Deolinda Rodrigues de Almeida

“Old home week…”

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Dear Deolinda,

It was like old home week.

Teena and Rose and I got together last week during a trip I made to California to visit my two sons and their wives. We talked about our mutual love affair with Angola and the beloved people we met there, and about you.

deolinda with childrenI’ve already described your phone call to Rose in New York as you were en route to the Congo, saying that your studies at Drew University were no longer relevant and that you had a higher calling: to serve your country. After that conversation, she never heard from you again.

One of the stories Rose wrote in a recent letter to Angolan and missionary colleagues was about her arrival from Portugal, a few short years after my group of A-3’s arrived in the 1950’s. She was also sent to Lisbon for the same language studies that our earlier group had completed--to qualify for visas into the African territory of Angola, then under Portuguese rule.

She, too, was greeted at the Luanda harbor by an enthusiastic group of jovens, you among them. As she waited for her turn to disembark along with other passengers, she began to hear a chorus chanting “Rosa, Rosa, Rosa,” and there you all were, along with other Angolans and representatives of the missionary community. You all welcomed her with open arms.

As African-Americans, Rose and Teena, I suspect, were even more warmly accepted as sojourners to Angola because of your common roots going back to the days when slave trade from Angola and other African countries was such a shameful practice.

Rose said she was surprised at your command of English, and by your request to tell her about the black people in the United States. Rose said she looked at you and responded: “Dear, in the U.S. we don’t say ‘black,’ we say ‘Negro.’” You looked her in the eyes and in your direct way of making a point, said: “Here, we don’t say Negro, we say black.” And that exchange was the beginning of many “real” conversations between you.

Rose was assigned to the interior mission of Quessua, so there weren’t that many opportunities for the two of you to have time together before you and other educated young people were evacuated to other parts of the world, you to Brazil. A few years later Rose returned to the U.S. to continue her own education, and for a time was director of the Africa Education Committee at the mission board in New York. It was in that role that you saw one another again, as she helped you with the scholarship and admissions process to begin your studies at Drew.

During my recent week in California, I visited Rose in her home in Mountain View, just a few miles away from where my oldest son Arthur and his wife live in Sunnyvale.

Together, we looked through her album of files and photos she put together from her years in Angola, and from visits she made back there in 2003 and again in 2007. On both visits, she was warmly welcomed by your brother: The Honorable Roberto de Almeida, Speaker of the House of the Angola Parliament.

After a solemn promise to guard it with my life, Rose loaned me her copy of the book that Roberto gave her that he had put together and published, using your diary entries up until the time of your capture and death.

The book is called Deolinda Rodrigues: Diario de Um Exilio Sem Regresso; in English, Diary of an Exile Without Return. Roberto dedicates it to the memory of your mother, who died on the day she was convinced that your exile was an exile without return.

Roberto also pays homage to those who fled for their lives during the hostilities that raged in Angola, beginning with the war for independence from Portugal, followed by years of tribal warfare. He also honored by name many of those who were massacred during the war for independence and later battles, including you and so many others whose names are not known. You all offered the sacrifice of your lives so Angola could gain freedom for its people, for the land that Job de Carvalho wrote about--named for one of its most important tribal kings: Ngola.

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