Story and photos by Jessica Lee
While traversing the countryside of Kenya by bus, a traveler gets a lesson in the country’s peculiar acronym-laden buffet of Christianity.
Haman Peter gripped his tattered green bible in his hand.
“You know Jessica,” he said eying up my cigarette, “addiction is wrong.”
He brought the bible down with a slap onto the metal bar in front of my seat.
“You must (slap). Give this smoking up (slap) Jessica. The Lord does not want you to smoke (slap). I Haman Peter know this is true (slap). That is Haman Peter me. Not the one in the bible (slap).”
I nodded as I lurched to the left, smacking my head against the window frame as the bus pitched over a particularly large muddy pothole.
“Haman is a man in the old testament book of Esther,” he told me. “Haman he was hung by Queen Esther. But Jessica (slap), I am not that Haman. I am me (slap).”
He balanced remarkably straight as he loomed over my seat and thumped his chest for emphasis.
“I am P.C.A.” He announced, “Pentecostal Church of Africa.”
And as the bus juddered and shook, and the pile of boxes and luggage in the aisle shifted dubiously into a position ready to avalanche on top of me, Haman Peter raised his eyebrows and thrust the dog-eared bible towards me.
Haman Peter’s sudden confession of Christian devotion didn’t surprise me. In Kenya, I’d already found out, religion was a serious business. My first morning in Nairobi I had picked my way along the pitted pavement of River Road; past the ragtag touts hollering their sales pitch over pirate CDs and cardboard boxes of cast-off clothing. The city smelled of fried chicken and exhaust fumes, and sounded like the bounding bass of Benga but the capital’s backbone still seemed strangely straight-laced.
I’d sprawled on the saggy bed of my cheap hostel and flicked through the local newspaper. Under the hole-studded mosquito net, I skimmed the entertainment section and the daily radio schedule stopped me in my tracks. Nation FM’s Early Morning segment promised “inspirational soul food” to start my day. In the evening Radio Waimini gave its listeners a double helping of Vatican Radio while Family FM headed up the major competition with a line up that included Family Prayer Circle, Through the Bible and the ominously titled “Music You CAN Believe in.” It all sounded rather depressingly staid though the cinema schedule cheered me up somewhat.
Down on Jogoo Road, Eastlands Cinema was running a six-movies-for-one-ticket promotion on both of their screens. Screen Two’s billing was a heavy going thwack over the head with a bible featuring Jesus Christ Movie, The Ten Commandments and Samson and Delilah but curiously on Screen One the schedule was advertised as “Strickly [sic] Adults Only.” A flesh-marathon with enigmatic names such as Touch of Love, Honey Moons and Hot Dreams.
I wondered what happened when someone accidentally walked into the wrong screen at the movies. Think of the shock of sitting down with your popcorn, expecting a robed-up Charlton Heston on Mt Sinai, and finding yourself facing some up-front action with Hot Dreams instead. Or making the opposite mistake—probably just as traumatizing for the would-be voyeur. Did anyone ever move between screens on purpose for a dose of porn and prayer? Watching a bit of ‘Touch of Love’ and then jumping over to Screen Two for some old prophet action in The Ten Commandments would be sort of like an instant confession. Bless me father for I have sinned. It’s been five minutes since my last masturbation.
Kenya’s rather conservative outlook was obviously a lot more complicated than I first thought.
Are you A.I.C. or P.C.E.A.?
I traveled north to Nyahururu simply because I liked the way the syllables sounded when I said them. It was a scrappy mountain town of low-rise concrete slab buildings where the two paved roads were busier with bicycles than cars. Just down the road, among the wooden shacks of the tourist bazaar beside Thompson Falls, I met Peggy at her stall, surrounded by a Lilliput zoo of miniature wooden giraffes and elephants. As soon as I sat down, she announced that she was A.I.C, the Africa Inland Church.
“Jess what religion are you?” Peggy asked and I answered that I didn’t really have one and don’t go to church.
She looked at me and frowned.
“Lots of people in New Zealand don’t go to church.” I tried to explain.
“No churches in New Zealand?”
“No, lots of churches just not a lot of people go to them.”
“People in New Zealand no go church but still good people?” Peggy asked.
“Well, some good and some bad.”
Peggy sighed and smiled. “Kenyan people all go to church but still do bad things.”
She showed me photos of her children, both still toddlers and born to different fathers.
“No husband. Only boyfriend,” she said as she tucked the photos back in the drawer. “Only boyfriend to make baby and then boyfriend run.”