Chapter 7 – Living In The Bush
Betty and I were accustomed to outdoor biffies and other less than convenient living circumstances from previous mission assignments, but living in the bush … well that was a different story. One essential for life in the bush was a proper outdoor latrine. Just using the cover of underbrush for this essential activity had it’s serious limitations. So I had the workers dig a hole a few yards from the back door in a place camouflaged behind a thorn tree. With all the heavy activity of clearing the camp site and the construction of various shelters, I just took the time to construct the “outdoor biffy” up to the top of the four walls leaving the roof open to the sky and massive tree branches above. After all, the rainy season had finished, and what a wonderful place to sit and observe the black and white colobus monkeys high overhead. Unperturbed, they continued their jumping from branch to branch in search of another tender nibble of food or engaging in their playful antics seemingly unaware of human intrusion into their territory.
One morning we stepped outside to visit the facilities only to be met by a surprising sight. The dirt dug from the hole had been piled up under the thorn tree, and this morning it was covered with minute white mushrooms like a thin blanket. When Borema came over to the house and saw the sight, he exclaimed, “Minder no” (“What is it” in Amharic, the trade language). That reminded Betty and me of the Children of Israel when they first discovered the manna provided for them in the wilderness. The word manna meant “What is it”. But whatever this was on our dirt pile, it disappeared in the heat of the morning sun and we never did see this phenomenon again.
A new adjustment
We first arrived at Langano when it was the end of the rains. The crops were being harvested, the undergrowth was becoming crisp and dry, and many of the trees were losing their leaves. The air was cooler; a sweater might be required in the evening hours. Our Arsi friends planned weddings and feasts for this season of harvest and abundance.
I thoroughly enjoyed my days filled with planning structures and building them. My day started about 7:30 am and after breakfast I ventured outside where the workmen had already begun to assemble. Most days I worked until about 7:00 pm; I knew the evening dusk was rapidly approaching. If I didn’t have my tools put away soon it would be totally dark.
But living in the bush was an entirely new adjustment for Betty. Our previous assignment by the mission was managing and hosting the SIM holiday resort south of Addis Ababa for missionaries. Betty’s life had been filled with hosting the visiting missionary families with meals, supervising the national cooks and staff, caring for our two children, and a host of other administrative responsibilities. Now she was living in the bush isolated from people, without the children, with no regular routine, and void of any modern conveniences such as washing machine, fridge or electric lights.
We were planning a trip to Addis Ababa. We would see the children, shop for supplies, and visit with our friends. In late October the boarding school always conducted a dress-up parade on a Friday evening and a sports day on Saturday. Betty sewed Indian outfits for Cathy and Jeff from a grain sack and fashioned a headdress from beads and feathers she had collected from the bush and painted in bright colours.
After we had moved into our little tin house, we would sit on the small lawn in the front yard where we would write letters, visit with local people passing by, or discuss life with Borema. We had a reel-to-reel battery operated tape recorder on which we played music that had been prepared by friends of ours in Victoria. One Sunday afternoon I decided to record Borema’s voice and let him hear it. Being the first time he had ever heard anything like this, he was thrilled. Immediately he asked if this machine would accept his native language. When I assured him that it would, he went off and got his scribbler with his songs and hymns that he had brought from his days at the mission school. He sang everyone of them into the tape recorder. What fun!
On another occasion we were enjoying the shade in the front yard when a young man approached the gate. He had brought the community cattle down to the lakeshore for water during the dry season and was living in a small grass hut nearby. He was wearing short pants somewhat ragged, a shawl and carrying a spear in one hand. In his other hand he had a pair of shiny black shoes. He was all smiles because the day before he had been married in those shoes and was now coming to return them to Borema, his friend who had a nice pair of shoes.
A”honey of an experience”
One day we had a “honey of an experience”. The Arsi people fabricated tubular bee hives from a hollow log about four feet long and wrapped it with bark. They hung them high in the branches of the towering trees of the forest. Two hives hung in the tree near our little tin house.
Twice a year several men came to harvest the honey and one November evening just after dark was one of these times. One brave man climbed the tree with a smoking torch and then attached a long leather thong to a branch near the hive. The other end he then lowered to the men gathered below around a fire. A clay bowl was lifted by the leather thong to the man above who was busy digging into the hive with one bare hand while he subdued the bees with the smoking torch in the other. The night air was filled with the sweet smell of honey and the buzzing of bees swarming everywhere, disorientated by the smoke and darkness. Undaunted by a sting now and again, the man in the tree continued to reach into the hive and dig out the wax cones filled with honey. Some of the chunks he let fall to the men below while the sticky liquid remaining was gathered in the bowl and lowered to the ground with the leather thong.
Betty bought a black earthenware pot full of honey and wax. She inquired how she should get the honey separated from the wax, dirt and dead bees in the pot. They suggested she put it in a sieve inside a pan beside the fire in the front yard and let it drip. She did so, but forgot one thing – to keep the fire burning! When she went to collect her pot of clear honey in the pan …. oh no! … she discovered that a swarm of bees had found the honey. Did we have bees! The pot was full of them and multitudes more filled the yard. The smoke from the fire would have kept them away.
There were idyllic times when we would sit on the front lawn at the picnic table during the evenings just before dark. Or occasionally, we would take the time to visit with friends. We could hear the cows mooing over by the river as they were being herded into their thorn branch corral for the night. The steady roar from the waterfall a half mile away sounded louder than usual from all the rain that had recently fallen. On occasion we heard the tinkle of a mule bell as someone rode past on his way home from the market. If one listened carefully, the faint roar of trucks could be heard coming across the lake from the highway.
As darkness fell, the hiss of the pressure lantern created a soft background tone for the animal sounds that now and again punctuated the oncoming night. On a rare occasion, one’s spine would tingle from the whooping cry of the hyenas on the prowl.
But soon it’s time for bed. The air in the pressure lantern is released allowing darkness to slowly creep in all around us. I have never seen such totally black darkness. When there is no moonlight it engulfs you like a blanket. But we have crawled into bed where it is safe.
Occasionally we hear the steady beating of the drums wafting down from the hillsides where the local people are conducting a sacrificial offering to Satan. A new sense of darkness grips our hearts; a darkness that will only be dispelled by the power of God. This we pray will someday happen in the hearts of our neighbours who are so bound by the darkness of Satan’s control.
But you haven’t heard Betty’s account of living in our little tin house … coming up … the feminine touch.