It’s hard to drop the habits of an American who has worked several office jobs. When one of our workers returns to work after taking some vacation days, I always ask “How was your vacation?” I can’t stop myself. When I’m constantly on the prowl for some conversational topic beyond “hi, how are you,” it’s all too easy to slip back into the language of the office (where you are also constantly forced to make small talk). The problem is that none of our agro-pastoral neighbors has has any concept of vacation. When they take vacation days, they go back to doing what every other person is doing anyway. They gather firewood, they clean their compounds, they sit under the tree and sleep or play cards. Vacation is not an escape from normal life, it is a return to it.
And since paid time off is such a new concept, people have had a hard time figuring it out. So here, at the end of the year—faced with the prospect of losing unused vacation days when 2015 rolls around—many of our workers have requested to take the rest of the year off, including all of the young men who lead our Bible studies. Thus, I opted to go to Nariko alone today, at least to hand out copies of the weekly story to those individuals who are able to read.
I’ve been trying to do better at learning Ŋakarimojong, and I’ve got a few useful words under my belt. At the very least, I figured I could deliver the stories and see how the situation developed. When I arrived, I found a good number of people sitting under the tree talking and playing games (dry season is the season for ŋikileis, a type of mancala). To my great relief, the old man, Yoana, who is a faithful attender of Bible study and one of the community leaders for Nariko, was already there.
I apologized that Emmy was not around as I passed out copies of the story, explaining that it was the story of Christmas. I asked Yoana if he wanted to teach, but he complained about his eyes hurting him, so I asked if anyone else wanted to read. No one volunteered, and he told me to read. So, I muddled through about half of the story and was just getting to the shepherds when a man arrived who was willing to take up the task. He read to the end as everyone followed along. I apologized again that I was unable to teach in Ŋakarimojong, but was well-assured that it was fine and everyone was happy to have heard.
I bid them farewell, and travelled on to the next village (Nariko South? West?). I followed the same tack there and as I asked if anyone wanted to read, a Christmas miracle occurred. Out of nowhere walks a young man with a Bible and a copy of the story. He begins to read the lesson for everyone. When he finishes one part of the story, he goes back and summarizes so that everyone is clear. He starts answering questions about the virgin birth, about whether Jesus was born in a cave, about the angel appearing to the shepherds.
At the end of the story, there is a short section on why Jesus was born. People are sinful. Jesus came to take away sins. If you have faith in Jesus, he will cleanse you from your sins. He reads this twice so that everyone understands, and then he turns to me and says in English “Anyway, we are finished.”
I went home, like the shepherds, giving thanks to God and astonished at having seen such a strange and wonderful thing.