Trickling Down


Angola is one of the wealthiest developing nations on the planet, yet 1 out of 6 children there dies before age 5 from foul or nonexistent drinking water. We travel deep into the Angolan slums with the aid workers who are fighting a corrupt oil-baron government to save the future generation of the country – one sick kid at a time.

Lentina Lisboa, 27, draws swirls in the red dirt floor with her toes, and sighs. She closes her eyes for a moment then looks up through one of the tiny holes in the tin roof – just big enough for a raindrop. If she could, it seems she would squeeze through and rise up and out of her one-room mud-brick hut, out of her bairro – a maze-like slum of nearly identical mud huts etched into the hills around the city of Gabela, and out of her life. Anything is better than re-telling the story of how she watched, helplessly, as her 11-month old baby died.

“Nady, my baby, she never got sick before.” Lisboa says. “When she got diarrhea I took her to the hospital. They tried to give her an IV but they didn’t catch the vein with the injection. Her arm got infected…” Lisboa’s voice trails off.

In just a few days Nady was gone.

Doug Steinberg, 51, the American-born country director for Save The Children Angola listens intently along with Sofia Linu, 40, one of his local activists.

“It’s not your fault. With the baby in a weakened, dehydrated state… the infection was too much for her to overcome,” Steinberg says tenderly in fluent Portuguese.

She nods. “But it hurts,” she says. “For months I was angry. I felt alone.”

She wasn’t. Upon hearing the news, a small army of local women came to her family home. They brought food and a little bit of money. They hugged, grieved and cried with her for a week. Then, with almost sudden resolve they rose up as one, dried their eyes and wiped Lisboa’s tears away.

“Nobody wants this to happen,” says Linu, “but in this life, it does happen and you must move on. That’s the advice the women provide, because they know. They’ve felt the exact same pain.”

Sadly, in Angola, child mortality isn’t a random, rare tragedy. It’s a common one. One out of six children die before their fifth birthday. An alarming statistic worsened by the fact that Angola isn’t a nation on the edge of ruin like Somalia or Afghanistan. It’s a booming, international business vortex, flush with oil, diamonds and a $20 billion budget surplus.

It’s a country with smooth, Brazilian-engineered roads, luxe seaside condo complexes, and towering, Chinese-built skyscrapers that seem to sprout up by the minute. In a deep global recession, business in Angola is thriving, which is why it’s especially strange that even as I write this, it’s nearly four-times safer to be born in Iraq than Angola, a middle income country with the 16th worst child mortality rate on earth.

Clearly, it doesn’t have to be this way. Steinberg knows it, which is why he asks Lentina his next question.

“Where do you get your water?”

“Nearly all of Angola’s child mortality cases can be traced back to water,” Steinberg explains as we walk to Lisboa’s closest water source. Although less crowded than bairros in Angola’s larger cities, this one shares many of their same problems. Uncollected garbage rots in narrow alleyways where children play, the stench of leaky latrines wafts down the hillside and a knot of local women with jerry cans crowd around a single, open well that Lisboa shares with at least 100 other households, 400-meters from her house.

“Open water sources breed mosquitoes, and malaria is one of the two biggest child killers in Angola. Diarrhea, or dysentery, is the other,” says Steinberg. “It comes from using untreated water like this, which is often contaminated with feces. Oral-fecal contact is the leading cause of diarrhea, and once a child gets sick, it can kill them in a couple of days, especially if, like 45% of Angola’s children, they’re already malnourished.”

Steinberg, fit and lanky at 6’3”, is an old Africa hand. Since joining the Peace Corps and leaving his native Cleveland, Ohio in 1983 he’s spent all but seven years working to develop sub-Saharan Africa. Over the past 26 years he’s built an Agro-forestry program in Cameroon, helped improve farming and water systems to eliminate seasonal famine in northern Mali, he’s learned to speak five foreign tongues, and after completing his Masters degree in natural resources policy at the University of Washington he became CARE International’s country director in Niger (“the most beautiful stretch of desert I’ve ever seen.”).

Eventually the road, and Africa’s harsh beauty, made the man, and prepared him for his most challenging post. He arrived in Angola in 2002 as CARE’s Country Director. His assignment: to help pick up the pieces after 30 years of civil war.

“At first, we did logistics and emergency response work. We organized and helped to re-settle the nearly four million people displaced by the war in the countryside. We distributed food, seeds, and farming tools, and we dug bore-holes and installed water pumps in Southern Angola.”

