February 15, 2005

Africa Correspondence

This is a really long entry. It's been, once again, far too long since I posted from Grandpa's papers. In fact, it's so long that I found out that Movable Type has a maximum post size, and I've had to make some cuts to fit it. But, since my recent change of status, I am going to have more time to blog from now on.

Grandpa was a profligate letter-writer. I am not - something that I hear lots about from my extended family. His correspondence from Africa is compiled in a 364-page red binder, marked "Congo". It covers five years in Africa. Most of Grandpa's letters were in German, but he translated them. I should note that where he uses the word black, I'm fairly certain the original German was Neger - a word that is more accurately translated as Negro. I considered changing it back, but have left the text as Grandpa wanted it. At the time when he wrote these letters, and in the social context he lived in, Negro was an appropriate, reasonable word.

Of course, the manner in which he talks about "blacks" is more revealing than his choice of word. It is clear that no matter how much Grandpa and other missionaries believed in the equality of human souls before God, there is still a wide social chasm separating African natives from white missionaries. Modern missionaries pay more attention to that gap than they did in Grandpa's time. Grandpa was clearly not well prepared for the cultural or ecological shift that a move to Africa entailed.

This post is slightly different in format than previous ones. The notes in brackets are Grandpa's notes, unless I have marked them otherwise. The long expositions in blockquotes are mine. The letters that were not written by Grandpa are marked with the name of the author in brackets at the beginning.

Wherever our paths took us, we made it a point to write home. Usually that was about every two weeks. Mother kept all those letters and eventually gave them to us. She also made clippings from the papers for us. Since all our services were in German at that time, our letters were all in German as were the reports to the Mennonitische Rundschau and to the Mennonite Brethren Church in Niverville. When we wrote to Jake and Irene or Wanda or Hedy [My note: Grandpa's brother-in-law and sisters], we wrote in English. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, I am translating all the correspondence into English, beginning with the postcards that we wrote on the way to New York. I have tried to translate them as accurately as possible. We began our letters with: Liebe Eltern und Geschwister. But the English does not have a word that means the same thing as Geschwister. The word "sibling" does not have the same connotation as Geschwister which can mean physical brother and sister or brother and sister in the Lord. So I will be writing: Dear Parents and Loved Ones. Where I found it necessary to add information, I have done so in square brackets. The smaller clippings have no dates, but their contents indicate the time in which they were printed.

On board the Vinkt, February 13, 1954.

Dear Parents and Loved Ones:

A greeting of love from approximately 100 miles off the African coast. Received your letter just before we departed. Our address I wrote on the inside cover of the writing paper. The first three days on the water were miserable. Frieda and the children were all seasick. Carol was bothered more by teeth than anything else.

I felt miserable but did not need to vomit. The ship plays teeter-totter the long way and rolls from side to side the other way. The last few days things have calmed down a bit.

We left New York a few minutes after 11 on Tuesday evening, February 2nd. That evening we all felt well. Next day everyone was sick. We saw another ship, but since then we have not seen anything. For a few days we saw sea gulls, but since then only water. The first living things we saw were flying fish - about the size of sardines - that fly through the air like gliders. Sometimes a whole swarm of them breaks out of the water, but usually they don't stay too long in the air. We saw some birds about the size of swallows when we were close to the Cape Verde Islands, and soon after that some gulls. Today I have not seen any yet. Yesterday we made a tour of the ship, first the motor section and then to the back where the ship ends. The driveshaft is about 1 1/2 foot thick and is made of solid steel. [They also carried an extra propeller on deck in case they lost the one that pushed the ship. It was quite a size.] Afterwards we were up on top where they steer the ship. Today many of the sailors are in short pants without shirts. We got out the sun helmets that we bought in New York. Our winter clothes are excess ballast. My head is dizzy, maybe because I am not used to such concentrated work as writing letters. I am sitting with my feet against the railing and writing on my lap. The ship vibrates frequently, and then my writing is not very even.

At noon our location was 5 degrees 51 N. Latitude and 13 degrees 181 W. Longitude. Tomorrow or at the latest on Monday [Feb. 15] we will cross the equator. The custom is to initiate those who are crossing for the first time, similar to what they did at the Forstei. [Forestry Service where the COs served in Russia.] Of the passengers, we are the only ones [crossing for the first time]. It will be interesting to find out what they will do. [My note: Usually, this meant baptism with raw eggs.]

On the ship are two Belgians: J. Michotte, a famous painter, the other is called Wauters, a businessman who is travelling on behalf of his company. The rest are missionaries: Miss Pitman (Baptist) from Quebec; Miss Parham (Presbyterian), Georgia, U.S.A.; and Mrs. Anderson (Swedish Free Church), Nebraska, U.S.A. The latter was [in Congo] 18 years ago when she was married, for 3 1/2 years until her husband died. She remained alone until a replacement arrived and her children were 4 and 5 years old; then she returned. Now one daughter is married and the other is in Bible School. She is coming back now to be matron at a missionary children's school. Then there are Miss Willems and Miss Dyck who are to travel with us. Mathilda Wall told Kathryn Willems that she is glad we will be going to Djongo Sanga where the Henry Derksens are now in order to help them. That is the place where the Willie Baergs were. [The original station was the one at Bulolo that the Heinrich Bartsches had started under the Afrika Missions Verein, but it was moved a few miles to Djongo Sanga. Herman Lenzmanns helped them temporarily until they had to return for health reasons.] The other station in that area has been sold to another mission but not this one. Again it seems that others know a lot more than we do. The school for our children is at the extreme southern end of the other field. We thought that had to be over 1000 miles apart, but Miss Willems thought it could not be nearly as far, but it is 5 or 6 days travel apart.

Michotte: I have tried and tried to find out who this famous painter named Michotte was, and I've had no luck whatsoever.

The meals on the ship are all very similar. For breakfast half a grapefruit. Then we usually take corn flakes. This morning I tried porridge, but never again. We could also have bacon and eggs if we wanted them. At noon we have soup first. Today that was followed by a small hamburger on half a large boiled onion. Then a sliver of boiled meat and vegetables: boiled carrots and onions, mashed potatoes with parsley or other green stuff mixed in. For dessert there was pastry similar to pirischki but larger with more dough and fewer apples. Between courses the dishes are changed - it takes a whole hour. On Friday at noon they serve only fish. Last Sunday it was roast chicken and ice cream. First thing we had yesterday evening was a poached egg on a little pile of parsley, then fish with potatoes and finally cold meat: a slice from a big sausage or cheese. Dessert consists of raw fruit: apples, pears or oranges. Once we had large grapes. We have fish quite often served in different ways, for example onion rolled in fish, or a spicy fish salad on a slice of egg, or two slices of tomato with something like potato salad with fish. We have problems getting Robert to eat. When the potatoes are fried then it is always in fat. Everything is very fatty - for example fish dipped in dough and deep-fried like rollkuchen. We boarded the ship on Monday [Feb. 11] and at first we ate well because it was tasty, but after a while it went against us and we take seasickness pills to calm the stomach. Only the Captain, the First Officer and the Chief Mechanic eat with the passengers. Two men serve. At 3:30 we drink tea.

