An Adventure in the Congo(contd) The big move! Digging with spoons. ” You rang mi’lady?!”

Part 11
The new house we had moved to was in a district called Parc Embise on the outskirts of Kinshasa away from all the concrete, smells, heat and mayhem.
It was basically a village, slightly more rural but fairly well established.
The villages didnt necessarily have anything pretty about them, a few amenities and a scattering of ramshackle houses dotted about, that was about it.
Mum and dad never shopped locally even though there were vegetable and fruit stalls and the odd shop here and there. I think dad thought it was safer to shop in town.
Not far away there was a football ground of sorts and once a week it would become incredibly noisy and african music would blare out from loud speakers and alot of singing and drinking would go on.

Here and there were mud huts and houses built out of breeze block with corrugated tin roofs. Whatever they could find to build their house with they would use it.
Poverty on the outside of Kinshasa was even more evident.
Families would live outside their dwellings during the day for the most part.
Children would play, partially clothed on their dirt patch of a yard.

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They never wore shoes I noticed.
They would cook outside and wash their clothes in makeshift buckets and racks to scrub them on.
Their house at night was used for sleeping in.
Chickens would wander about and goats were often tethered.
The houses were at the side of the road or set back under the shade of a tree if there was one. There were no gates or boundaries as such to divide the land up and they seemed to be able to set up home wherever they chose. There didnt appear to be any rules.

Often times the men would sit by the road displaying their wares, making things to sell if they were able to.
Whilst the women would be seen doing all the heavy work, like carrying water buckets or huge sacks on their head from the market. There were lots of children per family and in most cases grandparents would live-in too.
I dont know where there all slept, as their mud shacks and tin huts were very small.
The differences between how I lived and how they lived affected me and I used to ponder about it alot.
Our bungalow was down a widish dirt track, a proper road really but they hadnt gotten around to tarmacking it. There were other houses a short distance either side.
When cars and lorries drove past it would kick up a real dust storm if we’d not had much rain for a while.

The house was massive, I mean humongous!!!

It had about four foot high walls with railings sitting on top and a wide entrance with large metal front gates which we kept open during the day.
It was brand new practically, pristine white with a covered verandah which went half way around the house! The front and one side.
The windows all had ornate cast iron bars on them.
There was garden at the front, actually it wasnt a garden it was dusty earth with a few measely plants below the verandah and a medium sized pile of dirt and rubble out the back!
A couple of steps led up to the front of the building and double doors opened into a largish square entrance hall which had dining table and chairs in it. How odd I thought.


(This is our actual first house, picturing mum and I, Tina in the foreground)

The house was furnished, not particularly nicely but we had so much more space to move around in now compared to the claustrophobia of the flat in town.
Four medium sized bedrooms, a lounge and a kitchen. The fourth bedroom was a spare and was where Francois our ‘houseboy’ did the laundary and ironing.
This would be our first encounter with the staff that we had to take on!!!

It took no time at all to unpack and have our personal items around us and our clothes put away.
Tina enjoyed being able to run about outside and never strayed through the gates, choosing to stay close to the house to guard her family.

Dad was closer to the factory here and no longer needed Sylvain to drive him. He probably went to work for another family connected to the company.
Lots of families chose to live on site with the amenities there but mum and dad wanted to experience a more natural environment.

We had two staff at this house, Francois and Antoine.
Antoine was the cook.
Francois wasnt that much taller than me and I eyed him suspiciously. He was always smiling but in a very shifty looking manner. He was probably in his middle twenties.
I felt there was something not quite right about him and he made me feel unneasy.

Neither of them spoke english but that wasnt a problem now. Mum could make herself understood, though heaven knows how!
With her hand gesturing and ‘pidgeon’ french, the odd word here and there, the rest would be in english spoken with the weirdest french accent!
She somehow thought she would be better understood if she spoke in this strange way.
It worked!
Mum was always understood and not only that, would come to learn all about their
families, extended family, how many children they had, their names, what their wives did, how many wives they had, their shoe sizes and inside leg measurements! You name it!
It was a standing joke, we dont know how she did it!

Antoine was a decent enough cook and mum welcomed it, she didnt like cooking much anyway.
He was friendly but quietish, a nice personality and a gentle sense of humour, he’d come to need it, with me around!
We settled into a nice routine and got used to our new surroundings. We would have more ex pat visitors as we had so much more space.
My high jump stands had arrived and had been made beautifully by some one at the factory, I was so thrilled. We put them on the front dirt patch as the back garden was very uneven and still like a building site.
It caused much amusement from the african ladies who glided past the front of the house with their bowls on head.
To see this gangly white girl running and leaping over a bamboo cane, scissor style. They would stop and watch me.
Wow an audience, i need to do well now!

One afternoon I was practising and getting all hot and bothered, so I took a break and went over to see what a small group of ladies were doing just outside the front gates.
They were sat on the ground digging with spoons!

What on earth were they doing, i had to go spy on them!
I peered around the gate. They spotted me and smiled, so it felt safe to go towards them.
One of them beckoned to me to come and get a closer look.
She rattled away in Lingala and then I saw what she was trying explain to me.
I was horrifed!
She was digging for huge white coloured grubs, like the fattest caterpillars youd ever seen!
She was finding them with her spoon and placing them in a little wicker basket.
She saw the look of horror and disgust on my face which seemed to be funny to her because she cackled and enjoyed a joke with the other ladies.
She gestured her hand to her mouth and I then knew instantly why she was looking for them.
She was going to eat them.
Not on my watch I thought!

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I made some excuse in french that I needed to go help mum, smiled at her and ran into the house to go tell everyone. I felt sick!


We all sat down to dinner each night at the dining table set up in the hall and Antoine usually cooked up a storm and his food was very nice.
It was a dark wood table and chairs with green velvet seats, i thought it was very old fashioned and didnt like it much.
Dinner times never really interested me I would rather be off doing something than sitting for hours eating and talking.
Except that is of course when you have a special gadget on the floor by the head chair!

I was the first one to notice it one day.
It was during lunch on one of our first days at the new house that I discovered it.
It kind of blended into the tiled floor but it was clearly visible to me.

I stuck my foot on it and to my delight I heard a bell ring in the kitchen!

What fun!

A bell to summon Antoine from the kitchen!

Antoine came out of the kitchen teatowel over his shoulder smiling at mum.

“Oui Madame…?”

Mum was very embarrassed. Never would she dream of ringing a bell to call someone to attend to her.
I was hysterical, it was the funniest moment ever.
She apologised, laughed in a self conscious way, pointed to the floor, gestured at me that I had found this bell and shook her head as if to say that she hadnt meant to call him and i had just pressed it out of curiosity.
He laughed with her and said words to the effect that it was “ok Madame” and went back to the kitchen.
Our plates had been cleared after the meal, I finished my drink and excused myself from the table but my foot mustve accidentally trodden on the bell push as I left the table.
Oh dear I’m so clumsy!

I ran out of the room shrieking and giggling! Just in time to hear Antoine come back into the dining area.
“Oui Madame..?”



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