Savoring the peaceful sounds of the quiet village, I sat quietly meditating, writing briefly, sipping my cup of tea, watching the birds, simply being at peace. I sat in the restaurant pavilion at the Samburu sports camp (off season) which has the upper half of the walls heavily screened for wind, sun and insect protection and gives the enclosure a very subdued peaceful feel. Completely in harmony with this stillness, a smallish lizard was making its way up the outside of the screen.
The idyllic moment was interrupted suddenly when a cat flashed suddenly onto the screen where the lizard had been a moment earlier, reminding me, even as he added a nice portion of protein to his diet that nature is not a kind world. In spite of Walt Disney’s efforts to convince us that only man is an evil predator in this otherwise harmonious world, every animal, from microscopic to gargantuan, is either a predator or prey… some are both. Most people are both, we are predators by design and inclination (though some don’t like to acknowledge such) but most of us are also preyed upon by others. That reality has become much clearer to me here where I am able to observe people in their most primal existence.
Today is a quiet day of meditation, study, reflection, prayer, and pure gratitude for life and harmony with my Creator.
I left my table for a few minutes of activity as one of the children coming to play with Marybell, Stakwell and Fransesca’s 4 year old, left the gate a few feet ajar and quite a number of young goats wandering past found the invitation irresistible. It took several of us a bit to “herd” the goats back to and out the gate as young goats are less cooperative than would have been an equal number of 2 year old children… and they’re a lot quicker than children and had several round buildings available to use for their evasion and escape maneuvers. I suppose I could have tried to reason with them that they were welcome to stay for a barbecue this evening? J But I never found reasoning with 2 year old children particularly productive either.
Returning to my table afterward, the atmosphere has transitioned to one of joy and laughter and happiness as about 10 children are now playing with Wendy, 6, and Marybell on and around the playground. Having walked through most of the village, I’m fairly certain these are the only swings, slides and climbing towers for children in the community. So, we speak of poverty, yet hear the children’s laughter and I am more convinced than ever of the truth of Jesus statement, “not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions." I will admit frustration with children at home who have so much and yet don’t appreciate what they have.
And then, in a conversation with a South African couple earlier, the wife asked me, “What are we doing to the people? We try to help them improve their condition and yet everywhere we drive they approach with their hand out; we have created a sense of entitlement where we wanted to create sufficiency. Have we really helped them?”
This is not a simple question.
I know the tribesmen here need to discover farming to survive so applaud the farm project just north of the village here. Farming is the cornerstone of civilization; until people began farming cities were not possible. Only when a few could produce enough to feed many were people able to cluster together and begin developing other skills. When every moment of one’s day is committed to being able to eat and remain alive, you don’t have time to write or invent or teach or even to just think. When people are able to give themselves to other endeavors, creating income with which they can buy from the farmers the food needed for existence, then civilization advances. And the farmer not only has food but he has excess income to purchase other things that are being produced by the non-farmers as well. Before farming no cities existed or could; most people don’t grasp this cornerstone of civilization. For Americans, we have come to take farmers so for granted because they are such a tiny segment of our society and yet we have never known famine in America in our lifetimes.
On our journey Tuesday to Lake Turkana, we became the transportation for trade for some of the villagers who would otherwise have had no such option. We carried a goat to be sold in the fishing community and 5 LARGE bags of charcoal. The goat brought several times as much in the fishing village as it would have anywhere near the original community, as did the charcoal, but without us going and Stakwell willing to be a servant for the less fortunate, this wouldn’t have happened.
That trip did offer me my first real olfactory overload. As I said we had a large goat tied in the back of the Land Cruiser, 5 large bags of charcoal (freshly made), and 8 men, most of whom hadn’t had a bath or shower in months. Lake Turkana is a fishing village on the shores of this huge lake and their only industry is fish (and government). But without electricity, there is no way to preserve fish other than drying, so there are drying facilities, really just crude buildings with endless racks upon which split fish are air dried. So, we ended up with a lot of dried fish on the way back the following day. So, add together the pungent odor remaining from the goat, the smoky after smell of the charcoal, the bite of the diesel leaked from cans, the men themselves and the dried fish, and it was just about enough to overload my senses. (making the clear clean air today so welcome!)