Pirischki: More often spelled piroshki or pirogi from the plural form of the Polish word pierogi or the Russian Пирог. I'm pretty sure that the Plautdietsch word comes from the Ukrainian word, but I have no Ukrainian references on hand. A form of dumpling common to a lot of northeast European communities, usually stuffed with fruit or meat, then boiled and sometimes fried. It's Russian Mennonite comfort food. (Actually, I suspect it's comfort food to a lot of Canadians of eastern European origin.) In Manitoba, you can buy them frozen and ready-made. In Belgium, there is a similar food called a flapje in Dutch, in French I guess it's called some kind of crêpe.

Rollkuchen: In America, folks call them fritters. It's just deep fried dough. Mennonites serve them with watermelon. When describing this element of Russian Mennonite cuisine to a co-worker at Sun some years ago - a young black woman from Chicago - she exclaimed that she never imagined there were white folk who ate watermelon and fritters.

Carol has 6 teeth on top and 4 at the bottom. Some spots are still very swollen. Carol put on clean clothes this morning, but now you can't see that any more. The first two nights Robert slept on the top bunk, but when he was sick, we thought it would be safer if he were lower down. It is possible to put a board in front of the bench so the children don't fall off.

Sunday at 10 we had a service, but not all those who eat with us came. They are all Catholic. Some speak German; all speak French and some English and Flemish. They say our name is a very widespread Flemish name.

a widespread Flemish name: Boy, don't I know it. This is the one country in the world where I don't have to spell my name. The former prime minister back in the 80's was named Wilfred Martens.

At present we are anchored in the Congo River. At 4 we passed Banana, but then it got too dark to continue. The trees look so different here. Early in the morning we noticed that the water had a yellowish appearance, like liquid barn waste. That is how far the river water replaces the ocean. We packed in the forenoon and towards evening, but we were all exhausted. When we crossed the equator, they did not do anything to us. Robert got a lot of presents yesterday and even a cake with six specially made candles. [My note: Feb. 16 was my father's birthday. He turned six on the ship.] Carol and also Robert have a rash from the heat. When Carol started with it, we thought it might be measles, but she was not sick at all. At dusk it began to rain so now it is a bit cooler. My chain for the keys is all rusty. Tomorrow we are to land and then we go through customs and have to regulate the freight.

February 19 [Friday] Arrived yesterday afternoon. The hotels were full, but the Swedish Mission took us in. Compared to Matadi, even Kansas City hills are nothing. Personal baggage is through customs already, but we have to wait until another ship is loaded until ours can unload. Going through customs will be difficult - a lot of paperwork and probably also money. For the rest we did not pay anything. Also have to look after a lot of other stuff that has been lying here since October or so. Without the language [French] it is terrible. A young missionary from the States is here to get his two-ton truck, and he helped us a lot yesterday and today. At 3 we are to be back at Otraco, the company that is shipping our things, to start the customs papers. We were at the bank for a long time before we had our money. Here you have to wait much longer than in Canada. The road to Leopoldville is supposed to be the worst in Congo. Pray for us. We will probably be here for several days yet.

Love, Theodor, Frieda, Robert and Carol

Kipungu, Monday, March 15, 1954.

Dear Parents and Loved Ones:

We have just completed a difficult week. I had malaria and that is no fun. I am not rid of it yet, because my arms ache as with rheumatism so that I don't know where to leave them. Aside from that I have a boil in my ear.

a boil in my ear: This is a hereditary problem for the men in my family - a tendency to get empty spaces in the flesh of our earlobes that become infected. It's not hard to control, although it isn't very pleasant.

But back to my diary: We landed on Thursday evening and found accommodation with the Swedish Mission. Monday our papers were ready for customs, but they were loading a ship and did not have time for us. Tuesday all three of us were through customs in two hours. On our hand baggage we did not need to pay anything, but on the rest there was quite a lot. On the truck it was over $200. Wednesday morning at six we left for Leopoldville and arrived at seven in the evening - 260 miles with hairpin curves and everything else that you can imagine. In 3 or 4 places the road was straight for about half a mile, otherwise it curves along the side of hills. The road is not raised but rather sunk into the ground so that in most places there is a protecting mound between road and precipice - and it is everywhere. In Leo the brethren Brucks and Prieb were at a Missions Conference. Saturday we sent Frieda, the children and the Misses Dyck and Willems by plane to Kikwit from where they had another 1 1/2 hours to Kafumba. We were fully loaded on the trip to Leo, but they took 4 suitcases with them by plane. Then we packed our baggage on the rear seat and loaded a 3000 amp Kohler generator for Kafumba. I bought $160 groceries wholesale - almost double price, and also a barrel of gasoline, but then there was hardly room for us. Prieb accompanied me.

Kikwit: In case I haven't mentioned it before, Kikwit was the nearest sizable market town to Kafumba and Kajiji. It is more famous in recent years as the centre of the 1996 Ebola epidemic. I remember Grandpa telling me that when he saw the coverage on CBC, they showed parts of the city that he was familiar with.

We left at 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, but we wasted half an hour driving in a circle, because the detour sign pointed the wrong way. Shortly before noon we removed the overload springs. In Leo we bought an extra rear spring, but the front spring they gave us is for a carryall. It was too late at night to stop at a Baptist Mission so we slept in the truck for a few hours, drove for a while, and slept again. At 6 we were at a bac [French for ferry]. The evening before that, we crossed a ferry at 7, just before they stopped for the day. At 4:30 we were in Kikwit. Br. Prieb had business to look after, so we stayed for night and arrived at Kafumba the next day. Friday and Saturday was laundry day. Sunday we were at Kafumba. Monday I loaded the truck, and because I had no sparkplug wrench, I could not remove a plug, and had to pump up the tire by hand. We had a flat about noon before we reached Kikwit - along a treeless stretch of road.

When we arrived here at Brucks [in Kipungu], I was not feeling well. In the evening I was sick. I took quinine, but that makes you sick if you are not sick already. Now I have Nivaquine. I am starting a cure all over again to get rid of the malaria. These pills are not as bad as quinine.

Nivaquine: A trade name for chloroquine.

Sunday morning I preached and Br. Brucks translated. Susie Brucks has the medical work and Dorothy Kopper the school. Right after the service we took a woman to the state doctor about 3/4 hour away. She was very anaemic, had chronic malaria and was expecting a baby. They wanted to cause an abortion by stuffing her full of black earth and medicine.

In Kafumba letters #1 and 2 were waiting for us and since we are here #3 and Irene's letter. We also received a letter from Aunt Anna Bergmann. Greet her from us. Until today I did not feel like writing, but since we are going to Kikwit today, we want to mail a letter. Tomorrow and the day after is Administrative Committee meeting - all the men from the various stations. [Actually only one man from each station, the one who was legally in charge. When there was only one man, then there was not much choice.] There they will decide where we will be stationed. Seemingly Kipungu or Kajiji where the Priebs are, which is a ten-minute walk from the white children's school.

