Monday, April 13, 2009

Congo (52) Luebo, Congo 11/11/1921 [BMS]


Nov. 11th, 1921

Dear Mother & Daddy:

The last mail we had, on Sunday, was a good one and we enjoyed it, especially as the previous one was so long away. The mails get to Africa regularly enough, but during the dry season it is often difficult to get the mail to Luebo as only the smallest steamers come here during that season, and they have to make connection with the larger steamers coming from Kinshasa. The "Lapsley" does not come here during the dry season as it is stationed at Lusambo. As we wrote you in the last mail we are looking for the "Lapsley" here in the later part of this month.

You wrote something about the possibility of letters not having reached us, or our letters not having reached you. From your letters, I believe that practically all of our letters have been received on both ends. I hardly think that there is much chance, except that one gets lost occasionally. Our papers have all been coming.

We had one of our unusual rains this morning; it began about 6:30 A.M. and lasted until about 11:30. Usually you can depend on a rain not lasting over a half hour, or two hours at the most, and one of these long steady rains is seldom seen here. However, we have them in sufficient numbers to make up for the lack in length at this season.

This is Friday afternoon, or rather evening now. Friday is "ration" day with us, at which time we pay the natives their weekly ration. We are required by law to give the native workingman a certain amount every week for rations in addition to his monthly pay. In all large centers in this territory it is one franc a week (about 20 cents in normal times, and about .08 cents at present rate of exchange). Years ago we used to ration them with salt, a cup of salt a week; this is a coarse salt called fishing salt, and not our table salt. But salt hasn't the value now here that it used to, so we use francs entirely now for pay and rations, although salt is still a necessity as barter goods. A pint of salt is worth one franc. When we send a messenger or carriers to another station, we give them rations for their journey in salt; that is, where they have to sleep at least one night on the road. Salt is shipped in to the traders by the ton. This system of paying rations every week, of course, makes quite a bit of work, especially here at Luebo where we have about 500 employees, 300 of whom come in my payroll. This always makes Friday afternoon a busy one for me.

A few months ago, and up until right recently, we have had difficulty in getting the proper kind of cash with which to ration the workers. During the war, the Belgian Government issued a large number of paper 1.00 franc bills to the natives. With the houses, the rats, white ants, and other vermin, this is quite an imposition on the natives for they are not prepared to take care of paper money. In some places they would sell this paper franc for as low as one-half franc. And it became difficult to buy anything from the natives with the paper money.

Then for a while change of all kinds became scarce and we were not able to ration the natives weekly. However, the situation is better now as the government has been issuing a quantity of new money, both one franc and half-franc coins, which has relieved this trouble.

This is the most trying season of the year for the natives as regards their food supplies. They have just finished planting their new crop, in fact it is all up and doing fine, but that means that it will be about the late part of January before the new crop of corn and manioc, and other things, will begin to come in. So in the meantime, things become scarcer and scarcer, not only higher but harder to find. The native, of course, has not yet learned the wisdom of the ant, even though there are thousands of these insects about him on every hand, viz., that of laying up food in summer, all about which Solomon told them, but not knowing Solomon or his wisdom, they do not follow his warnings very fully. They lay up some food, but very few of them sufficient to carry them through the dry season, and until their new crops are harvested, which is from July to January. A few months ago manioc ("ciombe" as we call it here) was selling for 50 sticks for one franc; now it is 20 pieces for one franc and the sticks about half size. These are just a few of the little details that we come in contact, and while they are not very interesting, still they absorb quite a bit of our interest at times.

May get in a few more words before mail closes, but good-night for this time.

With love.


No comments:

Post a Comment