Angola, We Head Off To Luanda

In about 2004 we set about creating yet another new life in Angola. A country that until shortly before our arrival in Luanda (its capital) had been involved in a three way civil war that had been raging for some 30 years. This was basically a war against the Portuguese colonists in the beginning, and […]

In about 2004 we set about creating yet another new life in Angola. A country that until shortly before our arrival in Luanda (its capital) had been involved in a three way civil war that had been raging for some 30 years. This was basically a war against the Portuguese colonists in the beginning, and then later became yet another of Africa’s proxy wars between the USA and the USSR. The USA used the South Africans as their tool for this, and the Russians used Cubans as theirs. This was all about diamonds, oil, uranium and several other valuable resources that Angola has in huge quantities.

What it meant in practice was that three armies  – the third being a bunch who owed no allegiance to either the USA or the USSR, but simply wanted to rule the country for their own benefit (money you know) rampaged around the country, killing and destroying anything that got in their way.

We were going to Angola as Lotty (my wife) had landed a job in Luanda International School as the Middle Year Program Coordinator and I was going to be found work upon our arrival.

Anyhow, on leaving France, we went first to London, said goodbye to various family members, and then caught a flight from London to Johannesburg. This flight was a longish one, and owing to some sort of strike with the BA catering department, there was no food on the plane..

This meant real suffering for one such as I.

Then on arrival in South Africa, we were confronted by the reality of what apparently is one of the most violent cities in the world. Razor wire everywhere, signs in several languages on private houses warning of “armed response” to any attempt to enter uninvited, guns galore, newspaper articles about the 20,000 unsolved murders annually in South Africa and a general feeling that this is not a safe or good place to be.

Quite a shock to us after our peaceful lives in rural France I can tell you.

Anyhow, we were met and whisked off to a sort of conference centre/retreat on the edge of Johannesburg for an intensive week of workshops to introduce us to the ideas of our new school, and to get to know our new colleagues, and to be given a lot of background information about living in Angola..

This turned out to be a very pleasant week, friendly interesting people, good food, comfortable accommodation, generally a good experience, one which gave us hope that working in Luanda might be a good experience. Continue reading “Angola, We Head Off To Luanda”

My Attempt To Be A Teacher – Not My Thing!

This posting will be an account of my experiences as a supply teacher! I know, its unbelievable, but it has happened!

While we were working at Luanda International School, it was understood that in need, I could be used as a supply teacher.   Something that I had hoped would never occur, as I have never wanted to be a teacher, and looked upon the whole concept with considerable angst and fear.

However, one day the worst happened.  I was walking through the school office whistling a happy tune, and I was grabbed by the principal as I passed,  and told abruptly that I would be put into a class of kids for the first week of the next term as the normal class teacher was getting married and would thus return to school 5 days after the start of term.

After having been told that I would be teaching, I managed to find time in the last weeks of that term to spend a bit of time in the classroom I would be looking after, which if anything simply increased my apprehension, even though the kids couldn’t have been kinder to me.

When I arrived in the classroom at the beginning of the term, Richard, the fellow whose class I was to look after, had been kind enough to leave me a load of notes telling me what to do, and another colleague who teaches the same age group (the class is split into two groups) met with me the day before term began to also tell me what to do. So, well armed with a mass of photocopied tasks and a head full of “you could try doing this” stuff, I waited in the class room on the first morning, full of trepidation, for the kids to arrive.

kids-in-class-01This is the class I “Taught”  

Which they duly did, to my disappointment, as I had been hoping for an earthquake or something to make the whole exercise unnecessary.

As it was a short week, starting on Wednesday, not all the kids had returned from their Christmas break, so I only had 10 kids – which felt more than enough for me!

At Luanda International School, they don’t teach with the kids at desks in rows, but rather with a number of tables scattered around the room, at which the kids sit, so there is no focus in the room, which meant that I had to sort of wander around like a lost sheep, attempting to keep things moving as they should.

The normal morning routine was that one of the kids took the register, while the others started on a series of maths games, working individually and (supposedly) in silence. To my amazement this went very well, they all knew the routine and simply got on with it. Made me feel more than a little redundant, but it was a relief!

The only problem then was that having completed the maths tests, I had to see if they had managed to answer the questions correctly… which entailed asking them to tell me the answer to each question (“hands up who knows the answer to number………”) Which I then had to write on the board. Two problems here… Firstly, I had to work out quickly in my head what the correct answers were…. What the hell is the “denominator?” and then, almost worse, write this on the board. Now, the teachers among you will find this normal and unremarkable, but my handwriting is lousy at the best of times, and writing on a board is a skill… Which I most decidedly do not have. I did my best to appear cool, calm and collected as I scrawled on the board, my writing getting bigger and smaller, line descending and mounting…. and then having to make the letters and numbers increasingly small to fit on the board. Oh misery!

We all survived this experience, and the kids seemed happy enough with my efforts (the policy in this school was to call teachers by their last name, preceded by Mr or Miss or Mrs, so I had to be addressed as Mr Cole…which the kids instantly changed to Mr Cool, rather to my pleasure)

We then moved on to “Language”, which involved the kids coming up with a lot of words to describe irritation, and having made these lists, write a short story using as many of these words as they could. On the face of it, a simple thing to do.. But a number of these kids hardly spoke English, so that was tricky too. But we all persevered, and most kids managed, with the help of dictionaries and a certain input from me to find a respectable number of words meaning irritation.

