Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Nothing of interest to report. Would you like to read about my travels in the Central African Republic again?


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. 250px-Bangui_collage.png (250×286)   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 rein.
jpeg (186×186)The Soviet Union was making overtures to that country for a while. They even taught Russian language 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!                                          jpeg (134×97)
     We were suppose to visit a couple of cities in the CAR. An African brother would usually accompany us, to keep us from trouble.
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     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. 
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     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".

Phew! Prompted by a strong aversion to giving myself up to the native fauna, I found a place to wash my face, scratched at my hair until it, at least, laid down, and marched our small group to the nearby (and only) motel. A girl in the office told us that, her parents, the owners of the motel and the Mayor of the city and his wife, were out of town. She decided to help us, though, and gave us two rooms for free. They were just tiny windowless cubby-holes, with no source of light, but it beat sleeping outside. images (275×183)   I was alone in the room. As soon as I closed the door, full darkness descended: I couldn't even see a hand in front of my face. When I went to the shower, which was outside, for all tenants to use, I realized, there was no light there either. I went to find a maintenance guy, to ask him for a flashlight. It was a mistake. The flashlight cast very tiny light, but - a lot of large shadows. They were the shadows of every bug in the shower that I didn't need, or want, to see! At one point the flashlight fell and whirled on the floor. A macabre show passed in front of me: insects of every size or nature, covering the walls and the ceiling.
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     Falling asleep wasn't a problem, but, just a little later, I was awakened by a loud cracking bang. I sat up in bed, sure that someone was trying to break the door. "They got the guys already!" - I thought in panic. Another bang and then another! They sounded even more ominous, since I couldn't see anything at all in the room. In between the bangs I heard some kind of liquid whispering. As all this continued to go on without anybody actually showing up in my room, I realized that the noise was coming from some fruit falling on the tin roof, and the whispers were, the dew coming off the tree. At least, that's what I decided to believe.
     The morning brought more surprises. In the communal bathroom's corner I saw a nest made of some material, the nature of which we do not discuss in polite company. The opening of the nest was at least two inches wide. I really didn't want to meet whomever occupied that nest!
     We wandered around, looking at sites and people. The City Hall was the finest building in the city: it was made of alabaster marble, the perfect dome testifying to a Muslim influence in its architecture. 

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     I pulled out my camera (the sad experience of almost getting beat up by a crowd for trying to take their picture taught me nothing). "Don't"- said the African brother. "Why", - I replied, - "the people of Bosum would, probably, be happy to show off their beautiful City Hall!"
     The second I took that picture, we were taken in custody and brought into the same City Hall for questioning by the Deputy Mayor. He took his time with us, covering his lofty behind, in case if someone asks, why he let some foreigners take pictures of their precious City Hall. I fell back on my memory of being questioned by the KGB and did fine, blinking like a naive idiot and spouting all kinds of flattery for Bosum, the CAR, the City Hall and the Deputy Mayor. Finally, he decided that he did his duty and sent us to register at the Police Department. 

     We walked there under guard, who rode a bicycle, while trying not to drop a huge Russian rifle. The guard directed us onto a path through a lot, overgrown by tall, man's height, grass. As we walked into the middle of it, he got off the bicycle and took off his rifle. "That's it" - I thought - "nobody will even know, what happened to us!"
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                                           The guard was scary, but at least there was no rhinoceros!

     The guard said in French "You must now take my picture and send it back to me after you develop it!" Incensed, I attempted to tell him where I'd like to put that picture, but Gabriel, the African brother, wisely clapped his hand over my mouth and shut me up. The authorities triumphed over me again! 
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  After registering at the Police Department, another interrogation by the Chief of Police, and visiting a friend of our church who lived in the house of the Head of the Gendarmerie (the Sheriffs), I realized that we managed to meet all of the City Government's figures. So much for trying to keep a low profile!    
     The second trip was just as memorable, with tiny variations. Another bus, more of the intimate interlocking of the knees with total strangers. This time, a goat ate a lady's skirt, and a Muslim passenger threw a smoked antelope that someone was bringing home for Christmas dinner, out of the window, because it stunk to high Heaven or, may be, it was a sin to have a smoked antelope in a close proximity to a Muslim. 
     Talking about Muslims: that part of the world is largely populated by them. As the result of it, five times a day everything stops and the faithful followers of the prophet Mohammad (revered be his name) get on their knees on little rugs, which they carry with them, bow in the direction of Mecca and say their prayers, while others are left to wait for the resumption of the daily routine or pray in their own way. I was very impressed by the Muslims' religious discipline.                                                           
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     This time we stayed in someone's house. It was a one story structure, where our hosts lived in good rooms, and we had a pleasure to sleep in the empty, rubble strewn parts of it. All that was OK, because the house had a real shower in the hosts' quarters! Our rooms didn't have glass in the windows (I guess, it was a rarity in Africa). All night long, I kept looking at the ruin of a shower, sure that a snake was making its way out of the rubble to have it's way with me! 
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 Early, earlyearly in the morning, a rooster flew up on the sill of the window-opening and yelled his, all important (because he had to repeat it so many times), message into our rooms. The empty walls and cavernous spaces echoed for about twenty minutes in reply. We got up, dressed and came out into the dark, cold yard. Before we started a morning prayer, the wife of our host came up to ask, what we wanted for dinner that evening. "Chicken" we replied in grim unison, pointing at the blighted rooster!
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     Even from the house, we could see a hill with a large cross on its top. That's where we decided to go first. I persuaded the guys to get a taxi. The driver brought us to the bottom of the hill, told us that he'll pick us up 40 minutes later from the same spot and rode away, wiggling on the gravelly road. We made our way up the hill, following another lady with swaying hips and a basin, full
of cassava, on her head. 
     The hill itself gave off an aura of tragedy. It was burnt black, with no shrubs or grass to soften the impression. The cross on the top had no sign or explanation. It was just there. We stood together, numb from the implications of that symbolism: a cross on a barren hill. The prayer was the only appropriate response to our emotions. 
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     Thoughtful, we walked down to our meeting place with a taxi. Thinking about it now, I believe, the silence around us meant something. 
     A man showed up from around the corner of the fence. He kept shouting something. Gabriel yelled: "Run!" From what?! 
A bull followed the man!
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     It was white and massive, at least six-seven feet tall in the shoulders, with the horns, jutting straight out of its head. As if it already knew, that we were there, the bull charged us. I was half my present weight then, but I never ran that fast! Another man showed up, with a whip. He hit the bull and returned it on its previous course. The whole thing took just about half a minute. We stood there, panting in relief, when the next bull showed up. We sprinted madly, not believing ourselves to be able to outrun the certain death behind us. Again, a man with a whip came to our rescue, but the third bull was already there
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     A small farm was nearby, and we dashed towards it, with a bull in hot pursuit. Like in the movies, our courageous taxi driver raced his car into the farm's yard. We jumped in. The bull tried to gore the taxi with his horns, but the car tore away. Pop-eyed and out of breath, we didn't know what to say to each other. Who would believe this wild story?                       

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