She would put on a brave face every morning as she would get up everyday very early to go and buy bread-rolls in bulk for resale. Although pain and timidity were consuming her heart, she would always wear a wide smile to make sure she attracts her customers and sell them bread. It was this business that helped her pay school fees for her children and sustain her family. The miracle of being alive was no longer meaning anything to her. By merely looking at how she conducts herself, one would want to know more about that woman. Who is she? Where is she from? Many questions would run up and down one’s mind in the speed of a flash. We learned that her name was Isabela. She was fifty six years old and a mother of five.
Isabela survives on buying bread in bulk for resale. This is what she does on full time basis. In Luanda, this kind of job is done by many and they sell on street corners. Some will buy and also make burgers for resale as well. This is due to high rates of unemployment; therefore many people survive on these informal trade activities.
The biting economic hardships require these stringent activities to make sure you have food on the table. The detrimental effects of the economic challenges are felt by the weaker and vulnerable members of the society who are always on the receiving end of the cancerous blows of poverty that have kept many in its jaws.
The saddest part of it comes when the family is led by a woman. This leads to extreme pain, suffering and afflictions. Most women in Angola do not have any skills that can generate income for them as the effects of the civil war are still being felt to this day. They could not receive formal education during the civil war as it was also very dangerous for the girl child to walk alone due to high cases of rape that were going unabated.
She was given in marriage at a tender age. This was a norm in their culture for a girl child as it was seen as a waste of resources to educate a girl child. The families felt since the girl child would be getting married and going to another family there was no need to educate her. This meant that she was supposed to marry at a tender age so that she would not continue consuming her family’s resources. This philosophy is a common trend in many areas in the nation of Angola. Many people give their girl children in marriage at a tender age and this has gone for years unabated although the new president has declared war on such practices.
After she had married, she was fortunate enough to marry a good husband who respected her according to her. Although her husband was twenty-five years older than she was, he would never abuse her and he would show her so much love and affection regardless of the age-gap. They were a happy couple after all and they managed to have their children. They later moved to Luanda where her husband got a job as a construction worker. They stayed in Luanda during the height of the civil war where they managed to bear more children. They had three children and her husband became very active in politics supporting the UNITA rebels. He received supplies for the rebels and carried them to their hiding places. Sadly, one day the government soldiers learned about his activities.
“It was in a calm evening and we were cooking outside and our children were playing inside the house when an army truck full of soldiers came to the house where we were renting. Just by seeing that we knew, it was game-over. My husband never tried to escape but only said, “Be strong and look after our kids. Maybe we will meet again or maybe not.” I always remember those words clearly. Before we could do anything, the soldiers were already ransacking our house looking for anything that belonged to the UNITA rebels but they could not find anything. They beat my husband with iron-bars while I watched in great anguish but sadly, there was nothing I could do. They were beating to kill. My husband was screaming in pain and they were unrelenting. They continued to torture him and when he passed out, they would light a candle and burn his ear lobes. When he awakened, they would start again. I stood there screaming as the soldiers continued to make an example of my husband for the people who had gathered around our house. One soldier came close to me and said, “Get inside the house and lock yourself in or we will rape and torture you in the same way.” As Isabela was explaining the ordeal of that fateful night, tears streamed from her eyes.
As she stepped into her house, Isabela knew that she would be separated from her husband for life. After some time, the noise outside had died down and she heard the sound of the army-truck leaving. She was courageous enough step outside to help her husband, only to learn that they had taken him away. She knew that she was never going to see her husband again and that she had to be strong for her children. It was as if a dark cloud had covered her life and she would not know where to start as the breadwinner had been taken away. This was the beginning of a new era in her life and she thought that perhaps one day he would come but sadly, he would not. Rafael had gone with the soldiers to an unknown destination. They were going to do horrific things to him in order to extract the information they wanted.
Days went buy but there was no sign of him or even a word about his death. Isabela realized that it was time to begin life as a widow. However, many people encouraged her to wait for her husband because they believed he could have been in prison with the hope of being released at the end of the war.
She started her bread business to sustain the family while her husband was away. The war ended in 2002, and alas, the prisoners of war were released under Presidential amnesty but sadly, Rafael was nowhere to be found. This really meant that there was indeed no sign of him or his remains. This wonderful husband and family hero was gone.
After concluding that she was not going to see her husband again, Isabela opted to move on with her life and try to get married again. She got a new man in her life and had a son with him but the man was an abusive drug addict and an alcoholic. She has many scars from the regular, physical abuse that she endured. The abuse became so bad that Isabela and her children walked away.
She later decided to be involved with another man after leaving the abusive one. This resulted in her staying with a certain pensioner who was well established financially and a widower. The new man however, did not want her kids in his house therefore; he rented a house for the children to stay on their own although he was buying everything for them. He would provide groceries and all the basic needs and everything else including their education. Isabela was staying with him as his wife and it was her first time in life to stay in such a beautiful and big house. The retired government official would do everything for her and treated her in a special way. She gave birth to yet another son with the pensioner and all was going well until one fateful morning.
One Sunday morning while he was taking a shower, he collapsed and died on the spot. An ambulance was called but it was too late. He had already passed. This marked the beginning of yet another torrid moment in Isabela’s life. The family of the man, his children who were already grown up and some staying in Portugal, flew to Luanda only to accuse Isabela of killing their father so that she could take over his estate. Isabela was told to pack her things and leave the house. Since she was not legally married to the man, she did not have any room to argue. They also barred her from attending the funeral because they were calling her a witch and all sorts of names. No one appreciated how she had taken care of the old man. Everything was gone and she was supposed to go back to selling bread on the streets. She taught her adolescent children to do the same in order to increase the family income.
As she looked into her life, she felt a great emptiness. She had time to open up and pour out her heart to our National Director Sara, who had gone to share the Gospel with her. The Scripture booklet, ‘Help from Above’ caught Isabela’s attention. As Sara was telling her what was in the Scripture booklet, she developed more interest and asked if she could have various pieces of literature to read at home with her children. Sara gladly gave her the literature. The following morning she called Sara and told her she wanted to meet her.
“I have wandered in my life for so long and I believe it’s now time to leave all my life and my challenges in the hands of the LORD. I need Jesus and so does my household,” Isabela said these words when she saw Sara the following day. She really wanted the LORD in her life and that of her children. It was time for a rebirth in her household. Isabela accepted Christ as her LORD and personal Savior and she and her family have since joined a Christ Group that is conducted at the EHC Office in Luanda.
She says that since she accepted Christ, a heavy stone has been removed from her heart and she now feels so much hope in all the aspects of her life.
-Sara A., Angola, Africa