Thursday, June 30, 2011

Angolan Food: Cassava Sticks

With its tropical and sub-tropical climate regions, Angola is has a perfect climate for growing tuberous roots such as yucca or cassava.  In rural areas, cassava is either a primary staple food or a secondary co-staple because of the ease of growth and its starch / carbohydrate content which gives the consumer a 'full-feeling'.
Cassava roots are very rich in starch and contain significant amounts of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin C.  However, they are very poor in protein and other nutrients.  In contrast, cassava leaves are a good source of protein and are rich in amino acids.
A common use of the root in Angola is to make cassava sticks.   Essentially, after the root has been peeled, shredded and pounded, the pounded flesh is wrapped up in banana leaves and then steamed for several hours to cook and soften.  
The finished cassava sticks are very thick and solid; thicker than mashed potatoes and nearly the consistency of modeling clay.The cooking infuses the flavor of the banana leaves with the cassava resulting in a flavor much like steamed artichoke.  The food is served warm or at room temperature with soup, stew or any other sauce dish.   The cooked sticks keep for several days if stored in the leaf wrapper in a cool, dry place.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Angola Refugees: A Woman's Personal Story

(UNHCR Report)  Fifty year old Angolan, Maria Mbuona, and six members of her family live in a tumbledown home the size of a garden shed.  When it rains, the thatched roof offers no protection and the flimsy wall are scant defense against malaria-carrying mosquitos.

Maria is a refugee, living in neighboring DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) in the Kilueka refugee settlement.  The settlement lies on largely barren land and life is extremely tough.  Maria wants to go back home to Angola after 12 years of living in exile.

She's not the only one; some 43,000 of her Angolan compatriots living in hundreds of settlements dotted around the province have said they want to return to northern Angola with the help of UNHCR (United Nations High Commission of Refugees). The remaining 37,000 Angolans in this country wish to stay, including a small number living in Kilueka.

The first batch is expected to return home next month under an agreement reached in early June between UNHCR and the governments of Angola and DRC. "The signing of this agreement and the adoption of practical measures for the voluntary repatriation of so many Angolan refugees is a significant achievement," said Mohamed Boukry, UNHCR's Kinshasa-based regional representative.

Maria should be among them. She was pregnant when she fled her home in the north-west Angolan province of Zaire and made her way to Bas-Congo in January 1999, during the third and final stage of the 1975-2002 Angolan Civil War, which left huge numbers dead or displaced and destroyed infrastructure.

She and her husband became separated from their eight children when armed assailants attacked their village. "It was midnight and the troops entered the village and started killing people," she recalled, adding that some children were kidnapped; the boys to be soldiers and the girls to work as porters.

She worried about her own children, including the baby in her belly, as she struggled to cover the 65 kilometres to the border and the town of Songololo, about 10 kilometres inside Congo. "I was taken to hospital in Songololo and I could still hear the gunfire."

But the family was reunited in Songololo before being moved to Kilueka, which was a camp at that time. UNHCR provided the refugees with basic assistance. "I lived for a year under that plastic sheeting," Maria said, referring to the ubiquitous shelter material she received.

She said it was difficult leaving everything behind, "including our culture." Between 2003 and 2008, UNHCR ran a first voluntary repatriation programme that saw 59,000 people go back. But many, like Maria, opted to remain in Bas-Congo. "I wasn't ready to go back. I had a child who was sick," she explained.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Angola - Going Digital

Angola is now among the top three countries in the SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) region whose migration from analog to digital communication is in an advanced state. Angola now shares digital capabilities jointly with South Africa and Botswana in areas of digital public television, ministries of social communication, telecommunications and ICT ( Information and Communication Technologies).

While the digital format has long been the standard for European and western nations, Angola's "advancement from seven to 50% within 5 years is very noticeable in today's world, especially in Africa and other Third World countries", claims the secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Hamadoun Toure.

The digital migration is a change from the analogical system of communication and transportation of data to digital technology, which will provide better efficiency as well as the reduction of excess equipment of consumers in the use of communications and ICT.

The Angolan government has just inaugurated a mobile ICT Center to take ICT to users situated in isolated areas around the country.  The mobile USD$30,000 Ndola Digital mobile ICT center is one of several to be rolled out in various regions of the country.   The first center includes 16 PCs, a printer and a projector for audiovisual lessons.

Angola's minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Maria Candida Teixeira, said the mobile centers would help provide education and digital inclusion to under-served communities. (ANGOP)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Angolan Albinos: Living with Health and Social Challenges

Albinism is a genetically inherited condition which affects some 2000 Angolans, according to World Health Organization statistics. While in Europe and the United States albinism affects about one in 20,000 people, in some parts of Africa the rate is as high as one in 1,100.  The prevalence of this rate is mainly attributed the ritual intermarriage practices of Africans to people within their own tribe, thus propagating the condition.

Genetically, albinism is passed from parent to child, in which the body does not produce the pigment melanin. Albinos are born with pale skin, light hair, pinkish eyes and and impaired vision. Melanin is the skin’s own natural protection against the sun’s rays and lack of melanin puts albinos at risk for many types of solar skin damage, including deadly skin cancers. The risk is of skin cancer is especially great for albinos living in sub-Sarahan African regions like Angola, where ultraviolet rays are high because of the close proximity to the Equator.

