WELCOME TO LUANDA

I just couldn’t believe my eyes. A box of quail eggs only KZ 270? That’s only US$ 3? There must be a catch. Then I looked at the expiry date and they’d expire the day after. Yay, they’re still edible. So, I grabbed them and cooked them for dinner.

In the two year plus I lived here, that was the first time they had quail eggs on promotion (meaning that they’d expire most probably the day after). Usually, us ladies, would go to the store, stare at those boxes and make excuses on why we shouldn’t purchase them. From the high cholesterol to “my kids don’t like them” excuse. But we knew what stopped us from grabbing those little birdie eggs. There’s no way on earth we’re paying US$ 25 for 12 miniscule eggs.

There are many things that I can’t get out of though. Being Indonesian, gingers are like onions to me. I just have to have them in my kitchen. Though my heart bleeds seeing the US$ 12/kg price tag, they’re always in my cart. Just like the US$ 11 loaf of bread, US$ 40/kg meat and US$ 3/mini carton of my daughter’s strawberry milk.

When my husband’s company first informed us that he’d be transferred here, we asked the same question. Luanda – Angola? Where’s that? It was there on Google Earth, but there was very limited information online. All that was emphasized that everything was expensive here.

Now that we’re actually living here, there are more to Luanda than just being “The Most Expensive City for Expatriates 2010” (Mercer). The city is just so vibrant that it’s really hard to describe. The million-dollar question that people often ask me is, “What city in Indonesia it most resembles of?”

Luanda is the capital city of Angola and it’s the home for almost one third (though the precise number is always a moving target) of the country population. This Portuguese speaking country is one of the highest oil producers in Africa and with Angolan Civil War just ended in 2002, the development of this country is really in high speed mode. New buildings pop up everyday, old trees chopped down and replaced by Miami grown palm trees, sea reclamation project. It’s truly like playing Civilization II in fast forward. And just like any other (high speed) developing country, the gap between the rich and the poor is still very wide. Luxurious apartments and old wrecked buildings with cloth lines hanging out from the window are standing side by side. With the kind of traffic here sometimes I wonder what’s the point of having those latest Cayenne, Porsche or Hummer going around the city, if you cannot even go beyond third gear.

Then why we decided to extend our 4th year here? The money for one, but once you get to know the country, the city and the people, it’s pretty okay. Sound as cliché as it might, but it’s all “in your head”. Where else can you see driving school cars with two steering wheels? Or people cheering and clapping their hands whenever the plane safely lands? I thought at first, having a plane landed safely was a rare occasion in the country, but then I was told it was the passengers’ way to say thank you to the pilot. Not to mention the absolutely gorgeous (empty and pristine white sand) beaches only within an hour drive? Just make sure you pack up the car with enough cold drinks though, as there’s always patrols that just want to check your paper, your Portuguese comprehension or simply your guts.

Once a friend told me, “If you want to feel like home then stay at home”. If you’re up to be an expat (especially in countries “deemed difficult”), having an open mind is your biggest capital. Here, the smallest things get me psyched. Like finding a certain kid magazine for USD 6. Or when once every blue moon, they’re selling Indomie (for USD 5 a pack) in the local stores. A Scottish friend of mine once called me and literally screaming on the phone, “You’ll not believe what I found, it’s Heinz’s Baked Beans. Yea, it’s three times the price, but finally normal familiar baked beans”.

If you’re a big fan of fruits, there’s no lack of them here. Pineapples are always in season, and they’re huge in size. The mangoes are red and sweet. Everybody will have home made maracuja-mousse for dessert when passion fruits in season.

Jakarta may have sale season all the time, but here we have whale season for about 6 weeks in August-September. Just take one hour boat ride off the shore, then wait, and the next thing you know you’ll be surrounded by families of humpbacks making the giggly noises, flipping through the water, swimming under your boat.

I still cannot answer the million-dollar question though. I truly believe that there’s no place like this. You can find anything here, though they come with hefty price tags. And as for the quail eggs, three of them were already bad (they did not sink in my water bowl), but it was one of the best dinners ever served on our table.

