Thursday, October 15, 2009

Religion, rain, and the snake story

Yesterday, while the bulk of the students in my scheduled singing group attended the biannual Catholic Mass that happens when the priest decides to visit the town, I spoke at length with a teacher named Cecilia about rain, religion, and animals.

It was a little weird to talk about religion; in fact, Bridget and I had decided we should maybe avoid the topic. But when someone asks "what is your religion?" it's hard to just say "I'm not comfortable discussing it." The thing is, when people here ask what your religion is, they really seem to be asking "what kind of Christian are you?" Since the closest answer I could give to that is "Quaker" (or maybe "Unitarian Universalist") I usually say that. But despite the fact that Wikipedia says Kenya has more Quakers than any other nation, there is no Quaker meeting house in Isinya (there like 50 other little corrugated-metal churches) and a lot of people here seem dubious when Quakers come up, like they either haven't heard of Quakers, or they don't like what they have heard. So maybe I'm going to stop claiming to be Quaker.

Anyway I changed the subject to rain, because the lack of it is always obvious. We talked about how the drought affected the animals around here, how cattle were dying in droves. Then she told me about her cow.

(NB: Keep in mind that many of my stupid-seeming questions arise from the language barrier. Almost everyone speaks fluent Swahili, some English (with British flavour), and a tribal language. But it's common enough to ram up against some misunderstanding or mistranslation -- Bridget listened uncomprehendingly while her students repeatedly described a person in a book as wearing "spectacles"; when I asked shopkeepers in town if they sold "butter" they kept quizzically replying "what size bottle?")

CECILIA: I had a cow. But it died. It was walking around the compound and it got bitten by a snake.
JEREMY: I'm so sorry. When was this?
CEC: Last week. I was very sad.
JER: It was a small cow? A calf?
CEC: No. A grown cow.
JER: Geez. How big was the snake?
CEC: Very big snake. (Makes vague "big" gesture)
JER: How big?
CEC: Very big. Sometimes they eat sheep.
JER: Like, baby sheep?
CEC: No, grown sheep. After they bite, they wrap around you and crush your bones so they can swallow. (Makes much more vivid enveloping/rending gesture.)
JER: ...
CEC: (Sighs.) They killed the snake after it bit my cow. They had to use an excavator to kill it.
JER: An excavator? Like a shovel?
CEC: No, no. Very big machine. A... tractor.
JER: ...
CEC: And the snake, he still try to fight the tractor.
JER: The snake attacked a giant steam shovel?
CEC: Yes. And if had bitten the driver, he would have died.
JER: Wow. Well... Isn't there an antidote for the bite? Anti-venom?
CEC: No. Your only hope, if you get bit? You must be rushed to the hospital, where they must amputate the leg that was bit.
JER: I see.
CEC: Yes and there are many Hindus in that area, who will not kill the snakes because they worship snakes.
JER: Hrmph. Is this nearby?
CEC: No, no. On the other side of the greenhouses. (She points to the flower farm's greenhouses, less than a mile away.)


  1. Black mamba. Whatever you do, don't google it!!

  2. Hey, Have you heard of the Tree Lady of Kenya? You could help spread her ideas...

  3. Ha! So this is what had to happen to get regular fantastic blog posts out of you? Mortal danger?

    Worth it!