It was delicious, and we had lots of fun. Sometimes, I remember those dinners as something I would do with friends of my age or probably not. Just with friends. I have lots of friends who are ten years older than I am. We laughed so much! Of course Maria had to ask about the role of the women in the Church. I guess she made that her mission in life! But we spoke about all. I mean: they spoke about all. I just listened and from time to time would give my 2 cents. But I am not a Bible expert and I don’t live in Angola for too many years to be “aware” of what is happening around me.
As Maria so well put it, in Luanda, I was never of lack of anything. I had tap water and electricity. Of course, as all the Angolan, we have already had water shortage and hours without electricity. But we knew when it would come back. Principally in the Citadel, where I live. We have a generator and a cistern. So if we had water shortage, it would be for an afternoon or for a morning only. The same with electricity. We would only be in the dark for a couple of minutes before the generator is turned on.
In all those details, I keep on saying I am privileged. And more privilege than many of other teenagers that live in the same situation as I do, because I don’t even live in Angola! If UNICEF says that this is the last country to be born in, I sometimes give them reason. Although I believe that in Sierra Leone or in Rwanda, the situation can be more difficult than in Angola.
Sister Auxilio explained that they had electricity till May. One of their neighbours who had a generator lent them some electricity. So a cable went from his house to the sisters’ house. But in Lwena, the situation is so bad, that the only burglars you’ll find are electricity cables burglars. They stole the cable once. Then, the second time, the Sisters asked for a man to “keep” the cable. Without knowing how it happened, the second cable was stolen too.
Sister Rosa said that that night, she had never cried that much! “All my relatives are already gone, and I have never cried that much in my life! The next morning, it looked that I have been on the death of someone I cherished a lot! It was one of the worst nights of my life!”
We laughed so much! Sister Rosa is the funniest person I have ever met! And probably the first with a strong will. She told us, during dinner, her story. Actually, Maria was curious to know how did they end up in the Congregation of the Reparatory Sisters. She just said: “Sister Maria, put some oil on the lamp!”
D. Gabriel started laughing. And so did we. It was the dessert time already and the fruits had a little white wine on. This detail is for later.
Sister Maria Rosa’s story: “When I was a teenager, living in a village, I was a real tomboy. I would help my father in the plantation and in the construction of the house. As years went by, my friends were all getting their boyfriends, and I didn’t. So, one day, my father called me. I was 14. At this time (back in the 1980s), it wasn’t you that would choose your husband. It was all arranged by your parents and someone else’ parents.” My father said “Here are your uncles. They have a son – The first thing I asked was if he studied and if he was at school. He said yes and was very advanced already. I told them we had to study to work to support them in they late days – I said I wanted to meet the guy to know if I wanted to get married or not – The fact is that no one asks that and those uncles never appeared anymore.”
At that time, she was very brave to ask for such: to meet the man to see if she wanted to marry him or not. Normally you just do what your father says you to. Then, Sister Rosa put some more of the fruits on her plate under the comic “again?” eye of D. Gabriel.
My father knew I wanted to study, so he put me on a school and as it was far away from the village, I had to stay at the house of Sisters. To “teach me how to be a woman”, said my father. Then, at the Church, I met the first Black sister and I admired her. I said to my parents I wanted to teach Catechism. But at that time, there was no woman teacher. So I replied, “if I can’t teach Catechism in the Catholic Church, I will go to Protestant Church!”
Right there, Maria was so pleased to have met Sister Rosa! “That’s a woman with strong will!” Mind you, I quite imagined she would say that”
D. Gabriel shook his head. I guess at that time, I would have too. He was the only man at table and I was between Sister Rosa and Maria. Without knowing, a great friendship was born in each one of my sides and my ears.
I wanted to meet that sister (it happened to be Sister Auxilio), but I didn’t know how! It was already too difficult for me to go to someone and say “I love you”.
Right there, I blushed! D. Gabriel said “Jo! Isn’t that you?” Then Maria “Oh! This one is a professional when it comes to hide feelings!” Oh, my! I was too naive to think the topic of the conversation was the Sister Rosa’s way to the religious life! I guess Sister Rosa saw my embarrassment and took over rather quickly.
But, while I was wondering how would I talk to that sister and ask her how could I get into that life, she was the one that called for me. I knew this day, after talking to her, that I wanted to become religious.
