Gift Economy in Angola

Sweet Potatoes

May 3, 2017

Sometimes in Angola, additional payments are helpful for facilitating certain bureaucratic procedures.  The other day, as we entered the province where the farm is, an immigration official needed to register my presence.  It was no big deal, took less than 5 minutes, but Claudio recommended that I give the guy a little something – it would make him happy.  I put a little cash in my pocket and went inside.  The guy was quite friendly, did his job and then handed me my passport back.  I just couldn’t figure out how to hand him cash at that point.  I pictured myself going through immigration in the US, having a positive experience and then saying, “Hey, thanks for doing your job correctly and efficiently, here’s a little something.”  I don’t know if my little gift would just be rejected, or if I would be arrested or at least questioned?

So, I went back and told Claudio that the man was very polite, but that I just couldn’t bring myself to give him the money.  He laughed at me and found it odd that I didn’t give him the appreciation.  Since then, I’ve noticed Claudio often randomly handing people money.  Sometimes, it feels more like a tip, almost like the car guards in Namibia. In fact, the other day I heard him give our server in a restaurant a tip, and he referred to it with the same word often used for bribes.  Maybe it’s all about someone who you want to thank for their service, but also keep them on your side, in case you need them in the future.  Everyone always seems happy with it and it never seems awkward. I just haven’t learned to do it myself.  Maybe I just need to start seeing it more as tipping, which I usually see as keeping the abundance flowing.

One really beautiful thing I noticed on our most recent trip to the farm, was how much people gifted us with whatever they had in abundance.  This trip it was guavas and sweet potatoes and one time beans.  I felt like every time I turned around, someone was giving us more guavas and more sweet potatoes.  One time, I tried to reject it, explaining that we already had more sweet potatoes than we knew what to do with.  She ignored me and set down a pile of sweet potatoes near our tent. I interpreted it a bit like Claudio and the immigration guy.  Its a gift, they don’t want anything in return, but perhaps one day, it will be useful for us to have this connection,

However, they also know, if we can’t eat all the sweet potatoes (which we couldn’t), or the guavas (which we definitely couldn’t), we could keep them moving.  That’s the absolutely beautiful thing to me about fresh gifts.  If you can’t use it, you absolutely have to keep the gift going.  We could make guava jam, or we could store the sweet potatoes.  But why?  Keep the generosity and abundance flowing. No hoarding! Abundance is meant to flow!

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