Now the questions: We find it the way Br. Prieb told us over the phone while we were at Matadi - not as hot or as many mosquitoes, but one must have bitten me anyway. So far I have not had a nosebleed. Sometimes Robert would like to return, but otherwise they take the heat quite well. Frieda is still complaining about pain straight across the incision. Carol does not say any more yet. She is beginning to say "car" again. Yesterday when some natives walked past, she said "mbote" to them - the word they use as greeting.

mbote: The one word of Kituba that I've always known. This universal greeting is common to a group of languages in the lower Congo region - the trade languages like Lingala and Kituba but also many of the tribal languages.

Frieda, Carol and Robert have a cold - the girls had it. The natives cough a lot too. When we drive the truck, we use all the gears - none too many. Please send me another operator's manual - mine has vanished. The Rundschau came for Miss Brucks - the issue for the 4th Advent and the two following issues - it takes 3 months by regular post. A part of Voth's Pulpit Commentary for Brucks has arrived already. Our things are not here yet. We have 2 films to send to Paris. [Kodak 20-exposure prepaid slide film.] Carol is cranky, and I will be away for a few days, so Frieda will have her hands full again.

Love, Theodor, Frieda, Robert and Carol.

Kipungu, March 31, 1954.

Dear Parents and Loved Ones:

When we got home yesterday, your letter had just arrived. You should have our last one, since I mailed it on the 16th. Your letter was stamped the 18th and in Leo the 25th. To Kikwit a plane comes almost every day, but up to here the mail does not arrive too often.

The Administrative Committee meeting was the 16th and 17th in Kikwit. Until the conference, June 13 -20, we are here in Kipungu, Friesens in Kafumba [Kafumba means "elephant's nest"] and Margaret Dyck at Djonga Sanga to help the Derksens. [Actually she stayed in Kafumba until the conference because there was no way for her to get to Djonga Sanga.] Here there are problems of which you know nothing at home. The hope is that at the conference where all members have the right to vote, there will be less friction, that is, in order to solve one issue more smoothly, all the new arrivals are stationed only until the conference. One point of discussion was the distribution of vehicles. Among others, there were new ton panels for Panzi, Matende and Djonga Sanga. The plan did not look so bad, and I wondered where our truck and those of the Friesens and the Baergs would fit into the plan. I did not find out until later that I was to give up our truck so it could go to Djonga Sanga. Friesens' is to go to Matende and only the Baergs are allowed to keep theirs. It seems to me, the plan was to place the vehicles before the owners were here and could say anything about it. I feel that if the Mission Board wants to practice the principle of disowning all vehicles as soon as they get here, it would only have been forthright if they had told the church before the truck was bought.

Here it was not said either that it concerned our truck. Because they acted in such a manner, I am not tying myself to their decision. (Most of the members in the Transportation Committee are driving "private vehicles" that were also donated by churches.) I think the church has a deciding voice in the matter. Until I have your decision, I am telling them I have $1,350 of my own money in the truck, and if they want it, they can repay me that amount and the rest to the church, because they left so much unsaid and created a false impression in the whole matter. Friesens' old truck is to come to Kipungu. Mrs. Friesen says her heart aches when she sees the truck and compares it with the way it was before they went on furlough. They use it for hauling sand from the river for building at Kafumba, but they often have to tow it back with another truck. That is what happens with ownerless vehicles - everyone uses them, no one keeps them in order and no one is responsible. Friesens are to drive Baergs' old half-ton panel that Baergs were glad to get rid of. While we were still to go to Djonga Sanga, Prieb said that I would not drive the truck the first six months; if driving was very necessary, then maybe in three months - now they wanted to take it there - who can understand the whole thing? The matter has not been decided conclusively yet, but I believe you at home should know, because I think you have the final say in the disposition of the truck.

During the conference I felt rather miserable, because both days I had to sit still from early until late. Thursday we did some shopping yet and got home in the evening. Friday I felt good and hauled three loads of sand - about 15 miles there and back. [Don't get the idea that I handled the sand - that lesson I had learned already!] In the evening I had an inflammation so that on Saturday Brucks took us to the doctor at Vanga, a Baptist Mission, 100 miles away. [Four hour drive.] I got a penicillin injection, and the next day it started to improve.

In the evening of the 21st, Friesens arrived at 11 p.m. Baergs had been too tired and stayed for night in Massi-Manimba. They arrived the next morning at 10. Friesens left for Kafumba on Monday and Baergs on Tuesday. Since I was finally on my feet, we left on Wednesday to visit the other stations. Monday Dorothy Kopper had gone along to the dentist and since Br. Brucks planned to go to Kikwit only next Monday, she went along with us from Kikwit. We did some shopping and then drove to Kafumba for night.

The next morning we loaded all our things and at about 3:00 we left for Lusemfu where the Buschmans are. Did it ever pour as we drove! Fortunately it is mostly sand except for the red clay which is like soap when it gets soft. The last 10 kilometers are on a side road. On one stretch the sand had been newly dug up and we got stuck, but we got out in super low because it was down hill. Friday we went along to Gungu where the station is to be moved. With the half-ton panel we got over that spot quite well, but when we started off for Matende Saturday morning, we got thoroughly stuck. [It took a while until I learned how to drive in the Congo.] Fortunately about 100 blacks were there, and they pushed us out. The sand was completely dry which does not take long here, even after a heavy rain.

While I was in Kikwit, Robert was very sick. It took two penicillin shots before the fever let up - 103.6 degrees. Carol was sick too - both coughed. The ink on the other side ran because my arm is perspiring even though it is cool today. When we drove to Kikwit on Wednesday, we did not make it around the sharp corner onto the road along the river. I stopped in order to back up, but the wheels had no traction. We could not move forward, only sideways. We were completely against the sand wall, the front wheel against a tree stump and the axle partly on it. Some blacks dug out the stump. I hooked the chain to the front spring and they pulled sideways, and so we got out and onto the road again. Too bad we did not take a picture there. On the way back it had rained the day before and so we drove a mile farther and turned around there, so we did not have to negotiate that sharp corner. We got to Matende without incident after we got out of the sand. Only at one bridge my passengers did not stay in the truck. Usually there are large tree trunks across the water with smaller ones at right angle across the big ones and planks across these where the wheels go. Here there were no flat planks, only the round poles held together with vines. The whole thing was not even smooth, but we got across without incident. With a movie camera it would have been a good film.

The Ernest Dycks and Anna Goertzen are working at Matende. Sam Ediger's wife and Dr. Schmidt's wife are sisters. Ernest Dyck's wife is a sister to Henry Krahn. Monday morning we left there at 7:45 for Kafumba, because I had to pick up some papers there. We arrived in a big downpour. In some places it must have rained very hard because most of the road was under water. Stayed there for dinner. At 3:00 it had stopped, and since Janzen and Goertzen were going to Kikwit, we went too. In one spot the road is up hill and at the same time around a curve to the left -and it is red earth! The big truck with dual wheels got completely against the bank. They had to dig away the red clay and pour sand. Some blacks pushed, and so they got out. We drove through without getting stuck. In Kikwit we stayed for night at the Mid-Mission guesthouse. In Kipungu it had rained too, and so Br. Brucks only came on Tuesday before noon. We shopped before noon and left for home at 2:30. We drove the 60 miles in a little over 3 hours. With the car we make it in 2 1/2 hours, but with the truck it takes longer.

