January 26, 1975

Dear Lyla, Grace, Cal, Dick, Pat & Bruce,

Are you interested in hearing about our trip? If so, keep on reading; otherwise toss this aside.

On Saturday, Dec. 7, we finally decided not to wait any longer for Sen. Jackson to try to get us a waiver for all the excess baggage we had which included buttons, needles, thread, Jell-O, prepared puddings, cake mixes, ice tea mix, Kool Aid, Christmas presents from us, from Jeanne, and from the Kleins. Just shortly after our decision John phoned from Kinshasa wanting to know when we were going so Wilbur immediately phoned our travel agent in Pennsylvania and made arrangements to leave the next morning at 9 a.m. All the rest of the day we were getting ready and packing and unpacking trying to decide what to leave behind. I finally ended up with two cotton dresses, and one long dress to wear there and a slack suit with jacket to wear in New York and in London. I got mighty tired of those two dresses! (I would have felt much more comfortable wearing nothing at all. It was hot and humid.)

Our flight from Seattle couldn’t land at Kennedy in N.Y. so we landed in Newark, N.J. and by the time the van sent by the air company to shuttle us to Kennedy arrived we had missed our plane to Zaire. As there are only two flights a week to Kinshasa the air company paid our lodging and meals for two days in New York City. We stayed near the airport and took the subway and bus and street car into the city the two days we were there. We walked miles looking at everything. I was disappointed in the 5th Ave. shops. Those in Seattle are much more modern and not so cluttered. We went on one sight seeing tour, went up in the Empire State Bldg. and visited the Museum of Natural History. The morning we left there was ice on the puddles outside the motel so my wool slacks felt good. However, when we arrived in Africa and it was 80 to 90 degrees they didn’t feel so good.

The plane had stops in Dakar, Senegal; Monrovia, Liberia; Accra, Ghana (where Jeanne went to college); and in Lagos, Nigeria. Dakar was the most colorful. Pictures could be taken in all ports but Lagos. There we weren’t allowed to walk from the plane to the terminal but had to take a bus. Military police kept us within the limits. On the way to Kinshasa the plane developed engine trouble and had to turn back to Lagos and there we were cooped up in an unconditioned (air, that is) terminal for five hours with nothing to eat and lukewarm soft drinks. I don’t know about the beer that was served. Finally at 10 p.m. we got back on the plane and were served a lunch. That was the day I decided not to eat the noon meal for we got too much food. I didn’t suffer for it was too hot to be hungry.

At 1 a.m. John, Nancy, Keith, Margie and a friend were still waiting at the International airport in Kinshasa for us. Bed at 2 a.m. At 6 a.m. we were awakened by John who told us we had to be at the small airport by 8 because there were three crates of baby chicks to be delivered to Vanga as soon as possible and there was room for us on the plane. We left without saying good-by to the grandchildren who would join us in Milundu when school recessed for the Christmas holiday.

Well, we stood there until 2:30, no bathroom, nor lunch, nor chair to sit on - and no pilot for the small Cessna plane. The pilot’s parents had been killed in an auto accident in the States and he had just had word of it that morning. The mission got another pilot - from Kimpese who was in town for a dentist’s appointment at 3 p.m. He figured he could get us to Vanga and still get back in time for the appointment. However, he didn’t count on the weather. So another pilot had to be found, and he showed up after several hours. In the meantime Wilbur and John had stowed the luggage, groceries and various other packages into the small baggage compartment. It was a good thing John was a mathematician for it took one to find places for everything. No sooner was everything in place than we heard that another plane was to be used. Out came everything and another half hour was spent getting it all into the new plane.

At 2:30 we were on our way. The crates of baby chicks shared the compartment with us and we could hear their cheeps all the way into Vanga, even over the noise of the engine. Africa – that part of it – is beautiful both from the air and on the ground. It looks like light green velvet with designs in darker green which are the trees. Many, many little villages we flew over, all with thatched roofs. They are plainly visible for all grass is kept away from the huts so they can see snakes more easily.

I’ll never forget how happy I was to see Viola’s face smiling up at me as we landed on the grass landing strip in Vanga amidst almost all of the population. Whenever a plane is heard everybody runs to the field where it lands.

