Day One

And no, before you get all jittery, I am NOT going to title every entry “Day One, Day Two”, but today is, when all’s said and done, Day One of a big change in our lives so it deserves highlighting.

After landing at the crack of dawn the first order of business was to go to bed, which we did — and rather well I thought. Then this afternoon an embassy colleague took us out into town for our first supermarket shop. Three hours and £260/$400 later we returned with about three days’ worth of food and some booze. Did I tell you things are expensive here?

Angola is developing fast but it’s still recovering from years of civil war, and widespread crime and corruption remain. We are told not to wear expensive watches, cameras etc. in town, and to keep wealth well hidden (I don’t consider myself wealthy but compared to the average Luandan I’m loaded). It’s made more difficult then, when you discover that they don’t ‘do’ plastic payment here either. Combine very, very high prices with a lack of electronic payments infrastructure and you have a need to carry large amounts of cash around a place where you’re distinctly told not to carry large amounts of cash.

I took $1000 to the supermarket where I immediately had to change it for the local currency: the Kwanza. I got a rate of 93 Kwanzas to the dollar so walked into the market with 93,000 Kwanzas making a large bulge in my jeans pocket. We wandered the aisles with our trolley, much as everyone does, and for what we bought I reckon we spent approximately three times as much as we’d have spent on the same goods in the UK. Some items were around the same price and some were seven or eight times more expensive. I’ve never paid £6 for a small jar of Marmite before.

On the way there and back we got our first taste of Luanda traffic: bad roads, minimal markings, hot and dusty and way too many cars and bikes for the road space made for a drive that was pretty stressful for me sat in the passenger seat, although our driver seemed to take it all in his stride. You can expect more, much more on Luanda traffic in later posts.

When we got back we were shown around the embassy complex, complete with pool, bar, squash court and gym. I’m looking forward to visiting the bar again soon.

As I mentioned before we had an existing internet feed to the house so got back online almost immediately, and we even have our satellite TV working too, having paid another $250 for the first three months’ subscription.

So, all things considered we’ve made a pretty good start. We’re safe, comfortable, we’ve just had a home-cooked dinner and we’ve got the web and 200 channels of crap TV to keep us entertained.  Just like being at home.


About Chris Neal

Personal Technology Consultant. Tailored services and advice for people who want more from their technology.
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4 Responses to Day One

  1. Joe Lima says:

    When are you getting your driver’s license? Too bad all of the reality TV shows like American Idol are not on. What will you watch?

    • Chris Neal says:

      @Joe no car for another couple of weeks, and getting the licence will probably take a few weeks longer. I’m in no hurry though — have you seen the traffic here??

      On TV we still have the final stages of The World Cup, and re-runs of House, Monk, Psych and other US one-word series. Then there’s always Big Brother Nigeria.

  2. Joe Lima says:

    Nope, I have never seen the traffic as I have not been to Angola. Perhaps you could post a picture or two. Maybe a video. And you are still watching the World Cup? Big Brother Nigeria must be a hoot!


    ps. how do you say goodbye in the local language?

  3. C. Holmberg says:

    An article in the 2/12/2011 Economist regarding the Angolan economy eventually led me to your site for an expat view. As best as I can tell, the cash economy hasn’t changed as of early 2011, and I wonder why something like mobile-based M-Pesa microbanking hasn’t taken root. Perhaps Movicel and Unitel are making so much money on existing services, it hasn’t been worth their while.

    The description of the traffic situation takes me back – ‘waaaay back – to Iran of the late ’70s. It’d be fascinating to compare the two first hand.

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