Friday, 15 October 2010
A Great Escape
I was enjoying a whisky in the bar at Belas Shopping this morning when an American strolled in.
He looked a bit lost so I helped him buy what he wanted from the bar. Not to say that Yanks are stupid but if you don’t speak Portuguese here, you’re stuffed. Turned out his ancestors came from this neck of the woods and he just wanted to get a feel for the ‘Old Country’.
When he said his ancestors came from this neck of the woods what he meant, and I understood, was that they were dragged kicking and screaming off their farms, linked together in chains and marched to the coast before being shipped to the New World and an uncertain future.
His ancestors at least, had obviously been blessed with both good fortune and dogged determination for the man now happily dividing a bottle of scotch with me presented a fine figure. Obviously highly intelligent and clad in expensive looking Chinos, a shirt the make of which I could not ascertain but doubt I could afford and I bet his loafers were genuine Gucci, this was the kind of guy you really did not want to introduce to your girlfriend. Even if he and she had behaved honourably, you’d know she’d never be satisfied in your company again. Compared to my artisan cotton, he was the silkiest of silks.
Apparently the security advice for the company to which he was providing consultancy services, a job he only took on because he wanted to see Angola, suggested that venturing further south than the southern suburbs and the only decent shopping centre in Luanda was to court horrible death.
He would hardly get a feel for the root of his existence standing in the plastic veneer and chrome plated pastiche of a Portuguese run bar in Luanda's only half decent shopping centre, so I jumped into his car and told his driver to head south to the Barra de Kwanza.
On the way we had a really good chat. It became clear that he had relocated to Texas and had bought a small place, about 5 million acres if I heard right. I confessed a love of sport fishing which, I pointed out, was excellent here. Animated now, after all, we were well below the label of the bottle of scotch I had liberated on his behalf from the bar, he explained that with his place being so close to the coast, he had been unable to resist a sportfisher. All fifty five, twin caterpillar powered brand new feet of it.
I am not easily abashed but I was pretty bloody subdued by the time we got to the Barro de Kwanza and my paltry 5 acres.
He was one of the nicest guys I have ever met. He said all the right things, could hold his booze and charmed the pants off everyone we met down at the village. He got his trip into the bush to see his real roots and wasn’t too proud to sink his expensively attired arse into the dirt when we sat in front of the Soba’s (village elder’s) house to pay our respects.
It is an old joke but I could not resist it. I showed him my humble slice of this earth and then said, ‘I bet it would take you a bit longer to show me around your place?’
‘Jeez.’ He replied, ‘It takes me all day to drive round it'
‘I had a car like that once’ I said.
So now that we had drifted onto the subject of cars and my love of them, especially classics, the Cool Dude said next time I went back to UK I should rent, instead of an overpriced modern from a Heathrow outlet, a real classic.
I, as an expatriate Englishman living in Africa, had shown an African American his roots in Angola and in return, he had pointed out where I could rent an English automotive classic.
I felt obliged to invite him home for dinner. Obliged is the wrong word. He was such an interesting guy I was willing to risk Marcia meeting him.
I can never fully appreciate what went through his mind when I showed him the slave museum, likely the place from which his ancestors caught their last glimpse of Africa, as desiccated a scene now as it must have been then. Or how he felt when he saw kids happily running around the village, an image of what life could have been like for him had Europeans not intervened.
Instead of thinly veiled prejudice, he rewarded me with the most refined company. His almost childlike curiosity and evident interest in his surroundings was infectious.
He flies tomorrow and had to get back to town meaning dinner was out of the question. So he didn't get to meet Marcia after all. Perhaps just as well.
I looked up the classic car hire company he suggested and was impressed. It may seem trite to finish like this but, if the coolest man in the world says this is where you should hire stylish wheels in UK, then next time I am there, I will definitely give them a try.