I am back – well still on-route to Mozambique but will give you a short “where have you been and what have you been up to??” report. Will share pictures within a week!!
Reflections on Amahoro-Africa May 2007
From Brian McLaren
Red African dirt. So red, like rust-dust, but brighter in the sun, sparkling hot, pure. Twin tire tracks make our path, short green grass between the parallel red trails, tall green foliage on either side. As we walk side by side, you in your track, I in mine, we’re surrounded by a spherical cloud of hovering dragonflies. There are a few pale olive-green ones, almost invisible against the vegetation, and scores of brown ones with four transparent wings marked by paired brown bars. They follow us as they would follow a herd of buffalo or giraffes or zebra, a squadron of mini-helicopters, hoping our footsteps will stir up some small mosquito from the grass which they can swoop down on, scoop up, and eat in flight.
When we stop walking, they hover for a five or ten seconds, and then they settle motionless on the red dirt around us, wings spread like a little girl’s barrettes. When we begin walking again, they arise as one, a cloud of whirring wings in which we move as if attended by angels. Above us, strange birds call, moving among the high branches.
This is what it is like to walk the dusty roads of rural East Africa. Overhead, the yellow-beaked kites circle and soar, constant companions. A gangly stork may fly among them, towing along its oversized feet, or a flock of weaver birds may swirl above us like smoke, chattering, yellower and blacker than bumblebees, drawn homeward to their village of hanging nests, woven grass teardrops dangling like ornaments from white-thorned acacia branches.
Everywhere, it seems, there is the distant sound of children laughing, and in many places at seemingly any time of day or evening, there will also be the sound of singing because church has a way of breaking out anywhere under an elder tree or in a windowless shelter or behind a wall of corrugated tin. Pentecostal joy is itself a revolutionary manifestation of the kingdom of God in the land of HIV, Idi Amin, civil war, genocide, and breathtaking poverty.
If we walk into town, the dusty roads give way to packed clay, mud puddles, deep ruts, sometimes slick and sometimes sticky. Shacks and ramshackle homes jostle with shops, stalls, booths: barber shops, beauty shops, little stores selling everything – phone cards, cell phones, fruits, vegetables, a goat carcass, cow stomachs, little dried fish, big smoked fish (refrigeration is not even imagined here), beer, peanuts in little paper cones, used but highly polished shoes, small stools, irons, clay ovens, charcoal, sugarcane, colorful fabric. Children scramble, goats browse, pigs sleep under a bush, a three-legged cow hobbles from tuft to tuft along the roadside, and cars and trucks and vans and buses scream by, impossibly fast, dangerously close, barely respecting the fading memory of lanes and laws, a kind of commonplace mania of frantic speed and wild trust between drivers in one another’s way.
If we visit an informal settlement – a squatter area or slum, by whatever name – the red dirt and clay often go darker and darker, sometimes turning mucky and mealy black, with greenish and yellowish puddles and smells that could make you retch on a hot, windless day. But then comes a breeze and it’s frying potatoes you smell, or roasting chicken, and there’s almost always a sweet fragrance of woodsmoke that you taste as much as smell. Not far away, a church choir has come to sing and a crowd gathers, some people singing along, others tiptoeing through the muck, holding up their skirts to dodge puddles. Fewer goats here, but lots of chickens, always scratching about, heads bobbing.
TIA – you hear it a lot these days: this is Africa, where God is alive and where Pentecost is perpetual, hope and joy jostling with hunger and fear like trucks and scooters in the chaos of Kampala’s traffic.
This is the context for the experience that about 40 guests shared with about 160 East Africans in early May 2007 – people from Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. There were Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, even an Eastern Orthodox sister at one of our gatherings…
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