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Saudade 

Saudade

"You have my blessings, no matter what," my mother had said when we parted.

            "I may not see you again."

            " Our mothers live under our skin."

            At 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.

            The 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.

            I 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.

            It 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.

            Livia, 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." 

            It 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.

            As 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 this endeavor.