Under Steinberg’s leadership CARE also expanded water service to some of the slums in Luanda, Angola’s overcrowded capitol. “We brokered the deal to get access to Luanda’s main lines and lay secondary lines which ran to eight community fountains that we built in the bairros.”

But CARE never had the resources or bravado to think they could fix Angola’s water problem on their own.
“A lot of what we do as NGOs, whether it’s with CARE or Save The Children, is develop models and say, ‘look, it’s out there now. You, government officials, can replicate it.’”

One reason that international aid has been criticized in recent years is because most African governments haven’t had the resources to do that, which has made sustainable change and poverty alleviation nearly impossible.

Angola should have been different. In 2002 the victorious government, already fat on oil revenue, no longer needed to fund a civil war. They had money to burn.

“At CARE, we demonstrated a model for low cost water provision, but the government never expanded it,” says Steinberg.

Current estimates suggest that at least 60% of the 16.5 million Angolans lack immediate access to clean water. According to Unicef it would cost the government somewhere between $150 million and $175 million dollars to build a water system that would accommodate every household. Not cheap, but for oil rich Angola, certainly affordable.

Steinberg simply shakes his head and says, “Serving their people has never been the government’s top priority.”
And water demand has never been more desperate.

When I glimpse the scene out of the corner of my eye, it doesn’t seem real. On the traffic-choked two-lane street that snakes north through the vast network of Luanda’s bairros, more than 50 women sit around a broken pipe, the width of a garden hose, jutting from the asphalt. Their jerry cans and buckets piled ten feet high. Across the street a defacto garbage dump the length of a city block, smolders, a veil of sour smoke obscuring harbor views.
Incredibly, the source of this water is the state-owned oil refinery just down the road. Not exactly a pure mountain stream.

“This is our only water supply. I spend two or three hours everyday just waiting to collect water for my house,” says Rosa, 23, mother of two, who walks twenty minutes from her shack in the nearby bairro of Ngoma everyday.

“Sometimes the refinery closes the water, and we have to go there and ask them why?”

Her friend, Nela, 20, shakes her head angrily.

“Sometimes they cut the water for five days or more.”

When water demand is especially acute, fights break out in the street. And even after mothers do finally return home with full jugs, the hazards multiply.

I ask the women if they know children that die in their neighborhood. They all nod. “Many children die here” says Rosa. “My best friend’s son died from dysentery last year.”

Some of the women understand the dangers they face and boil the water or disinfect it with household bleach that they pour directly into the can. Just as many do nothing. Clean water access is one problem. Awareness is another.

Down the road another surreal scene plays out. Pools of water have bubbled up from a rusted pipeline on the shoulder. Women in vibrant Congolese sarongs with babies strapped to their backs fill buckets and carry the water home on their heads. Children splash and dunk, pouring buckets over one another in a gleeful water war. You’d think it was a swimming pool instead of a filthy roadside trench.

Luciano Viera, 27, takes stock of the scene, concerned. “This water causes a lot of illness in the neighborhood,” he says. “Children who swim here get fever.”

Georgina Celestina, 32, a bubbly, chubby mother of 10 shrugs her shoulders. “We don’t drink it. The water is only for washing. We have to buy our water for cooking and drinking from the trucks.”

Ah, yes, Luanda’s water trucks. Steinberg says that one of the biggest obstacles to expanding water service from the city center to Luanda’s suburban slums is the Associacao de Captadores e Transportadores de Agua de Angola (aka the water truck cartel).

Throughout the day a steady stream of 18-wheel tanker trucks make their way north from Luanda, past the high grasses and cinderblock slums along the Kifangonda River and park beneath giraffes, high pressure nozzles that fill their reclaimed petrol tanks with untreated river water.

This is a private concession, and rumor has it that many of the trucks are owned by some of Angola’s most powerful generals who sell the water in the slums at extortionist prices. According to locals it costs the typical household US$600 per month to buy their water from the trucks, which is clearly impossible for most slum-dwellers who barely scratch out $10 a day.

Twice I went to the Kifangonda water plant to talk to the drivers and engineers who run it. Twice I was turned away. The second time a young tough with rippling biceps, veins popping from his temples and eyes reddened with anger got right in my face. His finger wagged a centimeter from my eyeball as he screamed at me in Portuguese. I smiled, nodded and calmly got the hell out of there.

