It was my 2nd time in Korr, Northern Kenya, in the desolate desert of what’s called the “northern frontier district.” Frontier is the right word, as this is past the edge of civilization by at least an 8 hour drive.
The lack of water is a big problem in East Africa right now. 2 years of miserably poor rainy seasons and deforestation of parts of the Kenyan highlands have left many people in a bad state. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8057316.stm) Especially in the desert, where people rely on their animals for survival, not just the meat but liquid from milk and blood. These people, mostly nomadic, move their entire village with the herds, or send the warriors out for months at a time with the herds, in a never-ending search for water and grazing. So when it doesn’t rain, the animals get sick and die, and the people lose not only their way of life but the very thing that keeps them alive.
So, when we pull up to a village (a “goob” in the local language) with our Land Cruiser, the women (who have the job of finding water and firewood every day) seize the opportunity to save themselves a 4 hour walk to the well and back. They run to their huts, grab whatever containers they can find, and swamp the truck. You can’t imagine how many people can fit in the bed of a pickup truck until you try it. If there was room for one more foot, or for one more person to hang on to the side of the truck it would be taken.
As we bounced along the bush, crossing dry streams, swerving to avoid camel carcasses, the women sang. They sang the entire drive to the well, at the top of their lungs. When we stopped so they could fill their jugs, I asked Nick (the missionary who was hosting us) what they were singing about. “Praise songs to Jesus, mostly,” he replied.
The volume of their singing doubled on the trip back to their village with the now-full jugs of water. It was a double blessing for those ladies that day, not only saving them 4 hours of walking, but half of that with a back-breaking load of water(well, back-breaking if I tried it, but these ladies are tough and strong!). It was a double opportunity for them to sing out in praise and thanksgiving to their God, to our God.
Last time I was in Korr, Ted and I filmed an interview with Indubbayo, a woman who came to Christ through the local literacy classes and now serves God as a traveling evangelist, visiting goob after goob, sharing the hope and peace she’s found in Christ. A hope and peace that’s pretty rare in these desperate times.
2 years ago when Ted and I were here, she shared one of the songs she’d written. A worship song to God, in the traditional Rendille style. Something that hadn’t been done before, up until that point the church was mostly singing songs from other sources that had been translated into Rendille.
And now, 2 years later, through Indubayyo and the literacy programs Rendille are coming to know Jesus, and each village is coming up with a unique, indigenous expression of worship.
As a musician, and a closet ethnomusicologist, that really excites me. And bouncing along these dusty roads with these beaded women worshiping God for the little blessings in life, reminds me of why I’m here in Africa, and why I love what God has us doing.