Tuesday 31 October 2023

Karma (/ˈkɑːrmə/, from Sanskrit: कर्म, IPA: [ˈkɐɾmɐ]; Pali: kamma) is a concept of action, work or deed, and its effect or consequences. In Indian religions, the term more specifically refers to a principle of cause and effect, often descriptively called the principle of karma, wherein intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect): Good intent and good deeds contribute to good karma and happier rebirths.

All this is, of course, is complete bollocks. Fare for yoghurt knitting tree huggers.

The economic climate in Angola is dire.  The Kwanza, our currency, has fallen off a very high cliff.  In April this year, a Euro would buy me 400 kwanzas.  Now I can get 1,100 on the street.  Good for me, as I am paid in good old pounds sterling, but absolute shit for everyone else.  Actually, it isn’t that great for me either as the inflation occasioned by the collapse of the kwanza has eroded any gain I might have enjoyed but at least, my circumstances have not worsened.  Inflation has consigned the lives of those whose salaries are paid in local currency to one of quiet desperation.

I am 64 now and recognise that continued salaried employment is ever more limited so I have to prepare to see for myself.  I have a nice bit of land and a couple of cottages down south next to the sea, with which I am sure I can do something.

Having been abandoned by my third wife (I was never married to her but having co-habited for over a decade and having sired two wonderful children together, she merits the title), I employ two housekeepers.  They work alternatively three and four days a week.  This ensures that every day I have someone to clean up after visits of my children, an almost daily and only marginally unwelcome occurrence, and preparing healthy fare for them so they can maintain the robust energy required to not only bugger up my house, but my comfortable routine as well. 

None of us would expend treasure to hang an awful painting on a wall so I saw no need to employ repulsive housekeepers.  Marcelina and Brilha are animate works of art whose presence, while I maintain the strictest application of the rules of Safeguarding, do as much to help me avoid atherosclerosis as my own consumption of whisky, cigarettes and fatty bacon negate.


Very recently, I had to explain to my employers that the assertion by our workers union, in support of a pay claim, that inflation in Angola was 60% was wrong.  Woefully wrong.  I have no idea from where they, the union, drew that figure but based on my personal shopping experience:

Coffee, 2,400 kwanzas in April, now 5,900

Rice 20 kg sack, 7,800, now 21,000

Sugar 50 kgs, 18 - 20,000 depending on quality, now 65 – 70,000

Cooking oil 20 litre container, 10 – 12,000, now 40,000

I leave it to you to do the mathematics but if, like the aforementioned union representatives, you come up with 60%, go back to kindergarten and be content in the knowledge that you will never lead a successful workers revolution.

Two months ago, I doubled the salaries of my housekeepers. A 100% pay rise? Impressive but still not enough to mitigate the effects of inflation so I have become more amenable to ‘discounted-from-salaries’ loans to pay for medication for sick children or whatever.  Except I am lousy at book keeping so keep forgetting to apply the deductions.

Alex, by the way, graduated from high school early.  He was fifteen in September, so fourteen when he graduated and is now studying geology in a college feeding students into the oil industry, I am so proud. He is a monster of a man.  For his graduation, he needed a suit.  Nothing off the peg would fit so I had to send him to a tailor for a bespoke suit.  Between me signing the contract and the stitch delivering the suit, the Kwanza collapsed and Alex got an excellent suit at an off-the-peg price. As an aside, why do foreigners find it remarkable that an Englishman orders his suits to be made with two pairs of trousers?

The smart looking chap on the right is 24 years old and is wearing my blazer (just to give you some perspective). The beast on the left in the smart suit knocked up by Rent-A-Tent Angola is 14 and is all my fault.


