Oil boom in Angola: In a poor land, an exploration of the trickle-down effect
Luanda, Angola
Traffic in Luanda, where prosperity and poverty exist shoulder-to-shoulder


The lowdown on Luandan cuisine, make-believe Monopoly, and a landscape of ramshackle shelters and high-rises

There were twice as many empty seats as passengers on flight #077 from London to Luanda. Those who sat in business class wore conservatively tailored suits or polo shirts with khakis, while we in the coach cabin were divided among those who wore jeans and t-shirts emblazoned with the name of our nongovernment organizations and those who wore starched white linen suits and dark sunglasses.

The man next to me seemed to be none of the above. His face was well-tanned and by the look of his attire, I thought he might have been off for safari or a mercenary expedition. The smell of his cognac kept me nauseated and decidedly awake, so I spent most of the flight sorting through catalogs and counsel collected from the British Angola Forum during my brief stopover in London.

The apartment came with a sliding lock on the door ... and a roommate

The flight touched down at 3:50 a.m. GMT – 40 minutes ahead of schedule. I sleepily negotiated the rounds from the yellow fever vaccination certificate inspection, through immigration, and, stammering in broken Portuguese, past the customs official. Finally, I stepped out into the humid night air and looked about for my gracious Angolan hosts. We missed each other at the airport, but found one another at the stoop of her apartment building in Combatentes – a neighborhood just outside of the Luanda downtown. She showed me to my room, a cheerful space just then illuminated with the early glow of dawn.

Waking around noon, I found we were off to a friend's house for lunch. It is Angolan tradition to reserve Saturdays for lunching with friends and family – and what a meal: grilled fish with sweet potatoes, sweet bananas, cassava and white beans in a palm oil sauce … and a generous glass of Portuguese wine.

After lunch, we played a fierce game of Monopoly. The irony of the game was almost surreal. The object is, of course, to consolidate all of the assets on the board – the ultimate end being the enrichment of one versus an increasingly destitute remainder. Eventually, the impoverished are pushed out of competition and surrender. I, knocked out of competition early on, viewed the rest of the game thinking about the incredible disparity in wealth among Angolans. How many get knocked out of the game? What becomes of them?

We drove back to Luanda in the thick darkness of night. The ramshackle shacks we had seen on the drive out were invisible in the shadows and the lights of downtown Luanda glittered like diamonds in the moonless night. As we climbed the stairs to the apartment, a strong wind swept a fine ochre dust through the streets, gliding between the high-rises and the makeshift shelters scattered about their bases.

— Kristin