Learning by Living

Notes on a research trip to Luanda, Angola (published in issue 23)
by Paulo Moreira
My journey to Angola had begun many weeks before I arrived.

A research trip to Luanda needs to be thoroughly and patiently planned. You will need a visa, but unless you are working for a company which takes care of the process on your behalf, it will be very hard to get it; not least as a citizen of Angola’s former coloniser, Portugal.

To get a visa, an Angolan citizen or expatriate with a residents’ permit must formally invite you. The letter must be very carefully written, because misusing a word or misplacing a sentence might mean you have to begin the application process again. The letter and identity documents of the signatory must be authenticated by a local notary and by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then faxed to the consulate, before being emailed to you. Take into consideration that on the day your friend goes to see the notary, the electricity might have gone off and nobody knows when work can begin again.

“Be patient, it’s Africa,” you will hear.

You will need to show a clear criminal record, and an international certificate proving you have been vaccinated against yellow fever, polio and hepatitis. You will also need to present a bank statement proving you have withdrawn $6,000 (officially, you are expected to spend $200 per day during your stay in Angola). Once you have fulfilled all these requirements, you will still need to pay for the flights and visa services, which adds up to another £1500 or so. Then, sit back and wait for four or five weeks.

If your Angolan friend cannot put you up, you will need to find somewhere to stay. Hotels are out of the question (Luanda topped the cost-of life ranking in 2010). Fortunately for me, by the time I had started planning my journey, a friend of a friend had returned from Angola, and recommended staying with a local family. He showed me photos of a courtyard with a vibrant sense of inhabitation: kids playing; hens wandering; a tyre rim used as a barbecue; a man shaving holding a piece of mirror. At the back, the room which was to be my home for the month I was to spend in Luanda.

Apocryphally, everyone in Portugal knows someone ‘earning loads of money in Angola’. In practice, the expatriates speak in warning tones: “There’s no-one to pick you up at the airport? You must be crazy! No driver? You’ll never survive here.” Even though, as soon as I’d collected my visa, I bought loads of mosquito repellent, expensive anti-malaria pills and jumped onto the plane.

Once I arrived, Luis was a couple of hours late. There I was, in the recently renovated airport, waiting for someone I did not know. I watched the courteous greetings between American oil-men and their company drivers, as a plane landed from Houston. A TV screen showed São Paulo, Shanghai and Lisbon on the arrivals list. Finally Luis arrived. Once I had met my “chauffeur”, it took us over an hour to drive home; through a never-ending, chaotic traffic jam.

“Be patient, it’s Africa”, I thought.

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Research topics, 2011. Chicala is surrounded by a colonial and a post-colonial monuments (Fortress and Mausoleum). The three nuclei are connected by boat, from the continent to the island. There is a reciprocity between the public dimension of the settlement and the collective character of the domestic space.

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House plan/ family tree, 2011. Relationship between social and spatial topographies: the house has been progressively extended and upgraded, as the family continuously grows. The process has a parallel in the development of the settlement as a whole.


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Thinking Room, 2010. Following conversations with members of the host family, a room extension was proposed, to be built on top of the guest room, in the back of the courtyard, supported by large-scale replicas of a National symbol, O Pensador.

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Building Angola, 2010. Materials and objects were collected from private courtyards in Chicala and construction sites within the city. The work was produced with the participation of local residents and remains on display at Galeria Celamar, in the island of Luanda.

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Members of the host family were invited to photograph ordinary life in Chicala. The results express the cycles of day/life of a typical family. Doing laundry in the courtyard, photo by Tiusa Damião, 19.

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On the way to a friend’s house, photo by Selani Damião, 11.

Image taken more recently after the feature was published in issue 23

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