Thursday, September 30, 2010

One of Angola's Natural Wonders.

Angola is home to some relatively unknown treasures of this world. As spectacular as any other world-wonder, the Black Rocks of Pungo Andongo rise up majestically over the African savanne landscape. Known locally as the Pedras Negras de Pungo Andongo, these rocks are one of the main tourist sites of the Malanje province. They are steeped in history and intrigue, since no one really knows how the colossal rocks, some up to 200 metres high, came to be here as their geological formation is out of keeping with the surrounding savannah.

Legend has it that in the sixteenth century, Pungo Andongo was the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Ndongo ruled by King Ngola Kiluanji and Queen Ginga Mbandi. Rock carvings found there are said to represent footprints of the fleeing queen who was disturbed by soldiers as she bathed in a stream at the foot of the stones.

In later years, the Portuguese established a military fort among the rocks which was notorious in Portugal. Its name was used to scare naughty children, their parents telling them they 'would end up in Pungo Andongo" if they misbehaved. In the 1920's political prisoners were held at the fort and during Angola's civil war the rocks were a key battleground between opposing forces. (Sonangol Universo Magazine, Sept 2010)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Angola's Day on the World Stage

Yesterday, Angola received a moment in the world spotlight during 'Angola Day' at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China. Of the 228 countries and international organizations that are participating in the six month Exposition, yesterday was Angola's day to be showcased.

The World Expo is essentially a global exhibition where the participating world countries can not only develop their relationship with the host country China, but also create and grow national, commerical, and cross-culture dialogues with visiting dignitaries from around the world.

In a ceremony chaired by the Angolan Vice President, Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos, the Vice President explained to the public at the venue the current political and economic situation of Angola, highlighting the Angola' growing economic potential and the government’s commitment to improving the living conditions of citizens.

The design of the Angola Pavilion was inspired by the welwitchia mirabilis, a flower unique to Angola.  The brightly-colored dangling straps on the pavilion's exterior walls resemble the leaves of the flower that lives between 300 to 1,000 years. 
The graceful, modern and attractive pavilion has the theme of 'Angola Ensures a Better Life,"  Divided into seven exhibition areas, the pavilion exhibited Angola's diversified landscapes and beautiful scenery, history, and culture. The second floor of the pavilion houses a business center, which is a platform for cooperation and exchanges between Angola and investors from different parts of the world.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New Hope for Angola's Amputees

Benadito Cacoma Boeis, now 27, was 12-years-old when he was walking down to the river in his native Luena to wash his shorts and go for a swim. It was a sunny day and his friends were already in the water, calling to him to jump in. Just at the water’s edge, he stepped on a landmine that instantly destroyed both of his legs.

This is an all too common story in the lives of many Angolans living in rural areas. The amputee population in Angola has been calculated as being over 100,000, the highest in the world, of which 8,000 are children under the age of fifteen.

Following the 27-year civil war which ended in 2002, Angola is one of the most mine-contaminated countries in the world. The Landmine Impact Survey of 2007 identified 1,988 communities as impacted by landmines and other remnants of conflict, with all 18 provinces, and an estimated 2.4 million people affected.

Despite these grave statistics, great progress has been made by multinational deming groups in clearing landmines and providing rehabilitation services to the heavily affected Angolan peoples. These NGO groups help thousands of Angolan demobilized soldiers and disabled civilians regain their dignity and become productive citizens through physical and psychosocial rehabilitation.

Besides the detailed process of individually examining and fitting the proper prosthesis to each amputee, counseling is given to address the social and psychological issues that often prevent war-wounded and other disabled Angolans from leading productive lives by partnering with a local organization to carry out educational and counseling activities. Recreational and sports activities are offered through the “Sports for Life” program, which demonstrates to both patients and their communities that those with war injuries can still be active, competitive and productive.
New Science in Detecting Landmines!   Weeds and humans to the rescue! Scientists in Denmark have been tinkering with Arabidopsis thaliana (the homely Thale cress) trying to produce a plant whose flowers will change color in the presence of landmines.
“Within three to six weeks from being sowed over land mine infested areas the small plant…will turn a warning red whenever close to a land mine.” Arabidopsis can be genetically sensitized to the nitrogen-dioxide (NO2) that leaches from buried explosives.

Arabidopsis, lab rat of the plant world, sprouts and blossoms quickly. “The seeds could be dropped from an airplane over a suspected minefield. After a few weeks of growth, soldiers and civilians could judge by the plants’ colours whether the area is safe. The plants could be a huge help to civilians who want to reclaim farmland after a war.” (Human Flower Project 2008)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Homeward Bound!

Eight years after the end of the civil war, Angolans are coming home. By the time the peace accord which brought hostilities to a close was signed in 2002, an estimated 600,000 had crossed Angola’s borders to neighbouring countries as refugees.

