The next day we all had breakfast of fried plantains on banana leaves on the other side of the lake. A young woman, about eighteen years old, came walking to our camp with a baby. She and a baby were naked as jay-birds. She sat on a side and begged for help, without saying a word. I bought some plantains for her and the whole camp watched me bring it to the mother and the baby. I almost tripped under such a scrutiny. And I had my clothes on!
BANGUI/BOSUM, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
A huge river, Ubangi, runs on the border of Zaire and the CAR. We boarded a pirogue (!) with a motor on it and went flying, low in the water, to the other shore. Bangui, the capital of the CAR, was smaller then Kinshasa and a little cleaner, too.
From 1965 to 1979 it was ruled by Bokassa, who declared himself an emperor. He became famous for the massacres and even cannibalism during his reign.
The Soviet Union was making overtures to that country for a while. They even taught Russian in the CAR's schools!
I lived in a large house with other church members in the midst of a small village on the outskirts of Bangui. Another American missionary was there too (the one who alerted our church to my coming). He was a strange fellow: his reddish hair was always messed up, the bottom of his pants was often dirty and the fly, sometimes, undone. He always managed to end up doing the right thing though!
Wherever we went, a crowd of children would follow in our footsteps, yelling: "Mundeli!" That word was not a curse, neither did it mean "white persons". It turned out, that the only non-black person they ever saw, was a Chinese doctor. Mundeli was a word for Chinese people!
We were suppose to visit a couple of cities in the CAR. An African brother would usually accompany us, to keep us from trouble.
On the first trip, we took a small bus to a small town called (don't laugh!) Bosum. The seats on that bus ran not across, as they usually do, but from front to back. So there were just four long benches where people had to sit facing each other, with their knees interlocked, like the cogs of a gear. No matter how crowded the bus already was, the driver would stop for anyone on the road, and we'd have to make a place for a newcomer. The interlocked knees provided great surface for a meal, a card game or for changing a baby. Underneath our legs the hens and goats, as far as we could hear it, were having a grand time.The trip took 8 hours. The bus didn't have windows, so the dark ochre tropical dust settled freely on everything inside. When we arrived, I looked like a devil, - my hair - red and standing in spikes, the whites of my eyes were the only white spots on my face, caked in a red sweaty mask.
My plan was to stay low, not get noticed too much. Someone was suppose to meet us, but he didn't show up. Upon some inquiries, we found out that he was out of town, so there wasn't really a place for us to spend the night. The person with whom we talked was very helpful: he said, we could sleep in the abandoned stadium. At the thought of sleeping on the grass in the stadium filled with all kinds of African creepy crawlies, the red spiky hair on my head started to move all on their own. I guess, my white eyes blew up to frightening proportions, because the man hurriedly stepped back. "Or", - he said - "you can try to get a room at the motel".