Just try to climb out of a small plane gracefully with a short skirt! Then try to climb into the back of a truck, over the tail gate with an audience watching every move. No wonder they all wear long pieces of bright colored cloth wrapped around them

The planes land in Vanga where our hospital, nurses’ school and elementary school are. More of the missionaries live there, too. Viola and John and three other families live in Milundu across a river about 5 miles away. That too was an adventure – getting back and forth. The bridge has been breaking down for some time. It is just logs and boards. So whatever conveyance we rode in, everybody (and that usually means from 15 to 30 people) climbs out and walks across, then breathlessly watches to see if the car or truck makes it. When it does everyone gives a cheer– including the Zairians who are bathing in the river there. Finally one day returning to Milundu we found that the first part of the bridge had been torn out so we had to leave the car, step across on what remained of the bridge, and walk home about a mile and a half. Two days before New Year's it was repaired and everyone gave a sigh of relief.

Riding in the truck was an experience. Whenever a truck is about to leave Milundu for Vanga, or Vanga for Milundu, word goes out and people come from all over to get a ride - missionaries, Zairians, children. Once I counted twenty-six of us along with oil drums, rabbits, chickens, a goat, vegetables, lumber, bags, and huge dishpans of peanuts. Most people stood but because I was a visitor I got to sit most of the time. Wilbur stood most of the time. We rode in other station vehicles too, a Land Rover and a V.W. The roads are very sandy and have deep ruts so once we had to get out and push the V.W. when it got stuck in the sand. Another time John was driving us to another village several miles from Vanga to visit a store and part way there we had a flat tire, but had no jack or extra tire. John walked back to get one while Wilbur, Keith, a friend of his and I stayed with the car. It was in the sun and hot and I think that is when I lost my five pounds. While we were waiting we attracted a crowd as usual. One little girl went in and got both me and Wilbur chairs and put them under the tree for us.

This is just one example of the friendliness of the people. We really enjoyed them. Wherever we walked and passed people or children they had to shake our hands and everyone says “Mbote” meaning hello or greetings. So we did, too. One village we visited we had a number of children following us around and I know I shook hands with several of them at least three times. They were carrying around a huge caterpillar. They eat them.

I was worried for fear that when we were invited out to the home of the Director of the Primary School in Moanza that we might be served caterpillars but we weren’t. They did serve luku which is almost as bad except that it isn’t animal, just a gooey, gluey mixture that tastes awful. It is made of manioc flour. We had that twice and I got it down but….

There is no shortage of peanuts, corn or fruit, all kinds. And they are cheap, brought to your door by Zairians. I especially liked the spinach.

One day Viola, Wilbur and I walked some distance to the only store in the area near Milundu. There is canned Eagle Brand milk, but no canned vegetables or fruits. There was an assortment of hardware articles, nuts, nails, etc, and a lot of dried fish which you could smell a distance away and yards and yards of brightly colored cloth hanging everywhere. In Vanga vendors put up tables along the side of the road or sit on the grass selling manioc flour and little balls like donuts which are cooked in palm oil. Perhaps I would have gotten used to the taste of the oil if I had stayed longer. Whenever the boat from Kinshasa docks in Vanga the paths are lined with people selling pottery and other things.

Wilbur was asked to speak to a class of last year boys in Milundu about hunting and fishing in Washington. They were hilarious when Wilbur mentioned that in the U.S. one has to have a license to fish. They were also surprised that when one gets an animal or catches a fish one doesn’t divide it among the people in the village. They have no concept of how big even our smaller towns are. Many of them have never been to Kinshasa or Kikwit, both very large cities of from 200,000 in Kikwit to a million and a half in Kinshasa. We explained that we invite friends in to share. One boy wanted to know if we had a granddaughter to whom he could write so we gave him Cara’s name and address and later on he brought us the letter to mail for him.

The contrast between those who live in the city and those who live in the villages is monstrous. We were driven past some homes in Kinshasa which rent for $1,000 a month and the villagers live in mud houses with thatched roofs, cook outside over an open fire. The head of our hospital in Vanga has sent out teams to inoculate the people and to show them how to build outhouses, which now practically all of the houses have. One can see them from the plane very distinctly for the roofs shine and look like little white squares. However, at the small airport in Kinshasa where we took off for Vanga, you could smell the sewers as you could some other places we went.

In Vanga and Milundu villages we were fortunate to have electricity. The electricity comes on at 6 p.m. and goes off at 9 p.m. Just before 9 o’clock the lights blink warning you that you have to get a candle, flashlight or kerosene lantern. If there is no moon it is completely dark, just as in a cave if the lights are turned off. It is black, black.

