Cross-Cultural Travels, part 2

This is the long-awaited continuation of our story, begun in this blog post in November. It is an account of our travels with Angolan church leaders to visit the I.C.A. congregations in Uige province.

Click here to see pictures of the whole trip

Day Four: Rural Shift

We left Uige and headed north, passing through Negage and pausing to pick up Pastor Domingos. Once outside of Negage, any signs of urban life disappeared. Crop fields surrounded us on all sides and we encountered many herds of goats or pigs crossing the road.

We stopped first in the small village of Bungo and visited the congregation composed of about 15 adults. Banda delivered his sermon and then invited the members to share their perspective on the health of the congregation in Bungo. Afterward, Banda had a private meeting with the pastor, Manuel Dombas, while the rest of us explored the vast plot of land that the government had given to the church in that community. Papa Luavo – our agricultural specialist – began to dream of what the church could do with a small start-up fund and some teamwork. For the remainder of the trip, we talked often about his ideas for agricultural development among the I.C.A. congregations of Uige. Once Banda and Pastor Dombas concluded their chat, we shared a meal of the usual fare and venison [read: bush meat] – by far the tastiest meat we ate on the trip.

The Bungo church

Some of our hosts outside Pastor Dombas's home

We said goodbye and traveled a short distance up the road to the next congregation in Quipanzo Mucanza. A group of about 50 men and women were waiting enthusiastically outside the building, singing loudly to welcome us. We joined them for a lively worship service, culminating in Banda’s sermon once more, and a period of time for the members to share their concerns about the church. We had a meal with Pastor Bernardo and other leaders of the congregation and then rushed off for our final destination, now running several hours behind schedule.

After several hours on the road, we arrived in Damba, which would serve as our base of operations for the next few days. Due to the late hour of our arrival, our planned meeting with the congregation’s leaders was cancelled, but many of the members had remained at the building to greet us. We were all tired from the days’ journey and asked for a light meal so we could retire soon. (They were prepared to offer us another feast, which would have been our third large meal of the day.) We prepared to sleep on the soft dirt floor of the church building, lined with straw mats on which we placed our sleeping bags. The American travelers later agreed that this was the most comfortable bed we had on the trip. As we drifted off to sleep, we realized that the church members were not leaving. They had all brought their own mats and blankets and joined us on the church floor for a large slumber party in our honor.

 

Day Five: Damba

In the morning, we woke and each delegate carried out his morning ritual. A number of the I.C.A. leaders “run” on most mornings, which for them means that they select two points about three meters apart and jog between them ten times. The rest of us got our exercise by walking about two kilometers to the river for a bath. We returned for our breakfast and then left for our appointments with the Damba pastor, Afonso Bula.

We went directly to the office of the municipal administrator. While we waited outside her office, we encountered a new traveling companion, Jonas, who had traveled from Luanda to meet up with us and replace one of the other delegates who had been unable to come. Jonas added a lively personality to the group. He enjoys travel and had Nathan take a special photo of him at each of the congregations we visited.

Our traveling companion, Jonas

Our traveling companion, Jonas

After a short meeting with the municipal administrator (comprised of the usual greetings and formalities), we met also with the local Ministry of Culture official. Then we made a special visit to the local office of the M.P.L.A. (ruling government party) to visit an old colleague of Banda’s, but unfortunately he was no longer stationed in that office. We proceeded to the National Radio station, took the tour, and Banda recorded another brief interview.

On the way back to the church building we paused at the local market. Nathan discovered several women selling handfuls of small caterpillars and asked the nearest I.C.A. delegate if they were sold for eating. That question sealed our fate, and cooked caterpillars featured on our menu later that evening. I walked around the market with Pastor Bula and was impressed by the interactions he had with various venders, whom he obviously knew well. Before leaving the market, Nathan and I each bought apples for $1 apiece in hopes of easing our digestion.

At the church building we worshiped with the Damba congregation, including all the usual components (Banda’s sermon on Nehemiah 1, etc.). They welcomed the delegation warmly and afterwards we all shared a meal. Each American was coaxed into trying one caterpillar. I wish I could say they tasted like chicken … After dinner we had some time to relax and chat before laying out our mats and falling asleep.

