Proper Names

You have reminded me that there are times when the "proper" name does matter.

Way back before the revolution in the Belgian Congo (Now called Zaire), I was going there to do photographic work for the Presbyterian Mission. A school friend named Tom Cleveland had grown up in Luluabourg, Belgian Congo, and had arranged it with his father. I was very excited.

Tom even gave me some lessons in a local tribal language Tschiluba, I think it was, which he said was a tonal language. Words could mean different things entirely, according the the way you said them. I only remember one cussword of his lessons, plus a caveat about taking care in how I pronounced things, because the word for "Head" and "Wheelbarrow" were identical except for the inflection, the natives tended to be very literal, and " .. you wouldn't want to ask for a wheelbarrow and have the guy bring you somebody's head."

The Congo rebellion broke out in his home town of Luluabourg a few months before I had planned to go, and I never heard from him again. I never got to find out if he was kidding me or not but I can't quite shake pictures of some native bringing home his head in a wheelbarrow.

I listened to it all on Short Wave ... "Radio Free Congo" ... broadcasting from Elizabethville until one afternoon they just fell silent.

I still miss Tom.