Sensibilities

Green – Naïve – Novice – Ignorant. String them together and you had my name tag.

The rambling house that my wife, myself and our bundle of Julie settled into had been built by missionaries who pioneered the work three decades ahead of our coming. The pioneers had fashioned the dwelling from local soil – rust-tinted bricks fired in a home-built kiln.

A day or two after our Bukuria arrival, a chorus of male voices took us by surprise. Not a musical chorus but a mix of busy voices growing loud, fading back, then loud again.

Are they angry. . . enthused. . . something other. . .which? Their language was neither English nor Swahili. Kikuria, no doubt. Unsure of their disposition and ignorant of who they were, I touched the screen door. And moved to the open veranda where the dozen or so African men had assembled.

I was twenty-seven, my wife twenty-three. It was clear most of the men out-seasoned me – their skin weathered from years beneath an equatorial sun.

The group of strangers – all male – coming unannounced, still left me uneasy.

Do we invite them in? If so, what do we do next?

Are these gents all friendly to the Mission. . . We have a six-month-old girl.

Whatever else Ann and I knew, one thing was certain. We were out of our element. These were waters we’d never swum.

One of the older men – their spokesman? – moved closer. His English was broken, his accent challenging but I could make it out easily enough.

“We come to greet. We come to welcome you here to this place.”

I drew near.

“Hello”, nodding. “Hello”, smiling. “Hello”, I greeted, shaking each extended hand one by one. Though I felt more at ease and was touched by their welcoming us to Kuria-land, I was still conflicted how to respond. Only to offer repeatedly. “Thank you, Thank you, sir. Thank you . .”

I searched awkwardly for some cultural bridge to temper the situation. Answers eluded me. The visitors glanced toward one another, voiced some quiet, mysterious words. And eventually, slowly, went their way.

It was months before I learned I had made a marked impression that awkward day. By then word had got around. It took a while to redeem our name. . . “They did not even welcome us in for tea.”

The new resident-missionary – come to live and serve among the Wakuria people – successfully offended a welcoming delegation of church elders.

Like the snaking road leading past the Mission, another bend in the way lay clearly ahead – our Taranganya learning curve.

©2017 Jerry Lout

 

 

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