Rachel has agreed to a reunion with her sisters, but she’s nervous about it. Rachel has been in contact with Leah, who reports that the government is, unexpectedly, going to let Anatole out of jail within a month. To pass time in the month before this event, Leah wants to spend time with her sisters.
It’s again almost miraculous that the government is letting Anatole out of jail, as just a few pages ago, it had seemed that they were going to execute him as they executed Lumumba years before.
The sisters meet in Senegal, and proceed to travel through Cameroon, Gabon, and other countries. Before she describes the trip in detail, Rachel notes that at the end of the month, Leah reunited with Anatole—she embraced Anatole with palpable love and tenderness, and then drove back to Kinshana.
Leah remains loyal to Anatole after all these years: in spite of her desire to return to Atlanta, she loves her husband too much to abandon him when he needs her.
The trip through West Africa, Rachel reports, is tough. Rachel bickers with Leah constantly. Rachel wants to stay in upscale places, while Leah wants somewhere cheaper. Rachel argues that Lumumba and his followers are “followers of Karl Marx,” a proposition that Leah finds absurd and childish. Undeterred, Rachel claims that Reagan will keep the country safe from Communism. Leah lectures Rachel about Lumumba’s past—he was a democratically elected leader, and a proponent of socialist economic policies. He was replaced with Mobutu, a dictator who happened to subscribe to capitalism.
Rachel seems to have internalized all the propaganda of the U.S.—she fervently believes that the U.S. is a universally benevolent force for democracy and freedom. Unfortunately, it’s hard to continue believing these things when you consider everything the U.S. did around the world during the Cold War: the dictatorships sponsored, the democratically elected leaders assassinated, etc.
The sisters travel through the palaces of Abomey, where they’re struck to learn that the King of Abomey had dozens of wives. This reminds Rachel of her three husbands. Leah and Adah begin to talk about Nathan. Adah claims that she got word that Nathan was in Lusambo five years ago, before returning to Kilanga. Leah claims that Nathan is dead, but doesn’t say how she knows this. Leah also reports that she’s heard of the death of Tata Kuvudundu—he spent the final years of his life in disgrace for what he did with the snake.
Rachel interprets the palaces as a counterpart to her own prosperity. Leah and Adah are more thoughtful: they take the palace as a reminder of misogyny, sexism, and patriarchy at its worst. This is also an important passage because it reminds us that Kuvudundu was just as hated in his own community as he was among the Prices.
The sisters proceed in silence for a few hours. Then Leah begins talking about Nathan again. Reverend Fowles has told Leah that “Tata Prize” (as Nathan is now known) had a long white beard, and was rumored to be capable of turning himself into a crocodile that attacks children. Some said that he had five wives. A few years ago, he was blamed for causing the death of a group of children. Their boat overturned, throwing them into a crocodile-infested river. Nathan was burned for this “crime.” Leah cries as she tells Rachel and Adah this information.
Nathan’s death is both tragic and ironic: it’s strangely inevitable that Nathan was blamed for children getting eaten by crocodiles; he was so obsessed with baptism that someone would inevitably come to believe that he was trying to feed children to crocodiles on purpose. Leah continues to be the daughter who feels closest to Nathan, even if by know she had lost all respect for him.
Rachel tries to comfort Leah. She tells Leah that while Leah loved Nathan more than Nathan’s other daughters, Nathan was an awful man. Leah, still crying, claims to know this—Fowles told her that at the end of his life, Nathan was still promising to baptize every child in Kilanga, even though the villagers interpreted this promise as a threat.
Leah knows now that Nathan was an evil man, but just because she recognizes this fact doesn’t mean that she can’t weep for him.
The sisters move on to talk about politics in Zaire. Leah continues talking about Mobutu’s tyranny, and Rachel shouts at Leah for telling a “sob story.” Adah and Leah keep talking about the murders that the U.S. has sponsored in Zaire in recent years. Rachel insists that the U.S. would never promote murder, since “Thou shalt not kill” is a part of the Bible. This makes Adah and Leah chuckle—together, they salute Nathan, “the Minister of Poisonwood.” Suddenly, Adah realizes something—Nathan’s legendary “five wives” must have been a reference to the rest of his family: Orleanna, Ruth May, Adah, Leah, and Rachel.
Rachel still refuses to accept the truth about what her country has done to the Congo. This reminds us of how differently Rachel, Adah, and Leah have grown since Ruth May’s death: this catastrophe set them off in wildly different directions. We also get another reference to “balanga,” the word for both “good” and “poisonwood.” Nathan thought he was doing God’s work, but really he was almost always acting immorally.