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Angola: Strange meeting with machete-wielding men

I was incredibly lucky to receive a visa into Angola, entirely due to the British High Commissioner’s intervention (presumably after pulling strings somewhere along the bureaucratic line). It was full throttle ahead out of Windhoek and into Angola, but not quite!

Leaving Namibia was not a problem but then having to wait three days before entry into Angola was, as this left me in a stretch of no man’s land between the two borders.

However, not to be daunted, we booked into a “pension” at $55 per night, no facilities whatever, not even water and, having been warned not to venture onto the street with goods due to a strong likelihood of mugging, everything was stored in a room sporting burglar bars and a stout lockable key (presumably to instil confidence).

We then made off to collect food, only to return some ten minutes later to find the door kicked in and everything gone. Well, I’m sure you are able to imagine the worry and panic that ensued.

This was followed by the subsequent urgency to replace documents etc. Not a joke, I can tell you, especially when you are told to “please hold, our lines are busy, you are in a queue” about 25 times.

After visiting the police station where I was given a copy of my statement and an assurance that we had no chance of getting things back, four “renegades” arrived armed with machetes, my kit bag, and other items offering them in return for $2,000.

The cameras were nowhere to be seen, obviously sold, passed on or perhaps even back in Namibia. Thinking quickly I insisted on checking everything first, and then told them I had no money and, if I had I wouldn’t give them a cent.

By some inside information or perhaps divine intervention, the police pitched up, three of the perpetrators escaped and one was thrown into jail. I was supposed to press charges and appear at court four days later – but I was unwilling to do this.

Since then everything has gone wonderfully well. I have been to Save the Children in Huambo, at one time touted as the future capital of Angola but then, in 1993, a vicious 52-day siege and bombing led to the city being reduced to a pile of rubble.

Signs of recovery are there but most of the buildings are just shells full of bullet holes. Many have no fronts but are inhabited, so you can see people leading their daily domestic lives.

Despite all this Angolans are extremely friendly people and the welcome from everyone has been extraordinary. They have done everything possible to help and have asked if I can return in November when they will put on a four-day festival in my honour.

I think they are so starved of foreign interest (I have not seen a single tourist), but are so very proud of their country and rightly so as it is stunning.

All national parks were devastated during the war but at present they have “Operation Noah’s Ark” and are airlifting and road hauling 500 elephants, 200 zebras etc to try and bring tourism to life.

Good luck to these people who have suffered not only internal conflict but the intervention of Russians, Cubans, Portuguese etc.

Had the most incredible drive on the roughest road yet. Well it was not a road, more a river with potholes the size of cars, and the roadside was littered with abandoned Russian tanks.

It took 12 hours to cover 420 km, which included a fall down a bank plus the bike, but luckily no injuries.

The bright red mud left puddles that were almost fluorescent orange, flanked by the greenest land I have ever seen, back dropped by a bright red sky. Phenomenally beautiful.

My greatest regret was being without the camera and, of course, my diary, perhaps the greatest loss of all. But hopefully there will be more of the same.

Save the Children in Huambo – and now in Luanda – have been nothing short of wonderful. They have assisted me in any and every way they could and arranged for money to be transferred from the UK as ATM’s don’t often operate in Angola.

I am in a cottage next to the office and have just been given a schedule of events for the next few days: I can hardly believe it!’

9.30am –Press conference in rented hall, TV, Newspapers.
10.00am – Filming with rented camera
6pm – Interview on National Radio
Next day:
9.30am – Visit to the Alliance for Community Development (APDCH)
10.30am – Visit to Community school for poorest and vulnerable children
11am –Community Children’s Centre, Nurseries and Orphanage
12.30pm – Collective Arts Twana Twangola Community Youth Project for children with HIV
1.30pm – Lunch with Ambassador at the British Embassy with ‘STC’ Personnel.

Next Day – Meeting in Angolan Parliament with Minister of Health.

Can you believe it!?

Al McLeod, Save the Children director in Angola, was recently on leave in the UK, and has been able to collect the new camera, other equipment, and documents, which were not returned after the robbery for Spencer.

Spencer is an extraordinary fundraiser, undertaking a solo circumnavigation of Africa on his motorbike through 28 countries and covering 40,000 km to raise funds for us.
Please support his amazing journey

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