Ursula has sent several things in our correspondence that I thought other people would be interested in, and I asked her if I might include them in our blog. Recently she sent the following:
I really enjoyed Paul C's contribution and the article on Rufus.
You asked once if you could post some of what I'd written you. Sure. Here's what I've sent you before and below the result of having been jogged by Paul's contribution on thieves. The last thing really should be contributed by Mary, but I’ll do my best.
Paul Chantrey’s piece on "Night Thieves" jogged my memory, although I may be combining more than one incident.
Mary Reed and I acquired a puppy not long after we’d arrived. He was a cute rascal, quite easy to train, very obedient, and grew quickly into our hearts. At about six months, he became listless, refused to eat, and within a few days was dying. We felt incredibly helpless and knew the end was near. The morning we found him dead he’d managed to get up and lay curled on a living room armchair, something not allowed and he’d never done.
A few nights later Mary screamed: “Thief, Ursula, thief!” I awoke and grabbed my referee’s whistle (for the girls’ netball games and close to my bed for emergencies) and blew it with all my might. I blew and blew. The scoundrels departed before I could light the kerosene lamp. Mary told me later that I had just sat on the bed reciting in a despairing tone: “Nobody came, nobody came, nobody came…” ever more mournfully.
The elderly and fragile night watchman, who slept outside the girl’s compound across the road from our house, only woke when we rudely roused him. He ordered me to go to the police immediately, four miles away in Segbwema. I ran to the car, tripped over something that shouldn’t have been there, and fell hard. In the dark I barely made out my Hermes typewriter. We then decided to try to find out what had actually been taken. The sewing machine was missing and a beautifully-frosted cake Mary had just made to celebrate Dave Williams’ visit the next day. I again headed for the car, and a 100 meters down the road the sewing machine appeared in the headlights. Too heavy for a swift escape, we guessed. We gave up going to the police as we figured the cake would not be regarded as worthy. Mambu our houseboy told us the thieves had surely poisoned our puppy.
And now some good memories:
To begin with you should know that Mary Reed taught World History and West African History at our school. She had been so appalled at the Methodist text books she'd been given that she'd thrown them out and daily prepared an entire lesson plan for each class, using the history books she'd brought with her and the World Book we all had as resources. This meant mimeographing her texts for the girls before class with the hand rolling machine and gentian violet ink. Mary was technically challenged and the ink stains on her hands were almost permanent. (To be fair, none of us came out clean from these efforts.)
Among other things, Mary taught that there were more deaths from the conflicts between the various missionary groups than from the intertribal wars. While teaching the slave trade, she asked if it wasn't true that when the girls would misbehave, their mothers would tell them to watch out, because they would be sold off to the traders and taken away to be eaten by white men. The girls were aghast and asked how did she know!
Another time, at morning chapel, the principal, Miss Driscoll, an American Methodist missionary in SaLone for over 30 years and well-liked by the locals, was asking the girls who the most important man was in early times, who gave us the most important gift for our civilization, and to whom we should be forever grateful. One of Mary's outstanding students raised her hand. When called upon, she answered, “Hammurabi, because he showed us how to write!”
I think it was in our second year that three weary and perspiring Jehovah Witnesses, dressed in suits, hats, and ties in the sweltering humidity and having walked from god knows where to the school compound, knocked on that huge wooden gate. Miss Driscoll, our imposing principal, opened the heavy gates. When she realized they were Jehovah Witnesses, she raged at them to be off instantly. They had no right to try to be after the souls of her girls. They were not even Christians!! and slammed the gates with considerable force.
A little astonished at this 'Christian' welcome, but taking it in their stride, they wandered over to our small compound, where Mary and I greeted them and offered them a cool drink and to sit a while. In time they of course got to their Watch Tower spiel, but in rather subdued terms. At one point they mentioned what a shame it had been that Eve had eaten the apple and offered it to Adam. Well, that pushed a button in Mary, and she began to bring historical arguments about the damage done by the Christian patriarchy in the way it used this tale to dominate women.
I happened to have a lovely little book of poems by Archibald MacLeish called Songs for Eve, praising Eve for having eaten the apple and given us the ability to experience and reflect and be alive. I took this out and read some to our guests. They were utterly polite and respectful, but eventually we all agreed to remain in our mindsets, and the Witnesses left with perhaps a different kind of astonishment. Mary and I chuckled for weeks about our 'conversion' encounter in darkest Africa!