Friday, 24 July 2009

Weekend in Eramba

On Saturday (4th) we experienced our first local market and realized how inexpensive fresh fruit and vegetables were going to be. Perhaps market is something of an exaggeration – it consisted of a handful of the local farmers setting out mats on the ground at the centre of Eramba (which is only a scattering of houses itself) and selling their recently-picked produce. Four small mangoes were 20 shillings (£1 = 120 Kenyan shillings or Ksh), avocadoes 2-3 ‘bob’, fresh mandazi 5 Ksh and tomatoes only 10 Ksh for a fairly large bunch. Some of the vendors also sold kale, small dried fish from Lake Victoria, sugar cane and sometimes potatoes – a great selection given that it was only a hundred metres from our door. Nyokongo, a larger village about twenty minutes away (considerably longer when Dennis takes a ‘shortcut’) also had a much larger market on Sunday – livestock, bananas, yams, carrots (very rare), limes, mandazi in all shapes and sizes as well as clothes, shoes and roofing were all sold in the open space on which the village houses faced.

By this time we had already made a great friend – Dennis. Anyone who can put up with our disastrous cooking of small peas (Friday) deserves special commendation and Dennis truly did his best to choke down our failure of a meal. Fortunately we have since managed to demonstrate some ability to cook and he has remained our invaluable guide and companion, both in school and out of it. He is in Form 3, the year before students sit their final exams called KCSEs, and while initially shy and a little hesitant with his English he is now open and free with us. We’ve even tentatively managed to discuss local attitudes to school pupils having boyfriends and girlfriends – they are generally frowned upon and ‘education first, love after’ seems to be a favourite motto. We get the impression he likes his new status as best friend of the mzungus – he has introduced us to his friends Jared and Albert and is always very protective of us in school. He has so far helped us cook chapattis, get the best prices at the market and allowed us to meet some more of his friends informally – like Dennis most students were far more wary of talking openly with us in public.

Having met Dennis, we were introduced to the whole community by Mr Ouko on Sunday (5th) in church. We met the pastor, who kindly told us he would give some of the sermon in English for our benefit, and then sat in the basic wooden-framed, but thankfully cool, church. Over the next 45 minutes as the congregation began to arrive, various people stood up to sing devotional songs that were far more vibrant than any English hymns – they were certainly sung with more enthusiasm. When the church was packed with singing adults, staring children who were more interested in us than the service, and many crying babies, the pastor started to preach. After a few readings, more hymns and prayers, we were brought up to the front and thanked for the work KEP has already done – Mr Ouko was generous with his praise and we were grateful than such a pillar of the community had created such a favourable impression of us.

The sermon itself was Victorian in style with classic themes of thrift and toil. ‘The Regulation of Money’ cited various Psalms to illustrate the need to live within ones means, borrow only what you could afford to pay back, save for the future, be sensible but generous with loans and gifts and, most interestingly, to see money as a means to an end rather as an end in itself. Compared with the sermons that other project workers heard, in which communities were told that a single immoral member tainted the whole, ours seemed eminently practical and useful.

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