Adjusting to Africa

September 15, 1960

Dear Dad and Russ,

Afraid this won’t be much of a letter because time just doesn’t permit, but I did want to get at least a note off in tomorrow’s bag to Ottawa. Incidentally, mail seems to be getting through slowly but surely to other members of the staff here so if you would like to write to me okay is Emily, (addressing them to me C/O Canadian Consulate General, P. O. Box 8341, Leopoldville, Congo) using the regular airmail service, please feel free. The dip bag service is not very good here. Only two bags every month and they seem to take anywhere from 10 days to two weeks to reach their destination.

I won’t go into details here about my grand trip over and my stay in Rome – that will have to wait until I receive my portable typewriter as this machine is very bad and has a French keyboard which makes typing rather awkward. If you received my postcard you will undoubtedly be as surprised as I am to find that Leopoldville is such a truly modern and beautiful city. I stayed in a hotel for my first few days here then moved into the Canadian residence with Roger and Marjory Bull, and Mr. Wood. It’s a magnificent house set in a private park (Parc Selemba) with a few other homes. Sort of the Rockcliffe [the upscale part of Ottawa] of Leopoldville, one might say. I have a room to myself with the terrace and a terrific view of the city and the surrounding hills. Will tell you more about the house next letter; I am still looking for an apartment – have a real nice one lined up but will not know for sure for about another 10 days if it is going to become available. What with the UN and all the foreign missions being established here, living accommodation is at a premium. For one thing, I understand that there isn’t a sheet to be had here in town as the UN bought them all up. So if you get an urgent request for bed linen, you’ll know what it’s all about.BullsHouse

The Bull family and their residence in Parc Selemba

The Bull family and their residence in Parc Selemba

I spent all last Sunday afternoon over at the UN swimming pool and Sgts. Mess with Darrell Pentland, and I’ve heard that one of my Indochina buddies from the Signals Corps is in the Congo but at the moment he is stationed in Elizabethville in Katanga province.

As far as the local situation is concerned here, I am sure that the reports you read in the newspapers are far more sensational than the real thing. Oh, occasionally we do hear gunfire coming from the African section of town and, of course, the streets were always patrolled by armed soldiers and surly members of the Force Publique who often stop you to ask for identification papers, but quite frankly this city is quite like any other city in so far as daily activities are concerned. Supermarkets are open, along with other shops, every day (I’ve been going to one of the local department stores on Saturday afternoons to browse through their rather good record selections) but prices, of course, are sky-high. There is no food shortage by the way, but certain commodities are rather scarce. There are one or two fairly good restaurants here but, again, you must be prepared to pay through the nose for anything digestible. Next letter I’ll tell you about dining at the zoo and one of Lumumba’s press conferences I attended. Also about a visit to the local Parliament buildings during one of their sittings (chaos!).

The Bulls will be returning to Canada around December and I’m thinking seriously of buying their 1952 Jeep from them as private transportation is a must here. The buses are not used by white people and the city is so spread out that it is impossible to get anywhere at all by foot. Roger said he will be willing to part with “I Presume” (the Jeep’s official title) for little money as it only cost him $400.00 two years ago and it’s been all over Africa since then.

Russ, how is the VW running? Don’t forget to put gas in it (occasionally).

Well, really must dash now,

Love, David

September 16, 1960

Dear Dad and Russ,

I wrote you a wee note for today’s bag so this will not be a letter.

Just thought you might like to see how beautiful the local postage stamps are. Please do not give these away as I would like to add them to my Indochina collection when I get home.

The envelope with "a few stamps"

The envelope: note that the older stamps have been over-stamped “Congo”

I would be interested in learning how long this letter takes to get to you via ordinary airmail channels. As I mentioned in my note, the dip bags from here are few and very slow.

I am very happy here – loving every minute of it. The past few days have been particularly nice now that “spring” has arrived, although there is every indication that it is going to be a long, hot summer!

Please give my best to the folks at the “Y”, Dad, and to any of the gang you might be speaking to. By the way, if you could take a minute to call Claudette I would appreciate it very much if you could apologize on my behalf for not having written yet and tell her that the wristbands she made for me are just perfect and the envy of all the other members of the staff. Did Bob and Joan get home alright? If so, please give them my love to and tell them I’ll write.

Love, David


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