Years after, Sister Rosa happened to be with Sister Auilio in Lwena, and that probably was mark of the destiny. I would love to believe in that!
We came back home (The Bishopric) at 11 PM. It was a funny evening, and I sure was tired
Saturday, August 17th 2002
Tonight we celebrated the 5th year of priesthood of Father Emilio and Father Jorge.
In the Catholic Church, we celebrate the 1st, 5th, 10th, 25th, 50th and 75th anniversaries/birthdays. So, there was a dinner with the different congregations at The Bishopric.
The Sisters Reparatory were there, the Sisters Daughters of Jesus and the Sisters of the Company of Saint Theresa of Jesus. When they saw me, and I was saluting them, they started saying I had disappeared, the ‘long time no see’ thing. And it had been only 6 days I have been around! It sure changes you from the “normal” life you try to have away from the religious and simple one.
We sat at the long table of the dining room after D. Gabriel blessed the food. It was a very nice evening. We laughed and played tricks. While Father Emilio was in the kitchen to see if all was OK, if the guests were happy, Father Jorge took his plate and hid it. Maria took his Coca-Cola and hid it as well.
Maria asked D. Gabriel if they were allowed to play tricks on seminary. If I remember well, D. Gabriel answered that if they weren’t allowed, they would do it anyway. Sister Maria (Reparatory), sit next to me, wanted to laugh, and I with her. We are almost the same age. Then came Father Emilio. He saw his plate was gone. He sat and said “At least give me my Coke”. Everyone nearby was laughing. Maria decided to give him his Coke. Then, Father Jorge took the plate he had put on my side, just in front of Father Emilio to give it to him. But the table had so many good things, that it was quite impossible to know what was what and to look for a lost plate in there.
OK… a little lesson here! You eat palm oil beans with sugar, banana and fried manioc flour. You serve it with grilled fish (as always!) and raw onion sauce over it. But that day, it was grilled chicken and it was as good! French version of an Angolan meal (I don’t eat my beans with sugar and I hate banana!) (Jo Ann 2003)
D. Gabriel advised me to eat really well when he saw me resign after the second plate (not a normal thing for me). He said that at this time, we would only eat again tomorrow by the same hour. I thought he was pulling my leg. So, he looked at Sister Avelina (Company of Saint Theresa of Jesus) to ask at what time would we eat. She said “Tomorrow by this time”. I thought it was a joke, really. It was barely 9 PM!
Then he asked me if I was enthusiast to go to Lukusse billet camp. I replied “to wake up at 5 AM would take anyone’s enthusiasm!” I really tend to think that I will always be a clown among others! They started laughing and I blushed!
Father Noel did the speech. A very beautiful speech. The sum up of the sum up would be: “Our work is very tough. I pray that the Lord would help you go through it, because we bring hope to those that have lost it”. That was the sum up of the sum up.
Jeremias, a priest-to-be, asked D. Gabriel to make a speech as well. He thanked Father Jorge and Father Emilio for being there, because if it wasn’t for them, for their work and for their faith, he probably wouldn’t be in his way to priesthood.
After all those emotional speeches, D. Gabriel and Father Jorge prepared to open the champagne bottles. They shook it so well, that the table was half deserted! I hid far behind D. Gabriel and Maria under the table. We were laughing so much! Sister Maria (Reparatory) said “Look where your mother is” Orlando was taking some pictures, then we saw that Maria wasn’t the only one under the table. Two other sisters were under it, but I didn’t recognise them in the total chaos.
Needless to say that champagne went all over. I didn’t see where Father Jorge’s had gone, but D. Gabriel’s went over the cake and a little over Sister Avelina (Company of Saint Theresa of Jesus).
As it is tradition, Father Jorge and Father Emilio had to cut the cake. The photos must have been funny. Father Jorge is just like my brother Mario. He takes everything to the funny side and makes us laugh lots!
In the end of the dinner, we sort of cleaned up the dining room. But, while the sisters were doing it and I helping them, Maria started talking to Jeremias, the priest-to-be, in French. He studies in Lumbumbashi, in RDC.
I tried not to think about it, but I knew she would call me to speak my “French of France” with him. Mind you, I only have the French accent, when I am not around French-speaking people. In French, I can probably have all the accents possible!