During the Christmas holidays there were get-to-gethers either in Milundu or Vanga. We enjoyed the Christmas party at one of the doctor’s home where everyone, missionaries, Peace Corps workers, Mennonite volunteers and all the children were there. They sort of band together being that far from home. The women hoarded every bit of sugar they could and made goodies which weren’t as rich as what we make but were very good.

We were invited out for dinner a number of times and at one place we had delicious fish, some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Chicken is tough as is the beef for there isn’t an ounce of fat on their animals. Viola cooks hers in her pressure cooker. The beef and rice are sandy so that when you chew it crunches. Flour has to be sifted through a nylon stocking to get the weevils and other things out.The cook for the Huff’s forgot to do this for the rolls for our community Christmas dinner so she warned us. I was the only one who didn’t eat a roll. Wilbur said he couldn’t see anything.

Little tiny ants run across all drain boards, cockroaches come up the drain into the bathtub and crawl on the bedroom floor. I took a picture of one in the bathtub which was almost the length of the bar of soap next to it. In the U.S. one associates cockroaches with unsanitary conditions, but in Zaire that has nothing to do with it. I remember Jeanne writing me about seeing the huge shadow of one under the bedroom door the first night she was in Zaire.

One day Wilbur and I were walking on the path to the Browns’ and saw army ants crossing the path. We stopped and watched them for some time. It was interesting to see the guards stationed at the sides of the ant parade. Since it was no more than a foot wide we stepped across. There was no sign of them when we walked back.

Little spiders, no-seeums and sand flies bit one every night. My arms felt like an alligator hide I was so covered. I finally wore one of Wilbur’s long sleeved shirts and my gloves to bed and roasted. They then bit my face and ears. Repellent didn’t deter them, but it did the mosquitoes. They had a feast on me.

Two days before New Year’s Viola and we went with Dr. Barber and his wife about 80 miles to Kikwit, sandy and clay roads all the way and very bumpy. The scenery was simply beautiful and all sorts of flowers bloomed along the road. There is one vine with white flowers that smell just like gardenias. On the way back the next day it rained and if we hadn’t been in the Land Rover we would never have made it that night. As it was we slipped, and skidded up and down hills just missing the ditch by an inch or so. Once we went down sideways. Graeme and his wife were having a New Year’s Eve party at their place that night so he was determined to make it and we did. After that harrowing experience and arriving back safely, the left back wheel sank down into a cesspool in the front of their yard just as we were leaving to go across the river to Milundu. We were so tired that we laughed until we were hysterical – almost. I’m glad that the car broke into it rather than some of the children or people who crossed it every day.

We flew in a little two seater to Moanza where Viola and John lived last year. It is cooler there because it is higher and away from a river. I like it very much. We stayed there two days and nights and had some delicious meals.

In Moanza we were welcomed at the chapel and they presented us with a native carved drinking cup from which they drink palm wine – the director hastened to say that they “drank just a little” and it was “weak”. He was the one who invited us for dinner and in the evening he had several of the teachers come in to meet us. They talked French most of the time so Vi had to interpret for us. The director and one other did talk English quite well.

From Moanza we flew in a 6 seater to Kinshasa. John got one of the mission cars to use and we drove to Kimpese one day, south of Kinshasa on the only paved road in the country. It even had lines in the center and road signs. How people find their way around the rest of the country is a mystery to me. You are continually meeting y’s and just trust to luck that you take the right one. From the plane it looked worse for roads just criss-cross all over the place.

Kimpese is in an entirely different country. Around Vanga, Milundu and Moanza it is jungle and down south it is more open. We bought some bread in the market, unwrapped, of course, for our lunch. By the time we ate we were all hungry enough to eat it. It is very good. I tried one of their donuts but couldn’t get that down. They aren’t sweet at all. Everyone else eats them.

There are some very beautiful modern buildings in Kinshasa and more going up. There is a lot of improvement work going on and it is needed. We were arrested there! One Sunday afternoon we drove down by the Zaire River (formerly the Congo) and Wilbur took a picture of the rapids which start there. Just then two soldiers came up over the bank from out the tall grass and yelled and hollered at us saying that we were in the President’s domain. All the conversation was in French and Vi told us later what was being said. She argued back and forth with them for 20 minutes and another soldier came down from his place of duty with his gun and did more yelling. They wanted the film which Wilbur took out and gave them and finally Viola and they agreed that we should give them 6 zaires which is $12 and they gave us back the film and shook hands all around, told us to have a nice visit and waved us away. Viola told them not to spend the money for beer and cigarettes and they laughed and laughed. They stop motorists for most anything and all they want is some money.

