Monday, January 29, 2007

War Stories

Picture of a mural in our former guesthouse. Village scene of Cubal. Villages like these in Cubal were largely abandoned because it was too dangerous for people to stay.

I went to Cubal again last week to meet with the director of a Catholic mission hospital that we are staring a project with. My driver was Domingos, someone I had never really had the opportunity to speak with before. The difficult road was even more treacherous thanks to all the rains, meaning that the trip would take 4.5 hrs instead of the usual 3.5 hours. So Domingos and I chatted it up. He taught me more Umbundu words and phrases- I now know how to say, “I’m fine, just plowing my fields.” (“Ocasí loco lavrá.”)

He also told me stories about the area during the war. He pointed out a little mountain that had two rock towers, and told me this story: the government forces (MPLA) were using air strikes to fight the UNITA (rebel) forces in the surrounding areas of Cubal. The UNITA forces were largely guerrilla, and hid in the mountains and jungles near Cubal. UNITA didn’t have planes, so the MPLA guys apparently felt confident. On a cloudy day, the pilot of one of the planes decided to go hot-dogging on his way to the airstrip outside Cubal. He went vertically and tried to pass between the two rock towers. Well, it was a little foggy that day, and the pilot couldn’t see very well and hit the edge of his wing when he came in between the towers. He then got nervous and tried to go back to horizontal position, but he hadn’t completely passed through the towers. The plane then crashed into the surrounding forests, which happened to be the area they had targeted for bombing. After that, the MPLA didn’t do any more air strikes near Cubal.

I stayed at the mission, which includes the hospital I was to visit. The mission is run by about 15 nuns, Spanish and Angolan. As Sister Milagros was giving me a tour of the hospital compound, she pointed out one building. “This building was the only one that was hit during the war.” It was an overnight room for patients, and it needed some painting, so in the morning they took everyone out of the room. The painters went to work. During the painters’ lunch break, the building was hit with a bomb.

Apart from this, the hospital was one of the few safe zones. People would leave their houses at night and seek refuge in the hospital compound. The government hospital across the road would kick people out at night and send them to the mission. They had so many people seeking refuge that they would secretly expand the fences of the compound, so they could fit more people in without anyone noticing.

On the way home, Domingos told me how most of his friends and he were "drafted" into the armies (MPLA or UNITA, didn't matter). Groups of soldiers would come into the villages and basically kidnap any boy old enough to serve in the army. Domingos told me the story of when they came to his village. He was still too young, but his older brother was 14, the perfect age. His mother told his brother to hide under the bed until the soldiers left. The soldiers came to his house and started to look around. They were almost safe until a cat ran out from under the bed where his brother was hiding. The soldiers then took his brother. Luckily, his brother survived the war and came home six years later- the first time they had seen or heard from him in that time.

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