Orleanna still remembers the smell of Africa—a smell she finds almost impossible to bear. The smell reminds her of her mistakes as a mother: one of her daughters remains “buried” in Africa (we’re not told which one). In Kilanga, she thinks, she could have been a better parent. She remembers a Sunday, when she was walking through the town with her daughters. At times like this, Orleanna thought of herself both as one of her own daughters and as Nathan’s wife. “We’re all women,” she thinks. Orleanna still can’t imagine how her daughters—now grown women—managed to grow up in such a sad family. She also notes that she misses coffee more than she misses Nathan. (We’re not told what happened to Nathan.)
The suspense increases with this new information: we’re told that one of Orleanna’s daughters dies during her time in Africa. We’re also told that Orleanna and Nathan have become separated sometime between 1960 and the present day. Orleanna’s comment further cements the closeness between herself and her daughters—she is the older, protective mother, but they all face the same treatment from Nathan, the patriarch.
Whenever Orleanna sees an orange or a packet of detergent now, she remembers a man named Eeben Axelroot. Axelroot was a “hanger on” in the Congo: he knew how to get things, most of them from the local Mission League. Even the simplest things Orleanna was forced to buy from Axelroot, often for absurdly high prices.
Eeben Axelroot’s presence in the novel is important because it brings an international, sociopolitical dimension to the story. From the start, it’s made clear that his only rule is to make money.
Over time, Orleanna learned about life in the Congo. Most of the Africans in the community survived on a thick paste called fufu, made from a tuber growing in the ground. Fufu isn’t very nutritious, and it even contains trace amounts of cyanide—and yet it’s the only reliable food that the Congolese have. Orleanna also considers Mama Tataba. She was driven off, she thinks, by Nathan’s “frightful confidence.”
Orleanna is making a genuine effort to understand the people of the Congo—partly out of respect, and partly because she knows that this is the only way her family is going to survive in Kilanga for the next however many years.
Orleanna thinks about Africa and the Congo’s place in the world. John F. Kennedy claimed that American leadership in the Congo was poor and callous, and Eleanor Roosevelt called for American intervention to “bring Africa into the 20th century.” Orleanna concludes, “It was beyond me to weigh such matters.” Orleanna had no time to consider the Congo’s place in the world—she was too busy trying to contend with her husband. She realizes now that when she was in Africa, her children seemed not to love her half the time—probably because they, too, were so frightened and intimidated by Nathan. Orleanna remembers that Nathan used to play football in high school. Perhaps this gave him his competitive, single-minded character.
This is a complicated section, alternating between observations about international politics and the Price family. Orleanna recognizes that there have been some Americans who had a sincere desire to help the starving, dying people of the Third World. And yet these legitimate missions to improve quality of life may have become corrupted into a struggle for power during the Cold War. Orleanna seems to see a parallel between Eleanor Roosevelt’s compassion and Orleanna’s own relationship with her children: she has a sense that her love for her children has been corrupted by Nathan’s influence.
Orleanna continues to think about Nathan. As time went on in Africa, Nathan’s Christian mission became increasingly difficult to achieve. The leader of the village, Tata Ndu, publicly denounced Nathan for “feeding children to the crocodiles.” Nathan was forced to apologize to Ndu, something that he was extremely reluctant to do. Even after his apology, Ndu refused to give Nathan his “blessing.” This meant that Nathan was becoming an outcast in the village, with few people continuing to come to his sermons. In private, Nathan tore out his hair. He neglected his children and ignored their development.
Nathan’s commitment to baptizing the children of the Congo is taking over his life: he ignores his family, neglects his wife, etc. This is tragic, not to mention ironic, since Nathan theoretically believes in the importance of love, family, and family values: his commitment to one aspect of Christian doctrine is causing him to sacrifice others.