So, I was trying to take some plates to the kitchen, but Maria called me and a sister took the stuff off my hands with a smile. I started talking to Jeremias, Maria and Father Jorge in French. Here goes the benefit of speaking that language since being a toddler.
When I was taking the stairs to the upper floor, I saw Sister Rosa (Reparatory) and Sister Maria (Reparatory) getting new plates and glasses in some boxes. Maria asked them what they were doing. Sister Rosa explained that they were preparing the “picnic material” for tomorrow. I left them talking and went up to my room. It was like 11 PM when I closed my eyes.
Sunday, August 18th 2002
The day would be long and still I didn’t know what to expect from such a travel.
At 0530 AM I was getting ready in my room to go to Lukusse. I chose a pullover, blue jeans and running shoes. I guess it was, at the moment, the best equipment to go in a camp in the middle of the bushes. I didn’t take my breakfast because I already knew it would take us 3 hours to the camp and there is no way I can get off the car because I drank too much liquids!
At 6 AM, we had the meeting at the Bishopric. There were D. Gabriel, Father Noel, Father Santiago, the Sisters of the Company Theresa of Jesus, the Sisters Reparatory, the Sisters Daughters of Jesus, the delegation PROMAICA (Promotion of the Catholic Woman in Angola), the Commission Justice & Peace, three volunteers Dom Bosco and the representing of the Biblical Pastoral (Maria).
I was talking to Maria looking at all those people, missionaries and volunteers. I thought only those who have been at the dinner for Father Emilio and Father Jorge would be there. I saw a man dressed with baggy white trousers, boots, a couple of timber shirts, a beret and Maria said: “He must be of some NGO.” I agreed. He was too handsome!
He came to us to present himself, with a huge smile.
“Good morning! I am Father Santiago!”
When he left, I almost cried over Maria’s shoulder and told her: “There are no more man to get married to!” Till today, they make fun of me. But well, he is a priest. I won’t be the one taking him out of the right way!
It is interesting to see how young and modern people leave everything behind (he is from Uruguay), family and home, to go to the middle of nowhere for the cause they believe in. I admire that!
At 7 AM we prepared everything to Lukusse. The Sisters of the Company Saint Theresa of Jesus (Sisters Avelina, Rosa, Marta and In’s) prepared the lunch since 4 AM. I guess that they are always the ones that take care of the food. But the food went in the car of the Sisters Reparatory (only Sisters Rosa and Maria because Sister Julieta was operated and Sister Auxilio had to stay with her).
A couple of minutes later, D. Gabriel selected who would go where, in which of the five cars and truck. 4 cars were driven by sisters: Sister Rosa (Reparatory), Sister Mansueta (Daughters of Jesus), Sister Rosa (Company Theresa of Jesus), Sister Marta (Company Theresa of Jesus), the truck was driven by Father Santiago and the last car was driven by D. Gabriel.
I went in the car driven by D. Gabriel. Next to him, Father Noel, on the second row Sister Brigida (Daughters of Jesus), me and Maria. Third row, two local men (never knew their names) who would be very useful coming to the history of Lwena and the province.
Then started a long walk to Lukusse. 133 kilometres!
The road Lwena-Lukusse is an awful cemetery of landmines and trucks and helicopters. The landscape is so beautiful with so many wonderful colours! I have seen the best of Nature and the worst of mankind.
The road has so many holes, it is so awfully destroyed by landmines that the straw grows in the middle of the concrete. Mines! Mines! Mines! We saw loads of trucks and tanks destroyed along the way, huge holes in the streets, in the middle of the bushes. From those times, they were hundreds. Now, they have already started to clean up- I guess.
The two men behind us would tell us the stories of those soldiers that were going to Lwena to save the population because the UNITA were near the city, in Sakassange, well known by its massacres.
No words can describe the emotions watching trucks melted! D. Gabriel was so… can’t find the word. He was driving and had to slalom to go by. He just shook his head and said “Here we can see that when men wants to do evil, he does it all. Such a waste of human lives for nothing- 40 years of war for nothing.”
If trucks melted, the human beings became dust. Even helicopters and planes exploded! Wanting to rescue, they have probably been shot, and as it is in the middle of the bushes, the tall trees caught the wings… That’s my theory of the chaos.
