Angola testimonies: Part One - May 2002

May, 2002 BUNJEI A broken family of few survivors She does not answer the question about her daughter's profession - she is silent and turns her head away. She apparently lives in the area for "soldiers' wives".
The four-year-old boy doesn't speak because of the pain from his distended belly (obstructive urolithasis); he just keeps moaning the same words, "Oh my God. Oh my God". He was brought here by Firminda, his grandmother, from Cambougan, a day's walk from Bunjei, to get medical treatment. Firminda is a very dignified elderly lady, about 65 years old. She sits up very straight, draped in her red loincloth. She had six children, four of whom died in the war - all of her sons. Only her daughter is still living. Her sons began dying in the "first war" - the war in 1992. Since 1998 and the "second war", they have not stopped moving around, fleeing in the mata (forests). Today, the entire village of Cambongan lives in Bunjei. "This is the war, the one that destroyed Unita, which forced us to come to Bunjei," she said. "In Cambongan, I had a big house. The government burned it down this year to bring us here along with all the villagers." They arrived in Bunjei where "the corn hadn't been born yet", around October time. She also had sizeable fields "that haven't been farmed since 1998", and people who worked there. And she had four bullocks. Since 1998, she has lost two sons to the war. She refuses to say more than that. She has also lost two grandsons to illness (diarrhoea and stomach aches). She cannot remember how old they were, but she knows they were under 10. Her husband died of illness while they were in the woods. She is alone in Bunjei with her daughter and her daughter's two remaining children: this little 4-year-old and 3-year-old. The boy will go to Caala this afternoon to receive treatment at the hospital. Firminda will go with him because his mother "has the strength to work; I don't". She does not answer the question about her daughter's profession - she is silent and turns her head away. She apparently lives in the area for "soldiers' wives". After, when her grandson is better, she wants to farm the land. Here in Bunjei, she hopes that the government will give her a plot of land to farm - but no promises of this type have been made. "It's only a hope; I haven't heard anything," she said. She would like to go home, but It is unthinkable until the government gives the order. When she is pressed to explain why, she stands up and moves away, putting an end to the interview. Beaten by soldiers wielding wooden clubs This woman was tied to a pole and her child was put down on the ground out of the way. She was then beaten by five soldiers wielding wooden clubs. Friends found her two or three hours later, still tied up, barely conscious, with her child nearby.
This morning, a woman came to the hospital in Bunjei swollen and covered in bruises. She will be referred to the hospital in Caala to have her wrists checked - they seem broken. She is married to a soldier, as is her sister. The two women make alcohol from cassava, which is very popular here, and sell it. Yesterday evening, just like any other evening, soldiers came to drink alcohol. One of them left, leaving a half-full glass and saying that he would be back to finish it later. When he returned, the women's husbands - also soldiers - were home. They said that the soldier in fact had not come back for his unfinished drink, but that he intended to take advantage of the women. They beat him (he showed up at the hospital the next day with a big gash in the head from a bladed weapon) and he went home. The next morning, the wife of the beaten soldier came looking for the woman who sold the alcohol, to settle the score. She put her child on her back and followed her. This woman was tied to a pole and her child was put down on the ground out of the way. She was then beaten by five soldiers wielding wooden clubs. Her friends were worried about her being gone so long, so they went after her two or three hours later. They discovered her still tied up, barely conscious, with her child near her. All the children die They know that MSF has been in Bunjei for some time now, but simply are not strong enough to make the trip. Others are not strong enough to carry the sick people, and so they die.
This family came from Chipindo the day before the interview (May 4 and 5). A tall white man went for a consultation in Chipindo but was not given any medicine for his sick children. "And so I decided to come here", explained the father. "I just came with my family. No one else made the trip with us." Féliciano comes from the Chipindo region. He was born during the colonial period but does not know how old he is - approximatley 50 years old). He had a house, which he had built himself, with one bedroom and a living room. In 1991, the government said that all the people who came from the region of Chipindo had to go back there because there was peace. He "sold" his house, but when we ask him about the price, he bursts out laughing and does not answer. His father died of anaemia in 1992. "There were a lot of people in Chipindo and a kind of hospital, but no drugs," he said. "In January, there were over 50 deaths per day. Throughout the village, all you could hear was the sound of people crying. And it's a big village. Hunger is a part of everyday life in Chipindo. In January, February and March, people did not have anything to eat for days on end. Sometimes they were able to leave the village to dig up a few sweet potatoes, but sweet potatoes are not nourishing and people became anaemic and died." People are not leaving Chipindo. They know that MSF has been in Bunjei for some time now, but simply are not strong enough to make the trip. They are not strong enough to carry the sick people, and so they die. They came to Chipindo in August, from a village called Sachagombé (basically the woods), a two-day walk from Chipindo. He went to Sachagombé in 1997, and ever since has been trying to flee the village. He goes and then returns, over and over again, according to rumours of attacks by the FAA (Angolan Armed Forces) and Unita's mood. They were finally brought to Chipindo by force after they were captured by the government during a 'confusion' in which there were "many, many deaths". In the past two years, he has lost seven children to "the war". He says that they all died of anaemia and starvation because there was nothing to eat in Chipindo. "The oldest child died when he was 14," he said. "He didn't even have time to get married. "All the children die. There is no blood left to give them life. Even if we give them blood, it won't help them live. Traditional medicine won't help either. Only drugs can save them, which is why, when I saw that there wouldn't be any drugs in Chipindo, I ran like a crazy person here, carrying my child ... to save my child." From January 2 of this year until now, four of his children have died of starvation. They were all under the age of 14. Three more of his children died the last year. His daughter died in April and the others died in August, the month they arrived in Chipindo. In Chipindo, he lived in a hut. He had a field which he farmed. "But I never saw the harvest," he said. "When it was time for the harvest, the government's soldiers came and took everything. They didn't give us anything.". Today two of his children, aged eight and nine, are alive. He is here with his wife and one of his children, who is very ill (the child has severe malnutrition). He is now planning to take care of his family's health. He intends to accompany his wife and sick child to Caala, then return to Chipindo where his other child is waiting. As soon as his wife and child are better, he will return to Caala for them and bring them back to Chipindo. Then he will continue to farm the field the government gave him. We ask him why he bothers to farm the field if, just like the two previous times, the soldiers always take everything. He says that once his family is healthy again, they will be able to work more so there will be enough for the soldiers and for his family as well. This way, he will also be able to have a little money, which will allow him to "decide what to do next." Feliciano will not return to his home village of Sachagombé until it has been authorized. His house there no longer exists. The government burned it down. "It's not safe to go there yet. And I won't go back until the order has been given, even though I own extensive, fertile fields there. I've been living with this war since I was a boy." When we ask if he was ever a Unita soldier himself, he looks all around and says "No. Never. Never." gesturing with his hands and lowering his voice. "I am very happy to be on the government's side, very happy. I've been wanting to go there for a long time, but I couldn't." The fear can be seen clearly in his face.