old wooden houses

I met Bia in one of the many alleys of Chicala when I was trying to find a shop (or 'cantina', as they call it here) where I could buy batteries for my audio recorder. The many narrow streets and corners hide all sorts of stories and people in Chicala.
Bia, now in her 50s, stopped doing the laundry when she saw us passing by. She wondered why we were looking at the old wooden house next door to hers. When we asked why was this house so different from others in the neighbourhood she smiled, left the pile of clothes and stood up as if to tell us a story. This wooden house, which is in a very poor condition, was built during colonial times and, although it remains there today, it has lost the splendour it once had. "This house has been here since before 1975.", Bia told us. She also said that, at some point, the wooden houses replaced the ones made with 'luando', a kind of thick grass or palm tree leaves, a material widely used by fishermen to build their homes. Bia has not always lived here in this side of Chicala. When she was young, her home was further south on the island of Luanda where the houses were constantly destroyed by the force of the waves - "higher than that wall back there". The floods were so bad that sometimes she had to spend the night sleeping on top of the table because the floor was covered with water.
Bia moved to Chicala when there was still a beautiful forest and very few houses. Unlike the previous place, here the water never reached the houses. At night it was so dark that one could not see an inch in front of one's eyes. It was then that she began to see those wooden houses, safer and more resilient than those of 'lundo'. Perception changed the way houses were build from thereon, as the 'luando' material was not regarded as good as wood. This marked the end of 'luando' houses.
Now, many years later, the wooden house dies slowly and barely stands up. Now, says Bia, people only want cement blocks and sheet metal roofs. Wooden houses, which were considered very good quality before are now refered to as fragile and temporary, just like 'luando' houses were. This is a never ending cycle. I wonder what will follow cement blocks?
There are still a few of these colonial wooden houses scattered throughout Chicala. The war did not affect them but they were completely swallowed by the exponential growth of the neighbourhood, and now share the space with hundreds of little cement block houses. However abandoned, they still tell wonderful stories of those who lived here many years ago.

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