I mentioned the goat we took for the Turkana villager… he sold it to the resort where we first went and where I stayed. The following day after all the meetings were concluded, we returned to that resort for lunch. Please, understand I am using the word “resort” as they do… it is NOTHING like you probably have in your mind! It was a fenced and gated compound. It had multiple bandas (small cottages) for rent and it served food wherever you found a place to sit. My banda did not have electricity and the public areas of the “resort” only had electricity from dark until about midnight. By “electricity” I mean there were two outlets to be shared by all the guests there for charging devices and there were some electric wires tied between the palm trees from which there was an occasional low wattage bulb dangling. Most people still used their flashlights to find their own banda. So, that was the resort, but the cook did a nice job so we were back there the following afternoon to eat before hitting the road back here. There were six of us at the table and it was obvious what the main man thought when he brought plates to set the table; he brought six plates with one knife and one fork. Even in nice restaurants most Africans do not use silverware other than to dish up food from the serving dishes, so we know who the knife and fork were intended for, don’t we? Well, I came here to learn as much African culture as I could, so I simply laid the knife and fork aside and did as my hosts were doing. (note, I am talking about high government officials along with Stakwell) Their main staple here is ugalli, something these people eat every day. It is white maize flour (their corn kernels are white) and they leave it until hard to pick it and then dry it, shell it and grind it into flour. They then start water boiling and keep adding the maize flour and stirring until it is thick enough a strong man couldn’t stir it. They ordinarily serve up a large portion, two cups or more per person and though it looks like white mashed potatoes, it is stiff enough you can cut it with a knife and then it is mixed with beans or used with whatever else you are eating. In this case we were eating goat; the whole carcass was cut up into ¾” cubes. As Stakwell observed when we first ate together, in America you don’t get bones in your meat, in Africa, you get bones in your meat. They cut the carcass with a cleaver or machete without regard for bones so there are often shattered bones in your meat. So, here we are digging in with our hands, dipping the ugalli in the goat juice, popping pieces of meat in ones mouth and working the bones back out when I just happened to think and say, “So, is this the goat we hauled down here?” To which the immediate answer was, “Yes.” We hauled him down here and he was sold to the resort, then the following day they sold part of him back to us for lunch and we hauled that portion back to South Horr. Interestingly, the realization had no impact upon my appetite. Perhaps I’ve adapted too quickly to Africa to start finding this normal?
I topped off the afternoon by taking Francesca’s 4 wheeler (complete with California license plate, but that’s another story) out for a spin to capture photos. While my main objective today was birds and thorns—every bush and tree has thorns—I was on my way back when I saw a Samburu tribesman walking that I had seen before and I stopped to ask if I could take his photo. He allowed me to and then admired the photo thanks to the wonder of digital photography. Then he asked me if I could give him a ride down the road… we were within a kilometer of where I was going. Understand that 4 wheelers are virtually unknown here and everyone was stopping to watch and wave or shout out something to this big American cruising along. So, here was a tribesman (dare I saw warrior) in full traditional attire, spears in hand, asking with childish anticipation if he could ride with me. I agreed and moved forward a little and he started climbing aboard. This is a smaller model that just has foot pegs for the rider and nothing really for a passenger but he managed to put his feet up on the sides of the seat just under my hips. The traditional garb of a Samburu is called a shuka but most Americans would call it a skirt… so you get the picture. Even with his spears in his hand, when I shifted into gear and started off his claws were digging into my sides and by the time I passed 3rd gear and we had the wind blowing his headgear he was clinging to me for dear life. I stopped when we got to the turn into the camp and he clambered unceremoniously off and stood laughing and with a grin from ear to ear and waving as I took off up the gate. Something so simple to us for we take it so for granted, but is unthinkable to most of these people becomes an absolute joy for a grown warrior. Do we ever stop being children? I hope mine is always the heart of the child that Jesus said we all need. As an afterthought, had I not risked stopping and asking about taking his photo—and some don’t want you to unless you are paying them—I wouldn’t have had the joy of seeing his joy so fulfilled. I’m sure he told the story well when he got together with his buddies a few minutes later. I wonder though whether he admitted to how tightly he clung to the big American so that he could laugh about how deeply his fingertips were able to sink into my sides… certainly there is more meat on my bones than on a dozen of these guys! (though it is getting less all the time judging from the fit of my pants and where the tail of my belt reaches now—YES!)
My afternoon concluded with two little girls, probably 6-7, daughters of the workers here at the camp, joining me on my porch as I sat in the porch swing visiting with Kellie on the phone. The girls were intrigued and so I switched to speaker and they could hear Kellie speaking even as they saw her picture on the screen. But once they got close enough and their caution dissipated they busied themselves examining the long white hair on my now suntanned arms (Africans don’t have hair on their arms) and running their hands through my hair from behind the swing as they talked excitedly and giggled away. Children are children everywhere, aren’t they? Of course, Kellie was also able to hear their chatter and giggles… and those of you at Dayspring can ask Tony Archer about their obsession with arm hair. J
May my heart continue to be filled and my waist continue to shrink!
Jack was raised in a Christian home where he spent his youth preparing to preach God’s word. First published at thirteen, writing and speaking became Jack’s passions. Whether through newspaper columns, magazine articles, radio broadcasts or public speaking engagements, Jack continues to share his heart with his readers. His life’s motto: To Know God, and To Show Him To Others.