There is no way they could have survived. And when a landmine exploded, the rebels would appear from the bushes, from behind very high straws. D. Gabriel says that the beautiful landscape was really adequate for it. Who ever hides in the middle of those bushes can see any car/truck passing by, but the driver can’t see them. Then, any person that loves life tries to run away, leaving the car behind. You can leave the car behind, but the land is mined and the guerrilla would start shouting “Get him alive! Get him alive!”
D. Gabriel says that at this time, nobody wanted to be caught alive by the UNITA rebels- I will spare the details.
At 10 AM we cross the river Ngola.
You had to get out of the cars, so they could cross without difficulty. There wasn’t a bridge, so the car had to cross on water and there could have problems with the shortest cars. We (the passengers) would walk over some pieces of iron someone remembered to put in there. But better work in the circus! Father Santiago made almost all the crosses, it was very deep and dangerous.
Father Noel said “don’t leave the car, if we fall, at least we fall together!” He is funny!
Ngola isn’t the real name of the river. Ngola was the name of a general or whatever the poor man was that died in there. He made the soldiers leave the jeep and then went on with the driver. There was a bomb in the river and he died.
History of Angola!
After that, we kept on going, everyone in their cars.
If I was a tree
In the tortured path Lwena-Lukusse
I would have ugly scars
From burning agony
Burning with no mercy
With all those lost souls
Begging for help and justice
Crying between the branches
In the middle of the night
If I was a tree
In the tortured path Lwena-Lukusse
I would have lost my first skin
And my second and my third.
I would be forever distorted
And would howl with the lost souls
If I was a tree
In the tortured path Lwena-Lukusse
I would have witnessed
Hundreds of massacres
Explosions with no name
Trucks and tanks burnt to the bone
Only the skeleton remained
Red, still burning with no more pain
You are dust, and you return to dust.
Land of the “help us God!”
Let me make it to the other river
Let me live another moment
Let me say good-bye to my wife and kids
Let me kiss my old mother goodbye
Let me, Boom! Landmines! Bombs!
Broken lives and sorrows
Nameless war- Stupid arrows!
If I was a tree
In the tortured path Lwena-Lukusse
My burnt foliage would be my tears,
Drops on black and bloody earth
For the lost souls, my ghosts
Howling with the wind
Between the branches of the tall trees
In the middle of the night.
If I was a tree I would have told all.
But I am not.
We arrived in the camp at 11 AM. The group of the Catholics (children) started singing in Umbundu. Umbundu is my Bantu language, from the South. The people of the camp are former rebels from UNITA and while the government doesn’t know what to do with them, they are registered in the camps with their families. And normally, the people from UNITA are from the South.
A welcome committee received us. It was 5 stars in the middle of the bushes. Where we had the reception was a huge cabin of straw, very fresh, and we had to sit on thin wood banks. Later it hurt me lots!!
They presented themselves, then Father Santiago presented the delegation of the Catholic Mission. He speaks Portuguese “of the bushes” as I call it.
There we go again:
– Bishop of Lwena, D. Gabriel Mbilingi (Lukusse is a part of the Lwena Diocese)
– Father Noel
– Father Santiago
– The Sisters of the Company Theresa of Jesus (Sisters Avelina, Marta, Rosa and In’s)
– The Sisters Reparatory (Sisters Rosa and Maria)
– The Sisters Daughters of Jesus (Sisters Mansueta and Brigida)
– The delegation PROMAICA (Promotion of the Catholic Woman in Angola)
– The Commission Justice & Peace
– Three volunteers Dom Bosco
– Biblical Pastoral (Maria).
After the welcome note from one of the former rebels, glad to receive the visit of the Catholic Mission.
Then, we had to walk over 5 minutes to the Church they had built in the same style of the other huts. Built with “braided” straw . They made a tapestry of green plants, beautiful. They kept on singing. The Mass would be given by D. Gabriel, Father Noel and Father Santiago.
The Mass was in Umbundu. I said to myself “I got myself in problems”. I might be a Southern girl, but yikes. I don’t know Umbundu to follow the Mass and I thought it would be very, very long! But then, the “speech” (don’t know the name in English) was in Portuguese. It made me think. D. Gabriel can touch people’s hearts, really. And I thought I could have a little crumb of faith.
