As I was grabbing a quick bite to eat before heading out in search of activity at the hyena den, I got stranded in the kitchen by a storm. I had seen it coming however I wasn’t expecting it so soon. When it rains, it mainly just pours in the rainy season.
With no need to rush, I settled on a chair and poured some tea while simply observing everyone come in and out of the kitchen. Kettle was boiling, coffee, tea and hot cocoa were being made by every individual who felt the chill of the rain in their bones.
Shadrack got caught in the rain too and proceeded to make himself a hot chocolate big enough to keep an entire village warm. We’d been exchanging greetings and pleasantries for the last few weeks but we had never had a proper conversation before. I enjoyed his good-humoured nature, and the fact that he was perhaps one of the most switched-on bush mechanics I have ever met.
As he poured his drink, he turned around and looked at me.
“Where is Tristan?”
“He’s at the bottom, do you need him?”
Silence. A scourge of courage afterwards that started with glinting eyes, he looked straight at me and asked with a smile:
“Do you believe in God?”
I nearly choked on my tea. Not because of the question itself, but because this was not the topic of conversation I was expecting.
I paused to think of my answer. Divinity (for a lack of a better word) has been a complicated topic in my life for a very long time, to the point that I have shaped my own beliefs and have trouble sharing them with others, I like to keep them personal and private.
After assessing where this could go, I answered as honestly as I could:
“Mmm, yeah I do,”
He looked at me while sipping his hot chocolate. I could tell he did not fully believed my answer but it was hard to explain that I had always had troubles with this question. So, I pressed him on:
“My friend said that you mzungus (white people) don’t believe in God, you only believe in science”.
“Oh. Who said that to you?”
“I used to have a friend, he said to me you only believe in Science”.
“Hmm. Ok, maybe that’s what he thought. What do you believe in?”
“I believe in God – he replied with pride – Science can’t make the rain stop now. If it could the rain would have stopped. If Science could, we could make the rain stop with a whatsapp message.”
“Well, that is true, Science can’t make the rain stop”
“Science…” he pressed on timidly “it can’t create a person, it can’t create a heartbeat”.
“If you want to get technical, to my knowledge I don’t suppose we can create a human outside of womb like you say just yet”.
“To me, only God can create a person; Science can’t make a person”.
More people started coming in and out and as the noise grew louder, and so he finished the conversation. With no ill intention, he left me wondering and puzzling over many things in my head while I finished sipping my tea.
I felt he had wanted to have this conversation with a mzungu for a while, why he chose to ask me, I’m not sure. What worried me was the tone in his voice. It made me wonder as to the reason behind the tone and topic of his questions: was this coming from him because a mzungu had belittled his beliefs saying God didn’t exist and that only science could be trusted; or had this come from a conversation with a “friend” and he wanted to confirm if what his friend was saying about mzungus was true?
I know little about religious practices of the Masaai culture. It is my understanding however that they believe in one God whom they call Ngai or Engai. They were of a monotheistic belief even before the arrival of the British and missionaries, and this is probably why many refused to convert to Christianity.
What I found thought provoking about this unexpected conversation was that “mzungus” all around the world, roughly 600 years ago had demeaned other cultures by telling them the God(s) they believed it in were wrong and made cultures around the world believe in new “correct” ones; now, 600 years later some are being told once more the God that now they believe in or have come to believe in isn’t real, but that only Science exists.
In 600 years or more, in one way or another, we haven’t learned our way of living and letting live. Some still try to impose what they believe in onto, hurting sensitivities and allowing grudges to take place.
If we call it God, a higher reason, or science, is it acceptable to tell others that don’t have the same beliefs as us that they are wrong?
My tea grew cold before I could make some sense of all the thoughts in my head left by such a casual conservation.
I wrote this post over a year ago. It was a conversation that struck a cord in me and because of the subject at hand, I wasn’t sure I wanted to share this with the world. In times of introspection I feel everyone needs to talk about more about tolerance. I tried to portray this conversation as it happened with no colouring of reality. Once the conversation was finished, we never approached the subject again although Shadrack and I had many more conservations about a plethora of things.
In sharing this personal episode, I have no intention or interest in sharing or imposing my personal views about this matter onto others, the aim of this story was to share the questions that this conversation provoked in me about the way humanity works – nothing else.