Friday, August 9, 2013

to Phyllis and Otto Goldschmid, Brazzavile, April 1957

Dear Phyllis and Otto—
The rain has been falling steadily here today, like a Northwest summer rain. It beats the heat, but the African boys sitting under the banyan tree look sad enough, and I feel sad enough. This country is depressing. There is such an air of permanence about the European colony (not that in itself bothers me) but everybody is here to make money fast, or to start a government career at the very bottom rung; no one has any connection with the town itself.
Poto-Poto, by Congolese photographer
Serge Gatien Sita "Valloni"

As for the native population, which lives in a section of the town called Poto-Poto, which means Mud-Mud, They are docile and gentle and sweet and undemanding, and how they are going to get in position to demand schools and representation and finally independence, I don’t know. Rags might ask, “Are you unhappy because they are happy?”

I get out of here May 1 for Nigeria, and I anticipate a contrast for the British, to the consternation of the other colonial powers, will turn Nigeria loose in less than two years. Not ready, the French tell me. But is any country ever ready? I ask.

“Some more than others.”

“Well then, what has France done to prepare these people for independence? How many colleges are there for the natives? 


“How many high schools?”


“Grade schools?”

“Oh yes. But only to the third grade.”

“And does everyone go?”

“About 40% of the boys in the towns and cities.”

“What about the girls?”

“Almost none. Native women don’t ask schooling.”

And so forth.

The land is beautiful—low mountains in the distance with the broad valley of the Congo in between, the river red brown, unhurried through the city, bursting into wild rapids below. Flowers bloom everywhere. The trees are aflame with bursts of red and orange and pink and yellow. Poinsettias grow fifty feet high, the river itself is choked with water hyacinths. Trees, planted mostly by the missionaries in the last century, line the streets. It’s hard to see how such a pleasant place can be distressing. 

But during a lightning storm the other day, I saw, in a sudden glare, a coral snake swept past my feet in the gutter overwash. Then darkness and it was gone. 



[Congo got its independence in 1960, and Murray’s disquiet about its prospects has been justified by events.]