Four or five miles along the asphalt road that runs east from Kaala, a small town in central Angola, a Chinese construction company has carved an unexpected right turn, a broad dirt path that runs over a rise through scrubby forest. The path, which has no marking, winds past a basketball court — recreation for the work force — and then empties out into a vast plaza of meticulously smoothed earth. Dump trucks ferry loads of dirt back and forth. At the far end of the plaza, obscured by tree trunks that have been uprooted and laid carefully on their sides, are train tracks. The whole scene, invisible from the road, conjures the stupendous designs of the evil genius in a Bond film.
The weed-covered tracks are the remnants of a railway built by British engineers a century ago to transport precious minerals from the heart of the continent to the port of Lobito, more than a thousand miles away. The Angolan government is paying a consortium of Chinese companies $1.9 billion to completely reconstruct the tracks, the bridges, the stations, the equipment, all shattered by a quarter-century of warfare and neglect. The construction company working near Kaala had prepared the ground to build a factory that would turn out tens of thousands of iron railroad ties. An Angolan security guard who came out to cross-examine us said that the work force was still waiting for material to arrive. He asked us politely to leave. We complied, and as we drove back to the provincial capital, Huambo, we turned down another dirt road and found another Chinese company building an agricultural high school.
more from the NY Times Magazine here.