Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Nerd Food: Kindle my Fire!

Being in Africa, one of the things we miss the most is access to books. Y'all know how book mad me and Shahin are - all those full shelves we always had. Suddenly we had to downsize significantly, and books were at the bottom of our priority list. I frantically searched for ebook replacements for all my programming books - and largelly succeeded, it must be said. But novels and so on were nowhere to be found (other than project Gutenberg, that is). I ignored the whole Kindle revolution because I'm not a big fan of ebook readers. For one I find them far too expensive. Also, when space is at a premium, you really don't want to have to carry yet another device on you. However, my ignorance played very much against me this time, as I missed the Kindle for PC. Luckily we have slashdot.

Amazon, being the great Linux company they are, they released a Linux version of their product. Not. (Just kidding! The amazon MP3 downloader is absolutely fantastic!).

Early reports of wine support were quite promising so I gave that a go, only to find out that the latest release does not work! Luckily our faithful ubunteros discovered the old version, which works just like lifehacker had reported.

All of this to say, I got Kindle for PC working on wine, and it works well. I must say, the experience was not perfect:
  • The whole .com vs amazon websites is rather confusing: for dead-tree items (and for MP3's too) one is supposed to go via the website, which has prices in GBP. However, for kindle I could only find a .com website with prices in USD. On the plus side, my English amazon account works perfectly, and I was able to use the 1-click (TM) order to buy my first Kindle ebook.
  • The Kindle interface is a bit too spartan; after buying an item, its difficult to tell how long the item will take to download, how fast the download is going, etc. Its obviously not designed for dialup style internet connections like the ones we got here, that bounce more than a basketball.
  • Shantaram is not yet available, and that was one of the main things I wanted to (re) buy.
But even taking those problems into account (and the lack of a Linux version, of course), its still a great product. I mean, its nothing more that a pdf reader, really, but the availability of a lot of books at a decent price makes it really compelling. And for someone like us who cannot access dead-tree books at all, man, its like having all your birthdays in one go.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Kizua Mwangola: Part 6: Benguela

We've finally arrived at the destination: BENGUELA!!! We still need to sort out Shahin's documents, but since she still has two Ordinary Visa renewals, which take us to the end of the African Cup we're not too worried right now.

Benguela has improved a lot since we were here last. The roads are now paved, and there is a revolution with regards to side-walks. Its beginning to shape up like the Benguela of old.

We've also managed to sort our accommodation for the next 2 months, a key worry of ours. The price is steep, but its much lower than anything on the market; it's also the place in which we stayed three years ago. Now, all we need to do is find jobs!

Shahin has progressed more than me on this department as she has made friends with the American expat that runs an English school. Unfortunately, as the semester is winding down here, the work is also slowing down. Things look good for the next academic year though.

I've also managed to open up a bank account and get myself a bank (ATM) card.

No beach as of yet though.

Kizua Mwangola: Part 5: Diaspora HOWTO

Right, y'all know I'm a nerd, and part of the nerd lifestyle is writing HOWTOs. For all the non-nerds out there, the reason why we tend to do this is because we love efficiency: there is nothing worse than having more than one person wasting time figuring something out. So, in this spirit, for all the Angolan diasporans out there that are planning to come back home, here are some tips on how to get your documents back.

NOTE: The below assumes only the legally available means (e.g. it's gasosa-free).
NOTE: The standard disclaimer applies: this HOWTO is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.

Without further ado, here's the returning to Angola HOWTO for diasporians.

1. _BEFORE_ you travel to Angola, make sure to:
  • Speak to all elements of your family that know anything at all about your past in Angola. You want to make sure you know exactly WHERE you were baptised and registered (exact addresses of church and conservatoria) and WHEN (year and month ideally). Old addresses are useful (even with the old street and town names, don't worry about that). Also, you need to find out where you live in the register of the conservatoria (e.g. Registo, Folhas, Livro).
  • Collect every single old _Angolan_ document you can lay your hands on (e.g. documents issued by the Portuguese-Angolan government before the independence or the Angolan government after independence; documents issued by the Portuguese government after independence are of no use, even if they state Angolan details).
  • If married a non-Angolan outside of Angola and you wish to issue your Angolan documents as married, ensure you bring a translated copy of: a) the foreigner's birth certificate and the foreigners criminal record; b) the marriage certificate. These copies MUST be stamped by the Angolan consulate at the country in which the foreigner was born and the wedding took place (if you're talking about Portugal or Brazil, the translation is not required of course). DO NOT leave the country(ies) until you have these documents, or nothing will be done.
NOTE: if you do NOT know your conservatoria, you will not be able to obtain an Angolan citizenship, I don't think.

