Because today was a Sunday, we did not work in the morning. Instead, our volunteers went to services at the local Lutheran church, which is small, and the local Pentecostal church, which is miniscule. In this ardently faithful country, we usually attend the Catholic Mass, in a much bigger church that fills up with a thousand or more worshipers and with music passionate enough to move even nonbelievers; I can bear personal witness to that. Some of our best friends here are Lutheran, however, and Marianne and I thought they had been slighted too often in past years.
So this morning I walked with some of our volunteers to the Lutheran church, where many of us ended up wishing that we had more cash with us. I had only a single bill on me, for ten or twenty dollars, and I had already dropped it in the collection basket when Pastor Michael (who had brought the Masai visitors to talk to our volunteers a few days before) announced a special collection. This would be for a short woman who looked to be in her thirties, although she was probably younger, since she had just two little children. She was the one whose husband had been killed by an elephant last month, on the plateau that begins at the peak of the Great Rift Valley escarpment, which towers over the village.
His death was the reason that our visit to Dareda Kati this year, unlike the visits of previous years, does not include a hike through the dense jungle that cloaks the escarpment, up to the plateau. This year, those of us who glory in seeing Tanzania’s great elephant herds must wait for our safari at the end of the trip, when we can observe them from the safety of four-by-fours. Among the villagers this year, we have found ourselves talking less than we usually do about the magnificence of elephants.
Marianne took some other volunteers to the Pentecostal church. She had no idea where it was, so they had to be led there by a good friend named Yasenta, who happens to be one of the more highly esteemed local midwives. Yasenta is Catholic, as a heavy majority of the villagers are. She and her husband, Léoncé, a banana farmer and furniture maker, have six children, about average for here. Neither Yasenta nor Léoncé can speak more than a handful of English words. The result is that, even though Marianne’s Swahili continues to improve every year—which cannot be said of mine—our conversation with them has to remain elementary.
On one afternoon every year we take some of the volunteers to their home for lunch. (This year, we’ll go tomorrow.) Yasenta and her children love to sing and dance, while Léoncé, who does not sing or dance, loves to smile benignly as he watches his wife and children draw the American visitors into their musical circle. One year, Yasenta had a radio with batteries, and she was delighted that she could mix in some American pop music for us. But most years we get only African songs, both pop and traditional, whose unfailing catchiness explains why the afternoon at Yasenta and Léoncé’s never drags.
Yasenta’s devotion to music had made her an easy target for a Pentecostal friend who wanted to recruit a choir. In turn, Yasenta’s devotion of music, which Marianne cannot resist, made my wife an easy target when Yasenta declared that today would be her monthly Pentecostal Sunday: that one Sunday out of every four when she sings and dances in the tiny Pentecostal church rather than in her own, monumental Catholic church.