African Window Shopping

12322536_10102163250390672_4913808849918494200_oFor as long as I’ve heard of Luanda I’ve known that the town is pricey. It has religiously been on the top ten list of the most expensive cities in the world and when I happen to spot Angolans in Brasil, South Africa or Mozambique they stick out like a very sore, expensive thumb. They tend to be flashy and fashion conscious elsewhere, but how can that be when they warn that Luanda’s shop prices are appalling?

If you don’t know much about Africa or southern Africa or Angola, you should get acquainted. The country sits on the southwest coast of Africa, just south of both Congos and north of Namibia *Windhoek.* It was once colonized by the Portuguese and Luanda was the epicenter of economic life. Colonization took a strong hold here and, for me, its remnants are more visible here than in other ex-Portuguese colonies. The Portuguese fought hard to keep Angola within the crown because there were so many expats living there and so much money made from exports and natural resources. Independence came in 1975 after a multifaceted resistance movement that started as early as 1956. After independence, a civil war broke out between nascent political parties and it lasted until 2002. Over half a million people lost their lives and about 1 million were said to be displaced (both internally and internationally). The country shares porous borders and cultural ties with its neighbors, with many people having relatives that live in both Congos & speak French or in Namibia & speak English. Tribulations in bordering countries have reverberations in Angola.

How did the capitol get so expensive? Angola is an oil rich state. Much of the nation’s conflicts and economy revolve around an oil rich region named Cabinda. It is disputed territory, but the Angolans have held fast to their claim. Oil is the backbone of Angola’s economy and, with its protectionist policies & hefty bureaucracy, much of the nation’s wealth has remained in country.  The colonial legacies of Namibia (forcibly annexed to South Africa) have resulted in either family ties or none at all to its neighbors to the south, so they’re not dumping their cash into the @home store in Cape Town as much as I had suspected. Angolans tend to keep within the Portuguese speaking world and often head to Lisbon for all things they idealize.

Oddly enough, Portuguese neo-colonialism has resulted in the demand for Portuguese imports and the oil market has powered the ability of many people in Luanda to willingly pay the high costs of transportation, fees, taxes and mark ups involved in getting goods from Europe.

Anywho, Luanda is notorious for being a shopping nightmare. I was told to bring my food with me and only plan to purchase perishables in town. I was warned to be prepared and to pack well, because I’d be giving up a limb and a progeny to replace basic clothing items forgotten in my haste.

I’m happy to report that it’s not so bad to shop in Luanda, but there are a few catches. First, there is a lot of poverty. I don’t want to paint the picture that this town looks like the Abu Dhabi of Africa. There are many people who struggle for the basics and I would be remiss to omit them. Second, the exchange rate, foreign currency exchange, and oil prices have all fluctuated ridiculously over this past year. It has resulted in the USD to Kwanza exchange being officially 135 Kwanza to 1 USD, but the street rate can go as high as double that.  Based on exchange alone, prices have dropped about 50% for those paid in dollars. Third, Luanda is full of stores. I mean FULL. There are boutiques everywhere. There are new malls popping up. There is an abundance and variety of options, if you’re actually looking and think you can afford it. So, I went on the prowl.

I shopped craft fairs:

I shopped designer boutiques:

I shopped mid range shops:

 

And I reached out to independent designers:

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We all know this is not the end of my exploratory shopping project, but the initial visit was indeed promising. Artisan crafts are much higher priced than what can be found in neighboring countries, but since Luanda believes itself to be very Afro-Europolitan  there are actually few craft shops to choose from anyway. I’d say hitch a layover to Johannesburg airport and shop duty free instead. There’s more variety and quality there than in Luanda.

The clothing boutiques vary. I absolutely fell in love with a dress priced at 36,000 Kwanza or about $265 USD. While the dress was cute and it actually fit, it was made in China by a brand called Hesperus. Google it and see if you find a single thing on this brand that doesn’t entail a creepy wholesale website that asks you for your SSN before you check out.  #supersideeye

 

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The price was too high for my blood, so it stayed in the store as a result. But, it haunts me!

Last, the high end stores range from exactly the same outrageous US price to slightly less. My personal fave was the Dolce & Gabbana collection at Boutique Anisabel, though I couldn’t afford even a belt on the discount rack.