2. When you get to Angola:

If you need to update your marriage status, you must do it before anything else. You will need to go to the registros centrais in Luanda next to Hotel Mundial, not far from Mutamba (I don't think this can be done in the provinces, but I'm probably wrong). The process of bringing your document into existence in Angolan law is called a "transcricao". You will need a lot of stuff for this:
  • The translated and stamped versions of the birth certificate, marriage certificate and criminal record, as explained above.
  • Doctor's certificate (Atestado medico), indicating everyone is alive and healthy.
  • Residence certificate (Atestado de residencia, this is normally proving the address of the Angolan member of the couple and issued by the Bairro's Comissao de Moradores).
  • Basic Curriculum Vitae
One very useful thing about going through this process is your wife will then have a much easier time getting a residence card. I'll cover that on a later update to this HOWTO. After you have transcribed your marriage properly (if required), you can start the climb of the documentation ladder proper.

NOTE: the below assumes you know the conservatoria, registo, folhas and livro.

  • Go to the church you were baptised and request a Certidao Narrativa. You may not need this, but I would get it if I were you (see my previous episode). Churches have a "notario" on the back. I don't think opening times are standard, but it may be between 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM. Queueing is normally not too bad (e.g. one or two people in the queue). You can collect the certidao narrativa while sorting out the certidao de nascimento (but do it BEFORE going for the ID card).
  • Next, go to THE conservatoria where you were originally registered at any time during its working hours, and look for a paper with an account number and prices (ideally you want to do this on a Friday or Thursday). DO NOT rely on information from other conservatorias. The paper should contain a standard price and an express price for the certidao (2700'ish and 4900'ish kwanzas respectively; get the EXACT values). It should also contain a cost for the cedula (210'ish kwanzas). IN THEORY you don't need to pay for both the certidao and the cedula as the cedula is included; in practice I'd pay for both since the cedula is so cheap. Ensure you find out WHICH BANK the account belongs to. It should be BPC, but just in case check. I strongly suggest you go for the EXPRESS option (5 working days).
  • Go very early to the bank and make the payments (I suggest 05:00 AM start but you may be lucky). Ensure you make SEPARATE payments for each document, with the EXACT amounts as displayed in the price sheet. Of course, ENSURE the account number is correct.
  • Ensure you receive a receipt from the bank for each transaction, STAMPED as deposited.
NOTE: There is no point in going to the conservatoria without the receipts.

Once you got the receipts, take them to THE conservatoria where you were originally registered to obtain a cedula and a birth certificate:
  • The birth certificate (certidao de nascimento) is also known as Assento de Nascimento (abbreviated to assento).
  • Conservatorias only deal with requests on MONDAYS and TUESDAYS, from 08:00 to 13:00. In practice you need to get there no later than 05:00 AM. I suggest going there on a Monday, in case anything goes wrong (god forbid) or else you'll have to wait for next week.
  • When you get there early in the morning, keep your eyes and ears open. Ask around. Some places have "lists" (a lista). These are informal documents created by customers that list the names of other customers in order of arrival. Make sure you keep your eyes on the list and do not leave the queue/place at any time. There are sometimes competing lists done by different people, so keep a keen eye open. There should, however, be multiple lists kept by _one_ person, one list per _department_; worry if there is only a single list for everything, as there will be trouble later on. You want to be in the Certidao list (NOT on the cedula list as the child registration is sometimes called). If you are on the wrong list and discover this later on YOU WILL have to queue again next time, so make sure you're on the correct list.
  • If your position in the list is greater than 50 don't bother waiting for too long; most conservatorias only accept 50 requests a day, so only the first 50 people get a go. At 51 to 55 you may get lucky, any higher than that and its neigh impossible you will be seen to on the day. At any rate, ask as your conservatoria may be different.
  • At around 08:00 AM the public servants will drop by and collect the lists. They will then read out the list and for every citizen present, give our a "ficha" with a number. This will be the order of processing for the day.
  • When your turn comes, make sure you ask for a Cedula as well as a Certidao/Assento de nascimento. Ensure the receipt states its a request for both documents. Ask for the collection date (the exact day of the week).
  • Guard the receipt they give you with your life. Make at least one photocopy of it. The copy is accepted in place of the original.
  • If you payed for express service, return at any day during the week to collect it. It can be at any of the valid working hours. If you paid for regular service, you can ONLY collect on Thursdays, between 08:00 and 13:00. Do not bother coming on any other day of the week as they will NOT see you.
  • When you receive your documents, its likely the cedula will be produced on the spot. Regardless, SPEND AS LONG AS NECESSARY CHECKING EVERY FIELD OF YOUR CEDULA. DO NOT LEAVE until you're satisfied. Misspellings, even minor ones will lead to trouble later on. Try to get them to fix your cedula there and then.
If at this point you still don't know your registo, folhas and livro you need to do a search on the conservatoria's books. This is EXTREMELY painful. You NEED to at least know the year. You will have to go to the conservatoria and do a "search". This can two or more weeks and the result can be negative (e.g. "you're not registered in 1966", try again).

