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Saturday, 03 September 2011 02:00

Of my abstract gods and I

By  Pascal Mailu
The small Bible study sessions at work really amuse me. The mainly conservative and smartly dressed officers meet at the board room every morning at seven for a praise and worship session. They are fond of holding hands around the table in most sessions, projecting their blame to god (or is it God?) for everything from the slow pace of project implementation to the recurrent power black-outs and galloping inflation. At some point in their prayers or preaching, they always remember to plead with him/her to have mercy on them for crimes they have no direct hand in. Once in a while I have overheard them pray that I see the light, leave my earthly path and join them on the narrow path to heaven. On the rare occasions I have considered joining them, I realized how little I know about their god, and feel the need to provoke and relate with a more authentic god before embroiling myself with the other more global and complicated ones.

The other evening as they said their evening prayers, I reflected on the first time I heard my dad confront god. He had lost his job and mum within the span of three months. Mum, I vividly recollect, moved out and back to her parents at dusk, ranting all the way there (for anyone who cared to listen) that she was not to blame for the separation. She loudly wondered how god expected her to live in poverty when her parents were quite well off. The night she left, my dad locked himself in his bedroom, cursed in vernacular for hours on end, and in between chanted the chorus "Why me, god?". Since then I always wondered whether and why mum and dad were dealing with different gods, and I strengthened my resolve to identify and cultivate a god to be confronting when things got tough in school or at the estate playground. In the meantime, I decided to keep a respectable distance from the multiple gods peeping into my existence as I shuffled along with life.

As I grew up, dad got not only another job, but another wife, to whom I assigned the duties and rights of motherhood whenever I deemed it convenient. She moved in with a bang, installing a giant size sculpture of Jesus in our sitting room and pinning colorful rosaries on every available nail on the walls in all bedrooms. However, what puzzled me most was the big Coca Cola bottle that contained what she claimed was holy water. From the day she moved in, she always sprinkled me with the water before I went out to school or to play with my friends. The ritual was accompanied by loud pleas to god to protect her only step child from all the natural and man made disasters that posed a threat to me outside the house. In my small bed at night, I wondered why her god seemed to be more aggressive and present than mum's and dad's.

During school holidays, I interacted a lot with my aging grand mother in the village. Her narratives on the multiple types of gods were as thrilling as they were confusing. Through her I realized that there was a cluster of community gods, each with very elaborate and specialized tasks, ranging from rain generation to protecting the tribe from the blood thirsty Maasai cattle rustlers. In my grandmother's opinion, those gods were more effective and efficient in responding to prayers from clan elders as compared to the contemporary gods whose crusaders always crowded television screens marketing them like capitalists selling beauty products. The more I explored the concept of divinities, the more I wanted to surface spiritually and help in defining god even as s/he sought to define me. And the more I try to disentangle from the idea of one god, the more I got convinced that I want to deal with only one, or none at all. Like my village ancestors and other religious personalities in the Bible, Quran and other religious texts, I wish to address him/her directly and negotiate clear terms for this relationship. T

hus I address you, god - in whatever form you exist. I wonder why we are so intertwined, for the Christians say that I am created in your image, and by extension I am your representative here on earth. You probably represent me up there and everywhere else I am absent. The other day, my eldest son, who converted to Islam at the expense of his relationship with the mother, came home and pinned a large painting of the Ka'aba, surrounded by a multitude of pilgrims from all walks of life seeking to get close to you. I will not take the trip to Mecca to seek you, neither will I go to the village to get more lessons from my grand mother about you and your competitors. I am tired and wish to either disentangle from you totally unless you speak to me directly and give an account of yourself. Like you, I have no brother or sister, so I bear my anxieties, fears and joys with a high degree of autonomy. And I expect the same from you. Let us have an even playing ground - away from the subjective perceptions of a dad who was so non-committal he could only chant your name in the confines of his bedroom; away from a step-mum who over-stressed your role even in sectors that were very safe in secular hands; and away from a son who, confused by numerous divinities, absconds school in your name and seems to obey you more than he does his earthly father.

Tomorrow is Friday. Let's meet and reason together. I have considered an appropriate venue and ruled out Jamia mosque, as the building is much too white and pure for my tainted lifestyle. I thought of St. Peter Clavers' chapel but it might be too cold for you depending on where you will be arriving from - and there is no way the caretaker will allow us to take any drinks within the premises. As for the few synagogues and other oriental temples scattered across town, a friend informs me that they rarely open on Fridays. So I propose the Sheraton, as there is always ample parking and not so many twilight girls to distract us. Since the drinks are quite costly there, we will try to maximize on the happy hour, and not stay for longer than necessary. I will sit at the counter in the bar on the far end of the lawn where they have a Rhumba live band every weekend. I will wait for you between seven and ten in the evening. My blue tie will hang loosely from the white, sleeveless shirt I love so much, slowly sipping Johnie Walker in neat double tots. If you recognize me, I will recognize you and there will be no need for a formal introduction. But if you do not turn up, I will assume that you have decided to chain me to you through dad, step mum and my juvenile son, and I will surrender to fate though unwillingly. However, if you turn up, we will candidly discuss whatever links we have, analyze the entire relationship and either cement it or dismantle the abstract chains that bind us.
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