Filed under: *Travel Diary
Early one evening In Huambo, right after the first torrential downpour of the rainy season, we set out to find Chinese people living in the city. Rumors had it that there were people living in the neighborhoods and not only sequestered away in work compounds. We were interested in finding the points of contact between Angolans and Chinese. People being people, we figured it was inevitable that they intermingle – eat together, hang out together, fall in love, go dancing, play music and sing together at parties, go to each other’s weddings, take care of one another’s family members, betray each other, squabble and get into tiffs, give each other the silent treatment, make up and go for walks after work.
Each rumor that we followed about Chinese living in the musseques turned out to be Vietnamese people running photocopy shops or motorcycle repair shops where they also lived. Not Chinese.
We went up to our next door neighbor and asked if he knew of a Chinese restaurant in town. We figured that could be a first step and from there we’d see. He said no, but maybe they knew and pointed behind us to a group of Chinese people walking down the street. I couldn’t believe it.
I went up to the group and a couple of them spoke Portuguese. The didn’t know of any Chinese restaurants, but they lived right around the corner and invited us to their home, which turned out to be a stone’s throw from where we were staying. They all worked for a construction company currently building a school in the city. They were technicians, translators, secretaries and management. They lived separate from the work crew who were housed in tents and temporary barracks right on the building site. This group shared a two story house in our neighborhood with a security guard, generator and an 8000 liter water tank on the front lawn.
It was Yolanda, the translator and secretary who took the greatest interest in us. She spoke perfect English and clearly enjoyed being about to use it. The first floor of the house is an office space with a set of tables covered with computers, electronic gadgets, printers and stacks of papers. On the Walls were building plans, a map of Angola with Chinese characters and the obligatory map of China. In the corner was an electric guitar.
Yolanda brought us all bottles of spring water that they had imported from China and invited us into the kitchen where the cook laid out some chicken, meat and sticky buns he had made earlier for the crew. He boiled water for some tea and we sat down with him and Yolanda.
She arrived to Angola about six months before and was finally over the first big hump of home sickness. She just finished the University and decided that she wanted to see things in the world and got this job with the construction company to come to Angola. This was the first time she was out of China. Many of the workers on the construction site, she said, worked for the company back in China and were assigned to Africa for what was usually a two year contract – like hers. She said she had a couple of Angolan friends who she went out with occasionally. They were well educated and usually they spoke English together. Often, when she had a free moment she would go and walk around the main square in town – which actually was a rotunda with a big monument in the middle. Otherwise she was out at the building site. At night it was forbidden for her to leave the house without accompaniment. Usually the cook or the driver or maybe one of the other male co-workers.
Sonia, from Okutiuka – an orphanage currently housing 52 kids on the edge of a musseque – invited us to come see the kids present a dance performance they had prepared. We invited Yolanda to come and said we could pick her up the next day whenever we heard back from Sonia. We put down our chop sticks, thanked the cook and headed out past the rest of the group who had settled down to play a game of mahjong on a card table in the hallway.
Sonia ended up not making it back until really late. She had gone out to Benguela a couple days before. On the way back, she got a late start and was caught in some rains on a bad road. That said, we picked up Yolanda and the cook and headed out to Okutiuka anyway, just in case we’d catch them, which we didn’t. But I think Yolanda was infected by the sense of adventure and was turned on by getting to see something new – to have this grittier experience of Angola. It was clear that orphaned kids moved her and she felt like their company needed to do something more than just build and profit. She had spoken with her boss about possibly branching out into other areas of aide work. But even more, I think on a personal level, she had come to Africa because she wanted to meet people, put herself into new situations and explore. The company seemed to have a pretty tight hold on her mobility and most of the people she had met were basically from a privileged class. This was something new and exciting for her and something she was drawn to.
The next night we returned to Okutiuka because a young guy we had met at the Novo Imperial cafe (Wilkin) was a Death Metal musician who arranged to get an amplifier from a friend and hold an impromptu concert in the courtyard of the orphanage. It was unbelievable and surreal and moving. We called up Yolanda and invited her. She came out with their driver in a big old SUV and we went back to Okutiuka.
Wilkin plugged the amplifier in and brought it out into the courtyard. We asked the driver if he could light Wilkin with the headlights of the SUV. And then came the Death Metal concert. All the kids came out and watched. It was amazing. Eventually some of them brought out drums as well and played along. It was surreal. At the end of it all, Yolanda started up conversations with the kids, who just loved her. She taught them some words in Mandarin and they talked about where she was from and what she was doing and she asked about them, and there it was – Yolanda in Angola.
the driver and i exchanged some currency – his hobby it seemed. i gave him five canadian dollars i happened to have in my pocket for some yuan
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