I am currently on the plateforme
COBO1 with Fred. We are giving a seminar
on machinery diagnostics and the use of ADRE, our field diagnostics data
acquisition software/hardware. It is about
120 km from shore about 230 km nw from Luanda, Angola. Every one on board here smokes except Fred
and me. At least there is no smoking in
class while class is going. That doesn't
stand for breaks.
The flight in was
interesting. The flight here left
Bruxelles at 23h00 Thursday. It was
pretty full. Business class and first
was full of texans from Texaco. In fact,
I watched a drunk cowboy try and hit on a blonde a few rows up all night
long. It was pretty funny. The people around and the person he was
leaning over to must have been enraged by the time the sun came out. I had trouble sleeping. I was in the middle seat between fred and a
stranger. C'est normal. We arrived in Luanda around 08h30. The plane was on the tarmac, so we descended
onto the tarmac. It was a little strange
looking at a 747 from below it. It just
made the size more impressive. There
were some UN planes and UN trucks. Also
there were a few trucks for some relief agencies. It all was so close and real at that
point. We were in what they call in
France black africa. We spent about one
and a half hours getting through the passport check. The people were smoking in line too. We got our 200 kg of baggage ok. We paid 7000 francs to have it sent as extra
baggage. There were three local
teenagers who helped us with our baggage. They just started helping without any
prompting. We were easy targets. Getting through customs wasn't too bad. The customs agent asked us to open about half
of the cases. He was quite shocked at
the high tech metal things like the rotor kit and all the electronic
accessories, that probably looked a lot like bombs. He therefore called his supervisor who asked
for a list of material, then he took it away, and brought it back with a stamp
and a signature. This was a list to
ensure we take out what we brought in.
We made to the curb and waited for our contact from elf exploration
angola. The kids asked for money so we
gave some to them in dollars. Everyone
says dollars are good just about everywhere.
It was quite strange on the curb.
We waited there for about an hour and a half. It was a long wait. There were about 50 locals, adolescents to
old people. Most of them were black with
a few white people peppered in there.
The white people were either oil people, missionaries, or the few
medical people who were from the medcins
group that we saw in the tent by St. Pierre's Cathedral in
Nantes. It was quite noisy and
bustling. It was kind of nerve
racking. I was trying to keep an eye on
the equipment while Fred looked for our contact. These people, mostly kids, came up to our
equipment and looked at the pile of equipment about the size of a small car in
France. The official Bently Nevada
baggage porters hung out and kept us company.
They didn't speak french or english.
They spoke portugese, the official language of Angola. While we were waiting, a guy who spoke
french, offered to take us to the elf hotel.
He said “I am Taximan”. I don't
think he was legitimate, meaning he didn’t have a license. He probably wasn't going to kill us, but I
didn't want to take the chance. Thoughts
of being left in the desert without all my stuff kind of overrode the urge to
get out of there. He was actually nice,
and he even knew all the cops all around.
There were a lot of cops or military.
They were dressed in army style clothes with combat boots and
berets. There were a few kids around
with shoe polishing kits, who polished the shoes of all the officials. The officials stood with one foot on the kit
looking all pompous and proud. There was
a chain to limit the people from entering the airport with cops manning the
chain. The people would crowd around and
bustle about. I guess a kid got too
rowdy and the cop frapped him in the lip.
He immediately went and found a rock, picked it up, returned and began
to yell and scream at the cop. A
headline flashed through my head AMERICAN
KILLED IN RIOT IN ANGOLAN AIRPORT
Or during a riot, all the equipment disappears. Nothing really happened. The tension was relieved to my normal waiting
on the curb level.
Fred finally found someone from
the elf hotel who was there by chance.
We loaded our volkswagon size equipment into his not too much bigger
than a volkswagon little truck and went to the hotel. The streets were as could be imagined. But packed with people. Selling anything from cokes, fruit, fish to
large mousetraps about the size to catch a small house cat. Makes you shudder to think of the size of the
varmits they are made for. A lot of the
women were selling stuff. They carried
thier wares on top of their heads like you see in tribal films of Africa. There were a lot of people sitting around
too. Wherever there was shade, there
were people in it. Including the airport
runway which had old planes along the sidelines which have been slowly picked
over for spare parts. The wings provided
the shade from the equatorial sun. We
passed through some pretty shady looking places. I got kind of worried when the driver left
the big unorganized streets to these little unorganized streets. And then I thought it was all over when we
went from the little unorganized streets to a smaller alley. Happily, we got to the hotel. Outside the hotel it was like any other
rundown third world building. Inside, it
was like any three star hotel in France.
