Living in Soyo is unlike something I have never seen. Imagine stepping back in time to a place where only the basics existed. The normalities and securities of developed nations are often, far too easily taken for granted. Why wouldn’t there be running water from the taps? If something is broken, the local government will fix it!
Having worked in many places around the world, I have seen and lived in places both thriving and grossly under developed. So I wasn’t at all “shocked”, at what I saw down here in Soyo. But it did open my eyes to how one survives when nothing is available. Human nature and instincts will always take over. The power of survival. Can it be that this is the driving force of the local residents?
While the basics is all that is available, day to day activities just seem to keep on ticking over. Household refuse and general waste, populate random spots along the road. But a few days later, these seem to be gone. Living in soyo, alongside these “rubbish dumps”, is considered “normal”, with the consensus being that, everyone just leaves there rubbish exactly where they finish it.
Having a bin near enough, is not an option, as the ground is a much more viable option. It is much bigger and considerably easier to reach. One just has to let go of the object in ones hand and “viola”. Its “gone”. For those that choose the better option of finding a rubbish bin, are very quickly brought to the realization that ground is the more sought after option, as the bins are almost always over flowing.
Living in soyo
Random stalls ocuppy the sides of the road, with scores of people darting in and out from them. School kids (easily noticeable with their white coats) gracefully manoeuvre their way around determined adults trying to sell the fruits they have just pulled from the trees.
Those that are heading to and from work, join the ranks and make their way down the busy streets. Cars drive at whatever speed they deem the best to get to their destination in record breaking time. Speed limit signs (while in very short supply), are often mistaken for the number of vehicles that can over take at any one time.
Music blares from almost every make shift house or shelter, while beers are available in almost all of them. Locals shouting at and conversing with each other in their native tongue, unaware of speeding cars heading straight for them. The car will stop eventually or at the very least swerve around me, seems to be what goes on through every locals mind.
The problem of potholes are a common problem in any nations, both developed and under developed. But craters are another story all together. Some of these “potholes” have depths of half a metre. For the main part, the roads are tarred. Now when I say tarred, I mean they laid the tar and walked away.
The edges of the roads are not secured or compacted hard up against a shoulder (pavement or curb). So what happens then? Erosion? As time goes by the edges are breaking away. Travelling on certain roads, means you run the risk of sliding off the edge of the road. You won’t fall off a cliff, but you might certainly get stuck in a ditch. Or hit the masses of people that seem to live right next to the road.
For the most part, the roads that are travelled on (tar or dirt), are clear. As Soyo is still a “high risk” area for landmines, going off the beaten track is dangerous. Don’t go on adventures and make your own road. A lot of money has been spent removing landmines, but they are far from all being gone. Just remember that if you feel the need to go “offroading”.
Driving in Soyo
Having a 4×4 vehicle in Soyo is not an option or luxury, but more of a requirement. Any other vehicle (of which there are plenty, believe it or not), will simply not survive the onslaught of abuse and damage the vehicle will sustain during one lap of the main road.
This becomes very apparent, when cars are operated on, literally right in the middle of the road. Surely I must be joking? I can assure you I am no, as you see it all the time. The joke is not the car in the middle of the road (or the people lying underneath it), but what they leave as a warning.
The warning (or at least warning object I might add), that they leave behind the car, is a brick, or a branch. I s**t you not. Why on earth would a warning triangle be of any use, when a brick would suffice?
People drive as if the road is exclusively there’s. A horn is literally meant to warn people that you are coming, so that they get out of your way. Pay attention to the way they use the horn though, as they might just be telling people to look at them. Soyo residents (the younger generation mostly) are very much about look at me. Vanity comes to mind.
Paying attention to the other drivers
As I have mentioned before, drivers do speed. It doesn’t matter the size of the vehicle, they speed nevertheless. And they will overtake when they want, regardless of what is happening. Don’t think that you can just pull over a little bit if they are on the oncoming side of the road. There are people literally right on the edge of the road. You will hit them!
If spatial awareness is something you lack, then driving in Soyo is something you should not do. People cross the road when they want to. Vehicles overtake when they want to. Stray dogs are everywhere and are not afraid to cross the road. Then stop abruptly in the middle of the road to lick its genitals. Kids run about carelessly and with complete disregard for the vehicles on the road.
The local people
As a community, they seem to just get on with life. The town of Soyo is different to those living outside of it. Outside residents live with the basics only, while those in the town have a more western approach to living (despite the general living conditions).
Portugese is almost exclusively spoken, with the exception of the local language. English speaking residents are very few and far between. Having a translator or translation medium is a definite. Unless of course Portugese is a language you speak. In which case you wouldn’t need the above. Moving on.
The people are friendly enough, especially if you give them money. As with everywhere, you always find the “town drunk”. Be careful of them here, as it is not the alcohol that sends them over the edge, but whatever chemicals the ingest. They are very aggressive and determined. With that said, if you just ignore them, they walk on by and start on the next person (who through experience has learnt to do the same as you).
Soyo is a lively place and their is always something going on. For the residents of Soyo, they know nothing else of life outside their town or village. This place is their home and they will not leave. Regardless of whether or not they want to.
Shops in Soyo
The shops in Soyo are mainly based on foods and consumables. In Soyo itself, there are three main shops. These are basically supermarkets, but they don’t have a huge selection of items. The rest of the shops are “makeshift” shacks and shelters.
Be careful if you buy from theses places as the hygiene is not of a high standard (not to mention they are most probably very outdated).
There is a Shoprite (supermarket) on one of the main roads. The selection is good enough for where it is, but most of the meats are imported, so they are almost always frozen. Fresh meat is not possible.
The deaf mutes
Outside Shoprite you will find 2 deaf mutes. These two ladies are relentless in their endeavours to rid every passer by of their hard earned cash. They cannot speak, nor hear, so all you get is a very inaudible grunt. In fact a grunt you can understand, these noises are something else.
One of the ladies carries with her a piece of paper for you to read. “Guess what?”. It’s written in Portuguese. What did I say before. If you can’t speak Portuguese, you won’t get by.
The first time I went to Shoprite, I was confronted by this woman (living in soyo) and her piece of paper. She started with her noises, then shoved the piece of paper in front of me. I looked at it, then said, “I can’t read Portuguese!”. She looked at me and shoved the paper at me again. So I told her again (louder this time), that I couldn’t read Portuguese.
The third time she shoved it at me, I started shouting at her. Why was I shouting at her? She is a deaf mute for f**k sakes. She can’t hear a bloody word I was shouting. The locals had that look in their eyes. You know the one where they are all thinking, “Look at that idiot shouting at a deaf mute!”, all while laughing hysterically in their own minds.
My take on living in Soyo
For an ex-pat, your money will allow you to live like a king. But that is all you would benefit from. It is an interesting place to visit, but I wouldn’t add it to your bucket list. I have worked here and been fortunate enough to have seen some of what it has to offer.
Medical facilities are almost non existent. They are available, but most of the residents cross to the Congo for treatments, rather than be treated in Soyo. If you come to this place, you can’t be led by your conscience or emotions. It is a sad fact, but that is life here.