Well, made it to Huambo. Had to get to the airport in Luanda at 4am, which was painful experience in and of itself. The domestic airport is located down a dirt road…I though the driver had gotten lost because I couldn’t possibly believe this was the way to the capital city’s main domestic airport, but alas, I was wrong. The airport itself consists of one main room with various signs that people change manually indicating which flights are leaving and which are being checked-in. I got there very early so I had lots of time to watch as other flights loaded, and to figure out how it “works”. My favorite part was watching guys duct-tape peoples bags for a small fee—the Angolan version of getting your bag wrapped in Saran wrap.
After check-in we were shuffled through an immigration check point and then to a freezing cold waiting room…for 2 hours! Eventually, a door opened to the outside and there were busses waiting to take us to the plane. I flew on Sonair, which is owned by the nation’s oil companies and a conglomeration of various generals. I was told it is by far the safest airline for internal travel. The plane held about 50 people and looked like it was from 1980, but it was aerodynamic and I arrived in Huambo an hour and a half later in one piece.
The “airport” in Huambo is nothing more than a small one-story concrete building. You walk straight off the airplane, on the tarmac, to the “gate”. Once inside, I had to go through another immigration check-point and then to “baggage pick-up” where guys just handed me my luggage. (I put all of these words in “” because they are actually labeled that way, though I think it’s a bit of an exaggeration at times).
Huambo suffered very badly during the years of civil war from 1975-2002 and was the hold-out for Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA. In the 1990s, when it was thought peace might finally come to Angola, Savimbi backed out of the process and Huambo was held at siege for years—the city was essentially starved to death and within the city limits I’m told it was a pogrom, intellectuals and other who were suspected of ties to the government in Luanda were killed, others imprisioned. In essence, Huambo has been to hell and back.
My first impression of this place was how calm it is compared to Luanda. The climate is much cooler and the quality of air is much better. Under the Portuguese Huambo was known as Nova Lisboa, and the Portuguese government had intended to move the nation’s capital here. It was always known for being a very beautiful city. Some of that feeling has remained. The streets are very wide, the houses are large and the trees still bloom with bright orange and red flowers. There’s a lot of development in town—rebuilding houses etc—and shops have started to reopen.
I’m staying in the guest house of an NGO here called Development Workshop. Right after the war, when NGOs rushed in to help with the resettling of refugees that had fled the years of civil war. Huambo became one of the main posts for NGOs outside of Luanda. Today, most NGOs have left, deeming Angola to no longer be in need of their services (despite the fact that much of the nation still lies in ruins). DW and a handful of organization remain. But the presence of DW in Huambo is, I would venture to guess, the largest. It’s been in Huambo since the late 1980s and has a long term commitment to the area with its hands in virtually every sector from building and education to micro-finance and "re-education" for former soldiers. The guest house is simple but clean and very friendly.
So far, much of my time has been spent recovering from the trip and waiting around for my contacts to meet with me. I’m afraid today will also be spent doing work in my room. This week is basically a holiday week, so it’s hard to organize much to do. BUT tomorrow, which is national Peace Day, I will go with IECA, the Congregational church, to a meeting and “prayer” session with their youth groups. Then on Thursday…who knows. This weekend I’m supposed to finally visit Dondi mission station and then on Monday I go with IECA to a remote mission station called Bunjei and stay there for 3 nights. Then back to Huambo for couple of days before I return to Luanda and then Lisbon. Doing research here is, I’m afraid, a test of my patients…but what’s a girl to do?! Not much I’ve learned…