Following an evacuation from the USIS post in Coquilhatville in the northwest Congo, Fred Hunter agitated to return. The embassy finally agreed that he could go back. Here’s his further account of what happened when he did:

At the airport the Lions Club members who watched our arrival once again wait for Bugsmasher. But the atmosphere is quite different. While this morning they seemed merely a cluster of individuals and pairs, this afternoon they form a group. Many of them sit on the waist-high walkway that leads from the check-in building to the tower and meteorological station, absorbing the brilliant sunlight. They joke quietly. More than anything, they seem like a group of management people in a suburban factory enjoying the sun and the last minutes of lunch hour. The bell has not yet rung for the afternoon shift. It will not – neither for them nor for me – until something more is known of Boende.

Coquilhatville street scene

Splendid sun! I, too, give myself to it, feel its warmth on my body. What a relief to escape from Léo: from that atmosphere of parasites, from the confusion of that office, from seeming everyone’s responsibility and no one’s friend. Léo has never been anything for me but a place to change planes.

I gaze out across the runway and see at the beginning of the jungle the tall bokungu tree that gave me my first real impression of Africa. As I look, the assembled Lions chuckle at some joke. Although I am not one of them, I feel right being back in Coq. If I belong anywhere in the Congo, it is here. Where I have a job and perhaps a contribution to make. I’ll take a swim later this afternoon, work my muscles into the pleasure of feeling tired again. Energy has been clogging like sediment inside me ever since I left here.

Fifteen minutes pass. Where is Bugsmasher? Jules arrives with his packet of paintings.

The joking slackens. The men glance ever more frequently at their watches. The plane is now half an hour overdue. It seems less and less likely that the news from Boende will be good.

One of the Lions checks with the control tower. He returns with the report that there has been no pre-landing contact with Bugsmasher. Walking at his side is one of the tower operators, a Congolese. “This fellow,” says the Lion, indicating the Congolese, “says he heard the Boende tower talking to Ikela.”

“To Ikela?” The group crowds around the Congolese. [{Ikela lay halfway between Boende and Stanleyville.]

“What did you hear?”

“The Boende tower said: ‘Ikela, Ikela,’” answers the Congolese, trying to repeat the conversation exactly, “‘there’s an unknown airplane flying over Boende. Can you identify it?’”

“How long ago was that?”

The Congolese consults his watch, “An hour ago.”

“What did Ikela say?”

“Ikela didn’t know anything about the plane. So the two towers talked about it for a while.” The Congolese shrugs. “Then about other things.”

“Boende has fallen,” someone says.

The Embassy political officer and I step aside to huddle together. The civilian authorities in town, he tells me, can talk of nothing but reinforcements of arms and men – even when a shipment of arms arrived only yesterday for the defense of Ingende. He’s concerned about the quality of leadership left in Engulu’s absence. Rumors – which cannot be checked, of course – contend that rebels have had regular contacts with a key minister, one of the two or three who remained loyal to Engulu when the cabinet tried to depose him.

But more than anything else he’s concerned about Major Kwima. He claims Kwima is a member of some influence in the MNC/L, the Lumumbist party which is providing political leadership for the rebellion from Brazzaville. So, besides the question of the major’s competence, there’s now the question of his loyalty. This, I realize, is what Tom and I have suspected without ever previously putting our fingers on it. General Mobutu has been cautioned several times, the political officer tells me, to replace Kwima before the danger grows too great to the province. He has promised to act.

We hear the shrill whirr of the warning siren and as one body the group of us starts out toward the terrace on the runway side of the building. The fire truck starts out toward the tarmac. We scan the sky, see a dot appear in it, watch it grow into a plane and land.

DeWalsch and Kohlbrand dismount in a state of excitement. Kwima seems spent. “We got our tails shot at over Boende,” says Kohlbrand, laughing a little as one does at the end of a roller coaster ride. He crouches to look for bullet holes in the plane’s belly. “Good thing those monkeys don’t know how to shoot.”

Satisfied with the condition of his plane, he gives the political officer and me a systematic briefing. The rebels have crossed the river. Boende is definitely theirs. He can only guess as to whether there was a battle. He suspects not. He was surprised to see the number of men wearing what appeared to be ANC uniforms. These may have been taken from soldiers captured or killed. Or the men wearing them may be turncoats from Stanleyville. “Or from Boende?” He nods. “Quite possible.”

“What about Kwima?” asks the political officer.

We look over at him talking to some of his officers a little distance from us on the tarmac. He seems sober, spent by the excitement.

“He laughed like a maniac the entire time we were over the town.”


“Fear maybe. Or immaturity. Maybe he just got a kick out of watching from a low-flying plane. He kept laughing and shouting: ‘Look at them run! Look at them run!’”

“Think maybe he was glad to see Boende fall?”

“That had occurred to me, too.”

The plane gets ready to leave. I stick Jules’ package into the tiny luggage compartment and ask the political officer to have it delivered to Tom Madison. Kohlbrand watches me and laughs. “Well, Fred old boy, have a big time here!”

It does seem funny to come back to stay the day Boende falls. I laugh with him. “Don’t get too far away now.”

“Just give us a call when you need us.”

“I’ll send a note down the river in a bottle.”

“That might be the fastest way!” We shake hands all around. No sweat, I tell myself as the plane taxies out to the runway. Still I feel a little uneasy as I watch it fly out of sight.

Next post: Coquins want Fred to call for a rescue plane.