A letter from Congo

    April 7, 1997
    Nyanga, Congo

    My dear Roommates —

    The sun has moved. I’m sure that all of my life, at each change of season, the sun has moved, but never before had I noticed. Yet this evening, as usual, I pulled my rattan chair onto the porch to watch the sunset, and the sun was not where it should have been. For months I had seen it descend gracefully into the night to the left of the palm tree behind the Mauritanian’s store. Now, apparently, our faithful bearer of daylight has moved several meters to the right — so far so, that my next door neighbor’s mango bush hides the final descent. I am afraid that by the Spring Equinox, West will have moved all the way behind my house. I’ll be forced to pull my chair out the back door and send my well-wishes west over the roof of Monsieur Caleb’s latrine.
         Funny how west should move north like that. I guess it makes sense. As the Southern Hemisphere prepares for winter, the northern world leans in toward the sun and summer leaving those of us in the middle to watch a solar tug-of-war.
         But how then, did ancient travelers ever go due West? Due anything? Maybe that’s how Columbus found American; Vespucci gave him directions for the wrong season.
         Logic tells me that at home the sun moves north and south, too. But why have I never noticed before? Perhaps it’s because I’ve never had a single land-mark for 4 seasons — like my Mauritanian palm tree here. In the summers, I relished sunsets over the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean (which shouldn’t make sense because it’s to the east, but from the Vineyard coast, you can look west over water. Get a map out if you don’t believe me.) And in the winter, I . . . well, I basically ignored them on the streets of Cambridge, or on the train home from Boston, or while making dinner in Walpole. Or perhaps it’s because in our land of high-tech wonders and high-stress lives, we just don’t notice small details like that.
         Or perhaps my astronomy just sucks and the damn orb doesn’t move at all when you’re up north. Anyway, life continues here in the Congo. Last week I took a 185 km motorcycle ride — which was way cool — from the nearest big city (Dolisie) home (Nyanga) because none of the public transport was running — no gas. Consequently, this week has seemed rather slow and dull. I took care of a lot of administrative paper work — quarterly report, long range strategic plan, ripping up old memos to use as toilet paper — which kept me house-bound for most of the time. The upcoming week promises to be more interesting. I have to find someone to dig me a new latrine. Don’t laugh, it will be more interesting because it will mean a little exploring. Not just anyone digs latrines, you know, especially since I live in the heart of “white-collar” world (or the Congo equivalent thereof). I will have to comb local villages to find someone to dig for a good price. Ah, the excitement.
         Before signing off, folks, I want to make one last stab at profundity along the lines of observations: I don’t know how we as a group seem to you over there, but from here when I am not privy to the daily drudges of job-hunts, bill-paying, broken-hearts, etc., we are currently a pretty amazing bunch of people. Jon is working at Lucas Films, Jason for a start-up Internet company, Glenn at a start-up computer games gig after a year at York. Elie came back from Israel and is doing legal journalistic type stuff. Nao and Rich are floating around Asia and Australia doing legal/touristy type stuff. Anne, Ken, and Josh all have one foot towards being a doctor of letters, Jenna towards being a doctor of medicine. Todd and Justin have a leg-up on being millionaire/business-tycoons. And I’m in Africa. Watching west move north.

    My love to you all,

    Miriam Carroll served in Congo 1996–97 and Gabon 1997–98.