We are happy to finally be in our assigned place. Wednesday morning a young man started to work for us. His name is Kahuma. Wednesday and Thursday he swept ceiling and walls and washed the floor. Today he washed clothes - it took all day and didn't get dry. We can use Susie Brucks hand washing machine, but we want to buy one with a motor. Because so many have one with a motor, it is difficult to hire someone who will do the laundry. The fridge that we use belongs to the Kliewers and the stove to Anna Goertzen. The fridge is good, but the stove smokes more inside than out. Often we use the gasoline stove with aviation gas at 9 francs per litre = 90 francs for 2 gallons = $1.80. Here they have kerosene stoves called Primus, and they are cheaper to operate because kerosene costs only 5 francs = 50 cents a gallon. Frieda is busy studying Kikwango. [I cannot explain why we did not call it Kituba from the beginning.] I have to do that yet. We have had two lessons already. Mrs. Brucks is our teacher.

Kikwango: I can explain, even if Grandpa can't. Kituba is often called Kikongo simplifiƩ or Kikongo ya leta. (Kikwango is a phonetic spelling of Kikongo, the shift from /o/ to /wa/ is pretty commonplace in diachronic linguistics.) The region Grandpa was stationed in had a number of overlapping tribes with different languages, and the vehicular Kituba was very important in the region. Its main lexifier - traditional Kikongo - was spoken some distance away. Consequently, it's hardly surprising when the vehicular language comes to be called Kikongo by its speakers. The same thing happens in other places: Chinook Wawa speakers might well refer to their language as Chinook, even though that is usually the name of the language of its more or less extinct Penutian lexifier. In the same way, an immigrant from Vietnam to, say, Melbourne doesn't think of the language they have to learn as Aussie, they think of it as English.

Grandma and Grandpa learned the language from a tutor. Lacking any kind of facilities for specialised language education, that's the only way you can learn it. They always said that my dad learned it much faster than they did and was translating for his parents in a few months.

Now to your questions before the page is full. The heat is not too bad, but one cannot work as usual and one tires much more quickly. Robert plays a lot with Brucks girls. They fight some times, but usually it is all right. Carol is eating earth by the handful, and there is nothing we can do to stop her. She still does not say anything except mbote to the natives. So far Frieda has not noticed any difference in the colour of her dresses, but Friesens truck was bright red, like Brauns' car. They painted the roof white and now it is cool compared to the red part. The children are rid of the rash that they got on the ship, but now they are being bitten by sand flies, especially during rainy weather. We rubbed their arms and legs with alcohol.

If it is possible to sell grain, then pay $140 to Susie for our part of Father-in-law's doctor bill. We are happy that you visit them and report to us. Susie promised most faithfully that letters would be waiting for us here, but so far we have not received anything from anyone. As far as newspapers are concerned, we have only received two Gospel Heralds so far. Order the Free Press Weekly for us so we will have paper for making fire - we also want to hear news, even if it is 3 months old. Address: T. C. Martens, A.M.B. Mission, Kipungu via Kikwit, Congo Belge, Africa. Since yesterday we are preparing our own food. What we eat, I'll report next time. For today it is enough. There is still no trace of our freight - it is probably going to Djonga Sanga. The girls [Margaret and Kathryn] got theirs already. Saturday morning - it has rained since midnight, the laundry can't dry, and I can't get the inside of the water barrels painted. Well, farewell.

Love, Theodor, Frieda, Robert and Carol.

Kipungu, April 18, 1954.

Dear Jake and Irene:

Since I am already writing, we'll come for a visit. My watch says it is 10 minutes before 2. If Jake forgot about his Sunday School lesson yesterday, then he may be up already. Today is Easter, but here everything that we associate with Easter is missing. We had not really thought that Easter was here already until we got George Duecks' card. There were no Easter eggs this year; only Miss Kopper boiled chocolate candy and hid four baskets for the children.

I should lie down to rest already, actually I should be getting up already, but dinner was so late today. Our boys have all the time in the world to get things done, and so the food did not get done. Since you read the letters to our parents and they read yours, I will try not to write the same thing.

What did we eat today? For breakfast we had the last tin of tomato juice left over from the trip to New York, then porridge and fried eggs - A-large for here, but barely pullet size for you. For dinner we drank orange juice from 6 oranges. Six oranges cost one franc = 2 cents. Here ordinary oranges as well as mandarin oranges are the same price, and both are green in colour -"no colour added." Today we had roast beef with potatoes and fresh carrots. For dessert we had a tin of boysenberries that Miss Kopper gave us.

So far we do not have a large choice of foods, but what we have comes from all over the world. At the present we have mostly what we bought in Leo. Carnation milk from Holland; Quaker flour from Saskatoon or Peterborough; baked beans from the US with a Leamington, Ontario sticker underneath, a case of assorted jam - few duplicates; 24 two-pound tins from South Africa including tomato jam, peas from the USA, carrots from Belgium, peeled tomatoes from Italy and juice from the US; tomato soup and vegetable beef soup from the US; Vienna sausages similar to frankfurters, but longer, from Denmark; and Pic, from Intercontinental Packers in Saskatoon. [This was the best luncheon meat that we ever tasted, but we have never seen it on sale in Canada.] Fresh meat and vegetables come from Belgium. We eat a lot of rice and macaroni because potatoes are rationed. [Potatoes came from Portugal, and sometimes we were without any for months.] Frieda has even made kjielkje. What we buy here locally is not expensive. Six oranges = 1 franc, 1 egg = 1 franc. One kilo shelled peanuts = 5 francs, so barely 5 cents a pound. Bought a box full [of peanuts] like the one 10 pound pails of syrup come in for 88 francs = $1.76. Bought a stalk of bananas for 4 francs = 8 cents for 72 bananas, but somewhat smaller than those in the store. [This price was exceptionally low for bananas. Usually we paid between 10 and 20 francs for a bundle and had two or three stalks hanging in the pantry. The unfortunate part is that you can only eat so many bananas; you cannot live on them. Peanuts have the same problem. We used them for peanut butter and boiled as a vegetable, but it too is not a staple. We were never able to buy plantains.] Eggs are difficult to get because they don't bring them to us. Our water boy does not have work every day so on Wednesday we sent him to buy eggs. We pay him 1 franc a piece and the profit is his. On Friday when the barrels were full, he asked whether he could go again. The first time he brought 16 eggs, the second time 19.

kjielkje: White flour noodles. Those of you familiar with spƤtzle will know the stuff.

The strong dependency on access to staple crops is something of a sign of the times, and says something about Grandpa. Grandpa had grown up dependent on potatoes - the classic crop of European poverty. This passage highlights the degree to which food choice has a very different relationship to income nowadays, even in the developed world. They ate a lot of rice and macaroni because they just couldn't eat the way the locals ate, and potatoes don't grow very well in Africa, and living on something other than a starchy staple was simply not feasible.

We just hop down to the grocery store and, unless you really are terribly poor, the difference in price between buying decent greens and buying raw staples is not large enough for most people to much care. People can afford to get their nutrition in a more vitamin-rich manner than merely filling up on potatoes, or bread, or rice, or some other starchy food. The real cost of food is the value of the time spent preparing it. One of the causes of obesitiy in America is that people who must work for low wages cannot afford the time to cook good food. The cost of the actual food is relatively small, even compared to the minimum wage. Whether or not it is cost-effective to eat at McDonald's depends first on how you value your time. This change is a shockingly recent development. Even in the 50's in Canada, the cost of raw food was still the major cost of food, and in Africa this was even more true.

