Postcard From Luanda, Angola's Capital

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Although Angola endured nearly 40 years of war, Luanda lacks the telltale battle scars and bullet wounds that pockmark other African capitals. However the oceanfront city has its own trademarks — residents sporting everything from extra-large celebrity sunglasses to horse-riding hats used as motorbike helmets.


The African nation of Angola is a land of extremes. It has oil wealth, and it was devastated by war. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton visited the capital, Luanda, and sends us these impressions.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Although Angola endured nearly 40 years of war, Luanda lacks the telltale battle scars and bullet wounds that pockmark other African capitals. However, this ocean front city has its own trademarks.

Traffic here is hellish, with fancy four-wheel drive vehicles stuck for long hours in long, long traffic jams in a city that is beginning to look like a wannabe Manhattan. Built for half a million or so residents, Luanda is now home to five million. Nestling among the elegant pastel-colored Portuguese colonial buildings are skeletons of skyscrapers in a city which resembles one mighty construction site. So motorbikes come in very handy, weaving their way through often narrow roads choked with parked and slow-moving cars.

Now, I did a double-take the first time a moped rider whizzed by wearing an unusual safety helmet. It was only when I noticed the second and third vaguely familiar black velvet headgear that it dawned on me: yes, indeed, Luanda's motorbike riders are wearing horse-riding hats - money-savers or ingenious stylish chic. Luandans also seem universally attached to extra-large celebrity sunglasses. Everyone's wearing them and you can't help but notice the number of super-short shorts that women favor here, and the backless and strapless dresses and tops.

You see them on the streets and offices, in hospitals, and riding pillion on motorbikes; they're everywhere. It's almost as if Luandans are permanently on holiday or on a film set, or would like to believe they are.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Luanda, Angola.

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