 

Day Six: Barnyard Bounty

The day’s itinerary consisted of visits to four congregations stretched out across the road running east of town. We saw few other vehicles on the road and passed through a number of small settlements with their mud huts set amongst fields of crops.

Our first stop was in one of these villages, Kinkadi, where we met Pastor Pindi António and another enthusiastic group of about 15 believers. They sang and cheered as we pulled up next to the church. We entered the building and Banda led our usual service. After our ceremonial exit of the building (the visitors exit first while the congregation sings, and then stop just outside the door to shake everyone’s hand in procession), a boy emerged from the village leading a goat by a rope. Pastor Pindi presented the goat to us as a gift. As we would pass through this village on our return journey that day, we decided to leave the goat with them until the evening.

Kinkadi Church

Celebrating our arrival

Pastor Pindi joined us for the rest of our visits that day. The next congregation, in Kissaco, had created an arch of branches and flowers at the entrance and exit to the village as part of their welcome to us. Danny drove the Land Cruiser slowly through the arch. The vehicle just managed to clear the portal and we reached our arms outside the windows to steady the braches as we passed through. The congregation received us with enthusiasm. We had a slightly abbreviated version of our program followed by a meal prepared in our honor at the home of Pastor Pedro Kaleia. We departed with nearly as much fanfare as when we arrived.

At the midway point between this village and the next, we stopped at an old fort, high on a hill, to meet with the Community Administrator who oversees the villages in the region. Shortly before we reached the fort, we passed a man driving a motorcycle with a female passenger. As we passed, they turned around to follow us. The passenger was our next appointment, and – as we were running late – she had been on her way home for lunch. She was the Assistant Administrator, Vinda Mavembo, (the Administrator was on holiday) and she received us with the customary greetings. A handful of other lesser officials joined the meeting, as our arrival was likely the most interesting of the week’s events. After introductions and explaining the purpose of our visit, we were off again.

By this point in our day – as with most days – we were running several hours behind schedule. We only briefly stopped at the next church building (in the village of Kula), where we learned that the members had already gone on ahead of us to our fourth and final stop. We piled back into the vehicles and drove to Kangani, where we found all the church members, Pastor Kinyenga (of Kula), and Pastor Fadula (of Kangani) gathered to receive us. After another worship service and a large meal, we gathered again around the cars and said goodbye. The church members presented us with a second goat, a bunch of bananas, and a 50-lb sack of cassava. Danny loaded the goat onto his roof rack, Nathan stuffed the sack of cassava into the back of his car with a few of the extra passengers who were hitching a ride, and we began the return journey.

Danny loads a goat on the roof

Danny loads a goat on the roof

The goat did not enjoy the ride. He bleated and kicked with each bump. After just a short distance and a particularly hard bump, the goat’s hind legs broke free of their bonds and swung down to hand directly in front of the rear passenger window. The passengers heard a loud bleat, a thud, and then saw the underbelly of a goat blocking our view of the countryside. I laughed loudly for several minutes. Danny immediately stopped and climbed onto the roof rack to tie the goat more securely. After we were underway again, I explained to the other passengers that events that seem only somewhat unusual to them often strike us as completely beyond our imagination. I had never pictured myself traveling through the Angolan countryside with a goat strapped to the roof. They all laughed with me.

After passing the government fort, we saw the Education Secretary (whom we had met earlier) walking home. We stopped, offered him a ride, and had some interesting conversation about life as a government official in rural areas. We stopped to let him off at his home in the next town. In Kissaco, several passengers remained and we picked up a new family, a second sack of cassava, and a chicken. Danny loaded the goat with the first on the roof and I set the chicken on top of some luggage in the back of the car. The remainder of the trip was a cacophony of bleats, clucks, and my quiet laughter.

goat and chicken

In Kinkadi, we added the second goat and a third sack of cassava. We said goodbye to Pastor Pindi. We arrived back in Damba after dark. The goats were led off to pasture and someone took the sacks of cassava to be ground into powder. We would pick up our bounty again on our way back to Luanda.

Coming tomorrow: Days Seven through Ten, including a visit to the first I.C.A. church in Angola and “gift shopping” for our wives.

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