Monday, March 24, 2008

The bridge leading to Cubal from the road to Benguela. Destroyed during the war, never rebuilt. Rumor has it that it will be rebuilt by the Chinese. Of course!

Because Angola’s civil war lasted so long (30 years or so), many (if not most) adult men over the age of 30 or so served some time in the military. For the most part, people don’t really talk about it. I’m not sure if it’s because of bad memories/trauma, fear of repercussion or because the fighting never hit Lobito as hard as it did in the interior, but it’s not something people talk about every day- at least not to me. Having said that, if someone was affiliated with one side- MPLA (the government/ruling party) or UNITA (the rebels)- everyone knows it.

It’s really strange for me to think about. The people I see every day in the office have seen the worst of humanity, and in some cases, actively participated in it. I’m not judging anyone- I fully appreciate the luxury of not having lived in a war-torn country. It’s just a little mind-boggling to think that my friends and colleague have suffered so much and seen things that I can never imagine.

My organization doesn’t hire based on political party affiliation (something that unfortunately is not as common as it should be here), so we have people from both sides working here. We have rules about official politcking in the workplace, but even without them I don't think it would be an issue. I normally don’t give it a second thought, but every so often I have these moments when I realize that many of my coworkers could have easily killed each other at some point during the war.

This morning I had a strange interaction with two other people who happen to have fought on opposing sides in the war. These two guys were not just every-day soldiers- apparently the fofoca (gossip) is that they were both loyal to their sides and fought for a long time.

One, whom I’ll call Party-Hack Pedro (clearly not his real name) is older and was a young man in the new army when the MPLA took over newly independent Angola. He traveled all over the country and saw heavy fighting along the border of Namibia. This morning, we happened to walk in the office at the same time. We were chit-chatting about our holiday weekends and what we had done, when we happened upon RPG Roberto (also not his real name).

RPG Roberto fought for UNITA manning, what else, RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). Apparently he was so good at it that he became famous and whenever they really needed someone who could launch an RPG spot-on, he was the one they called. (Note: I have never heard this directly from him, just from ex-pat coworkers, so it could all be a gross exaggeration.)

As Party-hack Pedro and I approached RPG Roberto, Party-Hack Pedro suddenly changed the conversation and said in a very loud voice, “Yes, this weekend I went to BiĆ³pio to visit the hydro-electric dam there. I defended it AND my homeland in the 70s. I wanted to go back and visit my old friends who didn't betray us back then!” RPG Roberto, who is one of the nicest people I have met here, just smiled like it was nothing. I wasn't sure, but it seemed like an awfully weird thing to say, considering I have never, ever talked with Party-Hack Pedro about the war, other than to say he was a soldier. I suddenly felt really awkward, convinced that I was a pawn in a game of war-time one-upmanship. I pointed to my bag and said, “Okay, time for work!” and took off.

It was all in my imagination, though. As I got my morning cup of coffee, the two of them were out there laughing. Probably at me.


Carolyn said...

great farsrqepicture!

Sir Chancelot said...

That is a nice story. Yes, they were probably laughing at you, but in a good way.