The transition to living in Africa had not brought with it the adoption of local cuisine. Grandpa doesn't mention the prospect of using manioc in lieu of potatoes. Plantains seem not to have been available, although clearly Grandpa knew you could use them as a starchy staple. Central Africans eat a lot of manioc, peanuts, bananas and chickens. Grandpa and his family, however, must subsist on the European groceries. Local chickens seem not to have been available, although eggs are. Of course, this implies that the locals needed the chickens for eggs and rarely slaughtered them. Only fresh fruit and peanuts seem to come from local sources.

But note the attention paid to the origins of the canned and preserved food they eat. I heard for years about this ambrosia of luncheon meat, Pic, and how despite it coming from Saskatoon, Grandpa was completely unable to acquire it in Canada. Congo was under a different tariff regime from mainland Belgium. Even though the post-war years were an era of relatively high global trade barriers, Africa was an exception. Vegetables came from Europe and South Africa, meat from places as far apart as Denmark and Saskatchewan, beans from Ontario, relabelled in the USA. Of course, these goods were all priced out of reach of Africans, and as Grandpa points out, they cost considerably more than in Canada. (Later on he estimates that groceries cost about twice as much in Congo.) But these imported foods were obviously accessible to Europeans living in Congo.

This is hardly remarkable in the 21st century. Nowadays, whole nations feed themselves from the holds of container ships. Singapore ramen comes from Nebraska, Saskatchewan and Argentina. Mauritius lives off subsidised European and American staple crops. The breadbasket of China is increasingly places like Manitoba and Indiana. I was mildly surprised once, in Bangkok, to see empty crates of Washington apples stacked up behind my hotel.

But this represented a real change in the nature of colonial economics, and was one step towards decolonisation. An unintended and perhaps unwilling step, perhaps, but when local elites realised that they could buy the good things in life off the decks of American ships just as well as the imported elites could, those local elites had to start asking themselves just what function the colonial power still served. The role of international trade in decolonisation is not, in my opinion, sufficiently emphasised.

Imagine Grandpa's description for a moment from the perspective of a local African. Does Belgium send food to Africa? No, not much, not really. Food comes from South Africa, or Canada, or other parts of Europe. And manufactured goods? No, those mostly come from America, as the mention of car parts further down will show. And are the products - particularly the natural resources - of Belgian Congo shipped back to Belgium? Again, not so much. Even in the Free State period, extracted resources were sold on the global market and time had not changed that aspect of colonialism much. Belgium was a small consumer of Congo's exports. If the productivity of Congo doesn't go to Belgium, and the needs of Congo are not fulfilled with Belgian products, exactly what purpose does Belgium serve?

One of the great appeals of socialism was - and is - that it enables its advocates to look at this balance of real trade and say, correctly, that foreign rule is transparently stupid. Socialism also provides a simple - indeed, far too simple - explanation for what was going on. This is, I expect, one of the major reasons why various forms of socialism proved so popular among post-colonial administrations.

Of course, for us it is a good deal more obvious how access to capital and the management of risk played a part in what was really a much more complex set of relations. The failure to clearly see the symbolic networks of capital that lay beneath the surface of late colonialism may explain why so many post-colonial nations were such suckers for the kind of neo-colonialism we've seen in more recent years.

Week before last on Wednesday, Henry Brucks and his sister went away and wanted to be back on Saturday. Friday the fridge began to defrost, so on Saturday we melted off all the ice, filled in kerosene and cleaned the wick. Then I could not get it to burn again. The flame is supposed to burn blue, but I could not get it to do that, no matter what. Henry's plans went the way of Burns' poem: The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley. They got back to Kikwit on Saturday, but with a broken spring, so they had to stay till Monday and returned Tuesday. Susie lit the fridge on Wednesday morning, but we had to put it out to clean the smoke pipes, and Henry couldn't light it to burn blue either, but Susie managed right away. We cooked all our meat and ate, but some went bad on us, especially most of the bacon. In general the price of most articles is about the same in francs here as cents at home, in other words double, except meat is even more. Only flashlight batteries are cheaper: 6 francs = 12 cents each. So far I have not seen any size C for the camera. If you send us a parcel next Christmas include a pair. I sent two colour films to Paris a month ago, but they are not back yet. Here I have been writing English - I guess Burns got me off the track.

Except for the one who carries the water, we have two boys in the house. Sometimes Frieda is at the point of despair. The first one - Kahuma - has done some work in the house, but the second one is inexperienced. When Ahanikau, the second one came, the first one was very excited. Brucks had told him that if there was trouble, he would not be staying. Now he feared the other one would steal, and he would be blamed. Later we had the problem that the first one palmed his work off on the second. Now the first one is helping in the house and the other one does the laundry on Monday and Thursday. That gives him two days in between for ironing, better said for burning, for I fear it will take a set of clothes. My brown pants have a crease in a completely new place. We had to wash all my clothes, because they became mouldy in Kafumba while I was sick over here. They also absorb so much perspiration. Frieda has more work keeping the boys working than she did at home doing everything herself. Hopefully they will improve in time.

One day Frieda was baking bread. She put the pans on the stove and lay down to rest. She wanted to do the baking at the single ladies house. In the meantime they sent their "cook" to inquire when the oven was to be hot. He knows a little bit more than our boy, so he instructed our boy in the art of baking. Our guy was so enthusiastic that he took the dough down right away and baked it before it had risen. When I got up, [We always rested until 2:00.] I wondered where Kahuma had stayed. Finally, I looked to see if the bread was still there, and then everything became clear to me.

One day we had less work, so we told the boys they did not need to come back until 2:30. The one went to his village; the other asked if he could go to the dispensary and did not return either. That afternoon it was calm and quiet in our house - but talk of labour problems! The amount of work they accomplish is terrific or rather the lack of it. What they get ironed in two days, Frieda could do in three hours without burning any thing.

I have reattached the overload springs on the truck, because we often haul sand and the road is rough. One rear spring can't be lubricated, and I have been unable to remove the little bolt that keeps the shackle in. Has Dad mailed the operator's manual already? See if you can get me a Shop Manual for Chevrolet Trucks preferably covering our '54 model. That is a thicker book, about one inch thick and a larger format. Send it by regular mail. The truck did not want to start properly until I opened the points more and retarded the spark. Now it runs well when it is warm, but until I am down the hill it does not operate too well. I miss Dave [Stoesz] and Albert [Wohlgemuth of Niverville Motors] quite often.

