Monday, October 31, 2011

The Case of the Sacrificial Goat

I returned to Nyumbani last week refreshed from vacation and ready to tackle finishing the rainwater harvesting tanks and installation of the first water filters. Upon putting down by bags and getting my news update from John, the guest house cook, I was informed that the elder members of the village were given a goat from management to be sacrificed for the rains. I was confused by approval of the head of Nyumbani village, Sr. Mary, to so willing give a goat to the villagers who are, from my understanding, all Christian. Upon querying staff, I found out that animal sacrifices are a common part of Kamba culture/ religion. Going to church and praying for rains wasn’t enough for the villagers, some thought that in order to bring rain to these “cursed” lands, they needed to revert to their traditional practices of sacrificing to God. Since Nyumbani does not discriminate against religion, the elders are free to practice whatever they believe.

Now this is my understanding of events. The sacrificial goat has unfortunately caused much unrest among zealous Christians in the village and those who are okay with continuing Kamba tradition. I’ll give you a summary of each camp’s opinion on the sacrificial goat.

Camp 1: Management
Nyumbani village strives to maintain Kamba culture. Father D’Agostino, the founder of Nyumbani Village (who is treated very much like a saint here), supported the Kamba tradition of sacrificing a goat therefore Sr. Mary sees nothing wrong in donating a goat since Fr. D’Agostino did it. Now I didn’t ask Sr. Mary directly about this since she’s a very busy woman, but every time I asked someone in management about the goat, they would revert to the excuse “Fr. D’Agostino did it so Sr. Mary is doing it.”

Camp 2: zealous Christians
These Christians in the village believe the elders have sacrificed to their evil spirits on Nyumbani land and have therefore cursed the land, brought no rains, oh and we’re all going to hell since we knew about the sacrifice and didn’t stop it. Maybe I forgot to mention that Kambas are known, back in the day, to practice witchcraft. It’s no longer a common practice but there is still a strong belief that Kamba land is witchcraft land. Take for example my recent return to the village last week. I was with Becky, a Kenyan volunteer, when unfortunately one of the tires of the matatu burst on the way back. As we shuffled out of the matatu so the driver could replace the tire, Becky leans over to me and says, “The old woman who was sitting in front of us witched the matatu. That’s why we got a flat.” As crazy as this explanation sounds I’m sure Becky was not the only one who thought this. I remember seeing the su-su (grandmother) in the matatu happily bobbing her head to the music and I thought, poor woman, everyone thinks she’s a witch.

The priest and seminarians who live in the village also fall into this camp. They were most offended by the sacrificial goat so much so that the priest made an announcement before mass ended on Sunday that no one was allowed to make any sacrifices on Nyumbani’s land. I got the impression from speaking with a seminarian that they believe the elders are praying to evil spirits. They are therefore preparing for an increase in exorcisms to vanquish said evil spirits.

Camp 3: the moderate Christians
These Christians see nothing wrong with the elders practicing their traditional religion. This is how their ancestors worshipped God and only when Christianity came around, this practice was seen as evil. To them, sacrificing a goat is just Kamba culture and we shouldn’t feel threatened by this since they worship the same God. 

Camp 4: me (all alone, by myself, solo)
Climate change anyone? Deforestation? Do any of these things ring a bell? No? okay, I’ll just keep my thoughts to myself for now since every time I talk about this with most of the staff (excluding management) I get skeptical looks. I could almost see how easy it is to believe that “witchcraft” practices have cursed Nyumbani land. Where we’re located is very flat and you can see in every direction for miles, therefore you can also see different weather systems for the different regions. I’ve witnessed heavy rains in every area around Nyumbani village but Nyumbani village. No wonder they think the elders have cursed the land, I probably would too if I never learned about climate change and just watched every where else get rain but my village. It also makes sense why the Kenyan government was willing to give 1000 acres in this area to Nyumbani Village since historically this land has very short, unpredictable rains. Nyumbani village has become the biggest village here since most Kenyans, given the choice, would relocate to lands with more rains. For those living in Nyumbani though, relocation is not an option and in order to cope with the lack of rain they need to blame something/someone. Unfortunately the easiest targets to blame are the elders who practice the traditional religious rituals. Just like the su-su in the matatu, the unknowing elders in the village are conferred blame, which probably wouldn’t be the case if the average level of education in the village was higher.