I work with a gentleman called Janeiro.  This is not his real name.  He was born on the first of January so January is his nickname. His boy ran into some issues in Portugal and Janeiro needed to get him some Euros pretty damn quick.  Forget the banks, what was needed was someone who had hard cash in Europe.  Now I don’t mind squeezing the Quingilas, the informal currency traders, for the best street rate of exchange, which is way more than the official rate but this was Janeiro, my colleague and, dare I say, friend.  He wanted 3,000 Euros and the difference between official and street rates meant I would have to swallow a five hundred quid loss.  For us normal folk, this is well into the territory of tender testicles, eye watering.  Several years ago, my eldest went a bit awry so I flung everything I had at the problem to sort out his situation.  I reflected upon this. In addition, I considered the two bastards to whom I lent far superior sums, neither of whom show any inclination to honour their debt.  I felt for Janeiro so accepted the hit.

If you aspire to opening a beach side café to which you can retire and try to write like Ernest Hemmingway, as I do, the most expensive bit of kit you will need is an espresso machine.  These cost thousands of units of any serious currency, be it dollars, pounds or euros.  If I keep lending money to people, if I keep taking hits, how am I ever going to afford one?

Janeiro, unlike the aforementioned two bastards, is honorable so I was suddenly flush with Kwanzas, and, lo and behold, I received a WhatsApp message.  “Tom, you need kit for a café, check this out…”

I shan’t go into details, basically I bought the lot. I shall share with you just one score: a virtually brand new espresso machine.  I checked on line and excluding VAT (Value Added Tax at 20%) the machine costs GBP 2,800.  I paid the equivalent of GBP 200.

Karma, do the sums, I came out ahead, and so did all my staff.



Wednesday 20 April 2022

Empowering Youth

I seem to be spending a lot of time at the airport, shuffling colleagues off to enjoy leave or pastures new, or welcoming those who have decided to contribute their services to the Angola project. I really do not mind.  I only have two drivers worth a salt and I think they appreciate the fact that I am not averse to including my name on Part One Orders as Duty Driver thereby giving them a well-deserved rest. 

I do have a third driver and he is good, very good, as long as I do not task him anywhere near a main road.  Driving with him calls to mind the old joke, ‘I would rather die in my sleep, as did my bus driver father, than screaming as did his passengers.’ 

In front of the international airport in Luanda is a roundabout and overpass.  Coming from Nova Vida, the pleasant suburb in which we are based means surmounting a bridge and then hooking right down to the airport.  Given that even the best of our drivers have no lane discipline, for the passenger this is a manoeuvre best endured with eyes closed.

Just recently, however, and for the aforementioned reasons, I have been driving passengers to the airport and, wisely, I think, confident my passengers would concur; I have executed this with my eyes open.  Imagine my surprise, therefore, when cresting the bridge before swinging down to the right and the international airport beyond, I happened to glance left and spot a new roulotte.

Roulottes are great.  Although pretty much illegal.  As in all things Angolan, it depends on whom you know.  Years ago, Luanda was full of them, one on almost every street corner.  From them one could order a Burger or a Hot Dog. Just the sort of healthy sustenance a chap needed to successfully navigate on unsteady pins between his preferred watering hole and his final resting place, be that his scratcher or face down in Luanda Bay.  Either way, it was always a pleasure to pass out with a belly full of street burger rather than a bandit’s knife.  Then the Angolan Government decided that such enterprise was counter-revolutionary and all roulottes were suddenly hauled off the streets.  Lest we judge, consider what would happen to anyone setting up a trailer-mounted hot dog stand on the corner of your residential paradise in UK without first jumping through the multiple hoops of local authority bureaucracy.

But I digress.  What made me do a double take (very nearly causing me to execute a short cut off the over pass plunging me, the car and a wholly innocent passenger to the ground and fiery death below) was not so much the existence of the roulotte, but the name its entrepreneurial owner had selected for his venture into express epicurean services.

In English, a proper language and one, since the publication of the King James’ bible in 1611, even God thought best to learn so he could keep up with the activities of an island of marauding pirates, the name elected as representative of the services on offer refers to a solitary, rather desperate activity.  By ensuring regular entry into normal, healthy relationships, I have managed to palm off, so to speak, any personal indulgence in the same but surely, I wondered as I dropped a visibly shaken and stirred passenger off outside international departures, something has been lost in translation.

