10 May 2009

Berlin - Just in the Nick of Time

When I first got to Angola, one of the volunteers I was replacing had some parting advice: plan trips at least every three months, because after that amount of time this place will drive you crazy. I heeded that advice, and so far time has proven the sagacity of those words.

The week before I went to Berlin was easily the lowpoint of my time in Angola, and I’m not sure it was a coincidence that the magic three months had passed since I had last been out of the country. No electricity and a busted generator meant no relief from the 90+ degree weather (I had to flee to a local guesthouse to get any work done). Hot, humid nights had me trading sweating for sleeping. We didn’t have any running water for 4 days, and when it came back it was so full of filth it was unusable for another whole day.

Hmmmm, suddenly I don't feel that dirty:

I had planned to spend the weekend in Luanda before flying out to Berlin on the weekly Monday night flight (Lufthansa flies to Angola a grand total of once per week). I was happy to escape the horrible conditions in Benguela but the feeling of relief ended rudely when I arrived in Luanda to a car service that had decided to flaunt its incompetence in grand fashion. Instead of being picked up at the airport when I arrived (and after arguing for an hour on the phone with a dispatch guy just as flummoxed as I was about why there was no car at the airport to pick me up), I decided to make the 30 minute walk with my luggage, carrying my suitcase on my head because the road was too muddy to roll it.

Try rolling your bag through this (the intersection nearest the Luanda apt):

All of our Angola training suggested this was a horrible idea – that I basically made myself a walking target. Unfortunately my temper had reached a boiling point and I must have really looked crazy, because everyone I passed quickly got out of my way. I arrived to the Luanda apartment setting a new personal sweat record, but was grateful that at least there was power and I could take a quick shower before going to a pub quiz being hosted by the British Embassy (I was running late, which was the motivation for my defiant walk). Little did I know at the time, that would be the last of the power in Luanda before my trip 3 days later. Another three days of bucket showers and uncomfortable nights (not only does the AC make it possible to sleep, it keeps the mosquitos under control) awaited me. You would think our organization could organize a working generator given the frequency of power outages, but you would be wrong.

I did receive some good news the Monday I was to leave though – I had scheduled a consultation with a recommended local dentist to see about a couple of fillings my dentist back home said I needed. After pulling new x-rays the local dentist didn’t see anything wrong (and was more than happy to let me see for myself), so I left relieved not to have to worry about getting dental work done in Angola (especially since one of those fillings had previously been determined to be a possible root canal). More good news game when I made it to the airport to check in. I was given a pass to the VIP lounge without asking (I hadn’t shaved in almost a week by this point due to the lack of water…I must have looked like I needed a break), and I quickly established myself next to a large air conditioning unit blasting 17 degrees C. Relief at last. I was finally smiling.

I entertained myself by downing the slightly-stale white bread sandwiches filled with questionable meat-like product, washing them down with a tonic water. I asked to take a look at the suggestion book I had noticed when I had entered, and was rewarded with entry after side-splitting entry. My favorites were an entry that included a drawing of a crying traveler (apparently the conditions of the lounge weren’t always as adequate as the day I was there) and another entry by a man claiming to have broken a bottle of Johnny Walker (and offering to replace it by leaving his number in a script that suggested he had enjoyed most of its contents anyway).

There, there...at least you were on your way out:

Are you this honest when you're sober?

I was in a better mood already, and slept like a baby on the redeye to Germany...

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