Monday, March 30, 2009

Not So Sparkly

It is a pretty incredible experience living here in Northern Kenya. There are so many things that I love about it – standing in the back of the land rover driving trough the desert, my hair being whipped around by the wind. Watching the old ladies at church slowly move from the bench to the floor as the service progresses because they find sitting in chairs incredibly uncomfortable. Hearing the bleats and bells of the animals as they slowly start to return in anticipation of the rainy season. The beauty of the land and of the people, their overwhelming friendliness, and their incredible faith. I really could go on forever.

But there are other things, much more important things, about living in Africa that are harder to deal with. One of the big ones is poverty. I know, I know, when we in the West think of Africa, we think of poverty, of corruption, of famine, of seemingly insurmountable problems. Poverty has been talked about a million times in a million different ways, but to catch a glimpse of what it really looks like is another thing altogether.

One of the big problems right now is drought. The last rainy season never happened, and this season has consisted of two half an hour showers. That’s it. The problem is especially bad here in the North, as it’s so incredibly dry here anyway. But in addition to that, no rains mean no grazing for the thousands of sheep, goats, and camels that the Rendille rely on for survival.

Food like flour and sugar is getting more and more expensive, too – the price of sugar just rose again this week in town – and people simply do not have money to buy food. Normally for the Rendille, the shops work on a credit system: the Rendille take what they need until they owe enough to equal a goat or a sheep, and then they give the shop owner one of their animals as payment. When the shop owner has enough animals, they transport the animals to a market down country and sell them. But even this system is affected by the drought. No grazing means nobody wants animals. The shop keepers can’t sell the goats, so they’ve cut off the credit for the people. This in turn means the people can buy nothing, nothing, nothing.

In the goobs (villages), a diet in non-drought times might be chai in the morning (tea with milk and sugar), maybe some ugi – a watery porridge made from maize meal – for lunch, and another cup of chai for dinner. Having milk, of course, requires having animals around. Normally, herders and warriors take the animals far away in search of grazing, leaving only a few camels, goats, and sheep back in the goob to provide milk.

Right now, however, most goobs have no camles – there is absolutely nothing for them to eat in Korr, so the camels and most of the goats and sheep are taken far, far away, where even the water and the grazing are a day and a half’s walk from each other. The goats and sheep that are here are so malnourished that they aren’t producing milk. No or too few animals means that there is no milk for chai, and no money for sugar. So many people are living on what little they can beg and a few tea leaves boiled in water. No milk, no sugar, no porridge. Relief food comes once a month, but even that is barely enough to last a family maybe a few days. And relief food is not without its own issues, which I’ll talk about shortly.

Every single day, Nick and Lynne have people at their door crying for help. “We haven’t eaten for two days,” pleads a mother with a baby and two small children by her side. She’s maybe eaten a small bit two days ago, and gone for how many other days before that without food. “Please help us.”

The people. are. starving.

It’s so hard to sit here with my computer and my iPod and my three square meals a day and my recent vacation/conference to the coast and know that people all around me are suffering like this. Sometimes the question isn’t “What have the Rendille done to deserve this kind of poverty” but “What have *I* done to deserve this kind of wealth?”

Beyond even this, however is something that makes me feel so angry and SO… what? Helpless? Desperate? … Heartbroken. This is the amazing waste of money and stubbornness to do things their way of many development agencies and NGO’s. It’s a frequent topic of discussion among the missionaries here, and the more I hear and the more I see, the angrier I become.

This is actually a sensitive topic, so I've decided to take this part down. If you'd like to read what I wrote, feel free to email me and I'll send it to you.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tirrim Primary School

Tirrim School began as a small nursery school class and in 2004, the Primary school was opened for the first time. It has grown and grown and grown, and last year has its first ‘graduating’ class of Standard 8 students. There are 397 students enrolled from Standard 1 to Standard 8, in two locations (only because the more permanent location is still not large enough to hold everyone). There are a number of nursery school classes in town, and more out in the goobs (villages). The nursery school kids are learning numbers and the alphabet in Rendille – giving them a firm foundation for literacy in their own language. The goobs that don’t have classes are pleading for nursery schools to be started there, too. It is so awesome to see how the school has developed into such a big project in such a short time.

But the most exciting news about Tirrim – news that has had the whole of Northern Kenya buzzing for three months now – is how that first class of standard 8’s performed on their KCPE exams.

