So, I’m back to Benguela and I’ve been thinking about what to write in today’s post for the whole week. I wanted to show you a bit of Angola, and give you a clearer idea of Angolan culture.
I’ve been getting so many ideas: at one point, I wanted to write about the fabulous Angolan beaches. Then I went back to my dance classes and thought I should write about what I love most about this country: its music! However, I have already dedicated two very long posts to Angolan dances (you can check them out here and here), and I don’t want to repeat myself. Finally, I thought of doing a list of “10 things I’ve learnt about Angolans” but I definitely don’t want to generalize and put all Angolans into a 10-point list.
So, here I am, after a struggle that lasted a whole week (seriously, been thinking about this since Sunday!). I have decided I’m going to try and show you Angola through the description of some of my friends and colleagues here. At the end of the day, what I value most in life is my relations with other people, and they are those who taught me what I know about Angolan culture.
Armindo is my best friend in Angola. He’s the guy of the “chumbo” story that you can read in one of the previously mentioned posts, and he is a very interesting person. He studies languages at University (in particular, Portuguese and Umbundu, one of the many local languages) and hopes to become a professor. He dances very well and used to teach at a dance school that doesn’t exist anymore.
When we are not dancing, me and Armindo are generally talking, and often arguing. We are both quite stubborn and have very different opinions on many topics, which makes for wonderful discussions. Something that I had been told about Angolans, and that I found to be extremely true in the case of Armindo is that they always want to be right. Well, turns out I always want to be right too, so…Armindo, you’ve met your match! Typical topics of arguing range from: Nietzsche’s views (Armindo likes philosophy, just like me, but dislikes Nietzsche, unlike me), what should be our priorities in life and how a woman is allowed to dress.
This last one is obviously a difficult one, as a feminist. I struggled for a while with the idea of having a best friend who thinks women shouldn’t wear “too revealing” clothes because men are almost forced by nature to take that as a permission to do whatever they want with her body. At the end of the day, however, I think we always grow by engaging with people who have different views, if it’s done in a respectful way (and, I have to say, this has always been the case with Armindo: we sometimes raise our voices but are always respectful to each other). And, of course, I hope to change his mind, although I know it’s difficult, when he was born and raised among people who think like that.
Despite all the arguing and the diverging opinions, Armindo was there for me when I was feeling lonely in Angola, and I always tried to be there for him when he was feeling low. We had some nice moments where we were simply talking about our life problems over a cool Angolan beer.
Our selfie-skills should definitely be improved…
Augusto is our secretary/accountant/almost-administrator at work. He was one of the first people I connected with, upon my arrival in Benguela. I had heard a lot about him before coming here, from my Italian colleagues who were trying to prepare me for my new job, but the picture I now have of him is completely different from the one I had gotten from my colleagues. I guess that’s normal, right?
Just last night me and Augusto went for a celebratory drink after having finished the biggest part of the first audit report we prepared by ourself, with no help from an actual administrator. Kudos to us!!
This is the smile of two people who have just finished their first project’s audit report
During this year, we both grew a lot professionally. When I arrived, he was basically just a secretary, with a few small accounting-related tasks, and I was a junior project manager who had no idea of how to prepare an audit report. One of the goals I set for myself was to help Augusto improve and taken on more and more tasks, so that, once the Administrator left (just 4 months after my arrival), I would still have some help with managing the financial aspects of the project. We therefore set on a path where we continuously learnt from each other, and learnt together (from others and from our mistakes).
Bit by bit, he took a more prevalent role on the project and I learnt how to coordinate that. Through weekly meetings and continuous communication, we got to the point of preparing that audit report yesterday – something that I honestly doubted we could ever do. I admire his willingness to try new things and to take on new responsibility.
On the personal side, he helped me from the start with the process of getting my partner here. He called the Angolan embassy in Mozambique for me, went around all the offices to collect the right documents, proof-read my letter of invitation, etc… When my partner got here, the two of them immediately became friends, to the point that, at my partner’s birthday, Augusto suggested and organised a surprise party for him. If that isn’t support, what is it?
