If I mention Angola what comes to mind--amputees on crutches, landmines and war? Well, the world is full of surprises and Angola is certainly one of them. Angola was once like this, but not anymore.
"Watch me," Orlando says. We are camping in a dry river bed, coiling through the village of Chitado, on Angola's southern border. Orlando, a local school teacher, is attempting to teach me the national Kis-sumba dancing. Playing the rhythmic beats on a crackling radio, I swing my hips in attempted parody of his perfect tempo. The dance is incredibly sensual, performed in pairs, bodies entwined so close I find it hard not to blush!
Angola, a former Portuguese colony, achieved independence in 1975. It then slid into civil war, bitterly fought between the ruling party, the MPLA, and the rebel group, UNITA. The conflict finally ended in 2002, with the assassination of UNITA's leader, Jonas Savimbi, and Angola, now at peace, is a country in the firm grip of change.
With its enormous natural wealth, it has the potential to be extremely wealthy: it teams with diamonds, oil and gas. Oil (Angola currently pumps 1.3 million barrels a day) and foreign loans (China is especially prolific with these in its drive to corner Africa's hot oil spots, fuelling its own thriving economy and energy needs), are accelerating economic growth and Angola's reconstruction.
The south of Angola was mainly unaffected by the civil war and is free of landmines. The town of Chitado, however, was damaged during the war against South Africa, which ended in 1989, but the beauty of the old colonial Portuguese homes is still evident; the red tiled roofs, and sun-peeled pastel-coloured walls, all encircled by mountains. It retains a backwater, frontiersman feel. At the end of the main street is a small market, I head here--Himba men and women gather together for some sun-down beer.
The Himba women cover their entire bodies in animal fat and clay-red ochre, even their hair is braided with it. The earth colours are broken only by a giant conch shell, worn on a rope, gleaming white against their red chests. A group gathers close together, striking an imposing sight, their bodies finely athletic--the cut of their goat skin skirts would not look out of place on a catwalk.
A couple of men arrive, they walk with an antelope gait and their hair protrudes in a sculpted S-shaped horn behind their head, necklaces like metal snakes twist thickly around their necks. We drive...