Amanuensis Monday: Perms, Driver Ants, and a Crazy Man--the Buerers in Africa 1948

My maternal grandparents start 1948 in the Belgian Congo as missionaries with no less drama than before. I've edited a lot of what my grandmother wrote and pulled out the things I find most interesting. In the first half of 1948, my grandmother talks of packages received, visits from other missionaries, and travels to Idiofa to go to the post office. She mentions several services were held and how my grandfather worked on a fellow missionary’s roof. They also realized their drinking water had become contaminated and began boiling it. She is pregnant for the fourth time.

January 11

This is my birthday. I got a set of cooky (sic) cutters and an alarm clock from the girls. Mamma sent a book of games, a box of candy and a permanent wave. Clarabelle sent a box of powdered sugar.

Harry helped me with the permanent on Wednesday. It is nice to have it but it didn't turn out extra well. On Monday two boxes came from Mamma. There were lots of gifts for the kids.

Make A Million  game from 1935. 

Make A Million game from 1935. 

Friday and Saturday evenings I went to Browers house and played “Make a Million.” Mamma wrote that Bob gave Janet Smith a diamond for Christmas.

Friday our beds finally arrived. We put up the girls’ cots and Harry made a temporary bed from crate boards for our new spring. It certainly feels good to sleep on good beds.

February 1

Monday just before noon we had a bad storm. It blew the church down flat. The roof blew off the print shop. Harry hurried to get some canvas to cover the paper but the things in the building got very wet and dirty. Soon afterward the rain stopped and the sun came out so we got all the paper spread out to dry. About four o’clock another rain came up and we had to rush to get everything under cover at the dispensary.

March 14

Lois walks by herself now.

March 28

Lois’ first birthday was Thurs. We had a cake and ice cream and she got some nice presents.

April 4

Peggy Ann learned to ride a two wheeled bicycle here. She rides very well.

April 11

We went down to the lake at Ishene Thursday afternoon. The girls had such a good time. I went in a kipoi….(Friday) evening Peggy Ann got malaria and has been pretty sick with fever and vomiting. Outside of that, we’ve been enjoying our visit.

Lois

April 18

Thursday was Nancy’s fifth birthday. We had a nice chocolate cake with white frosting covered with coconut. She got lots of gifts which she enjoyed very much.

Peggy Ann was sick again most of the week and didn't have school. I spent most of the week cleaning the house.

May 23

We sprayed the house good with DDT to try to kill the cockroaches.

June 13

I finished one maternity dress and cut out another.

June 20

Today is Peggy Ann’s seventh birthday. We had chicken and a nice birthday cake. She received many lovely gifts. We went to Idiofa for a service at 8 but only a few showed up. We were able to get our mail in Idiofa and returned for the service here.

I’ve been doing a lot of sewing. Made another dress and have a third one party done. Am still going through boxes from the storeroom.

Harry made a front seat for the car. It certainly helps a lot.

Daddy sent a Donald Duck wrist watch for each of the girls.

Peggy Ann finished Second Grade.

June 27

I’ve been giving Nancy Kindergarten every morning.

I finished another dress for myself, one for Peggy Ann, a couple sheets, a couple aprons for the girls and two kimonos for the baby, and a basket lining for the baby basket.

We had a meeting at Mpendi this afternoon. The people were very attentive.

July 4

Yesterday afternoon we went to Matende for their conference. There are 35 adults here and 22 children. It certainly is nice to see so many white people and the meals are delicious. We had roast beef for dinner today. We stopped to get Mrs. Haller on the way.

We got some snapshots back Friday. Some were taken on Lois’ birthday. They were all quite good.

Petelo came to work here the first of the month.

July 11

The autoharp came and we are learning to play it. This morning we had a service in Idiofa. There were over forty people out. We also got a couple more boxes from the post office including one from mamma with our Singspiration records. They sound real good. She also sent a nice new dress for me.

Peggy

July 25

Peggy Ann had sores on her fingers that were getting awfully sore so Thursday we went to see the doctor at Idiofa. He gave us some medicine containing ether that is helping them.

August 8

Solomon the teacher’s house burned down. We went out but couldn't do anything.

We've had a lot of trouble with driver ants this week. Thursday night they got in our bed and were all over the bedroom. Friday night they were very bad, especially in the bathroom. We killed thousands of them with DDT.

This morning Harry went to Idiofa alone but the people didn't come to have a meeting.

August 15

We've been bothered all week by a crazy man who comes around two or three times a day and won’t go away. Writing to the chief doesn't do any good so now we've written the official.

I made a dress for Nancy.