So, Steinberg took me to see Santos Nunes, a municipal water and energy section chief. Dressed in a crisp blue dress shirt and navy slacks with gold rings on his fingers, he told a decidedly different story.

“That water isn’t potable, and nobody drinks it,” he said dismissively. “Yes, the trucks are privately owned but the water is free. The potable water that is delivered in Luanda comes from another source. Not from the Rio Kifangonda.”

Here was a local water chief contradicting everything I’d heard from the local people. So I asked him where, in fact, the trucked drinking water comes from?

“Other rivers,” he said curtly yet unconvincingly, waving his arm over his head. “We have many rivers in Angola.”

When I bounce this off of Carla Queiroz, one of Save the Children’s staff and a lifelong Luanda resident, she shakes her head. “That’s not true,” she says. “What the people say is right, because they live it. People do drink water from the Rio Kifangonda. Even I drink it in my home, and I pay for it.”

“So Nunes was lying?” I asked her.

“Come on. Of course he was. Welcome to Luanda.” She said.

But Nunes did confirm that the Rio Kifangonda water trucks are delivering non-potable (read: contaminated) water. That’s especially alarming, considering that these same water trucks deliver to at least nine schools.

“The treated water I get in my [central Luanda] apartment costs 100-times less than the trucked water, and I make 50-times more than people living in the bairros,” says Steinberg. “Add it all up and you begin to understand that people are using water very carefully. They aren’t washing their hands 5-times a day and hand washing with soap is the single best thing a child can do to avoid diarrhea. It’s not just that Angolans lack access to clean water. They don’t have enough water, period.”

Steinberg shakes his head and stares at the harbor, where cargo vessels are lined up to the horizon, as we drive back into central Luanda.

“And you want to hear something ridiculous? Nunes was right about the rivers. Angola has the headwaters of the Zambezi, Okavanga and much of the Congo river basin,” he says, clearly peeved. “It has the highest availability of water per capita in Africa! On CNN International they have these commercials for Angola’s national agency for private investment and they show pictures of beautiful people, rivers and waterfalls, and their tagline is… I mean, they actually say… Angola: So Much Water.”

It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

American-owned Gulf Oil and a little-known, upstart oil exploration firm from Texas, called Halliburton, first began probing Angola’s north coast in the 1960s, and they never left. Even with a USSR-backed Marxist government in power and a civil war in full bloom, state partnerships with foreign oil companies were nurtured and protected because they were the source of government revenue.

By the time Chevron bought Gulf Oil in the mid 1980s, Agosinho Neto, Angola’s first president was dead and Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who was elected in a closed vote by MPLA party leaders in 1979, had ascended to the presidency. A position he still holds.

Under his watch oil revenue has skyrocketed to over $3 billion a month – making Angola, the current chair of OPEC, Africa’s second largest oil economy after Nigeria. Some months it shoots to number one. Chevron-Texaco and Halliburton are still here, along with Exxon-Mobil, BP, Total and nearly every other oil company in the world because Angola has more than 30 years of “sweet crude” trapped deep off their Atlantic coast.

Currently the United States gets 6% of its oil from Angola. By 2015 that number is expected to swell to 25%. Angola is also China’s third-largest oil supplier. And nearly all of Angola’s daily oil production – we’re talking 1.9 million barrels per day – is drilled, pumped and then carried directly to China and the US without ever coming ashore.

But at least we know where the oil goes. The money is a different story. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), 40% of Angola’s oil revenue from 1990-2002 went unrecorded, as did 64% of all government expenditures. Between 1996-2002 alone the government failed to record $10.2 billion in spending, as dos Santos changed finance ministers seven times. During one 2002 oil-for-arms scandal, a Swiss court estimated that dos Santos came away with over $40 million in embezzled funds.

It doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots, but Lone Hvass, UNICEF Angola’s Chief of Communications sums it up best when she says, “There’s a direct relationship between the siphoning off of resources and how Angola’s doing in health and education.”

Of course, extreme wealth and abject poverty are nothing new in the developing world, but it is seldom, if ever, this stark.

One morning Steinberg takes me to a suburb south of town, called Luanda Sul where the gritty, manic overstuffed city has been tamed and sterilized into neat little pockets of functional capitalism. If you’ve spent a week touring Angola’s slums, it’s also a mindfuck.

