Kyengeza, February 1, 2009
“Omusota!" I know of no other word in Luganda that carries with it the immediate dramatic effect, impact, and flat-out terror that this word carries with it. It has a very simple meaning, and nothing is lost in translation: "Snake!" This was the word on the trembling lips of Sharon, one of the young ladies who works in the rectory here, as she applied a death-grip on my arm in what could only be described as utter panic. She went on to describe how she had just started out toward the front gate and was about to step off the porch when she looked down and saw the about-to-be-stepped-on serpent, sunning itself right there! I think she probably did an about face in mid-air. Given the fact that virtually 100% of snakes in Africa are poisonous - and that survival time for bitees (i.e., one who is bitten) of some species is measured in minutes, not hours or days - her fear was well-founded.
Needless to say, the news spread like a doggone California brush fire. A makeshift search party quickly assembled, including yours truly who bravely stood on the relatively safe real estate defined by our slightly elevated cement porch, armed with my trusty push-broom, retrieved from my plush room (the room isn't really plush, it just rhymed so nicely). At any rate, one of the guys claimed to have spotted the vile viper under a kind of low-slung succulent plant. Prossie, our parish secretary, nice dress and all, said she saw the rascal at the base of those branches/leaves, and she wailed on that poor plant, reducing it to a badly beaten and bruised semblance of its former glory. The next theory and practice of extermination methods employed the old douse the plant with paraffin trick (we call it kerosene back home). We doused and doused, but no snake emerged as planned. You thought the plant looked bad before! Finally, Fr. Charles (our local Ugandan diocesan priest in residence) appeared with hoe in hand and started hacking the bejabbers out of that plant, reducing it right down to a shabby stump. Still no snake. I never did see the little varmint. Apparently, the culprit slithered off to obscure safety somehow.
I must confess to moments of doubt as to the creature's very existence, at least in the reported confines of that poor bush, may it rest in peace. Someone commented that perhaps it was a spiritual snake. The good news is that no one was hurt. The bad news is that if that snake wasn't in that bush, it's somewhere else - and somewhere nearby! Yikes! I hope to tell you, that can do a number on you. It's like people not going into a swimming pool after seeing "Jaws!" You start gettin' the willies just thinkin' about how that doggone critter could be just about anywhere you might step. Fear is a paralyzing thing. Beware, dear reader. By the time you read this, that snake has had time to escape across the ocean to the western United States and could be lurking under your bed right now...
Moving right along, the main means of cooking in these parts is by burning charcoal over a kind of barbecue "stove". 'Long about the first of the year, I somehow managed to contract Typhoid Fever. That stuff can kill you! The only good part about the whole experience is that we were able to save a few shillings on our charcoal expenses by frying a few eggs on my forehead! My goodness, that really is nasty stuff. I was down for the count for over a week, but, thanks be to God, and modern medicines, I am feeling much better now. During my convalescence, I read a small book on the life of the early missionary to Africa, St. Daniel Comboni. He and many others died from Typhoid. (He was fighting against the slave trade here at about the same time Honest Abe was championing the Emancipation Proclamation, abolishing slavery in the U.S.A.) So I got a taste of what He died from.
The big news around here, of course, is that our mission "founding father", Fr. David, has had to leave here, much against his will, to return to the U.S. for some medical attention and rest. God bless you, Fr. David - hope you are getting better! His departure set off a little game of musical chairs (or "musical friars", I guess you could say!). Fr. Edmond came here to Kyengeza from our formation house in Jinja to take over as Parish Priest (he hails from Congo, incidentally - our neighbor to the west). Fr. Larry, from far away Wisconsin, left here to take his place as superior in Jinja. Fr. Godfrey, our newly professed, who had joined us as an ordained priest about two years ago, joins Fr. Larry in Jinja. They oversee our newly built house just outside the PCJ (Philosophy Center of Jinja) along with our four students of the PCJ, and our two newly arrived postulants.
As you may know, Frs. Stephen Watson and Matthew Williams are heading for Nairobi, Kenya (our neighbor to the east) for a meeting of the English-speaking Carmelite Friars in Africa, coming up in February - my goodness, that's about now, isn’t it! We look forward to seeing them soon, as they will be coming this way for a visit following their meeting.
Thank you all for your prayers and support - God bless you!
Let's continue to pray for each other.
Fr. Paul Koenig