LUANDA, ANGOLA -- In Angola, patience isn't just a virtue. It's a requisite.
Waiting is the national pastime, and Angolans do it better, perhaps, than anybody else in the world, because they've had lots of practice.
Flights on Taag, the national airline, are routinely four or five hours late, sometimes because the crew fails to show up. Frequently, passengers who wait that long are told that the flight has been canceled and that they should return the next day.
They do, with barely a grumble.
It is common for ministers of the Marxist government here to make appointments and then neglect to appear, without explanation. An official of the Department of Information and Propaganda looked startled when a visitor, his nerves frayed by two hours of waiting in a hotel lobby, issued a relatively mild rebuke.
"We're used to waiting," the official said with a shrug.
The ordeal of two U.N. Development Program officials who were invited here by the Angolan government is legendary.
Their plane was late arriving at Luanda's airport. They not only found no one to greet them -- there were no immigration or customs officials to clear their entry and no taxis to take them downtown.
After hitching a ride to their hotel, the U.N. visitors spent two days looking for the officials who had invited them, but nobody seemed able to help.
They finally found their hosts and began studying the problem they had been summoned here to examine: management inefficiency.
ANGOLANS ARE a warm and friendly people with better dispositions than could be expected after 500 years under the Portuguese colonial yoke and a bitter revolutionary struggle.
An estimated 6 million to 9 million Angolans were sold into slavery in the Americas, and conscripted labor for token pay did not end here until the 1960s.
But ineptness and inefficiency are endemic, the result of a severe deficit in managerial manpower caused by a 95 percent black illiteracy rate at the time of independence in 1975. There was also an abrupt exodus of 300,000 Portuguese who held all but the most menial jobs.
The government recently announced a street repair program, then had to import laborers from Portugal to fill the crater-sized potholes that make driving in Luanda an adventure. There weren't enough adept Angolans available to do the job.
The bureaucracy is so stifled by underqualified employes that cashing a check at a state bank or paying a bill at the telephone company can consume hours. For visitors, the frustration is compounded by the absence of taxis in the capital. When the government nationalized all taxis, the drivers -- as entrepreneurial here as anywhere -- simply quit the business.
THE KWANZA, Angola's currency, is so lacking in value that many people don't bother to look for jobs unless they can receive at least part of their wages in foreign exchange or consumer goods, a practice that fuels the parallel black market economy.
While downtown shops either have near-empty shelves or are boarded up, the black market stores do a flourishing business in hard currency.
Since the dollar will buy 30 kwanza at the official rate and up to 2,000 on the black market, commercial anomalies are common. One egg, for example, can cost 1,500 kwanza in the black market, which is the equivalent either of $50 or 75 cents, depending on how you look at it.
A waiter, handed a 500 kwanza tip -- which is more than $16 at the official rate -- was disdainful because he saw it as being worth 25 cents at a black market shop, the only place he would find many goods.
Because the state-run airline accepts only kwanzas from Angolan citizens, a flight to Europe for them is about the same as the cost of a pair of trousers on the black market. One foreign visitor recently spent 10 days in Angola and never touched a kwanza.
WITH THE HELP of advisers from the Soviet Union, Cuba, Bulgaria, East Germany, China and Vietnam, however, Angola is groping toward a more efficient system.
At a glacial pace, it is attempting to build schools and universities to train technocrats and bureaucrats who will rebuild the management infrastructure that the Portuguese methodically dismantled as their feudal empire crumbled.
Miguel de Carvalho, an affable government official who walks with a limp from his fighting days in the revolution, showed some embarrassment as several foreign visitors waited for four hours at an airport in Lubango for a plane that never came.
But he proudly defended his country's system anyway.
"I was very young when I became a fighter," he said. "It was a long and bitter struggle, but we won our independence. The United States won its independence, and chose its system, and I respect that right. We chose our system and want our right to be respected also."