Saturday, June 25, 2011

Luanda: The Most Expensive City in the World

Before arriving in Luanda, we were warned that it is the most expensive city in the World. That´s right, the capital of the country with the worst infant mortality rate is the most expensive place in the world to live.

We researched it and found numerous articles on the topic, mostly stories of foreign journalists who found themselves in overpriced hotels rooms, unable to speak the language or go anywhere without paying a lot of money because there are no cruising taxis in Luanda. I knew instinctively that these stories were incomplete.

I have posted two photo-essays for you to compare. One is the supermarket where we shop, Martal, and the other is a supermarket built for French oil workers, the Palanca. The two stores are one block apart, and worlds away from each other in terms of prices. I´m sure if we ventured to the food markets on the edge of the city, we could pay even less for our food.

I don´t deny Luanda is ridiculously expensive. Tyree and I can´t go out to eat at a restaurant without spending at least $50. Even when we share a plate, we can´t avoid paying $3.50 for a coca cola or $25 for a simple pizza. But when we cook for ourselves, we routinely eat for less than $4 a plate. You can buy a coke from a gas station for just $1.

Real estate is what is truly expensive. A one-bedroom apartment like ours could cost anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000 per month. Our power goes out at least three times a week and we have no hot water. I´m not complaining, I´m just letting you know what you get for your money. Not a lot. A house might cost anywhere from $20,000 and onward - per month. Not a mansion, just a two-story row house with space to park you car.

Oil and gas, however, are cheaper than elsewhere. One litre of gas costs 60 cents. That means a gallon of gas currently costs around $2.75, while prices in the U.S. are between $3 and $4. While hiring a taxi will cost $20 or more, taking a candongueiro is roughly $1 to $2 per trip.

I can´t say I completely understand the economics, but Africa is not cheap. When I lived in Mozambique, I had to watch my money carefully. Eating out, staying in hotels, buying new clothes were all expensive luxuries. But, when I lived in my own home, bought my food at the market, camped or stayed in hostels when traveling and bought used clothes, I was able to make it on what Peace Corps gave me.

That would be impossible here in Luanda. The prices here are high because the oil and diamond industries distort the value of everything. But also, the Government seems to have a vision of Luanda as a place for the very wealthy and as no place for the poor. I´ve never even seen a used clothing market here. The Government has destroyed the Rocha Pinto and Kinaxixi Markets in the city center. An enclosed shopping center is being constructed in Kinaxixi´s place and the women that used to sell produce there now walk up and down the streets with baskets on their heads, trying to sell their goods without getting caught by the police. Candongueiros are routinely harassed by the police even though they pay for permits. The economy that poor Angolans participate in is essentially considered illegal by the Government. This, to me, is more outrageous than anything else.

Yes, it is expensive. It is expensive even for Angolans. But if you want to live like you are still in Europe, then you are going to pay for it. You can eat as if you lived in France, but you´re going to pay for it as if you lived in Switzerland. But the inflation is especially a problem for Angolans, who can´t just go home to somewhere else.

Related Articles:

The Economist: Eye-wateringly Expensive
Vanity Fair: Luanda on a New York Budget

Related Links:

The Palanca Supermarket

Supermercado Martal

Palanca Supermarket

Below an apartment building for the employees of a French oil company, there is a small supermarket. The prices at this store support Luanda´s reputation as the most expensive city in the world. But be sure to look at the previous post about Supermercado Martal, which is just one block away, which proves that people only pay these prices if they are unwilling to shop with the rest of the public.

It´s true that there are a few things available at this store (where most products have been imported from France or South Africa) that are not available elsewhere. I have found very good yeast here and if I wanted to pay for it, the meat and cheese are very good quality. But I don´t want to pay these prices. We´ve only been here twice and the second time was just to take pictures so that people would believe us when we said a package of 8 Old El Paso tortillas and a spice pack really do cost 45.50 USD. See below, all prices are quoted in USD.

Of course, there is a large and varied wine and alcohol selection. The prices in this are weren´t so bad. But just wait...

Brazilian Coffee: $25.30

U.S. Tea: $13.90 for 28 bags

French Flour: $12.15

Portuguese Olive Oil: $13.90

Special K Cereal: $30.10

Old El Paso Burrito Kit for 8: $45.50

Related Links:

Supermercado Martal
The Most Expensive City in the World

Supermercado Martal

When we were home a few weeks ago, many people wanted to know what we eat and they wanted to know where we bought our food. We usually cook for ourselves, and we eat out maybe one to three times a week. We do most of our shopping at Martal, which is about a ten minute walk from our house.

As Luanda is often called the most expensive city in the world, I thought it would be interesting to show you the prices we pay at Martal. They are shockingly normal. The only thing outrageous I saw was the price of the strawberries. This post will be contrasted with a future post on another supermarket which does live up to Luanda´s reputation. Stay tuned.

The national currency here is the kwanza. Right now the official exchange rate is about 95 kwanzas to one dollar, but if you change your money with the ladies on the street (which everyone does) you can get 100 kwanzas per dollar. 200 kwanzas is about 2 dollars. So, when you look at the prices of the items I am showing, just divide by 100 to get the price in dollars.

*The quality of the photos is a little fuzzy because I was really discreet while taking the pictures. We shop here all the time, so I didn´t want to annoy the owners.

Normally, there are more ladies selling produce in front of the store. Their prices are higher than inside the store, but they often have better quality and more variety.

