"You have my blessings, no
matter what," my mother had said when we parted.
may not see you again."
Our mothers live under our skin."
the time I did not understand what she meant.
Father Joao Felipe Gonsalves met
me when I arrived in the port city of Luanda and accompanied me to my first
mission in the French-speaking region of Cabinda. He was a large man of Quicongo origin with a resonant voice and
deep belly laugh, and we became instant friends.
province of Cabinda, an area of around seven thousand square kilometers, lies
at the north- eastern tip of Angola, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cuango
River. It is now a major center for
off-shore drilling. But at the time of
my arrival, it's primary source of income came from farmingmostly coffee and
manioc. The people are predominantly
Quicongo, and generally a peaceful lot.
But, even then, our lives were frequently disrupted by the MLEC
(Mouvement pour la Liberation de l'Enclave de Cabinda)one of the many
revolutionary groups vying for control in Angola. And we learned to fear the sound of the ngoma drums their
guerrilla gangs employed to send messages to one another. Because of this, and poor sanitation, the
average life expectancy in the mission areas of Cabinda was forty-seven years.
must admit, it took me quite some time to get used to the food at the mission,
which was limited to a steady and dreary diet of palm oil beans, Corn Funge,
cassava, and, on special occasions, Chicken Muamba. Most of the people with whom I came into contact spoke a kind of
French Creole, as well as Portuguese and the dominant local
languageBantu. But it was easier to
establish trust if we spoke Bantu, and Father Joao took it upon himself to
teach me, laughing till tears ran down his face as I struggled with the
unfamiliar sounds, teasing mercilessly, and saying that I was the sorriest
excuse for an Angolan on the face of the earth. But in the end, I mastered the language and received his seal of
approval. And as a reward, he asked and
received permission from my Superior to allow me and one of the other Sisters
to accompany him on a supply trip to Luanda, which was the closest thing to
civilization I had seen in two years. What he omitted from his petition was the
fact that we would also accompany him to the concert of the great Angolan
singer, Lourdes Van Duneman omission that secured our friendship forever.
was in Luanda that we heard the news that Goa had been invaded by the Indian
army, which only made the Angolan guerrillas more determined in their efforts
to rout out the Portuguese from the region, and which made Angola an
increasingly volatile and dangerous place to live.
who was already in Goa, wrote, "It
is terrible, this liberation. It is not
at all what we have fought for. It
pains me that we Indians are crueler, more devious and racist and tyrannical
with regard to our own than our former colonizers. And to think I have been instrumental in acquiring the support of
many who were still sitting on the fence. Already the Indian government has
confiscated our land in Daman and now there is a plot afoot to merge Goa with
the state of Maharashtra. I am part of a movement to oppose it. We will seek a referendum. 'These Indians,'
says Mama, as though she were not one, ' will finish with us.' According to her, it is Krishna Menon who
is to blame. That Menon fellow, she says, it is enough for him to open his
mouth, for me to be opposed to whatever he is for. And, I must admit that, for once, we are in agreement."
all seemed so unreal to me. My life so
far removed. For the most part, our
work during the three years I spent in Cabinda, carried on unobstructed by the
virulent wave of anti-colonial sentiment that was sweeping the nation of
Angola. The death toll was on the rise.
missionaries, one of our missions was to discourage the widespread belief among
local village converts that the dead return in the form of newborns. I cannot claim that we were successful in