Angola – Being Still

Today we are supposed to travel to Quessua for the opening of annual conference. However, our consistent guide and friend, Alcidies, had to travel for his regular job today. This left us without transportation or translation. I was under the impression that transportation was being arranged, but either I misunderstood or communication broke down elsewhere. Either way, it would seem less and less likely anyone is coming for us and we are left to our own devices.

This has been sort of an undercurrent to the trip. Lots of time to make your own. Not wanting to waste the experience of being here there is a bit of a burning inside of me to get out and at least do something. My traveling companions are likely mixed in their view of this internal trait of mine, I’m certain it has caused them a mix of entertainment and hardship.

Some will say that a relaxed attitude towards time and checklists is an African trait. Many who have traveled here will relate stories about schedules falling to the wayside only moments after being created. People showing up either very early or very late to appointments. And events happening when the community concedes, not when the clock dictates. This relaxed posture can seem either inviting or almost lazy to the outside, western cultured, observer. Some might be quick to embrace it as a move away from the hurried pace of normal life. But there is another side to the coin.

Though the surroundings are dusty and many, if not most, roads are dirt, the cars here are overwhelmingly clean. I have yet to see a car wash as we would understand it, but I have seen many vehicles parked next to small streams and waterways being washed by hand. Even on our trip to Kimbamba, 20 miles up a crazy dirt path, while we waited for lunch our drivers were dusting off and cleaning their cars. This, despite the fact the return trip would assuredly replace it all.

Similar with our dishes. Our meals are prepared in an outside cooking area and all the plates and utensils washed in tubs in the same place. Yet each morning their is china cups for tea, and plates to eat on. This all points to the reality that their is much more to this place than a simple lack of accurate clocks. Instead it is a different ethic, that values some things over others, just as we do in the States, but with the scales tipped in a direction other than what we typically choose.

It can, and has, been frustrating. Not because anyone is intentionally doing anything, but simply because of the class of cultures. The challenge is not to judge, which would be too easy. After all, why wouldn’t everyone have, or want, values like ours? We are the best, after all.

Kidding aside, and that was kidding, Angola is it’s own place. And though they dress increasingly like the western world, drive our cars, and listen to our music, they are also, still, there own thing. Much of the food is still their own, and much of life happens at their pace and priority. They are becoming more global, just as we are, but, also like us, in their own way.

It is not better or worse. Unless you like clean cars, then it’s better. Instead, it just is what it is. Angola will make it’s way as it always has. People have been living in this land well before people looking like me existed on the earth. New ideas and technologies will be integrated into life here, as they always have, and things will continue to be a mix of old and new. Perhaps that is best demonstrated by the fact that though we were miles out in the bush on Sunday, in a village of earthen houses with grass roofs, being called to worship by an rusty segment of railroad track, with an alter decorated with old Fanta cans, a cell phone rang out twice during the service and Mark live tweeted the whole deal. Old and new. Together.

-PS, not one, but two cars showed up not long after to take us to Quessua. Oh me of little faith.