Chapter 10 – The Chaka Cathedral
I was breathless with excitement; it seemed as though I had inadvertently ventured into a sacred cathedral God had created without the need for human columns of granite and marble. I drank in the wonder of it all as I sat on a log with my neck craned upward to take it all in. I called this stand of magnificent trees the “Chaka Cathedral” ( “chaka” is the trade language word for a large area of bush and the first syllable sounds like the “chalk” you use to write on the blackboard).
I found it one Sunday afternoon not long after our arrival at Lake Langano; I was out exploring an area not far from the camp. I had noticed a very large stand of trees in that general direction and decided to investigate. Cautiously, I made my way through the thick growth, keeping my eye out for wild pigs and other menacing creatures.
I had gone about a couple of hundred yards from the two-rut road when I confronted a massive fallen tree. The trunk lying in front of me must have been ten feet high. I finally found branches that allowed me to climb up onto what became an elevated path further into the forest. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I ventured further. Monumental trees towered above me; probably close to a hundred feet.
The canopy of high branches filtered the sunlight, prohibiting thick undergrowth to develop. Instead, the forest floor was reasonably bare apart from the fallen branches and decaying vegetation.
But the canopy high above was full of life. Screaming parakeets by the hundreds were competing for space with hornbills, monkeys, and goodness knows what else was up there. I heard the barking of baboons not too far in the distance.
I wanted Betty to experience the scene as well. As I returned back to our little tin house in the clearing, I slashed a trail through the undergrowth that seemed to grow there as a protective guard round the “cathedral”. She was excited, too, and I enjoyed the added sense of delight by sharing this experience with someone I loved.
I loved the “chaka” forest that walled our clearing. It was so abundant with new discoveries every time I ventured into it’s lush undergrowth and massive trees. I discovered many varieties of colourful spiders spinning their webs from branch to branch. One had to be careful at certain times of the year to carry a stick in front of their face or else be constantly disengaging themselves from their sticky threads.
The ants always attracted my attention. The large black army ants made a thick line on the ground about the size of a thick rope. Millions of them marched back and forth within this smooth trail. They would pause now and again to greet an oncoming comrade with a nose to nose encounter and then continue on. Sometimes they would be carrying a leaf portion or what looked like a white egg. Then there were the praying mantis, the chamaeleons, butterflies, and a host of other little creatures.
The ever-present baboons screamed and barked their warning as I would approach their territory. They were hated by the local people because they raided their corn fields and created a potential danger to their children.
One day I encountered several wild pigs. It so happened that I had a borrowed 22 caliber rifle with me. Just as I took aim at the closest, it snorted and headed right for me. I let fire but it seemed to take no effect. Did the bullet miss or did it simply bounce off his thick skull? Maybe it was the bang that changed his mind about attacking me. In any case the group scattered into the underbrush. I was glad those mean looking tusks were headed in the opposite direction of me.
I was constantly amazed at the variety of beautiful birds. I wasn’t one to learn all their names, but I sure enjoyed their contribution to our environment; the long-tailed fly catchers, the brilliantly feathered varieties, noisy hornbills, and the screaming parakeets.
A few weeks later when Cathy and Jeff were home from Bingham Academy for the Christmas break we decided to conduct our family Sunday morning service in our “Chaka Cathedral”. We were the only ones at Langano. We were miles and miles from any church service.
In subsequent years as missionary colleagues came to camp on the beach for their holidays, we would meet on Sunday mornings in the “Chaka Cathedral”. I had located a place where several large branches had fallen to the ground in a semicircle providing a perfect setting for such an occasion.