Filed under: *Travel Diary
So Jim whispered that the white guys with the funny mustaches at the table next to me were speaking German. They were on my left side and I couldn’t quite hear them (I’m deaf on that side), but what I did hear didn’t sound like German. I had to cup my good ear like a satellite dish and after achieving good angle, I did indeed hear loud and clear the word “frechheit”. Yup. German.
“Sind Sie Deutsch?” Jim asked with his thick Dutch accent
“Nein, wir kommen aus Bayern” the one with the massive gray handlebar mustache replied.
Bavarians in Huambo.
And so began what was easily the most uncomfortable and unpleasant conversation I had with anyone the entire time I was in Angola.
It turns out that they had been living there for four years working for a company that’s building a brewery just outside of the city and had both developed a serious disdain for the country. “Why in the world would you be making a film here? What’s there to make a film about?” The moment I mentioned the Chinese reconstruction, they went off again about how awful their work is, that the roads are made and a year later are already falling apart. It’s not like if a German company were to do the work. Then you’d have great quality. By the end of the conversation, the one with the gray mustache conceded, “Yes, maybe it’s a pretty country, pretty landscapes, but ” he touched his forearm, cocked his head to the side and confided in me “just the wrong color.”
He had been living outside of Bavaria for twenty five years. All over the world. His last assignment before landing in Anogla was five years in Iraq. “Just doing beverages, not beer.” The other one, with the small black mustache had just driven 500 kilometers to arrive there that afternoon for a drink. He said that there are rumors that some of the Chinese companies have use convicts from china to work on the railway and other construction projects in return for a reduced sentence. He was coy about where he got the information from, but apparently from high-up sources in the Angolan government. Both of them waved there hands and said, but you didn’t hear it from us. I turned and asked Paulo if he had heard of this and he said, oh yeah yeah, some of the Angolan guys working with the Chinese talk about this. They say that some of them are prisoners. But he didn’t know if these were just rumors.
Over the time we were there, we weren’t able to find out any conclusive information about the rumor, but it seemed to be pretty wide spread (There are some planned studies by the University of Johannesburg, though) . Yolanda, the translator we met in our neighborhood in Huambo, was very adamant that this made no sense. As she saw it, it was important for the companies working in Angola to have good workers, and if there prisoners on the work crews, then the bosses would only have problems and this would be counter productive.
I can’t speak to it one way of the other, but we did see a Chinese telecommunications company working on the side of the road between Huambo and Kuito digging ditches. There were two Chinese bosses and a whole crew of local guys working from the small towns along the road. They told us that they were getting paid 400 kwanzaas a day for their work. Which comes out to a bit over four dollars a day. One of the guys had been in the siege on Kuito and had a bullet wound in his head. Well, two really. He showed me where the bullet had entered and where it exited, then put his hat back on and continued to shovel red earth into the ditch.
Talking to the Bavarians, I couldn’t help thinking about a conversation I had had with a friend and colleague from Berlin about five years ago in which he told me that compared to the English and French, the German colonial story had been for the most part short and benevolent, that the Germans were, relatively speaking, good colonizers. I remember telling him at the time that I seriously doubted he was right and went and did some research – particularly into the story of the Germans in what is now Namibia (as well as parts of Botswana and southern Angola). When I was talking to the Bavarian, I kept looking at his mustache and it reminded me of something that i couldn’t quite place. It wasn’t until later that I realized it was from my research trying disprove my friend years back. The Bavarian’s mustache reminded me the ubiquitous image of Lothar von Trotha, commander of the Prussian army in “German South West Africa” who 1904 issued the infamous Vernichtungsbehl (extermination order) leading to the massacres of the Herero and later Nama peoples”- wiping out between 50% and 80% of their populations.
In 1905, von Trotha issued this statement to the Nama tribes: “The Nama who chooses not to surrender and lets himself be seen in the German area will be shot, until all are exterminated. Those who, at the start of the rebellion, committed murder against whites or have commanded that whites be murdered have, by law, forfeited their lives. As for the few not defeated, it will fare with them as it fared with the Herero, who in their blindness also believed that they could make successful war against the powerful German Emperor and the great German people. I ask you, where are the Herero today?” These massacres are often referred to as the first Genocides of the 21st century.
The brewer’s words kept ringing in my head, “Beautiful country, but wrong color”
Just some trivia:
– Over half of all German breweries are in Bavaria and as a matter of fact the “German beer purity law”is often referred to as the “Bavarian Purity Law”in English and states that the only ingredients permitted in the production of beer are water, barley and hops (with subsequent provisions allowing for yeast and sugar).
– Article from the Daily Mail about current Diamonds Situation and German history in Namibia.
– Blog Article about German investors’ current interests in moving into Angola.
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