Peggy Ann has had some bad sores on her fingers for some time but they are clearing up at last.

I've spent parts of three afternoons filling enough quinine capsules to take with us to Vanga.

August 22

Harry helped give me a Toni permanent yesterday.

I almost finished another dress for Nancy.

We've been getting so many eggs this week—more than we've had for a couple of years.



Amanuensis Monday: The Buerer's First Year in Africa, 1946-1947

The Buerers during their first year in Africa. Peggy, Vickie, Harry & my mother, Nancy.

In our research, genealogists continually run into brink walls. Information is missing, records can't be found, trails end abruptly. Not so with my maternal grandparents. My grandmother left so much information (all of which delights me), but sometimes I don't know where to begin. Or end. She began a diary when she arrived in Africa and religiously updated it every single Sunday. Sometimes the news is mundane, such as the weather or what they had to eat. So I've decided (for the most part) to leave that out and focus on the more interesting information. 

The Buerer girls & the Brower family. Johnny Brower, Nancy (my mother), Ruth Brower, Emma Brower, David Brower & Peggy.

In her first diary entry dated January 19, 1947, she begins: "We decided to try to keep a record of the most interesting events of our life here in Congo. Every Sunday we will try to summarize the week's happenings. (She then repeats the information from their journey from the US to Africa that I posted before.) ...The only other white people on the station are Angus and Emma Brower and their three children, Johnnie, David, and Ruthie. Every morning I teach Johnnie who has almost completed the first grade."

In February, she mentions my grandfather, Harry, became sick with malaria and fought that for most of the month. She also states "a leopard was seen in the woods by the water and one night came up to the station. Angus set a trap for him." Later that month, she mentions their Christmas presents finally arrived, in addition to hinting that she is almost done with her third pregnancy: "The doctor thinks I'm getting along all right but will have to wait four or five more weeks. He is treating Harry for malaria for a week first." On February 23, she says "Harry has been up the last half of the week. The doctor found that he has round worms, but hasn't started treating him for that yet...Harry has lost weight and looks quite peaked. His eyes have been sore lately, too." 

On April 21, 1947, she pens another letter describing their first year in the Congo. I've interspersed this letter with comments from her diary.

Nancy and Peggy with natives at Tshene, the original mission station of the Congo Gospel Mission.

Dear Friends:

Our first year in Congo is ended. It hardly seems possible that we have been here that long. The time has passed quickly. We have just returned from two months spent at Mukedi, a Congo Inland Mission station. They have a doctor and nurse there and they were certainly a big help to us. On March 25 the Lord gave us our third daughter, Lois Jean. She weighed seven pounds and five ounces. She has been such a good baby, sleeping most of the time. (In her diary, my grandmother describes her as "quite fat and her face is round as a ball (also her whole head.) Everyone says she has a beautiful color.") When she was two days old I came down with malaria and was quite sick for several days before we could break the fever. I was recovering nicely when I had a relapse on the ninth day and was even sicker than before. We kept the doctor pretty busy but we praise the Lord that He was watching over us and I am well again. In the weeks before Lois was born we were able to get a good rest...

One of the natives here asked Harry if his baby was a boy or a girl. When he heard that it was a girl he said, "That's good. If you have a boy you have to pay lots of money to get a wife for him but when you have a girl you get lots of money."

Nancy and Peggy, December 1946.

The need for gospel literature for the natives is very great. We have been wanting to begin some printing but all the parts to our press haven't arrived yet. However, Harry is beginning to print some tracts on a multigraph that was here. Soon he expects to start work on a song book to use in the church services. We have one but it has been revised and standardized so that we will use the same words as other fundamental missions around us who are using the same language.

Some of the packages were on the way a long time. We divided some cookies that we received and after I finished mine, Harry noticed worms crawling out of his. We looked at the girls' cookies and they were full of worms, too. We threw them out but I had already eaten mine. I felt funny the rest of the day.

While we were at Mukedi the rats were multiplying here in our house. When we got back we found evidences of them everywhere. Yesterday morning when we picked up the baby we found rat dirt all over her blanket. One or more rats must have gotten into her bed during the night. I must have neglected to tuck the netting in good all around. We are so thankful that she wasn't hurt.

We caught three of them last night and hope we can get them cleared out soon. The house is also overrun with cockroaches. They seem to be in everything...

My mother remembers this as the Magonchis (sp?), outlaws who would bang drums. I can't find any verification of these people or tribe.