When you get your certidao narrativa, certidao de nascimento (assento de nascimento) and cedula, find ANY centro de identificacao (I think, will fix it later if this is not the correct name):
  • Ideally go to a province as they are normally not as busy as Luanda. If you must do it in Luanda, I suggest Chicala (Ilha), next to the Portvgalia brewery. This is not quite as mad-busy as other places.
  • They normally are open Monday to Friday at 07:00 and accept requests until 13:30. In practice, its best to arrive very early (05:00 AM).
  • There is only one queue for everything, although some people make different queues for men and women. This is rather pointless as they end-up merging the two queues, using an entirely arbitrary merge algorithm that is likely to piss you off (mine was 3 men, 3 women and it worked very much against me). The queue will result in a "ficha", with your number. Guard the ficha with your life.
  • When they call you, the first counter will be a validation counter. They spot fakes and so on. They should be happy with your supporting documents (e.g. certidao narrativa and cedula).
  • The second counter takes your details and enters them into the computer (dados biograficos).
  • The third counter takes your biometric details (e.g. picture and finger prints).
  • The fourth counter will hand your ID card.
  • If you're at the beginning of the queue, you may get an ID card printed on the day. This could be as late as 13:30 to 15:30. If its not done by then, you need to come back next working day at any time after 07:00.
With the ID card you are now ready to go and get:
  • Numero de contribuinte (tax number): you can't really work without this.
  • Numero de seguranca social (social security number): you can't really work without this.
  • Criminal Record: most employers will ask you for it. Look for a Registo Criminal. The document should cost less than 2000 kwanzas (express) and should be ready within a couple of days.
  • Passport: you won't be able to travel as Angolan without this. Its very useful within SADC as there are lots of special agreements with member countries. Any DEFA would do, the provinces preferably as they are quieter (but slower). Should take around 30 days to issue. To be on the safe side, its best to renew your ordinary visa in the mean time (although this shouldn't really be required after getting an ID card).
Although the process is long, cumbersome and complex, I must say all the people I dealt with were surprisingly professional and managed to get things done in the time slots promised (I'm trying to say this whithout sounding too amazed, but yeh, I was really amazed).

I'll update the HOWTO with more details as I get the remaining documents.


Kizua Mwangola: Part 4: Angolan Again

On our return to Luanda, we found the city to be busier than ever. Perhaps it was the long, empty roads of Huambo that made us adapt to the slow pace of country life. Luanda hits you in the face, overflowing with people, cars, rubble. We were not expecting much of the conservatoria, not quite believing that the express service was actually going to deliver results. To my amazement it did: a brand-spanking cedula and birth-certificate were at the ready, waiting for me.

The next mission was to sort out the ID card. We did the scouting as usual, dropping by during the day and figured out another early start was required. I went solo. I got there for around 05:10 AM, managed to be number 38 after some complications (don't ask), waited for ages and got seen around 09:30. The going was good until around 5 people ahead of me. At this point, a middle-aged white Angolan goes up to the desk - a desk sitting more or less in the centre of the room, in full view of everyone. The chap was talking too softly for me to hear, but our Angolan public servant was not; his loudness was calculated to ensure everyone could participate in the exchange. Proceedings went more or less like this:

- So you're 40-odd years of age, haven't you ever had an ID card before?
- (inaudible mumble by citizen)
- So now you come back with this measly piece of paper (pointing to the birth certificate) and want me to believe this person is in fact you? How do I know?
- (more inaudible mumble by citizen)
- No, no, if it comes from the province you need to go back to the province! You all go when things got though and now want to come back when its sweet, and expect us to just believe your word!! If you want me to accept your documents you need some supporting evidence!!
- (even more inaudible mumble by citizen)
- Back to the province I say!! I'm here to do my job!!