Some quick background info for you … Kenyans are pretty much obsessed with standardized testing (I know, I know, it makes me CRY). Kids are given exams from the time they enter baby class (three years old – THREE!!!) all the way through university. From standard 1 to standard 8, they are tested, tested, and retested to see how much of the syllabus they actually know. When they get to the end of primary school (standard 8) they sit the big government exams known as the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams that cover everything they have learned not from the beginning of the year, but everything they’ve learned from class 1 all the way to class 8.

These exams bring incredible pressure for these poor kiddies, as the marks they get will determine what kind of school they get into for secondary. Only those with top, top marks get into the cream-of-the-crop national schools. Very, very few students achieve scores high enough for these prestigious schools. Below the national schools are provincial schools, which are also quite prestigious and difficult to get into. The vast majority of students go to district schools or another rank lower than that (I forget what they’re called). Got that? National, provincial, district, and “other.”

So, back to last year’s standard 8 class at Tirrim. Of the twelve students in that class, nine of them got scores high enough to get into provincial schools, which is almost unheard of for students in the north. But the even bigger news was that the remaining three got into national schools. Every single student got a place at some of the best schools in Kenya because of their high marks. Tirrim’s scores were the highest in not only our district, but the neighbouring district, too. Scores like this are nearly unheard of in the North, and especially impressive was the fact that two of the three students who got national scores were girls, who normally score far below the boys on their exams.

One of my favourite stories of one of the class 8’s now studying at a national school in Nairobi is of Chimberreya (which means “little bird”). I’ve never met her, but have heard that she’s this tiny little thing (for whom they couldn’t find a school uniform small enough to fit her, so she’s wearing one that’s too big and rolling up the cuffs and the skirt drags on the ground!) who scored the top mark in the class. Before she began primary school, she lived in a goob that was far out of town. Because of this, she went into the boarding... the only thing was, she had never even been to Korr town before, and had never even seen a building with walls and doors, and was petrified to even go inside. Now, eight years later, she’s living in Nairobi - Nairobi! and going to the most prestigious secondary school in the country! Her parents really have no idea how big a deal this is – what do they know of schools and exams and rankings? They don’t even know what Nairobi is, other that it’s some place far away. All they know is that everyone is very happy with their daughter and that she’s living in some far-off land and will one day help provide an income for her family.

Ah, but how do these people who are just barely scraping out an existence – and very often far less than that – afford to send their kids to Nairobi and all over Kenya to go to school? Yes, secondary education is now free (as of this year), but still they must pay for uniforms, books, boarding fees – they even have to bring their own mattresses to school – let alone transportation to the school. It’s not like you can just hop a bus from the North – transportation around here is difficult and expensive.

However, thanks to a lot of hard work from a few people in Nairobi who have stayed in Korr, all three of the kids in national schools have been fully funded. Chimberreya has a sponsor in Nairobi who will sponsor her for the full amount – fees, room and board, everything – for the full four years of secondary. Muslimo went with a sponsor for the first term, and once she got there, the sponsor has extended it for the full year, with the possibility of it going further. Ajeysho didn’t have an official sponsor by the beginning of school, but was told by someone in Nairobi, “I don’t know where the money will come from, but I will act in faith that God will provide it. I can not let this opportunity pass this boy by. Bring him, and we’ll see what God will do.” What God did was find a sponsor for Ajeysho, too, for the full four years of secondary!

An education is something we take for granted so much in the Western world, but for these kids… man, it is SUCH an opportunity. It gives them so much hope for their future – maybe with secondary, they’ll be able to get jobs, they’ll be able to support their family, they’ll be able to pull themselves out of poverty.

It’s amazing – everybody wants to come and see Tirrim – to find out why the students did so well… what are we doing? How can other schools learn from the school? There have been teacher conferences (more on that one later!), celebrations, meetings on how to maintain this high standard, visits from rarely seen government education people, and even an invitation to host the annual (semi annual?) ball tournament at Tirrim so the schools in the district can come and see the school. And through it all, this little bush school in the middle of the desert can say – and has been! – that the first and foremost reason that the class eights performed so well was because we are encouraging them to put God first in all they do, and we strive to do the same.

It is so exciting to see the kerfuffle these students have made throughout Kenya, and even more to see the effect it has on the kids – they have hope, they are motivated to do well, they see what is possible when they work hard and remember to put God first!

Now with more "Africa!"

