Oil boom in Angola: In a poor land, an exploration of the trickle-down effect
Street mural
A mural on the side of a school wall reading "Long Live the MPLA" (referring to the ruling party) (Photos by Kristin Reed)


Landing an elusive appointment, just take a right at the abandoned minibus, a subject of suspicion

As I begin my research on Angola's oil industry, I have to make a cultural adjustment.

The office at A-IP (Angolan Research Institute) is bustling with incoming surveys. All of the computers are occupied by staff carefully engaged in recording each response into a coded system. Our Internet connection is not working. Without Internet access or even a computer, I turn to the phone. Generally, the numbers in the phone book are wrong. Or, in the case of nongovernment organizations, they aren't even listed because they can't afford the registration fee.

Verusca at the office has a friend with connections and she gives me the correct number for the organization I'm seeking. I call the organization and ask for the required contact. He/she is in a meeting. I ask in stilted Portuguese to leave a message. My name is a tricky one. How is it spelled? Okay, message taken. The contact never returns my call. I call again and ask for his/her cell phone number. Upon calling the cell number for about the third time, the contact miraculously answers. I am delighted! I ask to make an appointment. He/she says to call back later next week. Only with persistence and patience do I get an appointment.

A young man scavenges in a trash heap in a wealthy neighborhood

On the day of the appointment I wind through the streets, looking for the landmark I've been given. I prefer addresses, but it seems that no one uses them here. Instead I'm asked, "Do you know Senhor da Costa's office?" or ambiguously told, "It is near the gas station." Other times I'm given directions such as "Take a right at the abandoned minibus and walk down past the school toward the small park where people do their washing. You'll see it from there." Worse yet, once on the correct street, there is no guarantee that the employees of an institution are aware of their neighbors. The security guard at the National Bank does not know that the Ministry of Petroleum is literally a few doors to the North. He suggests that I walk in the opposite direction. After a few blocks, I double back, waving to him as I pass.

The city of Luanda is fairly large and I have to space my appointments by gauging how long each will last and how far I will need to walk. It can take me up to an hour to walk from one appointment to the next – a sweaty proposition in the midday sun. Some interviews go well, others are painful. Sometimes the interviewee is patient with my basic Portuguese and other times he/she will prefer to carry on in English. The setting may be a relaxed café or an air-conditioned high rise. Some interviewees are suspicious that I may be a reporter interested in exposing some dreadful topic, while others have sympathy for my endeavor based upon their own graduate research experiences. At the end of the appointment I am given a few more names and the process begins again.

Outside of this formal meeting process are the expatriate clubs. Here, I learn a great deal, but I cannot take copious notes, as I might be able to do in an office setting. Taking notes at a bar is considered a bit sketchy. Instead, I must listen and try to commit the important points to memory over a few glasses of wine (not drinking at a bar is also considered a bit sketchy). This proves to be a difficult task!

— Kristin