Tuesday, July 07, 2009


My 'sleepover' took place at the end of March. Yep, I'm a little behind! :)

Most Rendille don’t live in Korr town itself. Rather, they live in the goobs, clan villages scattered around the desert. The huts in each goob (pronounce the word goob with the same “o” sound as in “go”) are arranged in a circle around the outside and on the inside are circular pens made of thorn branches for the animals – sheep, goats, camels. At the very center is another enclosure for the Rendille elders. There there is a fire there that is always kept smoldering, where the elders sit to discuss weighty matters or just talk the hours away.

It’s always so cool to go out to the goobs – I’ll often hitch a ride when Nick and Lynne head out for any number of reasons. Whenever the car comes by, people rush out and suddenly there’s a big crowd of people – mostly children – who all want to say hello.

One of the things I’ve wanted to do while I’m here was to go out and spend the night in a goob – be there when the animals come back at night, sleep in a hut, and get a little glimpse of what life is like for a traditional Rendille.

One of the older ladies at our church is named Khaso, and she is SO fun. She lives in Rongumo, a goob maybe ten kilometers out of town, but if there’s even a HINT of something going on at the church, she will walk in and be there, right in the front row, with a huge smile on her face. Every time she sees me, she greets me, pulling me in close for a cheek to cheek greeting and gives me a big hug. She has had a number of visitors stay with her, and Nick thought that she would be a good person to go stay with. Of course, he asked her if it would be ok if I came and stayed with her one night, and then for a week and a half, every time she saw him she would ask, “Is Hillary coming tonight? No? Ok, tomorrow? The next day? When? When will she come???” We knew it would have to be soon or Khaso might pop!

Friday night turned out to be the night. After school, I came home and Lynne made a stew and some bread to take out (we knew that despite the fact that Khaso has nothing, nothing, nothing, she would have felt obligated to feed us, and we couldn’t let her do that). We also brought tea leaves, milk, and sugar for chai, and a small drum of water. When we were all loaded up, we set out for Rongumo.

We arrived just before sunset, and immediately I was swarmed with kids. They all began signing and so there I stood in the middle of them all for nearly half an hour, unable to move for the dozens of children all around me, catching on to as many words as I could and doing my best to sing along. It was absolute bliss!

I finally tore myself away from the kids and we went into Khaso’s hut, where she made us each a cup of chai. The kitchen is inside the hut, just four stones arranged around a little dug out pit in the dirt – just enough to lay firewood underneath and balance a pot on top. She told us about the drought and how hard it is for people right now, and we talked for nearly an hour (thank goodness for Nick, who could translate for me!). Around 8:30, we gathered in front of the hut – Nick on the man’s side, me, about a bazillion kids, and any other women on the other side. People wandered over from all over the village to hear what Nick had to say – people are always interested in hearing about God, and Nick was eager to try out the most recently translated passage in a public setting. There were probably about forty people gathered – not counting the kids! – and as they all arrived, the kids started singing again. Another solid half an hour of singing (led by one boy who was like the musical version of the energizer bunny – he sang and sang and sang and sang with gusto and at full volume the ENTIRE time), and then we prayed to begin. Indubaayo has come along, too, so she took the passage and began to read.

As she read and as Nick spoke, I looked around me, taking in what I could by the light of the rising moon. I was sitting in front of the hut, little naked Rendille kids leaning on and sitting all over me. At least two little ones had fallen asleep – one slumped against my back, one with her head in my lap. Three different kids held my hand or my arm, and at least two had hands on my feet. One girl sat behind me and played with my hair. To my right was the hut, smoky and earthy. Across from me and to my left were all the people who had come to listen – elders, women, and young unmarried girls. The headgear of the girls tinkled in the breeze and shimmered in the moonlight. All around me were traditional Rendille – beads and staffs and bracelets and smiles. Dominating the starry night was Indubaayo, reading a little bit haltingly, but with a deep love for these people and a beaming smile on her face.

As someone who has had a Bible (or two or three or thirteen) in her house all her life – a simplified one for kids, a version with applications for teenagers, an NIV version, a Living Bible version, a New American Standard version, a King James version, a study Bible version, a Life Application Bible version, a New Testament only version, a “read through the Bible in a year” version – it hit me.

This was new. It was fresh. It wasn’t backed with a “yeah yeah, been there, heard that” kind of attitude. It was brand. new. And it was revolutionary, especially for the Rendille, for whom revenge is a very big part of their existence:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil... Do not take revenge [the Rendille way of saying this is “do not wash blood with blood”], my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (selected verses from Romans 12:14-21)

These people were listening to something in their own language, which has only been written down for about twenty years, read by someone who just a few years ago was completely illiterate. And they were hearing the word of God for the very. first. time in their LIVES.

All I could do was to sit in awe at what was going on around me.

I fell asleep that night on my cowskin on the floor of Khaso’s hut with tears in my eyes. I knew that that night represented something so big, so meaningful, so… GOD. And I got to be there.

Waakh a la koolicho! May God be praised!


anne said...

I can't imagine the beauty of that moment. I will say that Kenyans seem to sing WAY better than we Americans (or Canadians for that matter) do! :)

Jean said...

what an amazing experience! thanks for sharing this. it's so hard to comprehend that the people listening were hearing the Bible for the first time in their lives! man...how much we take for granted.