Woohoo! I got the new template done! Turns out I could do it myself quite easily, with some technical advice from my friend Paul! (Thanks, Paul!!!)

Since a few people have asked, I thought I'd tell about the photo... Yes, it's me! It's in Kalacha, where we went for our prayer retreat a few weeks ago (ak! Yes, I know, I'm so behind on blog posts/journals about what I've done!). I went for a walk early early in the morning with a few other ladies - we left before the sun rose and walked out into the desert a ways to watch it come up. Turns out that day we watched the sun rise, the moon set, the sun set and the moon rise. Pretty amazing!

Anyway, like Korr, Kalacha is windy, windy, windy, so the fabrics we had wrapped around us were fluttering and blowing everywhere. My friend Barara and decided to take some photos of us dancing around in the wind and the sunrise, and this was one of the results.

So... welcome to my more "African feeling" blog! hehe!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Return of the animals

* I've got another new post below this, too - Bucket Baths!

The Rendille are pastoralists, which means, in part, that they keep huge herds of goats, sheep, and camels. But in a desert like Korr, there is little grazing for the animals, so young children – often as young as six years old - take the animals far, far away in search of grazing. Warriors, too, head out with the herds to the fora* to help watch the animals and the young herders. Everyone sleeps outdoors with the animals in round enclosures made of thorn bushes, often only eating a mixture of blood and milk from their animals to stay alive.

As the rainy season approaches, people slowly begin to bring their animals back to the goobs*. Once the rains come, there will be a little more water and grazing available closer to home, so slowly the herds all come back. This year people are bringing the animals back earlier than usual, as there have been many animal raids in areas where many Rendille animals have been grazing, so they’re heading home for more security. The animals are beginning to return to Korr.

Last week and the week before, I started noticing herds of camels ambling lazily across the hills in the distance as I walked to school. It was easy to spot the herders among them, their blazing red blankets standing out against the dusty landscape. Sometimes if I walk home for lunch or when I’m walking home after school, there are Rendille women and a warrior or two at the wells by the laga* watering their goats. This week, however, I have noticed a dramatic increase in the number of animals in the area.

When I first described my commute to school, it was across a deserted laga and past empty wells, still and quiet in the “cool” morning air. On Monday morning, that all changed.

Easily over a hundred camels were milling about around the wells and the laga. Have you ever smelled a hundred camels? A beautiful smell to a Rendille, I’m sure! Wooden bells tock-tock-tocked around their necks as they brayed and honked (bronked? What do you call the sound a camel makes?!?!), looking as if they were just thoroughly annoyed with the world.

As I wove through the crowd of beasts, women with large water barrels untied the ropes holding them to their backs and worked at some wells at filling them. Other wells were full of warriors drawing water for the animals, hauling water up and pouring it in the basin that leads to the attached trough. Their low, rhythmic chanting helped them as they worked: “Auhy-yuh, auhy-yuh, auhy-yuh…” I couldn’t see them as they dropped their buckets far down the hole – the walls of the well hid them – but I certainly knew they were there. The beads of both the warriors and the woman brought beautiful colour – red, white, black, yellow, orange – to the otherwise neutral land around us. Cries of “Nebeyon barite” filled the air as people greeted each other, and the odd donkey tied to a tree brayed, laden with baskets waiting to be loaded with the full water barrels.

Farther up the hill were women and donkeys walking huuuge herds of goats out to graze – a sea of white clattering along the rocky ground. Most herds were small enough I could just walk through, but for one I had to physically stop walking and wait while at least 200 goats crossed my path. I used the time to greet the women and use my limited Rendille to have a quick conversation with them. As I looked out over the hills, I could see seas of white where other herders were guiding their goats to graze or to drink.

The whole area was alive with sound and colour and activity, and I just stopped for a moment to drink it all in. So many animals, and the rains are still far off. It’s such a special time to see everyone returning, and gives me a much clearer idea of the truly incredible Rendille way of life.

* fora = grazing areas * goob = village * laga = dry river bed

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Snippets of a desert life - How to take a bucket bath

There’s no running water at the house here in Korr, so bathing is done standing in a large pink bucket inside a little mabati (corrugated sheet metal) room off to the side of the house. I’ve been here nearly two months, and I still love the routine! I’d even call it fun! Whoopie! A bucket bath! This is so cool! Yes, I’m a dork. Deal with it! ;)

Want to get clean? Here are the steps you need to take:

1. Fill a kettle with water and light the stove (that is, if you want warm water – usually it’s so hot I’m happy without this step). Let the water boil as you prepare the rest of your bath.

