Travels in Africa

Fred and Donanne Hunter


The previous TIA post offered the first part of a memoir about Thérèse and Jules André whose friendship in the Congo made my life tolerable there. In the first half the Andrés and I had just begun to play at English lessons in case they wanted to migrate to Australia, chased there by the upheavals of the Congo. The second part reveals what happened to the Andrés after they left the Congo, thanks to the existence of the Travels in Africa blog.


On Tuesday evenings I began to give the Andrés English lessons. But as it turned out, Jules was often too tired from his work and from his worries to focus on them. Often he would go upstairs to take a sleeping pill, leaving Thérèse and me together, sitting across the dining table from each other, drinking tea and playing at English. Thérèse needed the companionship of a man who concentrated on her, not a man consumed with worries. I had no contact with women in the Congo; Thérèse became the woman in my life. I cherished the contact.
In fact, our evenings together grew very tender. We formed a deep friendship. Yes, we were attracted to one another. But nothing would ever be done about it. Thérèse, I was sure, was a good woman, beyond acting on any attraction. And I had my priorities straight. The Andrés were my anchor in Coq. It was unthinkable that I would make advances that could jeopardize the support I derived from the only people in Coq to befriend me.
The Simba Rebellion began to threaten Coq. I was ordered to evacuate the town. American planes flew in on rescue missions and I was able to arrange for Thérèse and the children to fly to Leopoldville, as the capital was then called. The family had a pied-à-terre apartment there. I helped get the family settled in that place.
Thérèse was able to put the three boys in school. She was left with six-year-old Martine. Because the situation of refugees was tedious – although it was safe – I stopped by the pied-à-terre frequently, to have tea or take them to dinner. My friendship with Thérèse deepened. Now she looked to me for the support that she and Jules had so generously given me.
Before it reached Coquilhatville, the rebellion was blunted. Thérèse returned home with Martine. The embassy decided against sending a lone American officer back into the town. I was transferred to Bukavu in the east of the country.
Before going there, I took a final trip to Coq. I stayed at my house, but took meals with Thérèse and Jules. They had decided to leave Coq and I had never seen them happier. I thought the marriage might have found a new sense of direction in their decision to leave, in their having found again something to aim at together after the hard years of drift. They laughed together a great deal. Jules seemed relaxed and didn’t raise his voice to Thérèse; he even touched her affectionately now and again. They called each other chou (“cabbage,” a Francophone endearment) a great deal. I’d never heard that before. I was delighted to be in that atmosphere.
The Andrés and I continued our friendship through letters. The correspondence lasted until well after I left the Congo. They sent a handsome Belgian lace tablecloth when I married a girl in California. By that time they had left Coq and were living in Léopoldville. Eventually we lost contact.
The years passed. I became a newspaper correspondent, covering Africa. Our son, born in Nairobi five years into our marriage, grew to manhood; he earned two masters degrees. After journalism, I wrote screenplays for a living. Still there was a nostalgia for Africa. It led to the inception of the Travels in Africa blog.
Blogs possess a worldwide reach. People around the globe can do a Google search for their names. If a blogger has mentioned them in his blog, they will be directed to it.
One day I got a message from a reader named Piotr Michejda. I must have stared at the name for half a minute. Janusz and Barbara Michejda were the Andrés’ closest friends in Coq. Boudart was their great pal. They had been transferred to Cotonou in the West African country of Benin before the Simba Rebellion threatened us.
Piotr’s message would surely test my nostalgia for Africa. He explained that he was Janusz and Barbara’s son, now an international business man traveling widely throughout the world. I did not remember ever hearing about their son, but he said he had gone to school with André’s sons, Yves, Benoit, and Jean-Luc.
In an English much better than my French had been in Coq, he wrote:
Even if my parents stayed in touch and visited them whenever on holidays leave in Europe, It was in the beginning of the 70ies, when I moved from Geneva to Belgium, that I reconnected with the Andrés. You are right when you assess that this kind of life (the life we all shared in Coq) is a huge load to carry on and maintain a marriage. It was at least for my parents.
Jules Boudart has been, until his decease, in the late 60ies, my father’s closest buddy and my mother’s friend and confident. He visited us every year when we were in Cotonou, he came with us on holidays in Spain where he made my parents invest in some real estate (he made a fortune in real estate in South of France and Corsica Island, but he always went back to Coq, even long after quite all the Europeans have left the City).
So much for the Belgians in Coq who peopled Thérèse’s dinner parties.
Then, re-establishing the Travels in Africa blog after a long absence I found a message. It said: “It’s amazing to have the story about my grandfather and his life in congo. I’m so thankfull that I had the opportunity to learn about his life.” It was sent by Axelle André. A lovely name. Obviously a granddaughter of Jules and Thérèse. But by what crooked path had she found Travels in Africa? And when had the message been posted? I hadn’t been near the blog for two years.
I wrote immediately to her email address. “How amazing and delightful to get a message from you!” I told her a little about myself and my long-ago friendship with her grandparents. I offered to send her a copy of A YEAR AT THE EDGE OF THE JUNGLE, my memoir of the time in Coq. I asked what had happened to my great friends.
She emailed back: “I didn’t expect to have an answer 6 month later. But I’m also delight to talk with you about my family. My father is Yves André the older one, he is 66 years old now and he is retired. My father remember you with your mamajeep and when you swim in the ruky,” the Ruki tributary that entered the Congo just east of Coquilhatville. I forwarded the book. Axelle sent news about her grandparents. She was 25 and living with her parents in Villers-la-Ville, Belgium.
The Andrés’ after-Coq life was much what one would have expected: short stays in Léo followed by short stays back in Coq; significant losses of funds and household effects after leaving Coq behind. In Léo Jules worked for Bell Telephone Company, a supplier of his in Coq. When Bell left the Congo, the Andrés followed it to Belgium. Jules worked for it for a number of years, I take it, in Antwerp, Belgium’s second city, a thriving seaport. Thérèse seems to have lived mainly in the Namur area, seeing Jules on the weekends. Jules died in a “carcrash” a dozen years ago and Thérèse six years later.
Axelle closed her latest email to me: “Ps: I think of them every day and I miss them a lot. I can send you some pictures of my childhood with them. My favorite meal is Chicken moambe like my grand ma did.” In my day moambe was the Congolese national dish. Thérèse made an excellent moambe for the bachelors like me who clambered to her table.

1 Comment


    October 2, 2018 at 9:30 pm


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