europe and africa for the past 500 years. now it’s an anthropological museum with an exhibit of the stages of man with the obligatory progression from ape to human in the lobby. the irony of it all is just overwhelming. and if you ask anyone on the beach what that building is or was, they say it’s a museum. and that’s that.
i guess the legacy of the structure was really all of us at filomena’s friend’s house, drinking beer, eating, having our hair done, getting medical treatments and talking about childhood loves. cubans, americans, europeans, half brazilians, africans who studied in europe, europeans who moved to africa and fought in it’s independence wars, the woman, teresa from the highplains who speaks umbundu better than portuguese, alfonsa and malouca from the neighborhood and the filipinos around the corner.
the whole night was wild for me because it reminded me powerfully of growing up in detroit and hanging out at murdice and jimmy’s house down the street whenever my parents were having problems or just wanted some time to themselves. the vibe was so similar – even if the language was different. it felt so unbelievably comfortable there that it made sense that she called me her son. it sort of felt like that. really. it was kind of amazing.
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