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10 thoughts on “WELCOME TO LUANDA

  1. Henny says:

    Well…I like the opening “I am an illegal Alien, fitting in is overrated” perfect! Luanda is damn expensive. To get little things that are your normal is like a luxury here. The hint side of living here is the people are laid back, you appreciate more what you have back home….and you actually realise Africa is Beautiful! literally and by display.

    Thanks for the writing Mba Wina! You have to write more….

  2. Kristina says:

    Always a real pleasure to read you, Wina!

    Living in the UK after 3 years in Angola is a bit weird. When I see how much I can buy at the supermarket for £100 I’m flabbergasted! I almost feel like saying “wait, wait, let me go back for more!”. Then I remember I’m not in Angola anymore and calm down.

    Can’t wait to read your next one.
    kr

    • Me says:

      Hi there stranger,

      Glad that you like this. Do you notice that I actually quoted you (or what you told me you Mom told you)?
      “If you want to feel like home then stay at home”. Thanks for that.

      Bet you can also recognize this Scottish lady that got psyched over baked beans.
      Miss you guys.

  3. […] you can probably read in my previous post, things are SUPER expensive in Luanda. For example, a loaf of soft crust-less “American” bread […]

  4. […] you live less, a little bit more always gets you excited. Just like here in Angola, when not everything is easily accessible (or accessible with a hefty price tag), the slightest […]

  5. […] now I live USD 2000 away from Thailand and there’s no Thai restaurant exists in this most expensive city (for expats) in the world. Thus, home-made (supposedly a) Tom Yam is always in order. Of course my Tom Yam will be a laughing […]

  6. Keith says:

    Hi Wina,

    I read the BBC article published on 2 February 2012 about “Living in the world’s most expensive city “. I have also read your article above and it is a revelation to see such positivity about a city you have moved to. I’m glad you and your family have settled down and are enjoying your life in Angola.

    I will be travelling to Luanda for the first time next month and would like to find out more about the city from someone with an open mind such as yourself. Please feel free to contact me:

    deleforseatrade@gmail.com

    Thanks again, Keith

    • Wina says:

      Hi there Keith, thanks for your kind comment. I am not sure what’s the nature of your travel or how long you’ll be here, but I am sure you’ll find the city fascinating (for better or worse).

      It’ll be pretty shady and cool next month here, I think you’ll begin to find maracuja (passion fruit) and sap sap (soursop fruit) here.

      As for us, we’ll be leaving the country (for good) in 3 weeks. It’s been truly a great pleasure to have the chance to live in this country as we have grown both personally and professionally. Experiencing the prices going down, (more) reliable day to day product availability in the market & the city getting prettier by the day. Do let me know if you need any specific info about this city, I may not know all the info first hand but I might be able to refer you to someone who does.

      Boa sorte…

      • Keith says:

        Hi Wina,

        Thanks for your reply. I’m sure you are looking forward to the new opportunities ahead for you and your family when you move.

        As mentioned, this would be my first visit to Luanda, so I would be interested to find out a bit more about the city – Local attractions, what areas to possibly avoid during the day / at night, where would be a good centrally located and affordable place to stay, etc?

        I would be looking to visit for up to 10 days next month. Ideally I would also be looking for a reliable taxi driver / translator in Luanda for the duration of my visit too.

        The purpose of my visit is to establish trade and business relations with local businesses, importers, traders and distributors alike. I believe you may have some experience in importing containers of non perishable foods, etc?

        I don’t believe “Luandans” need to continue paying inflated prices for essential products, and I aim to provide a more cost effective option for both basic essential food & beverage products, as well as cost effective commercial and residential building supplies. Our aim is to provide product solutions to Africa for less and we are looking forward to our venture in Angola.

        Should you possibly know of any persons with invested interests in the above, local social / sports clubs, or should you be able to possibly refer me to contacts you may already know in Angola, it too would be much appreciated.

        From what I have read in your blogs, etc you do seem very knowledgeable of the city of Luanda and of Angola and I would be interested to hear your views.

        Any help in this regard would be much appreciated. I wish you and your family all the best with your move.

        Thanks again, Keith

  7. Wina says:

    Ok… Below are some links that can be useful
    http://www.luanda-nightlife.com/
    http://www.lbwangola.blogspot.com/
    http://ticaluanda.com/
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/4726684797/

    Got to go now, but do browse these first and I’ll come back to answer some of the specific Qs you have…

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