They would have work here for a whole year just bringing mission vehicles into order - and that is very essential. The old vehicles last only until they need major repairs. Kikwit is well supplied with Ford parts, but Chevrolet has been in the hands of the Portuguese until now, and they only stocked parts for their own people. Did I tell you that I had taken the carburettor completely apart? Irvin Friesen happened to be here, and he had a shop manual that illustrated all the parts and described the process step by step. Tomorrow I want to try the shackles again. We have to get our stove from Kikwit, cement and gasoline. To get there I will have to take gasoline out of Henry's carryall, because the barrel is empty and my tank does not have much either. Friday we went with some men to build a village school. I'll write about it next time. On the way back we bought a fair-sized pig for 600 francs - $12.00. Here the pigs are black and appear skinny, but they produce a lot of lard. Unfortunately, it was not good for eating, so we sold it to the blacks. They eat it with skin, insides and, even a few hair so they know they are eating pork. Greet Brother and Sister Dueck from us. Too bad they did not fill the inside of the card with writing. The children have really sore arms and legs from sand fly bites, especially Carol. Mine are healing - largest was the size of a nickel. Frieda has several too. The skin is puffed up with puss underneath and spreads farther and farther. Last Tuesday my face was all bitten up, it itched for several days, but did not break out in puss.

Love, Theodor, Frieda, Robert and Carol

P.S. Irene, did they used to call you Dicky? Well a diki is one egg and vanda means sit down. Haven't found Hedy yet. [Kota - tom cat in Low German - means come in.]


Kipungu, April 26,1954.

Dear Loved Ones:

Theodor is bathing the children and putting them to bed, and as I am a lady of leisure these days, I thought maybe I should drop in for a few minutes. It's 8 o'clock but pitch dark outside. We are 8 hours ahead of you, so you must be enjoying your dinner at present. It gets dark soon after 6 p.m. except when it is full moon. We are living on top of a mountain. The scenery is beautiful and towards evening you look across the valleys and see here rises some smoke, there another and another; each represents a village. Each village represents souls that are still in darkness.

When we come to a village, the first thing we see is goats; they are always on the road. By the time the goats and chickens are out of the way, the children come running to the road, very often with a friendly mbote or else take us along. Young and old stand and stare. The natives and the goats act very much the same. When you drive along and see some natives ahead of you, especially women, they'll start running, then turn out of the way up the bank or else pressed as close to the mountain as possible, just like the goats. Natives on bicycles are the most dangerous things you can meet on the roads. You never know which way they will turn; usually they turn right in front of you and cross over to the other side. Or else they throw themselves off the bicycle to the side and often land up right in front of you. They never use their brakes.

May 2nd. Today is Sunday. Theodor has gone to a baptism service, but the children and I stayed home. Sundays here are so different than at home. At 9 the bell rings, and then we go to church. We whites sit on the platform; the blacks sit down below. At first there is singing and if we have a songbook, we sing along - the melodies are all familiar. Then comes a prayer and the offering: some give money, others corn cobs or manioc. These are later sold to the blacks. Then comes the sermon which we cannot understand yet. After the closing song the people march out in orderly fashion. On the men's side sit the workmen, then the schoolboys and behind them the people from the village. On the women's side the first are the girls out of the fence, then the workmen's wives and behind them the sick that come to the dispensary. Everyone sits in the assigned section. After church we go home, and the boys make dinner. After the meal we lie down. The boys work only half a day on Sunday. After our nap we write letters or read if mail has arrived, or we study or play with the children. Then we eat supper. At 7 the children go to bed, and we go to church. After the service we have a prayer meeting among the whites. Writing letters is almost impossible when Carol is awake - she wants to sit at the table and then she wants down again. She calls everything "down." When the door is closed and she wants to go out, she says, "Mommy, door." Her teeth are not through yet. Friday we saw the first scorpion in our house - in the storeroom. Theodor was cleaning up in there. For the children's room I sewed curtains on a hand sewing machine.

Of our freight there is still no news. Carol has been eating on her own for quite a while already - she eats porridge and eggs for breakfast. When we ask, "Where is Oma?" she says "bye-bye." When she is supposed to go to bed she says "ni-ni" [night-night], and when we go somewhere we say "knock-knock" instead of knocking on the door, and she is starting to do that too. When Susie's parrot died the children were very sad, especially Robert. Now he doesn't want a parrot until then he wanted to have one too. Susie has another one now, only this one does not talk as much.

It is 10 and time to go to bed. You probably just got up from an afternoon nap.

Love, Frieda.

Kipungu, May 1, 1954.

Dear Parents and Loved Ones:

Monday we want to go to Kikwit because Br. Brucks wants to mail some letters. [He was Legal Representative for the Mission and was working on the applications and estimates for government subsidies for the building in subsequent years.] He worked three weeks on the applications for hospital, schools, maternity, etc. and does not want to trust a runner with them. Tomorrow we want to go to a baptism at Kilembe, about an hour away. [Actually it was more like two.]

A few days ago we received the copy of the letter that Br. [William] Dyck wrote to the Mission Board. For Kipungu the truck is of great value at the present time. The last two days I have been hauling tree trunks with it. [Three to four inches in diameter, but usually much thinner.] The school for which they applied to the government has been denied. This week I drew a blue print for another school that can be built for less and should find more ready acceptance. The present school situation is such that we need a building immediately. We want to erect a building of poles with grass roof, about 30 steps long and 4 or 5 wide. The other is to be 50 meters long by 8 1/2 meters wide with 6 classrooms 6 x 8 meters inside. The two days before that I hauled red earth for the floor of the church. Up here the red earth is too sandy to get hard. If the men carry the tree trunks up to here, they can only make two trips a day carrying 5 or 6 at one time. When I haul them, they can easily chop 40 in a little over half a day after they walk 7 1/2 miles to get there. Sand I have not been hauling for some time. Tomorrow we want to go with our truck, because there is too much to take along again. Yesterday one tire was flat. I thought for sure I had another cut, because I hit a tree stump with the rear wheel. I had to drive around it, because the road at that corner had been washed out by the rain. It was still fairly wet and I could not come to a stop. Today we took the tire apart, but it was the patch that had been vulcanised in New York. It had let loose at the edge and rubbed through the tube. Had to put on the new tire until this one is repaired. I still have not found any patching cement or rubber for patching here. Pumped the tire up with the motor and since we had one plug out already, I removed all of them and cleaned them. Afterwards we noticed that two of them sparked - the porcelain was cracked. No wonder that the motor did not want to run when it was cold! We installed two of Henry's old ones and now it starts like new.

This evening we have the windows open, and because we have no screens, the insects are buzzing around our heads. Last time Henry bought screening in Kikwit, and soon they will be made. Here everything takes time. That time we left here at 4:30 a.m. and were back at 8:00 p.m. with the truck heavily loaded. We travelled very well up to the bottom of our hill. [It was 2 miles to the top by road.] There it had rained, accompanied by quite a storm, so that we had to remove 4 trees from the road. One was so big we chopped off the branches and drove through underneath. [The axe we brought with us was kept in the truck and used only for these occasions. I was able to buy a 4-foot crosscut saw from someone. We also kept it in the truck. It too helped us out a number of times.] On that spot we had to remove two trees. That was not bad, because I always keep the axe in the truck, but the driver ants plagued us a lot. [We rolled up our pants and pulled out our shirts. The ants bite when they feel cornered. One of us would go in with the axe, take a few chops at the tree and then back out. While the other one chopped away, the first one removed the ants that had crawled up his legs. The roads are cut into the side of the hills, removing the protection that the trees grew up with. In a heavy wind from a wrong angle, the remaining trees higher up will come down onto the road.]

