Monday, December 18, 2006

Different Yet The Same

For the past two weeks my wife and I have been in Kenya where we lived from 1976 to 1989. Our children grew up here; it was here I began my studies of social organization working with a semi-nomadic tribe called the Pokot. Thirty years ago I was considered a pioneer church planter, meaning, I established churches in areas where there were no churches. Kenya has had western missionaries for over one hundred years so to say we were the first to take the Gospel to Pokot or Turkana wouldn’t be accurate. However, many of the places where we did establish churches there were few and even in some areas, no churches at all.

Much has changed since we first came to this beautiful East African country. Gone are the shortages of basic items such as flour, cooking oil, sugar and building materials like cement and nails. In the old days the merchants from India determined the price of things as well as their availability, but in today’s Kenya the supermarkets, well stocked with variety, makes shopping a pleasure rather than an exercise in frustration.

When we first moved to the town of Kitale it was considered an outpost as the last town with electricity and water before going north into the bush of Pokot and Turkana. Operator assisted calls, even local dialing, has been replaced with mobiles and we can communicate with Nairobi or Lodwar from our front yard. The post office, once so revered we considered it “sacred space,” is hardly noticed today as overseas communication is now through Internet rather than aerogram.

But in some ways Kenya, especially upcountry, things have not changed. Time is still not kept and an appointment scheduled for 9 a.m. is easily delayed until 10:30 or 11. The roads, once promising with fresh tarmac, are now potholes or gone completely. Fashion has changed for some, but for most, the dress of shamba (farm) people are much the same. Even in Pokot, though cotton dress has replaced the goatskin, the beads an ornaments remain. The Kenyans still dry their maize on the ground, still barter vigorously at the market, still as friendly and jovial as they were when we arrived so many years ago.

Like the precarious existence of the Pokot, whose life is between starvation or plenty depending on the amount of rainfall they receive on any given year, Kenya continues to teeter on the brink from being a great country to one of complete ruin. With its natural resources and beauty Kenya could truly be the pearl of Africa. Surrounded by the conflict of neighboring countries, Sudan, Uganda, Ethoipa and Somalia; infested with corruption from the parliament to the police, one wonders if which way this magnificent country will fall? Time will tell, and since time is a slow process in this part of the world, we may not know the answer for at least another thirty years.