2. Gather your soap, shampoo, towel, clean clothes, etc and bring them to the stall. Push your hip into the door to slide the padlock out and open the creaky door.

3. Go back to your room and get the bucket that you use for fetching water. Draw a bucket and a half or so of water from the water barrels and dump them in the bath bucket. Draw another bucket of water to leave in the stall for the end of your bath - fresh water to rinse with so you don’t rinse with the soapy water and end up with a film of soap and shampoo all over you for the rest of the day.

4. Go back to the stove and get the kettle. Dump this in the bath bucket, grab the jug for dumping water over you and take your bath. Don’t worry that the door doesn’t close from the inside and just flaps in the breeze as you bathe. Your bath bucket is around the corner and no-one can see you. Just take care when you’re dressing that you STAY around the corner. You never know when a gust of wind will send the door flying open!

5. Once you’re all clean, dump the bath bucket out onto the floor. A little drain pipe will leads to outside and it’ll drain quickly. Return the kettle and the bucket and you’re all done!

6. If you’re REALLY adventurous, do all this by headlamp after dark. It’s much more fun when you’re dodging cockroaches in the shower stall and bathing in near darkness.

7. But of course, if you’re really lazy, just fill up a bucket of water, take it to your room, and splash it all over yourself there. (Don’t worry about the giant puddle on the floor, it’ll be dry in half an hour!)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Over the desert and through the oasis, to Kalacha town we go

Every year, all the missionaries in Northern Kenya get together in Kalacha, about a three hour drive north of Korr and very close to the Ethiopian border, for a retreat. I made arrangements for other teachers to cover my classes, and I got to go along, too.

We set out after lunch on Monday, and just a few minutes into our drive we saw them – ostriches! Tons of them! There was a big… herd? gaggle? chain gang? of teenagers who were still grey and kind of shaggy (typical!) but a ways onwards there was a mama and papa ostrich with a little baby. We slowed the car to get a better look, but still we spooked them. The papa ostrich spread out his wings and started running away from the mama and baby in an attempt to distract us. Apparently, an ostrich will even fall to the ground and play dead so that a would-be predator will come after him instead of the baby (but look out when you get close! You’re in for a might big kick!). With another small group of teenagers on the road, we drove the car up to them and stopped. “Have you got your camera ready?” I did, and we stepped on the gas and chased them a ways before they all scattered. I know, I know, PETA would kill me, but chasing ostriches across the desert in a land cruiser? AWESOME!

In an hour and a half or so, we reached the Chalbi desert...

This is the kind of desert that I picture when I think of a desert – flat, baking nothingness, the ground cracked and dry, mirages shimmering in front of you, only to vanish as you come near, the scorching wind kicking up dust as it howls across the plain. It was incredible! The Chalbi is mostly a salt pan, so, had it not been for the searing heat as we drove across, you’d almost think there had been a light dusting of snow. The black rocks of the lava fields rose up in the distance to our right, and we could see the palm trees that grew in the oasis at the edge of the desert.

A herd of camels walking single file in the distance seemed to hover over the desert, their reflections visible in the mirage below them (I know! Reflections! Crazy!) Soon it was nothing but nothingness, too far from water or food for even the bravest camel herder to venture.

Side story: A number of years ago, some people from the Gabbra tribe raided the Rendille and stole 2000 camels. They took the camels over the middle of the Chalbi because they knew that the Rendille might come looking around the edges, where the water is (they usually walk them along the edge if they have to pass that way). Word got to authorities, who sent a helicopter looking for the thieves. You would think that two thousand camels would be easy to spot, but the pilot flew back and forth all over the Chalbi and was never able to locate the massive herd. It was later discovered that the helicopter pilot was a Gabbra, and the camels all made it over the Ethiopian border and disappeared.

