Eriete’s Story

A black woman smiling at the camera. She's wearing a necklace made of bead, representing Swaziland's flag.
Eriete wearing a Swazi necklace

Eriete is a very interesting person. It took me some time before I could understand her, but I’m not realizing that it probably took me some time to understand all Angolans that I met, just like it took me time to understand the country itself. Perhaps this is the reason why I decided to create this website and to start this exchange project: I thought it would be a good idea to help other foreigners understand this country and its people better.

Getting back to Eriete, she’s a married woman, who always lived in Ganda, a relatively small city inside the province of Benguela. She is 42 years old, but she looks much younger, and has children that are already grown up.

When we went to a community together for the first time, I saw how easily she blended in the group of women that we were there to meet, and actually started helping them with their houseworks. I was very surprised: the project we worked on didn’t include any housework, but I realized that, in this way, she was already creating a strong bond with the group, even though she had just started working.

With time, I learnt that this is Eriete’s way of doing. She is a very practical person, who hates wasting time talking when there is something practical that can be done. For a certain period of time, her husband was very ill and she had to stay with her family in an area with no network. We were all wondering whether she would come to work or not, and we had no way of asking her.

We were extremely surprised to find her at our usual meeting spot the following day, for the scheduled

A woman standing in front of a house with bricks made of mud. She's holding a long and thick stick, above what looks like a container made of wood.
Eriete preparing “fuba” (=cornmeal)

visit to the communities. From that moment on, I never doubter her anymore: she could disappear from the world (in terms of communication), but she would always be there when we needed her…and that’s how it was. She stayed in that area, without network, for a couple of months but, every weekend she would show up to go to work in the communities, despite the tiredness of the weekly trips and the stress of her husband being ill.

One day, we were having lunch with the staff and one of our colleagues told us that the previous week, before going to the communities, she went to Eriete’s house to pick her up and she found police there. Surprised, she asked Eriete if she had to stay and deal with whatever was happening, but Eriete confidently answered that she would deal with the police after work.

On their way to the communities, Eriete told our colleague what had happened. During the night, she heard noises in the house and understood that some thieves had broken in. Without a moment of hesitation, she picked up her husband’s gun (he is in the police force), went to look for the thieves and shot twice in the air and twice on the floor. The thieves were immobilized with fear, and she grabbed some handcuffs to block them before calling the police.

While hearing this story, our colleagues were obviously quite surprised (if not shocked) and had a lot of questions for Eriete like: “How did you know the gun would be working?”, to which she responded: “I was cleaning it up the night before”. They also asked her: “how did you know you weren’t going to hurt or kill the thieves?”, and her answer was: “I knew where to aim… I wasn’t aiming at them directly”. The calm with which Eriete answered all the questions left us speechless: it was clear that she had experience with weapons and that she wasn’t scared to face danger.

During the preparation of this story, I had an opportunity to interview Eriete and to ask her a little bit about her past. There is a good reason why she has so much experience with weapons, as she lived the civil war directly. Her brother taught her how to clean and shoot a gun when she was only 15, so that she could defend herself in the war. During the interview she told me she actually had to shoot on several occasions during the war, and that’s why she had no doubt on where to aim when the thieves broke into her house.
However, Eriete can’t be defined simply as a person who lived the war first-hand. For example, she is passionate about traditional dances, that she practices with Ganda’s cultural group. Her husband never took interest in dancing, but her kids joined her passion and are also part of the cultural group.

Eriete is also a woman who had a prohibited love earlier in her life, when she fell in love with a man who had different cultural roots. They had a daughter together, but her parents never accepted their relationship, so they separated.

She then met her husband in Huambo, where she was going to sell stuff and he was working with the police. He had the chance to move to Ganda for work, so they got married and had 3 kids. When I ask her if she was sad not to be able to stay with her first love, she responds with her the same calm and practical sense that she always demonstrated, saying that “there was nothing else to do, I just accepted it”.

Personally, I’m not interested in learning how to shoot, but, for sure, I want to learn a few things from my colleague Eriete: the way she accepts things she can’t change, her self-confidence and her commitment to work.

Written by: Caterina Manzi