A day in the highlands

31 July 2011

Narok

This morning, Metamei, a professor at Prescott College and one of the community leaders who works with us, invited Courtney, Cathy, Nick and me to a community meeting in a town about 30 km away. We left at about 11:30 and drove into the highlands. In just minutes the terrain went from arid, dusty savannah to lush hills and rolling wheat fields, waves upon waves of green and gold.

Fields in the Kenyan highlands.

First we stopped at a man’s home to take tea. The tea was sweet and served with mandazi bread. I was relieved to have a snack because it was lunch time and I was approaching starvation. Courtney, Cathy, myself and about 10 men packed ourselves into the tiny living room and talked as we ate. There was impassioned discussion about local politics, intermixed with laughter and storytelling.

Once we had finished our snack, we all piled into the cars once again and drove to the local baptist church, which sat at the top of a deep green hill that overlooked the village below. We were beyond fashionably late to the service and we arrived in the middle of a song. All of the women, dressed in their vibrant shukas and traditional jewelry, were dancing in the front of the room while a choir sang behind them from the stage. In the corner, a young man kept the beat on a funky DJ machine.

The seats were segregated by gender– men on the right, women on the left– but Courtney, Cathy and I sat with the men. Despite our late arrival, the congregation greeted us warmly.

The service began with a brief sermon by the bishop’s wife, who just so happened to look like Michelle Obama. She was tall and dignified, beautiful. Then the bishop stood up and spoke about how all people need God’s protection. I’ve forgotten exactly what we need to be protected from. But I do remember the bishop being off-putting. He had a very strident demeanor. As he spoke, the church joined in with chanting and song.

A shed at the top of a hill in the Kenyan highlands.

Next was the community meeting. By this time, it was nearly 3:00 and I was hungry, freezing and about to pee my pants. Before Metamei gave his speech, the congregation blessed us and formally welcomed us into their church. We all took our chairs up to the front of the room and sat, waiting for the blessing. Then, several men and women formed a circle around us and began to sing. Suddenly, they began to pray for us. Not in unison, but individually. The voices mixed, creating a chaotic jumble of words, like voices in a horror movie. Then, just as suddenly as it began, the praying stopped.

At some point, we each introduced ourselves as well- Courtney, Cathy, me, Metamei and his team. We gave our names and said what we did, while someone translated our introductions into Maa. I remember the bishop asked each of us if we had been saved. Many of the men said no. I said, “I hope so!”

Back in our seats, we listened while Metamei spoke about his childhood, his Maasai pride and his education. He talked about what he wanted to do for the Maasai people, focusing primarily on empowering the youth and stimulating the economy. Metamei is an excellent speaker– he’s engaging, and his face and his voice are warm and welcoming, inviting you to listen. He will be an impressive leader someday, someday soon.

After the meeting, the bishop’s family and our group lined up outside the church. The rest of the congregation poured out of the doors and shook our hands, saying “Ashe oleng,” thank you very much. If you are greeting a child or someone younger than you, the child bows her head and you touch her with your palm. Once we had shaken everybody’s hands, we joined the bishop for dinner in a small building behind the church. It was so cold and windy up on that hill that I ran to the car to retrieve my shuka. It is a men’s shuka, so it is thick and warm, dyed orange, red, yellow and green. Everybody laughed at me, seeing me wrapped in a male shuka and shivering in the wind.

For dinner, we ate white rice, mashed potatoes, chibati and goat stew. I was so cold and hungry that it all tasted delicious, regardless of the occasional goat hair left clinging to the meat. We finished the meal with tea and yogurt.

I cannot express how welcome I felt as I interacted with this community, how loved. People treat each other differently here in Kenya. I’ve never made so many friends so quickly. In Kenya, or at least in the Maasai communities I’ve visited, love and kindness is not rationed as it is in other places. It is unlimited.

In other news, I have 8 mosquito bites.

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