So then on to writing the story with these words. My first serious problem. Most of them calmly got on with it and scribbled away happily enough, but two kids simply sat there and gazed at me. After a while I registered that these two hadn’t even started, so I went to one of them, an American kid and asked him why he wasn’t which he responded, looking me firmly in the eye that this was not Language, that it was vocabulary, and he saw no point in the entire exercise.

Hummmmm… Over to quiet, friendly explaining mode, I thought to myself, and began to explain to him that language was in fact made up of, among other things, vocabulary. He gazed at me as I went on about this, and when I had finished what I felt had been a masterly exposition of the benefit and point of having a good vocabulary, he simply gazed at me, and didn’t move. I suggested, quietly, that perhaps I would be a good plan for him to get his head down and do some work, to which, to my well concealed fury, he merely reiterated his point that it wasn’t language.

Hmmmm….. So, dumping all educational theories, I simply told him to get on with it or I would tear his legs off at the hip and beat him to death with them. I hasten to add that I said this with a friendly grin. To my surprise, this did the trick and he put his head down and got on with it. Ah what it is to be an educational pioneer, eh?

By this time, the second kid had started to work, so I regrouped and started to think what I would do with them as the following task.

Happily, at this point it was morning break, so they all dashed off and I sat down and wondered what I had let myself in for.

To my vast relief the rest of the morning was taken up by them going off to other, specialist teachers (Portuguese, computers and music) so I had the rest of the morning to prepare myself for the afternoon..and to rapidly seek advice from my other colleague.

The afternoon was also Language, but a different approach. Firstly I had to read to them for about 20 minutes (these kids are about 10, by the way) from an adventure book that they had been working with for a while during the last term. Having read to them, we then discussed what I had read, and this went very well…. They had listened well, and were obviously engaged by the story, and had a number of points to make about the section I had read to them… bliss… 45 minutes passed in a useful and pleasant fashion. After this, it was my honour and duty to introduce them to a New Concept In Language…. 

The Cliff Hanger.

To do this I had a whole set of photocopied material, consisting of an example of a cliff hanger, plus a number of “cliff hanging” ending sentences, and an explanation of what a cliff hanger was. All good stuff, and simple too. So we had fun with this concept for the better part of the afternoon, with the kids producing a lot of stories which tended to end with the word… “and suddenly….” But they had got the point, and even began to see that there were better ways of doing it than ending with that word. So I felt reasonably happy with my first days work.

I duly sent them off home, with their homework assignments, and then collapsed in a handy heap.

Teaching is bloody hard work!
Continue reading “My Attempt To Be A Teacher – Not My Thing!”


Some years ago, Lotty and I worked in Angola, arriving about three months after the 30 year civil war had ended, and found ourselves in a ruined country, in which travel was tricky to put it mildly.  However, we were invited one day to go and look at the very first oil source in Angola.

This trip was organised by a couple who had been in Angola for a very long time, and both of whom worked in the oil industry there, as do almost all non-Portuguese expats.

Four of us from the International School of Luanda (where we worked) went on this trip, which meant leaving the school at 6:15 am! After recovering from this early start, we rumbled through a surprisingly active Luanda (This was a Sunday morning, by the way) to a section of Luanda called Mirimar, which I have never visited before, and appears to be the part where the rich and Embassies have their being… streets of very expensive looking houses, and the sure sign of wealthy people, lots of broken car window glass along the pavements (the Break the Window of the BMW and Steal Everything from Inside it syndrome). From here, we had a superb view of the port of Luanda, but we were warned not to take any photos of it, as it is considered to be a security risk if someone such as I should happen to have any snap shots of mountains of containers and lots of rusty ships… oh well……

Anyhow, there were about 50 of us, spread over some 25 huge 4×4’s, and after a short lecture beside the road about what we were going to see…… Off we headed, in a most imposing convoy.

It would have made the Mayor of London happy to have seen us, all those 2 ton SUV’s roaring along a perfectly good road. Oh well, you are nothing around here if you don’t have a monstrous 4×4.

We were heading north of Luanda, to a part of Angola that neither Lotty or I have yet seen, so we were very curious about what it would look like. It turned out to be flat….extremely flat, which is one reason there is oil to be found there… the land there is made up of sedimentary rocks, which are soft, and thus weather easily, unlike the granite which makes up about 90% of Africa (We were told all of this by the guy organising the trip).

Anyhow, we rumbled along happily in our convoy, causing people in the various villages and small towns we went through to wonder what the hell was going on, reasonably enough…. we were the event of the day for a lot of them, I reckon.

After a while, we stopped at a bridge over one of the regions main rivers to admire the view across the flat country to the mountains in the distance, but were warned not to stray too far from the cars, owing to the recently discovered presence of landmines all around this bridge (I was worried about how they had discovered them!) We sort of stood nervously around, taking photos of each other for a while, whilst the leader of our intrepid group told us a wee bit of war history, relating to this bridge and road. It seems that owing to the marshy quality of the land in this part of Angola, the only way for tanks to get across it was via this road and bridge. As the enemy (FNLA) neared this bridge, the gallant defenders of Luanda (MPLA) had posted a whole group of Stalin Organs (Multiple rocket launchers mounted on trucks) on top of a nearby ridge with the intention of blowing the FLNA tanks and soldiers to hell and back as they neared this bridge along the road. However, there was one problem… No one had a clue how to use the things!