Sunday, May 3, 2009

When I was in my intro to Philosophy class my professor would always put up on the blackboard the scores for each exam. I remember one especially vividly. The highest mark was 94 and the lowest was a 32; there were a bunch of numbers in between. Anyway, I knew that the 94 wasn't mine. And so I hoped for the 32. I figured that if I got 32 and I had been hoping for the 32, then all would be square in my mind. If I thought I made get a 71, and ended up getting a 53, then i might be a little upset. So, when I did receive a 64 I was pretty happy. Not only had I exceeded my expectations, I had doubled them. It was a bit like that at Kamenzi church today.
Service was supposed to start at 10, which means 10:10 or 10:20; a bit like New Hope that way. We were also told that the intercessary (sp?) prayer meeting would be at 2, and that we would have lunch. I figured then that the longest we would be in church would be 6 hours for the service; i had heard stories. 6 hours because we would have to leave by 4pm to make it home before dark. And if one were to include lunch, well then we could knock off at least one more hour. 5 hour service, is what I had prepared myself. Since I didn't have a watch, and thought that I might be off in a corner I loaded up my shirt pocket with anything and everything I could or might want to snack on; peanuts; halls; fisherman friends; another halls; pepto bismal; I had debated on putting a melted cheese stick in its packaging but thought it might be too obvious; the ipod i took out in case someone got offended.
We had been told that there were 1200 people who attended the church. The church is not big enough to house that many and so I thought we would be packed in like sardines with a tin roof over our heads. But first, the drama. After morning drinks the hammer came down. Rev. K said that after lunch we were to participate in the intercessary prayer meeting. My eyebrow shot up. I turned my head slowly to He-tho (the first three times they try to pronounce Heather's name, it comes out Hello). She, I swear, gave me the same look that I was giving her: #$&@! You've got to be kidding. She didn't expect it; we didn't expect it. Personally, I didn't want to stay and that was later confirmed by her. We had to find our way out and we did, Macson, the driver. He was promised the afternoon off. But onto the service.
Before the service we met in the vestry where there was the usual meet and greet. Rev K asked if anyone wanted to pray, and since Jeff was already doing a greeting, and Jae's voice conveniently gave out, it was up to me to refuse straight out and make it awkward for a couple of moments before it was suggested that Heather pray; it was dutifully accepted to be so.
They sounded a million times better than New Hope, sorry. First the children would sing some songs accompanied by drums and three of them dancing in front of the others. Then the youths behind us, using their feet marching/scrapping the mat beneath them for the background rhythm, and then the women singing songs. I hope you have the opportunity to check them out. Jae took some good videos of it. Their songs were all in Chichewa, which was great, all extremely unique and while, according to my translation were at times somewhat surprising that their lyrics would be such, on the whole absolutely great. And as with everything here there was something that just didn't quite fit. And that was the organist.
First, Jeff pointed out that he was the first person with glasses he had seen in the villages. Second, they have no organ...or electricity. What they do have is a battery and a synthesizer. So the man with the glass was rocking out on a synthesizer, complete with drum beat in the background, to translated English hymns. Something is definately lost in the translation, and in the story telling.
After the women were singing, I leaned over to my translator and asked him if the men would be singing next. He laughed at me. "Men don't sing". Oh.
It is an odd thing to be sitting in church and see a dog walk through and force the children to lean/run/move towards their mothers out of fear. It's also another thing to hear the sounds of chickens being chased by children who seem to do whatever they want during the service. But I hope never to be scared again by a goat bleating while sticking his head in the door on the nave.
Lunch again was served in Rev K's house, and was quite good. Chicken, goat, nsima, pumpkin leaves (which are quite tasty). And then it was time for the prayer meeting.
We negotiated our exit to 2:45. And since the meeting started late it was going to be interesting to see how things would end. There were benches spread out in a half circle, some chairs, and a mat. Basically, they took down prayer requests, sang some of the Anglican priest songs (not sure of their title) that are beck and call, read a Bible verse and divided us up into groups to take a certain amount of the prayer requests. It was quite evident from what the Rev was saying that he shortened up the meeting quite a bit. For example, the chichewa translation of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 has two words in it. And the grouping of the prayer requests, we thought would normally be taken one at a time.
I will say that the service was the shortest 3 hr service I've been to; I ate one peanut and one fisherman's friend. The prayer meeting wasn't as bad as I had anticipated; I do think that had we not said we needed to leave at such and such a time, that it would have lasted a very long time. Everyone was in agreement about that.
I felt good about saying no to the prayer because I didn't have to be put on the spot in front of people I didn't really know and because when I walked into the church nave there were men sitting on chairs and benches to the left, children on the floor beside them, the longer part of the nave floor was reserved for women and young children, which brings me to what I wanted this post to be about: a Winston Churchill quote (or in so far as I read it in a biography of his)

"What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immoveable object?"

This is the african riddle. The women here do so much. More than what we could ever see in our short time here. They cook. They clean. They get the water. They farm. They do the shoppping and the cooking. They walk long distances with ladened baskets, porting babies, and carrying bags. They get AIDS from cheating husbands. They are the ones taking the literacy classes, the nutrition classes, the farming classes. They are the support networks. They have kids and more kids and more kids. They sell wares. they greet visitors with songs and dance. This and so much more. And they sit on the floor.

The men sit in the shade.

Perhaps a generalisation, but I don't think it's too far removed from the truth and one of the issues that will shape this country, maybe this continent. At what point will the women take a look around, see things, and decide on a different course of action. We've already heard it in the songs, "we don't need our husbands anymore, we've learned enough from the women's group". At some point, it will be they who will be the catalyst for change; it will become more than words in a song set to a dance. The inequalities that are present in their personal relationship are also the inequalities that one can see in the society at large.


  1. Thanks for another great update--thought provoking and entertaining, you have a real gift. Good luck tomorrow (or the next day?) with the partnership discussion and blessings for the trip home,


  2. This is my favourite post so far, so funny, so maddening, so true. I couldn't stop laughing at your description of church. I don't think I've ever seen Heather give a #$&@! look before. And what a great quote. I often wonder if the mango trees would wither up and die of shock if the men didn't show up to sit under them some day. Hope you guys have a great partnership discussion, especially now that you know so much more about the situation.