07 February 2008

Arriving and Food Costs

Life in Luanda begins! We’ve been here for almost a week now and we’ve been productive despite the jetlag, climate change, and the usual developing country entanglements. Mobile phones are working (kind of), laundry services have been secured (temporarily), real estate agents have been contacted (but not heard back from), and the lay-of-the-land has been re-taken here in Barrio Popular (until the rains re-organize the landscape). Daily life is nice as we’ve landed in the welcoming house of generous friends with neighbors we know. The market is near, the power has been off only once with a generator filling-in after dark, and the water mostly lasts until late in the day and sometimes through the evening.

The largest orders of business have been getting the necessities organized and organizing for when we’ll have our own apartment and need our own necessities. Remembering and practicing day-to-day living habits in a somewhat different environment has gone smoothly. We’ve learned what market items are reliably available and have been able to plan somewhat better each day to reduce the number of trips to and the time spent at the market (though we still go around the corner to get something at nearly every meal). Part of the adjustment has been trying to understand what is and isn’t affordable and what will and won’t work in the budget for the year.

One US dollar is currently buying 74 kwanzas. It was 82 in January 2006 and 81 in January 2007 (down from a high of 87). Inflation has been about 15% during the last year to combine with the weak dollar for a serious impact on our purchasing power. A significant portion of our brain power in the last week has been dedicated to currency conversion. Interestingly it seems that by the time we’re done buying kwanzas with dollars and then converting kwanza prices back to dollars to know how much we’ve just spent on an item, we can generally just take the US shelf price plus 15%. It feels silly to chafe at somewhat high US prices for goods, as they should, then, be near to within our usual budget. The usual annual budget, however, doesn’t include $8500 in plane tickets, a couple grand in vaccines, medications, and visas, Portuguese tutors, and a doubling of the rent. All this for a lifestyle that we greatly enjoy but one quite below what most ex-pats would consider tolerable.

To give some idea about what costs are like here in Luanda and to make a record for myself, here’s the break down for an average, un-indulgent day of food for 2 adults and one baby – not including staples like cooking oil (600 Kwz, $8.10/500ml) and spices (200 Kwz, $2.75/jar). All meals are cooked at home with a fair bit more effort and safety consideration than the usual day in a US kitchen. Note of caution: despite 10+ years of delightful veganism, I play the food game very differently here.

6 eggs – 120 Kwz, $1.62
2 sm glasses juice – 120 Kwz, $1.62
2 bread – 50 Kwz, $0.68
Cheese spread portion – 100 Kwz, $1.35
Total: $5.25

6 sm. slices of Ham – 100 Kwz, $1.35
6 sm. slices of Cheese – 100 Kwz, $1.35
2 bread - 50 Kwz, $0.68
Cheese spread portion – 100 Kwz, $1.35
Avacado – 50 Kwz, $0.68
Pineapple – 250 Kwz, $3.37
1/4 Can Green Beans – 25 Kwz, $0.34
1/4 Can Red Beans – 25 Kwz, $0.34
Total: $8.78

2 cans beans – 200 Kwz, $2.70
Tomatoes – 50 Kwz, $0.68
Carrots - 50 Kwz, $0.68
Onions - 50 Kwz, $0.68
Green Beans - 100 Kwz, $1.35
Green Pepper - 50 Kwz, $0.68
Rice – 45 Kwz, $0.61
Bananas – 50 Kwz, $0.68
Total: $8.06

Crackers – 120 Kwz, $1.62
1 can of soda – 60 Kwz, $0.81
Bananas - 50 Kwz, $0.68
Cheese spread portion – 100 Kwz, $1.35
Bottled Water – 120 Kwz, $1.62
Total: $6.08
Grand Total: $28.17 per day, $856 per month, $10,282.05 per year

Wow. Okay. Well. I’m a little shocked myself. I guess I won’t be buying that coffee, a weekly bar of chocolate, or that 30 Kwz peanut candy in the street after all. How does the average person here survive, then, on less than $2/day? We’re not really sure. I mean, we’re not actually sure that they do survive. We are sure that they starve. We clearly don't have $10K in the food budget, just for the record. I'll have to do some more thinking and some more math and some more buying and get back to you on all of this. Maybe I can find a Sam's Club and get some of this stuff in bulk or something. Maybe.