Almost without noticing the surroundings shift from desperate suburban slums to the classic, manic grittiness of a third world capitol to something decidedly more… American. Streets widen and are graced by shiny new street lamps. Median strips are suddenly neatly manicured, sidewalks are pedestrian friendly and dozens of brand new, gated luxury condo developments roll over coastal hills, one after another. There’s a sparkling convention center that puts the one in Los Angeles to shame, and a top-shelf auto mall selling Peugeots, Hondas and Nissans.

“Holy shit, am I in Angola or Irvine?” I ask Steinberg.

“But you haven’t even seen the best part yet?” He says, laughing

We turn the corner, drive up a hill, and there it is, in the center of it all: Belas Shopping Center. This stylish, three year-old, Brazilian built shopping mall – complete with a massive, gleaming Shop Rite grocery store and 8-screen multi-plex is the kind of place I want to hate, but can’t help but like.

“I feel exactly the same way,” says Steinberg.

Together we stroll the halls as gawky kids on sugar rushes barrel past us toward their glassy eyed dad, who lingers in the doorway to iMexico Interiors, (which only has stores in NYC, London, Madrid, Paris, Milan, and this shopping center!). Inside, his exquisite, Brazilian goddess wife browses liberally, but he seems more interested in the bosomy shop girl, with a vacant, wish-I-was-anywhere-else look in her eyes. She bats her eyelashes, nibbles her fingernails and gives the Heisman to a teenage player dressed in calf-long shorts and a bowler hat, who’s trying to pimp a smile and some digits.

This could be any mall in America, or Portugal or Brazil. This is globalization’s neurotic, egotistical, sexy love child. And this mall, this neighborhood, designed by the rich for the rich, is precisely the kind of development that interests the Angola government.

“They want to get people out of the city and into smaller, decentralized functioning neighborhoods,” says Steinberg as we peruse the international food court, which features American Hot Dog, complete with the Confederate flag in their logo. Irony is as irony does.

“If you take Luanda Sul out of context, this is not bad stuff, but they don’t incorporate low income housing or rent control. Poverty alleviation is not something they talk about. Ever. Their approach is that eventually the wealth will trickle down.”

Until then it’s up to Steinberg and Save the Children to hold a safety net.

After a two year respite working stateside, Steinberg returned to Angola as Save The Children’s Country Director in 2007. In response to the egregious child mortality rate, which at the time was over 25%, he expanded their existing vaccination and monitoring efforts in the central highlands into an Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) program. And he hired an Angolan physician to run it from Gabela, a cute colonial mountain town in Kwanza Sul province.

Dr. Adelino Alex is a dapper 28 year-old who escaped the civil war when he was five years old. He literally ran from gunfire in his town, and grew up in refugee camps in the Congo.

“I’m looking for malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia in children under five,” he says. “Our community health activists go door to door to train mothers how to prevent illness and to see if they have sick children in the house.”

Sofia Linu, the community health activist who introduced us to Lisboa, is one of Alex’s 250 activists in the Gabela region. Typically dressed in Congolese batik, her hair pulled back in thick cornrows, she has a youthful beauty even at 40 years old. Alex, Steinberg and I tag along with her as she walks through the dusty laneways that snake between mud huts in Linu’s bairro. A mother of 4 she carries her baby on house visits where she meets with other mothers, who greet her as an old friend.

She works full-time, visiting 10 homes per day, 60 per week and 20,000 people each year. She sips coffee in the home of her friend and neighbor Benvida Jao, 28, mother of three. “I have learned so much from Sofia. I learn how to treat my children and how to keep my house so we don’t get sick,” says Joao.

Linu works tirelessly, yet she dosen’t earn a cent. She is a volunteer. “I feel as a mother that I have a responsibility to make sure all the children in our community are healthy,” she says. “It’s not about money for me. It’s about health.”

When Linu does find sick children, they are referred to Alex who makes sure they get proper treatment in local health posts sponsored by Save The Children. Their clinics are not big or modern, but they are clean, well staffed and always fully stocked with meds.

The system is labor intensive, but it works.

“Recently we found a mother who was only 16 years old and her 18-month old baby was sick,” says Alex. “He was vomiting, and had diarrhea, but the mother didn’t realize how serious the problem was,” says Alex. “Our activist checked the baby’s temperature and he had a fever. I met the mother at the health post, and gave the baby the medication he needed to survive.”

