Sifaeli Kaaya never wanted to leave his birthplace in the shadow of Mt. Meru when he was invited to do so in 1995. The American who offered him a job in the isolated village of Dareda Kati, more than two hundred miles away, valued Sifaeli’s expertise in agriculture.
As an American, the man may also have taken at face value the insistence by Tanzania’s founding president, Julius Nyerere, that Tanzania was one country and that its citizens had the right to live anywhere in the country that they wished, irrespective of tribal claims upon particular regions.
This American, whose name was Dennis, loved Jesus with all his heart. He had worked out an agreement with the leaders of Tanzania’s Evangelical Lutheran Church to build an agricultural training center in one of Dareda Kati’s generous, fruitful valleys. This valley, which surrounds the subvillage of Bacho, looks nothing like the arid savannah that the Western popular imagination associates with East Africa. If you close your eyes for a moment and then open them to the intense green and the red dirt, it is easy to imagine that you’re in an especially lush part of the Hawaiian islands.
Kaaya turned down the American’s first job offer. But Dennis, who had farmed in Idaho and who recognized good farmland when he walked across it and stooped to sift its soil between his fingers, saw the valley as a kind of New Canaan, where African villagers who absorbed Kaaya’s modern agricultural knowledge would multiply their crops and their wealth and, not incidentally, come to Jesus.
So the American went to Kaaya’s house to ask him for a second time to come to Dareda Kati. Kaaya liked Dennis and did not want to have to reject him again. When he saw the American approaching his front door, Kaaya went out the back way without saying a word to his wife. Then he hid among the trees that ringed the pond where he raised tilapia. It was the coolest and prettiest spot on the farm, and his favorite.
Mrs. Kaaya wanted to show hospitality to the American when he knocked on her door. She made two cups of tea and then sat with him. But making conversation, in his minimal Swahili and her nonexistent English, was a challenge.
As a substitute for conversation, she led the American outside so that she could show him around her farm. They looked at maize and pigeon peas and cows and goats and chickens. And then she and Dennis found Kaaya beneath a tree next to the tilapia pond, where the warmth of the afternoon had put him to sleep. She was relieved to see her husband, who could carry on a conversation in English, so she woke him up. Awkwardly, Kaaya again told the American that he did not want to move away from his home.
However, Mrs. Kaaya was a devout Lutheran, like her husband, as well as the persistent American. Today, nineteen years after his nap by the tilapia pond, on the grounds of the Integrated Agricultural Training Center that he had helped the American to establish, Sifaeli recounted the argument that his wife would build on the foundation of her discovery of her sleeping husband.
“Do you know that man, Jonah, who tried to hide from God so that he could avoid going to a place where he didn’t want to go? He ended up in the belly of a whale, which seemed like a punishment at first. Instead, the whale saved his life and showed him to God, and Jonah knew that he must go wherever God instructed him to go.”
Kaaya remembers that he could see where his wife’s argument would lead as soon as she mentioned Jonah’s name. The fact that the course and conclusion of the argument she would make had appeared to him in an instant gave proof of its irresistibility. Yet he waited politely to hear her finish as he knew she must, in the words that he knew he would have to obey:
“God wants you to go to Dareda Kati.”
Because God wanted him to go to Dareda Kati, Kaaya told me today, and because God’s power surpasses any power that might belong to the superstition of witchcraft which the Iraqw people of Dareda Kati have been said to practice, he will continue to do God’s work in the village by supervising the Karimu projects there. It is clear that only God could have brought Karimu to this village, which needs Karimu’s help no more than a thousand other Tanzanian villages do.
For nineteen years, Kaaya has insisted on holding himself apart from the Iraqw, refusing to learn any more of their tribal language than the two simple greetings, saita and loai. He does not ask why God brought Karimu here to do His work for the improvement of a people that he, Kaaya, trusts so little. That is a secret which God Himself guards closely.