17 March 2008

Cravings, Sponges

Months, if not years, before we left the US were dedicated to carefully compiling and prioritizing lists of the things we need and want to use on a daily basis. The goal of such lists was the ability, when doing our final packing, to make well-considered decisions about what to bring with us and what to leave behind. It felt a somewhat hopeless activity but one at which we felt obliged to make an honest go. The things we brought with us to Luanda are not things that we cannot get here, but rather things that are too expensive (absolutely in the case of, say, electronics or relatively in the case of, say, maple syrup) or of inferior quality to the goods we can buy at home. The calculus was somewhat more difficult than anticipated, because of the wide variety of goods we can buy here in the city. It’s possible to buy nearly anything you could want so it’s not simply a matter of deciding which thing you need or want more. Instead, you need to decide which thing is more convenient to pack given the guessed relative cost or quality of goods here. For example, say there’s a small spot left in your suitcase large enough to bring either one extra notebook or one extra package of binders. You’ve gotten a pass here in the weight category because they’re more or less similar. You still have to decide whether you think paper or binders will be: a) more easily of available – say there’s paper in the local market but you have to go to the city to buy binders, b) cheaper – both in the US and in Angola, and c) nicer – in the long run will you be happier putting nice paper into really crappy binders or really crappy paper into nice binders? I brought binders, because I knew I’d run out of paper anyway.

I have yet to discover any major oversights on our part and there are no sincere laments so far. I wish, perhaps, that we had packed more sunscreen. Given my complexion the formulation I require (read: 8,000+ SPF) is in short supply here; if it exists at all, the rarity makes it inordinately expensive. There are a few goods that we would not have packed but have been surprised not to find, namely baking soda (baking power isn’t a problem) and brown sugar (there’s also an absence of molasses, rendering useless my usual fix). There is more of something things than anticipated: water and power are far more reliable now than on past trips – a very pleasant surprise – and cell-based internet modems are here and relatively affordable so there’s better web access than anticipated. One even looks forward to the qualitative differences expected on some fronts: the soda here is made with sugar and the catsup is largely imported from Europe so tastes more like tomatoes than corn syrup.

The most interesting part of the experience, though, is the discovery of the small things that I’ve taken for granted or, more likely, that I didn’t anticipate could be substantially different. I knew, for example, that the paper I could buy here at reasonable prices is thin and ugly and generally unpleasant to write on. I did not, however, anticipate how seriously the quality of dish sponges could impact my daily experience. The picture at the top of this post is of two dish sponges (front and back). The one on the left is a “nice” one purchased locally and has had approximately two uses; the one on the left was shipped to us from the US (taking up precious, precious space in our measly mail allotment) and has had approximately two weeks of use. Now, I have to confess that I don’t do terribly many dishes here. An empragada comes Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to clean, wash clothes, and do dishes, and the nanny we’ve hired for David does them during his nap on Tuesdays and Thursdays leaving only the weekends. My day, however, is monumentally better if the three cups, two pans, one fork, and 4 sippy cups that I do wash each day can be cleaned with a good, stolid, 3M lovin’, heavy duty kitchen sponge.

Kitchen sponges – who knew? Other items on the list of things to import even though they’re relatively inexpensive and plentiful here: toothbrushes, toilet paper, q-tips, and all manner of kitchen utensils. I’ll keep a running list and post an update later with other top-missed items. In the meantime, the next time you’re in the kitchen and you open one of those fresh, new, beautiful American kitchen sponges, please give a special whiff to the sickly-sweet, processed petroleum odor wafting out of the over-wrought packaging for me.

02 March 2008

Housing Update

We haven’t signed the contract quite yet and we won’t be able to move in until the end of March, but it would appear that (after a full month of looking) we’ve finally secured a new place to live. We’re having a great time living with Arthur and Jojanneke, but we’re excited to have our own place for the first time since November. The new place is absolutely gorgeous and far nicer than we expected to have. You enter though a very nice gate into a covered car port with room for two cars. Off of the small front porch there’s a living room that leads to a hallway with two bedrooms on it, ending in a dining room attached to the kitchen. Finally, there’s a small, enclosed outdoor space off the back where the laundry and such happens. The inside has been very well cared for and is very nice. The place has, if you can believe it, a generator, a reserve water tank and pump, and (wait for it…) air conditioners! These things can’t, of course, keep out all of the daily difficulties here, but should help make some things much, much easier. The water tank and pump are a huge labor savers and the generator is really nice because I expect to work from home quite a bit. The car port is handy (even though we don’t expect to get a car) because will make a nice, large play space for David.

Because there were very few apartments available in the city center in our price range we ended up in the Bairro Popular, after all (where we are staying now and where we stayed in January 2006). The upside of the location is that daily life here is much slower paced and the people are more open than in the city -- we’ll have a much better chance to get to know our neighbors and become a part of our little surrounding community. The difference between the Bairro Popular and the other neighborhood we were looking at, Vila Alice, is much akin to the difference between the suburbs and the city in the US. The benefit to living in Vila Alice would have been the in-town location for meetings. Fortunately, however, the house is on the city-side edge of the bairro making transit to and from the city easier than our current location. We’ll be a 5 minute walk from a major road and from there can be in the city with one minibus ride. We’re also glad that we’re still in the same neighborhood as Arthur and Jojanneke, so that hopefully we can continue to see them regularly.