But human safety nets have holes. When Lisboa was losing her child, Linu was in labor, delivering her own baby. If it had happened a few weeks earlier or later, Linu and Alex may have been there to help save another life. But Lisboa’s child ended up at the local hospital.

Alex takes us there next. It’s so overcrowded that patients have spilled out of the rooms and are lying on thin mats in the dark halls. The floor is filthy. Haggard nurses are pulled in a million directions at once. Patients writhe for attention, others have resigned to waiting as long as it takes. I half expect to see the gurney from Jacob’s Ladder roll through, it’s wheel, hauntingly off-kilter.

Nurse Rui Nelson, 38, has been moving non-stop for the first 4 hours of his 12-hour shift, trying to make up for a crippling medicine shortage by at least looking in on as many patients as he can, but now he needs a smoke break. I follow him outside, and ask him about the water and child mortality problems in Gabela.

“We have a big problem with water here. The Rio Cueve is 40km from the city and the politicians say there’s no money to build an aqueduct.” He says with a sigh.

“What do you think about that? Is that true?” I ask.

“I think the government robs us,” he says tersely. They rob us of everything.”

Still, there is no doubt that Save The Children’s public health efforts are making an impact. In Kwanza Sul, their activists make millions of house visits every year, and with each visit mothers are more likely to make the connection between their water source and their children’s health.

That’s a connection that has already been made in Kangombe, a remote mud-hut village deep in Huambo province, edged by cornfields and guava trees, and accessible by a single, rutted, red earth road that winds through wooded savannah. I travel there with Save The Children’s Huambo field director, Adelino Sanjombe, 31, in a rugged Landrover that rattles and shakes the whole way. We pull into a parched village compound in the middle of the empty plains. Two-dozen young children, their clothes torn and faded by the sun, occupy the small playground and stare in wonder, as the 25-person health committee greets us with a gorgeous welcome song in their native Umbundu.

When Save The Children arrived here, child mortality was so high that one in four children never saw their fifth birthday. In response, Sanjombe and his team assembled and trained the committee, which is now responsible for 10 tiny settlements, home to 3,576 people.

“To us the most important thing has been learning how to prevent illness. We’ve found that this is even more important than the doctor who treats you.” says village leader Rafael Tchinhemba, 62 as he leads us to several wells, garbage dumps and latrines that together have changed the fortunes of their village. All told, in the last two years the committee has created 702 garbage dumps, built 503 latrines and dug 15 wells.

“The latrines are helping a lot,” says Tchinhemba. “We still have people getting sick, and some die, but compared with before… it’s completely different. And when someone does get sick we are keeping track of what they have and how they may have contracted it, so we can protect ourselves.”

I look over at the children in the playground once more and realize that Tchinhemba, Sanjombe and this health committee have literally saved at least a few of their lives. And who knows what contributions they’ll eventually make to the village? This is exactly the kind of public health success story that Save The Children hopes for, yet Sanjombe, whose goatee and professorial good looks recall murdered anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko, isn’t satisfied.

“We still have very basic problems in Angola,” he says on our drive back to Huambo. “People are not fulfilling their basic needs for food, clothes, and shelter, and they lack services like education, water, and sanitation. It’s frustrating, especially for people like me who know about transparency and accountability.”
I ask if he thinks the war is to blame and he shakes his head vigorously. “That’s not a good enough excuse,” he says.

Sanjombe started at Save The Children as a cook. He taught himself English with Celine Dion and Phil Collins cassettes and a Portuguese-English dictionary, and is now pursuing his PhD while working full-time. He doesn’t do excuses.

“[Dos Santos] has had 30 years! This is social injustice. I mean how do you prioritize a basketball arena or an office building (he’s referencing the spectacular $100 million Sonangol building, built in Luanda to house the state’s oil firm) over schools and water systems? They have a corrupt, top down approach to developing this country.”

Perhaps Angola’s wealth is the problem rather than the solution. Alan Cain, the Canadian co-founder of Development Workshop, has lived in Luanda since 1976. Over the past thirty years he’s developed water systems and set up micro-finance operations in the bairros, and has had a front row seat for Angola’s emergence as an oil giant.

“Aside from prolonging the civil war by 15 years, oil has produced an enclave economy,” he says. “If the wealth was in agriculture, instead of oil and diamonds, the government would have to deal with and respond to the public to finance itself. But with oil, the money comes directly to the government.”

