c6 angola project


south africans, russians and the vietnamese
October 6, 2009, 2:08 pm
Filed under: *Travel Diary

when jim was doubled over in pain, i took him to the port of lobito clinic.  a russian doctor checked him out and said he should get a blood test the next day.  afterwards we went to bar about 200 meters away and jim watched me eat a pizza.  at the next table was the russian doctor smoking cigarettes and drinking beer with three other white guys.  he told jim not to eat anything and went back to his conversation.

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turns out the guys at the table with him were south african. “from jo’burg”.  one of them was working in lobito for a year doing construction and counting the days until he could leave.  he said “mark my words, in the next ten years there will be a war between china and russia, mark my words.”  he said he was an avowed racist, that he had been carjacked at gun point in johannesburg and that if that had happened to us we would be racist too.  he had a strong afrikaans accent and a quite manly, mercenary way about him, but somehow i wasn’t sure if it was all just an act.  i never asked if he had fought in the war in angola, although i assume he had – i think nearly all white south african men of a certain age had fought in angola in the 70s.  then an old man came by and begged for some money.  the guy got up, went to the kitchen and bought him a full meal.  he said, “hey, i have a soft heart. we are fortunate. we have to help people if we can.”

his two friends had just arrived to lobito that night in a toyota 4×4 that they drove from zambia along the future tracks of the benguela railway, researching possible construction projects .  they said the roads were so bad that they often had to ride next to the road.  there are chinese companies working in the middle of nowhere all the way into zambia.  jim interviewed them while i spoke with manuel domingoes about being our guide and umbundo translator for our trip to kuito.

the night before in benguela, we went in search of chinese people.  a strange idea for a pursuit and even stranger when you try to put it into practice.  we ended up at the one chinese restaurant in town.  there were four enormous tables full of vietnamese people.  it turns out that there’s a huge vietnamese population in benguela and lobito and vietnamese all through the country.  they are mostly working in small stores in poorer neighborhoods. often motorcycle repair shops or photocopy or internet stores.  often when we asked angolans if there were any chinese people living in the musseques, they would usually say yes.  almost inevitably the people they were thinking about turned out to be vietnamese – all from Hanoi. 

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in the restaurant, we went over to one of the tables to say hi and immediately they made us sit down and started filling glasses full of whisky for us to down.  the guys at this table were workers.  the bosses were at the next table.  the bosses were the ones who got the bottle of whisky for them.  it quickly became apparent that the guys that were filling our glasses took a liking to us.  they kept saying how nice and white my skin was.  the next thing i know, they start inviting themselves over to my house to have a night of fun.  it just blew my mind to realize i we had landed in the middle of the gay vietnamese community in angola.  jim thought i should have led one of the guys on a bit more, but i couldn’t bring myself to do it, although he was really persistent, even following us outside.  there’s a crazy story there, just waiting to be told.

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the next day we met this young vietnamese woman who had a photocopy shop alongside the defunct tracks of the benguela railway along with her brother.  when we walked up to them, she was arm in arm with an elderly woman from cabo verde.  she kept saying, “this is my african mom” – the woman would laugh and say, that’s because we are both foreigners and then they’d hug each other.  jim tried to film the scene, but somehow, trying to be all stealthy about it, hit the power button and the camera was off.  i guess that’s one of the big beautiful touching fish that just got away…

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