by Lynn Nottage

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Act 1, Scenes 3–4

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Last Updated on January 30, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1331

Act 1, Scene 3

Sophie gives a manicure to Salima, who worries that Josephine will discover she borrowed her nail polish. Salima is agitated; when Sophie makes a mistake on her nails, Salima angrily pulls her hand away.

Salima is upset about a client who bragged that he and his fellow soldiers killed fifteen Hema men and buried them “in their own mining pit.” One miner put the ore into his mouth to prevent the soldiers from stealing it; they killed him with a machete. After the client told her the story, he slept with Salima and then cried. She tells Sophie she could not comfort him, although that was what he wanted. She worries that one of the murdered men could be her brother.

Overcome with missing her family, Salima recalls that her baby, Beatrice, liked bananas and made a funny face when she ate. She wants to go home, but Sophie reminds her what it’s like outside Mama’s safe house: Salima’s village does not want her back, war rages on, and women are targets. Salima retorts that Sophie does not have the life that Salima has. “You, you don’t have to be with them,” she says of the clients she entertains. She explains that the soldiers are rough and angry. She admits she watches Sophie happily singing and feels that Sophie can fly away like a bird if she wants.

Sophie corrects Salima’s perception: although she’s singing, she’s still in pain. She prays that her pain will subside, but she lives every day with the memory of being raped and with the emotional scars that remain.

Salima reveals that she is pregnant and fears that Mama will put her out if she discovers the secret. Sophie reassures her by showing her the money she has saved in between the pages of a book. When asked where the money is from, Sophie states that Mama is not good at counting. Salima is shocked as Sophie explains she will save for them to go to Bunia by bus. She swears Salima to secrecy as Josephine enters the room.

Josephine changes clothes, briefly revealing severe scarring on her stomach. She accuses Salima of stealing her food and magazine and questions if Salima is even able to read. Salima responds that she likes to look at the photographs, but Josephine will not relent despite Sophie’s attempts to mediate. Salima reminds them that she did not have an education: her younger sister went to school, and she married. Josephine asks snidely where her husband is now, but Salima ignores the insult.

Josephine announces she will travel to Kisangani with Mr. Harari. When Sophie asks if Josephine has ever traveled to the city, she says no and then challenges Salima: “I know you haven’t.” Salima feels the need to explain that she had planned to go with her husband, but Josephine stops her with another insult. Salima warns her not to mention her family, yet Josephine continues to taunt her. When Salima storms away, Sophie confronts Josephine, who reminds Sophie that they live in a whorehouse. Sophie retorts that she is not a whore, but Josephine pushes her further, saying, “So many men have had you that you’re worthless.” An insulted Sophie tries to leave, but Josephine stops her, shouting that when the soldiers raided her village and raped the women, no one helped her, even though she is the daughter of the chief. She says Sophie is not special, either.

Act 1, Scene 4

Sophie sings a song about a bird that avoids capture yet yearns to be heard. Christian enters the bar...

(This entire section contains 1331 words.)

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with chocolates and cigarettes for Mama, who gives him a cold soda. She teases him for being the only man she knows who wants soda and not beer. He reminds her that the last time he drank, “I lost several years of my life.”

Christian reports that Pastor Robbins has been missing for two days. An unsurprised Mama claims that the only good thing the pastor has done is distribute aspirin and penicillin. She remarks that he cannot keep his mouth shut and that the mission will do better with him gone. Christian relates a rumor that Pastor Robbins is treating rebel soldiers who have been wounded in battle as the militias fight for control over the mining area. He observes that six months ago, the area near the Yaka-yaka mine was mere forest with numerous birds; now it is overcome with miners. Mama states that mines are good for her business.

Taking her hand, he says he’s worried about her and tries to convince her to be with him. He suggests they start a business together. Mama is disoriented by his offer and calls him “a stupid . . . man . . . with a running tongue.” She reminds him that she already has a business and says she would not leave it for him, as he cannot even buy himself a new suit. Christian calls her stubborn and tries to convince her to dance with him. She refuses.

Commander Osembenga swaggers into the bar, along with a government soldier, requesting cigarettes and beer. Mama guides Osembenga to a table and, seeing his gun, requests that he leave his bullets at the bar. Mama does not want any trouble, and she will not serve anyone with a weapon. Charmed by her brazenness, Osembenga asks if she knows who he is. She says she does not, but it would make no difference—she makes the rules in her house, and he has entered it. Laughing, he removes the bullets and places them on the table.

As Mama lights his cigarette, she asks why Osembenga is there. He asks if she knows Kisembe, and Mama responds that she knows of his reputation as a rebel.

Osembenga warns everyone that Kisembe will not give people anything even though they harbor him and his soldiers in the village. He asks what they have received from such a dangerous man and states that Kisembe’s only goal is to profit from using others. He further claims that Kisembe will burn the land, turn men into slaves, and steal women—all while blaming his government. He concludes by reminding everyone that he and the government are, in fact, “paving the way for democracy.”

Mama apologizes for not having known Osembenga before and offers him her best whiskey. She assures him that the girls at her establishment are good and clean, to which he responds that he is sure she has the sense to keep the “rebel dogs” out of her bar. She promises him anything he wants. Christian contemptuously watches the two.

After sending Josephine and Salima to Osembenga’s table, Mama returns to work. Christian warns her about the commander, but she believes it’s wise to be friends with government officials.

A soldier accosts Sophie as she serves his drink. Christian is ready to defend her, but she breaks free from the soldier’s grasp. She slips his money under her shirt, unaware that Mama sees what she is doing. The soldier asks Christian for a cigarette, and Christian reluctantly gives him one. As the soldier ungratefully walks away, Christian reminds him to say thank you. The soldier angrily stares at Christian, but Osembenga tells him to show his good manners. After the soldier thanks Christian, the commander asks Mama who Christian is. She responds that he is merely a salesman passing through town. Osembenga buys him a drink.

Mama carries the whiskey over to Christian, instructing him to toast Osembenga and drink it. Christian reminds her that he does not drink, but she will hear none of his excuses. She declares that he will drink as many drinks as Osembenga buys until he decides it’s enough. Christian obediently drinks; Osembenga signals to pour another, which Mama again urges Christian to drink, despite his pleas. He brings his third drink to Osembenga’s table and raises his glass as a toast.


Act 1, Scenes 1–2


Act 1, Scenes 5–6