Paulino’s Story

A black man is seated and looks at the camera smiling.

For Paulino, I’m a Superwoman. Me…I can’t even take care of myself! He called me that for the first time when I plugged his cellphone into the car audio system, so he could hear his music as he drove. I have always been quite tech-savvy, but I never thought that would make me a Superwoman.

Paulino called me a Superwoman again, after that first day, and every time I feel surprised and – I’ll be honest – proud. I met Paulino in June 2017, when we needed a driver for the project I was managing in Benguela, and I always thought it was a pleasure to work with him. Obviously there were bad times (moments when work was not going as it should have), but, from the beginning, I knew I could count on him for the important things. In fact, at times, HE was my Superman.

Our working relationship was always positive, but I think our friendship started when, at a time when work was being quite stressful, we decided to go to a club together (with a couple of other friends) to hear one of our favourite singers live. We always enjoyed listening to good songs in the car, but around these days we were actually obsessed with Liriany.

With my Angolan colleagues we had had dinner together, but we had never gone out to party. When we

A white woman and a black man laughing in front of the camera.
Me and Paulino, on that famous night at the club

agreed to meet at the club, I didn’t really know if he was going to show up, because, in the end, I was his boss. However, when my friends and I arrived at the disco, he was there. We spent the night drinking together, singing beautiful songs by Liriany, talking about our lives and dancing until the club closed in the morning. It was a beautiful night, which still remains in the memory of both of us as a defining moment, and it was the moment when I began to get to know him better.

Paulino was born in 1985 in Cubal (in the province of Benguela). Together with his family, they fled their hometown because of the war, when he was only 12 or 13 years old. They were among the people who had the possibility to go to Benguela with a military plane, while many others had to flee on foot and walk for days among different types of danger to get to the capital of the province. Young Paulino was glad to go to Benguela, because he had heard much of the city and he was looking forward to living close to the sea.

He says he doesn’t remember much of the war, but he definitely remembers the shooting, the noise of the weapons, the deaths and his only sister (among 4 brothers), who died at the age of 3 because of the difficult conditions in which they were living during that time. In his head, he carries the image of himself, as a child, looking at the battle outside his house. I think these images can really mark anybody, and when I think about it I do wonder how Angola got to the point where it is now (relatively stable and peaceful), when such a long war ended not so long ago.

Anyway, the family settled in Benguela, and Paulino fell in love with the city, to the point that he didn’t return to Cubal until 2010. Often, when we were traveling for work, we would joke about how we missed Benguela, because it’s our city.

His older brother was doing business in Cabinda during the war. Since Cabinda (an Angolan exclave) was difficult to be reached, taking things by boat from Luanda to sell them there was a good business at the time. After separating from his wife in Cabinda, he didn’t want to return to Benguela and stayed in Luanda, where he still carries out business that support his family.

Paulino decided to get to work as soon as he had the first opportunity, and was a machine operator in a salt factory. He describes this work as the worst he ever did, because of the continuous noise of the machines and the danger that the operators faced daily (a colleague of his lost his arm when he got distracted for a moment).

A black man wearing modern western clothes sitting on top of an abandoned tank. Next to him, a man and a woman wearing traditional clothes are standing on top of the tank.
Paulino with members of the Ganda Cultural Group on top of an abandoned tank, close to Ganda.

On the other hand, he really enjoyed working in marketing for a wine sales company, because it gave him the opportunity to meet many people. He laughs when he explains that being well-known has many advantages, like not waiting in queues and having more opportunities, but I know that in general he just likes meeting new people and interacting with them. In addition to these, Paulino did many other jobs and values each one of them for what he learned.

Paulino met Nadi, his wife, when he was 22, and she was 18. It was love at first sight and she got pregnant in a short time, which made her parents worried. They tried to separate the couple, saying that the two were not old enough to be in a serious relationship. When the baby was born, her parents sent her to live with Paulino’s family. After 11 years, the two are still together (even though they aren’t married yet) and have three daughters.

When I ask him if he now thinks her parents were right, he says that yes, they were right, but also that he doesn’t regret the decision he made and is actually happy to have had children when he was still young. I also ask him what he would do if his daughter was in the same situation as Nadi, and he laughs. He assures me he wouldn’t do the same thing that Nadi’s parents did, as he is aware that they are just parents, not owners of their children. If the daughter wants to date and get in a serious relationship, he can’t forbid it: he can only show her the way.

I think this is one of the things I like best about Paulino: he is a very curious person, always ready to learn and to change his way of thinking. He arrived in our project a little later than the other colleagues, but managed to become part of the team perfectly, building true friendships with everyone. Personally, I loved the moments spent listening to good songs in the car and sometimes I think that – without those moments – my work would have been much more difficult.

Written by: Caterina Manzi