Reflections on Kenya & Uganda: Getting Our Feet Dirty—Part II

August 23, 2013

“Have you been on a farm/ranch/pasture? Have you been in close proximity of livestock?”

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Form is reinforced by a Customs Agent’s direct question. When I answer “Yes,” he writes a big red “A” on my form and points me to the agricultural inspection line at San Francisco International Airport. The agents want to see the shoes we wore in Kenya and Uganda. Inspecting the dirt in the tread, they took two pairs and gave them an antiseptic bath. Yes, we got our feet dirty in equatorial East Africa. My thoughts drift to our first encounter in the rural areas of southwestern Kenya. . .

Steve and Alene had let us know before our arrival that we would take time out on IMG_0451Wednesday and visit Pastor W and his family in a little village about 1.25 hours walk from their apartment. Alene drove us two-thirds of the way, and then let us off with Steve to walk the last mile. It had rained the night before, and the iron-red earth was severely rutted and puddle-pocked. But the weather was cool and pleasant, giving us a chance to see small household farm plots of tea and table vegetables and to greet the sheep, goats, and cows grazing along the way. We loved the obnoxious baaa of this guy:

Pastor W, his wife C, and two of their three children greeted us warmly. Their home sits in the middle of about half an acre of richly soiled farmland. Growing here is tea (for cash) and a special grass for cow feed, and then corn, tomatoes, kale, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, and squash for family eating. The land also accommodates grazing for three cows and lots of chickens.  By local standards, this family is well off, having carefully plotted and implemented their financial plan over the last several years. In that time, they have moved living quarters from a traditional hut to framed adobe house with several rooms, including a “remodeled” kitchen but not including a bathroom. That’s an outbuilding in the corner of the property. The kitchen is a very simple space without appliances, most notably no refrigeration. The most important feature is a fire pit and chimney against one wall. Two pots can be accommodated directly over the fire, one for ugali (a fine white-corn polenta) and one for meat and/or vegetables. Sukuma wiki is a very common and tasty dish: sautéed onions and tomatoes mixed with finely shredded kale are cooked for ten minutes or more. Though perhaps a little light on protein, in the main, these folks have nutritious food.

Water pumped closer to where it's needed
Water pumped closer to where it’s needed

Pastor W led us on a tour of his property and included a demonstration of the well water pump and a simple distribution system. We observed here and elsewhere that acquiring local well water and pumping it up hills immediately freed women to use their time and talents more fully in other pursuits. Water made accessible to the house for washing and cooking is both hygienic and compassionate. Considering the many, many people we had observed toting 5-gallon jugs of water from a town’s only tap to their homes, having this on-site water source was indeed a blessing.

We were invited to sit down on couches that lined the small living room and surrounded one big low table. This is where we would eat the feast that C had spent at least a day preparing for us. Heavy on the carbs (boiled potatoes, rice, ugali, fried bread, butternut soup), balanced with sukuma wiki and fresh avocadoes, generous in meat IMG_0464(goat and chicken), sweetened by fresh fruit (pineapple and banana) . . . yes, an amazing meal and gracious hospitality behind it. We were entertained by the children packing away mounds of food, alerted that this was probably their one meal today.

After lunch (yes, this was a midday meal!), we sat around the table and drank chai tea and talked about the ministry, how W and C met, the role of women in society and in the church, and “why men don’t go to church.” All fascinating topics—where do I start? And then “the speeches”: launched by Pastor W and his wife C, everybody was given the opportunity to make a personal statement without interruption. The children chose Scriptures to read, and the adults each spoke for five minutes of their gratitude to God and what they were learning from their guests/hosts. It reminded me of my family of origin and the dinner-table conversations we had, giving everybody including us four kids a chance to log in with a report about our day. Only this was far more affirmation- and faith-centered. We would call this Body Life, in which the saints give one another encouragement and exhortation for their spiritual edification. We were blessed beyond measure.

We wanted to get to Steve and Alene’s place before dark, so we said our goodbyes and rolled out the door to the car, tummies full and spirits lifted. Tomorrow, a glimpse into the life of a less well-off neighbor.


2 Responses to “Reflections on Kenya & Uganda: Getting Our Feet Dirty—Part II”

  1. You’re observing SO well, pal — intent and skills at work. Thanks!

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