The luckiest of us talk about underdeveloped nations and poverty as something that you read in the paper. Some may go there trying to reduce famine, the percentage of kids without an education or any other legitimate social issue, thinking that we are going to change something. Most certainly we could but what we don’t expect is how they are going to change us.
I lived in Angola in 2011. The country is a paradox: some of the world’s wealthiest individuals live in Luanda while most of its population live with less than 2 dollars a day. This is a tragedy by itself but it becomes something indescribable when you realize that Luanda was the world’s most expensive city back then.
The city lies by a beautiful bay and the skyline from La Ilha, the city’s entertainment area, is astonishing. Some call it Africa’s Miami. But behind that luxury, reality strikes. Hundreds of thousands live in places called musekes, made out of carton-wood-and-plastic tiny houses where entire families stay without water or electricity.
It’s in one of these places where I met Ricardo. I had read in the paper about this entrepreneur that owned some hotels and restaurants: a self-made man that went from being a fisherman to a local real estate mogul. We set up a business meeting with him through one of his restaurant managers but he wanted to meet at the first place that he ever owned: somewhere in the museke.
I may have been the first man that ever crossed that area in a suit-and-tie at midday. Children followed me calling me “Mad White Man”, “Mad White Man” while they danced around and played with homemade toys.
When I finally arrived at the place (expecting some sort of empty field), I found myself in a beautiful house overlooking the bay. Ricardo came to receive me and thanked me for seeing him (a complete change from my average customer). I was supposed to be there for 20 minutes and ended up staying for 6 hours.
Ricardo is a man with no formal education but knew more about life and the world that anyone I’ve ever met. He was polite, well-dressed and extremely humble, with a beautiful Portuguese that echoed in your mind even when he was finished with his sentence.
There were so many things that I learnt that day but the most important was that life is an orange.
I started laughing when he said that and he took an orange from a drawer and cut it in half. He gave me a glass and asked me to squeeze the orange. I squeezed it until I thought that there was nothing left and then he started laughing.
“David, you are such a Westerner”. I thought I had offended him. “Wait for a minute”. My head went crazy: what does he want me to do? Where’s the trick? I started thinking about the orange and what I had done wrong.
Suddenly he said “Squeeze it again”. I did and some juice came out. “David, you Westerners are so busy, worried and hurried in your lives that you don’t realize that, with a little bit of effort, you could find more substance in life, just like you’ve just done with this orange”.
I wasn’t expecting that at all.
“Even if you are having the time of your life, even if you are making love to your beloved one, even if you are attending the birth of your first son, you guys are not truly enjoying the moment. You are not making the effort to focus on them. It’s only when you reminisce in those moments that you truly live them: what memories are you going to have if you don’t really focus?”
“You share everything with your computers and your phones but you don’t truly squeeze the moment”.
“You know: our kids cannot afford all the luxuries that I see when I go to Europe. But the difference is that here you only hear laughter. In your home country there’s silence in the parks”.
“I am too old to change things but your generation can: don’t rush, take in every feeling, every sound and every touch because they will never come back. David, feel so much that when you die, you can say: I felt everything in my life. And now drink that juice”.
By: David Barbolla