We flew from Kinshasa to Brussels where we stayed for a couple of days and enjoyed the place. Most everyone speaks a little English and can understand you. We took a sight-seeing bus to Waterloo one day and passed the site of the World’s Fair and the palace where there was a changing of the guard as we drove past. We walked all over looking at everything. It is a wonder we didn’t get lost for some streets are only a block long and they run every which way. Practically no streets are at right angles.

Then we stayed in London three days where it was a relief to hear English even if we couldn’t understand all of it. We rode the tube, the city double-decker buses and walked. We would have liked to stay longer for there are hundreds of historical places to visit. We went to the British Museum and spent all Sunday afternoon there. Took a guided tour of the city seeing all the main places – the palace, Parliament buildings, Big Ben, the Tower, and many more. The day before we left we went on an all-day trip to Stratford-on-Avon visiting Shakespeare’s birthplace, and the church were he was married and where he and his family are buried. On the way we visited one of the colleges in Oxford U., everything still the same as it was several hundred years ago, stone floors and stone stairways, worn considerably by this time. We passed Blenheim Castle, Churchill’s birthplace and burial place, George Washington’s ancestral home and numerous castles and huge estates. Remember the rhyme, “Ride a cock horse, to Banbury Cross”? We saw Banbury Cross, too.

That day the tour included coffee at a little English tavern, lunch at the Porridge Pot in Warwick, a medieval town where the two gates to the town are still standing and a good bit of the wall around it. We sat on slanted stools so high our feet just rested on the stone floor. The place was built in 1720 and the front of the building is still standing – same timbers. It gives one a feeling of awe to think of all the history that has gone on in that place and the people who ate and drank there. We had afternoon tea in Stratford. I forgot to say that it just poured most of the day but we took some pictures anyway. We left London – our hotel – at 7 a.m. and took the tube to the station nearest the sight-seeing office and left London at 8. We got back around 7 – dark when we left and dark when we got back. The trip was about 200 miles in all.

Tuesday morning before we flew home we visited Westminster Abbey and you really see history there. We saw tombs of Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth, Clement Atlee, all the other royalty, knights and lords, prime ministers and so on. We saw the coronation throne that looks like a beat-up old chair but think of all the queens and kings who have sat upon it! The sanctuary and chapels are beautiful and it isn’t as dark as the other cathedrals we saw. Many of the stones you walk on in the cathedral are the tombstones of those buried beneath the floor.

We left London at 1:30 p.m. and arrived in Seattle about 3 p.m. same day and by the time we got to bed we had been up for 22 or 23 hours. I wasn’t sleepy but went to bed anyway about 6 p.m. Slept 3 or 4 hours and it has been the same since. Wilbur and I wake up at 2 or 3 a.m. and can’t sleep. This morning he went back to bed around 6 and slept until 9:30. Hope we get back into the groove pretty soon.

We thoroughly enjoyed every bit of the trip but oh, how clean the house looked when we got here! And to know that a cockroach hasn’t been running around the bathtub before you have gotten in.

I hope this hasn’t bored you too much and we hope you get to go to one of these places some time.


Hazel and Wilbur

Editor's note: In addition to writing a letter to Wilbur’s siblings, Hazel later wrote three chapters on her trip to Zaire for her life story. They covered much the same territory, but the tone of the letter was fresher, and more dynamic so I used it instead of the Life Story chapters. However the later writings sometimes clarified or expanded a point so I've combined the two sources. In some places I've added the text from the later writings or used it to replace a portion of text in the original letter. Hazel also wrote letters to other friends and numerous speeches which she has carefully kept with these papers. I haven't even looked at them yet!

Footnote: If you ever want to see the Allan children laugh hysterically have them try to tell you the story about grandma saying “Mbote” to people. At the time the dictator/president of the county was named “Mobutu” and grandmother would mix the words up and walk down the street waving and cheerfully calling out the greeting “Mobutu! Mobutu!”

Footnote two: Missionary joke. Year One: New missionary arrives in Zaire. When he sees the weevils and other bugs in his cereal he doesn’t eat it. Year Two: Missionary carefully scoops the bugs out of his cereal before eating. Year Three: What the heck. He eats the cereal weevils and all. Year Four: Refuses to eat cereal if no weevils are visible- "Where's the protein?".

Note: The Democratic Republic of Congo was called the Republic of Zaire from 1971 to 1997. It was once colonized by Belgium as the Belgian Congo.