Back to Middle Palace

Middle Palace  

Our first home in Africa. "Middle Palace" It was not in the middle and it certainly was not a palace!

 Before we left for Bumba, I really should have told you a bit more about “Middle Palace.” We will return there for a short visit.

Home; mud walls, grass roof, screens on the windows, no glass.  Most of the homes had re-bar lattice over the windows to deter thieves.  Lest you get the wrong impression, let me be more specific about our home.  Yes, it had mud walls, but with a thin cement coating which was painted, our home was more like a North American home.

There were two bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room and living room.  We did have a bathroom with a shower, toilet, and sink, so not entirely “primitive.” The house was built onto several times as the floors were mostly at different levels.  You did have to watch your step, or you would trip into the next room!

Sights and smells of Africa never leave your memory.  The smell lingers in books, clothes and everything that was part of Africa.  One has to experience the smells to appreciate the country.  Humid, malodorous, grassy, wet, rainy and many other descriptions fit what hits you as you land in that place, which became “home” to us for fifteen years, from 1974 to 1989.  I am on the porch with our two boys.  They were five and eight years of age at the time we lived in Middle Palace.

There was a wood ceiling, above that a full thatched grass roof.  The thatch was made from grass known as “soby” which was a very tall, coarse grass bound into bundles similar to the old hay bundles that were propped together into stooks; if you are old enough to have even seen those, back in the 1940’s and 50’s. The thick thatch was ideal for insulation against the constant heat of the tropical sun.  The not so great, many small critters lived in the roof.  We never did know what sort of critters. They didn’t bother us and we didn’t bother them.

The kitchen contained the basics, a small stove which was fuelled with a propane tank, the kind used in holiday trailers here in Canada.  We had to conserve so we could make that small tank last for three months. Many Missionary houses had an outdoor kitchen with an old wood burning stove in it, which helped save on expensive propane.  Another aid to cooking was a charcoal burner, similar to a small charcoal BBQ.  Wash and shower water was heated in a big pot on the charcoal burner.  Then the hot water was bucketed to a barrel above the shower.

Kitchen cupboards were simply a basic flat top for food preparation with shelves under that to hold kitchen utensils.  Certainly not what I would accept in my kitchen here in Canada.  In Africa, it is what it is and you better get used to it, or you won’t survive!

We had small kerosene operated refrigerators.  The exhaust stack on that fridge was a perfect place to make yogurt, the right amount of heat to do the job.

Pretty well all of the furnishings were produced locally and were rather crude by North American standards.  However, a chair is a chair, and some fantastic examples of ingenuity resulted in acceptable couches and arm chairs.

We did pack barrels of supplies back in Canada, which we shipped to Zaire, so we did have pieces of “home” in our new home.  We packed dishes, pots and pans, baking needs and other kitchen paraphernalia.  Then there were those special items, pictures trinkets, and knick-knacks.  These extras made each home personalized to its occupants.

At the back of our humble abode was a cement patio, also under the thatched roof.   Here my house boy did some of the food preparation, ironed clothes, with a charcoal iron and kept out of the rain on rainy days.

The front of our home had a nice wide porch which served as a relaxing place to read, write, study or do handwork.  Around our home were various tropical hedges and trees.  One of the most annoying of trees, for me, was a mango tree.  I do not like mangos, but flies and bugs love the rotting fruit as it accumulated quickly on the ground.  Orange, grapefruit, papaya, bananas were some of the trees around our mission station and surrounding areas.  Tree ripened fruit has to be the most succulent, delicious, satisfying of all food!

Our yard was a pleasant combination of grass and hardened dirt pathways.  Africa has some of the most beautiful wildflowers which grow in abundance.  Many of our workers loved to tend the yards and took great pride in keeping our yards looking pretty.

Wash day meant getting up before 5:00 AM to try and have the laundry dry before the rain hit.  Part of the year one could almost set a clock by the arrival of rain; sometimes a drizzle, other times a torrential downpour!

We did have electricity for a few hours each morning and evening.  A 15-kilowatt diesel generator produced the electricity for the entire station including a hospital.  One of our missionaries, who was born and raised in Zaire, became an engineer and was active in obtaining US AID money and other funds raised by various organizations to build a hydroelectric dam and purchase much bigger generators. The building of the dam is a story in itself.  Crushed gravel was done by men using hammers.  Cement was mixed in hand turned drums and distributed by wheelbarrow.  The dam was built, and twenty-four-hour power became a reality!   We then were able to buy electric refrigerators, electric stoves, and electric washing machines.  What luxury!

We did have running water.  Again by the ingenuity of the same young man, born and raised in Zaire.  Bob knew how to make something from almost nothing. A spring not too far from our mission station was harnessed, and water was piped up to the station.  Bob accomplished that with a water wheel mounted on an old truck differential which powered the pump providing water to our station.  We did have to conserve, but some water is better than no water!

We lived in Middle Palace for the first six weeks of our time in Zaire.  Middle Palace was far from a palace, but it was close to the middle of the station.  From there we went to Bumba and lived in a much bigger, more modern house right on the Zaire/Congo River.  That is where we began to learn the native language, Lingala.

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