Amanuensis Monday: The Buerers Final Year in the Belgian Congo

The Buerer family in 1949: Lois, Harry, Marilyn, Vickie, Peggy Ann & Nancy.

All my grandmother's life, she fully believed there was no higher calling than being a missionary to Africa. I wouldn't be surprised if she started planning even as a young girl how she would eschew the comforts of her sheltered Midwestern upbringing and venture to the harsh climate of the Belgian Congo. But upon arriving in Africa as an adult, she quickly realized the whole experience was more than what she bargained for.

From the time the Buerers left Chicago to begin their journey as missionaries in 1946, my grandmother kept diaries to remember their experiences. And, oh, what adventures they had. From sickness to burglary to giving birth to my aunt in the back of a car, their entire lives turned upside down. I sense frustration and a tremendous amount of homesickness by her words. I also found some lovely things, mainly what a wonderful man my grandfather was. From giving my grandmother perms to delivering their fourth child, he showed an incredible amount of love and responsibility for his family. I cherish him.

And now we've arrived at my grandmother's final entries, mostly dealing with the family's preparations for their return to America. It's much shorter than the other years, and I find the very last bit telling and somewhat heartbreaking. Throughout her diaries, she shows lack of propriety, and her account comes from another time and place. I'm grateful to her for her candor and memories and for sharing this story.  

January 9, 1949

Driver ants got into our house a few nights ago. We had to get out of bed to get away from therm. They were in every room in the house.

Three little boys came here who were infected from being circumcised. They look awful. We've been putting medicine on them every day.

January 16

Art and Harry went antelope hunting but didn't catch anything.

The crazy man has been a nuisance. Harry wrote to the Secretary and he was here to see us.

Harry and I have been taking care of six little boys who were circumcised and got infected.

Our passport came Friday. 

January 30

Ira Cross came here Friday morning and we all went with him to Kimpata to see about putting a new teacher there. Then we went to Luembe and spent the day. We learned how to play Mah Jong. They brought us home after supper and we played again here.

February 6

Harry preached the service there (Luembe). We played Mah Jong in the afternoon and they brought us back this evening.

We've been getting things ready to go to Tshene and Kikwit, taking inventory of our food, etc.

I've been sewing as much as possible to make dresses for the girls and me to wear home.

I had a women's class Friday afternoon. 8 women came and seemed very interested especially in the flannel graph story.

February 13

Minte made a native dress for me to wear home.

We received a telegram giving us reservations on the Del Rio arriving in Matadi about April 6.

February 20

Monday morning we left Tshene for Kikwit arriving there about 2:30. Tuesday morning we shopped, then went to the hospital for yellow fever shots. 

After dinner we got our teeth fixed as Dr. Smith was in Kikwit. Then some more shopping and we started home at 3:30. After dark the lights suddenly went out and we almost landed in the ditch. We waited for the moon but it was too cloudy to do much good. We rode home the rest of the way (about 40 miles) without lights and Harry's eyes were quite sore for days later.

Friday afternoon was my women's class. There were 12 out, all 8 from before and 4 new ones. Ejum was sick so the teacher Josefi interpreted for me.

February 27

I am sewing dresses for the girls to wear on the way home.

March 6

Thursday morning Peggy Ann fell off the bed. We thought she broke her arm and called the doctor. He said it wasn't broken but he thought it was cracked.

We've been selling lots of our things.


March 27

(Lots of packing and getting boxes ready to ship.)

We celebrated Lois' 2nd birthday at Eyeme Friday. Clara Belle baked a cake for her.

Marilyn was sick all week. Last Sunday she got fever and was hot all day Monday. Diarrhea started Tuesday and Thursday she started passing blood. Clara Belle had some dysentery pills and we tried them on her. She is a little better now.

Saturday morning we packed up and about 3 o'clock the suitcases and some of the folks went to Mangai. We went the next load and waited for the river boat. It was about 6:30 when the Luxemburg(sic) came in and we went aboard. We have three cabins. This morning I had to wash our dirty clothes. A cobra came onto Ronk's porch yesterday and the men killed it.

April 3

The river boat got to Leopoldville Wednesday morning about 8:30. Before we got off the boat a lady came and told us we would have to fly to Matadi the next morning to meet the ship. 

(A lot of this diary entry is illegible. I'll try and decipher as best I can.)

The bank and ...were closed because it was Wednesday afternoon and we couldn't get any traveler's checks or American money.

Harry was quite sick but he helped pack and I finished it after 11 o'clock. We got up at 5 as we had to be at the airport at 6. We flew to Matadi in 1 1/2 hours. Our cases will have to go on the next boat. 

In Matadi we came by taxi and went through customs and then onto the boat. Harry was pretty sick but had to go back to turn in the matriculation cars. It was awfully hot.

The boat left Matadi about 1:30. We have 2 nice cabins and the meals are really swell. We stopped at Lagos, Nigeria this morning.

April 10

We left Lagos Monday morning. Sunday evening we got off the ship and took a little walk. Then we left again and arrived at Takoradi on the Gold Coast...Next to us was the Fernglen, a Norwegian ship. The Leland Andersons, missionaries from Congo came over to see us. We had met them in Leo 3 years ago. Mr. & Mrs. Kennedy from Nigeria also came over to see us the first night. The next morning we all got into a row boat and rowed over to visit them. There were two single women missionaries there, too.

Saturday morning we arrived here at Port Bouet, French Ivory Coast. We have been unloading drums of asphalt. 

Two Catholic priests got on at Takoradi along with a native they are taking to America. One of them is certainly a talker.

We have been spending every morning washing and ironing clothes.

The natives on the Gold Coast are on the point of rebellion, trying to get self-government in '49. They are all wearing S.G. signs.

It is so very hot here. We are anxious to get going.

April 17

Monday afternoon a barge sank with 32 drums of asphalt and it took a long time salvaging them. The boat sank again after they almost got it out. That delayed us some more. 

Friday afternoon was Nancy's 6th birthday. We managed to find a few presents for her but will celebrate her birthday again when we get home.

...It is much cooler since we left Africa and a great relief.

Today is Easter Sunday. One of the priests had an Easter egg hunt for Peggy Ann and Nancy and hid candy for them.

April 24

We have had a very calm trip and enjoyed fellowship with Gordon Mellish. The weather has been nice, just cool enough. We've kept busy every morning washing and ironing clothes and usually wash them afternoon and evening, too.

Marilyn pulls herself up by the side of her bed and playpen now to watch us. She fell off a big bed one day and hit her forehead on the corner of a drawer. It is healing nicely.

Nancy got her first "second tooth" way in back of the others which aren't even loose.

We are so anxious to see America and to get home.