A nice bar, nice french restaurant.
Kind of like a little france haven inside the chaos of the street. It was quite strange. The difference between inside to outside was
quite black and white, literally. The
clients inside were white, and the servers black. Everyone outside was black. I felt uncomfortable with the difference. Outside in the streets, kids were crawling
through the garbage. Inside we were
eating a very good french meal with wine and fromage, the whole bit. We found out that the Machinery Diagnostics
Course was going to be on the plateforme.
We would leave immediately after lunch.
We picked up the people in the class on the way back to the
airport. One of the roads was being repaved. We took a detour through some even poorer
places. We were going so slow, long
enough for all the people in the street to stare at the van load of us and our
equipment. It was equally as
uncomfortable. Through all my worrying,
there was no sign of any trouble.
We arrived at the airport
again. We un-loaded our equipment and
waited there inside for our helicopter.
The people there were a lot more well off than most of the people in the
streets. I guess they had more money,
since they were travelling by air. There
were a lot of women dressed in some really beautiful colorful african
clothes. The type of dresses where they
are just a piece of material wrapped around artistically with the head wrap
also. It was refreshing. There were a lot of mothers with their
infants/toddlers strapped to there backs with a simple piece of cloth,
creatively tied around the waist. The
kids just slept or observed contently from their post. We were about 8 and our luggage about 250
kg. They decided to ship us in two
loads. The people and the equipment
weighed too much for one helicopter. The
little door to the gate area was quite crowded.
I was packed with people trying to get in with cops limiting the number
inside to the gate area. The people had
tickets to get in and we didn’t. But we
got in. We were all white and the others
not let in were all black. Another
instance of the difference of black and white.
Not at all comfortable with the blatant difference in treatment.
In contrast to the helicopter to
the plateforme in the north sea, there were no thermal safety suits and no dry
suits. The water here is quite warm in
equatorial africa. The air is quite warm
also. It is ok if you just sit there in
the shade, but if you move around and exert anything, it starts to get
uncomfortable. The helicopter ride was
about an hour. We landed first on a
tanker. This was the storage for all
crude oil from the platformes. All the
plateformes have flares running full bore.
This is the natural gas that comes with the crude. They use it to run gas turbines and then
torch the rest. It is too long from the
shore to run a pipeline, and plus there is not a whole lot of consumption of
natural gas on shore.
We landed on AHMED. This serves as the hotel for the rest of the
satellite plateformes. They gave us a
tour as well as safety instructions. The
last guy to talk to us was the nurse/medic.
He gave us a pamphlet and said sign this to say that you have read the
pamphlet. And told us to read it
later. He then told us that alchohol is
PROHIBITED ... but tolerated. Some times
you can buy an aperitif, and wine is served with dinner. Essentially, they don't abuse it. If you do, you go home. The mess hall is a normal french meal, with
the entrée, plat principal, fromage, et dessert. They assigned fred and I to the same room
which was intended for four.
We worked till midnight setting
up the equipment and class. We planned
the class session and realized that it would take a lot longer because they
haven't been using the ADRE they bought in may.
We would have to teach them about probes to ADRE. We started the class at 06h30 and ended at
around 19h00. The days here a 12
hours. We then had dinner. They wanted more so we demonstrated various
equipment to them till about 0h00.
Started again the next day 06h30.
We ended up working to 23h00.
Shower – sleep. Class 06h30. Happily, class and the rest of the demo stuff
ended around 21h00. enough time to
prepare for the next day and plan a little.
The next day we went to take some data on one of their compressors. They had all of their machines equipped with
CML vibration monitors. Our competitor
had won the sale three years back. The
client has sent at least 300 monitors back to the factory for repair. This was a third of the reason we were
there. Just an example, the client
disconnected the cables from the isolated “buffered outputs” from the front of
the monitors and this shut the machine down.
