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
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
pilot for the small Cessna plane. The pilot’s parents
had been killed in an auto accident in the States and he
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
and John had stowed the luggage, groceries and various
other packages into the small baggage compartment. It was
thing John was a mathematician for it took one to find
places for everything. No sooner was everything in place
heard that another plane was to be used. Out came everything
and another half hour was spent getting it all into the
At 2:30 we were on our way. The crates of baby chicks
shared the compartment with us and we could hear their
the way into Vanga, even over the noise of the engine.
Africa – that
part of it – is beautiful both from the air and
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
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
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
and I know I shook hands with several of them at least three
times. They were carrying around a huge caterpillar. They
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
a cock horse, to Banbury Cross”? We saw Banbury Cross,
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
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
place and the people who ate and drank there. We had
afternoon tea in Stratford. I forgot to say that it just
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
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
of text in
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
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
and cheerfully calling out the greeting “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.