This is after the Mass in Lukusse Billet camp
By 1230 , we started the distribution of food. Maria was worried about me because I am a sick person and asthma is one of my crimes. And when human beings have hunger, they can become beasts. In the middle of that sandy camp, we saw a huge cloud of dust over ours heads. My blue jeans weren’t blue anymore. They are supposed to be jeans for battle, but my black shirt and my black running shoes became brown. Guess how did Father Santiago’s white trousers turned out to be.
At 2 PM, we went to visit the village of Lukusse, while Father Santiago and the volunteers of Don Bosco distributed food to the different chiefs of clans of the camp.
We visited the ghost city. I didn’t count more than 20 people and the Sisters bought some antilopes.
Then, coming back to the camp, after the river Lukusse (the bridge is half destroyed because of the rotten wood). We passed by the tree Savimbi (guerilla leader) was showed to the entire world, with over 20 bullets in the body.
“Here died my uncle” said D. Gabriel. Will I ever know Savimbi was a part of my family as well? Lots of my family that lived in the bushes and are of UNITA are in the South. Angolans are a huge family that hate each other.
At 5 PM, we came back to the camp. D. Gabriel is like a camel. It had been 24h since he last drank a glass of water. I guess he thought we were made the same shape! The delegation of Promaica and Justice &; Peace already had eaten but we (Sisters, Fathers and volunteers) couldn’ for respect reasons. D. Gabriel was the responsible for us and the highest personality in the whole bunch. We had to wait for him and Father Santiago till they finished the distribution.
Sister Maria (Reparatory) gave me some biscuits. She said “We are used to this life, but poor child! She isn’t!”. I appreciated! Sister Brigida (Daughters of Jesus) and I satisfied ourselves with biscuits! And gladly we did, because we would wait a long, long time- Father Noel was saying “my parish is empty”. We laughed, trying to forget ours too!
D. Gabriel and Father Santiago didn’t want to eat before crossing the river Ngola, which we did at 6 PM, when the Sun had already set.
The other way round would be much more difficult because the depth was much steeper. Sister Rosa (Company of Saint Theresa of Jesus)’s car was very low and the water almost got IN the car. Both D. Gabriel and Father Santiago were very worried. It was high tide- Of course Superman Father Santiago crossed it.
We had to cross by feet, so we were all waiting to get back in the cars. Someone said to wait till we arrive at the Bishopric to eat, but D. Gabriel finally GOT the message!
“Who is going to wait till the Bishopric? Let’s eat!”
We invaded Sister Rosa (Reparatory)’s car and I helped out the sisters to get the lunch out. Can you imagine? Lunch was made at 4 AM, it was over 6 PM and still nobody had eaten! But the food was still hot because Sister Avelina (Company Saint Theresa of Jesus) had wrapped it on newspaper.
There had sausage rice, barbecue, manioc pap, chicken stew, dry fish and Sister Maria (Reparatory) prepared some salad. We ate over the warm motors of the cars.
Never eating in the middle of the bushes, landmines, under full moon, with animals around felt SO good! We drank fresh water of the river Ngola, never saw that clear a water, so pure and fresh!
40 minutes later, we cleaned up around, and went back to our cars. It would be a long walk back to the Bishopric because Sister Rosa (Company of Saint Teresa of Jesus)’s car had problems and every 15 kilometres, we had to stop.
Now there are 133 kilometres from Lukusse to Lwena!
We started praying the rosary, but, while I was praying the last Ave Maria, I felt asleep.
We arrived at 10 PM at The Bishopric and I just got the time to say “Goodnight!”
Monday, August 19th 2002
By 10 AM, I was having problems to get up. Really. I had slept the whole trip from Lukusse to Lwena, four (4) hours, but still, I needed to rest from it. When I am sleepy, I can even sleep standing! But of course, my back was sore after we got at the Bishopric.
When D. Gabriel saw me, he was getting out of his office, and asked me if I have slept it all. I said “Yes! When I do something, I do it well. I don’t do it by half!” He laughed and went one way. I went the other to take my breakfast.
Ah! Life! It is so simple! Why do we keep complicating it?
At lunch, Maria was curious to know what Father Noel’s full name was. He said Manuel Ga something. Didn’t get that one! He said whatever starts by “Ga-” was typically from The Philippines. There are lots of Latin names in there. Then, he said : “In Brazil, everyone name is Antonio, Felipe, Joaquim, Manuel, Morio – Comes the Japanese: “What’s your name?” “Manuel!”.
