This past weekend my husband and I had the privilege of joining Rick and Mary Strickland in serving the people in the northern region of West Pokot. Based in Olathe, Kansas, the Stricklands have been coming to Kenya for over two decades and have been acquainted with Ray’s family for just as long. Believe me, I’ve heard some interesting stories from them about Ray when he was a kid. 😉
The Pokot tribe is about 700,000 strong, but they’re generally pretty secluded people, so the group we visited was way up in the mountains in little pockets throughout the bush. They’re so hidden, in fact, that years ago Rick initially had to drive through unpaved roads for hours only to hike for hours just to reach them. Some of the roads have been semi paved since then, but it’s still a tough trek to get there. Even once you arrive, the place will look totally secluded until someone starts playing a drum. Once the drums plays, you’ll suddenly find people pouring out of the bush from all directions.
Bumping right along
Currently, with some of the work they’ve done on the roads, the trip to Kitale from Pokot is 8-9 hours. One hundred and forty kilometers (70ish miles) in 8-9 hours, that is. Our spiritual parents Bill and Patricia Cornell of Vision for Africa Ministries took us along for this trip in their vehicle.
We drove along some pretty bumpy roads for about four hours, stopped at Rick and Mary’s home, and had a little lunch.
Then we continued down even worse roads – the kind that force you to duck away from your window to keep from getting whacked in the face by thorny branches and that make you cringe as you hear bushes scraping and breaking against the underside of the vehicle.
The fun has arrived
Thankfully, our vehicle arrived without incident (though the same can’t be said of the trip home), but Rick and Mary’s vehicle had some issues with the carburetor, so they stayed back at the house for the evening. We at least had enough daylight left to set up camp and get the projector in place to show the people pictures Ray took of them when he went for a medical mission trip while I was stateside. A lot of people in the bush don’t really get the opportunity to see what they look like, so they’re very keen about huddling around cars to see their reflection or crowding you when you take pictures because they know they’ll be able to see themselves on screen. I found it quite amusing though how if I was taking video of something, people would scrunch up behind me to look at my screen, then they’d run in front of the camera and run back and try to catch themselves on screen.You can imagine then, how excited they were about the slideshow. They laughed and talked throughout the whole thing… until the generator quit after about fifteen minutes.
Sadly, we couldn’t do anything until the morning when Rick arrived with a backup, so we just packed up and went to bed early. Well, we did … throughout the night we could hear singing and drumming and laughing. I’m pretty sure Pokots don’t need to sleep. They sang and prayed in the church all night long and even when we woke in the morning they were still going.
The call to worship
The next morning was Sunday, so it was time for church. Shortly after we had breakfast, the call to worship was sounded via the drum, and people once again came pouring in from nowhere. They sang and jumped and danced and prayed, and even though everything they sang was in Pokot (Ray was just as lost as I was) there was quite a joyful atmosphere in the church service under the trees.
We spent the afternoon entertaining the kids by doing silly things simply because they would mimic everything we did.
Ray taught them the electric slide, Bill did some counting games with them, Patricia danced with them, and I taught them some chants/songs about Yesu in mixed English and Kiswahili.
The funny thing about the kids is that they’re terribly frightened of white people. We’ve been told that there are longstanding rumors that white people are cannibals, so it took a little time for them to warm up to Bill and Patricia. I, however, was able to walk up to them and play some hand games with them, though if I ever made any sudden moves, you better believe they would dart away from me like I had the plague. I wish I recorded the sound they made when they got scared and scattered… “Woooh”. It was really cute.
In the midst of all the fun, we came across a small girl laying on the ground looking very weak – she could barely open her eyes. We figured she was dehydrated and tried to give her some water. She allowed Ray to pick her up, of course she had no strength to be scared, but she wouldn’t let me give her water. She would cling to Ray’s neck and turn away. Finally we put her down on the ground and the mother came around and helped us give her some water. It was incredible the difference water could make. In no time she was handing her cup back to me for more water and then up and running and playing with the other kids. We didn’t do any “witnessing” during this trip, but we did fulfill the scripture of giving a thirsty child water to drink, so that’s enough for me.
Rick showed up with the generator and bags of food, and we managed to finish the picture slideshow and play about the first hour of “The Passion”. We got to the very end of Jesus being beaten, and though it was dark outside, you could hear the people weeping openly. I watched the movie in American theaters three times and I heard lots of sniffling, but never anything like that. It was quite moving.
Suddenly the rain came and it never stopped. By the time the people had taken cover in the school house and we had taken down the equipment and packed it up, the thunderstorm had arrived. All we could do was sit in our tents and wait …We waited until late in the night for the storm to pass, but the rain never let up.
Even in the morning, we woke to rain, but guess what we also heard… singing, drumming, dancing, and praying. Those people never quit, I tell you!
We were supposed to leave Pokot that morning, but because we were so far up the mountain and the rains had been so heavy (I mean we could hear the river below us ferociously rushing all night long and even throughout the day… Imagine, it was just one of the rivers that we were supposed to cross to get out of there… and by cross, I mean without a bridge), we had to wait. Ray and I went into the schoolhouse and recorded some Pokot songs and games – the inspiration behind a future project we hope to film – and spent the morning with the kiddos.
A teachable moment
Now before I get to the bit about our trip back, let me tell you about an incident that was definitely a teachable moment for me.
