by Mitsuko Nakachi (1928-2016) , translated by Rio Imamura
The city of Lubumbashi where I moved to from Musoshi thoroughly got rid of my prejudice that Africa is a dark continent. Lubumbashi is the "city of flowers". Blooming flowers in various colors are all over in fine displays on fences, along roads, inside gardens, one after another, producing a grandiose paradise. The prudent planning of city streets just surprised me.
The flower season in Lubumbashi starts in September, the month of blooming jacaranda trees. The streets I stroll innocently everyday turn suddenly into tunnels of purple mist. Jacaranda on both sides of the streets are in full bloom, blended and crisscrossed. African roads are wide and long and jacaranda trees continue far and farther away. Purple color tunnels spread until eyes become dim and hazy. Jacaranda, unlike the fast scattering Japanese cherry blossoms, keep their flowers for a little over three months. When I walk alone under the quiet purple tunnels, the words "Land of Happiness" pop into my mind.
Jacaranda, however, succumbs and starts scattering by the end of October. Then, as if waiting, comes the next street of flowers, and the baton is being passed. This time fire-like crimson color Flamboyer contrast their red against the blue sky horizon. Flamboyer is translated into Japanese as the tree of flame. Flamboyer trees, after purple Jacaranda, make avenues painted by crayon into a red dye-color. The large sized Flamboyer flowers bloom in full boughs; the scenes look gaudy, ostentatious perhaps. Only in Africa is it possible to walk the avenue and have the feeling of being engulfed in fire.
Soon after the celebration of New Years by the Japanese colony, red avenues turn next into yellow avenues, when acacias come into full bloom. The front of our house is all acacias. One night I smelled a sweet fragrance around our salon window and in the morning I found the Avenue "Kapenda" in the front of our house covered and buried in yellow color. Acacia flowers are small, but they cluster. So it is quite a sight when big trees are fully loaded and when the chrome-yellow avenues join the evening glow at sunset. The fragrance of acacia is strong as compared to other trees; so the night stroll gave me a special pleasure.
When the acacia is gone, the next bloomers are the tulip tree de gabon. It's the last of four 'avenue trees'. The massive pedals on the flower are as thick as a human palm and very heavy. The color is fresh orange. The tulip flowers kerflop, just like the Japanese camellia. Thickly covered and postured trees offer nests for many species of birds. I drove almost daily to the nearest lake along the tulip tree avenue, glancing at the dotted orange flowers in the deep green mass. No one was on the lakeside, but waiting for me were numerous unfamiliar flowers in the garden which was well taken care of by the gardener.
The dry season starts in April in the Congo Highlands, when tree tulip flowers are gone. It signals that the four-relay flower season will enter into a recess until the voluptuous Jacaranda comes back. Meanwhile, green avenues in Lubumbashi remain rustled and insipid with dry winds. I heard that the city planning and tree planting in Lubumbashi was devised and carried out by Belgian colonists who settled in and started copper mining in the early 1900s.
The above translation is my belated tribute to the late Mitsuko Nakachi, who passed away some months ago. She was among the coterie magazine members of Hino City, Tokyo. I once also belonged to that group upon my return from the U.S. in the late 1990s. I never met her, but I wrote a fan letter after reading her Lubumbashi stories. I wanted to learn more about her African life and asked my Hino friend in her neighborhood (and her junior at Tsuda University) if a meeting could be arranged. It was then that I learned that she had passed away, soon after her husband's death.
The following is what I could piece together after studying the advance and retreat of the Japanese mining consortium in the Republic of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) from the 1970s to the 1980s. At one time the Japanese Consortium had hired about 10,000 local people, including copper miners, built a town for the miners and their families, with markets, hospital, schools, post office, plus 500 Japanese expats, engineering and administrative staffs accompanied with 100 families. It must have been a bold and huge investment for Japan trying to import copper ore. Apparently after a few years of operations, the Consortium faced a myriad of unexpected fatal management problems including devaluation of the U.S. dollar (Nixon shock), power and food shortages, changes of railroad routes and shipping ports, worsening political situation (Kolwezi tragedy); all of which contributed to their decision to withdraw. A wise decision considering it was before the collapse of the Mobutu Government culminating in the Congo internal disputes and violence.
Mitsuko Nakachi, joining her husband with the Consortium, must have spent a few years, about 5 years in Musoshi and Lubumbasi. Mososhi is one of the copper mining towns, 150 km southeast of Lubumbashi and close to the border with Zambia.
I regret that I lost a chance to meet her. Searching her name on the Internet, I found her poem, which was selected as the best of 2015 by a Tokyo Newspaper:
“Informed I have but one year to live
Befriending cockscombs ablaze with autumn tints”