Saturday, November 6, 2010

adventures in West Pokot

beautiful West Pokot

I am taking on the difficult task of summarizing an amazing, eye-opening, exciting, warm week into one or two blog posts and a few pictures; bear with me as I take on this difficult task.

I have just returned (safely- mom stop worrying) from a trip with the OAIC to West Pokot.  I mentioned in my last blog that I would be traveling there and spoke a little about it and now I am back! The trip was with the OAIC dept. of theology; we spent 3 days working with a group/church called the Mafuta Pole, Pokots in both Kenya and Uganda. Mafuta Pole is an AIC (African Independent/Indigenous Church) that began in the 1950s, the MP have no bibles and have learned about the church from visions, dreams and prophecies. Most churches around the MP do not consider them to be Christians because they have no bibles. One year ago the OAIC went to West Pokot to start workshops training MP leaders on the bible; during the first trip they also brought the first ever bibles published in Pokot. Since receiving these bibles and gaining some more formal training in Christianity, the Mafuta Pole are no longer outcast from the Christian society in West Pokot and have been invited to fellowship with other churches and have been able to set up youth and women groups to study the bible etc.
 So, this past week I went with John Gichumu (OAIC head of the dept. of theology) Simon (an intern at St. Paul’s University and member of another AIC- Holy Spirit Church) and Koinange (OAIC driver) on a thirteen hour driving journey to West Pokot to work with the Mafuta Pole.
Here’s a little about how my journey went…

We left for West Pokot early (and on time!) Tuesday morning, along the way we picked up my new friend (aka colleague) Simon in Limuru, a beautiful town outside of Nairobi filled with tea fields and gorgeous landscape. After adding Simon to the group we went through Nakuru and Eldoret- both great towns that I didn’t even know about before this trip. Along the way we picked up Ndazi, tea, and cheese sandwiches (my last good meal for several days). Some hours later we arrived in Kapenguria, a town in West Pokot and the last “town” before entering ‘the bush.’ After some ugali and goat we returned to the car around 6:30pm, Gichumu looked back in the car to tell me, “we’re gonna go down now, down, down, down, and then down” and that is exactly what we did. 45 minutes later we hit a small market with several phone charging stations and a few produce stands to which Gichumu told me “this is the last town you are going to see” ??? ok… So we turned off the tarmac and drove, drove, drove, swerved potholes, drove through a maize field and then we were at the Mafuta Pole zion. We were anxiously greeted by a group of about 14 men and women ages 18-70 singing “karibuni” (welcome) in the dark; I opened the door having no idea what I was getting myself into- I was in the middle of the African bush with 14 Pokots singing to me. I stepped out of the car to be warmly greeted by each person there. We followed the group into the church but before entering we removed our shoes and I was directed to enter through the door on the left (the women’s door) while everyone I knew entered through the door on the right (the men’s door). We had a brief time of worship for the night, the Mafuta Pole sing mostly in Pokot with a few songs that I am able to mildly understand in Kiswahili- rather than clapping like most AICs do the Mafuta Pole swing their arms and raise their hands (in some ways it looks like the Soulja Boy dance we are all so familiar with from 2008.) After some songs which are mostly choruses that have appeared to a member (usually an elder) in a dream, we kneeled to the ground for a prayer before heading to our hotel.

The hotel we stayed in had two rooms- one for the men and one for the women (my sister, my mother and me), a separate building for the kitchen and storage (pantry), and an outhouse with two kiswahli toilets and a washroom. We spent the next few hours drinking tea while I painfully tried to carry on conversations in Kiswahili/English with a group of people who speak Kiswahili/Polot exclusively. Several hours later the women in church of the hotel brought out plates of ugali, cabbage and fried goat. After dinner I went to my room eager to check in to my bed and read a few chapters in my book (Joseph Stiglitz’s “Globalization and it’s Discontents”) as I was undoing my bed two women came in, a young girl about 18 and an old woman, about 65 years old, my sister and my mother. I asked them in a combination of terrible Kiswahili and English their names and where they had come from; the young girl (Zipporah) answered my questions in decent English saying they had come from Jerusalem for a conference on the Bible. I was excited that they would be in the workshop with me for the next few days but a little apprehensive about my terrible communication abilities. I event tried some of the “universal” signs for things like where are you from and what is your name, those did not translate either.

