The ruined day at the beach

Luanda has the best beaches on the Atlantic coast. Like Lagos, it has the benefit of a bay and an ocean, but the bay's waters are calm; perfect for swimming and boating. 

We spent every Sunday at Chevron's beach house. We'd drive from the house in Miramar down to the dock. Somewhere near the Esso compound in Luanda Sul our driver would call the Whiskeys manning the dock.. It wouldn't be just us, 6 or 7 people would converge on the boat launch at the same time. Lifejackets on, we'd climb into the motorboat that would take us to the part of the Ilha that Chevron had claimed as its own. 

Actually there were two spots. One was where the Angolan employees spent their Sundays, the other was where the expats gathered. One had belonged to a company that Chevron had acquired, the other had always been Chevron. Usually we were stayed separate, but sometimes one group would cross over into the other.

That Sunday was one of those regular Sundays. It was late fall. The college students and young adults had gone back Stateside (or to Europe). The families with young children had stayed at home to prep for school. It was a group of expats my parents' age, and me, the lone 20-something still living at home in a foreign country.

We gathered with our packed lunches and beach games at the unofficial expat beach house (house is actually generous, it was eights lounge chairs, an open-air gazebo with picnic tables, and a small building for the bathrooms and storage). The lounge chairs were quickly claimed by those who wanted to read while the rest of us found other ways to occupy ourselves.

And then something different happened. A couple Angolan women and their children joined us. They didn't speak English and our Portuguese was either embarrassingly bad, or functional at best. Suffice to say, we didn't know each other, or speak the same language, so we did not mix.

For a while everything was fine. Everyone was doing their thing: chatting, reading, taking one of the boats out. The women and their children played down by the water. Normal. But the women were beautiful, and dressed in thong swimsuits, and they the caught the eye of two of the middle aged expat men. It wasn't so bad at first. The men only looked. With interest, and too long, but not particularly intrusively.

Until they brought out their cameras and started surreptitiously taken photos of these women. Everyone noticed. No one said anything. Here were two men in their 50s or 60s, taking pictures of women without their consent, and no one said a word. I sat and stewed in silence. Twenty four year old me did not know how to confront my dad's colleagues (30-something year old me would like to think I would stand in front of their cameras and rip them a new one, but who knows what would actually happen in the moment).

It went on for at least an hour. I got angrier and angrier. Still no one said a word. The women eventually left, none the wiser. 

I said something to my dad the next day. He replied that these men had bragged about it in the office. Still no one reprimanded them, or even thought to tell them they were wrong to take the pictures. No one.

I am still angry. Because they are not unique. And we deserve better. 

Asha SundararamanComment