#28 A Youth Competition and Much More
Saturday in Kosetei began early with a dawn visit to a small bush outside my room. I carefully watered it, then settled back for another hour sleep. But breakfast was at 7:30 and I was there with the youth leaders from Nakuru whom I’d met the day before. They were there to help the young people deal with the problems of adolescence heightened by the culture of the Pokot people – early marriage, FGM, male supremacy in all things and the belief that food should be given to them by the church and by NGO’s like World Vision. Fr Kiriti explained that the people weren’t nearly so poor as they let on, having LARGE herds of goats, plus some cows and camels for some folks. They are loathe to part with any and will let their children go without medical care, shoes, nourishing food and school, rather than sell even one goat. Food relief programs are vital for some areas and for droughts, but this area is green and alive. A few people are beginning to grow maize, but in general they are still “Cargo Cult” people. One of Fr Kiriti’s self-imposed challenges is to change this mind set, in the belief that people are much happier when they are independent and confident that they can provide for themselves.
One evening he told a story about a man, Jeremiah, who asked him for ksh 2000. Being a savvy guy, he told Jeremiah he would give the money and in exchange he wanted a small goat to slaughter for guests. The goat didn’t show up, of course, and some days later Jeremiah asked for ksh 3000. Fr. Kiriti reminded him about the goat and suggested he was now owed 2. Not long after Jeremiah casually remarked his goats had an “outbreak” and he had to go to Marigat (nearest town) for medicine. And soon after that he bemoaned that all is goats had run away. He had no idea where they were. Jeremiah hasn’t been seen since. Fr. Kiriti laughed heartily and opined that ksh 5000 (about $60) was a cheap price to pay for getting that pesky thief out of his hair, if he had any – he keeps his head totally shaven now.
The mores of the Pokot permit casual sex from a very early age. Hence early motherhood. One of the goals of the seminar is to educate both boys and girls about the hazards of early motherhood. Readiness for marriage is indicated by red mud being applied to braids, so the girls look like they are wear Raggedly Ann wigs. They are not permitted that hair style in school in an effort to discourage the practice of marriage at onset of adolescence. Of course they discuss HIV/AIDS and other STD’s as well as the advantages of school. There is a small elementary school (about 230 kids) near the parish compound. Many of the class 7 and 8 students are in their late teens. There is no nearby high school, but even getting them through elementary is a task. Believe me, I saw many more than 230 school-age children. I suspect the girls are particularly discouraged from school because everything for the family is done by the women, even to putting up a house. This while they are bearing one child after another. Of course they need the help of the older girls.
The competition of dramas and dance was held in the church, an open-air building on top of a hill, commanding a wonderful view of the green countryside below. I’m told the area will not remain green for long, as the hot, dry season is beginning. I worry about food for all those baby goats, as well as the people, although the maize fields I saw were flourishing. There are no windows, just open spaces, but eventually grills will be installed so that things can be kept in the church without their disappearing. Already “Fr Winchester” has plans to build many projects, including a new rectory near the church. The old one is falling down and is of a curious design. There are separate buildings for toilets and showers, for dining (separate from the kitchen), even the opening is on the opposite side from the door to the kitchen. There is yet another separate building for his office. Whoever designed it must have been a student of Rube Goldberg! Nuts!
I have no words to describe the vigor and energy of the dancers! The thick concrete floor of the church actually vibrated with the stamping. I wondered how their feet could withstand it, to say nothing of the knees! I have some video shots, but couldn’t take as much as I wished due to the limitations of my memory card. It is now totally maxed out. When I get home I’ll try to learn how to send a few of the better pieces. The lead dancers wears a cow’s tail attached to the left arm, which he/she moves vigorously so the tail twirls around. They move and shake every part of the body, feet never resting, bobbing and weaving to the beat of the feet. I didn’t know what he was conveying until after, when a lady told me he was begging for peace (which I mistakenly heard as “pigs”). Fr. Kiriti and I had seats right next to the judging table, so after he had put on quite a show for them he moved over to us. He was right in my face. I could see the sweat running down but he kept on dancing until I thought they would all drop. Three of 4 parishes participated in the event, which was a big deal and well attended by the locals. There were hundreds of small children, many women and few men. Fr. Kiriti explained that the men were having an important meeting.
By 3 pm the program was over and I was exhausted just from watching. When we walked down to the truck I was appalled to find the back literally alive with kids. There wasn’t a spare inch and still kids were climbing up the tires trying to fit in on the sides. This is de rigueur in Kosetei, so I just held my breath. The children are so nimble and quick, they hopped in and out with no effort. No injuries occurred as we ferried them back down the hill to the compound where most of the seminar activities took place. The adults ate in the round dining building while the kids were fed outside. Women from the community had been hired to help with food preparation. The leaders were 2 nuns, a priest, and 4 or 5 young people who do this for a living and are based in Nakuru, the diocesan center. They go to schools and parishes all over, including both SFG and Archbishop Ndingi. They are positive, energetic, talented and full of enthusiasm for their jobs. The kids loved the seminar and Fr Frederick was fully pleased, announcing it was 97% successful. Don’t know about the 3%, but 97% is pretty good!
After dinner, Fr Kiriti and I retired to the screened in porch at the rectory to chat, plan, share thoughts and generally enjoy the pleasant warm evening, relieved by gentle breezes. Bedtime is early, so I found myself carefully shining my “torch” along the path to the toilet. I didn’t enter until I was fully satisfied that the gecko on the wall was the only other occupant. Despite the warnings that there were snakes, I saw none. I was actually a bit disappointed. “I don’t want him to bite me, I just want to see one,” I explained when Fr. Kiriti adamantly said NO! How can I feel I’ve had the full Kosetei experience?
I’m writing this episode from my seat on Emirates Air, heading for Dubai, then on to SFO in the morning. This has been an odd leaving, like a dream. I just wandered through all the packing, organizing, goodbying and tears. It’s a very stark transition, yesterday I was in one of the most remote parts of Kenya, then a harrowing trip back (see next chapter), driving to Nairobi today and here I am, on the plane going home. How did it happen?