ITURI STORY. Putnam’s Palais – Part 6

Reading to Sarah Palais
Sarah and friends “read” by our new Palais home. Sarah looking at her friend, Kole.

The first days at our new home (parcelle) were sheer delight for Sarah and Basisionoko. He spent more time at the door of his kitchen laughing with the children than tending his beans. By contrast, the Station with its military pretensions was sterile. Gossip with guards was no comparison. From first morning light, there was a clutch of Mbuti children Sarah’s age and slightly older on the parcelle. They came down to wash their faces at the river. Sarah hauled out her horde of books and her two dolls. The tree hyrax came along, too.

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ITURI STORY. Putnam’s Palais – Part 5

nothing like a big cardboard box
Sarah with kids from the Palais Camp after our move to Putnam’s Palais.

Basisionoko started the kitchen fire by 6:15. On his way to dip water to wash last night’s dishes he stopped to greet Sarah. “Madami”,he called her. They got along capitally. She clutched the hand he held out for shaking between both of hers. When John and I returned from washing our faces at the river, she’d be sitting on the eroded porch steps playing with sticks, stones and a beloved wooden-headed doll.

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ITURI STORY. Turnbull’s Footsteps — Part 4

camp in forest
View of an Mbuti hunting camp in the forest.

Sarah, not yet three years old, needed a responsible companion. We first tried a local Mundaka girl, Annie. She was 18, not married and mainly interested in the young park guards strutting around the station. Sarah only wanted to be in the smokey kitchen with Basisionoko and Kachalewa. We tried a Mubudu girl, Andea, recommended by the priest in Mambasa, 70 km down the road. She lived in a room by the kitchen, but Sarah’s main caretakers remained the men in the kitchen. After a couple of months and probable pregnancy by one of the station guards, we returned Andea to Mambasa.
Kenge recommended Sofi, a single Mbuti woman, as replacement for Andea. Sarah was won over immediately. Sofi gave Sarah her full attention and yet was quick to learn what John and I wanted. Not more than four and a half feet tall, she had a winning half-smile like a permanent light on her face. No matter the slightly “tarnished” reputation after a series of liaisons including one with a village man, Sofi had no pretenses, but also did not spend the day in girlish flirtations. When we were back and dusk approached, she’d catch Sarah in her arms, Sarah already almost half her size, they would share some private joke; then she’d flick us a hesitant smile, break into laughter and run up towards the village.

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Lomami’s East Bank : Forest Sliced Open

sky moods over Boha
Clouds race across the sky above Boha savanna as we trudge beneath.

The Lomami flows northward from sources far south of the equator. The tributary rivers on the two sides of the Lomami run different colors. The right-bank rivers, those draining the east, run clear, but dark with tannins. Tea color. Filtered clean by white sands. The left bank tributaries run turbid brown with sediments carried from the decaying red and ochre lateritic soils. Here, on the west bank, are areas of higher fertility; there are leaf-eating okapi, red colobus and the new species of monkey, Lesula. All are absent on east side of the central Lomami River.

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