Deolinda Rodrigues de Almeida

“No more games…”

Lion watermark

Dear Deolinda,

Mother and children at clientDo you remember Menina Sandy Bookman? She was my housemate when I went to Angola, left on furlough and came back just before I departed. Her assignment was to head up the public health outreach from the mission in Luanda, and I think she did an amazing job, training Angolan women to assist her in the clinics that she established throughout the “muceques” as well as on the mission compound.

She organized “well baby” clinics, some of them taking place in the day care facility where you and I worked with children who were a bit older. Some of the slides I recently uncovered in my quest to respond to your letters bring back such happy memories of the women who took part in those public health events. There were many happy smiles giving testimony to the uplifting time they had spent together, along with their babies.

Sandy had a rare sense of humor and a flawless mastery of Portuguese that totally convinced the women and children of her compassion for them and her wish to make their lives better and healthier.

She worked out an affiliation with a Portuguese woman doctor, who took referrals for any further care required for Sandy’s patients and wrote prescriptions for medications that the mission could help provide.

The doctor also tended to the health needs of the Luanda missionaries. I remember being totally impressed that she could predict to the very day when we would start to feel better from whatever affliction had befallen us. She was always right.

Living and working with Sandy was an adventure. We would occasionally travel to villages not far from Luanda, where she would set up temporary clinics specifically to give DPT vaccinations to the children of the village. I would accompany her to help drive, hand out aspirin or carry out whatever assignment she gave me for this care-giving operation.

We outfitted our Ford station wagon with a small mattress that we unrolled in the back of the car and slept on at night, not feeling up to the challenge of dealing with mice or other vermin we might encounter if we accepted the hospitality of the villagers to sleep in their huts.

We also rigged up curtains on the back and sides of the car that we could open and close. We were a curiosity, as you can imagine, and when it was time to put on our p.j.’s for the night, a crowd assembled to watch this unusual evening entertainment. We drew the curtains, and eventually the villagers dispersed, sometimes for a long walk back to the huts they had left early in the morning in search for better health for their children.

Before sunrise the next morning, they reappeared to watch a new episode put on by these strange young American women. Hurriedly, we dressed and were ready for the next day’s activities, as the crowds gathered to watch.

Once, on a Saturday morning soon after the rainy season was over, Sandy wanted to explore an area near the mouth of the Cuanza River, so we packed a picnic lunch and invited Johnny and Paul Blake to go along on an adventure. You remember Melvin and Doris Blake from the days they and their family were assigned to the mission in Luanda.

The roads were practically impassable, and we got stuck, more than once, straddling ruts in the muddy road, getting out, getting stuck again. A crew of Africans from a nearby village helped once, and finally we hiked a couple of miles to an oil-drilling encampment to appeal for help. We also asked them to call the mission in Luanda to let them know why we hadn’t arrived home, as darkness was beginning to fall. Unfortunately, the phone lines were down, and there was nothing to do but settle in for the night. After we had been asleep a couple of hours one of the drillers came with a Jeep and pulled us out one final time. On our way back to Luanda we met Melvin in his Jeep, along with Lin Blackburn and two of his and Polly’s kids. They had set out to look for us and had followed our tracks along the way. If we weren’t a muddy crew! Finally, we all crawled into bed around 2:30 a.m., exhausted from our latest adventure.

Alongside the letters from you, Deolinda, that I found during last winter’s snowstorms, and the color slides and black-and-white pictures, I also found a copy of a letter that Sandy wrote to Ruth Lawrence, the Board of Missions supervisor of our work in Africa. It was written in March of 1961.

She began the letter in a typical Sandy way: “Did you ever play that game, when I say white, you say black, if I say sky, you say blue, and in Angola, if I say American, you say Mission.”

It was Sandy’s report about the very anti-American sentiment that had arisen, faulting the “Catechistas” (Protestant and Evangelical churches) for Angolan uprisings that had taken place in some parts of the country. The sentiments were inflamed further by tracts released by Jehovah’s Witnesses, resulting in very rebellious feelings on the part of the white Portuguese toward Americans.

Ironically, in your diary entry of April 1961, you wrote about being taken to task by a fellow student for accepting the hospitality of the U.S. while at the same time grumbling about the Americans. It was then that you decided you had to leave and be a part of the continuing battle for your people.

Angola postage stamp