In the name of God

Home now. Beneath the Outpost’s big wide-eyed-clear-blue-cloudless skies. The rain has gone, the ebullient green that I left behind has already begun to lose its confident optimism and desiccate on account of relentless sunshine and a surprisingly cool wind. This is winter. I am wearing shorts. In deference to the season, I’ll don a jersey come nightfall.


My journey home was long. A nine hour flight delayed by almost two and succeeded by another – shorter – flight, an equally long delay in a different airport, and a subsequent ten hours in the car.


My seated companion on the long haul was a missionary from Houston. He was on his way to Tanzania to sink wells. He was full of woe. Africa is a hopeless case, he told me, ‘In the ten years I have been going there to work, I have not noticed any improvement’. I wanted to ask him why he bothered then, if he hated it all so much. But I didn’t need to: he told me anyway, ‘they are the Lord’s people, I must help them’. Some, I wanted to point out, indeed a significant number, are Allah’s people actually (Tanzania’s Muslims outnumber her Christians).


“Are you a religious person?”, he asked me.


Religion, my grandmother taught me, was a private matter and ought never to be discussed over dinner lest you offend. Or, for that matter, over a revolting airline supper in a plastic tray.


“Not really”, I said. (He didn’t seem to be the sort to whom I wished to divulge my ideas about religion which lean more towards spirituality and individuality and what’s good for the soul than conventional Christianity).


“Were you not even baptized?”, he persisted.


Yes. A Roman Catholic.


“And did your mother never pressurize you to practice your religion?”


No. (She’s far, far too wise for that, besides, she respects my interpretation of faith. But I didn’t tell him that either; he didn’t strike me as having the intelligence or the imagination to accept my point of view).


Undeterred the patronizing well-drilling Christian from Houston who continues to visit Africa despite apparently hating everything about it, persevered, ‘Have you seen the film about Jesus Christ?” (Nope. But I did watch In Bruges last week, does that count?).


“I organized a translation so that I could show it to the people I work with on the wells”.


The ones he so despises, presumably?


“So that they could understand something about God.”


His God.


Even though they probably have their own perfectly good one.


I am struck, whilst he wastes time trying to convert me, by a recent conversation with an Indian doctor I know who was planning a pilgrimage to Iran. He told me that as a practicing Muslim he and others like him are dismissed by Bush as ‘fundamentalist’, terrorists in the making. This gentle and charming man, one who observes his religion privately and moderately, has never tried to convert me to anything other than greater respect for my health.


Eventually the Texan admitted defeat and stopped haranguing me with his Belief. He resorted to his bible instead and I to Sally Brampton’s Shoot the Damn Dog, a graceful and eloquent account of her experience of Depression.


On my second flight a member of the crew noticed the title of the book I was still absorbed by, ‘Sounds like a horror story’.


It is. For Sally Brampton.


For Mum.


For anybody who lives with the Damn Dog.


I’d like to see big black clouds banking on my wide-arc blue horizons. I’d like it to rain or else the new lawn I have planted will grow dangerously thirsty and perish.


I’d quite like a well from which to draw the necessary water to irrigate it.


But I think I’ll do a rain dance instead. It sounds like more fun.








13 Responses to “In the name of God”

  1. R. Sherman Says:

    Glad you’re home safe.

    I wonder whether the missionary, as ham-fisted as perhaps he was, really hates Africans or whether he merely hates the fact that he cannot seem to make a difference.

    You’ve written before about the misuse of aid or assistance from a variety of sources, government, NGO, churches, etc. Perhaps that is what he was talking about.


  2. foxhollowjewelry Says:

    Me too…very glad you are home safe..
    I am with you…religion is something that is private..
    My grandmother, when asked if she attended church, would respond,”Why no, that place is full of sinners…I would rather not spend my Sunday with sinners.”
    Perspective….perspective…those that wear their religion on their sleeves have a lot of dirt on their elbows.