Tuesday, August 20th 2002
I was jogging with Maria around the city.
Since I was little, I had conscience that the colour of my skin would always be a problem in some areas I would go to. When I had to live in Portugal, I wasn’t a teenager yet. But I was victim of racism anyways. People don’t care how old you are. In Portugal, I was “chocolate” or, as always “Black savage African little girl”. At that time, I wouldn’t know what to reply to such insults, but today I know I am proud of my Bantu ancestries and I claim my Africanity. I am Black and proud of it. What part of it people don’t understand?
Coming here, I finally understood the other part. Many Black people don’t like me as well because I am what is called “Mixed”. I don’t like that word. In Portuguese, it makes me feel some kind of new race of animals. Half-breed. Half-caste. Half something. I never thought I was half of something till having an ID that says clearly, black on white “Race: Mixed”.
Maria was a couple of metres in front of me. As I passed by youngsters, they would call me “chindele” (white). I can’t paint myself in Black to tell them I am the same as they are, I am as Angolan as they are. I probably don’t suffer as they do, but I understand them. I am not a White girl, no matter what you do. It doesn’t go with soap. It is my skin! My history! Besides all, it’s ME. If I change the colour of my skin, it wouldn’t be me anymore, but somebody else.
To be a “Mixed” is such a pain! You don’t know where you really come from. There is always a part that is missing. I am Angolan, that’s all.
The Angolan population is made of Black, is made of White, is made of Mixed. That’s how the history of Angola is made. And nobody can change it. But I guess some people think I am bringing back the painful past of colonists and slavery.
Whatever I do, I won’t change the history. I won’t, I don’t want and I can’t. That’s how it is made. I am just another fruit of the past. I am half colonist, half slave. I am half chindele and half Bantu. But what can I do? If it wasn’t that “mixture”, I probably wouldn’t know half I know now. Well – today I was called chindele, and I feel miserable!
I am the one losing my priorities now.
Wednesday, August 21st 2002
D. Gabriel asked if I preferred to go with Maria (she didn’t go last time with Father Onorio and Father Ornelas) and him to Moxico Velho or keep on sleeping (they would go at 0830 AM)? You know me. And D. Gabriel knows me too. They ended up going without me. Maria later told me that in the road to Sakassange there was a team making landmines explode. So they had to stop for half an hour and it was Maria’s first time in front of such show…
At 11 AM, they came back. I was ready for the afternoon and waiting for them. I was getting my stuff organized before getting back to Luanda: the hour was painfully near. A couple of minutes later, I was in the car, on our way to the Sisters of the Company Saint Theresa of Jesus. We would go with them at Father Imbamba’s onjango, half an hour from downtown.
The onjango is a straw-thatched cottage Angolan people use when they go to the beach or, in this case, by the river.
The landscape is just beautiful. There are some storeys for the cultivations. There is white sand. Normally, it’s not for plantation, but it seems that white sand was good for vegetables. The spring of the river Lwena was some metres away from us, so the water was very clear, clean and fresh.
While Sister Avelina was taking care of the food in the onjango, the others and I would go down the hill to a side of the river. Sister Rosa took her cloth off and told me “don’t be afraid to see a nun in shorts!” I said I wouldn’t! Why would I? Of course, in Maria’s time, that would be almost impossible to see such a scene. Sister Rosa in the river, on shorts, washing her hair.
Times have changed, it seems.
Then came Sister In’s. By that time, Sister Rosa was already outside the water and Sister Marta was braiding her hair. Maria and Sister Avelina came to join us and we kept on talking and laughing and taking photos.
One thing I learned: they love taking photos!
Lunch was served! We had barbecue, antelopes, French fries, rice, corn pap, dry fish in palm oil, Savoy-cabbage in tomato and onions, salad of tomato and salad, kizaca (I guess it is spinach in onions)- D. Gabriel blessed the food and after he had finished I said Father Marcelo Rossi (a Brazilian priest that is known by his Masses that unite over two thousand (2,000) Catholics each Sunday in Brazil and by his CDs of sang prayers) would say “You know what to say?” “Amen?” “No! Attack!” They laughed and we did attack.
