The Embassy compound is built on the side of a steep hill, with the Embassy building and main gate at the top and the houses, including ours, near the bottom. The only things below our house are the back gate and car park.
There is a large french window in our lounge that opens onto a balcony, and from there I look out to the street that runs along the back of the compound. It’s not a particularly attractive view but it’s all I’ve got, and like all of Luanda it’s bustling and full of life. Whenever I need a break from working at my computer I get up to stretch my legs and walk over to the balcony to see what’s going on in this tableau:
The yard you see in the foreground is not part of the Embassy but what appears to be a maintenance depot next door to our car park. There is a uniformed security guard on duty all the time, and when not sleeping in a chair his job is to slide the gate open to let vehicles in and out, and make sure nothing gets stolen.
"Halt! Who Goes There?"
Just to the right of the gate are some oil drums serving as rubbish bins, and behind these — just below that dark stain — is a hole in the ground that… well, I’m sure you can guess. I’m becoming an unwilling expert in the toilet habits of the yard workers.
Where's the loo roll holder?
Across the road is an ever-changing scene that holds some mystery for me: See that wooden lean-to?
Looks like just an abandoned corner doesn’t it? But in the middle of the afternoon that dishevelled alcove transforms into a corner shop selling mostly haircare products and plastic footballs — from what I can make out at this distance.
That little shed is either completely empty and ignored by passers-by, or heavily laden with merchandise and attracting a crowd, depending on what time of day it is. Who is the shopkeeper and what does she do in the mornings? What time does it close at night? (I’ve never noticed). And why does she not show up at all on some days? I want to know.
To the right of the “shop” is an alleyway leading back to other ramshackle buildings behind. Where does it lead, and what is the building at the back? I can tell you it’s booze-related; your first clue being the crates of beer against the wall, and through binoculars I’ve been able to make out three bottles of Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky on a high shelf inside (they’re good binoculars).
At the start of the alley, on the other side from the “shop” is a small wooden table. I haven’t captured this picture yet but each morning that becomes a streetside food stall, with snacks cooked fresh on a portable skillet. I don’t know what the snack is exactly but there are always several trays of eggs stacked on the table. I’m beginning to wish I had a picture now. The Big Questions is… is the skillet cooking woman also the shop woman? Has she “cornered” this particular market I wonder? You never see both businesses operating at the same time… I’m going to have to check.
The final element that keeps me interested and entertained is the orange-coloured structure to the right of the alley. I have no idea what this is. There’s not much to see from the outside, and although the windows on the upper floor are all blacked out the one in the middle is nearly always open, and I can sometimes make out a few details in the gloom within (this room is never lit). I have been able to make out the top of the staircase leading down to the ground floor, and a couple of times I’ve seen washing hanging up to dry. Most often though there are people leaning out of the open window and either just watching the world go by or talking to people on the pavement below. There’s usually just one, occasionally joined by a child, but it’s not always the same one.
I’ve seen the iron grille over the front door swing open a couple of times, and once saw a man standing in the open doorway, chatting to a friend on the street. Beyond that, no clue. It could be someone’s house, it could be a business of some kind, it could just be an empty place that the locals use for whatever.
This scene, with its coming and going of vehicles, urinating workers, part-time shops, gloomy liquor store, occasional barbecue and mystery building keep me entertained whenever I feel like taking a break from work. And that seems to happen more frequently these days.