Sunday, September 30, 2007

Farewell to Africa, good morning Iraq!

It was time for me to come home from Africa. I didn't want to leave but sometimes fate intervenes in strange ways and the next thing I knew I was at the Jo'burg airport, suitcase in hand. But as one door closes, another door opens. At least that's what they say.

The first thing I did when I walked in the door once I got home -- besides hugging the kids and sorting through the mail -- was to apply to go back to embed in Iraq. And I just got an e-mail from Baghdad saying that my request has been accepted. And I leave on October 6 for Al Asad and Fallugah. Is the best cure for jet lag the hair of the dog that bit you? I'm about to find out.

"But Jane," said my friend Michael, "the Senate has just given Bush what amounts to a back-door approval to bomb Iran. And if Bush bombs Iran, all hell is going to break loose in Iraq." Oops. I hadn't thought of that. And apparently Cheney and Bush haven't thought about that either. Or have they? Good grief! Could they possibly be thinking, "The more dead people there are in Iraq, the fewer people there will be to stand between us and the oil"? If they are, that would be bad news for America, bad news for our troops and bad news for the Iraqis. But not bad news for me! Why not? Because while I was in Africa, I was informed by a fairly reliable source that no matter where I went or what I did, I would always be PROTECTED BY GOD! I am covered. The Big Man is watching out for me.

I'm covered by God's insurance policy. Bush and Cheney are not.

"But, Jane," you might ask. "How do do you know this for sure?" Here's the story:

Just before I left Africa, my best friend in our village took me to her church. "Ours is a small church," she said. "It's just a tin building off a dirt road. But it is a very spiritual church." And boy was it! They spoke in tongues. They prophesied. And they prophesied about me.

First we all packed into an elderly Toyota truck and drove back into the bush several miles -- with four of us adults crammed in the cab and five or six kids in the back. When we got to the church, the men's choir was standing outside in the hot sun, singing, clapping and jumping straight up in the air. And when their feet hit the ground, it made a hollow, rhythmic, earth-shaking sound. Their feet rose a good 30 inches off the ground with each jump -- and they kept this up for two whole hours. In the hot sun. It made my bones hurt just to watch them.

Meanwhile, me and various children sat on benches in the shade while the women's choir sang discretely in another part of the churchyard. And for the next two hours, the choirs sang while people arrived one by one or in small groups, walking over the dusty dirt road or climbing down the path from the hillside until approximately 200 people had arrived. Then everyone piled into the little tin church and everyone sang more songs in beautiful harmonies. It was like going to Carnegie Hall for a Ladyship Black Mambasa concert, only out in the red-dirt bush country of Africa.

And did I mention that when I first arrived, the pastor blessed me by throwing (hard!) two cups of water at my face and one cup of water at my back?

Anyway, we're all crammed onto wooden benches inside this tin shack when my friend nudged me and whispered, "The pastor just asked the congregation to pray for you to help you learn Setswana faster." Oh thank you! With my terrible memory, I can use all the help I can get. Ke a leboga, Mma.

Then we sang some more hymns and then this older woman suddenly stands up -- speaking in tongues. Then she goes down the rows of benches -- men on one side and women on the other -- and points to my friend and the two of them disappear out the back door for 20 minutes.

Then there's more singing. Then another woman goes into a trance, starts speaking in tongues and then points to ME.

You gotta really work at it to imagine what happened next. This is not your average, run-of-the-mill experience. No way! We go out to a brush-fenced enclosure and the woman gets down on all fours in the dust and softly, musically and methodically starts talking to me in Setswana. The pastor, my friend and I also get down on all fours and listen to the woman speak.

"What she said," my friend told me later, "was that no matter where you go or what you do, you will be looked after and protected by God." That's a very good thing to know, especially since I do tend to wander around a lot and also tend to get lost.

Then we all trooped back into the church for another hour or two of singing, sermons and prayer. And after that the pastor burned two slips of paper -- apparently with prayers written on them -- in front of me and patted down my head, arms and legs. Then everyone in the congregation went outside for tea. "This is a special herbal tea that will protect us and keep us safe," one woman told me.

Later I asked my friend if she had ever gone into a trance and spoken in tongues too. "Yes, of course."

"What's it like?"

"I'm not sure. I can't remember anything. I just suddenly black out. But what the woman said to you today was very, very good."

"You mean sometimes the prophecies are bad?"

"Yes. And they come true too. If someone says that your house will burn down, then it will." Yikes! Up to this point, I had thought that being singled out for a "reading" was a good thing. Now I understand why the woman in front of me who had just been pointed to seemed so reluctant to go outside.

"The pastor always goes with the entranced person," said my friend, "so he can help interpret in case the person starts speaking in broken Setswana or in tongues." Then we cooked our dinner, sat down in front of the TV, watched "Generations," and ate beet-root, stewed beef, potatoes and pumpkin. It was a very ordinary end to a very extraordinary day, one that I knew I will remember forever. It was a soul-jolting experience. After so many hours of singing and chanting and being surrounded by sincere hard-working people seeking spiritual relief from their day-to-day toil, I've never felt so real in my life.

"How long was the service?" asked a co-worker the next day.

"Five hours!" I replied.

And how long will Bush's useless war in the Middle East last? "Forever." Forever? Yuck! Bush and Cheney need to give up all this unholy killing, get a life, start to behave themselves like civilized human beings, go off to my friend's little tin church in Africa and get God back on their side.