Sunday, April 16, 2006

Smokers – The (Almost) Last Lepers

Oh, my! I can't tell you how much I would like not to have to reveal what I'll have to reveal here. This is probably the most difficult entry I will post here. We U.S. Episcopalians can tolerate and/or forgive almost all things that some deem to be sin: doubt, divorce, even homosexuality. But the one thing that folks still can get very judgmental about is smoking. OK. I know that. So here it is: I’m a smoker, and I know that may turn-off some readers of this blog. But in case any other smokers think about going to Lui, I need to make this entry for them.

Before I agreed to make this trip, I quizzed the Diocesan staff and past travelers, asking them, “Can a seriously addicted smoker comfortably make this trip?” I knew I could not make an adjustment from my two-pack-a-day habit to going cold turkey. Folks said that it should not be a problem – that they had not seen many Africans smoking, but that was probably because cigarettes are so expensive there.

I discovered that was not actually the case.

I need to acknowledge I’m dropping buckets of sackcloth and ashes on myself for being a smoker. Yes, I know it’s harmful. Yes, I know plenty of people will immediately “write me off” because I’m admitting this habit. No, I have not been able to quit.

This entry is for smokers who may consider going to Lui. The rest of you should just scroll up to the next entry.

Be aware that the Methodist Guest House in Nairobi is entirely non-smoking. No smoking is allowed anywhere within their compound. And if your schedule is like ours, you're going to be there at least 12 hours.

Once I got to Lui, I felt that smoking was o.k. Most of our time was spent out of doors. Of course, I didn’t smoke when we were inside the payuts or tukels. But I felt comfortable smoking outdoors in our compound or when we would arrive in a village after a two-hour drive.

But the exchange with Simon when we arrived in Buigi made me re-evaluate that comfort level. He noticed me smoking and started quizzing me about it. He informed me that Moru women do not smoke, and that the Lui men might therefore be looking at me with puzzlement. [No, I had not picked up on any such reactions.] Simon was also the one who had said that women without husbands or children were essentially worthless. Was this just Simon’s view? or is it a widespread view in Lui? I do not know. But at the time I did take Simon’s words very much to heart. I had not had any sense that my smoking might be a scandal, but his words made me very self-conscious about it.

Maybe the next group going to Lui will have a chance to explore this social norm. For now, I would advise any smokers – especially women – to think twice before visiting Lui.

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