Evidently, this is typical function for these monitors. Half of the vibration monitors are
bypassed. That is the machine has no
protection from high vibration. That
ended our practical sessions on data acquisition for the rest of the week. We finished the week fairly easily on
Wednesday evening. A few of the practical
workshops did not work, because we had no time to prepare the labs.
Looking from the plateforme, we
could see fish swimming below. We say
manta rays, sharks, and other fish. One
of the evening activities was to watch some guys fish from the railings. It was another irony of africa. The railings they fished over also had signs
which said Pêcher interdite ;
Pescado Prohibido ; Fishing prohibited. Most of the guys fishing were
Philipiinos with a few french men. The
s sold the fish for a dollar a kilo to the kitchen. This made for good eating the next day. Normally in the stores in France, the fish
could sell for up to 20 dollars a kilo.
The first night i watched, they caught about 100 kilos between about 8
fishermen. The equipment was very
simple. A string, a weight, and a hook
with a small fish hooked to the hooks.
They were catching some good size fish.
Some were about 10 kilos or so.
It kind of made me snicker at some of the apparati people buy catch fish
like that when here, they use line and hooks.
They use a special rope with a hooks to get the fish up to the
plateforme. This plateforme was about 15
metres from the sea. One night we saw
some dolphins feeding. When that happens
the philipinos take in their lines and go home.
There was a french boat captain who was fishing when there were some
dolphins. We even saw some fish
around. He said when there are dolphins,
there are fish. Evidently, when there
are dolphins, the fish aren’t thinking about eating, more about surviving. El capitain had no fish where as the other
night the philipinos had a large box ful o 100 kilos of tuna and other scrumptous fish. I met a guy from the Philipinnes named
joon. That is short for junior. He hadn’t seen his family in 18 mos. The philipinos painted the plateforme,
cleaned the deck and manned the fire stations when the helicopter landed and
We took our helicopter back to
the shore to get to our flight home later that evening. We went to the elf office on shore. It
was accross the street from the beach.
every door there were smoking prohibited signs.
Each one different. Ironic that
each of the people inside every office were smokers and evidently excercised
their right to smoke, contrary to the local ordinance posted on the door. We needed to get a stamp that said we were
immunized for cholera. We went to the
medical clinic which full of locals waiting for what looked like hours. At least it was AC inside for those
waiting. We walked directly to the front
and into a doctor’s office. The people
weren’t waiting to see him, but it must have looked like we bypassed the line
because we were white. He stamped and
signed our immunization cards and off we were.
Another instance of special treatment for us that I did not feel totally
comfortable with, but not too uncomfortable to not stand at the end of the line
even though we weren’t waiting for the same person.
Fred and I played pool at the
hotel until our driver came to get us to the airport. The hotel wasn’t far from
the beach. When we first arrived, I was
too occupied with the immediate surroundings to notice that the beach was two
blocks away. Along the beachfront, there
were some very beautiful buildings.
Mostly goverment buildings. The
most striking was a brand new very large bank, with marble sidewalks even. Again the contrast between, evidently, the
very rich and the very run down buildings around was startling. For the most part, the people were
clean. Even what seemed the very poor.
One really neat picture was three or so kids, totally naked, dousing themselves with water from a spigot
on the street. I don’t know if they were
cooling down or bathing. Either way, it
looked like they were having fun. There
were some very disheartening sights of kids, naked or just wearing underwear,
searching through garbage for whatever might be of help.
We arrived at the airport with
our volkswagon of baggage. There were
six different portes to go through with cops at the door. One to get inside the building of the
airport. I saw the young cop take a
handful of cash from a kid. He stood
there and counted it in open sight. The
second was cop to go through the door to the baggage inspection with a guy who
I guess prompted our driver for some loot.
The third was the baggage inspection.
They inspected all of our bags.
The next was a cop to let us into the ticket counter line. Our agent had the tickets ready and our
boarding passes. He helped us load our
baggage for the ticket counter lady. He
asked for the credit card for the extra luggage. He then asked if we had fifty dollars cash
for the luggage instead of the credit card.
