So Carly and I have been going around to all the churches in our village and it’s been a lot of fun.  They want us to choose one when our tour is through but maybe, well we can see.  The following, adapted from my journal was an attempt to document the powerful impression from one particular Sunday at the ______ church that left me reeling in my own thoughts late into the night. Names are omitted along with basic information about religion in Zambia that you could glean from Brittanica. Just know that  Zambia is a Christian nation for the take home message.

We are not the people of Destiny, but the makers of our own destiny or at least we pretend to be; daily, and it’s one of the major reasons why we are not among the have nots, but church today was EPIC and I thank you all.  It’s the church just near our house and usually rocks our world with a little bit of god fearing rhythym on the Sundays we dodge our tour de church to do our chores.  Today we made our way there at 10am local time, 11:15 actual time for the 10am service accompanied by our friend who works at the local school.   Walk in and take our seats towards the front where we’re directed on the varnished wood benches next to another teacher. Preacher welcomes us in English then to my delight leaves us behind to proceed in Kikaonde, it adds to the mysticism and allows me to drift off in my head without fear of later reprimand for not grasping the main ideas.

Anyways soon the singing begins, two young girls one maybe 11, the other maybe 13 but well separated by size from stochastic nutrition and the universal disease of puberty. They start a clapping two different rhythyms and feet scuffling to the beat. The religous ringleader starts clapping a third beat as the whole church winds their way through one of the local gospel standards. All these rhthyms leave me behind just like the Kaonde language, Carly holds one of those beats in a clap while I tap my left  foot awkwardly. I’m thinking if you don’t know if you got the beat then you probably don’t, right? That’s a question for those of you out there cooler than I.  So in spurts with leads alternating we work up a frenzy. A 3rd girl joins the 2 up front, and she alternates between singing and shooing the unkept toddlers with stalactite boogers towards the creaky side door using a dry bamboo shoot. I think the toddlers were just roaming the area free range and were attracted by the singing and 2 muzungus in the front pew. The kept kids sitting on other benches in their clean clothes turn to stare at us throughout the gospel jam.  People seem occupied so I make funny faces at them.

The religous ringleader is feeling it, strutting around the podium draped with an embroidery. In front of the podium is a small table with a dry milk tin with a few fake flowers in it next to the basket for offerings. The ringeader is taking up space in an admirable way, makes me daydream of dropping some hellfire and brimstone into my sessions on sustainable resource use to sway the masses.

The gospel still humming along and the women bring their knees to the ground and it’s time for a shift in tempo like Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s not demons in the night coming for me or maybe not even spoken tongues. I can’t be sure though as I don’t speak the language well enough they could just be rumbling in repent in Kikaonde. I’m wondering if later on I’ll ask my friends we came with what the hell was happening in a polite and culturally sensitive matter. Maybe I can reconcile my world of learnedness with the lip smacking dogmatic fatalism. But I never asked I just led it add to the pile of exciting, incomprehensible, and uncommunicable experiences that occur more frequently than I carefully plan for.  7 minutes of this tongue lashing and I’m getting shifty on my bench, eyes cast down on the clean but battered cement floor, at least it’s comforting solid matter to focus on.  Then I missed the signal but the winddown begins slowly, maybe the major sinners or the truely devout are the last to withdraw.

But oh when they all do it’s cherubic harmony and bliss; jolly little munchkins in OZ and brick roads of gold splashed in technicolor.  They bring it home with skill, peace, promise and joy. Everyone’s been wound up and now back down only thing left is for the ringleader to turn cheerleader.

“Give me a J”

“J”

“Give me a J”

“J”

This continues call and response till we’ve spelled Jesus twice, kind of a tacky ending to the best darn gospel performance this side of the copper mine. Church went on from there with the usual Bible reading, offering, welcoming of visitors (us) plus a young momma with sullen eyes from down in the village proper.  We stumble through our Kikaonde introducion we’ve rehearsed many times by now, and the kind people listen patiently but far from thrilled, maybe it’s because they are second to last on our village tour de church. Maybe they can see we’re a little jaded and road weary like they paid full price for Aerosmith tickets but their town is just the state capital en route to the big city and we’re winding down our 50 city world tour. Everyone shakes hands and we all proceed outside, job well done, souls saved  and courtesies gestured. The women go to one side and the men the other in a half circle the children mostly strewn amongst the women. The sun is hot now, the village clock is based on the sun’s position but there is some kind of coefficient with radiant air temperature I haven’t yet figured out.  That’s CHURCH in Zambia more or less. There is the usual not so slick or direct rebutttal of their invitation to come back in the future. 

I hope its clear that people here are really nice and I can really be a schmuck, but don’t worry it’s only in the privacy of my hut. During the day I make a big effort to tell people exactly how wonderful all you Americans are, and to serve dutifully and humbly in the steps of your tall shadow. 

If any of this was offending please let me know asap. My goal is to speak words that bring peace, but the truth I see is that we’re all just people. I’m hoping that honesty, humor and good intent can do this better than platitudes.

Mike

Advertisements