Here on the station the wind had removed the roof from a three-room house for the sick, and the people had to sit in the rain. On our house it lifted the roof loose too. Frieda had been sick since noon that day. At first we thought the fever was malaria, but then we became aware that it was blood poisoning in her leg. She had to have two penicillin injections, and then it took exactly a week before she was back on her feet again, but she still feels the leg. One evening I had my feet in hot soap water from 7:00 to 8:45 and then compress all night. That removed the pus so that now they are finally healing. Yesterday we tried it with Carol by bathing her for a long time, and then for night we wrapped both legs and one arm with compress, but one cannot make the water hot enough. Tried again today. Maybe you think we are the only ones sick - Br. Brucks has malaria almost every week, only he is not very sick, but the temperature is there. For that reason I had to lead the service Sunday evening. Fortunately we had learned to count that week. Their children are frequently ill too. Yesterday one of them had a long worm, so that today they had to take medicine. They often had such severe colds that they thought of pneumonia, but worms can cause the same symptoms. Of our freight only the stove has arrived by mistake. We were disappointed because the stove is not enamelled and does not have a shelf as the picture illustrated.

We have so many other things to do that we do not have nearly enough time for language study, but little by little we are making progress. So far we have never felt that we are in the wrong place. The beginning is the most difficult time with language study and sickness, but in time things will be better. Tuesday evening the Statesman [from Pai Congila] was here with his wife and the Administrator from Masi-Manimba to have supper with the Bruckses. One feels so dumb without knowing French. We showed them the two films that finally came back from Paris. [All our pictures were coloured slides from the 35mm camera.] Most of the pictures are very good. Both of the pictures from your silver wedding anniversary are excellent.

Actually this letter is just started, but tomorrow we want to get started early - at 4:30. We only got home at 7:00. It is a bit after 8:00 and we still have to go to the prayer meeting. In Kilembe, 15 were baptized. There are many more candidates. One woman gave her testimony in '48 already. One girl was received back into fellowship. She had had a baby but could not be received until the child could walk to prove that she would not do it again. That sin is the greatest plague here, because they know so little of family life and, according to their custom, there is nothing wrong with swapping wives. One teacher was fired here on the station, because he had written to one of his female students. One student was spanked for it last week. The blacks do that themselves - each one gives three strokes - here there were four men at it, but the chap did not make a sound. [They use a length of vine a good quarter of an inch in diameter for that purpose. The vine is called kodi - thus to get kodi means to be spanked. Whites are not allowed to touch blacks.] Of three teachers in the villages we hear the same accusations, but if one tries to investigate, then everything is denied, even by those who made the accusation in writing. When we got to Kilembe, our schoolgirls had just left with their manioc on their heads - by car 42 miles and on foot it must be at least half that. On the way back not far from here the children were just starting out as it was getting dark and today there is no moonlight. At home we would not even expect that from an adult, but here it is different. From the river to the village was a 45-minute walk. The woman that had given her testimony so often carried Henry's briefcase on her head and my windbreaker on top of that. That would not be expected of a woman at home. One woman came to ask for forgiveness and digs, better said hacks, a field. [The field is tilled with a heavy hoe. Probably done as a penance.] Her husband is a teacher in Vanga [a Baptist] and since she is his second wife, she had to go. For such the temptation is especially severe. Pray for our Christians that they may remain faithful. It is 10:30. Tomorrow we want to leave a little later at 5:00, but until 4:00 is not much time left for sleeping.

Love, Theodor

Whites are not allowed to touch blacks: I suspect this is from the Free State era, when justice delivered by white folks reached massacre levels. But this highlights how the missionaries were not seen as a part of the community. All through Grandpa's narrative, it is clear that he - and the other missionaries - had not done what is nowadays considered so terribly important: They had not gone native.

This is very much at odds with current thinking. Nowadays, the hard core defenders of relativism in anthropology count among their number missionary training institutions like the Summer Institute of Linguistics. The importance of seeing native societies as they see them is now considered essential to the task of the missionary and the cultural anthropologist alike. This perspective pervades the modern literature on Bible translation.

This lesson has not only been learned by missionaries, but by others as well. Mao insisted on much the same thing: He made the party cadres work in the fields with the peasants. Guzman, when he was founding Sendero Luminoso in Peru, took his soft, middle class university students out into the hills to live with the peasants. They worked in the fields with hoes, raising crops without machinery, and sat in mud huts with the peasants, eating bad food and drinking dirty water. This did a great deal to endear Guzman and his movement to the rural masses and accounts for much of the long term popularity that this syncretic (if not simply ideologically confused) form of Maoism has in Peru.

But there is something else interesting going on here too. Take a good look at that last paragraph from Grandpa again. It highlights something very interesting and genuinely problematic. Grandpa does sound a lot like the - I suspect somewhat apocryphal - missionary who makes the locals wear European clothes, since they seem quite unashamed of their nakedness. Grandpa's rather dim view of African sexual tolerance echos exactly such complaints made again and again - in Africa, America and Europe alike - of how the dark people get it on like bunnies. These complaints are often false, often true and in any case quite beside the point in any discussion of human rights.

The problem is not that Congolese natives know so little of family life. Quite the contrary: As far as I can tell, Africans are fanatical about their families. It's just that the prevailing conception of appropriate family life does not seem to exclude the notion that the husband might get a little nookie on the side. But don't get the idea that when Grandpa talks about wife swapping he's talking about some kind of alcohol or drug assisted consensual hedonism among bored middle-aged professionals. It's unlikely that the women were ever asked to consent. Africa is a long, long way from anything like western feminism, and the half century since Grandpa was in Africa hasn't brought a lot of change on that front. Poor treatment of women was common enough before colonisation, and didn't stop with its arrival or departure. Grandpa highlights the fate of the second wife: to have to do all the hard work because she is the number 2 wife. He also mentions the firing of a teacher from the mission school - and credible accusations against three more teachers - for making advances on female students who were themselves likely no more than 15 years old.

Christian missionaries viewed this sort of thing as a moral failure. But, it is primarily a symptom of the gross disempowerment of women in Africa. Organisations combatting AIDS in Africa are now quite a lot clearer about how the disempowerment of women is the principal cause of the AIDS pandemic in the developing world.

I tutored a Nigerian student here in Leuven a few years ago, who gushed over his wife and kids in Nigeria, and kept a young Flemish girlfriend on the side. When I asked him if his wife knew about her, his response was: "Scott, you're not African. It's different for us." Yeah, right. You don't have to be a missionary to take a dim view of treating women like doormats.

The problem with the missionary position (pun sort of intended) is that making monogamous heterosexual pair bonding into a moral issue misses the real problem. This is not about sexual liberation, it is about the empowerment of women. I have made and continue to make the same argument about the headscarf in France and Germany. The problem is not girls wearing headscarves to school, the problem is the disempowerment of Muslim women, of women in the cités, and of whole Muslim communities in France. Addressing headscarves is not only not a step towards solving the real underlying problem, it is a step in the opposite direction. It further orders women and minority community members around, instead of empowering them.

