I believe that Facilitators and friends of AVP, will find the following article enjoyable and thought-provoking. -- peace, bill l.
Report from Kenya #302 – October 17, 2014
In my post of October 3, I made the following comment:
- Moreover there is the giving economy. Just last week one of Gladys’ sisters gave us a 40 pound stalk of cooking bananas and then on the same day another relative gave us another stalk of cooking bananas…Once when I was questioning Gladys about why another relative gave us some fresh beans, she replied, “That’s just what we do.”
Recently Getry Agizah, the Friends Church Peace Teams coordinator, came to our house with her one and a half year old son, Daniel. Gladys gave him a nice hen which he cutely held quite well. This is not a reciprocal gift giving as many westerners think, assuming that one gives a gift so that sometime in the future you might get a gift back. Daniel isn’t going to give us a gift back as he is too young. When people give these gifts, there is no expectation at all that this will benefit the giver in the future. Let me repeat what Gladys said, “This is just what we do.” Everyone gives and receives gifts and there is not even a thought if the gifts given will balance out the gifts received. This is individualistic westernized accounting, which has no place in this system at all.
My favorite story, though, concerns Gladys when she first got out of high school and had a job promoting women’s health. Her cousin, Aggrey, who was sitting for his eighth grade examination which would determine if he would go on to high school, came to ask her for two shillings (.29 US cents in those days) to pay for his exam. His mother had died and his father was an invalid from an accident. Gladys gave him the two shillings. He took his exam, passed it well, went to secondary school, and became a teacher and then a headmaster. Recently he invited us to the circumcision party for his two sons (they were circumcised in the hospital as pre-teens which is the custom here).
The gift doesn’t necessarily have to be small. A few years ago my father-in-law, David Okwemba, gave us a calf. The calf grew up, had a male offspring, and we just sold her for $300 since we have too many cows. We will probably keep the offspring for another year as it grows up and sell it for around $300.
In another example, two years ago in January, another one of Gladys’ cousins –she has 84 first cousins and uncountable numbers of second and third cousins which are considered close relatives here in Africa – needed funds to pay school fees for his daughter. Gladys agreed to buy his calf for $116. At that time, we had no interest in buying a calf and no place to take care of it. Nonetheless Gladys bought the calf to help him out when he needed these funds. The cousin’s brother took care of the calf for us and a little less than a year later, we sold it for $198, but don’t think there was a $86 profit since we had to buy Napier grass for the calf during the year. We may have even lost money on the transaction. We do not know because in this kind of system, the profit and loss is immaterial. Gladys bought the calf solely to help her cousin.
The giving, though, is not only with money or goods. For example, when we lived in St Louis in a two-bedroom house with my step-son, Douglas, my brother, Paul, came to visit. Without being asked, Douglas vacated his bed and bedroom for my brother and slept on the living room couch. This is common. One of the reasons that we can easily accommodate 20 people at our house is because people will sleep on couches or on mattresses we throw on the floor. Gladys does not decide where people are going to sleep as she says, “They’ll figure it out” and they do.
Or, again, Gladys’ sister, Eunice, is a HROC facilitator and was going to do a four-day workshop with the former rebels on Mt Elgon. She is also taking care of Trina, her one-year old granddaughter while the mother is going to college. Clearly she could not facilitate this workshop with a small child. Getry agreed to take care of Trina for those four days while Eunice was on Mt Elgon. It works out well since her son, Daniel, had someone to play with.
Gifts don’t necessarily go only to family members. About a year ago, a blind-deaf man came to Lumakanda Friends Church and after the service, he gave a short presentation, reading a passage from his braille Bible. He spoke good English and Swahili so he must have become deaf later in life. He encouraged people who have handicapped children to be sure that they go to special schools like he did. He then requested support for sending his two children to high school. There is an offering each Sunday at Quaker churches in Kenya and at Lumakanda Friends Church the average amount collected is about $20. The church did a second collection for this blind-deaf man and the amount was over $80 from a congregation of about 80 people – remember that the minimum wage in Lumakanda is about $1.25 per day.
One of Gladys’ nephews was married and had a child, Griffin, now six years old. The nephew divorced and the wife got another husband/boyfriend who did not want the child around. The mother gave the son to his father who is an over-the-road truck driver from Mombasa to Kampala, Uganda. There is no way he could take the child to Uganda. He picked up Griffin in Eldoret, brought him to the Lumakanda junction, put him on a motorcycle to our house. Now he lives with us, blending in easily with our older grandsons. This is not unusual as it happens all the time. Once when I was in Mutaho, Burundi, meeting with the leaders of the Mutaho Women’s group, one had five children, one who was adopted, while a second had five children, all adopted. In Gitega, Burundi, I met HIV+ Chantel, who had five children of her own, adopted five more from her deceased brother-in-law, five more from another relative, and then five more from a non-relative. At one point she had twenty children under her care between the ages of newly-born to fifteen. I met her ten years later so the children were now between ten and twenty-five. As I understand only one of those twenty children died from AIDS.
While I have been calling this the “giving economy,” it might better be called the “sharing economy.” For every gift given, someone must also receive it. The system is mutual. Economically no one needs to give us anything since we are in the top 1% in Lumakanda. Nonetheless, we are always given gifts just like everyone else.
To those westerners who are reading this posting, I expect that this all seems incomprehensible and impossible. Africans treasure community more than individualism, giving/sharing rather than consumerism, and inter-connectedness rather than isolation.
Please donate to AGLI's programs by sending a check made out to “Friends Peace Teams/AGLI” to Friends Peace Teams, 1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104 or go to our webpage to donate by debit/credit card.
Since 1998, David Zarembka has been the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. He is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.
David Zarembka, Coordinator, African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams, Email:
P. O. Box 189, Kipkarren River 50241 Kenya
Phone in Kenya: 254 (0)726 590 783 in US: 301-765-4098
Office in US: 1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104 USA 314-647-1287
Reports from Kenya.