When we arrived at the mission station in Kalacha, I was practically abducted by Barbara and Charmyn, two single girls about my age. “You’re staying with us!” they announced. Woohoo! I was glad to get to hang with these two for the week. Slumber party!!! Hehehe! As we were waiting for dinner, Barbara and Charmyn took me to the swimming pool (SWEET!). The mission station also runs a campground for tourists, and so operates a small (but fabulous when the only water where you live is at the bottom of a well!) pool. We climbed up to the deck and looked at the gorgeous water. “Aw, man! My swimmers are back in my bags at your house in town,” I told the girls. “So???” asked Charmyn as she jumped in in her clothes. SPLOOSH! In went Barbara, too, and I, not being one to spoil a party was in a split second later. Swimming is SO much better when you do it in your clothes. (But swimming in a near ankle-length skirt DOES prove rather difficult!). We got out and stood on the platform a while to let the wind dry us off a little. We were hoping it might make us a little bit cold, but we only got as far as “a little less hot.” Oh well, we took what we could get. We were still pretty much sopping when we arrived for dinner. To the questioning looks, we responded through giggles, “Ah! It was terrible! We went up to the pool to show Hillary and she fell in! I had to jump in and save her!” “Yes, and then they were both struggling, so I had to jump in and help!” “I’m so glad they did! I could have DIED!” We “fell in” three more times that week!

It was so wonderful to get to spend time with both Barbara and Charmyn throughout the week. We shared stories of how each of us had come to work in Africa, talked about our lives back home and our ministries here in Northern Kenya, prayed for each other, and enjoyed some general girlie silliness. One image (of the many!) that I have of my time with them is of the three of us sitting all in a line in the living room of their house and brushing our teeth. Barbara and Charmyn just leaned over and spat on the floor (it’s a gravel floor that gets watered daily to keep the dust and heat down). “Come on Hillary! Spit on the floor! Do iiiiit!” It took me a minute to get over the notion of “a good guest doesn’t spit out her toothpaste on the living room floor!” but I soon did and had fun spitting on the floor all week! (It all got washed away by the buckets of water we dumped on it when washing or faces and our feet, so don’t worry!) hehehe!

The sessions throughout the week were really good. We spent time praying for each other, and I got to hear about what is happening in different parts of the North. We spend some time singing together, and I realized how much I had missed worshipping in a language I understand. I sing along in Rendille at church in Korr, but I often (ok, almost always) don’t understand the words. It was so sweet to sing songs that I knew in my own language! One morning we split up into four groups and went for a prayer walk – we walked all over town praying as we went – for specific people, for the town in general, for the various difficulties that are facing Kalacha at this particular time. It was a pretty incredible time as some of us prayed, some of us walked, we met people at talked with them, and learned in relative detail about what is happening in Kalacha.

During the week, Nick also did a number of sessions on language learning – giving ideas and tips on how to learn a language when you can’t buy a textbook and sit in a class to learn it. I discovered that the idea of figuring out a language – learning bit by bit, discovering and figuring out rules and structures, working with a language helper and then going out in the community to use, use, and re-use what you are learning… it’s really cool!

One suggestion was to get a small collection of photos together of people doing something to things (a man cooking meat, a girl milking a goat, etc). You can do so much with your language helper using those photos: nouns – “This is a man. This is milk. This is a fire. This is meat…” verbs: “The man is cooking meat. The girl is milking a goat. The wood is burning…” adjectives: “This is a tall man. She is a young girl. This is a white goat…” Ah! It’s so cool! I would LOVE to learn a language like this! I SO wish I had more time to devote to learning Rendille!

One highlight of the week (ok, so there were a LOT of highlights!) was when we all packed up Thursday afternoon for an evening picnic out on the Chalbi. Kalacha is just on the northern border of the desert, in an oasis, really, and it doesn’t take long before you’re out in the middle of nowhere again. We made a quick stop at Kalacha goda, a natural spring that has been bubbling up for hundreds of years and provides the town with ample water, then headed out to the desert. It was quite the setup – four vehicles and a trailer, tarps, benches, chairs, and lots and lots of food.

Barbara and Charmyn skipped the trip to Kalacha Goda (been there, done that) and walked out to the Chalbi to meet us. The only problem was, once we got there (I guess there’s kind of a regular spot that they meet), there was no sign on them anywhere. We did, however, see something off in the distance. We weren’t sure just what it was… a hyena? A wild dog? Or was it just a donkey? It was too hazy and… mirage-y? to see, so we didn’t want to unpack until we knew for sure what it was. Nothing spoils a picnic like a hungry hyena!

Just before one of the men got in the truck to drive over and see what it was, I put on the zoom lens of my camera and took a photo. I zoomed in on it, and discovered it was Barbara and Charmyn lying face down in the desert with a dog Charmyn has “adopted” from the village – they were hiding on us! We honked at them and they came over, enjoying the mischief they had caused! :)

All dangers now out of the way, we unpacked and set up, and the kids all went out to play, finding a pile of bones in the dirt and using them to dig around in the dirt. Gotta love life in the desert! We frolicked and feasted, and talked and sang as the sun went down over the Chalbi. How cool!

