NEWS end of June 2004
Being a Guest . . .
It is neither normal nor polite in this culture to tell someone in advance when you are going to visit them. Rather, one should arrive, sit in the sitting room, and then not budge! People who come to visit us do this all the time, and I also do it when visiting others – although it is still difficult at times.
To ask "do you mind if I stay the night", is considered offensive, as asking the question implies that you are doubting your host’s civility. Hospitality for visitors is very important around here.
Hence the dynamic set up when a sickly old lady arrived at my doorstep the other day, and said that she is staying the night. Of course she could stay. . . Her body was covered with scabies, jigger fleas and lice. She is a spinster – a much despised state in this area, and stays in her late parent’s home. Her brother who remains in charge of the homestead cares little for her, and apparently puts his cattle into the same house at night.
I was very impressed by the teenage girls who I have at home, who set too washing the lady, removing some of the resident parasites, and washing her clothes for her. The next morning I called the four girls and hinted to them that perhaps we should look after this lady (who is at her current age a bit simple) rather than sending her back to her normal dirty residence. All the girls agreed that she should rather leave on the same day. Grandmother (my landlady) said the same thing; she must go to her relatives, and it would not be right for her to die here. She went to stay at a funeral, and presumably is now back at her home.
Bracelet of Power
The power of the kings of Gem in the pre-colonial era was said to arise from a special metal bracelet that they wore. This bracelet helped them to rule wisely and effectively, and to defeat their enemies. Such a "magic bracelet" sounded like ancient history until I recently broached it with a lady here – only to find that her father who had died just about 15 years ago, had been given (probably) the very same bracelet worn in those ancient times! When she was still very young, she told me, a lot of clan elders gathered at their homestead for the important enthronement at which the bracelet was handed over to her father. It was like a wedding, she told me. Some of the men who came to join in the beer drinking to mark this event were so old that they had to be brought by wheelbarrow!
The bracelet was removed from her father after his death. It was placed on top of his grave. Then it disappeared, and to today she doesn’t know where it has gone. It seems that the old men who were concerned about such things were by this time all gone. Its supposed powers are no longer considered consequential.
I have mixed feelings. The belief in the bracelet one can say was a deception. Better to believe in the Christian God of love than the old bracelet of war. But it is also sad that something once so valued in imparting greatness to this community has been swept aside, to be replaced by the belief that so much of what is good is what is foreign.
Please pray for a planned meeting of Yala pastors to discuss future advances in YTC, to be held on 3rd July 2004. Give thanks again for the good classes that we are continuing to have at Yala. Pray for us at KIST as we prepare for graduation at the end of next month, and meanwhile as teaching continues. Pray for the Thompson family of York in their preparation and travel as they are due to visit me here in the middle of next month .