Derbisaka the centre of the world, right?

Thank you – Google Earth Map

Well for the people who live there that is certainly true, and our home patch is usually the centre of our world also! But Derbisaka is somewhat special, because if someone was asked to stick a pin in the fulcrum point of a map of the African continent, the chances are that they would stick it on the map on or very near to Derbisaka! ‘So?’ I hear you ask!

Well for someone who has always been used to travelling I have found this ‘lockdown’ in Scotland getting to me recently. But then my mind turned to some of the lonely and isolated places I have been in the world in the course of life and work, and I thought – Derbisaka! Most people there have never been more that a few miles from their village!

*On 9th June 1992 my wife and I travelled there for a week long visit to a Christian nurse who had gone to help set up a Community Health Programme at a place called Rafai, in a remote region of Central African Republic. She had been there 3.5 years, but for the previous nine months had been working without any expatriate support. With little communication with the outside world, we went to encourage and support her, and to assess the local situation. You’ll catch the picture when I say that the plane we were flying in was bringing her some mail from the previous December / February period!

Getting to Rafai is no easy business even from Nairobi in Kenya from where we were travelling. We left Wilson Airport in Nairobi early in the morning flying in a small Africa Inland Mission 5 seater Cessna aircraft to Bunia in what was then Zaire, where we stopped for toilets and refuelling. This was a 780 Km long stretch in a cramped noisy aircraft, flying over the northern tip of Lake Victoria and then over Lake Albert to Bunia. Then we were off again flying over the jungles of Zaire hour after hour looking down on the occasional hamlet and jungle river, and skirting around a tropical storm, we eventually reached Zemio in C.A.R. just before dark. The following morning we were off early again on the 100 mile stretch to Rafai, where our friend warmly welcomed us to her home in this Afica Inland Mission Station.

Flying around a tropical storm.

It was then that we had the surprise announcement, that we were leaving immediately on a vacination safari to Derbisaka some 220 Km from Rafai. ‘Don’t worry, all the camp beds, sleeping bags and mosquito nets and drinks have already been packed so we are all set to go’. So off we went in the Toyota Hilux, three in the front and two local helpers in the back, down to the river, across on the ferry and on with the vacination safari. The main road was like a ‘Forestry Commission’ road for the first 60+ kilometres, then near Dembia we turned left onto a track which was almost indecernable, with grass taller than the vehicle and branches blocking our way at times. These were quickly dispensed with by our panga yielding helpers who travelled with us. All day we stopped at various villages to weigh and vacinate children and before dark we reached the village of Kossa where we were to spend the night.

The Rafai and Zemio region of C.A.R. showing Derbisaka – Google Earth Maps

The villagers were amazing, extremely friendly and kind. We were allocated an empty round African hut, and were given assistance to put up our camp beds and mosquito nets. A large fire was burning in the village square where we sat and chatted with those who were gathered around. The women of the village then asked Muriel if she would like a shower, as they had built a shower cubicle with some poles and banana leaves at the edge of the forest. Muriel was about to turn down the kind offer, but when they said you can take your husband with you, she readily agreed. At the edge of the forest, there was the three sided cubicle, banana leaves also on the floor, and two basins of hot water. How long does it take a woman to shower? This one was over and done in no time at all, and mine was just as short! We didn’t need any rocking to sleep, but when we woke in the morning we discovered we were sharing the hut with a hen and a brood of newborn chicks!

We spent the next day on the bumpy track to Derbisaka continuing with clinics along the way. We were blessed and encouraged to see the love and concern shown to so many women and children, and to meet some of the village health workers and church leaders. We marvelled at the courage and tenacity of our nursing friend, who worked in this isolated and remote place, and praised God for the grace that sustained her. We then returned to Kossa for the night.

Before bed some of the villagers gave us a lesson on how to catch termites, as we were told they were ready to leave their large hill nest! A large basin sized hole was dug near to the termite hill, and we all gathered round. Then they lit a kerosene soaked rag on a stick, and held it over the hole. The termites (about 1 inch long with a wingspan of 2.5 inches) then came in their droves, some flying and others walking straight into the hole, where one of the mamas stirred them with her hand to knock the wings off, until the hole was filled. A ‘termite pate’ we were told would be prepared in the morning, which was considered to be a local delicacy.

It was humbling that night just lying there in the silence and darkness of an African hut, praying and recalling the experiences of the last few days. Thinking of the lifestyle of the villagers, some who were our brothers and sisters in Christ, and of our friend who served them all in the name of Jesus. I knew that in the morning we would be up and off again, on the journey back to Rafai. But for them, this was their life, so dramatically different to ours in almost every aspect. But in the morning as we prepared to depart we were greeted by a line of happy, singing, grateful mamas thanking us for our visit and presenting us with gifts of mangos, a live chicken and other local produce, but fortunately no ‘termite pate’!

On Sunday we were at Church in Rafai and the place was packed with about 500 worshippers, evenly split between men and women. During the service there was a medical emergency and our friend was called away. The surgeon was a local pastor who had no formal training but had worked for years with the missionary doctor and took over from him when he retired. He evidently had a good reputation among the people. The following week we were off on another vacination safari to Banima some 75Km in the other direction. By mid week we flew home via Nyankunde hospital in Zaire where we had a water engineer working, but that’s another story.

It’s good to recall such experiences when life is not going the way you want it. I do know the war in Sudan was to lead to thousands crossing the border to refugee camps in C.A.R., and then of course there was the civil war there recently, so I don’t think life will have become any more stable for the folks there.

In comparison we are blessed beyond measure, which should make us truly grateful, and mindful of those in far flung places who need our help financially and prayerfully, and the pilots of these small planes who continually take their lives in their hands to serve others. So I’ve been singing an old children’s song this week ‘Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done‘. I trust you too feel encouraged this week.


*Compiled from a report sent to Tearfund HQ on 22 June 1992

Note: The film ‘Mama Luka comes Home’ is freely available on Amazon Prime, and illustrates the flying and logistic conditions prevailing in the region at that time. The amazing story of Dr Helen Rosevear and her work in the Congo near to the C.A.R border, and her earlier capture and brutalisation by the Simba rebels, is another story of faith and endurance well worth watching.