SOLEME, THE HOUSE OF WOMEN IN LUANDA Sunil Deepak, 2004

Luanda seems to one big construction place. Every where people are pulling down old buildings and making new ones. It is Luanda, Angola, image by Sunil Deepakonly two years since the war in Angola ended but in these two years, Luanda seems to have changed.

The road facing the sea is beautiful with a tranquil bay, where fishermen walk in knee-deep water. Ilha do Luanda is a thin crooked finger stretching out in to the sea, lined with restaurants and hotels on one side and the port on the other. The beach is crowded with cars, blaring music and young Angolans out for a good time. In a country, where the usual salary seems to be 200 or 300 US dollars per month, every thing costs unbelievingly high.

The city and the suburbs are also full of rotting mountains of refuse. It seems that city government has decided to promote Luanda, Angola, image by Sunil Deepaka campaign to clean all this refuse and in some areas, it is being cleaned. New sidewalks are coming up and roads are being built. On the roads young boys and men go around selling every thing from cloth-hangers to parabolic antennas and designer shirts. Like every thing else, even this mobile supermarket among vehicles moving at snail's pace in ever-present traffic jams, is very costly though a little cheaper than the big commercial centres and malls coming up around the city.

A day at the resorts like Jambes on Masulla island (actually a 2 km wide peninsula jutting up for about 80 km from the Luanda, Angola, image by Sunil DeepakAngolan coast near the Kwanza river formed by the Benguela current in the Atlantic ocean), to south of Luanda is a revelation. Rich Angolans and expatriates can have rooms for more than 200 USD a day and spend the day in the calm sea of the bay soaking sun and drinking cocktails. However, if you are really interested in Angolan life, you can get out of the resort and walk to the villages made of wooden shacks on sandy ground, where a dip in the ground is marked with shallow wells, that give slightly saline water. Definitely much better than the slightly synthetic beauty of the resorts.

We are staying at a family guest house Soleme on Rua Kwamme N'Krumah no. 1 near the city hospital and the parliament. Solemn is run by a two sisters, Maria Antonia and Maria Palmina along with their other sisters, nieces and grandchildren who come to give a hand. The rooms cost between 60 to 80 USD, that is not cheap but in Luanda it would be hard to find another similar place for less than 100 USD. The breakfast is great with freshly baked bread from the Seleme bakery that has a long queue of buyers all day long. The tel. is +244-2-372.874 and email: soleme(at)netangola.com

In the evenings, you can take a walk on the road leading to President's home. The area is full of military buildings, so quite Antonia, Palmina & Eulalia, Luanda, Angola, image by Sunil Deepaksafe even at late night. While walking there, we were the only foreigners out there but apart from a few 'Good nights' whispered to us by young soldiers, we never had any trouble (except once when we "strayed" in the area right in front of President's house and the guards were suddenly very nervous).

A picture in the computer room at Soleme made me curious about the family, full of women of different ages, so Maria Antonia arranged for me to meet her 97 year old mother, Maria Eulalia Augusta Leal Monteiro. She was born in Cabinda (a small Angolan territory in Congo) and her father was Portuguese. She married Jaime Ramos Monteiro, who was from Sao Tome. Senhora Eulalia had eight children, two sons and six daughters. One of her sons is Angolan ambassador for six republics from the former Soviet Union ands is based in Russia. All other children of Eulalia, including 17 grand children and 12 great grand-children are all living in Angola. A special thanks to senhoras Antonia and Palmina and their families for their warm Angolan hospitality. This visit wouldn't have been possible without the ever smiling support of our friends Jean Pierre and Marie Claude Brechet. Warm thanks to them as well.

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