50 dollars is much less than the 1100 dollars we paid in France. There is no receipt for this expense. I don’t know how this will fly with the
accountant on the expense report. The
third was to let us into the passport area.
The fourth was to get our passports stamped for the exit stamp. The fifth was to get into the boarding
There was a line with everyone to get into the boarding
area. They were mostly texans from
texaco. They were loud and bawdy. After we entered the boarding area, we all
saw that the chairs were full of local kids with bandages around parts of their
body. Upon closer inspection, some had
very large bandages covering whole legs and arms. One kid had the whole side of his body
covered from his waist to his ear. Some
had missing limbs. Some looked totally
normal. We all remembered we were in
africa. Especially in Angola. Angola has the most land mines of any african
country after several years of civil war.
Angola was the last country Lady Diana visited in her campaign against
land mines before she died. A deep sense
of culpabilty fell over the crowd of white oil people. It could sincerely be sensed because it was
almost dead quiet. One guy went up to
one of the kids and asked how he was doing.
The guy was american, he didn’t speak portuguese, and the kid didn’t speak
english. The guy felt compassion but
could do nothing to help at this point.
The kid was mostly scared of him.
He was clearly frustrated. A lot
of low conversations talked about the problems of victims of land mines and
disease. To me it seemed like idle talk
when compared to the real product of disease and dismemberment sitting in front
of us. Every so often, they would carry
a kid off to the bathroom. They probably
were taking them there due to dysentery.
Some kids were just very very thin.
Some were skin and bones and missing limbs also. It was really unsettling when they brought
the bus up to the door. A third of the
kids needed to be carried to the bus. A
couple screamed and cried due to the evident pain. The carrying off of the kids pretty much
silenced the crowd. I wanted to help
carry some to the bus but the fear of being exposed directly to diseases kept
me from being kind and helpful. What a
coward. There were only a few people to
carry the kids who could not walk.
Watching each of the workers make their return trips for the kids made
me feel even smaller. After the last
kid, who cried most of the way out , I was convinced I was downright evil. I thought they would be going to a different
plane because they were on a different bus than us. I had hoped it too. It was too close and too uncomfortable to be
confronted with the realities of the hard side of the world. God knew what I was thinking. The timing was such that the kids were being
carried up to the 747 from the tarmac as our bus arrived. We then had to identify our baggage on the
tarmac to be loaded onto the plane. This
was to ensure that no baggage got on the plane that didn’t belong to anyone on
the plane. All the kids were sitting in
the same area to the right of the plane.
Against my fears again, my seat was in the middle of the row across the
aisle from the kids. Evidently, the
responsibility for the kids was handed off to some white people who at least
spoke portuguese. I believe they were
belgian. The name on one of the trucks
in the Luandan airport matched the name on the trucks in the Brussels
airport. I guess there are some
organizations who take some of the kids from africa to europe for special care
like care for cancer, aids and other special needs. Most of the kids went asleep right
away. One was shouting for his mother and
father. The possibility and likelihood
of most of these kids being orphans became conscious. The kid cried for his Mama and Papa most the
night quite loudly. He also repeated a
phrase over and over in portuguese. The
Belgian lady tried several times to console him and keep him quiet with no
success. I couldn’t sleep anyway, he had
nothing to do with my inability to sleep while sitting up. It didn’t bother me much. My inabiltiy to get some sleep seemed minor
compared to what this guy was experiencing.
He was off to a totally different country, continent, climate while
severely in distress and probably pain.
Through all my guilt and feelings
of culpability, being white in a black country exploiting the natural resources
in the sea, fred reminded me that 80% of the profits stay in the country fro
all the oil production. That counts to 20,000,000 dollars a day. If that money is not sufficient to help some
of the ills there, well I don’t know. I
know from my little experience there, a lot of the money for the oil profits
and aid organizations does not make it to the people who need it through
corruption. It still does not lift the
feeling of culpability.
I spent the rest of the morning
trying to get some sleep before my connecting flight home to Nantes. Those airport seats are tough to get
comfortable in, but I guess not too tough because I slept with a bar in the
middle of my back while 50 or so Germans crowded around me for their flight to
Munich. I woke up as they were
I returned home to hillary and
proceeded to sleep the evening and early night.