Sunday, November 3, 2013

the bark of children like hot rain

My alma mater is hosting a worship service with Reverend Mark Kiyimba of Uganda this Tuesday and I've been asked, probably by dint of having the largest world literature library, to provide a prayer and perhaps a reading. I've chosen two potential prayers, both of which needed some revision to fit our purposes, and a reading culled from a great Ugandan novel.

The first prayer is itself Ugandan, but was originally fashioned as a plea for children. It required some editing.
You elders, you ancestors, you older people,
Today we give you your food.
Give us health and wealth.
Let everything evil leave with the setting sun,
Let it go far away.
Elders, our homestead is now silent.
We like the sight of old people dancing,
We like the sound of young men and young women laughing.
We like to hear the bark of children like hot rain on a tin roof.
The eigth and ninth lines are purely my invention, as is the second half of the tenth line (I am really proud of that turn of phrase). The second is actually a prayer from neighboring Sudan. But my reason for including it as a possibility is that it's from the Dinka people who have just this week opted to join South Sudan in its independence from Khartoum. It is a more general prayer about life.
In the time when God created all things, god created the sun.
And the sun is born and dies and comes again.
God created the moon,
And the moon is born and dies and comes again.
God created the stars,
And the stars are born and die and come again.
God created people,
And people are born and die but do not come again.
This only needed the exchange of "God" for the traditional "He" and "people" for "man." Finally, I've included a couple pages from the novel Snakepit by Moses Isegawa. It takes place during Idi Amin's solidification of his reign in the 1970s. I've been told that Isegawa's description of that nation is unparalelled.
There were days so fine, so suffused with bright light falling from high-domes skies, the beauty of delicate clouds, the perfume of gentle winds, the gloss of exuberant vegetation, the sheer delight of living in a bubble of peace amidst and inferno, that Bat [Katanga] felt totally in tune with life. He was not a religious man, but once a month he accompanied his wife to church. She chose the best suit for him, the darkest shoes, the best tie. For herself she picked the finest midi- or maxi-gown, matching accessories and a subtle, expensive perfume. They would emerge from the house and stand on the steps surveying the flower bushes, red and purple bougainvilleas; the towering thousand-year-old trees, majestic, their branches spread high above, the lake, a broken marble surface linking them to neighboring countries in a fraternity of water…They would descend the steps and drive away.
            At church they would mingle with well-dressed men and women who worked in the beleaguered civil service, the diplomatic corps, the remnants of the aviation service, and the armed forces. In mufti, the soldiers and the spies tried to make themselves as invisible as possible. Bat liked the fact that these days the church had turned into a human rights podium. Priests spoke out directly or indirectly against the disappearances, the killings, the abuses. The clergy had felt the bite of the bayonet, the sting of the bullet, and it made a difference. The words rolled off the priest’s tongue with conviction, steeped in pain. Bat liked to sit there and think of good memories, his achievements, because his captivity had taught him how precious and luxurious the fine moments were.
            On such days he liked to be surprised by uninvited guests who turned up to interrupt and enrich a day he had offered to the whims of time, to his wife, to leisure. If it happened to be his sister, they would talk about her son, her work, the state of the country. Living in a rural area, she would have a different view, a down-to-earth vision..
            When [his wife] Babit’s people turned up, he would drive them round the town, to the zoo, to the airport, to the Botanical Gardens, to the landing point at Katabi where food and fish came in from the islands. Standing there always reminded him that Entebbe was a peninsula, almost choked by water, which in places was just a few meters from the road to the city. It was not hard to imagine floods rising out of the lake or crashing out of an angry sky, submerging the town for weeks, and receding to reveal a new island or clutch of small islands…During these visits Babit led the conversation, and Bat enjoyed watching her and her people interacting

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