THE SKULL BENEATH
Angola and the Cold War
SOMETIME EARLY IN THE MORNING, before dawn, when the military checkpoints were gunmen's shadows and the blackened buildings rose, their expressions as blank as the devastated faces of the people, out of the darkness against the starlit sky, a brazier glowed beside the road to the airport. It was August and the southern summer, but the shivering cool of autumn filled the night. Perhaps it was the breeze from the ocean that cooled the city and cradled the trees lining the streets, whose architecture had barely changed (except for the bullet holes) since the beginning of the conflict in 1975; they seemed to emerge straight out of the country's history. The city of Luanda bore the marks of its pain, its destruction exposing the depths of its calamity. However, it had been months since there had been any fighting there.
In a dingy apartment block Vladimir the TASS correspondent, one of the 400 Russians remaining from a previous Soviet presence of 5,000 personnel, sat half-naked and hunched over his desk, bemoaning the fact that his wife and child were forbidden by Soviet-era rules to accompany him to such a place; he tapped out his reports and sent his telexes to Moscow, a chronicler of the last days of the defeated Cold War power's African "empire." False hopes lay ruined in the doorways, where families huddled for shelter, and everywhere at night shadows lingered in the shadows—gunmen, thieves, po