21 January 2009

Back in Luanda: What? You Wanted Water?

After more than two weeks in South Africa enjoying afforable meals and hot showers, I was dragging my feet a little on the return trip to Angola. It’s only a three hour flight from Johannesburg to Luanda, but it takes some mental work to prepare for the change in lifestyle that awaits.

Like the calm before the storm, the first couple of days back were surprisingly comfortable. The power was on, the water was flowing, and I had the apartment to myself since I was the first one to return. That situation lasted about two days, and as Murphy’s Law would have it the power went out the day another colleague arrived. Not having power woudn’t be so bad if it didn't also translate into us not having any running water. This occurs because our water tank is underground and we need power to pump it up into our second-floor apartment. You might be wondering why we don’t have a water tank on the roof so we could just let gravity do the work, but then you’d be applying logic, and such activity will quickly lead to insanity in Angola (so it’s best avoided).

Knowing this, we have large plastic trash cans that we fill with water on days when we have power so that we can continue to bathe (using buckets), wash the dishes, and flush the toilets on the days when we don’t have power/water.

Diversion #1
Did you know you can flush a toilet just by pouring water into the basin? I had no idea this was possible but it makes perfect sense – that’s all that’s happening anyway when you flush. Living in Angola is definitely good for learning how things work – because often they don’t and the backup plan requires this knowledge. It’s sort of like learning how to do long division by hand after getting used to calculators. It’s possible, but you just didn’t have to think about it before.

Anyway the power came back on after 10 hot hours and just in time for me to log into the internet and follow the Oklahoma/Florida football game.

Diversion #2
For once I wish the power had stayed off and allowed me to avoid the agony of watching another chance at a national title go down the drain. Seriously, what’s up with OU losing so many title games recently…get it together already!! Boomer Sooner.

We enjoyed power and water for the weekend, but the situation reached absurd levels the first full week of work. Although we had some power, the fuse that controls the water pump (and all of the outlets except for one, which meant we had to take turns charging our computers and phones) went out and replacing it took four days (apparently the part was hard to locate). Our reserve water was gone after a day (there were three of us in the apartment by this point, with three people’s dishes to wash, and three people’s business to manually flush) and by day 2 we were all pretty much miserable.

Our office’s solution was to bring extra drinking water tanks (we have a water cooler in the apartment) so that we could bathe in the drinking water. Although we used this water to flush toilets and wash our hands, etc., using it to bathe seemed like such a waste that we opted to use the showers at the gym in the morning instead. Our stubborn driver didn’t like this plan since it involved him spending an extra 30 minutes waiting on us, so this solution required some negotiation. It’s possible that our collective body odor won that argument...

The power eventually returned the day I traveled to Benguela (after a week’s delay processing some work documents that I needed for domestic travel, but that’s another story altogether) and I was able to take a cold shower. Relief at last!

Meanwhile the conversation about getting a new generator continues, and it’s the same conversation we’ve been having since we arrived in September. As it turns out acquiring the generator is only half the battle – the door to the shack where the generator goes has been ripped off and there’s a family living in the vacant space. Now we have to evict the squatters, weld a new door in place, install four locks (this was the office’s idea), and hire a guard to watch it 24 hours a day. The same guard needs to watch the access to our underground tank – before the holidays someone broke the lock to that and started bathing in our water, but that’s another story yet again. Nothing is easy here…

The front entrance to our palace in Luanda (the Range Rover, sadly, is not ours):

1 comment:

Horacio said...

darling - you need to befriend the range rover-owning folks - i'm sure they would be glad to lend you a hot shower every once in a while.