Until education levels improve though and people are more aware of what’s happening on a global scale I think I’m going to join in with the rain rituals. I’m off to find a drum to beat, some chicken feathers and a horn to blow. I’m going to come up with a powerful muzungu (this means white person, Westerner or foreigner) rain dance and cheer everyone up, or just scare the zealous Christians in Camp number 2!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Vacation in Watamu

Finally a long needed break from work! Last Thursday was Kenyatta Day (or Hero’s Day) so Jane, a fellow stationed in Nairobi, and I decided to go to the coastal town of Watamu for the long weekend. The house we stayed in was so beautiful and lacked any sort of privacy whatsoever. I’m pretty sure the surrounding village can tell you our weekend schedule since our house lacked curtains, in some places walls and in others ceilings; all in a very artistic way of course. Being poor volunteers we really had to budget our money, which meant we weren’t the typical Italian tourists Watamu sees, we were the never before seen muzungu breed of calculating hagglers.

Our first day’s activities involved the frustrating task of deciding our meal budget with the house cook, a tall, dark, helpful Kenyan with an ole St. Nick belly named Joseph.  Testing the waters Jane and I asked him how much money he thinks he would need to cook for us for 3 days. After a moment or so of hemming and hawing he says with conviction “About eight to ten thousand shillings” (so around 80 to 100 USD). Jane and I look at each totally confused as we try to hide our shock. This makes absolutely no sense since you can buy an extremely nice meal at a fancy restaurant for around 600 shillings. (6 USD). We decide to draw up a menu for the days so we can figure out how much money Joseph actually needs and eventually we decide that four thousand shillings is much more than enough for us and another friend who plans to arrive the next day.

“So we’re good now? We’re on the same page and agree that this is enough money?” I ask Joseph.

“Ah yes. This is good” he replies assuringly.

As we’re about to turn he quickly adds, with a glimmer in his eye, “Ah yes, we’ll see, pole pole.”

Jane and I are confused as to what else needs to be considered but after going around in circles with Joseph and always ending in “pole pole” we give up and decide that if we need to ask for receipts we’ll do that. Pondering to ourselves as to why Joseph thinks he needs so much money, we decide that he’s used to catering for wealthy Italian tourists (this argument also supports my Kenyan friend Becky’s belief that the Italian mafia vacations in Watamu).

The next day our second bout of haggling involved driving the price down to a reasonable figure for our tuk-tuk to the beach. After much disputing we finally arrived at the beautiful white sand beach in the squelching heat. We positioned our towels as far away from the beach boys as possible and soaked up the sun and sand. Having spent enough time in Kenya to have no interest in engaging in conversations with random men, the beach boys were sadly disappointed and probably a bit confused as to our blatant disregard of them. Jane was quite exceptional at this task, refusing to even acknowledge their existence even though sometimes I gave in with a short answer to a question or two.

“We must seem like some really grumpy vacationers” I said to Jane chuckling.

“Yea we are” Jane replies coolly.

Totally settling in to our new grumpy personalities we complain that there should be more clouds in the sky and the sun is much too hot (this is after torrential rains on the coast the previous week) and so we pack our things up to head back.

Our weekend involved many wonderful activities such as couch lounging, watching really bad action movies like the Expendables, and an interesting visit to Gede Ruins. But the highlight for me was Joseph’s phone call to our tuk-tuk driver to take us to dinner on our last night. Always willing to help he calls the driver and after a while begins to laugh in surprise. When he hangs up the phone we ask him to explain what happened (since the conversation was in Swahili).

“He said you don’t pay enough and he doesn’t want to pick you up.” Joseph laughs heartily.

We all crack up in amusement and astonishment.

“I told him you are our friends and he has to help you so he’s coming.” Joseph adds.

You know you haven’t been screwed over by prices when the tuk-tuk driver would rather make no money than give you a ride.
Our open air living room

Board walk to the creek which was 5 mins away from the house

Sunset at our house

"Window" in my bathroom

Open air shower

Getting ready for our bird watching expedition at Midas Creek

Pensive monkey at Gede ruins

Gede Ruins

Enormous rocket tree at Gede Ruins