D. Gabriel had put some langa music: that’s how it is called Congolese music in here. The Bishop didn’t dance, but the sisters and I did. The music was too good no to. Call it strong will to only shake the head for an African when the music has rhythm. D. Gabriel stopped dancing in 1979, something he really likes, but since knowing he wanted to be in the religious life. Call it strong will!
We talked and laughed, we danced and had a great time! Never had so much fun! And we decided (Maria and I) to come back for Christmas, if ever I can be back for that time.
When D. Gabriel changed the music to put some Angolan, we saw a man dancing a few metres from the onjango. I thought he was young, but Maria had her doubts.
We was dancing the kizomba, and even my brothers would have problems following his steps! He danced so well! Maria went to talk to him. There were two more boys near him and all were dancing.
“How old are you?”
“Where have you been?”
“In the bushes”
“Have you ever killed?”
“Where did you learn how to dance?”
“In the bushes.”
He had a strange face. He was only 20 and yet, he had a tired face. Sister Avelina says that suffering can change one’s face.
The kids from the bushes, the one in the middle was 20 years old and killed more people than you and I can imagine…
Children in these remote areas, away from every one suffer more than those that have manage to become refugee in some camp. These children lived in the bushes, in the middle of nowhere, and they had to forget what childhood meant and really was. They were enrolled as soon as they could shot a gun and since then, they killed. They were violent. They became monsters, robots under the control of adults with black ideas.
That couldn’t be a living.
I sure am glad they managed to dance in the middle of the bushes because he didn’t have a childhood, a normal one. With toys and laughs. I had a normal childhood. I wish they could have something half as nice.
A while after, a couple of children were around. We decided to give the rest of the pap and the fish. They went to wash their hands at the river and came back to eat. Sister In’s watched them for a while, then came back. I was near them, to see if they were alright, but I couldn’t stay and watch them as if they were in a zoo. I have some shyness when it comes to those moments.
After they had well eaten, they went to watch the pans in the river in sign of gratitude. Then, Sister Avelina and Sister Marta went to wash the plates and the glasses on the other side of the river.
When they came back, it was time to eat again. I took some antelope and salad, but really couldn’t eat more. Maria had prepared a bed over the rocks for me and I stayed there for a while. But I didn’t stay long. Too many little beasts around!
And so we went till the sunset, we took profit of the landscape and magnificent postcards it could give us. The clear and fresh river, the green plants, the high gold-straws, the white sand, the onjango, the music, the huts in the other side of the river, the kids dancing and eating- Maria was away, over the hill and she got a little emotional. Sister Rosa, Sister In’s and I came by. Sister Rosa was saying that this could probably be a very sad ending for such a nice day – I just said She is thinking. That is not a good thing! People laugh when I say that. Really! When people think about life ends up with white hair, wrinkles and heart attack! They don’t believe in me – She said: “This scenery is so beautiful, and I can’t stop thinking of the people in the bushes that have never gazed it. They were more worried when it comes to killing and doing bad things! How could they possibly leave everything behind and never appreciated the treasure nature had gave them?”
Then she smiled, and we came back to the onjango, and kept on dancing till the sun was setting. Maria was talking about operations and illnesses I had and still have, not a very interesting issue from my point of view since I am the one having ALL those. Then, they started talking about the illnesses of the women of Maria’s generation. And that, really, I can live without!
D. Gabriel wanted to know what they were talking about, but when we were turning away, I felt down, my foot on a hole, and took the Bishop with me. Well, he got hurt a little (just a little!), and the sisters helped us get up. Yikes! That was a fall! Really, felt bad about that, but well, I’ll spare the details.
After cleaning everything, we came back to the jeep and left Father Imbamba’s onjango with the full moon behind us.
I was watching the full moon, so bright in the dark sky, and the fog that covered the hill and the huts. I made an effort not to cry. I can become very emotional when it comes to leaving a place and you know you are not coming back in a long time.
I brought a wooden stick of at least 1 metre. I said I would get it to France, no one believed in me. I keep on wondering why don’t people trust me? I said I would bring my stick and the stick was with me!
After leaving the sisters at their homes, Sister Avelina would call me “little granddaughter”. We hugged each other saying that we would come back. For Christmas if I could make it.
