El Laberinto del Fauno

Dragon-flies chased me through the city as I wandered from a gathering of male church officials (about democracy, but clearly for men only) to a meeting with a monk. They stayed with me when I finally became confused trying to find a building which I later discovered no longer exists. They darted about, up and down, zig-zagging through the air above the yellow sand and puddles. They tried to tell me but I wouldn’t listen. Later, they led me to the entrance to the underground world. Gates made from mahogany table-legs propped up broken tarmac at the roadside, and a pool of the clearest water, led the way to a world of secrets. I wondered if it meets at any stage with the US tunnel that is rumoured here to take you down to the bay and far away. I wanted to go through the entrance – I’ve seen so many different gateways tempting me down there – but I was late for a meeting between the cemetery and what I call the brown blamange (a very big country’s embassy). I wish I could escape, and dart into the underworld with the dragon-flies right now, but instead, I have to prepare for tomorrow morning – to join the great queue for visas.

It will be awful.

Things happen around me all the time which I want to write down. I get very frustrated because I know I don’t remember everything, but there’s also a part of me that doesn’t want to write it all down. It’s a bit like my philosophy on photographs. I rarely take snaps of any country I visit or live in, or of events that happen, or people I meet, preferring instead to remember the moments as they wax and wane in my brain. I don’t care if I mis-remember them, or re-imagine them, or exaggerate them. Who cares? Does this come back to my increasingly unnerving lack of interest in absolute accuracy? Soon I’ll be writing myself out of a job. The authorities here should be reading this: they could have a field day in court when I make even the slightest mistake. ‘She admits she makes mistakes! She’s not interested in the truth!’ I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Anyway, there’s some stuff that I’ve seen and heard that I want to get down before I do forget. Here’s something to chew on, told to me by a very good friend who was a very long time ago a member of the Josef Stalin Group here. ‘We all used to think that marxism was the solution. Now we think democracy is the solution. But I am sure that democracy will prove not to be the answer. It will, in the end, be like marxism. It won’t work. It will cause us many, many problems.’

It already is.By the way, try saying Josef Stalin Group to yourself. It always makes me laugh. I went to talk to a politician, a member of the main opposition party UNITA. I walked to his house. I knew it would take a good half-hour on foot – still no car – so I set off early. It was very hot. Incredibly hot. The sun got to me because I took a wrong turn and ended up twisting in and out of Luanda’s streets so much, I must have done double the distance that any good crow would have flown. As I finally entered the area in which he lived, I realised that I didn’t know which street he was on. Actually that’s not true: I knew this before I’d left but I have a loathing for maps and certainty when going anywhere. I like to just get to the area and then poke about. Something interesting always happens. Today was no exception. Here, in Luanda, security guards are all over the place. If you are going to an area of the middle-classes or above, you are pretty much guaranteed that there will be huddles of men (dressed in green and orange or fawn and brown outfits, booted and capped) every five to ten metres. One of them is bound to know the place you are looking for. Except today they didn’t. They just looked at me rather blankly. One got rather annoyed. ‘These are all ministers houses here!’ he barked, and then pointed ahead down the street. Marching orders.As I wandered on, I noticed a young man with a red and green T-shirt, and the letters U-N-I-T-A running from nipple to nipple. He was glad to show me to the house of his ‘favourite politician’ and so we strolled together for a good ten minutes. We discussed the party’s presidential elections, coming up in June, and the country’s general and presidential elections, due (well forever, but let’s be optimistic) next year and the year after. He was about 19 years old, articulate, passionate, thoughtful and engaging. I wondered how many 19 year-olds I might meet in London who could have, or would even want to have, that sort of conversation with a stranger. Quite frankly, I wonder how many 39 year-olds in London would be that interested. But forget the comparisons: what really struck me was that I was having such an open and frank chat with someone about UNITA in Luanda, in public, just five years after the war between UNITA and the MPLA ended. Shame it can’t happen everywhere. My hands were swollen by the time I arrived. My arms were starting to expand. My head was thumping. I tried to wipe the sweat off my face and hands but I had forgotten to bring any tissues. I must have looked a bit of a mess. I must have looked a bit of a mess. I must buy a motorbike soon. I can’t stand the heat. I can’t stand the heat. It took two hours off my afternoon today. I had to recover. I was drained dry, like a shrivelled raisin. I have blisters on my silly soft feet. That lady with the bananas. She’s out there all day. A pyramid of bananas stacked on a tray, on her head. Out there all day, marching under bananas. They tasted great. So good I gave two away to people who looked as impressed by the yellow as me. We agreed: the bananas were delicious. I sent one back to the politician too, with his driver. All politicians should eat bananas.
Someone sent me these words from famous people: ‘It is tragic how few people ever possess their souls before they die’, and
‘Nothing is more rare in any man than an act of his own.’ How gloomy.