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Contest: June 30th, 2005

Author: Elias Mussamba

One after the other a GOAL staff would walk to drop his or her contribution for the river to Tio Elias. It appeared to be a slow process and few did show interest. “ How is it going?” the Programme Coordinator asked. “ Are they responding and have contributions begun? ”. “It is too early to predict. We wait and see till Friday,” Tio Elias responded. Prior to the scheduled trip to the river, Lito, the Administrator had written informing every individual interested to make a contribution and a piece of paper hang onto the notice board in the radio room. The third day passed without any tangible progress and we had only two days left for the big day. “ I just want to find out how many female colleagues have so far given their contributions” demanded Lurdes Monteiro. “ I only see the name of Emily. I would look out of place in a company of all men around me.” “Don’t worry, mãe Cecilia will also be there to entertain you as would all.” On the last day prior to the trip, the contribution exercise resumed with unexpected colleagues rushing to drop their closing donations in cash. A similar picnic was held last year at Dala river about 30 kilometers away from town under Mara, as GOAL Luena Coordinator. She also took the opportunity to say farewell to colleagues. It was not Dala river this time; a better place had been identified-Sacaji lagoon.

For correction sake, these picnics had nothing to do with Angolan traditional rites but once in a while picnics of relaxations and reflections after long tedious rain season full of risks and escapes from dangers imposed by the season itself.

By 18:00 a target had been reached. What remained was the final preparations- a budget had not been drawn and it was already heading to 18:30 hours. “ With this amount, I don’t think we will make it. Picnic at rivers becomes really picnic when there is a lot of beer not food,” interjected Tiago. “ But, I suggest that we have also funji for us who don’t drink beer. To have our funji washed down by a soft drink and you should bear in mind that it would take the whole day for us to be there. “ Tio Elias, then lets suggest to have rice not funji,” continued Tiago. “As for me funji- let us not make restrictions. To those who will go for funji let them and for rice-we respect people’s choice.” Just then the Programme Coordinator, Emily returned from a UNHCR meeting looking tired but preoccupied wanting to know the arrangements. A few minutes, or hardly half an hour ago, upon advice from former purchasing office, Nando, we sent David to buy drinks and beer to be put in the fridge for the following day. “ Fine,” responded Emily, “ Let us very quickly go through the purchase list of items requested.” Oh… it needs to be adjusted. The organization cannot contribute towards an occasion above $100. That’s it, well, I will be here early morning to allow us buy the necessary items.” 10:00 hours was the time set for departure on Saturday, the 30th of April 2005. As he drove us back to the office from purchases, we found all the drivers waiting by the gate and it was already heading to 10:00 hours on dot.

“ A sign of good gesture, responsibility” and punctuality, added the transport officer David. A day before, it had been ruled out that drivers willing to drive the team to Sacasaji will not partake in beer but would be free to soft drinks no matter how many. “What of ice,” former purchasing officer expressed his worries. “ I think he is right. David, what are we waiting for? Driving to the third ice depot, only to be told that an earlier arrangement should have been made the day before. “ Tio Elias, fuel has not been bought for the generator;” Levi and Arlindo laughed. An occasion is always an occasion be of small magnitude, it has its own prons and cons to be dealt with.

The first two vehicles started off some 30 minutes ago. “ Do you still have some cash?” the administrator asked. “ We need to spend it on more crates of beer and on more petrol for the generator.” “ Mobil 5, where are you?” it was the voice of Emily. “ At zero zero, no escritório,” Tio Pedro responded, “ we will soon be there.” Ten minutes later the voice of the coordinator came live on radio. “Mobil 5, where are you?” “On our way” returned Tio Pedro. “ We have finally arrived “ she responded. Steadily our land cruiser headed along the dilapidated tarred road with numerous potholes. It left the main road and entered a new cleared gravel road. It cruised leaving a cloud of white dust behind bumping all along.

Three weeks had gone since we experienced a heavy down pour. It got cheer in the early hours of the morning and got warmer as fangs of sunrays touched the ground from the eastern cloudless horizon. It is always the case in the tropics; one could not tell whether it was getting cooler or hotter as the season shifted to winter. GOAL staff in Luena had chosen to spend winter eve at Sacassaji lagoon. Leaving the main road, slowly our vehicle got into a feeder road. With extra caution Mr. Pedro, drove steadily, reducing the speed to 50kms per hour to either allow a pig or a goat to cross the road.

Men sat around what looked a calabash of beer went about their business. One or two cheerful looking children stood by the roadside to wave as our vehicle cruised past them. Now that the long civil war was over, a number of displaced people have finally settled here or elsewhere. In the colonial era, the area had been renowned for producing and supplying large quantities of fresh vegetables to Luena town. It had been a very potential farming ground noting from a number of dilapidated farm cottages, most razed to the ground by bombs or by irresponsible residents.

Thatched huts doted along on both sides of the road and the people built close to the water canal. A number of people from town spend their weekends in Sacasaji perhaps to avoid noise from the city. It was becoming clear and clearer that peace had come to stay noting from free movements and picnic that people made. Lovers going to natural exciting places to enjoy themselves were compensating the wartime. Even big organizations like GOAL found it necessary to have a time of its own with its members of staff. As a matter of fact Angola could be among countries with a long list of public holidays. It is common sight everywhere one went be it in town or countryside to find people dancing to the famous traditional tune of Sasa Chokwe musical band. Little did they pay attention to foreign music for cultural identify and conservation. As our vehicle negotiated a corner past a thicket of shrubs and short canopy trees, it brought us in full view of a wider plain with a pool of water in the distance. Far at the end of the other side of the pool parked three vehicles. Crossing a wooden bridge across a canal, our vehicle followed a wider built up mould curve where the river had previously been and came to a halt. Sebas “General” and Nando waved at us from a makeshift hut but above the as we got down form the vehicle. Aidan Strain, the provincial VCT/HIV/AIDS coordinator for Moxico and Lunda Sul and Emily, Goal Luena programme coordinator, so do other colleagues welcomed us in a festive mood. Positioned few minutes away from the vehicle was a barbecue with a black pan of cooking oil simmering. And a group of female colleagues were busy preparing and seasoning legs of chickens and fish and chopping cabbages and tomatoes into slices for salads. One after the other a piece of chicken leg would be forked from the pan when ready.

