Federica has always given me the impression of being a very strong woman. She constantly travels back and forth between Italy and Angola (and, sometimes, other countries as well), staying away from her family (including her sweet 3 year-old daughter) for weeks at a time. She is a consultant and does a variety of jobs while also participating in a lot of activities, which always amazes me (how does she manage to put so much effort in all that she does??), so I guess I was only half-surprised when – at the beginning of our chat – she told me she is hoping to start a Master course in Multi-level Governance.
In October 2006 she went to Angola for the first time with international civil service. She had actually asked to go to either Burkina Faso or Lesotho, but was asked to go to Angola, because nobody wanted to go there. She didn’t know much about Angola, so she had to read about it and, mostly, ask around to people who had already been there. She left Italy with an over-sized baggage due to the idea that she wouldn’t find ANYTHING at all in Angola, suggested to her by another volunteer.
As soon as she arrived in Luena (in the province of Moxico), where she was going to work, she fell in love with its beauty and felt like she had arrived in a “piece of paradise”. She was working in an educational centre managed by a group of nuns, running various projects. Federica immediately realized she didn’t need to bring everything she had brought with her from Italy, although some local people confirmed she had been very lucky, as a lot of the stuff that was then available was actually lacking a few months before.
Coming from an Italian region with a particularly varied cuisine (Sardinia), the main difficulty she had was adapting to Angolan cuisine, especially in the area where she lived.
As far as the interaction with Angolans goes, she didn’t have any particular problem. She felt immediately accepted into the community and managed to overcome language barriers very easily (she didn’t speak Portuguese at the time). Interestingly, she tells me she found a difference between Angolan men and women, in that men are much more “openly welcoming”, whereas she has always found it very hard to become friends with Angolan women. She thinks that this is partly due to different lifestyles that women at 26 (Federica’s age when she first got to Angola) had from her, as most of them already had a
family and kids to take care of (with less time to dedicate to social activities).
In her first months at work, Federica was often asked if she knew Desiderio, who worked in a similar field and shared a house with some of her colleagues. We now know that Desiderio kept being asked the same, and neither knows why the two of them never met in a work meeting. One day, she was walking in front of Desiderio’s house and one of her colleagues stopped her to finally let the two of them get to know each other. After a few moments, this guy comes out wearing only jeans and a red cap (no shirt), which surprised her and actually left her with a bad impression. Later, Desiderio explained that he had just been dragged out of the house by his friends, with no explanation of who he was going to meet and no time to wear a shirt.
After a while, Federica and Desiderio finally met at work and, from that day, started going out until they inevitably fell in love. Life is unpredictable and led Federica to be with a man that fit the description of what she DIDN’T want: a tall man, a foreigner or someone who loves football. Desiderio is all of these things, but that didn’t stop them from starting a serious relationship that continues now, as they got married in 2013 and now have a lovely daughter together.
When I ask her of cultural differences between her and Desiderio’s family, she says they aren’t actually that many. Neither family seems to understand the concept of “privacy” and it’s impossible to keep a secret from your relatives. At the same time, in both families, members are very close to each other and are always involved with each other’s life.
As Desiderio’s dad had fought for the independence from Portugal, he wasn’t particularly happy his son was dating a white woman, while Federica’s family was worried she’d never come back to Italy (they’re very attached to her as she’s an only child). The worries of both families disappeared once they introduced themselves in person, and Federica now says that she gets along very well with Desiderio’s family, just as he gets along well with her relatives.
When I ask Federica what she likes most about Angola, she explains that – aside from the gorgeous nature – she loves Angolan people solidarity with one another, how united they are within their families and their way of facing difficulties with a smile. For example, in Angola, she learnt that death is not the end: it is a tragedy for the family and friends, but life goes on. On the other hand, she thinks Angolans could be more dynamic and that sometimes they tend to have a fatalistic attitude towards problems because they believe that “that’s life”.
She has been to 17 out of 18 Angolan provinces. She particularly loves Namibe, Benguela and Lubango, while she doesn’t love the places where it’s too hot. She finds even Luanda beautiful, as well as more touristic places such as Cabo Ledo.
Written by: Caterina Manzi