The citizen left the building, but the public servant wasn't quite finished. He kept talking about it while processing the subsequent four cases, getting angrier and angrier as time went by - a full fledged monologue by now, punctuated only by the yesses and hm hms uttered by the customer and a few in the crowd. This went on until it was my turn, at which point he finally stopped talking, but for all the wrong reasons. He could hardly believe his eyes when he looked at my birth certificate, alternating between the paper and me several times with gaping mouth:

- I can't believe this!! Another one!?! What's going on here today?? Where is your old ID card?
- I never had one Sir - I say, starting to despair, but with still one card up my sleeve. Using my politest, nicest, humblest Portuguese I mumble:
- I also have the church's birth certificate, if that helps at all.

Incredibly, the guy changed his tone immediately after seeing the church's document, and suddenly starts displaying me as a model citizen to the crowd, explaining how this is the sort of behaviour he expects, with the neat confirming documents and so on. We all had a chuckle at the expense of these citizens that come round with only one document - me noisily joining the crowd slagging those fools. In the same breath I was thanking God I had remembered the old Portuguese bureaucratic trick of bringing every single legal document you own every time you go to a government agency - this makes it harder for them to send you home for lack of documentation.

The adventure wasn't quite finished after that - there were some other minor problems, but nothing major and the end result was that I _almost_ managed to finish the day with a valid Angolan ID card. Yep, this is the same day in which I initiated my request, and I did not do anything different from a regular, average Angolan citizen. The _almost_ bit was due to some mishaps with my file that I don't fully understand - something to do with stamps; my lovely number 38 ended up being processed at number 72 or so, meaning I was at the very back of the queue by the end of the working day (around 14:30). And this is excluding the other minor incident in which the chap calling out people got the files in the wrong order and jumped from 29 to 60 odd, skipping everyone inbetween; it took the queue something like ten names to notice the problem, at which point we were all shouting in unison: TA ERRADO CHEFE!!! TROCOU A ORDEM!!! (its all wrong boss, you flipped the order!!).

Anyway. Next day I returned at the late hour of 08:00 AM and it took me the whole of 20 mins to obtain my brand-spanking new Angolan ID card.

Kizua Mwangola: Part 3: Huambo

Things ended up going quite well with the conservatoria in the end. It sure didn't look like it in the beginning though. We got there around 07:00 AM on the dot, thinking this was early enough - I should have known better. The fall of Saigon had less people roaming around. Nevertheless, it was an instructive day as we figured out all the requirements to get things done. Next day I turned up at 05:10 AM, and was still number 12 in the queue (!!) but managed to put my request in. On the plus side, I was out by 09:30 AM.

Since it would take 5 working days to pick up the finished articles (e.g. the cedula and birth certificate), we decided to trek to Huambo to visit Cousin R. This is Angola's equivalent of Namibia's Windhoek, as it sits more or less on the centre of the country. Many years ago, the Portuguese had ambitions of making Huambo the capital of the empire; they called it Nova Lisboa. Due to its strategic importance and proximity to the rebels home ground, Huambo and the surrounding areas got shelled intensively during the war, particularly during the late nineties.

These days, the city is a recovering place. It still displays many scars of the recent past, but it also sports a great deal of rebuilt infrastructure. The government sees Huambo and the surrounding areas (such as Cela in Wako Kungo) as key for the agricultural revival the nation requires. Angola imports around 80% of what it consumes, a lot of which are cereals and other agricultural products. This is all the more amazing when one travels through the fertile lands of the plateau, kilometres and kilometres of greenery and very little of it affected by human hand. Imagine something like Hertfordshire but with unspoilt nature instead of farms and then scale that to a Britain-like size and you get close. Excluding the landmines, of course.

After a difficult bus trip, we spent 5 days in great luxury at cousin R's pad, with all the mod-coms. During the day we treked the city, visiting places like the granja, and meeting nice people such as Hugo. Time went far too quickly, and we had to go back to the madness of Luanda.