Craving for Deya and Miracle Tea
The high-pitched voices of the choir were wafting out of the red brick building that looked more of a warehouse than a church.
For a moment, I entertained doubts of whether I was in the right place. But I could see my hostel directly across the stream now rapidly growing into a river with the onset of winter rains. On the first Sunday I spent in my room, I couldn’t help but imagine my mother naturally seeing God’s hand in my accommodation quarters being so close to a church.
It was the nearest to a church I had been for a while. As the preacher’s voice sneaked into my room despite my efforts to close it out with the windows, I gave up on reading and wondered whether this could be my Jonah-go-to-Nineveh moment. In subsequent Sundays, I scheduled my day to allow time for the sermon and the attendant praise songs. I also made a mental note not to call my mother while the sneaky voices lasted just in case it gave her false hopes that her son had finally located the Damascus highway.
The warren of buildings from where the singing was coming from abruptly ended in a scenic riparian now carpeted with browned autumn leaves. A jogging lane ran parallel to the river as if escaping from the travails of young couples nestling on the public benches across. The couples, engrossed in savouring newly-discovered emotions, stoically sat under the chilly winds blowing from above the forested hill in yet another battle lost by commonsense to love and its decoys.
Just above the blue door, and below a painted cross that had lost one of its arms ostensibly to the vagaries of the weather, was an inconspicuous sign announcing ‘The God’s Embassy.’ I admired the creative symbolism in the name; a place where applicants (read sinners) could obtain visas to heaven with prayers and tithe the equivalent of a visa fee.
Earthly embassies tend to be located in more prestigious addresses. As the cold wind froze the tip of my nose and numbed my hands, I imagined an equivalent of this would be a foreign government opening its embassy in Nairobi’s Industrial Area! Taken aback by the modesty of the building, I allowed myself to feel disappointed on God’s behalf.
But almost immediately, I recalled a verse that promises divine blessing for whichever feet that congregate in His name. In the preceding days, and in preparation for this particular occasion, I had been rekindling my religiosity. I made efforts to remember as many verses and hymns from both my high school and Sunday School days. I even tried to download the Bible. But I gave up after getting to a section that required me to select from eight different versions. Until then, I thought there was only one bible!
I also found myself singing a lot in the shower. But I had to discourage myself from it because, much as I tried to inject variety, the only hymn whose words effortlessly flowed out of my mouth was “Nearer my God to thee…” And I didn’t like it because I had heard it in too many funerals. I may not be afraid of death but I wouldn’t want to tempt it by turning a dirge into my favourite song!
As these reflections played in my mind, my appetite for the church service started waning. I wondered why, for instance, a church would hold a service behind closed doors. Even Kenyan politicians pray in the open even when the content of their prayer is as obnoxious as Sonko’s recent prayer against the ICC. But then I recalled the circumstances that led to me being there in the first place.
No, it wasn’t about Jubilee’s anti-ICC prayers. Or even prayers to beg God to make Kenyan public officers sufficiently philanthropic by stealing less from public funds. In fact, it had little to do with salvation or which door or window was open or closed.
The genesis was in a chance encounter at the beginning of the week. That and an invitation for, of all other things, tea!
While extracting my promise for attendance, the lady had emphasised that there would be plenty of tea served after the church service.
She had repeated the assurance thrice: “umesikia kutakuwa na chai? (have you heard that there will be tea?). Listening to her emphasis, I imagined my lips had betrayed my hunger and I instinctively licked them to moisten the cracks. I then adopted a deliberately flat tone in my response. While trying to be polite, I didn’t want to give the impression that tea would be a sufficient enticement to get me to church.
I had met her at the butchery. Her very Kenyan English could be heard sneaking out from the door with a curtain made of a canvas sliced into thin stripes like in an Umoja estate bedsitter.
She was quarrelling the butcher for allegedly cutting her fatty pieces of meat as if she didn’t have enough fat in her body already! When I walked in, she was running her right hand palm over her considerable belly to illustrate her point. When she thought the butcher was not impressed, she showed him her fleshy biceps while wondering why all butchers were in a conspiracy to get her fat!
I queued behind her. Now, the queue is such a British habit that people instinctively fit into neat lines even at the urinal. Immediately, the woman embarked on a campaign to win me over to her argument. Why, she wondered, couldn’t the butcher cut her order to her taste? Surely, there was enough for the seven kilos she needed!
In any case, she was certain there would be many clients like me, who apparently did not mind fatty meat. I was not sure whether that was an insult or a compliment to my jogging outfit. She must have sensed my uneasiness judging by the plastered smile that accompanied her question about my origins.
When I told her I was from Kenya, she offered to pay for my meat order. I politely declined because I didn’t want to sell my acquaintance for a pound of flesh. Then she told me of this church where I could meet nearly half of all Kenyans in the city. Even Bishop Deya, she assured me, occasionally drops by. She must have noted my unspoken wonder whether the local police knew of that because she quickly added that Deya hadn’t visited for months.
She hailed from Ahero and was married to a guy from Luanda. The couple had settled in Britain 15 years ago. Despite my strong hints that God loves openness, she remained evasive on what, exactly, her claimed career of doing God’s work entailed.
The coming Sunday would be an especially timely occasion because it was the annual pre-winter get-together, she told me. There would be a lot of tea, Kenyan-style. In previous years, there would also be barbecue and drinks. But she wasn’t sure if the latter would be available this time.
I was still debating whether to push the door and walk into The God’s Embassy. I thought the possibility of a chat with Deya or a ‘miracle’ drink would not be a very bad way of livening up an otherwise cold Sunday. And to be sure I was in the right place, I pulled out the card the woman had given me.
Then the truth dawned on me. I had arrived too early and to the wrong church. The invitation was to ‘The God’s Palace’ across the road. And the tea service would be starting four hours later!
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