Well, there was only one way to find out.  As soon as the still tremulous voice of my passenger confirmed by telephone that she had successfully checked in, passed through customs and immigration checks and had scooped a few calming G&T’s without fainting in the departure lounge, I made my way out of the airport in the direction of the roulotte.

The direct headline, the name of the roulotte, had attracted my attention but there was an indirect headline inscribed below, noticeable only when I was within thirty paces so close enough to discern it with aged eyeballs:  A força da juventude empreendedora.  In God’s preferred patois, this means: The Strength of Entrepreneurial Youth.

Good Lord.  Laudable.  I am all in favour of empowering youth, and women, any disadvantaged group and, indeed, the roulotte was staffed by vibrant, intelligent and oh so helpful youngsters, most of them female.  It has been many years since I stood on an Angolan street quaffing a beer while my evening repast was prepared with undeniable skill before my very eyes.

I was though, there on a mission.  I wanted to know the origins, the motive for the choice of name.  It wasn’t the sort of thing I felt a chap could broach with the lovely Paula, busy frying up the most perfect egg to surmount my burger so I called the only male on duty to one side and explained everything.

‘NO!’ he said, ‘SERIOUSLY?!!!’

‘Fraid so’, I said with the sangfroid the English claim as theirs, but still confess to in French, ‘Perhaps this word means something else in a local language?’ I ventured hopefully. In Angola there are at least ten distinct local languages in addition to the Portuguese imposed upon them. 

There are subjects a chap will simply no longer discuss post educationem and I was hoping for a degree of discretion but he decided, evidently as a good Socialist, to open this up (occasioning my acute embarrassment) to the general appreciation of his female co-workers, including sweet and innocent Paula who was at that moment assembling my burgers in such a manner I could not help but recall, I was once young.

‘That is our Boss’s name’, they assured me once they had recovered their composure and wiped tears of mirth from their eyes.

‘Oh God no!  Please do not tell him what his name means in English I implore you!’ I implored with all the vigour of a Shakespearean veteran. ‘And if you feel compelled to do so', I continued, 'please do not tell him it was me that told you,’ This with a sincerity my beating heart told me that this time was genuine.

The burgers were fantastic, prepared and served by a young, animated and such a pleasant team.  I never knew an 'ahem' in public could be so gratifying.


Friday 3 September 2021

What a nice bunch of people


I presented myself at the Embassy where my arm was stabbed with commendable sympathy and skill by a very attractive and most professional bi-lingual Angolan nurse whose name I soon discovered, never having been able to resist chatting to anyone attractive, was Marcia, same as my partner.  Even as she clasped my upper arm with a hand soft as butter and advanced with the other bearing a needle on the dangerous end of a syringe I could not help wondering how I always seemed to meet the nicest people under the most unusual circumstances.

‘Just a small prick’ she murmured.

Whether this was a conciliatory warning or an observation was something I only afterwards briefly considered, either would have been applicable in my case.

Prior to the actual jab, I was interviewed by an evidently superior medical authority who, amongst other enquiries, appeared keen to ascertain my proclivity, if any, to spontaneous bleeding.  Only after pub fights I told him which, given my failing eyesight and aged joints, tended to occasion a greater loss of blood, my blood, than when I was younger.  He seemed quite alarmed so I assured him that at all other times I was generally quite good at hanging onto the red stuff.

Normally, one is obliged to wait fifteen minutes after the jab before continuing on one’s way for fear that one may keel over and die of shock.  Clearly, medical professionals would prefer their patients to do this in front of them rather than behind the wheel of a car doing a hundred miles an hour along an expressway.  With scant regard for their fellow citizens, these two sporting individuals seemed happy to release me back onto the streets of Luanda immediately.

I am sure, therefore, that it was only because I was ‘double jabbed’, and did not leak blood everywhere as a consequence, that I was invited to be involved in the visit of a delegation of US senators to Angola, rather than as recognition by higher authority that I possessed any useful skills.


It was an enormous pleasure to meet with these professionals.  The United States is a major donor to mine action initiatives and it is only fair, and highly desirable, that the key holders to US coffers come here and see for themselves the positive impact of such investment.