Thursday, June 04, 2009

Living Libraries

Dictionary Dan demonstrating a skateboard
Morris looking at the book from Advent

Morris and his wife

Living Libraries
Scroll Article for June, 2009
Deb Goldfeder

Someone said, when a person dies, a library burns. The life experiences, the stories heard from elders, the observations from one particular life lived are all lost at that moment. For those of us who have computer records of every thought we have ever written it may not be quite the same but, for the people who live in a verbal culture, the loss is tremendous.

Every time I asked a question about the past history of the Moru people or Lui the people around would say, “Ask Morris.” Sure enough, Morris would tell me the history of the Moru people, the origins of the word for “spoon” in Moru, or whatever other question I might have. Morris is a gifted teacher. He teaches children English and the clergy and laity Theological Education by Extension (TEE). He also runs the bookstore where you can buy the Moru Bible which he helped translate and that he typed! He has a wonderful curiosity about things and a great kindness. He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Lui and served as the Archdeacon of Lui Parish for a time. He accomplished all this despite a third grade education. I have often pondered what Morris might have accomplished had his life not been so disrupted by war, famine and social upheaval. As it is, Morris is the library for Lui.

Morris has a great sense of joy, too, and he often could be located by the sound of his laughter. I was never sure where, exactly, he lived but his wife lived in Wiroh (pronounced Willow). When I asked why she lived fourteen miles away (or seven miles by the cutoff) he told me that when the Arabs were bombing Lui he felt he had to stay there anyway. He said he was not so important. His wife, however, was very important so she stayed with the children in her home village while he continued to work in Lui.

It was Morris who taught me about Moru dancing. I first saw what I thought must be authentic dancing at Christmastime but Morris said, “No, that is not the real dancing.” Finally when we went with Bishop Bullen to confirm candidates in Wiroh, Morris rounded up some of the elders of the community (men and women) including his wife and, with Morris beating out the rhythm on a little drum, they showed me REAL Moru dancing outside the church! Morris was my library of Moru history and culture.

I had another “reference” in Lui. Gordon, the administrator for the diocese, could always be counted on for another source of knowledge. Gordon carried the satellite phone for the diocese. Satellite phones work best outside and away from any large buildings that might obstruct the signal from the satellite so Gordon could always be found sitting under the mango tree on the cathedral grounds aiming the phone at the southern sky and waiting for calls from the diocesan offices in Nairobi. Although he is very serious, he has a great “yuk, yuk, yuk” kind of laughter which carried in the quiet of Lui. Once I commented to him that he was always sitting under the tree and he said he was, “Jeremiah 33 verse 3,” and then he quoted the Scripture to me: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Then, he laughed that great belly-laugh again.

I discovered that Gordon, who had lived from the age of eighteen to thirty-six in the bush as war was raging all around and who had been ordained without formal theological education, could tell me where to find any verse in the Bible I could think of. As I was called upon to preach at a moment’s notice, I would turn to Gordon and ask him where to find this or that verse and he never hesitated. He was better than any concordance sitting on my shelf at home. Gordon was my human concordance.

This past December we carried a small spiral-bound book from Church of the Advent’s kids. They each had written something of their lives, families and interests on a page that held a photograph of them. We brought it for the church in Lozoh so the children there could know who was praying for them. It was probably the most popular thing either Dan or I had carried there. Each day people would gather and we would try to explain what skateboarding was, how baseball was played, what coffee hour meant (a remarkable number of Advent’s children said their favorite thing about church was coffee hour!), or any number of other things the children had written about. We tried with words to explain things so different to them but always resorted to drawing with out hands or with a stick on the ground or, most usually, acting them out.

Sylvester, the priest in charge of Lui parish church and one of my former English students, was enjoying the explanations one day when he looked at me, smiled, and said the nickname my former English class had given me—a nickname I had completely forgotten—and we both laughed. Sylvester made me think about how each person is a library. To teach English I had to use a Ugandan book so I had to explain things they didn’t have like post offices, banks, newspapers, sports and games. How ridiculous I know I looked standing over an imaginary Titleist with an invisible putter trying to sink a fifteen-foot putt into a fictitious hole [“Why do people do this?”] or skipping across the compound or hitting an imaginary backhand down the line. I’m just glad I was the only person with a video camera! My students called me the “Two-Legged Dictionary.” When I saw Dan “pushing” an invisible skateboard he had drawn in the dirt for our friends in Lui, I knew he was a Two-Legged Dictionary, too.

1 comment:

Lisa Fox said...

Thank you, Deb, for writing these wonderful reflections about Lui. You continue to give us helpful insights about the tradition and culture in Lui.