The families with young kids went back a little early, but a few of us and Charmyn’s dog stayed out to talk and do some star gazing. The wind howled across the desert, but we positioned ourselves behind the truck for some shelter and enjoyed the desert night. Suddenly, the dog sat straight up and started growling. This definitely got our attention. What was out there? We shone our lights around, but could see nothing. The dog settled down, but still sat bolt upright and stared out into the desert, watching. We were on our guard a little, but decided that if the dog was not freaking out, neither should we. And then the dog freaked out – he shot up and ran a ways out, barking and barking like crazy at something unseen. He didn’t let up, so we quickly decided it was time to go. We jammed the remaining things in the back of the truck and jumped in – I’ve never seen a picnic get packed up so fast! We scooped up the dog, too, who’d never been in a car in his life, closed up the back of the truck, and sped away. We never did find out what it was the dog saw or heard (it’s probably better that way!) but it certainly made for a good adventure!

Friday was the day to pack up and say goodbye. We left after breakfast and headed back over the Chalbi, stopping in Kargi, just on the south edge, for a quick ten minute visit with a pastor there. (Of course, there’s no such thing as a quick visit in Africa, and we ended up there for lunch and nearly and hour and a half!) Kargi is the first Rendille town you hit on the way back from Kalacha, and, while Kalacha was wonderful, as soon as we hit Kargi, I felt like I was home again! It had been a wonderful week of new friends and new places, good worship, and exciting learning. I was sad to leave, but excited to come back and see the kids again and attack the language with some new ideas. I was encouraged and refreshed, and so thankful for such a fantasterrific week!

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What's in a name?

As in English, every Rendille name has a meaning. But unlike many names given in North America, names are chosen specifically for their meaning. For example, a name might be given to represent where somebody came from or when they were born – Ndoto was born near the Ndoto mountains. Ngurinit was born in, well, Ngurinit. Mulgis was born near the river bearing the same name. Sometimes it’s something general about them – Hamado comes from the Rendille word hamad, meaning joy. Hirkenna means “rain bringer.” The long dry season ended the day he was born and the rains began to fall. Gumaa’di comes from gumaa’d, which means “Friday.” Guess what day of the week he was born on!

Of course, some names are chosen not just for their meaning, but for a greater, more individual story. Take Gisooya for example. “Gis” in Rendille means ‘to divide up.’ She was one of twins, but her twin died during birth, so her parents decided to call her Gisooya, saying, “God took his part and left us ours.”

And then there’s Limiyoogo. When he was born, he was not breathing. His parents and everyone around tried everything that they knew how to do to get him to breathe, but to no avail. As time was running out, they lifted their hands and asked God to help them, and at that moment, the baby took his first breath. His name means “hands lifted up to God.”

Nabiro, the old woman who lives across from us, had never had any children of her own. She would often say that her heart was burning, so much did she want to have a child. Four and a half years ago, she was able to adopt a baby girl. Finally, a child of her own. She named the girl Hoboso, which comes from the Rendille word for cold, because finally this little girl had cooled the burning in her heart and she was happy.

On a slightly more comical side, some children are named for a particular physical feature. Take Matahween, for example. Her name means “big head.” Or Lokhudeere - “long neck.” Ah, but the names get more interesting still. How about Anzaro (terrible calamity), or Subahdaayi (little black fat). I think my favourite has to be Dufaankhasso. What does that one mean, you ask? Slaughtered a camel ox.

I’m sorry, what? Slaughtered a camel ox???

Seriously! Who looks down with loving eyes on their little bundle of new life and says sweetly, “Awwww! I think we’ll call her slaughtered a camel ox!” I love it!

I was assured that I, too, would be given a Rendille name, and indeed, it did not take long. A mama has adopted me into her clan – Dubsahai – and has now named me Havareya Mirgichan. Havarey is the name of a tiny village farther out in the desert, and so I’ve been told that my name means “from a desert place.” When I told my students, many were confused. “But madam! You don’t come from Havarey! How can you be called Havareya?!?” But I think the name suits me just fine...