Augusto also invited me to an event his church was having during Easter. I was feeling particularly lonely at the time, so I really appreciated his gesture. During that event, and in later social occasions, we had the chance to talk a lot about topics that interest us both: philosophy, religion, psychology, politics… It has been great to have a colleague that I could also call “friend”!
The Via Crucis event Augusto invited me to
I won’t call him anything else but “Diretore“, because that’s how he was always presented to me and I think that alone tells a lot about Angolan culture. He is the headteacher of our dance school and, while I wouldn’t necessarily call him a friend (we have never spent social time together outside the dance classes), he always made me feel better after a long day of work.
Joining this dance school showed me how important hierarchy and structure is for Angolans. In our school, the Diretore is highly respected (even from the people who don’t like him) and has a responsibility to make sure everything goes smoothly. If you have an issue with something, you should take it up with the Diretore, or one of the professors. At the end of the class, the Diretore (or, in his absence, one of the professors) will speak and make announcements, but also tell students off for breaking some rules and explain how we should all behave. I don’t think it’s common to have this kind of “strict regulations” in dance schools in Europe, so it was definitely a surprise for me.
However, we could have no better Diretore than him. He will struggle to say anything without a smile on his face. Me and my partner actually look forward to the end of the class to just hear his jokes in the circle and look at him laugh at anything (and I mean, really anything!). He’s just one of those bright, smiley people who you immediately feel like you can trust. Aside from that, he’s obviously an amazing dancer who always manages to bring his skills down to the level of the woman who he’s dancing with and to make you feel super-comfortable through every single step.
Dancing with the Diretore
Quiteria, Eriete and Eduarda
I’m putting my colleagues Quiteria, Eriete and Eduarda all together because I fear this is becoming another extra-long post. The first one that I met was Quiteria, who became our local project coordinator. She is such a nice person and has supported my work from the start, with the courage of having honest conversation and telling me when I was making mistakes (not always easy when you’re talking to the one who pays you the salary!). She knows everybody in the municipalities where we work, especially the people higher up in the institutions, so her connections are a great plus to our project. Her main job is as an elementary-school teacher and obviously has a family and kids of her own, but she is so committed to our project that she will stay up late just to write all those reports that I can’t do without. She is a perfect coordinator as she can motivate anybody into doing anything.
I then met Eduarda, a young girl who was taking a break from University and looking for work. Her and Quiteria had already been colleagues, so it was Quiteria who suggested I meet her. I immediately felt that Eduarda was special: she was a bit shy at her interview (who isn’t?), but she looked determined. I had just drafted a contract for her when an opportunity came in to participate in a two-day event organised a by a feminist movement in Luanda (the capital) and I knew she would be the perfect person to send to the event. She came back a convinced feminist, and she is now challenging her parents on why her male siblings don’t have to do housework while her, and her sisters, do. Go, Eduarda!
Describing Eriete is difficult. Sometimes I feel like she’s some kind of weird, extremely fearless wonderwoman. She has had less education than Quiteria and Eduarda, so writing her reports is not her strength, but she can connect with women in the communities so much better than any of us. If we get to a community and the group of women is not ready to meet us, she will go and help one of them with her housework until the meeting starts. When a delegation from our donor was coming to see our work, she spent the night in the community just to make sure women would show up on time in the morning.
And when two thieves broke into her house, she took out her gun (don’t ask….), shot at them, handcuffed them (still, don’t ask… I didn’t dare to!) and finally called the police. As she was telling us this story, my colleagues asked “weren’t you scared you’d killed them?” and, in a super-chill voice, she answered “no, I was aiming for the legs”. So yes…she is something!
There are a lot of other people I would like to talk about, but I feel like it is time to end this post. By the way, I’ve been nominated for an award, so I’ll be doing a post about that soon! I’m very excited! 😀