Polygamy is not a major public issue in the west. It still happens in some communities, but it's fairly rare. A libertarian view of polygamy is usually quite simple: Where there is consent, there is no grounds for opposition. But, I want to enunciate a strongly anti-libertarian principle, one which I think is profoundly important and is the centre of the case against libertarianism as a moral philosophy: To the degree that the participants in an agreement or act are unequal in power, it is in the public interest - and yes, in my interest - to monitor and regulate that relationship.

I agree quite fully with the notion that the sexual relationships and household arrangements of empowered men and women should not require my approval. A polygamous relationship under such conditions isn't anybody else's business. But where such relationships are between people with very big differences in access to the power to control their own lives - pedophilia in an extreme case but also the kind of forced polygamy that takes place in a few isolated Mormon communities, or the kinds of family relationships that seem to be all too common in Africa - then it is my business, even where some form of nominal consent has been secured. This same logic applies to employment contracts, where employers and employees have very different amounts of power; or to doctor-patient relationships; and yes, in a world where men and women are not genuinely equally empowered, it applies to marriage and sex.


Kipungu, May 3, 1954.

Dear Aunts Wanda and Hedy:

I don't like it in Africa - it's no fun here, too hot and stuff. They are going to build a maternity ward and then they get a plant [a generator] - then we will have electric light. We will use the burn lamps anyway from fire. I planted one pai-pai plant, the other won't grow. [My note: pai-pai: a cultivar of papaya] You have to throw stump rot on right away, otherwise they won't grow. [Bainti ya kupola - rotten tree stumps - were used as fertilizer. The soil was so leached that it had hardly any fertility left.] On the other hill from Kipungu is Kinika; we can see it from Kipungu. Today I was playing dominoes. One day I was playing boat, I had two round thick sticks, one was shorter than the other, those were on the ground for boats and I had two other thin sticks to push like a canoe and the fence girls watched and laughed. [Schoolgirls used to be kept inside an actual fence, probably so they would not run away during the night. The fence was no longer there, but the name stayed. The thinking used to be that girls were unable to learn. That took a long time to overcome.] [My note: African attitudes towards women at work again.]

When Florence [Brucks] and I say crazy things to each other, they laugh too; they thought it was funny. Daddy and I go to get sand, but now we aren't any more. The sick people carried the red dirt into the church. They didn't use all of it. We have wild manioc trees all around the fence. Daddy went to Kilembe today, and I was angry because he never takes us along. When I'm finished with the letter, I'm going to pick some native flowers. This is the Kipungu church. A native hut, grass roof and the brown is pute-put - that means mud. This is written with Robert's pen that he got on the boat for his birthday - ballpoint.

The natives eat ndolo mingi [mingi = much] - ndolo are the flying ants - they have three wings. Florence eats them too, but I don't she got a spanking for eating them. [They are said to have a sweet taste.] Carol is too loud, I can't think, she is singing so loud. I chase Ahaniko with my stick and he ran because he was scared. I will yet marry you when I'm big enough. I will show you how to make a mud house when I come back. That's one way of saving cement. Carol is singing. Mommy no. Avion is an airplane in Kikongo. [Avion is the French word for airplane.] The natives make mats from palm sticks - they tie them together with string so it is a mat. We have a wash line like Grandma's. They have a fridge here but it is not ours. Once we had ice cream. Carol tears many books. She always says down when she wants to be up. Today I played with the tow truck that you crated when I was supposed to sleep. We have a box with which I play car, but today I played boat. Boats I like too, and I put a lid on for a motor and for a boat I take it off.

With love and kisses, Robert and Carol

Posted 2005/02/15 11:22 (Tue) | TrackBack

A couple of years ago, the French government decided to cancel the residence permits of polygamous African immigrants who refused to divorce their second wives. Regardless of whether the wives were victims of unequal power relations, this doesn't seem to be a helpful policy.

Posted by: David at February 16, 2005 16:53

Yeah, something strikes me as wrong about telling some already disempowered second wife that because her husband married two women, now she has to lose what little status and security she has. The French state is really not very good with empowerment. It isn't hopelessly evil, but the idea that problems can't just be legislated out of existence still hasn't sunk in, more than 200 centuries after the First Republic failed to abolish Catholicism.

Posted by: Scott Martens at February 16, 2005 22:58

200 centuries? Robespierre was a Gaul? Wow, someone should probably have told Goscinny & Underzo ;-)

Yeah, doing that retroactively was pretty evil. Still, legal, fictional, separations were common enough where I grew up--pragmatically, has getting legal divorces really been a problem?

Posted by: Aidan Kehoe at February 16, 2005 23:21

Doh! Read either 200 years or two centuries.

Posted by: Scott Martens at February 17, 2005 7:16

Thank you so much Scott.

Posted by: anne at February 20, 2005 3:42

I have some information about J.Michotte which would probably of interest to you. I also own some of his etchings and paintings. Please feel free to contact me. Regine Archer

Posted by: Regine Archer at June 28, 2005 12:48

I am the daughter of Regine Archer, above, and I, too, own one etching by J. Michotte.

Feel free to contact me or my mother for further information on this Belgian artist.

Posted by: Nancy A. Doucette at June 29, 2005 3:50

I have a large oil painting by J Michotte would appreciate additional information. It is a painting of old town street with people it is done on an artist panel not canvas and stretcher. seems to have been purchased in New York according to label of framer on back paper. any information would be helpful. regards, George

Posted by: george at January 5, 2006 0:10

My parents were good friends of Joseph Michotte and his wife, Line. I remember the Michotte's apartment quite well, in New York City, circa 1965; it was on East 76th St. between Madison and 5th Ave. I visited there quite often as a child. We have many, many of his fine paintings on our walls. I am quite fond of them. There are many scenes from the Belgian Congo, as well as street and rural scenes from Belgium, and landscapes from Long Island. Jo Michotte died early, as I recall - probably around 1970, at a young age. His wife lived for many years after Jo's death, was terribly afflicted with rhumatoid arthritis; I remember visiting her many times at Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. Mr. Michotte was, in my unqualified opinion, a true master, who never knew fame or fortune. His paintings, eaux-fortes, watercolors, sketches are magnificient, and I have never tired of them. Thanks.

Posted by: John Hertog at May 27, 2006 5:12

Dear Mr. Hertog,

Would you please contact me if you have the time concerning paintings by the Belgian, J. Michotte. My mother and I also had a friend who was a friend of the Michottes and we would like to make contact with you, if possible.

Nancy Doucette
Salem, VA

Posted by: Nancy Doucette at July 26, 2006 3:38

Dear Mr Hertog;
Thank you so much for posting your comments about J. Michotte, and your parents'relationship with him. I am originally from Belgium, and had a wonderful friend, also from Belgium, By the name of Jacqueline Lambrechts, who later became Jacqueline Szalay. She had met Jo Michotte during an ocean crossing, and became a very good friend of the Michottes. Jacqueline and I met in Roanoke, Va., shortly before Linne came to live with her in Blacksburg, Va. I had the privilege of meeting Linne, and visiting with her and the Szalays many times. As you stated, she was in very bad shape, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
Unfortunately, Linne passed away, and then I also lost Jacqueline and Jo Szalay, who both passed away within a short time of each
other, about 3 years ago. Will call you, Regine

Posted by: Regine Archer at July 26, 2006 18:51
Post a comment

Remember personal info?