It has been a long time since Christmas, but most of you haven't heard from us since before that. We had a fine service here on Christmas Day. The church was packed and people were standing in the aisles. The school children had decorated the church with palm leaves and bunches of wild flowers. It looked very nice even though quite different from American Christmas decorations. The natives from the mission had new clothes and came to church to show them off just as Americans do at Easter. The heathen came in their grass skirts as usual. About an hour before the service the natives from the mission formed into three groups and paraded around the station waving a flag and signing hymns and carols. One group didn't have a flag so they carried a red handkerchief tied to a pole.

We were still at Mukedi on Easter but they had a good service here. There were thirteen natives baptized. That is the first baptismal service we have had. Many of the natives came to the service with talcum powder all over their faces. Many times they paint their faces in connection with witchcraft but this time they were just imitating the white man--or should I say the white woman? They thought they looked beautiful.

Soon after Easter a church was organized here. Officers were elected and we expect to see the work to grow as the natives take over some of the responsibilities.

Are you remembering us in prayer? We know the language well enough now to speak in the services even though we aren't as fluent as we would like to be. We appreciate your encouraging letters and hope it won't be too long before we have them all answered. Your friends in Christ, Harry, Vickie, Penny Ann & Lois Buerer

 

 

 

Amanuensis Monday: Part 2: Vickie and Harry Buerer Wait for the River Boat

Below is the second part of the first letter my grandmother, Vickie Prinzing Buerer, sent home to her parents. The first letter about my grandparent's journey from Chicago to the Belgian Condo in 1945 talks about the initial steps in their journey.

A Little Golden Book from 1945, probably similar to the ones my grandmother bought my mother and aunt at the bookstore in Leopoldville.

A Little Golden Book from 1945, probably similar to the ones my grandmother bought my mother and aunt at the bookstore in Leopoldville.

Part 2

I can’t seem to get this letter finished. We haven’t done much but it’s so hot and there are always so many people around talking. There are two English missionaries here and one especially is always razzing us about America. He’s always asking about the strikes and about the gangsters in Chicago. He raves about Dillinger and says there are 3 kidnappings a day in Chicago and everyone has to carry a gun in his hip pocket to protect himself. He believes it too. I guess yesterday he said, “I heard that Life is the most widely read magazine. You can’t tell which is an advertisement and which is serious matter. In England we have our advertisements in the front and in the back of our magazines so they don’t interfere with the reading matter. America has a dreadful mania for advertising.” Someone asked him something about Paul Revere though and he never heard of him so we teased him so much he kept still.

We can’t get a river boat until Monday morning. It takes five days to get to Mangai and we wired Angus to meet us. When we got here there were letters waiting for us from Charles and Pearl, Arthur & Evelyn, Lena, and Louis and Ruth Zelle who passed through here last week. Ruth is Mrs. Feleen’s niece. Then the day afterward, we got a letter from Angus saying he received Grandpa’s cable. We took some pictures of our family for Grandpa and will send them if they turn out all right. We are buying lots of canned goods and supplements to take to the station with us.

The bookstore here has the Little Golden Books for 12 fr. each. I bought one for each of the kids and one for Nancy’s birthday.

The children are getting along fine here although Nancy has prickly heat. There is a swing in the back yard and they have lots of fun on that.

We have bananas for breakfast every day and the girls really love them. We have lots of canned fruit, too. The peaches, apricots, and pears are really delicious. We have found some very good friends in Nolan and Ruth Balman going out under the Scandinavian Alliance Mission who are staying here. They are Baptists, too, and have two small children. They went to Moody and Northern Baptist and know Art Brower, Bob Shermer and Bob Prinzing.

We are going to town now so I will close and mail this.

Love, 
Vickie

Please let Grandpa read this and the rest of the family, Aunt Viola and anyone else that might be interested.

 

Amanuensis Monday: Vickie and Harry Buerer Journey to Africa

When I look at the wealth of photos and information my grandmother left behind, I'm incredibly grateful. I believe (and I think a lot of people who knew her would agree) that she was a very difficult person to know on a personal level. But I'm hoping that through her letters and diaries, I can understand this person better. And it's fascinating to read her writing when she was a young woman.

All her life, my grandmother longed to go to Africa as a missionary. Her relatives ran the Belgian Congo Mission, and she made it her life's intent to join them. But I don't think things turned out the way she wanted. In her life story she wrote for my cousin, she explains a lot of things in detail. But when she gets to the part about Africa, she basically accounts that they went and only stayed three and a half years. And after reading her letters and diaries, I think I can make a bold statement.

The experience really sucked for them.

