Service with a ‘look of complete indifference’.

One thing that spending a few years in the USA has given me (apart from an addiction to Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups and better teeth) is an appreciation and expectation of good customer service. Ignoring any government run departments (particularly the social security bunch), the customer service in America is second to none. At the absolute opposite end of the service spectrum lies the customer service I have experienced in Angola. The service can be so bad in so many different places that it is almost impossible to pick the worst. One of my favourite places to go and be treated like someone found me on the bottom of their shoe is our local ‘Shoprite’ supermarket (lovingly renamed ‘Shopwrong’ by anyone who has to go there). The only living things having anything close to a good time in this place are the weevils that have set up home on the shelves of the flour aisle. Empty cupboards had forced me to endure another ‘Shoprite’ experience on Wednesday. It started well when I located some slightly-more-robust-than-normal plastic bags to fill with fruit and veg. Normally, anything rougher than a peach can lacerate these bags sending their contents all over the floor. Halfway through some meticulous apple selecting we had our first power cut. Plunged into darkness we all stood still as our eyes adjusted to the gloom. On the bright side, the inane Christmas pop music had also stopped. A couple of minutes later the electricity supply resumed and, like children playing musical statues, we all sprang back into life and continued our specific shopping activity to the background of Christmas tunes. In Shoprite, and most other supermarkets here, we have to have someone weigh and attach a sticky label to all of our fresh produce before going to the till and unluckily for me I chose the only scales manned by someone who didn’t know any of the codes. Ten or so minutes later he had managed to weigh and correctly identify four of my eight items. I knew it was going to be a long shopping trip and contemplated the idea of telling him not to worry and the Foleys would survive on tinned fruit and veg this week. Having said that, there is only one thing worse than spending two hours in Shoprite and that is tinned vegetables, particularly green beans. I still can’t understand how any manufacturer can justify charging customers for them, they should be free or we should be paid for taking them off their hands. Veg weighed, I sauntered off to find some slimy ham and cracked eggs. After a couple more power cuts I headed to the till. As queuing isn’t as popular here as it is in Great Britain, you have to adopt new strategies to maintain your place at the checkout. I use the method whereby I stand at the front of my shopping trolly and look fierce. It worked today. I said “Bom dia” to the lady sat behind the till, she ignored me and continued to have a conversation with a member of the bakery staff who had wandered over for a chat. She began scanning a few items and then stopped for a bit to carry on her conversation with her floury friend. Out of 15 items, 5 didn’t scan, these included a bag of potatoes (hardly exotic) and several bags of nuts. She shouted “Colega, Colega” several times and a few minutes later a ‘supervisor’ sauntered over who, without speaking, took my carefully selected bag of potatoes and disappeard for some time before making a very slow return journey to the till and dropping a new bag of randomly selected potatoes onto the counter. There was still no familiar ‘bleep’ so the shop assistant just said ‘No’ and put the potatoes and nuts behind her. So that was that, I left with two thirds of what I had hoped for. The cash machines were out of cash and then I couldn’t find my driver in the carpark, none of which was out of the ordinary. We drove to three different banks trying to find one that had some cash and that was in a safe place where I wouldn’t be immediately mugged before I got back in the car.

There is quite a lot of petty crime in our area, mostly muggings. We hear lots of reports of locals taking large sums of cash out of the banks and then being shot as they leave and ‘relieved’ of their cash by men on motorbikes. We all suspect that these are inside jobs where someone working inside the bank is tipping off the criminals. I don’t carry big money around with me anymore as we now have a bank account and a debit card. In addition, most of us don’t wear expensive jewellery of carry designer bags when out and about. I ve swapped my fancy wallet for my 7 year old’s ‘Hello Kitty’ purse and a bag that I won in a raffle. I also carry an old, broken mobile phone as well as my iPhone. In heavy traffic I hide my iPhone and any cash so if we do get held up by muggers the worst that can happen is that I have to explain to my daughter that some bad men stole her wallet.

There are places that we don’t go to in Luanda because of safety concerns, although the same can be said about most big cities. The main problem is that us white expats stand out like a sore thumb and we are guaranteed to be carrying a mobile phone. I lived in London for many years and my basic student grant meant that I had to live in the not-so-salubrious parts of the city. I regularly commuted through the types of neighbourhoods where you kept your head down and didn’t make eye contact. After dark I would take off all my jewellery and stuff it in my mouth until I reached the safety of my hallway. I inadvertently swallowed an earring back once but felt that this was a small price to pay for protecting my valuables.

Right, the cat has appeared at the window and she needs deworming – more on that later…..


A fun time at the orphanage.

The weekend trundled by at its usual pace. When I m in charge I shall give everyone a three day weekend. Saturday brought with it a craft fair at the local International School at which I manned a table of crafts that we’d made to raise money for the orphanage. I say ‘we’, actually I just sell them. The talented ladies and gent (a tailor by trade) on my compound make all the items ranging from bags to angel Christmas decorations made from beer cans. My crafting capabilities are a work in progress. I m still trying to finish my Christmas tree ‘skirt’ that we all began in the Spring as a group craft project. So far I have managed to get someone else to cut out all the pieces and then I folded it up and put it on my ‘to do’ shelf. I m confident that it will be sitting under the tree by Christmas 2016. I have also made, with considerable assistance, a handbag and a ‘sleeve’ for holding plastic bags, both of which are, surprisingly, still intact and fully functional. I ve been advised that, unless I want to risk a serious wardrobe malfunction, I should probably avoid making my own clothing.

A local convention centre hosted our company Christmas party on Saturday night. Its one of those places where, once you’re inside, you wouldn’t know that you’re in a country where most of the population of Luanda live in slums. We ate and drank and watched African dancers and musicians do their thing. I had carelessly sat very close to these African dancers and was one of the volunteers (victims) selected to join them. Four inch heels, a full stomach and Spanx that started at the knee and went all the way to my armpits are not conducive to ‘total body articulation’. I gave it my best shot (hopefully no one filmed it).

Sunday was very lazy (mostly due to the rum-based banana beverage which the waiters were keen on giving me the night before).

Monday means orphanage day. I led todays class on telling time. We ve bought them all watches for Christmas so learning about time is a top priority. Out of 20 kids, 5 of them fell asleep during most of the class. They all sleep in dormitories of maybe 30 children so I expect some of them must have been keeping the others awake. I needed to pee when I got there. In an orphanage of 70/80 kids you can imagine how 6 toilets end up (and 2 of those weren’t working). There is no flush so you have to poor buckets of water down them instead. Having spent much time in developing counties, and on aeroplanes, I have perfected the ‘hover’ whereby I don’t have any contact with the seat. Halfway through I realised that I had a little audience and no cubicle door to hide behind (note to self – must remember to go ‘nil by mouth’ in preceding 2 hours to orphanage visit). I expect the children are now talking about how white women don’t pee the same way that everyone else does.

The children were in a state of high excitement as they will be having their Christmas party on Saturday and we will be attending. Carlitos (one of the kids I sponsor) asked if I would be bringing lots of gifts. He’s a hugger and today, between hugs, he busied himself by placing cartoon stickers on my feet. Him and his little brother, Mingo, have been here for a year. I don’t know their back-story but I do know it for some of the other children. There are a pair of sisters who were thrown out of their home after being accused of witchcraft. Another little boy recently arrived with two broken arms, broken by his stepmother. Unsurprisingly, a lot of them have psychological problems. The key for their future is education. Most of the children’s schooling is paid for by expats. The generosity of some of the expats here warms my heart.

Its Monday, its almost 8.30 which means bedtime. Night night…..