You see, life as a Christian has been difficult for me the last few years. I’ve felt spiritually dry and perpetually thirsty for God – a thirst I just can’t seem to make go away. I’ve been in a very desert-like place in my life. It’s been discouraging for me, and, though I know that God has never left me, it’s been hard to see His presence. I’ve gotten impatient and have just wanted out of this dry, dusty period of my life. I’ve often thought, “What good is there in this desert wasteland? I want out!”

And so now, here I am, in the literal desert (ah, God is funny like that!). Both literally and figuratively, I am finding beauty in this place. And more importantly, I am learning that God is here. I am seeing God in a way I never have before here in the desert, and it’s slowly but surely shaping me, changing me. And I know that it’s just a matter of time… the rains are coming.

As I was listening to some music this afternoon, this song came up and stopped me dead in my tracks. It was just what I needed to hear:

My heart is dry and thirsty, Lord,
Let me drink from your well, drink from your well
In this dry and thirsty land,
Let me drink from your well, drink from your well

You see right through me, nothing’s hidden from your sight
So in my brokenness, I run to you
I long to worship you in Spirit and in truth
So let me drink that I may never thirst again

Oh, source of living water, come and heal me again
Let your streams of living water come and wash away my shame
Precious Father, you’re my lover and my friend
Let me drink that I might never thirst again
Let me drink that I might never thirst again...

~ From “Living Water” by Stephen Toon

I just think it’s so cool that even my Rendille name helps to tell about God’s goodness in my life! He is so good!

...especially since He didn’t let me be named “Slaughtered a Camel Ox!”

Thursday, March 05, 2009

One Sunday Afternoon

*Feb 22*

My feet tucked tightly under me and sharing a seat on the wheel hump, I try to make myself as small as possible to make room for the crowd of Rendille people crammed in the back box of a clattery old green land rover. All knees and elbows and beads and scarves, there are Rendille mamas with their babies, other women dressed in brightly coloured robes, young girls sitting down below and lanky boys balancing on the frame up top, dusty black toes dangling down in our faces – all heading out to the goobs (villages). Some are just hitching a ride, hoping to avoid kilometers of walking in the blazing afternoon desert sun, but most are heading out for Sunday afternoon evangelism.

The metal frame shakes and rattles and bumps along the desert road, and the back of the truck is filled with chatter, that is, until Judy, a Rendille mama herself, and an incredibly committed Christian woman, begins to sing. Everyone joins in the call and response in their high pitched voices, and the back of the truck is filled with worship, smiles, clapping, and praise. Effortlessly, the role of the caller shifts around the truck and we sing – stopping now and then to drop someone off at their village.

Reaching our destination, the truck stops, we jump off, and walk towards the two goobs in the distance. I trail along behind, watching the four women ahead of me, robes flapping in the wind, singing and clapping wish such joy as they walk. At the goobs, we walk around and invite the people to come join us – “Come, hear the word of God! We’re meeting over there under that big tree.” We gather and begin to sing, and the music brings dozens of women and even more children to our meeting place. Beads and robes and headdresses all bring vibrant colour to the dusty landscape. I am a new face to them, and the only mzungu in the group. The children all want to touch my white skin and the mamas all look at me shyly. I am introduced, assisted by Judy who translates for me. A few women speak to welcome me, and I am overwhelmed by their appreciation.

The teaching begins and I sit and listen as the women read from the book of Mark, one of the books that has been translated into Rendille. I don’t understand what’s being said, but still I sit in wonder at the passion for Jesus in these women’s hearts as they teach and love these people. The lesson is long in the hot afternoon sun, and the shade of the acacia tree we’re under does little to mitigate the heat, but the joy of being there far outweighs the discomfort. Again I am brought to near tears as the children – many naked and dusty – gather to sing a song they have been learning. I catch only the chorus: Yeeso goya fiidiya. They are reminding each other to remain in Jesus, mo matter what may come, and I know that these women know this so much better than I.

As the lesson winds up, we walk back across the desert to where the truck will meet us and bring us back to town. One of the mamas whose name I still don’t know gives me my new Rendille name and we attempt to have a simple conversation in Rendille. The truck meets us and we climb in, the metal blazing hot underneath us as we take our seats in the box in back. Laughing, singing, and clapping over the rattling metal, we bump our way back to town. I am sunburned and fiercely thirsty, but awed at the afternoon I have just experienced.

“Jesus has told us, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all nations,’ ” Judy told me. “He has saved me, how could I not tell others about what He’s done?” These women are taking this call seriously and, filled with such joy, dedicating their entire lives to do just that.