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Eliza Iles in Africa

The following fascinating article is from a Beaumont Daily Journal article in November 1920. It features a letter from the Belgian Congo, Africa written by my great-grandfather’s sister, Eliza Iles:

Headline: Miss Eliza Iles writes of trip to Congo, Africa

Miss Eliza Iles, who was deaconess for the First Methodist church in this city for three years and is now in Africa doing mission work, has written an interesting account of her trip to her uncle, Dr. D.C. Iles of Lake Charles.

The letter was written November 12, 1920 from Wembo, Niama, Lusambo, Congo Belgi, Africa, and the following extract from the letter tells of her trip:

“We reached here November 3, making three months and three days since leaving New York City. Suffice to say, we had a great time shopping and sight-seeing in London, though we were delighted leave that chilly country. Spent a part of three days in Brussels and saw lots and enjoyed it. Then came the three weeks from Plymouth, England to Africa on board the Albertville.Caught glimpses of France and Spain.Stopped at one of the Canary Islands.Tenerife, and at Dakar on the west coast of Africa and then straight on to Bama, the capital of Congo Belge, and then to Matadi, where we left the ship.

Here we spent a week with Dr. Sims, who has been in the Congo as a medical missionary for nearly forty years and has only had three furloughs. He is in charge of the Baptist Mission at Matadi.

We went form Matadi to Kimbasa by rail and it was an awful trip. Fifteen of us were in a veritable box car that had only twelve seats. We traveled all day, almost next to the engine that burned wood, and several of us caught fire, but put it out before much painful damage was done. I might add that the clothes that we used on that trip were not used thereafter!

We spent the night at a small placed called Thyaville and resumed our awful trip in the afternoon to find no place to stay, so we went on to Leopoldville, a few miles further on, and spent two nights and a day at an abandoned Baptist mission. We did our own cooking, slept two on a single bed and paid $10 for a sugar cured ham that I am sure must have been as old as I.

We were a happy crowd, when we learned that we could go on board a river boat the next morning.We were three weeks coming up the four rivers and the scenery along the journey was beautiful.We saw hippos bobbing up out of the water, monkeys swinging from trees, and crocodiles sunning themselves and the natives all along were most interesting, and I learned to love them long before I got here.

We had goat meat, mutton, and Irish potatoes on the trip, with not much else but fruit, as it could be bought along the way.I sure enjoyed the sugar cane and bought it every chance I got.

Dr. Mumpower gave us medical lectures on tropical diseases, as we came up the river, and he also taught us the language.We reached Lusambo, October 18 and my but we were glad.Mr. Shadel from our own mission was there to meet us.A man from the Presbyterian mission met us also and we stayed with them a week until our caravan came here for us.

It was a thrilling sight when188 men came marching in, keeping time to a hammock song, and say: but we were glad to see them.There are larger men than some of the other tribes and are a proud people for they have never been slaves and have never been conquered save by the Belgians, who own the Congo.

We left Lusambo on the long, long trail for our destination on October 25. The first thing we encountered was an awful hill and one of the men had to go ahead and partly pull me up, for we could not ride up the hill in our hammock. We traveled about three hours that day and spent the afternoon and night at a native village. At each village is a “red house” put up by the chief for travelers. When we got there the natives crowded around so thick that we could hardly turn. The chief had his natives bring us fruit, such as “paipais”, bananas, peanuts, mangoes, and egg rice, cassava root and other vegetables. We had two boys along to do the cooking and a couple more to look after our beds. We slept on army cots and had to have mosquito nets. The nurse in charge here had sent a special boy along for me and he was quite handy in looking after my canteen, raincoat, sweater, and the pillow for my hammock.

We would get up between 3:30 and 4:30 o’clock and get started by 4 or 5 o’clock. We would travel until 11 or 12 o’clock when we would stop at a village for the afternoon and night. At last on the ninth day we came to Wembo Niama.

Before we were nearly here, many natives from the village met us, also native drummers- and what with the drums beating and all of the natives singing and keeping time to hammock song, and the men trotting with our hammocks, we were somewhat stirred up. We had to pass through the native village of Wambo Niama first and at last halted within our own gates of the mission and the missionaries came running to meet us. I was overjoyed to see my friend Kathron. My, but she had had some experiences. She has been the only physician, nurse or dentist within two weeks travel, for three years.

My, how the missionaries and natives love her. He furlough is due and she and Mrs. Shadel will soon be leaving.

We surely have lots of servants—mostly boys—and they do not want us to do a thing. I am not finding the language hard. Of course, it will be some time before I have a working knowledge of it. We have chicken every day and get 80 eggs a week from the natives. Also have ducks, antelope, and goat meat. I enjoy the sugar cane and Mr. Shadel makes good syrup.

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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