Arriving at the Bishopric, we met Sisters Adalberta and Carla from the Daughters of Jesus. We were talking about the trip to Lukusse because they didn’t go, the memories and about the long wait to eat! D. Gabriel said it was our fault we didn’t eat when we started being hungry. I replied (I really was inspired that day!): “But, sir! How could we possibly eat if we were waiting for you and Father Santiago? We waited for you because we have respect and education. I don’t think it was polite to eat without both of you. We were together, we would eat together.” I looked Sister Carla “Geez! They teach us how to be polite and respectful, and that’s the treatment we get! That doesn’t compensate anymore!”
D. Gabriel just said “You are right”. Between you and I, I am glad he agreed! I didn’t want to have a sermon right there!
I had my stick and the sisters were wondering what was I doing with that. I said I was taking it to France. Maria said “They will accuse you of witchcraft!” Just wait for me! And see!
Thursday, August 22nd 2002
Day 11 Last Day
Today is the day.
By 1130 AM, I had put my bag outside of my apartments. I sat near my door, and looked in front of me. I was trying to picture every corner of the house, all the plants, all the turtles, all the fish in the fountain – Then I started walking around the upper floor, watched the city- The tears were wetting my face and I sincerely didn’t want to cry in front of any one. I just sat there, in the balcony, and watched the population of Lwena, the one that “suffers a lot”. Some women were coming from the river, carrying the washed clothes over their heads. Some children were playing around, running.
I will miss the silence, the simplicity of one’s existence. I will miss the smell of the wet earth after a day of rain. I will miss the laughs and the smiles around the table. I will miss the comic commentaries of D. Gabriel. I will miss the joviality of the sisters and the fathers.
I never liked good-byes. Probably, that should be something I had to get used to, but I probably will never do.
By 1230, we started going to the airport.
The city of Lwena was changing. The President would come for his birthday, so the government of the province was trying to hide some of the facts that Lwena was in miserable conditions. They started hiding the holes of the streets, cleaning up the garbage around and the scrap-iron. The house of the governor was being paint and the park in front of it.
D. Gabriel was convened to go to the radio and talk about the President and what good he did for the Angolan people and to finally get peace. Making the difference between ‘being asked’ and ‘being convened’
D. Gabriel asked me, in two words, what I thought of Lwena and the trip. In two words, it was quite simple: “Vou voltar” (I’ll be back). D. Gabriel smiled and said -It was quick. It could be “Nunca mais!” (never more). But if it is “I’ll be back”, it is ok.
At 0130 PM, we got into the same United Nations World Food Program beech craft and came back to Luanda. 2H10min after, we landed in the Military Air Base and Jojo came to pick us up.
I’ll be back.
The chapter is now closed.
My trip to Moxico and to Angolan History
I have seen many children. They have the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen. And those smiles, I will never forget.
In our days, when we have the privilege of living in a real house, to have tap water and electricity, we tend to forget the real priorities. The priority of being alive, having a home, having bread. Just these three minor things, which are not as minor as it could seem. I really believe that those are the most important treasures right now.
I have never cried over a lost object or a lost idea. I have never cried over a lost toy or a burnt dress. It is probably, because I was raised and taught this way. Now, what about those that feel so miserable because they have lost something material? Something that we can easily replace such a shirt, a dress, a toy, a ring- of course, there will be something lost in it: the sentimental part of a gift or the souvenir of a trip.
We haven’t thought of the people that have lost the whole family in a violent war.
We haven’t thought of the people that have lost an arm or a leg because they tried to work on their plantations and feed their families.
We haven’t thought of the children that have lost the whole family at the early age of 3.
The life of the privileged people (like me and you) of the 21st century has lost the ideals and the sense of priorities. It is not enough to watch the news from time to time and to think about them once in a while. The life of an orphan in the remote areas of this world is much more important than a broken nail or than a lost ticket to the last movie of Brad Pitt.
We have lost our priorities. And it needs much more than violent images of children dying of hunger in the camps of Luau (Moxico). It needs much more than money giving because people felt sorry in that very moment, then those in need are forgotten.
It takes much more than that.
The lessons I am learning in Moxico, make me see wider than my own ego, than my meaningless sorrows and pitiful laments. In nothing, my life is compared to the teenagers of this country and this world, that still live in huts and under human conditions.
In nothing, my life is compared to those children that are runaway kids. For the hope of surviving.
We have lost our priorities and I hope and pray that we will have a glimpse of salvation in this way. We are the lost sheep of Israel.
Jo Ann von Haff
Lwena, Moxico Province