Life in Lubango 08/30/2010 6 Comment(s) Hello friends! As a follow-up to my post on social justice and liberation theology yesterday, I wanted to share an excerpt from my personal life. Back in July of 2000, I worked for a non-governmental organization (NGO) that I founded with my parents called Affordable Medicines For Africa (AMFA). As the name implies, AMFA existed to ensure the poorest people on Earth could have easier access to lifesaving medicines, even as simple as vitamins and aspirin.
Having just narrowly escaped the dreaded Y2K bug, I set out to really challenge fate by going to Lubango, Angola in an effort to establish a formal distribution channel for AMFA's essential generic medicines to support local doctors, pharmacists and, ultimately, the poor and most needy. However, getting to Lubango, Angola from South Africa was not as easy as booking a flight through Expedia. First, I had to get a letter of invitation from a local resident. Then I had to apply and wait for a visa to enter the country, which may or may not be granted, but they would keep the several hundred dollar fee, regardless.
Once equipped with a valid visa, one could drive the 1946 km (1209 miles) to Lubango, but the ongoing 25-year civil war made such a trek treacherous, all the more so if your vehicle carried anything of interest or value (e.g. large shipment of essential medicines). The other option was to fly to Windhoek, Namibia and then, from there, catch a local TAAG Angola Airlines flight that, at the time, flew from Windhoek to Lubango to Luanda and back once a week (although the flight frequently bypassed Lubango entirely--even if that was your destination--and flew directly on to Luanda, the nation's capital.
Flying the medicines to Luanda was the safest, most secure option but, unfortunately, flying medicines--especially when they are heavy liquids--can be exceptionally costly. So AMFA established a working partnership with Mission Aviation Fellowship, with a hub in Windhoek and an unused flight clearance in and out of Namibia, to establish a regular, dedicated flight to Lubango at an affordable rate. AMFA would truck the medicines up to Windhoek, keep it in bonded storage where MAF would then collect and fly the medicine shipment into Angola. However, establishing logistics up to and out of Windhoek, Namibia was the just one part of the equation; getting onto the ground in Lubango and establishing a trust relationship with the local community represented the other side of a rather challenging coin.
So, without further ado, below is an update I e-mailed my friends back in July, 2000. I hope this report fills you with as much hope as it conveys the formidable challenges the people in this Southwestern Angolan city face each day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Cheers to hope and love!
July 2000 Trip Report: Lubango, Angola
Despite the chilly morning “showers” out of a bucket, vigilantly keeping local water from entering my body and equal efforts to smash mosquitoes to avoid potential exposure to malaria, my trip to Lubango may prove to be a huge step towards creating the first Angolan, Christian healthcare ministry cooperative. I truly believe God is at work in this war-ravaged country.
The situation in Lubango isn’t as bad as things COULD be, mainly because it is firmly in the government’s hands. The government’s control of Lubango doesn’t make things better in any form of efficiency or reduction in poverty. However, the government’s control of Lubango means that the military is so firmly entrenched that the UNITA rebels don’t dare to mount an offensive. The 25+ year civil war hasn’t really rumbled through Lubango recently, fortunately for the local residents.
Describing life in Lubango would be difficult for me since I was only there for one week. Somehow life goes on in this city without any visible, formal system of operating. However, I will try and give you an idea of what life is like in this city that has suffered from the seemingly endless civil war, corruption and widespread poverty.
Given the ministry we are in, I first have to point out that healthcare in Lubango is atrocious. The large, six or seven story government hospital is just about the scariest place I’d ever want to find myself if I had the flu, let alone in need of serious medical attention. Though power seems to be available for the hospital, most of the place is dark. This may be in attempts to save on electricity but I have a strong feeling that most of the light bulbs are burned out and they don’t have the resources to replace them. Another strong possibility is that the less lit the hospital is, the less you will be able to see the dirt and filth everywhere.
The hospital is anything but sanitary. The stench of urine and possible raw sewage permeates the long, dark hallways. Once tiled floors are covered in dirt and they often look like the “roads” through Lubango. Huge, ripped up sections of the hallways are a common sight. Many windows are broken and not replaced. Sections of walls are broken or smashed, rusted metal gurneys are left stranded in corridors, plaster used for casts coats walls and floors and patients sit in darkened rooms with family members gathered since there isn’t a functioning staff to take care of nor a budget to feed them. If you require surgery, it is your responsibility to find and purchase the medicines, equipment and anesthetics for the doctor to use since those items are not found in the hospital. The “pharmacy” is an empty, unattended room. Simply put, the hospital looked like a better place to die than a place to regain health.
As far as I could observe, there weren’t any other hospitals in Lubango. The Christian mission hospitals operate out of the city. I thought this was due to the fact that they have a strong passion to reach out to the rural poor and spread the Gospel. However, I have learned that the government wants to be in control of everything and building a private hospital in town has continually proved to be a challenge. It is not that the government doesn’t want a private Christian hospital in town. It is just that they also want to control it and, unfortunately for all concerned, they simply aren’t good at anything that requires planning and organization.
The city, itself, looks like it was once a nice, medium-sized urban center. This is typical of many post-colonial African cities. The roads, as mentioned above, are very treacherous and, often times, can’t be considered roads, at all. More often than not, 4x4’s are the vehicles in use, though regular passenger cars are also scurrying about. I imagine that those with vehicles are people of import since the majority of the Angolans are milling about on foot--and when I say "on foot" I literally mean it; I have never seen so many people missing legs, a most vicious result of barbarous landmines strewn about the country. Most of the storefronts are closed. Many of the building are apparently used as living quarters and the rest of the city seems to be government buildings, which are better maintained than the rest.
At any time of day, the streets are crowded with residents engaged in subsistence lifestyles. The government is “communist” but doesn’t really provide jobs for its people and even those that do work for the state haven’t been paid in two or three years. However, the military, police and secret police seem to be better off than most, which might explain why there are so many of them “patrolling” the city streets. They are everywhere and, from what I was told, it is better not to have encounters with them of any form. You definitely don’t want to be caught taking pictures for their paranoia that you are going to give the photos to UNITA rebels. Anyway, they are often accused of rousting Church and NGO workers, usually looking for anything petty to hold them for until a “fine” is paid. Perhaps that is their means of income and, since they have AK47s and other weaponry, they fair better than the rest of the government “employees.”
There are signs of war in the city, despite the general “protection” Lubango offers. Some residential buildings are bullet-ridden and/or completely bombed. In 1992, there was a cease fire/peace agreement between the MPLA (communist government) and the UNITA forces (rebels). Apparently, as soon as the agreement was signed, thousands of people started running around claiming that they were UNITA members. This proved to be a HUGE mistake. Whether or not they actually were UNITA members, the government forces stormed through the city, collected these thousands of people, brought them to a 1000 foot cliff not too far outside the city and shot them before they were tossed over the edge. I am told that you can stand at the edge of the cliff and see the bones below. It’s a bit morbid to learn that this is a “tourist” location due to the incredible scenic views from the escarpment. Though it doesn’t have a 1000-foot escarpment, I haven’t visited Auschwitz for the very same reason.
As for AMFA business developments, this trip was very important for us. Relationships are all important in Africa and meeting our potential customers face-to-face makes all the difference in the world. I was told that it was very important to the Christian mission hospital doctors and pharmacists that AMFA came to visit them. Personally, I agree. I have a much better appreciation of the situation in Angola as well as the conditions in which these committed people work. We really may have the beginning of something profound developing for mission healthcare in Angola. I'll keep you posted.
Causes Tom Wagner Supports
AMFA Foundation, Affordable Medicines For Africa-South Africa, World Vision