I should start by warmly greeting you and embracing you as they do in Rwanda. After all, it is Eastertide, and an obvious opportunity to share the powerful Easter greeting: “Peace be with you.” But another reason for my embracing you is that I owe you an apology for misspelling, in my last piece, the word for the Rwandese practice that I wanted to share with you.
The correct word is guhoobera, meaning “to greet with an embrace”. My error was due to my poor (non-) Kinyarwanda pronunciation. Still, I am warmly grateful to my friend and keen reader Michael Egessa, who immediately pointed out my mistake. Indeed, I am always amazed, and delighted, at how closely you keep reading this column. Thank you, too, for not letting me get away with any slovenliness.
Speaking, however, of embraces, kisses and love, it is not difficult to see that the Easter story is replete with them, and one is spoilt for choice of what to reflect upon. I can promise you that you will hear many brilliant and uplifting sermons and homilies about the mysteries of the suffering, death and rising of the Christ (remember Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ?).
At the faith level, I prefer to take the story as the Book tells it. I told you that I grew up in an age of waning faith, and many of my own teachers were non-believers. These ranged from those who claimed that Christianity was a colonial conspiracy and ruse for grabbing our land and enslaving us, to those, especially from abroad, who called it, after Marx, “the opium of the people”.
When pressed for explanation, many of these “intellectuals” would say, “I don’t believe in anything really” or, “It doesn’t make scientific sense.” Since the latter deserves an answer, one could tell these scientific doubters what Shakespeare’s Hamlet tells his philosophical, scientific friend: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” In the end, I resort to my namesake Augustine’s approach: credo ut intelligam (I believe in order to understand).
I should, however, stop sounding like a self-appointed pastor or apostle. Speaking of the more mundane aspects of the Easter story, I imagine myself being confronted by a person who comes to me and tells me, “I will die for you.”
My logical response would be, “Why would you do such a thing?”
My interlocutor comes up with a ready answer, “Because I love you.”
Now, what would I answer to this? Maybe I would thank this lover and then add, “But I think it would be much better if you lived for me and proved to be of some service to me and my friends.”
“I can both die and live for you.” This would certainly give me cause to pause and think.
Since I want you to be an interactive reader, I will leave you to imagine how this conversation continues. The peculiar offer leaves me wondering what “dying and living” and, especially, “love” mean. Do people really die for others? The only certainty I have is that some people put themselves at tremendous risk for the sake of others.
The best example that comes to mind is that of our mothers, who periodically go into labour wards (designed or improvised) to give birth to us. That definitely is a life-challenging, if not life-threatening, undertaking, even at its best. Few men understand or appreciate it.
I learnt from a recent story, by my friend Jane Obuchi of The Latest Diary of a Kenyan, that a chauvinistic male healthcare giver joked that all it took to give birth to a baby was to relax, open up and exhale powerfully. Has this gentleman never heard that many women die in childbirth? Maybe he needs to be told that Mama Margaret Kenyatta’s Beyond Zero campaign is not a joke.
Anyway, my pedestrian, down-to-earth vision of those who die and live for us, all for love, is concretised by those mothers who survive childbirth and then proceed not only to bring us up but also to give us siblings. They thus live, “die” and resurrect many times over. They might not be able to shower us with cartons of perfume, as the Bethany woman does for the man she loves. But the little ladlefuls of water that they sprinkle over us behind our one-room house are just as fragrant as the nard, if not more so.
As for “love”, I wonder if mine is like that of the guy who kisses a friend’s head just because he has put thirty pieces of silver (or appropriate equivalent in Shs billions) on it. Or does it resemble that of the loquacious “beste”(old Sheng for “bosom friend”), ready to lay his life down for you but not quite averse to telling a little lie (“I don’t know the man”) to save his skin.
I, unfortunately, could not love you to the point of wiping your feet with my hair, since I hardly have any left on my old pate. But speaking of feet, we will be seeing many high and mighty ones stripping down to their inner clothing and washing the feet of beggars and prisoners in memory of what their Redeemer did. This would remind one of the spiritual leader who recently kissed the shoes of South Sudanese rivals, Silva Kiir and Riek Machar.
I could not help hoping that the lads had properly brushed their footwear. I last saw those two brothers in Juba in 2009, during the Kenya-brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), and the surroundings were not particularly conducive to spotlessness. More seriously, however, if that shoe-kiss could persuade the two brothers to stop or prevent the death of at least one South Sudanese soul, we could call it a kiss of resurrection for that beloved country.
Anyway, my wish for all of us is the resurrection and re-awakening of all that is good, beautiful, positive and tender in us.
Have a happy, joyful and blessed Easter.
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and literature; [email protected]