As I mentioned before, it was raining all morning long. Most of the kids were barefoot and had very little to keep them warm – just lessos (large, thin scarves). One little girl was just in a t-shirt and skirt with no shoes. I had carried my mom’s knitted sweater afghan thing-a-ma-jig (I don’t know what it’s called) with me to keep warm. It was one of the few items that belonged to her that I was able to bring with me to Kenya. I felt bad for the girl, so I took it off and covered her in it so she could keep warm.
She kept it on for quite a while until we all went back into the school house. The kids were dancing and the rain was beginning to let up, so she took it off and set it on a chair. One of the mama’s took it upon herself to watch my stuff while we were occupied with the kids, so when we went to leave the school house, she made sure that I had all of our equipment and my afghan sweater thing.
Ray and I joined the other missionaries under the main tent to play games and wait the rest of the rain out. As the sun came out, so did the little girl with her mother. They wanted the whatchamacallit back. Now, I couldn’t understand a single word they said and they couldn’t understand me either, so they just kind of circled the tent and tried to get my attention. I knew what they wanted, but the rain was ending, so I didn’t want to go back out and hand it to her and confuse her into thinking I was giving it to her. Too late… the damage was already done.
The sun came out and it got warm really fast – Pokot is typically really hot, which is why the rain storm was so uncommon – so we decided to start packing up.
We hoped that after a good three to four hours the road would be dry enough to get across and the rivers would have gone down. The whole time we packed, the girl and her mother hovered around and every once in a while tried to tell me in Pokot that they wanted my do-hickey. I was at a loss; I didn’t know how to communicate that I didn’t mean to give it to them.
Before you start thinking I’m a monster, let me clarify… Some Pokot women can be very aggressive when it comes to getting what they want. If you give something to their kids, they’ll take it from them in a heartbeat and not think twice. The missionaries I was with have even seen the women take candy out of their children’s mouths and pop it into their own. I had given a bag of oranges to one of the kids that sang because Ray and I really took a liking to her, and within minutes, her mom confiscated them and I don’t think the little girl even got one. It was very clear from the way this particular woman was pushing the little girl to keep coming to me that she wanted the sweater for herself. So I wasn’t denying the girl something she needed (Rick and Mary had actually brought hats and jackets for the people, so where there was a need they would have filled it); I was denying the mother something she wanted.
The rest of the afternoon I got some pretty cruel glares from the two of them until I found an interpreter and had him help me explain the situation to them. I really struggled with whether or not I should just give it to them or if I should keep it. I’m not the most sentimental person, I threw gads of personal mementos away when I moved here, but this particular item.. I just couldn’t give up.
Anyway, if there’s one thing I learned from that situation, it’s that I have to be careful about “being nice”, especially when I have no way of communicating my intentions. As far as they were concerned, if I gave it to her to wear, I gave it to her. There was no question in their minds that I was in the wrong for taking the sweater back, and nothing I said or did could change that fact. Ray and I gave away a number of things that we had brought with us, but that didn’t matter. I took a gift back from a kid and proved myself to be dishonest. Honestly, that experience was a little overwhelming emotionally for me because I didn’t mean to cause offense, but what more could I do? Lesson learned.
Until next time
As we drove off from there, we were met with surprisingly mostly dry paths. Pokot gets really hot, so even after all that rain, the moisture was either sucked right out of the ground or ran downhill. That was true of the road for about half an hour until we got to the area where the government has been grading the road. All that was there was miles of mud. Rick had gotten stuck ahead of us and then we got stuck … twice. We came across someone else who was stuck just at the end of a river bed, used the wench to get him out, and then continued on our way until we came across the big river… you know the one I said we heard roaring all night. Coming down from the hill, we saw the water still about 20 meters wide and everyone said, “Uh-oh”.
I for one had horrible visions of our truck floating down the river flashing through my mind, but thankfully another guy was down at the bank and told us that though it looked formidable, it was cross-able. He even had someone walk across it for us and the water that once looked so menacing turned out to only be about calve deep. We easily crossed it and everyone breathed easy again after that.
Because we left so late in the afternoon, we decided to just drive the four hours (30 miles) to Rick’s house and camp there for the night. The road had been washed out in numerous places and the mud proved to be a challenge more than a few times, but we made it.
The next day wasn’t so bad. Just a flat tire, but after all the other stuff that had happened, that was easy peasy. We made it back home just in time to get to Mattaw for classes with our students.
Lessons from Kimmy
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt probably isn’t the purest show to quote, but I must confess that I binge watched the heck out of that show over the course of two evenings while I was in the States. One point Kimmy made in the show that I completely relate to was that when she’s doing tasks that upset or frustrate her (i.e. turning the “mysterious” crank again and again), she just counts to ten and starts again.
In situations like we faced this past weekend, the old me would have been severely impatient, frustrated, and emotional. I can’t imagine the S’ambrosia of two years ago going along with the flow like I was able to on this trip. Of course the grace of God kept me throughout, but I also had to be responsible for the choices I made each second. To that end, I didn’t necessarily count to ten, but I would continually tell myself that soon the rain would stop or soon the problem with the little girl’s mother would be resolved or soon we would get past the bumpy roads to smoother ones, and amazingly, my spirits remained high throughout the trip. What’s even more amazing is I’m totally willing to go back!
This was a crazy trip, but it was a fun adventure for Ray and I, and we’re ready for the next one!