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Ruth May Price
Five-year-old Ruth May gives her first impression of the Congo. She tells the story of Noah showing that she has been taught that the Africans are the children of Ham and are cursed. She mentions that her fellow Sunday school teacher Rex Minton had told them not to go to the Congo because the natives would eat them. She finds Mr. Axelroot rather dirty. She prizes a collection of comic books sent to them by the Underdowns although she had been sick on the plane and had "upchucked" on the Donald Duck comic.
Ruth May also gives us an initial look at her twin sisters with her explanation that Adah is "bad on one side" and "brain damaged" and hates the rest of the family. Her count of the white people who will be in Africa includes her storybook characters.
Rachel is the oldest and most sensitive to the reception the family receives from the Africans. Her observations make her father seem naive and arrogant even though she herself puts on airs and tries to act like an adult. She shows her immaturity with misspelled and misused words.
Before they even get a chance to change out of the layers of traveling outfits, they are herded into a type of patio with a thatched roof. This will be Nathanís church, and the people have prepared a welcome service. The Africans sing hymns while cooking a meal, then serve the new missionary family dishes of something that resembles stew.
Rachel is appalled at the nudity of the Africans. The babies and small children are nude while the women are topless. Her father is apparently also more concerned about African nudity than the activities of the welcome service, for when he is invited to offer thanks for the meal, he launches into a Biblical tirade on nakedness.
The joyous welcome quickly disintegrates to a meeting of silent people whose women wrap sarongs around themselves and serve bowls of the foul tasting goat stew. Rachel wants to gag and spit it out, but her mother threatens to "thrash them within an inch of their lives" if they do not eat it.
Rachel dreads her fatherís sermons, having heard them many times. She knows the Bible passages by heart because her fatherís favorite punishment is making the girls copy pages of verses. She is vain, but perhaps no more so than the average 16 year old who has been taught to believe in the virtue of her own whiteness. Still, her initial reaction to the Congo is one of acute displeasure that will continue for the duration of her time in the Congo, but will not get her back to Georgia.
Adah and her sister are both exceptionally bright, in fact, gifted. Adah herself suffered from a form of arrested physical development during her motherís pregnancy. She has a condition called "hemiplegia" or asymmetrical brain. The result is that one side of her body drags when she walks, and she seldom talks- although she can talk if she wants to. She has learned to use her disability to her own advantage. People think she is less intelligent than she is and talk about adult topics in front of her.
Adah is a natural poet and sees rhyme and palindromes in everything from text to peopleís names and conversations. She sees Africa as a "red, hard stage" with "tired, thin women in every thinkable state is disrepair." She sees the village itself as a "long path that takes you from one hidden place to another, a path she is determined to learn to walk even though it may take her longer than normal people.
Adah is the narrator of very specific, colorful, and poetic detail whether she is describing the scenery, her family, or the African people. Because of her condition, she has had opportunity to read material that her father would never have approved of. She has learned to use peopleís perceptions of her disability as a shield, but is also more sensitive to the hardships of other people. However, she also feels attacked and deprived because of her birth injury. She imagines a situation in which she and her sister were in the womb and Leah turned on her and began taking all the nourishment. She says that in the "Eden" of her motherís womb, she was "cannibalized" by her sister. She often seems bitter that Leah should be preferred over her.