Inherent to Africans born with this genetic condition, comes social segregation and discrimination because of the obvious appearance dissimilarities and the long-held tribal superstitions about the powers that albinos are perceived to possess. While albinos in Angola appear to not face overt violent attacks because of cultural norms, reports from countries like Senegal and Tanzania tell how albinos face grave and even life-threatening discrimination.  Albinos have been murdered in Tanzania and Burundi, apparently being targeted because of the belief  peddled by some witch doctors that albino's blood or body parts have magical qualities that can bring riches or cure disease. 

In Angola, the lack of adequate health care, the difficulties accessing education and employment, and social marginalisation mean many albinos have their sight and skincare conditions exacerbated unnecessarily.  In the rural areas of Angola, this often relegates albinos to live in destitution with very few options for employment or healthcare. (adapted from WHO, UNHCR Refworld Report,

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Testing a Doctor's Pediatric Skills!

Angola has some of the highest infant mortality rates globally, which are attributed to the unimproved social and healthcare conditions.  Visiting doctor, Dr. Nicolas Comninellis, recently submitted the following report of his day of pediatric consultations at the CEML Hospital.

"Here at CEML it is the nurse practitioners that first attend to those coming for care. Paulo and Miguel are skilled, thoughtful, and can manage most individuals just fine. For me, they save the more complicated cases. Today, first, these included a four-year old girl who was growing normally until struck with cerebral malaria. She suffered a stroke and has been quadriplegic ever since. Second, they sent me an eight-year old girl with sudden liver failure, jaundice and ascites – all of unknown origin. Next, a two-month old with imperforate anus who was passing stool via his urethra. And finally, I received this eight-month old with hydrocephalus. Just a typical day of complicated pediatrics"
Check out Dr. Cominellis' blog and website for more information on international medicine - INMED

Monday, June 6, 2011

African Folklore: Why Mongoose Kills Snakes

(A Bushman Legend) In ancient times, Mongoose and Secretary Bird were great friends. One day they walking through the bush when they came upon a large snake.

Snake asked Mongoose to accompany him.  He found something special and wished to show it to Mongoose.  Secretary Bird said she was hot. She wished to bathe and drink at a water hole some distance away. So Secretary Bird said farewell to her friend Mongoose and flew off.

Mongoose and snake set off together. After a long walk, they came to a nest on the ground. The nest had some eggs in it. Snake knew that the nest belonged to Secretary Bird, but he did not tell Mongoose this.

"Have you every tasted eggs?" Snake asked Mongoose.
"No, Snake, I have never eaten an egg," replied Mongoose eagerly.
"They are very good. Why don't you try one?" suggested the cunning Snake. He broke open the shell of one of the eggs.

Both Mongoose and Snake started to eat the eggs. Mongoose agreed that he never knew anything that tasted so good. Just as they had gulped down the last egg, they saw Secretary Bird approaching.

The devious Snake called out, "Mongoose has eaten all of your lovely eggs!"

Secretary Bird was very angry and very sad that her friend Mongoose had betrayed her. Then she saw that Snake had egg around his mouth too!

"You have both eaten my eggs," Secretary Bird said furiously.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Angola Slavery Museum: A Monument to a Painful Past of Trade Activity

Situated some 18 kilometers south of the capital city Luanda,  sits the National Museum of Slavery; a monument using the original building that processed the transferral of thousands of slaves.

The Museum consists of the Chapel and adjacent rooms; it is a tiny two-story building that sits on a beautiful cliff facing the ocean and Mussulo Island. The Museum itself is relatively modest, but in spite of its size and simplicity, the message is big: “it is a testament and a reminder of the history of the Angolan people who lived in the day of slavery and it stands as a monument to those who suffered and were affected by slavery.

This little museum is of great importance in the history of slavery because over a period of two centuries, through its doors, millions of slaves entered it to be baptized before being sent off on their arduous journey to the colonies in the Americas. The bulk of the slaves exported to the new world departed the shores of Luanda and were sent to Bahia, Brazil, with a good number sent directly to the North America and the Caribbean islands.

According to historians, slavery in Angola existed since the early times. But starting in the 16th century the conquest of Portugal's explorers began the founding of settlements and trade ports which mitigated and expanded the major trading activities with the Imbangala and Mbundu tribes.  These tribes were inherently involved in an internal 'African slave trade' and the arrival of the Portuguese precipitated the beginning of the 'Atlantic Slave Trade'.

For several decades, slave trade with the Portuguese colony of Brazil was an important trade avenue in Portuguese Angola, and also an important supplier of workers for the emerging Brazilian agricultural sector.   Historians note that besides the benefit of two Portuguese colonies, the slave trade also benefited the local black merchants and warriors who profited from the trade. In the 17th century, the  Imbangala tribe became the main rivals of the Mbundu in supplying slaves to the Luanda slave processing market. In the 1750's the Portuguese sold 5,000 to 10,000 slaves annually, devastating the Mbundu