The chocolate selection is good this week. But tend to stock up in the times of plenty, because there can be weeks without a new shipment.

Angolan Coffee: 375.40 kwanzas

Angolan Milk: 189 kwanzas

Flour: 189 kwanzas

Portuguese Olive Oil: 584 kwanzas

Argentinian Wine: 759 kwanzas

Strawerries: 998 kwanzas
(So, a small box of strawberries costs more than a bottle of imported wine!)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Beyoncé and Mozambique: Run the World (Girls)

Here is Beyoncé´s video for her new song, «Run the World (Girls)». Some friends alerted me to the fact that the two men dancing with her in the first routine are Mozambican. The video below shows their group Tofo Tofo dancing a similar choreography. Apparently Beyoncé had them come to L.A. to teach her the steps and to film with her. That´s really exciting! It´s great to see Mozambique being represented on the world stage. The video below is really fun and definitely worth a look.

As for Beyoncé´s video, I wasn´t so impressed. There is subtle African imagery, but it´s very hard to say where she thinks this dance off is taking place. The dancing and the hyenas hint that it is somewhere in Africa, but no specific country. The hyenas remind me of photographs of the Hyena Men in Nigeria by Pieter Hugo, which I had seen online a few years ago. Except, Beyoncé, as she is holding the hyenas in chains, also looks like she is in a fashion shoot. More about that later.

At some point she is standing in front of a street sign with the names Tbilisi and Tschinvali, and some other words in another alphabet. A quick google search shows these are not places in Africa but in Russia and Georgia. Maybe the sign is meaningless, maybe the video is supposed to be in nowhere land.

I like Beyoncé, I really do. I think she´s an amazing singer, a profoundly talented dancer. But she has this habit of making her songs seems deeper than they really are. I noticed this with «Upgrade U». It has a great beat, is fun to dance to, and the message seems like it could be a good one - a great woman can make a man a better man. She sings:

«I could do for you what Martin did for the people,
Ran by the man but the women keep the tempo...»

But she follows that with a list of fashion labels that will actually upgrade the man. Audemars Piguet, Hermès, Cartier. Please. Why call on the image of Martin Luther King Jr. if you are only going dig that kind of shallow grave for your song?

The same with «Girls». She sings:

«Smart enough to bear children then get back to business...»

But then why is there no imagery of motherhood or even of professionalism? There is only the imagery of militant strippers. Not that strippers aren´t powerful, not that sexuality isn´t power. But is that really what she wants to say when she says Girls run the World? We run it with our sexuality? We run it with our minds, our hearts, our fertility, our intelligence too.

There are scenes of women, completely still in their poses. This makes the whole video seem like one big photo shoot for Vogue. But fashion is not female empowerment. It is also not empowerment for most Africans. The fashion industry has been scaling up the amount of appropriation of African prints and styles, without increasing the number black models allowed to walk down the catwalks. If Beyoncé really wants to do something for women (and for Africans), she should demand that the fashion labels that pay her for endorsement start hiring more models of color.

I just don´t buy it that Beyoncé is a feminist. This is not a feminist song, or video. And that´s shame.

Museu Nacional da Escravatura

The Slavery Museum is on the way to the beach. People use it as a landmark to calculate their way to Cabo Ledo. In fact, when we took a tour of it, we were waiting for friends to catch up with us on the way back from a weekend trip.

It is a small, picturesque building on a hill, overlooking the water, south of Luanda. It looks like a little chapel, because that´s what it is rumored to have been: a chapel where slaves were baptized before being placed on ships to cross the Atlantic.

There isn´t much inside. A few carvings, a few drawings. A view of the water. I saw a coin that was apparently used to identify the slave who carried it. It was from Charleston, South Carolina. Both Tyree and I have family from Charleston, and it was strange seeing such an item here, in Angola. But, this is where many slaves came from and Charleston was the destination for many. Many African-Americans must have roots here, as well as in West Africa.

It is a strange little museum. It is so understated. Just a landmark on the way to the beach. It makes me wonder what Angolans think of the slave trade, what impact they might feel it has on their lives today, if any. I wonder what it must mean, across the ocean, to their descendants in Brazil, the Caribbean, the United States.

Related Post:


Lubango: A Cidade Velha

Guest Photographer: Akisha Pearman

My friend and fellow RPCV from Mozambique took these amazing pictures in Lubango, Huíla province, where she is an English Fellow, teaching Angolan English teachers how to be awesome. I was excited when she first posted these pictures because I can see she is also interested in these old buildings scattered across Angola, and Mozambique. They demand that you think of the past. She printed vintage pictures of her city and contrasted them with the present day. These buildings and parks seem better taken care of than the ones here in Luanda. Just look at my post on Penguin Park. I hope I get to visit her in Lubango sometime soon!

Arco Iris Theatre in the 1970´s

A Primary School

The old Liceu Diogo Cão, now called the Escola Secundária de Mandume

Parque da Senhora do Montes

Related Posts:

Parque dos Pinguins
Hotel Grande

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rio Langa

A few weeks ago, we took a trip to Rio Langa with some friends. The lodge is just a few hours south of Luanda. It is on a little island where the Rio Langa meets the Atlantic Ocean. You can take a kayak around the island or just across the river to the beach. You have to take a twenty minute boat ride to reach the lodge. We saw a few crocodiles and lots of birds.

The wind and the light made this mosquito net look like a ghost!

Can you see the crocodile?