Avenue Prince Baudouin,
artère principale de la cité indigène de Léopoldville (1947)
foto A. da Cruz / Congopresse
© Royal Museum for Central Africa, Bruxelas
You can’t go to Leopoldville now, or to Stanleyville, Coquilhatville, or Elisabethville. The names of all those conquerors (and their ladies) have been erased from our map. For that matter you can't even go to the Congo; it's Zaire. We repeat these words as if we're trying to memorize a false identity: I live in Kinshasa, Zaire. The places we've always used to position ourselves are suddenly unfamiliar - cities, villages, even rivers. Elisabet worries genuinely, in spite of our reassurances, that she and Anatole might have been assigned new first names, since theirs are European and 'colonialist.' It wouldn't surprise me, actually. Mobutu's edicts are that far reaching. The old couple next door seem to share her dread: they always forget and say 'Leopoldville,' then cover their mouths with their hands as if they've let slip a treason.
In the evenings we quiz each other, searching out more and more obscure places on the map to trip each other up: Charlesville? Banningville? Djokupunda! Bandundu! The boys get them right more often than I do, mainly because they like to show off. Anatole never misses one, because his mind is that quick, and also I think the indigenous names mean more to him. They're foreign to me, of course. After the boys are asleep I sit at the table in the flickering kerosene light, working my way slowly over the new map, feeling as if Father had found me out here to give me The Verse. We're retraining our tongues to Mobutu's great campaign of authenticité.
But what is authentic about it, I keep asking Anatole. Kinshasa's main street is Boulevard the 30th of June, in memory of that great Independence Day carefully purchased by thousands of pebbles thrown into bowls and carried upriver. How authentic is that? What really became of that vote is another matter, not memorialized in any public place I can see. There is no Boulevard 17 Janvier Mort de Lumumba.
in The Poisonwood Bible (Book V Exodus – Leah Price Ngemba) pp. 503-504
© Barbara Kingsolver, 1998