You can't go home again, right? Well, Bangui isn’t home, although I lived here for a year, 1977-1978. Today, I don’t even recognize the city. OK, the major streets still run the same way, but I couldn’t find my way around without a map. I saw where the Peace Corps office was (on an old map), but couldn’t find any building that looked familiar. I knew the US embassy had been near the river, and it still is, but the compound didn’t look at all familiar.
On my own, I went to the two neighborhoods where I had lived, Castors and La Kounga, but nothing looked familiar. I couldn’t find any house that looked the least bit like the one(s) I lived in. I was hampered by the fact that we never had a street name or house number then and there are still none!
I went to the school, Lycée des Rapides, where I taught English for a year – along the river out of town several kilometers. Much of the drive I don’t remember, but I got to see the river. Just before the school is a small hill that I do remember, but I think the entrance has been moved. Certainly there are more buildings, what seem to be many more students, a soccer field, many people selling snacks to students (bread, oranges, bananas, cassava prepared in banana leaves, and others. I went to the office – don’t you always go to the office when arriving at a school? After asking 3 times, a student walked me to the second floor to the Censor’s office. We chatted for a bit and then he gave me a tour of the school. It is a series of buildings that are not connected. Most are two-stories with multiple classrooms. When I taught there, there were two two-story buildings and a third that had just been built that was a single story. Those were there, with a few others. It was interesting to see, but I could see little of what I recognized. After 30 years, that is not so surprising I guess! Unfortunately, I got only a couple of pictures because my camera battery went dead.
It was much hotter in Bangui than in the western part of the country that is at a higher elevation. There is also much more humidity than I remember from 30 years ago. After walking for ten minutes, my hair would be plastered on my neck and around my face. I decided to get it cut! I stopped at a hair cutting shop (small box big enough to have 2 chairs and a small waiting area). They said they could cut my hair (it not being African hair and all…), so I decided to take a chance. I asked for it to be about half the length on top and to cut off all the wet part around the bottom then just accepted the “do” he gave me. It is about ½ inch long now on the top and 1 ½ inches long around the back. The “stylist” also decided to shave off all the little, hardly visible hairs on my entire face! It will take some adjusting to, but certainly fits the purpose I wanted. It is much cooler and easier to handle in this climate even though I still get hot and sticky!
When I finished at the school, I had the taxi driver take me to the artisans’ center in town. Many of the crafts were similar to what I had saw before: pictures made from butterfly wings and dried banana leaves, carvings from ebony and a little ivory, leather sandals with rubber soles, clothing, and jewelry. I also saw some new things – coasters, platters, and pen holders made from round slices of cow bone and bamboo, for example. I bought a few things to decorate my soon-to-be house.
In the afternoon, four people arrived from the United States: a couple whose son had helped build St. Timothée’s Lutheran Church near the airport and two other pastors from synods that help support projects here: LA/Gulf Coast and North Dakota. Actually, we went to the church about 4 p.m. The choir was singing on the porch of the church with drums (African traditional and a drum set like you see in the US) and electric guitars. Of course there were some very large speakers and an amplifying system, so it was loud! About 6 we drove 5 minutes to the airport where the plane had arrived, but we had to wait another hour for them to deplane, get bags, and clear customs. We returned to the church where the visitors were greeted with cries of gladness and there was more singing. They prepared a meal for us (the 5 of us from the US, the National Church President, the pastor of the church, and a few important people from the congregation, and me. We ate rice, potatoes, beef in a sauce, chicken, cassava, and there was a salad of tomatoes, onion, eggs, and mayonnaise.
Thursday, November 01, was a holiday – for All Saints’ Day. Many businesses were closed. I went to lunch with a friend of my niece’s (they met in Niger some time ago). Whitney now works for Mercy Corps and, in fact, worked out of Bouar and near Baboua! She knows some of the people I will now be working with. It is a small world. We went to a Senegalese Restaurant and enjoyed good food and conversation. In the afternoon, the National Church President, the 4 who arrived yesterday and I went back to St. Timothée’s for a service and further conversation.
Friday we made the drive back to Bouar with a short stop at Boali Falls. See the next entry for more about the falls.