Now about 70,000 remain in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with 25,000 in Zambia and smaller groups in Namibia and the Republic of Congo. These remaining Angolans who fled decades of fighting in their country will be urged to return home next year, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday. "There are no more well founded grounds for fearing persecution. The war has stopped.... It is safe to return home," said Bohdan Nahajlo, the agency's representative in Angola. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees will stop supporting the camps after next year. Each host country can decide whether to accept the refugees as immigrants.

At the end of 2011, Angolans living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries will no longer be considered officially as refugees, meaning they will either have to return home or seek a visa to stay where they are, he said. "Refugee status is not a privilege. It is something that happens because of a desperate situation where people need additional protection," he said.  "But it cannot turn into a never ending, an open-ended situation, which may appear privileged in the eyes of the community living around the refugee settlements."

Returning to their homeland will be a pleasure spiced by the cruel events of the recent past. Many in their exiles countries will have attended courses on landmines and will have been given HIV-Aids awareness instruction. And after the excitement of renewing ties of kinship, the real struggle begins. Refugee families receive government-funded basic equipment: farming implements and seeds to grow crops; plastic sheeting, kitchen equipment, blankets and enough food for six months to nurture family life. (Reliefweb, June 22, 2010)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Profile of a 'Soba'

In all of Angola's provinces, the title “Soba” is given to the traditional community leaders to provide local guidance and leadership in solving social and physical community matters.

Sebastião Manuel Napoleão is the “Soba Grande” of the Ilha do Cabo in Luanda, the Big Soba, meaning he is the top man of his neighborhood. At 88 years of age, Grande Soba Napoleão is one of the most recognised faces in Ilha and earns the community respect with 24 children, 71 grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren and three great great grandchildren.
Previously, Sobas were chosed through traditional order of ancestry.  In these modern times, an open-air community meeting creates a shortlist of their desired leaders to have the final choice of the Grand Soba being made by the government.
The Grande Soba describes his job: "Some people see me as a traditional doctor, so people come here to seek cures. Sometimes the police send people here. Just say there is a fight between two people. They say that the first port of call is always the Soba. There are many incidents that the police will not deal with. For this there is the Soba. At the Soba’s place, everything can be sorted out. I give advice to young girls who get pregnant and have problems with their parents. I go and speak to the parents. The people always accept what the Soba says. If I am reprimanding some young men, I have to say things in a way that they get afraid."  (Sonangol Universo Magazine 2009)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Making Music, Angolan Style

Like all other African countries, Angola’s music defines the nation, enshrining the fibre of its culture, its aspirations and its dreams.  That unique music is generated from its own unique instruments.

In fact, Angolan musical instruments are a rare collection of odd and not-so-odd gadgets, simply crafted with the wisdom of sound, African sound, playing notes and rhythms that strike a chord in the roots of the soul.

Each instrument assumes a specific role for which it was crafted and is represented in almost all Angolan traditional events, ancient and modern from storytelling, folklore, music and dance to meetings and special gatherings, even healing rituals and in battle, as an instrument to communicate with soldiers or the enemy.

One of the most important Angolan instruments is the Marimba (as pictured above), a kind of xylophone made from wood with different sizes of gourds attached, which produce a highly recognisable sound for all Angolans. They can be played by two or three people using wood sticks similar to the familiar drumstick.

Then there is the Kissanje (or Mbira), Chisanji and Likembe, depending on the region and its native language), one of the oldest which because of its portable size is commonly carried during long trips “to keep away the solitude and warm the heart with familiar sounds”. This instrument is made usually by fixing metal blades in a plank of wood, and is played using the thumbs.

There are different types of drum according to their function, type of membrane and size of resonance box, but all usually have carved inscriptions to mark their relevance, or for purely ornamental purposes.

Other types of drum are the Phwitas, to be found along the coastline of Angola, used centuries ago for signalling in battle. This type of drum was also used to send messages between tribes, due to the penetrating and loud sound it makes.
(From Sonangol Universo Magazine Autumn 2007)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Plight of Fistula in Angola

Report from Dr. Nicholas Comninellis; visiting doctor to CEML.
One of the saddest health problems in all the developing world is vesicovaginal fistula (VVF). It’s a hole created between a woman’s bladder and her vagina, resulting in a constant, uncontrollable flow of urine out the vagina. As a result, many these women - and often children under their care - are outcast by their husbands and their communities.

At CEML, Dr. Steve Foster is performing the necessary, but often complicated surgical repair for a large number of women. But how about prevention? VVF is caused by complications of the normal birthing process. When the baby descends too slowly, undue pressure is placed on the mother’s bladder by the baby’s head, resulting in death of that tissue, and a subsequent hole. The solution? In short, provision of modern obstetrical care, where failure of the natural birth process is diagnosed and treated immediately.

While providing this vital surgery to many Angolan women afflicted with this malady, CEML is also commited to training midwives in efforts to improve the healthcare of birthing mothers.