But I would like to share the letters and diaries for many reasons. Posterity. To delve into a story about a couple taking two young children to Africa in 1946, an experience I can honestly say I would never, ever do. And to hopefully understand Vickie more. (And let me tell you a lot of what my grandmother says in her diaries and letters does not translate well to our current time. You'll see what I mean.)

Vickie's first letter to her parents about their journey. Part 1.

Harry, Peggy Ann, Nancy, and Vickie Buerer in the airport before boarding the plane to Africa.

Harry, Peggy Ann, Nancy, and Vickie Buerer in the airport before boarding the plane to Africa.

April 2, 1946
Leopoldville

Dear Mamma and Daddy,

We should have written sooner but it is so hot here in Leopoldville that one doesn’t feel much like writing. We are getting along fine here except that almost no one speaks English and my French is pitiful. I can sometimes make myself understood but can seldom understand anyone else.

The night before we left New York, there was a bad rainstorm and Pan American called to say the plane would be delayed until 3 P.M. Wed. After that they kept delaying the flight until 5 and then 7. When we got to the airport, the plane didn’t leave until 8:45. We got to Newfoundland about 2 o’clock (EST) Thursday morning. That was the worst part of the trip for me. There were several rough spots and the landing was very rough. Harry got air-sick and I felt awfully nauseated. There was snow on the ground and it was very cold there. We had to sit in the waiting room for six hours there because the weather was too bad to go on. Soon after we left there Peggy Ann became sick and didn’t eat anything from Newfoundland to Lisbon. During that time she vomited 10 times and was a very sick little girl. She was very good though and never cried or complained. She slept or just lay there looking at us. Nancy was very good too. Every so often she wanted to get off the plane because she got so tired riding, but we didn’t have any trouble with her. We landed at Shannon Airport in Ireland at 11:15 P.M. (6:15 EST), had supper, and sat around waiting for a couple hours. Finally they decided to take us to a hotel for the night in Ennis. It felt good to sleep in a bed for a few hours even if they did wake us up at 5:30 a.m. There were stone jug footwarmers in the beds and they really felt good. After we got back to the airport we had to wait until 10:30 a.m. before they got started. One rumor was that the crew was on a spree in Limerick and they couldn’t get them together. We had a lovely ride through the Irish countryside just at daybreak and it was very quaint and picturesque.

We landed in Lisbon that afternoon (Fri.) about 3:00 P.M. (EST). We were there for about two and a half hours. While there Pan American took us for a bus ride around town and to a ritzy restaurant to eat. The meal was delicious, although we turned down all the wine. We refused the whiskey in Ireland, too. Lisbon was very colorful. Everything was in bloom and the houses were shades of pink and peach stucco with red or orange tile roofs. In Ireland they had grass (illegible until the next page)…better after that. We arrived in (illegible) about 2:15 a.m. Saturday. It was our first glimpse of Africa and it wasn’t anything encouraging. It was an army post as Newfoundland was. We were served a buffet lunch by natives and even the air had an African odor. We took off again in 45 minutes and landed at Roberts’ Field in Liberia at 7:00 a.m. (EST). That was the filthiest place I’ve ever been in in my life. We slept in the army barracks and ate in the mess hall. I couldn’t find a clean spot on the tablecloth. The food was really unfit for children and was served by dirty natives. The only good thing was that the water was cold which we haven’t been able to say since. The sheets we slept on were filthy and when I put down the mosquito netting, bugs rolled out. In the room next to ours the stewardesses entertained army officers all night but it was against army regulations for our husbands to sleep with us. They had to be in the officers barracks and one stewardess spent the night in a room near Harry’s. There were 10 missionaries and 7 missionary children on our plane. Another couple got on there with two children. The heat there was terrific and the very sticky kind. We didn’t leave there until 3 a.m. Sunday morning, so were there almost 24 hours. While there, they took us on a tour of Firestone rubber plantation which was very interesting. We also went to a nature village which was also very interesting. We bought bananas for a penny a piece from the natives.

The trip from there to Leopoldville, I mean the last part, was very rough. Most of the dinner fell off the table all over the floor before they got to serve it but we didn’t feel like eating anyhow. At one time, Harry, Nancy, and Peggy Ann were all vomiting at once.  Nancy and I were in one seat and I was holding a paper bag for her but couldn’t reach the others to help because we were all strapped in. They were each using one side of the same bag so got along O.K. I’m the only one of our family that didn’t get air-sick but I didn’t feel very comfortable. It won’t bother us if we never fly again.

We landed in Leopoldville Sunday afternoon about 2 o’clock. It is a very lovely place and the mission home where we are staying is nice and clean and serves delicious meals.