  3. black mzungu Says:

    glad you are back missed your reading, yeah religion is not to judge anyone, everyhumans belief is important in one way or another. poor african and the ability to destroy and not to build, getting the so called ngo to work effectively or would be to stop the aid money which is mostly eaten by the fat politician before reaching the poor african. and the worst is we still have illiterate children in our own backyard.

    africa my home country how i love it……

  4. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thanks Mr Sherman – it wasn’t so much his opinions on Africa that irritated me – everybody is entitled to an opinion though I didn’t feel his was terribly informed – it was his energetic determination to thrust religion upon me that irked!

    foxhollow – i think your gran and mine might have had a blast together! My gran was a catholic and went to mass when she wasn’t feeling cross with God/the pope/Catholic church in general. When she was, feeling cross, she used to succumb to glorious rants!

    blackmzungu – I so agree. EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION. If that was implemented more broadly, everything else would have greater impact including Aids and malaria awarness programs. Sustainable poverty alleviation can only be afforded with education.

  5. nuttycow Says:

    Hey RM – glad you’re back safely. The journey sounds like a nightmare. I’m afraid I have very little time for missionaries. My views are my own and them quoting Bible references at me is very unlikely to change them. You’re far more polite than I am though – I would have just pretended to be asleep!

  6. Roberta Says:

    My father, in his later years became a Methodist Minister. Before he could complete the application, the Bishop had a meeting at our home. Dad had to go upstairs for some paperwork, leaving my mom with the Bishop.

    The conversation went this way:

    “So, how do you feel about becoming a minister’s wife?”

    “This is HIS gig, I don’t have big enough hair to be a preacher’s wife.”


  7. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    oh bugger nutty, that’s what i should have done. mind you, then i’ve had had nothing to say on this?

    Roberta, that is screamingly funny. i loved that.

  8. Expatmum Says:

    Just watched “In Bruges” in my hotel room in Montreal last weekend. Started off slow but what a great black comedy, and Colin Farrell was fab.
    I was going to comment on the religious stuff, but as a lapsed Catholic desperately trying to raise funds for a school in rural Ghana, it’s just too complicated! I do hope that I’m making a difference as I’m focusing purely on one school instead of giving money to an organisation that has a lot of employees (payroll) and spreads it far and wide. At least I know where this is going and what it’s doing.

  9. H is for Hydrant, Hose-pipes and lots and lots of Hot Water « Reluctant Memsahib Says:

    […] Reluctant Memsahib the diary of wife, mother and failed domestic goddess in Africa « In the name of God […]

  10. nuttycow Says:

    And that, RM, is another reason why you’re a much better blogger than I am. You get out there and experience things like strange ministers trying to convert you on planes. I fall asleep 🙂

  11. India J Says:

    love your blog…and the name…well, what can I say..?

    The reluctant mensahib in our family was my mother… I had to leave Africa prematurely, unfortunately (that’s another story…) as a teen…

    I couldn’t agree more with you – Religion, Politics and Money are definately not matters to be discussed over dinner lest you offend (or be offended) – everyone is free to belief what they like, they have no right to ram it down your throat..!

    In my experience, those who shout the loudest (the zealots) quite often have the most to hide (or as fowhollowjewelry above says : “those that wear their religion on their sleeves have a lot of dirt on their elbows”).
    The Press is full of examples of the holier-than-thou getting caught “with their pants down” and worse..!

    Lastly, true charity has nothing to do with religion – I’ve been involved with several charities over the years (including an NGO I set up with family and friends) and, in my experience, the desire/need to help others is above Religion, Politics, Nationality, Wealth…etc – Thank God !

  12. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks for reading India J. yup, loud shouting usually in a bid to distract from something they’d rather we didn’t know about. and you’re absolutley right: charity has nothing to do with religion, just as being a ”good” person doesn’t have to.

  13. Cairogal Says:

    I was raised w/ the same idea-you don’t discuss religion w/ strangers, and it is a very private matter. I, too, have ended up beside a missionary on a 13 hour flight from Skiphol to Seattle. Twenty minutes into the flight he asked, “So, do you believe in God?” I tried to put him off w/ the idea that it was a personal question. He pursued! I actually had to get rather nasty in order to shut him up. He had the nerve to tell me that my version of spirituality was rather self-righteous.

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