From his toy video camera, Punga shot a film of all the activities including one in which General Sebas prepared fish and local vegetable leaves “mutete” for relish. Some colleagues helped themselves to a can of beer or drinks.

“ How is it Aiden?”

“I am fine and its fine,” he replied.

With the liters of petrol that we had brought form town, David kicked the portable electric generator into life. Soon the place heaved with the sound of music from tape recorder. A crowd of kids from nearby villages squatted around like hungry hyenas ready to pounce on the remains of a carcass left by lions. Nothing could scare them away but determined to have a taste of anything. As music soared and hit the cool waters of the pool, one or two people swam in the cool clear water towards the makeshift for fun. To my surprise only women had swimming costumes! Men colleagues were in shorts not fitting for the occasion, making it very difficult. Two of our colleagues shorts were torn apart while diving from the platform of the makeshift hut. After what looked a good twenty minutes, the programme coordinator announced that she also wanted to give it a try.

“ I had said I would not swim. I last swam in London. Oh… the water looks lovely.”

As she swam with her head above the water more and more female colleagues who were busy with food preparation joined her. One of the female colleagues drummed up the water with her hands and making a wide twist rolled legs and down. When it came to swimming women to be rated to be the best swimmers in the world. On the sand beach a few colleagues strolled, or stood to talk to one another and other wriggled their waists to the rhythm of music. As the saying goes you take the horse to the river but you cannot force it to drink water. May one never wanted to shame oneself because one does not know how to swim lest one ends up drowning. A coward even when it came to any given circumstance lives longer. When one felt tired of peddling legs and arms in water would swim and get hold to one of the poles of the platform. The funniest and tiresome task was to get oneself to the upper platform. Some found it easier while others didn’t for the fact that the poles were very slippery. The more one tried hard to climb the more one became tired and slip back into the water.

“ Oh I am tired,” hold my hand.

“Come that’s it,” everyone shouted happily and encouragingly. “No! Let me rest,” The luck ones on the platform would shout, “come up and have fun with us.” “Look!” shouted some colleagues. “ Tio Elias is failing to climb. He is so fat!” “ I don’t need your help. I will make it,” I shouted back laughing. Once up, one felt great.

“ You see, Nando and Sebas boasted we are the first one to be here. When I first stepped here, I felt as if the whole platform was throwing me into the water. I ended up diving into the water to avoid the platform crushing on my back.” “ I also felt the same swirling, as if tossed up and down from the sky,” added Nando. Picnic could not be complete without stepping on that platform and dive from it. All our female colleagues carried the day on their side because most of them stepped on the challenging platform. While we sung farewell songs for General Sebas, one female colleague slipped on a piece of soap and was caught up hanging between a wooden gap on the platform. Teaming up, some underneath the platform jacking and others above pulling successfully brought her to safety. As she lay prostrate, some colleagues administered an invisible drip and injection on her left arm. Of course, it was a cane of castle! Ululating and cheering the group continued to sing: General! General! The general surfaced under the water carried shoulder high by Tio Elias. Tio Elias swam him to the cheering crowd and in response Sebas saluted the crowd with a wide long smile on his face.

General Sebas was well composed and to the surprise of everyone, refused even to take beer. He did not only look composed but as sober as a pope. Perhaps something was troubling him. He was sort of a man who would make a vicious dog wag its tail even a weary disgruntled man value the meaning of life. So did his name go, general, very active activist for HIV/AIDS under GOAL Luena for four years. He was enjoying his last moments with his fellow colleagues. May be that could be one of the reasons he kept quite. Giving a short warning, Lito came summer sorting from the roof of the makeshift head down into the water and so did Nando and Levi. It was a lovely moment of joy for everyone as colleagues played a catch a sheep game in the cool waters. Whoever is touched should make an effort to touch another person and he or she if failed would be called a sheep. Levi touched Tio Elias and in return Tio Elias touched Wasuluvala and every effort the latter made to touch either Levi or Tio Elias, the two swam away swiftly from him and eventually he gave out looking very tired. Withdrawing from Aidan Strain, David hurried towards the clear cool pool of water. He seemed to be saying to himself that he would have missed stepping on the platform. He waded and swam steadily towards the platform then something happened, he lost his balance and went under water.

“ What happened?” I asked.

“ I have made it, except for a few cups,” He responded. He looked satisfied for making it also onto the platform. The bang of sasachokwe music threw both the colleagues and the village kids to their waists. Wriggling in an encroaching manner the male and female colleagues danced.

“Tio Elias,” I love beer declared one of the colleagues. “ Not to the extent of forgetting your mind,” Tio Elias responded.

One after the other the group from the platform swam to shore for their last drinks, only to find beer and drinks gone!! In the cool hours of the day as the sun bid farewell from the western horizon, the convoy of four vehicles started off for Luena town. All looked satisfied reading from bright expressions on their faces; a positive sign for a positive picnic.

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