Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Angolan blackouts

Apologies for the considerable lack of blogging; having spent most of August in Angola, I've been mulling, musing and meandering over how to express my experiences in a way people can appreciate.

The problem I have with trying to summarize my Angolan trip is that while explaining how I perceived Angola, I might in haste fall into making generalizations about the people or country. Generalizations are my number one pet peeve (ask anyone who knows me); so, I'm going to record one observation I made which I think (hope) will give you a small view of how Angola differs from Canada.

Almost every day in Angola, there would be at least one blackout. The anticipation amongst locals was for the power to go off in the evening, usually between six and seven PM. It would happen suddenly and without warning; if I was at work on a computer which didn't have its own generator, I would lose whatever I was working on. Although the power usually went out in the evening, it sometimes went out during the day as well, all because of work being done on the nearby dam, work (and thus blackouts) expected to continue for two more years. The places I frequented had fuel-burning generators to supplement the city power, so power could always be restored; power outages primarily delayed people, more than inconvenienced.

The way locals dealt with the power outages typlified the attitude I often saw toward problems - what you might call a "laid back" attitude. It seemed to me that over time, people had become accustomed to the frequent power losses so they didn't grow upset at it. I couldn't imagine my co-workers in Calgary managing multiple power losses per day every day anywhere near as gracefully. I certainly don't like giving up control over my situation, but after a few days of power outages I had to let go of my expectations and work as hard as I could with the resources I had while I had them.

So, that was life in Angola - problems were always arising, some of them anticipated and familiar. It seemed to me that people made the most of their situation; when a blackout hit on my last full day in Angola, just as I was preparing to teach my students how to perform some work which we needed light to accomplish, we were left counting the minutes until I would have to leave, hoping the generator would kick in before my time expired. And yet, I didn't feel the stress of the situation because it turned out to be an opportunity to chat with my students and learn more about them. They quizzed me about my reactions to Angola, they asked about Calgary (and after hearing how much snowfall we receive suggested I remain in Angola) and I made some careful remarks about politics. I'm grateful to that last blackout because it enhanced my rapport to the students. That's one way I think of Angola and I brought back a candlestick to remind me.


Miguel Rosa said...

Oh, I doubt you can say anything about Angola more offensive than what its inhabitants already say. I have a friend from Angola and she positively detests her country, exactly because of the blackouts and many other things, like the corruption and the disparity between the rich and the poor.

Did you have any chance to read Pepetela? He's a brilliant novelist.

Michael Hoskin said...

I haven't ready any Pepetela; from what I've gleaned about him, I don't know how I might find his work - his early material praising the state would be difficult for me to bear.

One curious thing I noted is how urban living is *so* much more desperate than rural. People who labour on farms seem to be much better off than the typical city-dweller.

Miguel Rosa said...

"I haven't ready any Pepetela; from what I've gleaned about him, I don't know how I might find his work - his early material praising the state would be difficult for me to bear."

Admittedly, I'm not the Pepetela expert I wish I were, but I've always known him as someone critical of post-independent Angolan society. I've read one of his earliest books, based on his guerrilla experiences, and it was interesting because it criticised the racism within the independentist army (Pepetela is a white Angolan) and the corruption already latent in the higher ranks.