A Baptist missionary takes his wife and 4 daughters to the Congo, where he tries to bring Jesus to the “natives.” Blatantly disregarding the deep and profound spiritual lives of the residents of the village, and unwilling or unable to learn the subtleties of the native language, “Father” only serves to alienate most of the villagers while exerting his own particular type of religious discipline on his wife and family.
When the youngest daughter dies after being bitten by a poisonous snake, the wife begins her own personal Exodus. Her description of this resonates:
“Plain and simple, that was the source of our exodus: I had to keep moving. I didn’t set out to leave my husband. Anyone can see I should have, long before, but I never did know how. For women like me, it seems, it’s not ours to take charge of beginnings and endings. Not the marriage proposal, the summit conquered, the first shot fired, nor the last one either–the treaty at Appomattox, the knife in the heart. Let men write those stories. I can’t. I only know the middle ground where we live our lives. We whistle while Rome burns, or we scrub the floor, depending. Don’t dare presume there’s shame in the lot of a woman who carries on. On the day a committee of men decided to murder the fledgling Congo, what do you suppose Mama Mwanza was doing? Was it different, the day after? Of course not. Was she a fool, then, or the backbone of a history? When a government comes crashing down, it crushes those who were living under its roof. People like Mama Mwanza never knew the house was there at all. Independence is a complex word in a foreign tongue. To resist occupation, whether you’re a nation or merely a woman, you must understand the language of your enemy. Conquest and liberation and democracy and divorce are words that mean squat, basically, when you have hungry children and clothes to get out on the line and it looks like rain.”