Guerrilla Maj. Mateus Katalayo, 32, sat stunned in his car as the large convoy of Cubans filed past him in Soviet trucks, tanks and armored cars pulling the devastating 122 mm."Stalin Organ" rocket launchers behind them.
It was the morning of Feb. 8, 1976, and the city of Huambo was being occupied by victorious Cuban troops. Katalayo's fellow UNITA guerrillas, had evacuated the city the night before with his wife and daughter.
"I had just driven into Huambo from the coastal city Benguela when I heard trucks coming from the right as I approached an intersection," Katalayo recalled. "I thought it was the South Africans returning to help us so I stopped."
As the Cuban convoy rumbled past, Katalayo said he realized his hometown had fallen to Angola's government forces and he wondered what had happened to his family. "No, I wasn't nervous," he said, "I just sat there in my car and they didn't bother me, even though I was in uniform. I drove to my house, but it was empty."
Katalayo fled into the bush in the wake of the retreating UNITA guerrillas, but, did not catch up to his wife and daughter until November, 10 months later.
"Until I met up with them," he said, "I worried about my daughter Mbimbi the most. She grew up in Switzerland in a very middle-class life white I was studying there. I didn't know if she could adjust to the guerrillas' life."
The Katalayos are just one of hundreds of families suddenly separated by Angola's civil war and, much later, reunited in the forest camps of the UNITA rebels. The husbands and fathers are UNITA guerrillas and their wives either have become guerrillas as well or limit themselves to looking after the family's needs.
The children, from infants born in the bush during the retreat to adolescents, grow up on a diet of war and hardship. Most of the thousands of children I met seemed to have adjusted to the guerrillas' life more rapidly than the adults.
Katalayo's nine-year-old daughter, Mbimbi, broke out into a toothy shy grin when I asked her how she felt about living in the forest, but she would not answer the question. Her mother, Anabela, 27, answered for her.
"When we first retreated into the bush, she would complain about sleeping in the rain, not enough food to eat and the walking we had to do when the Cubans were chasing us," Anabela Katalayo said. "We had to walk for hours and hours. She was always asking me, 'Where is Daddy'?
"I didn't know what to tell her," Anabela continued. "I didn't know myself."
I traveled with the Katalayos for two-weeks through Angola's Bie Province shortly after they were reunited at a UNITA guerrilla base in Cuando Cubango Province. Maj. Katalayo was heading for his new base, outside his hometown, Huambo.
One day mid-November, we hiked through the forest, across three swamps and up, over and down steep hills for eight hours without stopping. I wanted to stop and rest, but I refused to say so and counted on Mbimbi, then 8ept up with the brisk pace her father set. It was the firept up with the risk pace her father set. It was the first day that I walked for eight hours without stopping.
During a bootless, hour-long trip through one swamp, a leech attached itself, unnoticed, to my left ankle. When I reached firm ground, the leech's blood-bloated body began to flap around as I walked. A guerrilla deftly cut the leech from my ankle with his knife and tossed it, matter-of-factly, into the river. The perforated spot on my ankle continued to bleed, painlessly, for half an hour.
Even the guerrillas, who had been carrying large plastic bags of plastic explosives, wearily dropped their loads when we finally stopped.
"What's the matter," Katalayo asked them."Haven't you been circumcized?" a sarcastic questioning of whether they had yet become men.
Anabela and Mbimbi laughed hard.
"She still misses her schoolfriends in Switzerland," her mother explained," and wants to know when she can go back to school. But she is beginning to understand what the war is all about. She was very confused about it all when we first came back in April 1975.
"I don't want to be one of the guerrillas," Anabela Katalayo said. "I think I'd rather teach when we set up our bush schools. The life is hard, but I have become accustomed to it, too. We are both going to stay with my husband, Mateus."
In the first week of March this year, Mateus Katalayo's base 18 miles south of Huambo was attacked at dawn by government forces.
"We barely had time to get out of the base," said Katalayo. "I grabbed my gun, Anabela grabbed a few clothes and Mbimbi asked what was happening. I told her we were being attacked and she said, 'Oh, let's go!'"