The next morning I woke up to the sound of roosters, a first for this city girl. At around 6:30 I got out of bed, packed up my hostel sack and put on a floor length black skirt. When I went outside I was offered the opportunity to bathe in the outhouse- the women had boiled hot water for us and left a bucket in the washroom for us to use to wash up. After breakfast which was enjoyed on the benches in the grass surrounded by the chickens who provided the hard boiled eggs I was eating ,we headed back to the Zion to begin our workshop.

At the workshop each participant thanked us for bringing the Pokot bibles to them a year ago. They explained how thankful they were and how helpful the bibles were in leading bible studies. My mother explained that she was the only one in her town with a Pokot bible so when a group wanted to do a bible study they traveled to meet her and retrieve the bible then after bible study they brought the bible back so the next group could use it. Another elder in the workshop said that he did not know how to read but the boys in his church were reading the bible to him and he was able to understand it since it was in Pokot. The chairman of Mafuta Pole (chairman of the Zion in Jerusalem) thanked us for being there and explained that he was happy to have learned so much about the bible and Christianity, he said he has learned to live in harmony with the people around him and his people (Mafuta Pole) are learning to live together in love.

I spent the next three days with the Mafuta Pole in the zion from about 830a-7p teaching different bible stories- thanks to Julius who was fluent in English we were able to communicate at half speed with each other. We studied characteristics of a Christian, seeking knowledge about God and the life of a Christian. All in all about 45 bible stories. The Mafuta Pole were joyful and excited to learn more about their own religion in a formal setting, they were excited to bring their new knowledge home to share with new bible study groups.

In the middle of the workshops each day we stopped for lunch outside of the zion (in case I forgot to mention, a zion is what we would consider the church or the parish). At this time I was able to learn more about the Pokot people through several English speakers. I learned how they came to find the Mafuta Pole and learned about all of their long journeys to come to the workshop. Most had walked about 20-30 kilmoeters for the workshop.
The group at the end of our workshop

Every morning I spent about one and a half hours to two hours between when the rooster woke me up and when it was time to begin workshops with the women cooking our food. One woman, my new friend Veronica, had her new baby wrapped around her back the whole time with a kangha (decorated piece of cloth) I often held his hand and he would wave back at me, every morning Veronica told him to “wave hello to your mother” which he did. My time with Veronica was probably my favorite time of each day. On the second to last day Veronica asked me how old I was to which I responded, “22” she said she was “33” (the same age as my older sister Madeline) she asked me how many children I had, I said I thought I was still too young for children. Veronica told me she has six children and asked if I would like to meet them, I responded, “I would love to see them” thinking nothing of my verb choice, she said “well, theyre black Africans.” Then I remembered how good a laugh felt, the next day I visited Veronica’s house, three of her six children and her husband Jackson. The whole family kindly welcomed me and Jackson took me to see the land they lived on, he showed me his vegetables, his cows and goats, the kitchen, and their house. I asked him what he was going to do with his cows, he said he would sell them at the market which he hoped would pay for the children’s school feed. A cow sells for approximately 20,000 ksh., school fees are about 80,000 ksh. He has six children and four cows.

Meet Veronica
After a morning like that I returned to the zion for the last day of our workshop. I felt the same feeling I feel when I end camp each summer, or when I leave a close group of friends. Despite only being able to communicate through translators and broken English I had built a bond with this group and felt a connection to them. They welcomed me into their homes and their way of life. They accepted me and were gracious to me, a feeling I don’t always receive from my peers. Its hard to end this post because I have left out so many details I feel like it is incomplete but I think some of it is truly the experience of ‘being’ and may be something I can hold only with me. 


  1. Its quit a fascinating story!a humble reception by veronicah.i really enjoyed your experince

  2. That is so great to hear Grace;the wonderful experience you had with my church members.We appreciate much the donation of the bibles,training and dedication.Thanks much and we welcome you several times here at MP church.God bless you and OAIC(our closest friends)