Sunday, 11 March 2012

Drums on the Night Air: Veronica Cecil (Congo)

Veronica Cecil was twenty-five years old when her husband was offered a job at a large multi-national company in the Congo. Filled with enthusiasm for their new life, the couple and their eleven-month-old son set off for an African adventure. Very soon, however, Veronica began to realise that life in the Congo was not what she had imagined. Food shortages were an everyday occurrence; she felt like an outsider at the club in LĂ©opoldville, which only the Belgians and other expats frequented; and flickers of violence were starting to erupt everywhere. Six months later Veronica and her family were sent to Elizabetha, a remote palm oil plantation on the banks of the Congo River. But even here paradise didn't last. Civil war broke out, and the rebels captured the neighbouring town of Stanleyville and took all the whites hostage. Despite the fact that Veronica was on the verge of giving birth, the situation was so dangerous that she and her toddler had to be evacuated. Leaving her husband and all their possessions behind, she and her son began on a two-day journey through the jungle. But on the plane back to Leopoldville, the first labour pains began...

I bought this book at the beginning of the year, as part of the 12 Days of Kindle campaign, but for some reason, put off reading until now. I am not sure why that was; maybe it because so many other different books vied for my attention that seemed more interesting, but whatever the reason, I found that I was pleasantly surprised when I did begin to read.

I had been expecting a somewhat lame tale about expats living in Africa and the difficulties of having to face all that poverty, but in fact I found the opposite. The author who was born in British India, and lived in both South Africa and what was then Rhodesia, was no stranger to Africa or its problems, but was in fact for her day somewhat of a revolutionary and champion of civil rights. Everything of course changed with motherhood, and this revolutionary young woman was transformed into loyal wife and mother whose role was to support her husband and keep home. This is not to say that she did not have a mind of her own, but back then, in the early 1960's things were different and women's roles were also different. For those who did not live through, or like me, were not born into that era, it would be difficult to understand.

She found the life of a expatriate wife in the capital Leopoldville dull and frustratingly cliquey, and longed to see the real Congo, but when her chance finally came, it was short lived, for within five short months everything changed, and both she and her family were forced to flee back to the safety of Leopoldville and ultimately home. The trouble was that at the time, the author was not just heavily pregnant, but about to drop. The pains started on the way back to Leopoldville, and after several false starts, her daughter was finally born.

Being written, as it is from the woman's point of view, this book is more likely to appeal to women, I hate to say it, of a certain age, who were either born into or part of the era of which she speaks. Mrs Cecil was obviously a strong and a courageous woman, that much is clear, for not many would have had the guts to endure what she did, but then again, when your children's lives are at risk, you will go to extraordinary lengths.

Overall this was a enjoyable short read, to which I would probably give an average rating.

No comments:

Post a Comment