In the center of Africa, in eastern Congo, Anne taught at Rethy Academy. A message arrived by radio. Darrel Young, scheduled to fly on a small missionary plane, would arrive at Rethy in three days.
Anne had met Darrel at Biola University in California two years earlier. His mother, a health-food advocate, had raised him to not eat sugar or salt. Totally into Californian culture, he worked as a radio disc jockey.
Back in Congo, at Rethy, Anne lived with sixty-year old veteran missionary, Betty. She suggested they both walk down to a fishing village on Lake Albert with the city boy.
The twenty mile trail to Lake Albert dropped 2,000 feet in altitude. The path followed tops of natural ridges down the escarpment. Africans in the area didn’t use switchbacks. They preferred a pounding rhythmic momentum straight down the mountain, slapping wide callused feet on the rocky trails.
Betty, Anne and Darrel slipped, crawled and cautiously climbed down the grueling path.
In the late afternoon they entered the village, sweaty, dirty and panting with thirst, their leg muscles twitched with fatigue.
Red and yellow flowers tied in garlands decorated the thick grass roofs of the mud walled huts. Dozens of enthusiastic villagers lined the path singing welcome songs. Women in multi colored wrap-a-rounds and men in bright shirts greeted them with hardy hand shakes. Even shy little ones inched forward and smiled.
A village elder placed strings of flowers around the guests’ shoulders. In the meeting-hut they sat at a wooden table set with chipped enamel cups. They sipped hot tea boiled in milk and sugar. Sweat poured off Darrel’s forehead as he longed for a bottle of cold water.
A family from the largest hut had moved out offering it to the visitors for the night. As a special gesture they had plastered the walls with a mixture of red mud and cow dung.
Darrel whispered. “What’s the smell?”
“Fresh paint,” Anne teased.
The home had a living-room furnished with three chairs and a bedroom with two wood-slat beds. A six by five-foot granary for corn and millet, just off the living room, had been emptied out, and a bed assembled in it for Darrel. He was six-foot six.
Behind the hut a fence of tied-up palm fronds, five feet high, looped around a circle of pebbles and created the shower. Inside the enclosure they found a polished aluminum basin, yellow hand-made soap and a small towel. A young girl refilled the bucket of fresh water after each shower.
Darrel poured water over his head and lathered up. Realizing the remaining water wouldn’t rinse off all the soap he stepped into the aluminum basin planning to catch and reuse water as he rinsed. With head and shoulders rinsed, he bent down to pour the water back into the bucket. Small holes, made from the pebbles poking through the aluminum because of his weight, had drained all the water out of the basin. He wiped the rest of the soap off his body with the little towel.
Before dinner the host provided an old plastic basin with water for washing hands. The same wet towel hung on her arm for drying.
Fingers picked up roasted salt-dried fish with heads still on, sticky rice and boiled bananas. They had no spoons or forks. Then little sweet bananas served with sweet hot tea finished up the meal. No cold drinking water was offered.
Darrel sat on his bed while the girls used the only lamp. Should he rest his head on the wall or should his swollen feet prop up on the facing wall? He turned on his flashlight. Dozens of two-inch insects scurried up and down the granary walls. He rushed out. In the sitting room he lined up the cushions on the dirt floor. The cushion stuffing, made of palm fronds, scratch red marks into his skin. Finally, too tired to care, he stretched out on the dirt floor.
Later Darrel woke from a stinging pain on his back. He jumped up, grabbed his flashlight and called Anne. They watched a trail of hissing army ants pass through the room and out under the door.
At dawn a chicken clucked under Anne’s bed. It had laid an egg. Anne found Darrel awake, seated on a cushion-less chair. As she opened the door to let the chicken out a man greeted her and Darrel.
“Missionary, sir,” he came in, “Did you sleep well with your two wives?”
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