Deolinda Rodrigues de Almeida

“Journey of hope…”

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Dear Deolinda,

image of a postmarkAs I’ve gone back with you on this journey to the past, I’ve done a lot of reading by others who’ve been prompted to tell their stories as part of the history of that particular time in Angola that is also a part of your history.

One of those who wrote her story was Eva de Carvalho Chipenda in a book she titled The Visitor: An African Woman’s Story of Travel and Discovery.

I think it would have been particularly pleasing to you to read because she talks about her role as a woman during the radical changes that took place during her lifetime. She was married to Jose Chipenda, a prominent figure within the local church and beyond, rapidly moving into highly responsible ecumenical assignments because his abilities were recognized while he was still a very young man. But Eva was a leader as well, and I think you would have cheered her on, as you did other women through your early government position in support of women’s work.

I well remember the time Jose came through Luanda on his way to a new assignment. I admired that young man’s poise and modesty about what he had already achieved in his short lifetime. I still have a photograph of him taken from our upstairs verandah.

As I read Eva’s book, I remembered my arrival in Lisbon in the company of other missionaries to begin language training before our assignments to Portuguese-African territories began. The same smiling Portuguese man, Sr. Silva, greeted Eva when she arrived from Angola on her way to obtain papers for travel to Brazil. For years he had served as a sort of ecumenical ambassador to take care of housing, language studies, travel and whatever legal documents were needed for the next stage of the journey.

I suspect Sr. Silva had his own stories to tell, sometimes at the expense of the missionaries trying to follow guidelines issued by the various Protestant mission boards with specific instructions for packing trunks and suitcases to accompany them on long ocean voyages. They were cautioned to bring supplies to last for all the years they would be away, sometimes to remote areas where what were considered essentials might not be available for purchase.

I recall watching from a bus waiting to transport us to our host family in Lisbon, as dockworkers went through our luggage, spot checking for items they might consider contraband. I spotted a couple of guys beside themselves with glee as they pawed through my footlocker, packed without the original wrappings to conserve space, crammed with enough Kotex to last for three years!

Like you, Eva went to Brazil for studies, and in her book talked about her sense of having a load lifted from her shoulders when she arrived there, after the inhibitions and fears that were part of her growing up in Angola.

Returning to Angola via Portugal, one of the messages that awaited Eva was from Jose. He and Eva had corresponded once while she was in Brazil. The message, delivered by fellow students at the seminary, was that he wanted to marry her. She found the whole idea ridiculous.

Seasick the whole way home from Lisbon to Luanda, she eventually moved to Quessua, the interior mission station, where she was assigned work as a primary teacher. On the side, she organized classes in cooking, sewing, childcare and primary health care for the wives of Bible school students.

Her new self-confidence gained from a more carefree life in Brazil raised the eyebrows of some of the more conservative missionaries. She appeared with her “new look” of straightened hair, more stylish clothes, and high heels. Her changed appearance prompted much discussion, especially among the maiden missionaries who worried about the influence she would have on the children. The boys and girls on the Quessua campus studied in separate schools under strict orders not to mingle except on Sundays, when they appeared together for church services. Oh dear.

After a year, a letter arrived from Jose, saying he wanted to discuss marriage. Her own family members seemed convinced because they knew and respected other members of his family, but she worried that she might not even like him. Not to worry: She knew when she saw Jose they were made for one another. They began their married life in Lobito, where he was assigned to pastor two churches.

The political climate soon began to change. Some members of the churches were imprisoned, and they began to be fearful for Jose’s life. When a scholarship offer came for studies in the U.S., they decided he should go, for safety reasons.

Eva was left to find a home and a livelihood for her and their two small children in a very threatening environment for anyone involved in the church. They moved in with Jose’s parents in Dondi, and she found work in training programs for the seminary wives, similar to the assignment she had in Quessua.

And then, as you well know, the political situation deteriorated: revolts in Luanda and other regions, many church people imprisoned, tortured, deported and killed. Jose was blacklisted by the Portuguese secret police, and they wondered if it was wise for him to return to Angola. They decided that somehow she and the children must flee the country and join him in New York. Eva describes a long, arduous, dangerous escape from Angola involving yet another exhausting wait in Lisbon for legal papers to be approved by very hostile Portuguese authorities. At Carcavelos she learned that her brother Job had been smuggled out of the country along with other students whose lives were threatened. And so it was that she and the children were also smuggled out of Portugal on a flimsy boat, arriving in Morocco with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

With all the struggles she and Jose endured together, you will be glad to know, Deolinda, that she ends her book with these words: “There is hope!”

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