Saturday, February 14, 2009

Congo (4) Brussels, Belgium, 10/8/1920 [BMS]

Brussels, Belgium

Oct. 8, 1920

Dear Mother and Daddy:

We left London Thursday (yesterday) morning at 8:30, reached Dover at 10:30, sailed from there across the channel at 11:00 and reached Ostend at 3:00 P.M. Here we had to pass thru the customs (which is more of a ceremony that real examining), leaving Ostend at 4:25 and reaching Brussels at 6:30, where the Hobsons and Mr. Kinman (a Methodist missionary for the Congo) met us and took us up to our lodgings. At Ostend we saw quite a few places that had been destroyed by shells from German submarines, although the larger part had already been rebuilt or is in course of rebuilding. The channel was as smooth as a mill pond when we crossed, and you know this is at times the roughest piece of water known. It was a little choppy when the Hobsons crossed, but it could not have been more placid than it was yesterday; I had fully expected it to be rather rough.

Our ride from Ostend to Brussels was thru a beautiful stretch of country, the richest part (agriculturally) of Belgium. The country is absolutely level and the well tilled farms, neat and quaint Flemish towns and dwellings, are a most pleasing sight. This section was occupied by the Germans during the war and hence was not torn up or damaged as the battlefield section.

As we came in last night, we have not had time to get an idea of the city, but will tell you more of this later; also about our boarding place. We expect to begin the study of French tonight. As Dorothy is going to study Baluba while here, I don’t know yet whether she will take French or not. While nearly everything is in French still we often run across people who can speak some English; our landlady speaks fairly good English.

We are having beautiful weather just now, ideal Indian summer. Dorothy thought it was cold in England, and while we had a few cool nights, still it was so much warmer than I had expected to find – this no doubt accounts for our different expressions in our last letter.

Dr. Kellersberger (on our mission) is in London taking a three month course in tropical medicine and diseases. We saw him the night before we left; he had just started and was delighted with the school. His wife and baby are coming to meet him in either London or Brussels about Christmas and go on to the Congo; She will of course come with the other missionaries.

Oct. 12, 1920. As Dorothy and I have not looked for each others letters so far, there will no doubt be some repetition in them, and perhaps some contradiction on account of differences in impressions.

We like our hostess here very much; while we have nothing elegant, still it is nice and clean as well as pleasant socially. Our hostess also teaches us French and I think is a splendid teacher. Dorothy, as she wrote you, is not taking French from her, but is devoting most of her time to Baluba and also studying French with me sometimes too.

We have not yet been to any of the important places – parks, etc., of Brussels, except the Congo Museum. There are a number of beautiful parks, buildings, and grounds here. Of course, we expect to visit them while here.

While none of us speaks French, still we have managed to get along; then we often find someone who speaks a little English. Flemish is spoken by the working class, about which we know nothing.

We are both feeling fine and have a healthy appetite. The weather is bracing here, and I think doing us good. We retire about ten o’clock and get up between 6:30 and 7:00 – and always sleep well. Breakfast is at eight, and the Belgians eat only bread and butter with coffee, but Mademoiselle Busé, our hostess, prepares us an egg each, by special request. Up to the present we have had no regular schedule, but we expect to spend more hours each day in study, and some time in exercise. My hours for French lessons are from 4:00 to 5:00 P.M. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 8:30 to 9:00 on other evenings.

It is rather strange that since leaving New York Dorothy has not had the slightest touch of nettle rash. I only hope it will continue.

Later: Here in Brussels we do not see any great effects of the war. As the Germans occupied all this territory through this section for practically the entire period of the way, they of course, did no damage to the buildings, etc. Really, to see how well everything moves - - the shop windows are full, people are well dressed, and apparently fairly well-off. They have their amusements – in fact there isn’t much outward evidence that they suffered here as much as elsewhere. Of course, it was in the battlefield sections where they really suffered and I suppose the very poor class here is Brussels suffered considerably.

Somehow we don’t have much spare time here. We spend quite a bit of time studying. I am putting most of my time on French and Dorothy is struggling with Baluba. She is also studying French. So far we have not spent much time sightseeing.

We were fortunate in finding such a good place to stay, as everything is clean and comfortable, and we all like our landlady very much. She is also a good French teacher.

Not having seen very much of Brussels yet am of course not able to tell you much about it. It is like all of the old places, laid off (or rather not laid off) without any regard to streets, as they are mostly narrow and winding or crooked. There are no skyscrapers here nor anywhere in Europe for that matter, although of course some beautiful buildings and grounds. Brussels has about 800,000 inhabitants, so is a pretty good sized place. You still see the dog carts here, a dog and sometimes the dog is hitched underneath the cart and pulls it while the man guides it by handles behind. Autos are scarce, and a good percentage of these are of American make, “John Henry” being prominent. There are also other American goods on the market here.

In order to be sure that this letter gets off today, I’ll close here. We intend to write you again next week.

With love to all,


As we expect to leave about Nov. 1st, a letter from you would hardly reach us here.

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