Although companies like Chevron and Exxon-Mobil have sponsored some development and micro-finance programs, built schools and health posts, and are mandated by the government to hire Angolans, so far the real money has only filtered down to a select few. Even my contact at Chevron, who preferred to remain anonymous, says, “What is a health post worth if you don’t have clean water? Plans need to be developed. The Angolan government takes the lion’s share of the profits, and they must be more responsive to community.”
But don’t ask Chevron to push too hard. There’s too much oil and wealth at stake. “We have another 30 years here, easy,” he says.

Plus the oil economy has contributed to spiraling inflation, which increases the demand on imports and crushes domestic manufacturers and farmers. Which is why in 2009, oil accounts for nearly 90% of the GDP, a crippling lack of economic diversity that, along with political corruption, is typical of oil rich nations in the developing world.

“But with democracy, the government, for the first time, is showing some indication that they want to adhere to the wishes of voters,” says Cain.

Cain refers to the new government initiative, Agua Para Todos, which aims to deliver water to 80% of Angolans by 2010. Angola’s 2009 federal budget does include $275 million for energy, water and sanitation services. Unfortunately, details on implementation remain sketchy since Angola’s water minister canceled our interview on my last day in Luanda.

Save The Children’s Quieroz thinks it’s all a mirage.

“There’s still bribery, corruption, and no transparency. They budget, but that is all they do. They will never do it,” she says.

Yet, Cain sees progress. “They have delivered water to a few neighborhoods they’d never reached before. I think it was to bring out the vote for the parliamentary elections [last year], but that’s one aspect of democracy,” says Cain.

Then again dos Santos has delayed presidential elections, which were slated for 2009, indefinitely. “Right now our constitution calls for direct presidential elections,” Sanjombe told me in Huambo, “but he’s not interested in that. He wants parliament to elect the president and parliament is 85% MPLA.”

In other words, he’s waiting for a sure thing.

Unfortunately, the wait will have to go on without Steinberg. On my last night in Luanda, we have drinks at Bahia, a stylish terrace bar owned by one of dos Santos’ daughters. Relaxing into the louvered lounges overlooking the Marginal harbor and the distant twinkling lights of Ilha, Luanda’s beach resort, are moneyed hipsters with perfectly cradled cigarettes and designer shoes, corporate expat couples, packs of scheming entrepreneurs, and a few solitary, bored suits. This is Angola’s underwhelming upper class, and together we watch the sunset over the struggle below. That’s where he breaks the news.

“I may be leaving Luanda soon,” says Steinberg. His two-year contract is about to run out and he hasn’t decided if he’ll stay. Several weeks later it became official, and last Fall Steinberg moved to Senegal to work for Helen Keller International.

At the time, I’m shocked that he would even consider leaving the job half finished.

“This story is not just about me,” he responds. “You met Carla, the Adelinos, and Sofia. Save The Children succeeds because of committed local people like them who have great contacts with the communities they serve. Our team is what has made our success.

“Look, I’ve seen Angola evolve since the end of the war. The difficulties that Angolans face in their daily lives is shocking, but if you compare it to where the country was seven years ago, things are improving. There is more to eat — for everyone — and people are rebuilding their lives. The latest data from the United Nations shows some improvement in child survival, and this will only get better. It’s going to be a long slog, but this country is definitely up-and-coming.”

We’re halfway through our third round when Steinberg gets wistful. “Man, but this country does get under your skin, like nowhere else I’ve ever been. Even if I do leave,” he says, “I wouldn’t be surprised if one day I come back for another dose.”

I nod in agreement. Although I’ve only been here for ten days, I already feel it. Because with all its dysfunction, duplicity, greed and desperation, Angola also has it’s own uniquely beautiful soul. You can see it in the alluring, curvy, big-eyed women whose ancestors brought body to Brazil, the warm smiles of teachers and children in bairro pre-schools, and the daredevil black flips of Ilha beach boys. You can hear it in the sweet swing of Angolan semba music, and in the subversive rage of kuduro, local hip-hop. It stokes the fire of a tireless Gabela activist, a refugee-turned-doctor, and a humble cook who taught himself English just so he could become a social worker and help his people.

Yeah, Angola has a vibration that stays with you. It bubbles up in your brain again and again. Especially when that familiar light blips onto your dashboard, you swipe your card and pump some gas.

– Adam Skolnick