One Step Beyond – Angola – Luena
Luena is an African city of – let's say – 150,000 inhabitants. That's an approximation because the figure varies from 60,000 (including 30,000 refugees) to 200,000 (with 50,000 refugees). No proper evaluation exists.
The WFP (World food Program) provides a pretty reliable figure: 32,000 people receive their food via air supplies. That's around 800-1,000 tons of food per month. The cost of its transportation is about $300/ton – compare that to the price of $20-$30/ton when trucks are used. But all of these statistics become sort of useless ("there are no data" says Sergio from WFP). This is a place with a lot of strong and strange smells, just like everywhere in Luena. It's surrounded by many trees, and incredibly green nature. The ground is sandy, as it is in most of Luena. And the streets are sandy too, apart from some asphalted lanes, which are nevertheless only slightly less bumpy.
It's warm in Luena – hot, even. And it's humid. You forget to drink. You have to force yourself to drink water all the time. And you don't eat enough. Food isn't always available. You can't just walk into a shop or a restaurant, and ask for some food. Eating has to be well-planned. Luena is in a war zone. Although there's no fighting in the city itself, the civil war is quite evident. There are many refugees in camps. And a lot of military. Scars from the former war are evident. There's a lot of aircraft – like helicopters or small observer planes – in the air. Sometimes you hear shots at night – fired by drunken soldiers on their way back to the camps. The city is destroyed. Many houses are falling down or damaged by artillery. The streets are shit, and there aren't any street lights (of course – there's no electricity). Here and there, one sees small signs of recovery – like new flowers planted in front of a bar (and protected from children with barbed wire). Some houses have recently been painted.
Sebastian introduces me to a lot of people. These people are from the Jesuit Refugee Service. The Lutherans also have an office here. We drive to the registration centre for new refugees arriving in Luena, run by the OCHA (Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). We meet Sharon from MAG (Mine Advisory Group), one of the mine clearing NGO's in Luena. Sharon tells us that there will be a demolition of explosives on the weekend – it's a spectacular event, with mine clearers blowing up a lot of mines and UXO (unexploded ordnance). Sharon also shows us several maps that indicate the mine fields in and around Luanda, as well as those which have already been demined, or are currently being cleared.
We drive over bumpy, sandy streets. We cross broken tracks, and pass rotten houses. And there are a lot of people on the streets – walking, running, or carrying loads on their heads – alone, or in groups. The privileged ride bicycles. Several soldiers are on pick-up trucks. Many people here have lost their legs. At least 600 people in Luena are mine victims. We see a crowded market. The very basics are sold here – like beans, maniok roots and leaves, fruit, and tomatoes. Here and there, you see canned food or drinks.
You can drink beer in Luena – but it's only available in cans. On "Castle" beer cans, it's written: "Keep your country tidy". A can will cost you 30 Kwanzas ($1.10), three times the price in Luanda, and the same price as a Coke. And then there are cigarettes. You can even buy Marlboros – if rarely. That more or less sums up the obvious capitalist consumer goods – if you don't count the few radios children are often carrying. The telephone has been out of service for the past month. Long distance calls are only possible via satellite phone.