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The Du Carmo store turned out to be a big hit and just affordable enough to make my heart skip a beat. I almost considered getting my niece a couture frock and my husband some Orlebar Brown polos until I remembered that neither one of them is currently in Luanda and I’m extremely selfish. Back to the ladies’ section:

All in all, the shopping expedition was interesting and insightful. From brand names to Chinese no names, it is true that Angolan stores have interesting European styles and, in a pinch, a lovely young lady could theoretically hop to an unknown shop and pick up a much needed outfit or accessory for a special occasion. The prices certainly aren’t cheap, but they are accessible for a splurge. This visit has certainly debunked the myth that it’s impossible to shop in Luanda.

It is certainly possible, but it should be done with caution!

#musicamondays #MUSICMONDAYS (6)

Welcome to the 6th installation of #musicamondays & #MUSICMONDAYS, which features music from around the world. Each song is selected to start your week off with a new energy and new country(ies) to explore! You’re welcome 😉

Papa WembaCongo (Congolese Rumba)

Ear Candy: Enter at your own risk!

I’m on a roll with these list posts, so why change a good thing? As some of you may have already heard, I’m planning an Afro-inspired Music party. This includes everything from reggaeton to kuduro. There will be a sign on the front door that says,  “CAUTION: Only grown folks who aren’t afraid of doing grown folks things, while listening to grown folks music should enter this house, on this night, for this party.” This is not a joke.

Yesterday,  I spent the day with 2 new friends, a hookah and Youtube. These two guys – Puerto Rican and Congolese – completely schooled ya’ girl on what needs to be played. That said, I have to represent for my Pud (Kimbella voice) Emily who I’m sure has already snarled under her breath “snitch you Black!” Translation: I am African American, straight Yankee, not from nowhere else but Africa somewhere and the U. S. of A. (represent!!). So, Gucci Mane, T-Pain, Lil’ Wayne and Wale already have a secured place in the playlist. And, since I’ve been listening to Mika Mendes’ MÁGICO (click for music) and Loony Johnson’s Kada Vez Mas Bonita (click for music) all week, the Zouk, Posada, Funana (click for music) are all covered. I didn’t say it’d be new music – just relevant music.

Nevertheless, the guys added a lot more vibes to the review.  Just to give you a flavor of the artists who will be getting big spins – read ahead, my friends, and click often.

5 – P. Square are Jos, Nigeria’s Ying Yang twins, except these two are actually twins. Identical even! I’ve danced to ‘E No Easy’ (click for music video)  many times, but never bothered to Shazam it.  I fully plan to walk around as a drum major when this song comes on. I suspect that even if you’re listening to it while cleaning your living room on a Sunday afternoon, your duster will turn into a baton too.

4 – Fally Ipupa is from the Congo and I have no idea what he’s saying in this song (or any others for that matter). But, Jupka (click for music video) makes me want to move my waistline and shoulder blades. And this video is an added bonus, because it gives me permission to wear sunglasses all night AND to have a blonde front and center in all the party photos. SCORE!

3 – Chino & Nacho are Venezuelan heart throbs who don’t look one lick of brown. But, everybody knows that cornrows, merengue and Venezuela have deep African roots, so we will be playing Niña Bonita (click for music video) and I expect there to be screaming girls.

2 – Romeo Santos (formerly of the Bronx bachata band Aventura) and Spain’s flamenco guitarist Tomatito need no introduction. But, I had never heard of their collaboration on La Diabla/ Mi Santa (click for music video) until yesterday. It will be played. I will pretend I know how to dance bachata. There will be no horses.

1 – Kingston Jamaica’s own Konshens wins not just because all the skrippers, i mean, dancers can actually wukk up and whine in Gal A Bubble (click for music video). But because they don’t all have faces like manbeastwretches the way MANY “dancers” in reggae videos do. Yup, I said it! Just cause you hot from the neck down does NOT mean we need to be subjected to your face for 3-5 minutes. Though, I can’t help but wink up every time I hear this song, rest assured, I will NOT be wearing poom poom shorts at my party. Nor will there be a hose for outdoor, car washing purposes. Perhaps, inside.

Enter at your own risk!